Saturday, December 24, 2011

Birthdays

Seven years ago...
Yesterday was my oldest kids' seventh birthday. Trey and Lindy, our only son and eldest daughter, the product of tears, and pain, and happiness, and love, and no matter what they do or how often they make us angry, the absolute joy of our lives.

Becoming a Father is, generally, easy. In the case of my little girls (who turn four in February), this was absolutely the case. Easy, and a little accidental. Less so in the case of our first- and second-born (Lindy was "born" two minutes behind her brother), but that's a story for another day. Still, even with the difficulties along the way, when you compare it to DADDYhood, fatherhood is a walk in the park.

One of the first thoughts I had when I found out I was having both a son and a daughter was, how on earth are we going to raise them? How do I raise my son to be a the kind of man who other men can look up to; the kind of whom I can be proud to point and say, "that is my boy?"  How do I raise a little girl who will understand and believe that she can do whatever she wants to do, and be whatever she wants to be; who knows that she is loved beyond anything she could ever fathom; who values knowledge and love and family?

How can I raise kids who will follow the Will of God, when I still struggle on a daily basis to do exactly that?

Becoming a father is simple. Any idiot with functioning parts can sire a child -- and many do. But being a Dad? Being in their lives and helping them to make good choices and become responsible members of the human race who will love God and their fellow man more than they love themselves? Impossible.

Except.

It's not possible to think of my kids' birthday without thinking of another, far more famous birth.

Yes, I know (in fact, most people know) that Jesus Christ wasn't born on December 25, 0 BC or 1 AD, or however it's actually labelled (I never really understood the system, to be honest). I also know that The Church co-opted a pagan holiday in order to give pagan cultures being integrated into Christian society something to celebrate other than nature and various other gods (and in fact, that this was also the basis for Easter).  Nevertheless, no other figure in History has made such a significant and lasting impact on global culture than has Jesus Christ, and you know, correct date or not, his birth OUGHT to be celebrated. All of which is to say, I don't care that He wasn't born on 12/25, so don't bother. I celebrate His birth on that day, and so do my wife and my children.

So, within the span of three days, we celebrate the birth of our oldest children, and of God's only Son, and I remember: I'm not the only man on earth who ever had to raise children. And, really, I have it easier than many. Look at Joseph: a guy who had to adopt the very Son of God! How inadequate he must have felt! I have to raise my Gifts from Heaven to live a life serving God; Joseph had to raise a Son who would save the world!

I don't know how Joseph did it; but I know now about the Hope that was born -- whatever day that was. And I know that, no matter how else I screw it up, if I can pass that Hope onto my own children, and remind them of the importance of that Holy Birth we celebrate right after their own, then they will be able to overcome whatever mistakes I make in raising them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Character in my faith-based novel just dropped an 'f-bomb.' Now what?

A couple things about me. I don't often talk about it here, but yes, I am a follower of Christ. The magazine I edit, the websites I administer, and the work I do as a publisher and as a writer, are all done with the goal in mind of Glorifying Christ in one way or the other.

I also use "adult language." Not merely in my writing, but in general. Probably more than I should. I don't have an issue with swearing, exactly -- I've debated at length on the subject, and that's not really what this post is about (so bear with me, please) -- but I do see the value in expanding my vocabulary, and limiting the less-than-socially-acceptable speech, at least to an extent.

And, yes, more than one of my stories has featured some fairly strong language. Which can be weird for people.

So when I set out to write the current WIP, I had two goals in mind, apart from the obvious goals regarding direction, plotting, and theme: I wanted to point, without preaching, toward the light of God, and, I wanted to try to cut back on the language for this one.

However, I also believe in being honest and True when it comes to the story and the characters. A fellow writer once asked her friends whether their characters speak to them. To a person, each of the writers she asked said, "all the time."

I have been surprised by characters before -- indeed, it's one of my greatest joys when it comes to writing. I once set to work on a fishing horror story. In the story, a father and son are going fishing as they try to reconnect in the wake of the younger son's death. He died, of course, in a fishing accident. It wasn't until I got about halfway through the story, and really started to like both men and sincerely hope they could work it out, that I discovered the fundamental truth of the story: The accident that killed the younger son wasn't an accident; he'd been murdered by his own father.

When I started writing that story, I didn't know that. As far as I was concerned, it was going to go a different direction entirely. The Father was going to save his remaining son's life. They were going to reconnect and live happily ever after. They were possibly going to catch the Monster of the story, and maybe even be millionaires. And even if they didn't. Even if the creature still lurked in the dark lake, at least this relationship would have been healed.

The old man had me fooled.

It made me angry. I didn't delete the story, exactly, but I did determine he wasn't going to take his own kids with him, the old S.O.B. I rewrote the story. Completely. I don't know whether it was the right thing to do, but I couldn't be true to the story and remove what he had done. So, like last of Grimm's Fairy's I altered the scenario and removed a small portion of the tragedy. There was no redeeming the codger, but for whatever reason, I couldn't let his kids go out like that.

So, back to the current story. The point is, characters will be characters. You won't always approve of what they do; and they'll occasionally surprise you. So, in the heat of the moment, during an argument with a friend, centered around a girl with whom he may be in love, this character swore. The Queen-mother, as Ralphie might say, of all dirty words. I hadn't intended for him to do so, certainly. And I certainly hadn't intended for him to use that one. But there it is.

Yes, I know. This doesn't seem like a problem. Either leave it in, or take it out. Decide on the audience you're looking to attract, perhaps, and let that be your guide. It doesn't need to be there, still others are saying, so just hit the 'delete' key.

And I could. The narration is just fine without it. The cadence is still there. The meaning and emotion still intact. Yes. I could simply get rid of it.

But will it still be true?

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Dream of Zombie

Weird fact: when I watch horror movies, I generally don't have nightmares. There is one exception to this rule, about which I'll probably post another time; but in general, the above holds true. Given last night's adventures in Dreamland, I'm beginning to believe the opposite also holds true: if I don't get a fix of one kind or another of the scary, my unconscious mind will seek any outlet it can find. Usually when I'm sleeping.

What's funny is, as much as I view and read (and, my wife would say, obsess) about zombies, I almost never dream about them. I've had nightmares featuring serial killers, demonic possession, a black-clad headless guy with a badly-dressed spokesman (seriously -- it's one of my most vivid childhood dreams; remind me to tell you about it sometime), fires, drownings... but almost never zombies.


Strange: Usually it's Mario
Lopez who gives me
nightmares.
And then last night happened. For reference, The Walking Dead has been on a seasonal hiatus for two weeks now, and I spent the two hours before bed watching a Christmassy romantic comedy with my wife. In spite of where you think I'm going with this, I actually really enjoy watching sappy romantic comedies with my wife. Still... it's a weird coincidence.

Actually, neither Zac Morris nor the blonde on the right were in my dream last night. Unless they were zombies, which I suppose is possible. There were an awful lot of those wandering around.

In my dream there was a school. I think it was a school. It was large, nondiscript, and sterile. Empty. It was maybe the least interesting building I've ever seen. As I remember it, there were no banners, no posters, nothing to identify it as anything other than a ... building. I know there were at least two stories, and possibly a basement level. Stairs in the clean, white entryway. Come to think of it, there was a distinctness in the lack of markings of any kind on the floors and walls. Here was a building of few survivors, and rank upon rank of hungry, walking dead -- and yet no smears of blood, no bodies -- not even the telltale scuffmarks of dragging shoes. A blank canvass which my subconcious mind couldn't be bothered to decorate. 

(This is actually more frightening in my memory than it was during the dream itself. Dreams, after all, are built upon suspension of disbelief: it is the very unreality of the Dreamscape that becomes a part of the mundane backdrop to whatever story is playing itself out in your subconscious. I begin to wonder if this veneer of unreality is the mind's way of allowing you to cope with the substance of the dream: a subtle reminder that it's all in your head.)

Where was I? Right. There were survivors. A group of them, stuck in this school/hospital/whatever building, but who knew the Living Dead could be behind any door. The gist was, they wanted to leave, and not just because it was a creepy, blank building. At some point, before my daughter crawled into bed with us, the survivors had come up with a brilliant plan: use themselves as bait to lure the zombies into into an entryway, where most of them would exit the building, one would hop the stairs (entry blocked for your standard shuffling undead) and close the back door before exiting out a window. Great plan. If my subconscious may say so itself.

Plan set, my daughter woke us up, crawling into our bed. I went back to sleep, and something that never happens, happened: the dream continued. Only, this time, though the setting was the same, I was following a new cast of characters: The Walking Dead survivors. Rick and Co., as it turned out, had a similar plan in mind, and followed it, only added shooting. Some peripheral "characters" died getting out. Some made it.

Then came the real problem: turns out, while this second cast was doing its thing, Dream-cast #1, who knew nothing about the second crew, had been biding their time. They -- about 50 men, women, and children, made their way to the entryway... only to find that the previous group's excursion had attracted a large group of zombies to the front of the building.

Trapped. Flesh-eating dead in front, and slowly dragging in from behind.

And the alarm went off.

After about 20 minutes of hitting snooze and trying to solve the dilemma faced by my dream survivors (I was literally unable to sleep without figuring it out -- I was simply not willing to go back to sleep and put those dream kids at risk without having a way out), I finally gave up and turned off the alarm.

Incidentally, my daughter also informed me, after I hit snooze that first time, that she'd been having a nightmare. I'm honestly a little afraid to ask her about it.

Lesson learned: a lack of horror movies will make me lose sleep. Or, in this case, give me a nearly two-hour semi-waking nightmare. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Douglas Coupland and What We All Need

Thursday, I think, I found myself under an inexplicable urge to reread Douglas Coupland's Microserfs. To clarify, it wasn't the wanting to reread Coupland which was inexplicable, but the intensity with which this urge presented itself. Enough so that I went into my former "office" (which is now more of a very badly organized storage room) and dug through piles upon piles of books I'd forgotten I had until I managed to find it.

My friend Christian first loaned me this book, while I was in college. He seemed genuinely shocked and chagrined at my confession that I'd never read it, and had taken it upon himself to remedy the situation. Since then, Coupland has become one of my favorite authors, and Microserfs, probably my favorite book.

I've discovered, in myself, that I tend to be a lot about community. Belonging, really. I think that's one of the major reasons I've become such a fan of Coupland. Microserfs, in particular, isn't really about the 90s, or about technology, or the Geek Culture -- even as it's about all those things simultaneously. Really, it's about belonging. As Dan, the book's narrator, realizes in a very short time about the new company they've all run off to start: "It's no longer about work. It's about all of us staying together."

About the time in my life that I left for college, I became a very transient person. Though I've always been very family-oriented, I no longer felt that I had roots. Or, rather, I felt that I needed to transplant those roots into a field of my own choosing. I never stayed in a single dorm room or apartment for more than a year -- and that single year was not by choice. Mostly, if I stayed anywhere for a semester it was only because it was impossible to move once school had begun. After getting married, we lived for a short time in an apartment in Jackson, MI, then moved to LA while I continued my education in film. We moved back to Michigan, occupying, not counting the short stay with my sister, no fewer than four homes. We left there shortly after our first two kids were born and moved out to Northern New York, where we've only moved one other time -- from my wife's parents' house into a house of our own.

Roots can be funny things.

However, even in the transience, there has always been within an intense desire for community: to be part of something. I was raised in a close family; family is part of who I am as a person. It is as much part of my personality as my sense of humor and dislike of pop music. Community is a part of my DNA.

In college, it was manifest in my choice of friends and interests. Like Microserfs. It's worth mentioning that most of my college friends work with computers or in some technological field or another. I, meanwhile, couldn't code a three-digit calculation in BASIC. I told myself instead that working in radio and television counted as "geek," and that I fit into my adopted cultural niche by virtue of my nerdy obsession with media. And I guess that, to some extent, I did. More importantly, though, I fit in with my friends. Books like this one were actually more than merely good reading: they were something to talk about. They were part of our cultural identity: something that helped to make us who we were as a group. Though they could talk circles around me when it came to almost anything else technological (computers, graphics, gaming), we were on a level playing field culturally, and we had the benefit of genuinely liking one another. I'll get more in-depth with my various circles of college friends at another time, but for now the main thing is the simple understanding that it was the community which was important.

Ultimately, each of us belonged to something. The things we did, the decisions we made, were all run through the filter of The Group. This is not to say The Group had any type of veto power; it was enough to know that they cared about those decisions.

Community is not about place any longer. For me, and many others of my generation, it never has been. I'm among the first of the Internet generations: I grew up with the ability to connect with those outside my physical circle of influence, thanks to a simple BBS called Prodigy. My college life was defined by this same ability, but on a much grander scale: BBS sites, chatrooms, websites(!), internet gaming. We found we could keep track of our own little Group, even as members moved on to greener pastures, thanks to a BBS set up by some within our circle (MIB: Messages In Black). The circle was widened, and at the same time, brought closer.

Chatrooms and BBS became blogs and forums. Blogs and forums became Social Networking. All of it driven by the common human thread: the intrinsic need to be a part of something.

Microserfs is humanity on the brink of understanding the truest definitions of community. Even as it is a story about one man's search for family, it is also about his dealing with a world slowly going Global Village. In a story that takes place in 1993-1994, it's worth noting that one of the book's characters, Abe, remains a vital part of Dan's community, even though the two live hours away from one another, and communicate mostly via email.

Prophesies of the decade to come, perhaps.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Any idiot can self-publish... and many DO

Okay, the title seems like an awfully rude thing to say, which can be taken in several offensive directions, depending on who you are and how easily offended.  The problem is, on its face, it's true: literally anyone can self-publish. That's what self-publishing is.  And, thanks to Amazon, it's no longer even cost-prohibitive to do so.  This is not to say that self-publishing is inherently bad. Quite to the contrary! Both as a writer and a reader, I've been appreciative of the avenues available in self-publishing. Not only have many friends been able to get work out quickly, and begin to make names for themselves, but I've found and enjoyed many great stories that would otherwise have still been sitting on the author's hard drive, useless and unread.

DiY is a great thing, but it comes with its own set of perils, of which many authors are unfortunately either unaware or else simply not careful enough. Issues of this kind can be anything from a veritable grab-bag of grammatical misuses and spelling errors, to massive issues of character and plot development. But all of these problems, great and small are mistakes every author makes. Every. The difference? Successful writers don't fly entirely solo. Amateur authors, perhaps too confident in their own abilities -- or else not confident enough, perhaps -- often skimp on the basics. The result: what should have been a decent to excellent book is self-published before it's ready for public consumption, and reads like it was written by a fifth-grader with a condensed thesaurus.

The first of these pitfalls is the unwillingness of the author to "kill his darlings." That is, to eliminate a passage, character, or other part of the book, with which the author is particularly enamored, but does so little to advance the actual story, that it actually succeeds in degrading the overall experience. Believe it or not, a good publisher will actually do more than sell your books. See, because it is their business to sell these pesky things,  it is in their very best interest to make sure they don't suck. And, unlike you, the author, they don't have an emotional attachment to the things you wrote. You can do this without going through a traditional publisher, but first you're going to need a third party to tell you to do it. That's the thing with our darlings: we just don't see how bad they really are.

Which brings us to issue the second: getting an editor. Yes, a decent editor will cost you money.  Editors cost money for a reason: they're better at what they do than your random friends and beta readers are. Their job is not to scan through it, correcting a few grammatical issues, and generally making you feel good about your prowess as a writer. Your friends? Even the honest ones are gonna lie to you a little. Even if the editor is only proofing it, he or she will at least correct the grammatical and punctuation errors, problems with word usage, and glaringly problematic syntax. An excellent editor will even help you work through problem areas in your storytelling. Here's the thing: I don't care how good you are, or how good you think your story is, you need an editor. Preferably one with whom you are unrelated, and who you pay specifically to be critical.

If you're looking here for tips on how to improve your own work yourself, without availing yourself of a professional editor, you're not going to find them. Chances are, we've read the same books, and you're doing everything which can reasonably be expected of you. The simple fact is, you cannot make your book everything it could be. Not on your own. Beta readers are a good start, but ultimately, you're not going to get all the help you need from people with a vested interested in your happiness (that is to say, your friends). Many a tone-deaf hopeful has walked arrogantly into an audition, only to walk out again in tears, all because of well-meaning friends and relatives who didn't want to tell hard truths.

Friends are great. But if you want a professional opinion, you're pretty much stuck either paying for one or finding a patient publisher who'll help you with it.

Once again, I'm not saying not to self-publish. Who knows: maybe it really is as good as you think. But you'll never know how good your story really is if you deny yourself the same tools upon which even Stephen King relies. You could be the next Steinbeck, but if the reader can't get past the syntax and plotting, you're book's just another piece of crap; and you're just another name for readers to avoid.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Walking Dead Mid-season Finale is Tonight

Sad fact of life: Morning DJs don't get out much, and we go to bed early. If you've read this blog -- pretty much ever -- you know I am pretty much in love with The Walking Dead on AMC, but don't generally get to watch it the night it airs. It's on past my bedtime. All that to say: I finally got around to watching last Sunday's episode on Friday.

(I should mention, the following contains a spoiler or two for the comic series, as well as spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen episode 206.)

It was excellent, and worth looking forward to, but I'm not going to write a review. Instead, since apparently everyone and his mom is writing previews and spoilers, I figured I'd look at where we are in the narrative, make a few educated guesses about where we're going next, and approach the show as though I were writing it myself. That is to say, every writer is different, and there's a good chance that my guesses will be way off; I'm hoping to offset my inevitable inaccuracies by saying, "I meant to do that."

Really, I'm not sure it can get any more clear than that.
To begin, a word about the show itself. I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but it seems some people won't shut up about it, why should I? The single biggest complaint about the show (now that everyone has gotten over that whole "it's not a scene-by-scene retelling of the book" thing) is that there aren't enough zombies. A Clear case of Missing The Point. People with this complaint have either not actually read the books, or else didn't really get what Rick was saying at the end of (hardcover) Book 2.

The Walking Dead isn't about zombies any more than Rescue Me was about fire. It is a story about survivors. An understanding of this basic concept is pretty much vital to an appreciation of both the books and the show. As the series progresses, we see that it is, in fact, several stories, intertwined. Just like life itself. It is the story of individuals -- of each of their strengths, weaknesses, and desires -- and of the group as a unit. Learn this fact. The producers, no matter how much you bitch on their facebook page, will probably never turn TWD into a Romero movie.

And, let's face it, as much as I am a fan of zombie movies (my wife would call it an obsession), at some point the monsters themselves start to run together -- to look the same -- and ultimately, it really is the human story which is more interesting.

As it turns out, discovering you wife is pregnant AND
is trying to abort it, all at the same time,
IS a little disappointing.
So, to the human story that is The Walking Dead. By now, we're starting to see the cracks in Rick's armor -- and what makes him such a strong lead. Rick is a man who really wants to see and believe the best in everyone. He lives under the constant (and naive) assumption that, at their core, all people really want to do the right thing. While it is this quiet leadership that brings out the best in characters who, like Darryl, really had little going for them in the way of redeeming quality, it also blinds Rick to potential dangers -- particularly when those dangers come from people he has trusted.

Rick, to his credit, refuses to blame either his wife or his best friend when he finds out they had slept together during his absence. "I know," he says. "You thought I was dead. Didn't you?"  He's hurt, but is trying to understand. At the same time, it is not the nightmare in which he and all the other survivors live, but all these disappointments (great and small) in his fellow man, which are going to erode his sanity.

Same old story: Boy meets girl. Girl almost gets
eaten bya zombie. Boy discovers will to live.
Glenn, meanwhile, is slowly gaining confidence in himself as a leader. His uncertainty in himself this season has been a little weird, as, ever since we met him in episode one, he has been the epitome of walking, talking competence. In his own way, he's every bit at home in this new, apocalyptic world as Daryl seems to be. But he's also among the youngest of the adults (eluded to in Episode 205, by his and Maggie's place at the "Childrens' Table" during the dinner scene), and still unable and unwilling to make decisions that would affect the group as a whole.

Maggie is going to temper Glenn's willingness to risk his own life and also bolster his confidence in himself  as a contributing member of society. Glenn's character arc is far from peaked, though, and he's due for further testing.

Hype for tonight's show centers on a "shock" ending, which makes sense for a finale -- even a midseason. By now, anyone paying attention understands that the show is using the comic books more for character development and a very basic plot guide. But the producers have (rightly, in my opinion) decided to keep the show fresh by deviating from the book series in major ways. What this means is that viewers should probably prepare themselves to lose some characters early, who would otherwise have stayed with us for a while.

Crazy? I went crazy once!
Dale has a few more secrets to tell, and the real question is whether or not he's going to get to tell them. If he is killed off, it will be at the hands of the increasingly nuts Shane. This could be the shock AMC has in store. It would force Glenn to rely more upon himself and Maggie, though isn't entirely necessary to that dynamic. It would also further ostracize Shane, even if he did manage to tell a semi-convincing story to cover himself.  Two deaths with Shane as the only witness is going to drastically change the dynamic.

New story or no, Shane is himself on a death spiral. He will probably survive the midseason finale, and may even live through the season. But ultimately, he's going to die. While many would like to see some redemption for Shane, as he selflessly runs interference so somebody else can live, I have a hunch that, as in the comics, it will ultimately be a member of the Grimes family who puts him down. It may or may not be Carl, but I think it certain that it will be either him, Lori, or Rick.

Speaking of Lori, I have the feeling she'll be dead before the baby is born. The producers could choose to add the infant to the mix and see how it changes the dynamic, but I don't think they will. This means, most likely, killing off mom and daughter like in the comic books (which will come much later in the series), having Lori miscarry, or killing Lori and the baby in or before childbirth. If Darabont were still writing, I almost wouldn't put the first option past him (seriously: have you seen The Mist?). But he and the producers alike have to know how poorly that will play with American audiences.  The second option is possible; it's even possible that after such an event, Lori would commit suicide -- the emotional impact for Rick and co. would be pretty much the same. It's even possible to write it in such a way that her aborted abortion attempt could come into play. Still, it's exactly because of that attempt that I think such an option unlikely. The third option is most likely. It honestly wouldn't shock me too much if it were Shane who was ultimately responsible for it. For some reasons, while Audiences would have a strong reaction to such an event, it wouldn't be a wholly negative one.

There is also some speculation around the web that Sophia will finally be found in tonight's episode -- inside the barn, already a Walker. If it happens that way, it also drastically changes another character dynamic that's been in the works: that between Daryl and Carol.

Guess we'll wait and see.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Best Case Scenario: Superintendent Marc Winger is a Pandering Simpleton

See, this is what happens when I ignore the news for a while. Generally, I like to keep an eye on educational news because, children are, after all, our future. But, I somehow missed news over last weekend about this 11-year-old kid being suspended for comparing somebody to Obama. And it wasn't even Hitler.



Now, if you don't have time to hit the link, allow me to sum it up: a local celebrity (a newscaster for the local tv station, actually) went to have lunch at his daughter's school. Chris Schauble, the newsman, happens to be a person of color, and, for his job, is generally dressed in a suit. He also has short-cropped hair, a huge, friendly smile, and is tall and thin. I think you can see where this is going.


5th grader Grayson Thomas noted the similarity between his local newsman and President Obama, and, according to Grayson's dad, told a friend that, "President Obama’s here at our school."  


Somebody heard the comment and told Chris's daughter, who was interviewed by the principal, who then told the Superintendent, Chris Winger. Oh - but this was after the Principal was told by all the witnesses (except the girl who told Schauble - and who evidently doesn't like Grayson anyway) that the statement was simply a joke, referencing the fact that the two men have a similar appearance.


Now, the Superintendent has gone on record saying that it wasn't exactly what the boy said, but how he said it, that was the problem.  According to Grayson's father, when Winger explained the situation to him, the issue was that "what he was saying is that all black men look alike and that is racist.”


But let's take a step back for a second.  Winger wasn't there. He has no idea how Grayson actually said anything. He wasn't even the person who interviewed the witnesses - that job fell to Principal Candace Fleece.  The result: He said/she said, in which Grayson and his friend told her what he said and meant, one girl said what she thought she heard, and one girl had nothing but hearsay from the other. So, not only was Winger acting on a third-hand account of what actually happened, but it was a third-hand account with two completely different interpretations of the event. 


Raaaacist!
(photos from The Blaze)
This is enough evidence to expel a student?


I'm not suggesting the kid's an angel. What kid is? He got into trouble earlier for stealing, and was accused of making inappropriate comments to another girl (an unproven accusation, as it turned out, and one for which no action could be taken because witnesses all said it didn't happen that way).  No matter: even if the kid had punched another kid in the mouth, if he was punished for that incident, there is simply no way you can make the case that he should be expelled for this one based on two completely different interpretations of an event, and no evidence.


But the issue is far more troubling, to me, than a simple case of bad school policy.  On the surface, I'd say you could make the case that Winger is simply pandering to a local celebrity and trying to save a little face for the school.


The real problem here is that what we seem to be looking at is a school that not only will punish kids for having unsanctioned thoughts and feelings, but also for a mere inference of such attitudes as interpreted by other students. In other words, at this school, a kid can be punished for being a racist. But, since that tends to be open for a bit of interpretation, the school will use what other students and faculty think you think as the basis for discipline.


The very idea that a child can be expelled or in some other way punished for what somebody perceives as racism is, as I said, troubling. For starters, racism is, itself, subject to interpretation. Somebody like Jeanine Garofalo would tell me I'm a racist just for having a fundamental difference of opinion with a person of color.  Others will say I'm a racist simply by virtue of having been born white. So whose version of racism is the school going to punish? 


Ironically, the school seems to be worried about their actions in this matter being misinterpreted. According to a press release: 


The Newhall School District regrets that untrue statements have appeared in the media. 


And by now, of course, there are those who will have noted this fundamental irony in this very post. "You are being unfair," they are declaring, shaking their fists at their computer screens. "You weren't there, and cannot possibly have all the facts! How dare you rush to judge this school, based only on hearsay and on just one side of the story?!" 


To which I can only humbly reply, "Good point."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reading (and writing) with the senses (fka Sensual Reading)

(originally posted elsewhere, years ago, but since edited and updated)



I'm imagining myself sitting in a little dive just off the highway. It's one of those places in which you can smell the grease in the fries, and have to wring out your hamburger bun. It used to be an ice cream parlor. And though I rarely find myself at one of its corner tables anymore, it is still marked in memory as one of my favorite places to write.


As I sit at my kitchen table imagining, I remember the view from where I sat: old men discussing the weather, and its effect on their joints; the ladies in the back, spooning mashed potatos -- the kind with the dark, dark gravy -- and Superman ice cream.

I never brought my laptop to this little diner, prefering always the feel of pen against paper. In fact, as I write this now, I am ever mindful of not smearing my ink -- quite a task for a left-handed writer.
But there is method, as they say, in this madness. Writing is an experience of the senses. If the senses -- all of them -- are not involved, then you can only find half the story.


But perhaps I am old-fashoned.

I have in my posession an illustrated edition of Tennyson from 1885. It is well-worn. Okay -- it's in tatters. It is unlikely it would fetch much on Ebay. But it is the pride of my collection.

Reading, you see, is also an experience for the senses.

My Tennyson has layers: a path to travel before reaching the contents. You first blow the dust off the cover: it's an image so old it's a cliché, but it is no less necessary. You lift the book to your nostrils. The musk of age travels to your brain, and the smell gives the words context. And, finally, you turn the first page.


There is a feeling elicited by a bound book that an eBook -- even as they become slimmer and more convenient -- will never touch.

Not that there is anything wrong with eBooks -- anything that gets more people reading can only be a boon to society.  And I'm not saying I don't have a weird sort of love affair with my kindle. Let's face it: it's handy to have around, and sometimes, the words are all you need.



And sometimes, the book, itself, is part of the experience.  I think of Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian."  Much of the book takes place in libraries, with the main character poring over old diaries and papers and various bound histories. Is it an enjoyable read on the Kindle? Probably. But, to me, to read such a book in an electronic format is to lose some of that feeling of "there-ness."  


When I read "The Historian," I'm holding a thick volume, and smelling that scent that hides just beneath the cover. It is as if I, too, am sitting in that darkened room, reading the account of the main character, in the form in which she left it. I'm there with her, turning page after page, feeling the grain of the paper beneath my fingertips. Hearing the scratch of the page as I turn to the next.


That sound; the weight and smell; the edge of the paper, digging ever so slightly into the creases in my fingers: All of it, the book's way of making its presence known. 

Think of your closest friends -- not the people you know from chatrooms or internet forums; the people with whom you can enjoy the quiet moments. Is it their words that bring you comfort and joy? Or is it their presence? Is talking on the phone the same as walking together through a park?  The words may be the same -- but that sweet, blessed companionship can only come, at its fullest, when you are together.

The obituary for Print has been written more times than I can count. The book, we're told, is dead. It just doesn't know it yet. Book stores are allowing now-empty shelves to gather dust, as the owners head off to more certain pastures.  What a shame.

I love words. I could read words, sentences, stories all day. And for that, certainly, the Kindle, or my laptop, or even, occasionally, a recording will suffice. But for the best a story has to offer, in those quiet moments of reading and reflection, I'll take a the weighty presence of a hardcover every time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The (second) coolest SPAM ever...

This is the FIRST.
I like it grilled or fried, on a bun
with tomato. Try it. You'll thank me.
Some time last month, an acquaintance of mine sent a mass email asking for our support for his MOvember activities.  (Movember, if you don't know, is when men grow out their mustaches to raise money and awareness for mens' cancers, like Cancer of the Junk). Today, I received the note below; the second best SPAM I've ever seen. (note: I removed my friend's name, but left the company name, since it's technically for a god cause, even if it IS shameless self-promotion in the name of Cancer of the Junk.

Ahem:

Hello CIBC'ers and friends of [redacted]:
*[redacted] was kind enough to leave your personal information up for grabs and available to an opportunistic business person like myself!
*Rather than just blatantly solicit my service to you, I figured I would offer up an opportunity for you all to help [redacted]and Movember.
*Simply "like" BodyNetix on facebook and claim your free week of FitCamp.
*Attend 3 classes and upon completion send me an email with your full name and letting me know you completed your week.
*BodyNetix will then donate $10 on your behalf to [redacted] for his Movember movement!
Good luck [redacted]!
Live Long, Live Strong!
Chris KetchBodyNetix Professional Fitness Training


Daryl Oates hates
Junk Cancer. Do YOU?
I'm a fan of Movember, but don't generally participate, largely because it requires the shaving of all facial hair on October 31, which I have not done in over 5 years.  Although, for the sake of awareness and funds for Junk Cancer, I AM considering it for next year.


But seriously, I love getting email with a sense of humor. Not -- and I repeat, NOT -- forwards and emails featuring post turtles, cats going to heaven, or Redneck golf jokes; I just appreciate people who don't take themselves too seriously.


And if you know anyone who is participating in Movember, show them your support today. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

On Being A Rat - a review

People deal differently with both the good and bad in life. Loss, pain, and doubt are often dealt with in prayer or in alcohol, in conversation or bad poetry.  Chila Woychik creates art. 

"On Being A Rat" is a tapestry of poetry and lyrical prose, masquerading as a collection of autobiographical essays.  The collection is expressive and raw: not as an open wound, but instead like the flesh of an arm which has been scrubbed too clean.  The result is fresh skin, peeled back and red, both stinging and refreshing in its exposure to the elements.

As I read, I couldn't help but be reminded by Douglas Coupland's "Life After God" (in quality and tone, if not in style), with hints of Galway Kinell's "Book of Nightmares."

The author peels back the curtain of normal human restraint and, in response to the innocently (if disingenuously) asked, "how's it going" rips out her own wounded heart, places it grumpily in your hand, and says, "THAT. Is how I'm doing."

That's part 1: The Observations. In this section, Chila looks at her own struggles with trauma, with loss and doubt, and with friendship where it is needed most. The book would be worthwhile even if that was all there was to it.  But then there are parts 2 and 3.

In the section section of "On Being A Rat," Chila explores writing, in the same vein as she explored her own psyche in part 1. She offers sage words of advice, sprinkled liberally throughout -- but mostly, it's an in-depth look at her own struggles and methods.  From practical information like looking for people to do book notices for you, to less material narratives on taming her personal muse, this section isn't a how-to, but a glimpse into the journey of one writer's life in words.

Part 3, Nature Notes, is somehow misleading in its title. From the first essay in the section, we see that Chila is not writing purely about nature, but about what those elements of nature do to a person, spiritually and physiologically. In part, the essays are about remembrances, and in part odes to the wonder of the Earth.  Each of the three pieces in part 3 are beautifully written, and in their own way a part of the whole that is "On Being a Rat."

Pick up the book -- and don't forget to keep turning those pages, past the acknowledgments, for her "Letters to Friends, on Writing." These are also instructive, in their own way.

In "On Being A Rat," Chila Woychik makes some assumptions, and takes some risks. She assumes, with this book, that, since you went to the trouble of picking it up, you are asking, "Hey, how's it going?"  More brazen still, she is giving you the benefit of the doubt: she is assuming you actually meant it.  Whether talking about doubt and trauma, or the writing spirit, or even nature, Chila takes the risk of baring her soul to any complete stranger who cares to look.

In short, any good author will inspire the creativity in others. As a writer, when I read a Stephen King, I am inspired to be more prolific.

When I read Chila Woychik, I want to be a better writer.

Buy this book at Amazon.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Walking Dead: Bicyle Girl's Story

Yes, I'm more than a little excited about The Walking Dead premiering tonight -- even though I probably won't actually watch the episode for another day or two. In anticipation, I've been rereading Hardcovers one and two of the original comic series, watching Season One on the Blu Ray, and checking out the webisodes on AMC.

First, allow me to say, I love the webisode idea, particularly for a show like The Walking Dead. The beauty of AMC's series -- and the comic which inspired it -- is that, ultimately, it is a human story, even more than it is a horror story.  I've said it before, I know, but this really can't be reiterated enough: the driving force behind the best horror and suspense is not the scares, thrills, and guts -- but the lives of the characters involved.  Kirkman really seems to get this, as does everyone involved in creating the show.

Hannah.
With the Walking Dead webisodes, AMC and the show's producers are managing to do something that even Romero does only moderately well: They are reminding us that the show's titular monsters (I'm gonna get yelled at for that -- yes, I KNOW that the title refers to the survivors just as much as the zombies) were once human beings. That every ravenous creature is a tale of tragedy and loss.  And with their first collection of webisodes, AMC and The Walking Dead do just that.

Fans of the show know Bicycle Girl as one of the first zombies Rick encounters: a pathetic figure, tragic as it crawls along the ground, stretching and reaching to no avail. Even Rick, as shocked and as horrified as he is, remembers the creature, pities it, and ultimately, ends its "life" as an act of mercy. But as the webisodes remind us, Bicycle Girl, like each of the zombies, had a name. Hers was "Hannah."

Effects guru Greg Nicotero directed this piece, starting with episode 1, "A New Day," in which we experience the zombie nightmare early on, from the eyes of the pre-deceased, iconic Hannah. Like Rick, she wakes up to the apocalypse -- in a crashed car instead of a hospital -- and immediately begins the search for her family.

Interesting and heart-wrenching, Nicotero presents us with a vignette of another group of people affected by the apocalypse.  The webisodes are relentlessly paced, and I'm thankful they were posted at the same time, because the 2-minute pieces by themselves would have been frustrating instead of entertaining -- but as they were, it was far easier to take Hannah's story as a whole, and it was better for it.

If you haven't watched them, give it a shot. Be aware that, like the show, it contains adult language and graphic -- very graphic -- violence. In a few short minutes, we get to know Hannah, to understand her, and to care about her.  Enough so that, even though you know she's going to come to an end -- a gruesome end, if the resulting look of Bicycle Girl is any indication -- there is still more than a little shock and sadness when you see it happen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How I almost got strip-searched in Canada (and why it would totally have been worth it, anyway)


Thing o' beauty, isn't it? (image borrowed... or
outright stolen... from  A Good Beer Blog)
 Post payday weekend at my house often means a trip to CJ's in Potsdam to try out another craft brew selection. While they may not have the gigantic selection of stores in more metro areas, the variety of local and micro brews makes it well worth braving the occasional group of hipster douchebags from the local college.

When I got there last night, I was thinking IPA.  There were a couple black IPAs I had wanted to try out, and was examining bottles when my wandering eyes saw a familiar logo.

Could it be? It was! A 1.9 pint of Hobgoblin from Wychwood Breweries. I looked over to the left, and to my delight, found an entire 6-pack (and a half: one of the nice things about CJ's is that you can mix and match to try out new brews). Granted, the import was a bit pricier than one of the local brews... but you know, I don't actually indulge all that often, and by golly, it was the Hobgoblin. 

Sure, I COULD have just taken
this picture myself. But I didn't.
A little smokey, with notes of chocolate and toffee, this is a deep ruby ale that pours with a thick, creamy head.  It's also as smooth -- and heavy -- as Guinness. A pint will fill you, but you won't notice it until you get there. 

It's also an excellent accompaniment for various meat dishes like Bangers and Mash - which is how I was first introduced to the brew.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I actually discovered this beer as a happy accident, after a long, drawn out ordeal, and a last minute decision.

Going to Canada

When my friend Randy (that he and I share the same name will become important to this story) told me he was flying from Colorado to Upstate New York to umpire a Little League Tournament in Cooperstown, we immediately made plans to meet. 

Fellow political bloggers at the time (we've both since begun our road to recovery, and are one another's sponsors in Politics Anonymous), we'd never actually met in person.  And, though he was something of a world traveller (he'd been everywhere from Italy to Japan as part of his job - and again, this is kind of important), he'd never actually been to Canada.  As a resident of Northern New York, and working at a radio station serving a market that spans both Northern New York and Eastern Ontario, Parts of Canada's Seaway are practically my backyard; but I'd never gotten the chance to just tour around and appreciate the area. Plus, we both kind of wanted a Cuban cigar.

The Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge
Go here.

After several calls, the cigar thing was kind of turning into a bust, but we decided to cross over anyway. I had my passport card; Randy had his stamped-up passport, and we were good to go.  We crossed the bridge in the late afternoon, and it was then, as we waited in line for Customs, that I started piecing together our predicament. 

"Y'know," I said, "I've never actually been pulled into Canadian Customs before."

"Is anyone?" Actually, it was a valid question.

"We're about to be,"

It had occurred to me that we were two guys, about 20 years apart in age, with almost the same first name. In fact, our names are slightly different in spelling (my "Randall" has two 'l's to his one). It wasn't much, I thought, but taken as a part of the whole picture, it could be an issue.  On top of that, he was, as I mentioned previously, from Colorado, and had a passport full of fun and interesting stamps.  Stamps from places like Malaysia. 

Plus, I was wearing a shirt
similar to this one.
 Sure enough, it didn't take many questions before the guard at the window nicely asked us to pull the car over and come inside. FYI: as much as I will always champion honesty as the best policy, the correct answer to "how do you know each other" is apparently NOT "the internet."

At least we could honestly tell them we weren't coming to meet anyone. I'm also extremely happy we had presence of mind to say, when asked, that we were coming over to hang out and hit a bar with decent beer, and NOT to that we wanted to get Cuban cigars.

Fortunately, since Canada customs almost never brings people in (they rarely need to: by the time you leave the booth, they already know whether you've ever committed a crime, the last time you were in Canada, and how long it's been since you've had sex), we didn't have to wait long before being called to the desk. While officials ran our passports through an alphabet of national and international agencies (and possibly our parents), we were treated to live entertainment in the form of an impromptu Q&A session to determine our continued presence in the country.

"You met on the internet?"
"Yes."
"On a website for political activists."
(crap.)
"Where are you from?"

"New York"
"Colorado"

"Have you always lived there?"
"Yes."
"No."
"Crap! Neither have I!"

The interview was over. We waited.

This waiting has interesting effects on people. I knew darn well I didn't have anything on me that would be illegal or get me in any kind of trouble. Yet, I still had to stop myself from checking. At least in front of the guy. I'm pretty sure I checked my pockets when he turned his head, though.

We get on with it

The check came back. We were deemed harmless. We went on our way. After that was pretty uneventful. We drove through downtown Prescott, ON, continued up King Street, left Prescott, went through various towns with "welcome" signs informing you that, if you fail to change the battery on your smoke detector, you are sure to die a fiery, suffocating death. Evidently this is a real problem, and if I may, I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest that Canadians consider not only batteries, but also to stop building their houses out of match heads and gasoline. At some point, we landed in Brockville.


This is what it looks like. Find it as fast as you can.
 For various reasons, largely having to do with my not knowing my way around and unwillingness to look at a map, the cigar thing was indeed a bust, so we parked and walked downtown Brockville looking for a place to eat. My companion had his heart set on fish and chips, and I was determined to find good beer. What we found was an English Style Pub called The Georgian Dragon. Fish and Chips? Why, yes.  Yes there was.

A tiny little place with a mostly brick interior and friendly staff, The Georgian Dragon ("The Dragon?" I should ask the locals what they call it for short. Or is it too cool to shorten?) is the perfect place for a quiet drink and excellent food.

And yes, the food is excellent. My friend got his fish, and I asked the waiter what he recommended. He said Bangers and Mash, and I took him up on it.  For drinks, my friend asked for and received something local: a pale ale, I believe. I asked for something dark.


While you can google pics of
Bangers and Mash, they're made
a little different everywhere... and
nothing on Google does them justice.
 "You want the Hobgoblin," the waiter said.

And yes. Yes, I did.

I've visited many restaurants, pubs, taverns and bars. I've found something to enjoy about each of them. But for the overall atmosphere, the ambiance, the food (my Heavens, the fricking food!), and the beer selection, The Georgian Dragon may well be my new favorite place.  The fact that they also introduced me to a new favorite beer doesn't hurt either.

Sad, when it comes right down to it, that I haven't been back since. But I'm looking for an excuse. So, you know, if you're ever in the area, and need somebody to show you around...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You are not a beautiful snowflake...

This has been bugging me a lot lately -- probably because I so often find myself having to deal with it.  "It" is the issue of incompetence.  Now, before you start rolling your eyes and thinking I think I'm better than anyone else ("just the ones I'm better than," as a certain Captain would say), hear me out.  What I'm talking about here is willful incompetence.  Or, more passively, the simple lack of enough give-a-damn to do one's job correctly.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as wonderful and unique human beings (and we are), the cold truth is that, whether you're an actor, an astronaut, or even a fry cook, your identity -- and your reputation -- is tied up in the work you do.  If I suck at my job, my reputation suffers.  I'm not saying I don't make mistakes.  I'm saying that, when I do, it's a lot of ground to try to regain in the eyes of those who noticed.

To your parents and your girlfriend, you may be Timmy or Johnny or Bill.  To the rest of the people with whom you come into contact, though, you're just another idiot who can't make a latte.

Or, you could be "the very helpful person at (insert business here), who smiled and seemed to know what s/he was talking about/doing."

I experience a lot of this willful incompetence at my real job.  From third-party agencies who simply stopped trying decades ago to vendors who are simply unwilling to take the extra few seconds to do a job right the first time, it's easy to wonder when things in our industry started to go so wrong.  I'm not saying I'm a shining example of self-motivation by any standard, but compared to some of these individuals, I'm Henry freakin' Ford.

See, to me, having a job in this economy is enough motivation to try as hard as I can to do my job well.  That I'd someday like to get paid more for the work I do is motivation enough to push myself and try to excel.  I guess I have a hard time understanding the mental processes of somebody -- let alone entire companies of people -- who would happily stamp their name on third-rate crap and send it off to a client... not just once, but several times a week.

Are you not in the least concerned that, as both a client and a peer (as I also do similar work as part of my job), you've done nothing but reveal yourself to me as somebody with whom, had I the choice, I would never -- ever -- do business?  Are you not worried at all about your reputation in the industry that puts food on your table?

I've made mention before of what a big fan I am of trying to excel.  Mediocrity makes me angry, because it is almost always avoidable.  But sometimes, it's not even about excellence.  It would just be nice, sometimes, to know that people still have at least a little pride in their work.

By the way, as this is also a writing and publishing blog, this will all be tied in.  At some point this week, I'll be doing a post on self-publishing, and shopping publishers.  Keep this post in mind until then. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Goodreads review: The Crow graphic novel

The CrowThe Crow by James O'Barr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Though I saw (and loved) the film the year it came out, I had never read the original graphic novel until a few days ago, after buying it at the Borders closeout sale.



I'm glad I did.



The book is a different experience than the movie. While both are dark and violent, the book is more passionate. It's a love letter of sorts, but filled with pain and loss. The author spends as much time coming to terms with the fact of having a loved one ripped from his life as he does imagining bloody revenge on those who caused it. And the book is better for it.



While some reviewers have decried the simplistic storyline and lack of development of villains and peripheral characters, I think these rather miss the point. The story isn't about these characters. Eric isn't on a quest of absolution and forgiveness; he doesn't (and by extension, we don't) really give a damn about who his murderers are as people, or even why they did what they did.



As O'Barr deftly illustrates, revenge isn't about those upon whom we seek revenge. It isn't about current and future victims. Honestly, it isn't even necessarily about the victim for whom we are seeking vengeance. It's about us. Eric's revenge -- and the story itself -- is about Eric. Eric's rampage is itself a love letter written in blood to his dead fiance, and to their life together -- but ultimately it's a letter about his own pain, and his own loss.



At the same time, though, there are those touches of humanity -- not only in Eric, but even in the villains. While they have no real backstory (and again, who needs it?), those upon whom Eric is seeking revenge do often start to come to grips with their own evil. They never apologize for it, but they recognize it. They don't seek -- and Eric doesn't offer -- forgiveness; instead they respond either with rage and indignation or else quiet acceptance.



There are also small touches of realism in the story, which serve to make it that much more poignant. For me, it's often the little things which make or break a story, and O'Barr's attention to minor details really served the story here. One such detail was during the killing of Tom Tom. During the fight between Eric and Tom Tom, Eric used his sword to literally slice the feet out from under his enemy. As Eric gently grills him for information, Tom Tom looks over and says, "those are my boots," failing, in his shock, to realize that his feet are still in them. Minutes later, he asks Eric in an almost childlike way, "my feet are cold. Can I have my boots?" It's almost funny, and a lesser writer would have played the moment for laughs (and, I suppose, some readers will read it that way anyway). In O'Barr's hands, however, the moment is deadpanned and morose. It's not a joke at the villain's expense, but a simple fact of life: this is what shock is.



There are going to be readers who are rather hidebound, and will rail against the non-traditional story structure and the lack of character development for all but the main character. And even with Eric, those same readers will likely complain about the complete lack of character arc. But as I said up top, it's simply not that kind of story. Eric is dead. And, as he explains more than once, those who killed Shelly are also dead already. The story isn't about those characters... it's about Eric's loss, and what he does about it. If he makes a friend or two along the way, those brief glimpses, too, are not about those characters, but about Eric.



The Detroit of "The Crow" is a wasteland of crime and corruption. Ultimately, Eric's rampage isn't going to change anything for anyone. He's not setting out to be a superhero and rid the city of the festering rot that clings to its very soul. He's not going to make Cpt. Hook's life easier, or get Albrect a promotion. If later glimpses into her life tell us anything, not even Sherri -- the one living person with whom Eric has a nonviolent, semi-personal relationship -- will have her life dramatically improved by his brief entry into it. This is why, I believe, these other characters aren't more fully developed: they are more landscape than they are actual characters. They don't change Eric and, ultimately, he has little impact on them. It's both a realistic choice on the part of O'Barr and non-realistic. Sometimes, we change peoples' lives; sometimes we do not. O'Barr's depiction here is bleak, but not without accuracy.



Don't look for a pleasing conclusion here; for answers on life and death. That's not what "The Crow" is. Instead, "The Crow" is a brooding rumination on loss, and on pain, and on love.




Saturday, July 23, 2011

Excuses

There's a lot I'd like to be doing right now. Not now now, but at this stage in my life now.  Exercise more, pray more, read my Bible more often, get more writing done, do more work on my magazines, get more work published, work more with our business, get my home office cleaned so I have room to actually DO a lot of this stuff....

But as much as I'd like to be doing right now, I have even more excuses for not doing it.  I'm busy.  The kids are loud.  I'm too tired.  I'm beset by constant interruptions.  There's no room.  It doesn't matter anyway.  I'll have more time, and more focus, when...

I even have excuses for my solutions.  I started getting up an hour earlier in order to put in a solid block of writing each day.  But, dangit, 3am is early.

But of course, each of these excuses boils down to a single, fundamental truth: I'm not really all that disciplined.  If you're familiar at all with me, or with this blog, you've probably noticed I tend to get easily distracted.

Of course, that's one of the reasons I started this blog -- as a way to both hold myself accountable for my goals and to give positive direction to my split attentions. 

And, of course, to help those who are in the same boat I am. 

So do I have a solution to my issues?  Some.  The fact is, while excuses are annoying, they are often valid.  There are, indeed, only 24 hours in a day, and I have to sleep during some of them.  During others I have to work.  I have responsibilities to my home and family.  These things are unchangeable.  What I can change, though, is what I do with the time I have available.  Am I reading to or playing with my kids, or playing Angry Birds?  Am I writing, or am I watching TV?  Am I spending time with God, or surfing the internet?

It's true that I don't have a lot of extra time available -- but I do have the choice about whether I use it wisely or continue to waste it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys"

So, I was driving the minivan home from work, blasting Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba," with my windows rolled down, when it suddenly occurred to me: Yeah -- I'm that guy.  The guy with four car seats in the back but a CD case filled with the kind of music that makes even my wife cringe a little.

Understand, I grew up on Crashdog and Vengeance Rising -- much to my mother's chagrin.  I still recall with fondness the day she walked in on my teenage self listening to "Cashists, Fascists, and Other Fungus" and shouting at me.

"They're yelling at you!"
"It's Crashdog, Mom. You bought me the album."
"But they're yelling at you."
"Yes, that's why I bought it.  I don't remember paying you to yell at me!"

This argument, it should be needless to mention, did NOT win me points with Mom.

At some point, that kid grew up.  And much like back then, I'm a very respectful guy, until you tell me what I'm supposed to be listening to.  I suppose much of my generation has outgrown the drums and the screaming, and the crunching guitars.  To be sure, my musical tastes certainly stretch far beyond this, but at heart, I'll always be that kid in the mosh pit.  In spirit anyway.

I've been coming to terms recently with the fact that I am getting older.  I suppose at some point when I wasn't looking, the illusion of immortality wore off -- but I've never gotten used to the idea that I'm supposed to be an adult now.  I'm still not entirely sure what that even means.  I have a wife and four kids.  A job and bills.  Cars that break down, and responsibilities I don't remember signing on for.  And I'm thankful every day for all of it.  So is that being an adult?  Or does it mean that I'm supposed to leave behind pieces of my individuality, too; my daydreams that I turn into stories, my intense desire to find humor where most people find frustration, simply because I'm afraid of what will happen to my sanity if I take those things too seriously?

These are the questions that crop up as I prepare for work and my overweight, 33-year-old visage glares back at me from the mirror, while I studiously ignore the gray hairs I've long since given up pulling out of my goatee.  I dress myself in t-shirts and the occasional polo, having decided years ago that life's too short for neckties.  If I go out in public, my middle-age-guy uniform consists of a polo shirt, camo shorts and skater shoes -- like a wearable mullet for the aging Nirvana generation.

So, yeah... on the inside, I'm pretty much the same as I've always been (maybe -- hopefully -- a little wiser), while on the outside it's a struggle to maintain a shirt-size you can still buy at Wal-Mart.  I have a bad back and a trick knee -- and another knee that just seems to not like me very much.  This was all brought home to me a couple years ago at the last metal show I caught, in Allentown, PA.

I should start by saying that, when my friend asked me if I wanted to go in on some tickets, I was beyond excited.  I hadn't been to a hardcore/metal concert since college, and not only was Demon Hunter -- a current favorite -- headlining, but there was the added enticement of college nostalgia: Living Sacrifice was getting back together, and THIS was also their reunion tour.  The fact that, of the 4 guys in the car, I was the senior by more than 10 years didn't really bother me so much.  Didn't really occur to me, in fact, except to silently note that a post-show beer run was absolutely out of the question.

And then the first of the four bands hit the stage, and the mohawked and pierced college kids hit the pit. That's when I became suddenly and uncomfortably aware of who I was.  Ten, fifteen years ago, I was one of those kids, dodging feet and elbows, planting one boot on the hardwood, as my head went its own way and my arms pushed and pulled with the crowd.

My first thought in Allentown: "Somebody's gonna lose an eye."

I remember when I was younger, there were always guys on the fringes of the pit.  Those guys who were too old, or tired, or out of shape to mix it up with the rest of us.  These guys were always a little mythic to me (at least, that's the way I remember it now).  There they stood, just on the outside.  And while they weren't in the dust and blood with the rest of us, they still rocked out.  And not only that, but kept it just a little safer for everyone. I don't know that I fully understood it back then, but in Allentown, I joined those noble ranks. Maybe my knees and back couldn't deal with the pit.  Maybe I was too out of shape to mix it up.  But I could stand at the outside, keeping celebrants from being trampled; shoving overzealous revelers back into the throng, and making sure that, if somebody had to catch an elbow, it wouldn't be the wallflowers and teenage girls behind me.

Am I experiencing an early midlife crisis?  Is my love of loud music may way of clinging to my lost youth?  I guess there are as many answers to that as there are overpaid therapists.  All I know is, I get to work on time, I love my wife and kids, and if my music's not pissing off the old ladies in the car next to me, it's not loud enough.

Now get off my lawn.