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Thursday, December 31, 2009

at the closing of the year

Here in Western Europe, there are only about two hours left in the decade, unless you're pedantic enough to insist that the decade actually starts on January 1st, 2011. Although I'm exactly the kind of nerd who would normally point out this kind of thing, in this case I think that watching the digits roll over is the real point. If you're the kind of person who celebrates your odometer rolling over to 100,001 miles, feel free to come back and read this post in 12 months' time.

Even more than usual, the last New Year's Eve of the '00s is cause for retrospection, and I can't help but think back 10 years ago to when the calendar digits rolled over to 2000. I spent New Year's Eve 1999 with my first wife, not realizing that it would be the last one we'd spend together. We had just moved into our new house a few months earlier, a 1,900-square foot house within a couple of blocks of the beach in Half Moon Bay, California. I was working at Excite@Home, where the stock price had fallen in recent months, turning what had been my $4 million net worth into something considerably lower. Still, we held out hope that the decline was just a temporary slip, and not the dot-com bubble bursting as some hushed hallway conversations speculated. We celebrated with two black cats and no kids, and had no intention of trying for children anytime soon, either because neither of us felt mature enough, or because deep down we felt the cracks in the foundation of our marriage. Overall, it was an exciting and scary time, and I was torn between feeling like I had accomplished so much and being afraid that there was so much more I was missing. With the new millennium starting (hush) it seemed everything was on the cusp on big changes, and so was I. I just didn't know how, or when, or where.

Ten years later, I'm sitting in the 700 square foot apartment that I share with Amy and Sofia in Barcelona, 6000 miles from Half Moon Bay. Tonight, as with last year, I'm staying home to watch over Sofia and her nagging cold, while Amy is serving the revelers in her restaurant with her mom and brother. Both black cats are gone now, but Amy's cat is still here, curled up under one elbow as I write. My job, while in many ways similar to what I did in Silicon Valley, is with a company of 15 people instead of 3000, and involves working to improve the lives of people with visual disabilities. A net worth of seven digits (or six for that matter, and five may even be pushing it) seems like a distant memory now, and in almost every measurable way my life has changed since then. Some of these changes have been bad, others have been difficult but ultimately for the best, and others have been obvious improvements. Not all of them have been voluntary (even the impetus to move to Spain was born out of a chance encounter with U.S. immigration in Vancouver) but looking back now, it was clear that 10 years ago I was ready to make big changes, even if they required a few leaps of faith.

In the intervening ten years, I've gotten divorced, gotten remarried, had a baby girl, traveled much of the world, from Hawaii to Egypt to Japan and a couple of dozen countries in between, lost 40 pounds, regained 20 of them, and found more than a few gray hairs and lines on my face. I've relearned one language and made my first steps in another, and I've seen both my native culture and my adoptive one from an outsider's point of view. I've learned that nostalgia is a mixed blessing; that forgiveness is sometimes hard to find, especially for yourself; that small chance happenings can change the course of your life; and that the most important things often happen when you least expect them. None of which is to say that I've gained great wisdom, though, since above all I've learned that many of the things you think you know at 30 no longer hold true when you're 40, and I'm not naive enough to think that the process stops there.

Tonight my daughter kissed me goodnight as I was putting her to bed, and I whispered "Happy New Year, sweetie," to her as I tucked her in, already asleep. Sometime after 1 am my wife will come home and we'll wish each other the same before getting ready for the short flight to Athens tomorrow morning. It may not be the biggest blowout party imaginable, but as ways to mark the milestone go, it's not bad, either.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hello, World!

or, "How Twitter, Facebook, and parenthood killed my blog."

I've been meaning to get back to posting here for a long while now, but the combination of daily commitments and the lazy appeal of two-line updates on Facebook and Twitter have made procrastinating far too easy. Eventually, though, you realize that there's only so much you can say of any significance in 140 characters, not to mention the deleterious effects it can have on your ability to compose a coherent sentence. So, if for no other reason than to remind myself how to write in complete English words, here I am again.

While I was thinking about what the point of this blog should be, I fed the URL into a site called Wordle, which creates an artistically-arranged summary of the most common words in any web page or text. The results are pretty telling, which is to say that they tell me that I do way too much navel-gazing, and spend far too much time thinking about the past. To try and combat that, I think my goal for the blog (if it has one) will be to look more to the future than the past, and to maybe be just a little less emo.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some Dashboard Confessional tracks to listen to. Not that they can compare to The Cure...wow, I really miss The Cure.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

should auld inboxes be forgot

Over the past few days I've been going through old email backups and uploading them to Gmail. Some of the backups go all the way back to 1995, and since I'm an incurable email pack rat, the total number of messages is now somewhere north of 20,000. It started off as an attempt to clean up the various ZIP files and backup folders I had lying around, but as I've slowly reconstructed my email history of the past 13 years, I've come to a surprising realization.

When I think back over the years since 1995, I don't imagine them as a continuous progression from one year to the next, or even as chapters within the same story, but as completely separate books. Just as with books, a few characters may carry over from one to the next, but in general each book is self-contained and clearly separated from the next. I suppose that some degree of this is normal, since things like switching jobs and moving tend to mark off different periods in everyone's life, but in my case I think it's even more pronounced. For example, I find it hard to connect the memories I have of, say, working at First Floor in late 1997 and working at @Home in mid-1998, almost as if they were memories from separate lives.

Paradoxically, I think I'm also much more susceptible to bouts of nostalgia than most people, to the point of what the Portuguese call saudade, a sort of melancholic longing for something that's gone, or maybe never was. This might actually be because of my tendency to treat the past as a closed and locked book, something completely inaccessible and mysterious.

Now that I've got a single narrative of the past decade-plus in one place and have been spending some time browsing through it, it's easier to see the overall arc of the story, and to realize that despite all of the changes, and for better or for worse, I'm essentially the same person as that wide-eyed and earnest 27-year old back in the mid-90's. It hasn't all been easy reading; a lot of it is painful to revisit, some of it is embarrassing, and a fair amount is just plain boring. But together it makes up a priceless snapshot of years of my life that I might otherwise have forgotten. Not bad for a free email service.

Of course, all this nostalgia is amplified by the fact that it's New Year's Eve, which always puts me in a reflective sort of mood. This year is a bit different from most, since I'm sitting at home alone except for a sleeping baby and a head cold to keep me company. As Sofia's first new year and my 40th, it's not exactly spectacular. Still, I suppose there are worse ways to end a year than with a little quiet reflection and some Sudafed.

Finally, although I don't normally make a habit of posting videos or music, it is New Year's Eve, and there's one song that I always associate with that feeling of nostalgia with a touch of melancholy that comes along with the end of the year, at least for me. (Yes, I am a child of the 80's...so sue me.)

Happy new year, everyone.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

yo A, what up?

On a tip from my Twine feed, I tried out a site that promises to create a custom virtual personality, so that you can chat with famous dead people, or recreate yourself as a virtual avatar. Thinking that I might be able to let the virtual me deal with emails and chat meetings while I lounge on the beach in Ibiza, I signed up and filled out some basic information. Once I was logged in, the first thing I decided to try was a chat with a virtual Abraham Lincoln. In eager anticipation of sage advice from the Great Emancipator on all of our 21st century problems, I summoned up all my gravitas and said hello:

Greg Gladman: hello, Mr Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln: hey, what's up.

I think it needs some work.

the journey of 1000 miles

As I'm writing this, my parents are waking up and getting ready to go to the airport, and in just over six hours, they'll be leaving Columbus for JFK and then on to Barcelona to meet their new granddaughter for the first time. This might not seem like a big deal for seasoned travelers, but for my mom and dad, it's a huge undertaking. My mom has only left the country once -- to come to Spain for our wedding -- and my dad didn't have a passport until we cajoled him into getting one for this trip. I imagine they must be more than a little anxious right now (as my mom said, "we want to be there, we just don't want to go there"). The fact that they've been without power for almost a week because of the remnants of Hurricane Ike probably isn't helping, either.

So, Mom and Dad, if you see this before you go: relax, take a deep breath, and before you know it you'll be touching down in Barcelona, where we have electricity, running water, and happy little 3-month old girls.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Have you seen me?

Like it or not, everyone has a limit, some point past which body and mind conspire to say, "no more." For me, that point was sometime around Saturday, August 23rd, when at least four weeks of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion finally caught up with me in the form of a nasty cold that I'm still trying to shake off over a week later.

In the two weeks leading up to then, I had been walking the streets of Amsterdam, averaging 20km (12 miles) per day according to the GPS tracker I bought, carrying a 10 kg (22 pound) camera bag with me every step of the way. By night I would take the train back to Den Haag, where our friends Karen and Joost graciously let us stay with them, and stayed up as long as I could to edit photos for a deadline which was already receding in the rear-view mirror. In between, I would try to steal a few minutes with Amy and Sofia so that they would remember who I am. My diet consisted of anything you could eat while walking, mostly hot dogs, Diet Coke, and snack cakes (including my new best friend, roze koeken). In retrospect, the surprising thing isn't that I got sick in the end, it's that I wasn't found floating in a canal, dead from junk-food poisoning. Oh, and did I mention the unseasonable and unphotogenic pouring rain?

If it sounds like I'm complaining, though, I'm really not. It's true that I would probably have enjoyed the job more if I weren't already exhausted from crunch time at my day job, or if I wasn't sleep-deprived from having a new baby, or if I were 21 years old and indefatigable again. But it's still an opportunity to do something I love and get paid for it, which doesn't come along all that often.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have 9,200 photos of canal boats to edit.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hello, Sofia!

Sofia Gladman Artal made her way into the world just after midnight on Friday, May 30th. Mother and baby are both doing well, while Daddy is desperately trying to figure out how to edit hundreds of baby photos while changing diapers, burping the new baby, and going home twice a day to feed and medicate the cat. I have managed to get a few uploaded to Facebook, though, and you can take a look at them there.

In the end, Sofia arrived as a cesarean, since she was already more than a week overdue and there were some signs that waiting any longer might be dangerous, according to the non-stress tests and fetal monitors. We had gone to the doctor for the second checkup of the day, when he looked at the monitor printout and said "we're going to the hospital." After a couple more hours of more detailed monitoring, it became clear that although the contractions were progressing, she wasn't showing any signs of engaging, so a cesarean was the only reasonable option. An hour's worth of prep later and we were in the delivering room, where they handed her to us, apparently safe and sound. The only problem so far seems to be that she has her schedule reversed, so she tries to sleep all day and stay up all night, making for some seriously sleep-deprived parents. Over the next few days we should be able to change that, though, and everything else seems to be going well. With any luck she'll make the trip home sometime tomorrow afternoon, and a whole new adventure will begin.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

21st Century Digital Girl, or How Things Were Different Back in My Day, Part 17

Now that we're officially across the border and into May, there are only three weeks or so left before Sofia's scheduled arrival. If this were the 1800's, there's a good chance that everyone who would be interested in getting the news about her birth would be within walking distance of each other, but with friends and family spread across the globe, communication gets a little complicated.

To get around this problem, I'm planning on sending updates (as often as I can) via Twitter. If you haven't used it before, Twitter is a "microblogging" tool that lets you send short updates -- less than 140 characters -- about what you're doing at any given moment. The best part is that it allows you to send and receive updates via the website, instant messenger, or your mobile phone, which means I may be able to send the occasional update between contractions.

If you're interested, you can follow the updates on my Twitter page, or you can sign up for an account to get updates automatically sent to you (it's free, and I haven't gotten any spam from them yet). You can also download any number of programs for the PC which will sit on your desktop and tell you when there are updates...I especially like twhirl.

Finally, for what it's worth, I'm already using Twitter on a semi-regular basis for everyday things, so if you care to find out what I had for lunch or what interesting website I found today, feel free to "follow" me there. If you have your own account, let me know and I'll follow yours, too.