07 February, 2024

Death of a Friend

Crayon art by Jon Gronberg.
I didn't know Jon Gronberg as well as I could have. We met online in 2021 when a mutual friend introduced us, and we started playing games, sometimes weekly, over the next three years. I never saw Jon in person. I always interacted with his multitude of screen names: metatroid, antocitizen, arkanoid, etc.. I never saw his face; we only spoke via voice chat on Discord. But he was a friend, nevertheless, and life is now less with him gone from it.

Jon was a consummate gamer. In a condolence letter that Katherine and I wrote to his mother after his death, we talked about the games we would play, and how skilled he was in various genres. This was the Jon I knew: a fun person to play with.

We also wrote about the conversations we would have over Discord. As Katherine put it: "He strongly advocated for what he believed in during our many and varied talks, and he liked to have extensive and deep discussions on philosophy, politics, ethics, and even just jokes while we played." This was also the Jon I knew: a debater with strong communist beliefs.

And, of course, I cannot fail to mention how helpful he was with charitable work. He volunteered his time to problem-solve technical web stuff for me on a regular basis. He was always ready to lend a hand. Looking at his professional website, I see that he worked with lots of various charities over the years, not just mine. This was also the Jon I knew: a kind, giving person who loved to do good.

We didn't always see eye-to-eye. Our politics differed; our choice of how to relax differed; sometimes even the genres of games we preferred differed. But he was always, first and foremost, a friend whom I enjoyed playing regularly with.

The mutual friend who introduced us knew Jon as a close friend for twenty-five years. This loss has truly hurt him. He mentions it briefly in his latest blog entry. I don't know how to best be there for my grieving friend. They were close in the ways that only decades-old friends can be. The loss of such a close friend is hard for me to fully wrap my head around. Our mutual friend (whom I've known for 11 years) is now at a silent retreat for a few weeks. Hopefully it will help him to clear his mind and process the grief well, but it does mean that I have no way to contact him nor help him through this grieving period. I feel inadequate to the task.

I will miss you, Jon. Thank you for all the good times.

04 February, 2024

Ashley, Sammy, & Shelby

Sammy & Shelby as kittens in 2011.
I'm devastated, but also relieved. I'm heartbroken, but also feel that this is the best outcome.

Last month, Katherine informed me that the inlaws of one of her coworkers had died suddenly, and they were having trouble finding a home for their three cats. Sammy and Shelby were over a dozen years old and Ashley was rather feeling his age at sixteen, and likely wouldn't make it to his seventeenth birthday. Our home has felt rather empty for the past three years, ever since Jasper passed on. We'd been talking about taking in a cat that needs a home — maybe an older cat who would otherwise have trouble finding a forever home. But we hadn't yet gotten to the point where we were actively looking. Among other things, we need to purchase a new front door to our home, and it made sense to wait until after that before we began to look. But fate, it seemed, had brought us this opportunity, and we felt like we should take the plunge. After all, they need a home; we have a home. What else could we do?

Ashley (aka Pirate).
It was a big change from what I was expecting before. Taking in three cats instead of one is a BIG difference, as any owner of multiple pets can tell you. And adopting cats sight unseen was scary; what if they didn't like us? What if we didn't mesh well? But I was ready to take on the responsibility, come what may.

Katherine reminded me that this was not a sure thing. They wanted to ask the greater family first to see if they could take in the cats. These cats were family after all; they wanted the chance to keep them together and visitable by everyone. But so far they had had no takers, so we were to be the backup, just in case no one had the capacity to take them all in.

I understood, but at the same time, I wanted to learn more. I looked up their two humans, Richard and Karen Matta, who had both passed away in the course of only a few weeks. I learned about Richard's avid stamp collecting, seeing several of his posts on a philatelist forum. I learned about Karen's quilting, seeing her help several new quilters by answering questions on Quora. These were very nice humans, and I felt so bad about Ashley, Sammy, & Shelby losing both of them so suddenly and unexpectedly.

Richard was also amazing at photography. His flickr account has hundreds of photos, and some of them are of the three cats he lived with. (These are the pictures you see here on this blog post.) Sammy and Shelby are absolutely beautiful sibling rag dolls, and Ashley (who also goes by Pirate) is a gorgeous black cat who looks so gentle and lithe fitting on shelves without the risk of knocking over various highly breakable-looking items. As I looked through these pictures, I found myself falling in love with these three cats. Even though taking in three cats is a massive ask when we were only looking to take in one, I had already convinced myself that we could make it work. I proudly shared Richard's photos with Katherine and we collectively prepared ourselves to adopt these new members of the family. We might not be able to replace their previous humans, but we could at least give them a loving home for them to live out the remainder of their lives.

And then, as Richard's funeral was held, and their family flew in from out of town, we received news: we would not be taking in these cats after all. I was devastated — but also relieved. I was heartbroken — but I also knew that this was the best outcome for these cats. They would be able to stay in the Matta family, albeit in a new home with different humans. They would still be able to be visited by the sons and daughters who they had grown up with. They would still be able to visit their former canine housemates. They will have better lives staying in the family than they would have had they had become orphans to be adopted by strangers, no matter how loving we might be as strangers to them.

It's sad to think that we were so close to taking in these three cats, to changing our lives to help them, house them, and love them, only to realize after we had warmed up to the idea that we wouldn't be able to adopt them after all. But it is also happy, because I know they will be well taken care of in the Matta family, and it means that we can go back to our original plan of only taking a single cat that needs us.

To Ashley, Sammy, and Shelby: I wish you a good life. I'm sorry that your beloved humans passed on; Richard and Karen seem like wonderful housemates who took very good care of you for almost the entirety of your lives. I hope you will do well in your new home. <3

10 January, 2024

A Morning Routine

By the time the alarm rings, I'm already up. Carefully, I pack a lunch for my partner. I always try to include something special that will help to slightly brighten her day when she opens it later in the afternoon. I reverse our mini-car; I pull together all my supplies for the morning; I get shoes and socks together for Katherine. Shortly after six a.m., I am on the road, driving Katherine to the local high school, where she works as an art teacher. I tend to have a few tasks there — mostly helping to move things from one place to another — and then I'm off. It's consistently so interesting to walk past so many high school students each weekday morning. It's been a very long time since I've been in their shoes, but seeing them bustle reminds me of how life goes on, no matter what.

I walk five miles each week, one each weekday. It's not as much exercise as I probably should have on a regular basis, but it's certainly better than being sedentary, which is basically how I was for a year or so after covid. Some of my favorite sights along the way are the ravens who flock in the area. Occasionally, one or two will separate from the flock to watch me walk past. I wonder if they are curious about my bright orange jacket, because one will sometimes follow me from tree to tree over the course of a block. They never get close enough to interact with — they stay out of reach on the treetops — but they certainly do watch as I walk by. I wonder if I look similar (to their eyes) to someone who used to walk this route. If so, I hope my doppelgänger was nice to them.

Sometimes I stop for breakfast; other times I drop by the asian market. But mostly I just enjoy the walk and arrive home to rest and start on my daily chores.

(I've written about my morning routine several times on this blog. Here's one back in 2008; again in 2010another in 2016; and a short one in 2020.)

22 December, 2023

I have a daughter.

I have a daughter.

It's such a benign statement, especially coming from someone my age. Typical of my peers in myriad categories. Yet, for me, on a personal level, this just feels different. I've spent most of my life thinking of myself as a childfree individual. Sure, I've always been cognizant of the teenage pregnancy that caused me to drop out of school and derail most of my plans for early adulthood, but she was gone — taken away by her mother to someplace far away, and I was instructed to never contact them again. My daughter existed, but for most of my life she has been a phantom, a being existing in the abstract, but never in a palpable way.

I don't know why I took what I was told at face value. Part of me now suspects that this was a cached decision that I made early on in life that I just never really reconsidered. In my mind, she was living well elsewhere without me, and it would be wholly inappropriate for me to butt in, regardless of how many years had passed. This way of thinking stayed true even when what otherwise would have been an appropriate time would pass: I stayed away when she finished primary school; I stayed away when she became an adult. After all, I was not a true father, just merely a sperm donor who had stayed out of things for decades.

Then, a couple of months ago on November 9, I saw a message she had sent me. It was the first time I had been asked to reconsider that cached decision to give her space to become her own person. She wrote to see who I was; to learn about her birth father that had been absent for the majority of her life. This unexpected request turned into an extended conversation where I did my best to represent myself honestly and to give her the knowledge she desired.

I have a daughter.

It's more than just an idle fact now. This is a person who is now, after all these years, a part of my life. While it would be inappropriate to consider myself a father in the sense of being a parent, being the biological father of a person who actually wants me in their life is a title I should be proud of. I suppose I just always imagined that she would desire nothing to do with me, and I allowed the status quo to persist. Yet now I have direct evidence that I am wanted as a "bio-dad", whatever that relationship may mean. And so I am trying to do the best that I can.

I have a daughter, and her name is Adrianah Celes Herboso. I'm only just now getting to know her, yet it's clearly one of the biggest changes to my life in decades. I'm not sure how things will proceed from here, but, whatever happens, I am glad to have her in my life.

13 September, 2023

The Perils of Teaching

This week, we installed a ramp to the front door of the house. We purchased a wheelchair that was far more expensive than I thought wheelchairs would reasonably cost. And we've had multiple doctor's visits dealing with the mobility issues we've had this past year. Next week, Katherine will finally be able to teach in-school again from her new wheelchair.

Katherine's extended absence from school at the beginning of this school year eye-opening. Even though she's been officially on leave, she's been working six hour days just to take care of the learning materials that students will need while the substitute teacher is in the class. I am in awe at how hard Katherine works to help her students learn even while she's stuck at home and not able to see them in the school. I keep thinking back to all the times I took off from work because of being sick, or needing a mental health day… I certainly never spent 75% of that work day doing the work anyway. Katherine's dedication and hard work is laudable, but also scary: according to her, every teacher that takes off from school has to do their lesson plan anyway, so this isn't at all unusual for people in her profession. The more I learn about teaching, the more I am concerned with how schools are organized in this country. I still remember when I first met Katherine and realized that even though she has entire summers off, she still works more than the average number of hours per year that someone who works 52 weeks/year will work. I recall just how flabbergasted I was when I first learned that Katherine spends many multiple thousands of dollars each year of her own money to subsidize her art classroom with supplies. She actually spends much more than this — this is just the portion of it that isn't reimbursed by the school. And now, here I am, watching her take the first extended absence of her multiple decade career, and seeing her work six hour days to provide the substitute teachers with the materials they need for their eight hour days.

I don't think I ever fully appreciated the teachers I had when I was young. Most of the time, I thought very little about them. The first time I connected with a teacher was in the second college I attended, and that didn't turn into an extended relationship because he died shortly after I bonded with him. I've mostly been an autodidact throughout my life. I remember going through Feynman's Lectures on Physics as a teen, thoroughly enjoying the first few sections, and then realizing that in order to appreciate the later sections I'd need to learn quite a bit more mathematics. I went to the library, found the appropriate books, and taught myself calculus, the basics of linear algebra, etc., just so that I could keep reading Feynman. I never thought to speak to a teacher about it. That just wasn't my relationship with teachers at the time. They were little more than minders of my time. Rarely did they ever talk about anything new. By the time a teacher talked about a thing, it was generally something that had exhausted my attention years previous. This held true until college, so I just never bonded with any of them.

Seeing how much work Katherine puts into her career really makes me regret how I spent my youth ignoring teachers of all kinds. I wish I had had a mentor other than the library. At the time, the main branch of the Mobile Public Library had only a single section of shelves dedicated to Dewey Decimal 530; I literally read every single book on physics in the main public library of a city of half a million people within a single month, and it wasn't because I was a fast reader: it was because they just didn't have all that many books. I was so disenamored with other people at the time. I didn't like living in Alabama. I didn't think of any of my teachers as a source of furthering my education. I was such a stupid child.

If I could go back, I would talk more to those teachers. I would find out what their interests were, and I would learn from them on the things they knew best. I would use them to learn how better to learn, rather than to just sit and read. I would have properly appreciated all the teachers I had.

I wonder how many students appreciate all the effort Katherine puts into her job every day, even on days when she's technically on leave. It's probably not very many.