My new Tattoo

Skuldalið. Old Norse for "family" or "household" written in runes for talismanic properties.
Skuldalið. Old Norse for "family" or "household" written in runes for talismanic properties.

I got my first professional tattoo this weekend. I’ve been thinking about a tattoo since high school, but there was never anything that struck me as a permanent idea. Something that I wouldn’t mind embedded in my skin for the decades of my life I’ve yet to live. As I’ve grown older, though, some very relevant concepts have remained constants in my life. It is one of these constants that I chose to get imprinted on the inside of my left arm: family.

My concept of family, though, is nothing like the sociological sense of “nuclear” or “broken” or “alternative” that we hold on to today. Family to me is the idea that there are inherent obligations towards a certain set of people — obligations which go above and beyond the needs of other people.

Also, my perception of family is as one of the rings on the hierarchy of human experience. Being human requires participation in this hierarchy — at least it does in an existential mode of living — and it’s how I choose to live. The rings go from inner to outer in the following order: self, family, clan, neighborhood, village, town. Anything beyond “town” is a purely socio-political idea that doesn’t really affect humanity other than mashing us all together in one place. The six I’ve listed, though, coincide to our spheres of influence, from most influence to least influence. Each sphere, however, has more influence over the next one than the previous sphere does. For example, I have more control over myself than my family. However, a neighborhood has more control over a village than a family does.

This idea of a kind of concentric living is, as I said above, part of the existential experience. More importantly, though, it is also part of the human tribal experience and has been for centuries. At any point in human history, at any given gathering of humans, this kind of structure could be observed. It is in that spirit that I chose the concept of “family” for my tattoo.

The end result is nine runes (Sowilo, Kenaz, Uruz, Laguz, Dagaz, Ansuz, Laguz, Isa, Dagaz) that create a ritualistic presentation of the Old Norse word “Skuldalið”. Approximately translated it means “family” or “household”. I chose runes because of a closeness to my own sense of being, as well as a deep sense of connection to that aspect of my personal history. Runes are also used to elevate a word to a more potent talismanic idea.  A word written in runes is not just the word, but the idea of that word and the impact that it has on those who read the runes.

Family is everything to me. From that, I gain my own sense of well-being and foundation. I also define my family through my own actions. Ultimately, the world’s perceptions of me and of my family are one and the same. If I want my family to continue to thrive, then I must temper my actions against not only what is good for me, but also for my family. From there, the clan on out are also affected.

Skuldalið. Family. Household. My life.

Father’s Day 2009: That’s all I Need to Say

This is a picture of my son at the Revolution vs. Santos Laguna game at Gillette Stadium. Yep. That’s my son. On father’s day. I couldn’t be more proud.

Boy and His Colors

The Revolution of Humanity

Almost 300 years ago now the original founders of the United States chose to rebel against an oppressive regime in order to secure the right of self-rule. No matter the men’s motivation — liberty, lower taxes, business, etc. — the goal is still a valid one: self-rule. When we talk about the right to vote, democracy, and liberty we are really talking about this goal. In other words, that human desire to be in charge of our own destinies in as much as we are able. The events in Iran over the past week demonstrate how that desire is not attached to a particular region or group of people. The desire for personal recognizance is deeply rooted within all of us.

When that desire is faced with some sort of inane, out-dated, illogical obstacle the level of anger and frustration mounts to a boiling point and no force on earth can quell the rage. There are only two options at that point for us: slavery or revolution. Iranians are choosing the latter.

It is with this frame of mind I watch events unfold from the obscure safety of my apartment on the sea, the vinyl train benches on my way to Boston, and my ergonomically-designed office chair. Out there in the world right now there are people dying — not to gain liberty for others — in order to gain what they believed they already had: the right to control their own earthly fates.  Let’s face it, that control is really all we have.

In spite of the theological debates, philosophical arguments, and “evidence” to the contrary, the only sure things in life are birth and death. The rest of it is up to us to do with as we see fit. In Iran, a theocracy made the mistake of pretending to be a democracy, made the mistake of offering up a pretend activity in self-rule. The Iranian people will not choose to be slaves any longer, it seems.

In our own history, a group of English citizens were also robbed of what they understood to be their rights under their king. Rather than settle for a fake existence, one of pretend autonomy, they opted for revolution as well. France. Africa. South America. Our own civil rights movement. Every location on the planet where an illusion of autonomy is placed over the eyes of people a revolution has begun. Human nature is autonomy.

As we watch the events in Iran unfold, as we read on-the-ground reports of daily fighting and dying, try to remember what it means to fight for something that is tantamount to the existence of humanity. This is bigger than a political theory, set of economic rules, a religious belief. This is as big as humanity itself. Iranians are launching a revolution just as we did some 300 years ago, as France did 200 years ago, and as people continue to do every day. Oil? Religion? This is far more important.

Our new kitten, Tucker

This is Tucker, our new cat. We just picked him up tonight. He’s about ten weeks old and just about as playful as he is cute. I don’t really have anything else to say about him, other than the announcement that he’s here. Oh. And that he’s god-awfully cute.

Danielle will get a chance to spend some quality time with him this weekend, as Gabe and I are headed to Vermont for some garden work.

Garden Diagram

This year we’ve decided to replant the family garden. The plot my mother, father, and I used to use is about 3,000 square feet and should be plenty for my father, sister, and the three of us here in MA. There’s something phenomenally exciting to me about this plan. Not only does it involve more trips to Vermont — which are never bad — it also is a start towards what I think the future will be like: a further reliance on the land for survival. Because for everything this garden is — educational, an excuse for weekend VT trips, a supply of food — it is also about survival: ours and that of the food itself.

There will be a point at which the cost of fresh food will be so hampered by the cost of delivery and logistics that unless people grow their own or purchase extremely locally, it will be unaffordable for most families. People will be forced into buying the less-nutritious, more genetically-altered veggies in the local frozen or canned goods aisle. While I don’t necessarily believe that frozen or canned food is poisonous or will be in the future, there is something to be said about eating food that hasn’t been engineered. Engineering food changes its relationship with the ecosystem, introduces unknowns into our diet, and otherwise messes with Mother Nature. Engineered food may or may not cross-pollenate with un-engineered varieties and could limit our chances of preserving seeds for the future. And even if that’s not likely, why would we take the chance?

Anybody with a small bit of grass, window space, a porch can start a garden for themselves. Even if you live in the middle of a city, there is probably a chance to start a neighborhood plot somewhere. Anytime humans can do something for ourselves that keeps us in touch with the way the earth works, we gain a little something out of life. It’s not tangible nor measureable, but I do feel it’s noticeable.

I designed the garden with not only work in mind, but also with the idea that it could be relaxing place to laze away a few hours. There’s a central circle with some benches and plenty of paths. The patches are all raised beds, and the paths are covered in straw or compost to keep the weeds down. Around the garden is a fence to keep the dogs from romping around willy-nilly. We plan on putting some pleasant chimes on the posts to hopefully kepe the deer away, too. There are animals, however, that we do want in the garden.

The grey circles are piles of stones for snakes, and the tan/sienna circles represent toad homes: clay pots on their sides. Both toads and snakes will help keep the nasty bugs to a minimum. Milkweed, Queen Anne’s Lace, and other wildflowers around the outside will attract butterflies, ladybugs, and bees.

All-in-all, I think we have the potential for a pretty good space, and I’m looking forward to getting a start on it. First planting should start on the 15th of May, with the second one being the week after.