Category Archives: faith/philosophy/etc

Alienating your Audience

Nightwish

I’ll be honest, I *think* this is has the newest singer in it, but they change them like shoes with the season, so . . ..

Okay, let’s just throw it out there. Artists are artists for a reason– they want to put their music, literature, art, whatever it may be, out there for the public to experience. (If they hide it in a box, this still implies a vague hope that someone will find it after they die. Otherwise, you’d burn that stuff.)

This often includes putting in a huge chunk of your ideals, religion, philosophy, and (most certainly) your personality. That’s just the way it is. And people’s opinions, religions, philosophies, and such all change over the course of your lifespan.

Certainly, I’m not the same person I was 18 years ago when I was doing most of my writing. So many things have happened to me that aren’t public record, so many little changes, experiences, traumas, and joys . . . you couldn’t expect someone to stay the same for that long. So I don’t expect artists to do it, either– and I don’t simply listen to artists whose views perfectly align with my own. I spend a good deal of my life explaining to people that, yes, I can listen to a musician who happens to be a flaming atheist without the least remorse. Some elements of their beliefs may come through in their music, sure, but I’m an adult, I can pick out the stuff I like and ignore the ranting bits.

And, hey, sometimes ranting is not a binary sort of thing. I was amused when Rage Against the Machine objected so strenuously to Paul Ryan naming them as one of his favorite bands. We don’t get to choose our audiences– what kind of art would that be? Some sort of self-referential masturbatory exercise, bleh. My opinions on Paul Ryan aren’t much more positive than Tom Morello’s are, I’m sure, but you have to admit that a rich musician has more in common with a rich politician than he’d probably care to admit. And, hey, Morello can always hope that his sometimes bizarre guitar solos will induce a seizure in the politician and bring about some kind of late-in-life political swing.

But anyway, wouldn’t you like to at least admit the possibility that the most folks in the country STILL don’t disagree with the people on the opposite side of such things on basic principles like babies shouldn’t be starving and nuking our world is probably a very bad idea. Maybe having people who disagree with you listen to your music or read your books or look at your pictures can be a good thing. Maybe, hey, you can open eyes through your art, who knows. Living in an echo chamber is boring AF.

The problem comes in when you suddenly do a 180 degree switch to something that’s out and out religious or political when your audience has previously not looked to you for wisdom of that sort. If you’re at all familiar with Rage Against the Machine, the fact that they stood naked on stage to protest censorship, or that they support the Zapatistas isn’t going to surprise you. If, however, Zach De La Rocha suddenly released a cd of Marian hymns and polyphony chant, you’d be more than surprised. Some people would be thrilled (hey, I would) but most of their audience would be pissed. That wasn’t what they were selling before, so what’s with the switch?

The Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish did something of a similar sort with their 8th album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” Oh, Nightwish has always been a little wonky on the religion side of things– Finland isn’t exactly a hotbed of Christianity at this point, our efforts to Christianize them having fallen through quite some time ago. Finland actually has the lowest population of Catholics in Europe, and even most of those are emigre Poles. But the songwriter/mastermind of the band mostly confined himself to topics of fantasy, nature, and whimsy, with the rare song like “Wish I Had an Angel” that is actually blasphemous (in a sort of “I want to write a bad-boy metal song” kind of way.)

Then, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful. . . in which, Nightwish suddenly swerved into atheistic Darwinism of the most unthinking type– the type that considers religious people to be deluded and stupid and inferior, instead of just people who happen to disagree with you about the probability of the existence of a deity. Sigh.

It’s a painful thing when a band which you’ve enjoy, whose albums you have bought, decides to write songs telling you that “You live only for the days to come, Shoveling trash of the upper caste” in “Weak Fantasy.” And in “Yours is an Empty Hope,” he follows it up with imagining the vitriol that he will receive online with musings like “Feed me to pigs in your fantasies, Your sea roars bitter elegies . . . Yours is an empty hope.”

Well, gee, I don’t know what you expected, Tuomas. Basically, since Nightwish brought on the uilleann pipes guy, the lyrics have started to sound like they were written after a few too many late-night marijuana-induced discussions of the nature of reality. You had an audience, and doubtless you will retain a great part of it and probably gather in new listeners, too. And I don’t wish them ill in this. Musically, Tuomas Holopainen is a gifted artist. I’m just surprised, myself, at the tone that Mr. Holopainen has taken. A decade ago, he stated that he wasn’t religious, but “doesn’t consider religion to be bad.” Then, a decade later, there’s a bunch of trash-talking, virulence, and . . .  all this.

No, you shouldn’t expect your audience to like every change you make. Ask Chris Cornell (who was in Audioslave with three members of Rage Against the Machine)– he made a more pop-sounding solo album with Timbaland as a producer and the critics and audience savaged him over it. They have tastefully stopped talking about it now that he’s impressed them with a new Soundgarden album and his Songbook tour, so he’s largely been forgiven for his unexpected shift into different territories. (Me, I loved that cd, so I never considered there to be anything to forgive. I don’t see eye to eye with Mr. Cornell on many political subjects, but he’s a damn fine musician and a great artist.)

But, you know, there’s being dignified when you make a change and it upsets and angers people, and then just moving on, deciding what you’re going to do next, and working on that next thing. You can take some of the advice you get, reject the rest, and do whatever your heart and mind and soul tell you is the right thing to do. Or you can get pissy about it and probably finish the job of alienating those people forever. It’s always, always, up to you.

All I can say about my own work is that I welcome thoughtful criticism. Trolling and flaming, well, those suck, so don’t comment with those and we’ll get along fine. Trolls get banned, that’s the standard rule of the road around here.

And I can guarantee that there’s going to be religious and spiritual and psychological and horror and fantasy and blood and guts and sexuality and all sorts of messy topics in my work. Just so you know. But my treatment of those topics is what makes my work, well, MINE. Unless I have one of those guitar-solo-induced seizures and suddenly change my basic personality, none of that’s going to change too much.

 

 

 


truly, madly, deeply

I will be honest with you– in the past, I have been guilty of writing things that weren’t truly reflective of who I really am. I’ve written things just to try to sell them, just to try to break into a particular market, and written things that don’t actually reflect my ideals, thoughts, hopes, and morals.

Which is why I don’t really like to dig back into my past and publish my old stories and poetry. There’s very little in there that I am actually proud of, very little that I would want my grandchildren to read, so to speak. I wrote things that I thought would please my “market” and they are embarrassing to me now. Why did I write that, I ask myself. Was it really that important to sell a short story?

Some writers will tell you that writing “to a market” is just what you do. It’s the accepted practice– if someone wants to publish an anthology about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, then you write a story about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, even if you heartily wish that clowns were all stripped of their red rubber noses and forced to work at the DMV.

In some cases, the ideas spawned by certain markets, like anthologies and magazines, may, possibly, once in a blue moon, actually rouse your best creative force and you can write a heartfelt tale that sears the page in its beauty and passion. But mostly you’re just hurriedly grinding something out in the very slim hope that the editor will like it. Even though the editor is mainly counting on their friends and acquaintances to fill the anthology and is only holding out one or two slots for unknown writers, of course. And then you’re stuck with a story about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, which you now have to try to foist off on another market. (Those other markets know that this will happen, and cringe for months reading freaky clown stories.)

Sometimes, though, you’re just writing in a certain genre and you absorb the mores and cultural assumptions that are common to that market. Cultural appropriation is terribly common in science fiction and fantasy (ask me sometime about alien worlds who all seem to have desert areas with heavily draped peoples who call the area Something-istan. I start to foam at the mouth, I have heard.) So is writing about gay characters even if you yourself are not gay. Being progressive sells, that’s the heart of the idea.

I wrote a story once about a young woman in 1600-1700s Indonesia who was banished from her village, became bonded to a cursed knife, and then had the problem of how to remove the knife. Long story short: she gets her hand cut off, but decides, with the help of her lesbian lover, that the cursed knife must be destroyed for the good of her people. Because of the religious powers that were in that particular region at that time, I ultimately had my character pray to the Islamic god for his help in destroying the knife.

Now, if I was writing the story today, I would have found a way to leave Islam out of it ENTIRELY. Not simply to avoid offending the people of that faith (although that would be part of it) but also because it was just a hasty addition at the end, written under time pressure, and it wasn’t a very satisfying ending to the tale. I would have preferred it if the woman could have found some other ghost of her own people to banish her vile uncle’s spirit.

I guess it was satisfying enough to sell it, anyway– it was published in 2002 in a cd-rom anthology called “Extremes 5: Fantasy and Horror from the ends of the earth.” For, hah, an equal share of the profit. Sadly, after the editor had taken out his expenses, there was no profit, so basically all I got for tacking on this hasty religiously ambivalent ending was a copy of the cd-rom and a cramped hand from signing the sleeve inserts. Oh, and I was out about ten bucks for postage.

I would have made it more clear, I think, that the main character was only “gay” in the sense that she was heartbroken and suicidal and that she was responding to the other woman’s kindness and love. Two broken people clinging to each other in a storm. If it had been a man, she would have probably run in fear after her lifetime of abuse by men. Situationally, the gay character made sense. I don’t regret putting it in, because it was true to the character and the story basically wouldn’t have worked without there being someone else there to help her. She would have just given up and died, otherwise. I wanted people to feel that sorrowful weight upon her, and then to see at the end that she was, in fact, still broken– the love had not fixed the wounds in her heart. It just enabled her to endure the pain.

So I have decided that this week, in celebration of the idea of doing things “right” and true and writing from your passion and not your fear, I am going to republish this story, A Dagger in the Rain, on Kindle. I will be doing some editing to it first, fixing that problematical ending with the unneeded influence of an outside god. As an outsider writing about a distant historical place, and about ghosts in that place, nothing is ever going to be perfect. Even Joseph Conrad had to read several books about the Indonesian peoples before he dared to write about them, because he knew he wouldn’t get everything right without years of experience that he didn’t have.

The first step is going to be to find the disc. I know I just moved it into my closet right before Christmas! Then a quick edit and rewrite, and I will make it available for a nominal price on Amazon’s kindle page. I’d start tonight but I can feel my Ambien kicking in and my typing is starting to fall apart.

I am excited, I think, to try to make a story closer to my true vision for it. There are not many stories that I would bother fixing in this way– mostly my ghost stories, for those have always been the ones closest to my heart. When you’ve lived in a haunted house, ghost stories are always interesting ones.

My novel, thankfully, is only “not me” in one respect: I wrote it with a male protagonist. In hindsight, I still feel that he’s the best character for the job. I definitely wouldn’t want to put a female through all the stuff those guys get up to in their desert journey. But the fact that I wrote this novel to fit in with MY vision of what a fantasy hero should act like and do and feel and dream . ..  that makes it so pleasing to me. I didn’t sell out for this novel. Raban and Valerius are just who they need to be, where they need to be, doing what they need to do. And it was a labor of love to get them there.

I’ll announce the release when it posts. 🙂


Christmas distractions

So yesterday began our annual “12 Days of Christmas Baking” tradition, wherein my older daughter and I turn a significant portion of our energy over to cookies and cleanup.

So far, we’ve taken it easy– caramel marshmallow popcorn on Wednesday and decorated powdered donuts (store bought) for today. Things step up tomorrow, though, with the addition of St. Lucia buns. That should be interesting, as I’m also going to be steaming up a huge pile of tamales. Yum.

So, writing is about the last thing on my mind. I’m still reading the Pulitzer winners and I picked up some good reference books about topics related to books I want to write. So I’m still thinking, I’m just not writing. At least, not until after Christmas.

In the meantime, I’ll be reading, watching movies, and baking. And trying to enjoy this Christmas as if it were my last. You never know. My dear friend Judy is not with us this year. It makes me wish I’d done more to make the holiday brighter for her. We only get one chance at life, though.

So live the holidays well. Peace.


Trigger . . . un-happy

So I started reading a very hyped and much-praised YA novel the other day.

I got five pages in, then I tossed it across the room and stared at it like it was a rattlesnake.

The book had almost immediately hit my personal triggers, bringing up painful feelings and wretched old memories.

Uhhh, thanks but no thanks, much-hyped author. Which brings us to a discussion of triggers and why you should gently work them into the novel and not, say, bang people over the head with them on the first couple of pages of chapter one.

Whenever you’re going to write about something traumatic, whether it be rape or child abuse, co-dependency or cutting, victimization or violence, you have a choice in how you handle it. Some readers will always throw your book across the room, even if you work it subtly into the theme and story arc. The chances of that are a lot less if you’re truly compassionate towards your readers and not, say, going for the juicy squishy eyeball-kicks and buckets of gore and disgust dumped out in the beginning to “wow” your audience and “hook” them.

Personally, I don’t think that it’s appropriate to write YA novels that normalize bad relationships. Bella and Edward? That’s a sick sick relationship, people. Ms. Meyer should be ashamed of herself for normalizing stalking, obsession, and victimization. It isn’t criminal, but it is wrong . . . why would we want to inflict another generation with stupid sick ideas? Shouldn’t we model healthy relationships for them? Shouldn’t we show that abuse is WRONG?

I feel that, if we are going to use abuse and victimization in a novel, it should be immediately apparent that it is wrong. It’s like the study they recently did on children’s television shows. The study showed that children’s cartoons spent 20 minutes or so on Bad Things Happening and then only 5 minutes on the resolution and Oh That Was Bad, This is How to Fix it. But, since the kids spent 4x as much time watching the bad behaviors, all they remembered from the episode was the bad stuff. They didn’t remember the “good” resolution.

The same thing is going to apply with YA novels. If you normalize the abuse at the beginning and only have your character “break free” or “wake up from it” at the very end, which message do you think you’re really sending to your audience? Or worse, if you have your characters never understand that what they’re living is full of squick . . . that’s a gross negligence on your part.

I know that my opinions on this sort of thing are strong . . . but that’s because we owe the younger generation a better deal than what we’ve been giving them. And we should keep our readers in mind when we’re writing. They’re real people, not just figments of our imagination. What we present and how we present it are important considerations.

Trust me, if I could go back and redact almost everything I wrote before the past two years, I would. I didn’t make good decisions and I didn’t write with any integrity. I can only hope that most of it is lost to time and won’t surface again. It’s just plain embarrassing to have written such dreck.

Aim high, and if you can’t aim high then just aim for humane. Consider if you’d want your great grandchildren to read a piece before you write it. Even if you’re not going to have any descendants, the thought exercise is good. Would you be embarrassed by this in a hundred years? Would you want to hide under the table if one of your writing heroes read it out loud at a convention?

Write well, and write with forethought. Some things, you can never take back.

 


Legacy

So, my exciting day was spent de-cluttering. Emptied out two “junk drawers”, one “junk basket”, the top shelves in my closet (all 25 feet of them), and the top of my bedroom bookshelf. My bedroom still looks disgusting, but there IS a significant improvement in the storage space.

I think that something “clicked” this month that never really had made sense before. I started thinking “What would my kids do if hubs and I died and left all this crap in the house?” I mean, seriously, we have the key to the garage of the house that we sold in 2004. I meant to send it to the new owners. Yeah, uh, 8 years ago . . . .

There’s a lot of junk left that was my mom’s stuff, too, stuff that makes no sense for me to keep since it’s neither sentimental nor fashionable. Some of it is crudely-made wooden shelves and clocks, done in an outdated “country” style that was really big in the ’80’s. There’s also a bunch of mutilated looking “antique” stuff that she either found in an old fallen-down barn or picked up in a yard sale . . . none of it really has any value since it’s in such poor shape. If there’s anything I’ve learned from “American Pickers”, it’s that stuff has to be in good shape to be worth anything. Sitting in my garage for 22 years has probably not helped their condition, but they were pretty junky when she picked them up.

I’ve picked up a lot of junk along the way, myself, stuff that isn’t valuable at all, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to let it swallow me alive. So I’ve begun trying to make our house a home that has “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

When I lose motivation, I watch an episode of “Hoarders” and suddenly I feel inspired.

Some things, I’ve decided to USE instead of simply letting it rot in a box somewhere. My great grandmother left me her collection of milk glass dishes. A couple of them didn’t make it through all our moves cross-country, but I probably have complete settings for 10 of  little coffee-cups and little plates suitable to have a slice of coffee cake or a couple hors d’oeuvres. Milk glass isn’t terribly valuable, especially the Depression-era stuff that my Mamaw collected, but it’s pretty and useful for . . . parties. I am finally done with buying cheesy paper plates and cups for birthday parties, saint’s days, and holidays. All I had to do was to bring out the white dishes I’d had stashed in my china cabinet for a couple decades and start using it.

The little boys love it. They call it “our party cups.”

Now, that  was worth hauling all that stuff around all these years.

But I’m trying to be serious about what I’m leaving to my kids. You never know when your number is up. So it makes sense to have all your ducks in a row (figuratively speaking. Ducks are never that orderly.)

I don’t have a single valuable item to pass down to my kids, so I don’t have to worry too much about making an elaborate will. In this economy, you have to make a choice between having lots of things or having lots of kids, and since I like kids, that was kind of a no-brainer. But families will hold grudges for CENTURIES over heirlooms that have no monetary value. My mom fought viciously with her sister over a turkey platter. I’m stuck with the darn thing now, since I can’t figure out how to safely ship it from here to Arizona. If I can find a way to pack it right, it’s headed your way Aunt S. I just would hate for UPS to shatter the thing NOW . . . after all these years of lugging it around the country.

What will my kids remember about me? That I loved rabbit figurines and little pretty boxes? That my Walt Disney World mugs were my favorite souvenirs? Who will want the milk glass and who would rather have the rocking chair? Who’s going to get stuck with making all the old pictures digital and then sending them to everyone? Is everything going to be cluttered and impossible and frustrating? Is it going to be moldy?

I’m going to give them a head start and make some of that dreadful work more bearable. It’s going to hurt . . . books will have to be disposed of, and I hate getting rid of books. But 20 boxes? Who are we kidding, here? No one’s going to read them all and the popular series books will be in all the libraries for years to come. Do I want my legacy to my children to be more misery when they’re wading through my junk?

I don’t want that. If they remember anything about me, I want them to remember love . . . not possessions.

That’s a legacy worth handing down.

 

 

 


Bad times

This week has been dreadful. A dear friend of mine who has been an important part of my life for 14 years died suddenly yesterday. I’m staggered. Shocked. And very grieved.

And I can answer the question that I posed on Tuesday.

Yes, it’s possible to change. It has to be. Otherwise, what are we to do with these tragedies? Do we just continue in lockstep to our doom? Do we resist change even when the horror of death robs us of a beloved companion?

You can. But I won’t.

Even if I’m riddled with disease and doomed to die soon, I will live each of these days with the certain knowledge that I am choosing to live it in faith and hope and love. Those are the three virtues we’re called to practice. They’re each, in themselves, incredible challenges. But isn’t life an incredible challenge, anyway?

I spent today in bed, physically laid low by my grief. But the best tribute to my friend Judy would be to change the negative things in my life that are limiting me, holding me down, and dooming me to my own early death. I can fight my own disease processes. I can work to become healthier and stronger. And I can try to make sure that everyone in my life knows how important they are to me.


Down the Rabbit Hole

Recurrent dreams kind of scare me.

It’s bizarre enough to dream– for your brain to fully flesh out this alternate reality that seems just as real and as intense as your waking life. When your brain breaks the conventions of physics and time, you’re even willing to let it slide a little bit. Why not? You’re dreaming and your mind is selling the story to you as it spins it. So time seems pretty flexible– probably no more flexible than the last time you drove home from work or the store and found that you totally could not remember the last ten minutes of driving.

My brain is pretty good at telling itself stories. I could tell you it’s because of my dreadful childhood where I was locked into the closet with nothing to amuse me but smelly shoes and the trailing ends of coats, but I’d be lying. My childhood had its traumas, but I usually hid in the closet on my own initiative, just to be alone with my daydreams and resentments. Now, I’m terrified of small tight spaces. Weird, huh?

Down the rabbit hole

Here we go . . . .

Going down slides is kind of out for me these days– those small spaces remind me of MRI tubes and I get panicky. The kids love it. The five year old, in the photo, was loving the slide at the zoo, especially since the treehouse that emerges from has a hole in the base of the “tree” that makes a perfect little hidey-hole. I think he spent most of his time either on the slide or in the hiding spot. In that way, at least, he’s a lot like me. (In everything else, the kid is a clone of his dad.)

Over and over again, you climb up the ladder and slide down the slide. Repetition is fun. So why isn’t it fun to dream the same dream again? Why are the ludicrous details and shifts in reality so jarring, if you’ve already dreamed them before?

Last night, I was younger than I really am, thinner than I really am, and I had a handicapped older brother who took us on a gravity-defying RV trip through an alternate version of Louisiana. The setting was exactly the same as a dream I’ve had before, complete with horses, bonzai classes, and bubbly Oriental pop music blaring out of speakers. The RV was slightly different– it had been a truck and travel trailer in the first dream, and the brother was different, but the trip was the same. I walked along the same paths, admired the same horses, felt just as awkward when I walked out into a public concert, and I was trespassing on the same businessman’s property. But this time, I didn’t really buy it. I’d been here before– I knew it wasn’t real. I knew the ending before it happened– knew we’d be rolling down the side of the mountain and emerging into a desert that was pulled straight out of Arizona. I knew there would be snakes.

Worse, I knew that it would end. We’d get away from the snakes and my brother would stop being such a jerk and we’d drive on, and I’d wake up. Poof.

That’s something I try not to think about in my everyday life–the inevitable ending to this adventure. I’m glad that I don’t know when it’s ending. If I did, I’d be obsessed with it. Every day would be lived in reference to that last day. I wouldn’t be able to delay dealing with problems, wouldn’t be able to pretend that I’m immortal, and wouldn’t be able to ignore the fact that every day IS numbered, already.

When you ask people “if they’d do it all over again” . . . the usual answer is that they either wouldn’t choose to change anything (and wouldn’t choose to do it all over again) or that they WOULD do it over, change some things, and change the outcome. But, if you could live it all over again . . . WITHOUT changing the outcome . . . would you choose to live through your life again, knowing just how it ends?

I think it would be impossible. After living through your life once, you’d have too much insight to NOT fiddle with things. You’d forgive people easier, you’d see the fruitlessness of some of your struggles and avoid them. You’d try to fix the mistakes you’d made in dealing with people, especially your spouse and your kids. You would know that “I only have X number of days left.” And each day would seem more precious, wouldn’t it?

Maybe I’m making a mistake in NOT living that way.

I think I am.

But how does one get away from that selfish, self-absorbed, and blindfolded You? How do you strip the blinders off and appreciate each day as a precious gift? Each sunrise and sunset? Every hug and smile?

How does one do that without making it a schmaltzy celebration of ones’ self?

I’ll tell you if I ever figure it out. But I think . . . just maybe . . . it starts with being grateful for each day. If you value it, appreciate it, and are thankful you have it . . . it’s got to be better.


Many a slip . . .

So, today, I took the kids to the zoo, dropped by the pet store, bought the kids ice creams, and then tripped on a rubber duck and nearly bashed myself to death on the marble of my bathtub.

Baby chicks

But the new chicks are cute anyway.

Luckily, my left elbow and left knee took the brunt of the impact, instead of my poor cranium, so I have lived to tell the tale and to face another day.

This hasn’t been my week for physical ailments, though. I already have a mild case of shingles that’s inflamed one of my spinal nerves (and ticked off the other ones pretty well, too.) The impact into the tub gave my spine an unneeded jarring. I have a feeling that my old friend Pain and I will be very close for the rest of this week.

Life’s always like that, though, isn’t it? Just when you think that things are already going pretty badly, you stumble into something bigger and badder than the previous cause of your self-pity. (And trust me, I was feeling significant self pity as I soaked in the bathtub, nursing my new bruises.) You never know what’s going to happen next.

I’ve almost given up on being surprised by things. Today, my oldest daughter and I had a lovely plan to take the little boys to the zoo for a leisurely stroll and then some snacks. My handicapped daughter’s school called, just as I was getting ready to leave the house. Indy was rubbing her runny nose and then touching the other children, some of whom have delicate immune systems. Could we please come and get her?

I’m thinking Comeon, there’s four freaking days left of school, can’t you manage to deal with her for four days? I’ll be stuck with her all summer since you jerks weaseled out of providing summer services. What I said was “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” No sense getting all hot and bothered about it. I didn’t even let myself fantasize about public hangings for the school nurse, whomever she is.

The boys were looking forward to their first trip to the zoo since last fall, so I decided to plunge on anyway. So things would be more difficult, so what? I can handle difficult, can’t I?

And things were okay. Not the greatest zoo trip in the world, but we saw some animals and then we had ice creams so it wasn’t the worst trip, either. That’s one good thing about having an annual family membership– if things start to suck, you can leave and come back another day. It got pretty hot, so we dodged out after only seeing half the zoo. We’ll probably go back this weekend and do the other half. Hakuna matata, as the kids would say (after repeated brutal viewings of “The Lion King 1 1/2” which we don’t own but have checked out of the library twice.)

In a lot of ways, we’re not a very “lucky” family. The chances of having an autistic daughter are pretty low, but we hit that lotto anyway. We’re prone to appliance failures and the children vomit quite a bit more than any parenting book ever led me to suspect was normal. But, even when things get really crappy and we’re wondering where the money’s going to come from to fix the air conditioner or how we’re ever going to be able to make it to some appointment in a distant city, something comes along that makes it possible. And we scrape along, not elegantly but at least intact and (somewhat) sane.

When I was a young mother, I was a control freak. I had to be in charge of everything . . . EVERYTHING . . . to do with the kids. My poor husband wasn’t allowed to even feed the babies, lest he do it wrong and they choke to death and fifteen other improbable perilous outcomes. Now, I’m getting more used to the idea that I’m not really in charge of much. Things are going to go wrong, there will be LOTS of vomit, and the upholstery of the car is irredeemably screwed. But oh well. My skull is intact, the basket of rubber duckies has been re-located to a less trippable position, and I’ll live to fight another day.

It’s all I can ask for.


Totally Psychic

I wish I was, because then I could read people’s minds, understand what they’re thinking, and maybe, just maybe, be able to relate to them in a “normal” fashion.

But, I’m me, and relentlessly non-psychic, so I have not a clue what people are thinking. I’ve tried to make myself conform to the social niceties, I’ve tried to get along, but in the end, I’m just a shade too weird to be able to make and keep friends. But, since I am on the “strange” side of neural functioning and I’ve worked in a mental hospital, too, I can give people a little bit of advice for dealing with their friends who are perhaps also touched with the odd.

  • If they don’t call you, don’t assume that they’re angry or that they don’t care. They could be depressed. When you’re depressed, putting your SOCKS on seems like an impossible task. Give them a call, check on them, see if they need help. They might not say it in so many words, but when someone is depressed, they can’t handle the thought of picking up a phone or sending an email, but they definitely need you to care.
  • If your friend is hitting the party hard (abusing/over-using alcohol or drugs), don’t encourage them by telling them that you envy them and wish you could have a mojito or four, too. They need your sober advice to take it easy on the substances, and they need your listening ear. Nobody likes hearing a drunk cry, but wouldn’t you rather listen than have them hurting alone?
  • If your friend really seems to be suffering from some mental illness like depression, mania, or psychosis (which is a break from reality, irrational thoughts or beliefs, hallucinations, etc), PLEASE don’t back away in fear and leave them to face it alone. Crazy isn’t contagious. Encourage them to get help. Drive them to the hospital, if they need that. If they need phone numbers for assistance, Google it for them. They may not be able to do it alone. Be their friend. Be there for them.
  • Don’t dismiss them just because they have a problem. In another hundred years, we might be able to pop a single pill and cure these disorders. They seem overwhelming and terrifying (especially for those afflicted!) . ..  but they’re just a biological problem like diabetes or arthritis. It doesn’t make them less of a person, less human, or less in need of a good friend.

If you really want to “celebrate” some kind of friendship week, you should start by realizing that you can only take the measure of yourself as a friend. How good are you at being a friend? Make the first call, and realize that you probably only see a tiny fraction of the reality of your friends’ lives. People try to hide their worst pains. You’ll never know unless you ask.

 


How to recapture your youth in three easy lessons

So I was looking at a picture of Nathan Fillion taken back in 1995. He was cute– young, yes, and very cute. And I started thinking about what I was doing in 1995 and how young I’d been.

I came to the shocking realization that I’d lived my 20s like I was in my 70’s. Ouch!

Back in 1995, I was 21, mind you. I was young, a LOT thinner than I am now, and I had two little adorable daughters, a 2 year old and a newborn. I watched a lot of tv, read a lot of books, and dabbled in some fantasy writing. I had a Siamese cat, a Shetland Sheepdog, and a few finches. I crocheted. I rarely left the house. I never drank. I made pots of tea and collected bunny figurines.

In short, I was the most boring 21 year old chick on the planet.

When I hit 30, I had a total meltdown and tried to recapture my lost youth with a lot of “grownup fun”. That method doesn’t work, by the way– you never get the youth back, you just stagger through some exceptionally poor decisions while dressing in increasingly scanty clothing. Also, the consumption of alcoholic beverages and mind-altering substances does NOT make you more charming, funnier, or more interesting. It just leads to even MORE poor decisions, lots of vomiting, and the uncomfortable sensation that your liver is going to file divorce papers.

It took me about six years to drag myself out of this little midlife crisis and figure out that my youth was gone the way of the dodo . . . but that I didn’t need to add myself to the extinction list.

Since then, I’ve discovered the secret to being forever young. It’s absolutely the most difficult thing that you’ll ever have to do, especially if you’re an artsy and self-absorbed person like I am. I’ve never gotten a critique of my work that I’ve liked. But here goes . . . the secret to recapturing your youth . . . .

1. You’ve got to stop taking yourself seriously. Life’s a joke and the joke is YOU. No, you’re not too lofty to deal with the humdrum vagaries of existence. Live like a 2 year old– it’s ALL funny, it’s all mysterious, and it’s all amazing. Even if your taste in comedy doesn’t run to the gross-out stuff, there’s something to be said for laughing at anything. If nothing else, you’ll be more fun to be around.

2. You’ve got to do what you love. You don’t see children spending hours doing things they hate– unless an adult is forcing them to. Did you spend hours playing when you were a kid? Remember that? Man, you have to do it now. Maybe you won’t be playing with My Little Ponies anymore (if you’re a brony, I don’t need to know this), but you HAVE to do things that make you happy. If all that you’re doing is working, working, and suffering through stuff that you hate, youth will flee and you’ll be just another bitter grownup who can’t relax even on vacation.We have to work to eat, but we have to have fun too.

3. You’ve got to learn to stop trying to control stuff. Kids know that they’re not in control, although they suspect that they can influence things by various arcane means. Who didn’t step on a crack and expect to hear their mother’s spine shatter, at least once? But mostly kids know that grownups are the ones making the decisions and they just accept that. Except 2 year olds, but yeah. We grownups know we have to make the decisions, but then we get so wrapped up in making those decisions that we think “Hey, I’ve got to MAKE other people do what I want. NOW.” Just make the decisions that you can make for yourself and your family and let other people do what they want to do. (They’re going to do it anyway) If we allow them to act freely, we won’t be quite the tyrannical asshats that we sometimes want to be.

There you go. The arcane knowledge. I had to sacrifice nineteen goats and a pigeon for that stuff, so use it wisely.

Me, I’m going to go plan a birthday party for my baby, who is turning 3 this weekend. HE knows these secrets. And he’s hella fun to be around.