Short Story: Storytime Is Hell

Lately I seem to be lacking in topical posts.  That’s bad for me; but it’s good for you, readers, as you get more stories this way.  (I hope that’s a good thing, at any rate!)

The story that follows, “Storytime Is Hell”, is another prompt-inspired story, prompted by the good folks over at Reddit’s Writing Prompts community.  The prompt reads “You are reading the grittiest, manliest, most testosterone-filled bedtime story to your daughter. She’s adding in bits.”  I also feel like I should give an acknowledgement to Matthew Reilly’s “Jack West Jr.” trilogy of novels here; the names “Wolf” and “Huntsman”, while fitting perfectly in this story (for reasons that will be obvious) are also the callsigns of his characters, Jack West Jr. and his father and rival, Jack West Sr.  The books are some of my favorites, so credit is definitely due.

And now, an audience participation moment:  Rename this story!  I hate titling stories.  If a title doesn’t present itself during the writing, I find it very hard to come up with one that satisfies me.  So, I’m taking suggestions to rename this one!  If you have an idea that you think is perfect, post it in the comments.  For the winner, I’ll rename the story.  (Not much of a prize, but hey, it works, right?)  Thanks!

All stories posted in this capacity may also be found under the “Stories” heading in the menu. Thanks for reading!

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source unknown

“Read this one!” Casey squealed, and pressed the book into my hands. It wasn’t thin, and I tried to switch it for another one, but she pushed my hands back with all her five-year-old strength. “No, Daddy! I said THIS one!” Well, alright. I opened it and leafed through; at least the stories in it were short. I flipped to a random one and sat back on the bed; looking cute as ever, Casey sat back against her pillow, pulled the blanket up over her knees, and folded her hands on them in prim anticipation. Her eyes glowed as she waited for the story to begin.

“Alright,” I said. “Once upon a time, there was a minor Central American country. In this country lay a small jungle, and in that jungle lay a tiny, reinforced compound. In that compound lived an old matriarch, and her granddaughter, Red.”

I paused. “Wait, just what kind of book is this, anyway, Casey?” I flipped it over and read the title. “Roundhouse Kick The Wicked Witch: Manly Fairy Tales For Manly Men. Well, that explains it!” I looked up. “Casey, where did you get this book?”

“Kindergarten!”

“Uh…”

“READ!” she shouted.

“Alright, alright, if you insist.” I flipped it back over. “But you might not like it!”

She giggled. I rolled my eyes, and started again. “Now, unknown to Grandma and Red, their simple life was about to change. For on that very day, their little compound, and their minor country, was about to be invaded by another country’s general. They called him…The Wolf.”

“How big was his army?”

Now the Wolf—I, uh, excuse me?” I looked up. She was still sitting with her fingers laced on her knees, but her eyes were wide, waiting for an answer.

“I said, how big was the Wolf’s army?”

“I, uh…well, it doesn’t really…Casey, it’s a bedtime story, I don’t think—“

“Well, that’s no good. For a minor Central American country, I think you need at least fifty thousand ground troops, plus twenty air support units. And sufficient naval forces to secure the shoreline.” She frowned. “What?”

I opened my mouth a few times before any words would come out. “Did you just—“

She sighed. “Come on, Daddy, I want to hear the rest!”

Yeah, sure. Never mind all that. I resumed. “Now the Wolf came rolling into the country on a wave of blood and bullets…oh my…and no one could stop him. He rolled up to the gate of the little compound, and got out his loudspeaker, and announced to everyone, ‘GRANDMA AND RED! LET ME IN!’ And the compound’s guards shouted ‘NOT BY THE HAIR ON OUR CHINNY CHIN CHINS!’…Hey, I think there’s some plagiarism going on here, not to mention some story confusion…”

“Da-DDY!”

Alright! So the Wolf huffed, and he puffed, and he…oh, come on…and he fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the gates, and the guards scattered everywhere!”

“Hmpf.”

I arched an eyebrow at her. “Hmpf?”

“Shoulda reinforced the gate.”

“Where did you even learn that word?”

“Just saying. Then it would have taken more than an RPG.” She gave me a triumphant look.

“Right…” I cleared my throat. “So the Wolf and his men took charge of the compound, and Grandma and Red found themselves locked in the cellar. But, unknown to the Wolf, the CIA had many connections in this minor country, and they knew they would need to protect their interests. By nightfall, they had their best operative on a plane, and by midnight he was parachuting into the jungle. His codename: The Huntsman.”

“One man?” Casey shouted. “THAT’s the best they can do? One man? How about a slash-and-burn team to clear the area, followed by a four-man squad of Navy SEALS—“

I cut her off with a look. “Are you going to let me read this?” She subsided, but her eyes were still flashing. “Thank you. So the Huntsman parachuted in under cover of darkness, and landed in the jungle. Quickly he made his way to the perimeter, and one by one he subdued the guards, using his knife and his hand-to-hand combat skills. He hid the bodies as he created them, and made his way to the fence. Once there, he used his knife to scrape a dugout beneath the fence, and crawled under.”

“Uh, motion detectors? Ever heard of those? Or vibration sensors on the fence?”

“Casey—“

“Well, it’s like they’re not even TRYING!” she exploded, then subsided, with her arms crossed.

“We’re almost done, if you’ll let me go on.” She nodded glumly. “Alright. Now where was I…oh yeah. The Huntsman made his way to the main house, intending to rescue the hostages before confronting the Wolf. He had no way to know that the hostages were rescuing themselves.” I turned the page. “Grandma knew about the years Red had spent in the local juvenile detention center, but she didn’t know about the recruiter for the CIA that had met her there. She didn’t know about Red’s secret training, or her mission to further America’s interests in the country; and of course she didn’t know about the hidden knife that Red was using right now to cut herself free of her bonds. So, when Red sprang to her feet, she only had time to duck as Red threw the knife over Grandma’s shoulder and took out the one guard on the door. Right between the eyes.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Casey muttered, “he won’t have the keys anyway.”

“Well, I know that, but how did you…?”

“I’m getting sleepy,” she said with a yawn, “can we hurry?”

“Right. So Red cut Grandma free, then began to pick the lock whle Grandma pressed her ear to the door. But the next sound she heard made them stop—for they knew it was the sound of bodies hitting the floor upstairs. The Huntsman had come!” I looked at her; she tapped her fingers on her arm, impatiently waiting. “When the Huntsman popped the lock with a bit of C4, Red burst out and nearly put her knife in him. Only his quick training and martial reflexes saved him, as he caught her arm and disarmed her, and flipped her onto the floor!”

“BOOOO-ring!” Casey announced. “No CIA-trained sleeper operative would have charged through the door without looking!”

I ignored that. “’Well done,’ a voice said behind them. It was the Wolf! He had come down from the second floor during the fight, and now he stood at the foot of the stairs, watching the three of them. ‘I didn’t expect you to escape, but here you are. Grandma, the woman who used to be in charge here. Red, the little girl with the big secret. And you…the Huntsman. My old enemy.’”

“’So you remember,’ the Huntsman said. ‘I thought you would forget.’”

“’I could never forget the man…who murdered my father!’ he shouted. ‘And now, that debt will be repaid! Die, Huntsman!’ And he drew his gun and fired!”

“Oh come on!” She was waving her arms in five-year-old fury. “Body armor, people! He’s wearing body armor!”

“Well, as it turns out,” I said, “you are wrong. Listen. ‘Suddenly, out of nowhere, Grandma leaped in front of the bullet! And as she lay dying a bloody and dramatic death, Red and the Huntsman leaned over her and heard her final words. ‘Huntsman,’ she wheezed, ‘I want you to take my granddaughter far away from here, to someplace safe, where she can have a life.’”

“’I will,’ the Huntsman promised.”

“’And marry her,’ the old woman gasped.”

“’Grandma, I’m eleven!’ Red exclaimed.”

“’Don’t disobey your grandmother, now,’ she said, and then she died. Red and the Huntsman looked at each other.”

“’We’ll talk about this later,’ he said. She nodded. Then he stood up. ‘Wolf,’ he declared, ‘I’ve come to end your suffering once and for all.’”

“’Are you going to give me back my father?’”

“’No,’ the Huntsman said, ‘but I will send you to join him!’”

“What followed was a battle too epic for words. It raged over the compound for a night and a day; and in the end, the Huntsman was victorious. He stood over his fallen foe, watching as the final moments came. ‘You can’t think this is over, Huntsman,’ the Wolf growled. ‘I may die, but someone will avenge me! You’ll never be safe again!”

“The Huntsman pointed his gun at the Wolf. ‘Wrong,’ he said. ‘I’ll tell you how this ends.’ He tightened his finger on the trigger. ‘And they lived happily ever after.’ The gunshot was the last sound the Wolf heard.” I lowered the book. “The End.”

“WHAT?” Casey exploded. “That’s IT?? What about the resulting power vacuum and the reestablishment of government? What about the inevitable puppet state? What about the rest of the military? What about the Huntsman and Red? I need to know–!”

“Goodnight, Casey,” I said, and turned off the light and left the room.

I took the book with me. Strange as it was, I didn’t want to leave it with her. In my own bedroom, I took a last look at the cover, and then tossed the book on the nightstand. “That’s what you get,” I said to myself as I turned out the light, “when a military school opens up a preschool.”

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Past and Future Tense

In my spare time, I made the decision to try my hand at single fatherhood. Everyone needs a hobby in the evenings, right? The experiment has gone well; thus far no one in my household has killed anyone else, and most days my kids wear clothing that matches (by which I mean that each child’s clothing matches, not that they match each other. I believe that their collective humiliation would collapse the galaxy in on itself if they matched each other). The only casualties in this family-sized POW camp were last year’s goldfish, who sadly did not make it. We suck at raising pets.

In the wake of the divorce that established this situation, however, I found that I had some baggage to deal with. I dealt with it by letting the physical baggage pile up. When it reached the point that navigating the house required a map, a compass, and climbing gear, I had to take action! That is what has occupied the last several days.

I thought I would start small and simple, by sorting out the kiddie clothes and eliminating the outgrown items (and the damages—my kids can destroy a pair of jeans with the skill of an artisan). It took approximately 45 seconds to discover that the word “small” has fled the premises. The final count stands at nineteen (19!!!) garbage bags of clothes, fifteen of which are going away—Goodwill or garbage, I don’t care, it’s leaving. I found items dating back to 2009, which is approximately eternity in kiddie years.

If I may set the jokes aside for a moment: That’s where things got hard. In 2009 my little girl was three years old, and my son was still in diapers. In 2009, my ex-wife was still my wife, and we were raising these children together. In 2009, things were falling apart—but there were still good moments. In 2009 we lost our home and moved in with family, three hundred miles away. That year, and the ones since, held some of the worst memories of my life, but also some of the best.

Finding those old clothes—the pajamas Emma wore when I first started reading bedtime stories to her, the first Hawaiian shirt my son wore at the beach, and so on—was like a long, sometimes aching look into the past. Those years seem frozen to me now, a time when I didn’t know how things were going to turn out, when they could have gone any direction, and we were both exhilarated at the opportunity and terrified at the possibilities. I wouldn’t give up the memories, even while I wish it could have been better.

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with writing?

Everything. The short answer is, it has everything to do with writing. It’s a question of motivation versus operation. You see, I’m motivated by that past. The memories of times with my wife and children, of the way things were, of the hopefulness that we had (and still do)—those things fuel my writing. Ten years ago, I couldn’t have done what I do now. Oh, I possessed the technical skills even then; if you want confirmation, go to the Fanfiction section of this site and take a look at some of my older (albeit incomplete) work. The difference is, I hadn’t lived enough to have something to say. My motivation comes from the life I’ve lived and the things I’ve experienced.

That’s the motivation; what about the operation? I may write from the past, but I write for the future. I write with an eye toward having my stories outlive me. I’m not so proud as to think that my writing is grand or epic, or even worthy of memory; but I write in an attempt to become those things. My children understand that, in simplistic form; they understand that I write stories, and that they can’t read them now, but that some part of it is based on them, and it will be theirs when they are older. I write for their future as much as my own.

I call those years frozen, but they taught me how to deal with cold times in the future. I just came off of such a time, when my ability to write at all seemed frozen to me. The ideas were there, but they wouldn’t surrender to the page. And, ironically—or perhaps poetically—it was my children who marked the end of that winter. The first thing I was able to put down on paper was the beginning of a new story, one that’s written for them to read now, while they’re young, written with them in mind. It may not go anywhere—my list of unfinished projects is much longer than my list of finished works—but it was a start, and a change, and so I’ll take it. And who knows? Maybe the past will become the future, and turn out well after all.

Back On Track!

I thought this day would never come!

No, unfortunately, it’s not the day I publish my first book.  Nor is it the day I find an agent.  Those things are still firmly entrenched in the “In Progress” column.  No, it’s something less than that, but still exciting to me (and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you take your good news where you can get it) :

It’s the first day of school!

Now, anyone who was with me in May will recall that I split off the family-related content into a separate blog (which you can find here), reserving this one for topics relating to my writing.  I haven’t gone back on that decision; and I promise you that this is not a family-related post.  Rather, I’m as excited about the first day of school as a writer as I am excited about it as a father.  Because now, it’s time!

Time to get back on track!

Time to get some work done!

Summertime, with the kids at home, is a great time—but let’s admit it, things fall by the wayside.  With forty-plus hours a week in the office, and all of the remaining daylight hours spent with the kids (who aren’t old enough to be trusted unattended yet), it’s hard to keep writing, though I made an effort at it (as seen in some of the short stories on this site).  Now, today, it’s time to set things back in order, and I am looking forward to it.  I hope you are, too!

So, with that said, here are some projects I have in the works, and where I stand on them:

  • My novel, The Last Shot, is complete in its third draft. I’m in the process of searching for an agent, which requires preparing and sending query letters—dozens of them, most likely.  I started this before the summer began, but was forced to set it aside for a few months.  The next round of letters will go out in the upcoming 1-2 weeks.  Stay tuned—as things progress, I will post excerpts and other news here!
  • Cyndera and I have a joint project in the works—a volume to be published jointly via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, in which we will each contribute a novella. These novellas will be works of science-fiction, and are the projects upon which we are each currently working.  More details will be forthcoming as we have them—keep watching!
  • I have a new Facebook page! For up-to-date information about my fiction, check it out at https://www.facebook.com/Timewalkerauthor.
  • I’ll be expanding my posts on Twitter soon as well (after much persuasion—you know who you are). You can follow me on twitter @Timewalkerautho (and curse you, Twitter, for allowing one less character on usernames than I needed!).
  • New stories and posts will continue to be posted here at Timewalkerauthor. As well, for family and spiritual content, you can check out my second blog at Thoughts of a Formerly Dead Man.
  • In addition to the items above, I always have several other projects in the background. As I complete more urgent items, those will make their way to the surface.  I’ll post more as they arrive!

Thanks for reading!

Divide and Conquer!

A year and a half ago, I established this blog to promote my efforts to write on a professional level and be published.  It was my first foray into the world of blogging, and I have to say that the sensation went to my head.  There is so much flexibility in the blogosphere!  A blogger can, within reason, say anything he or she wants to say.  As a single father, it didn’t take long for my blog to become overrun with posts about my children and my personal life, and especially my faith–and while those are pleasant topics, they’re far afield from the original purpose of the blog.

With that in mind, I’ve started a second blog!  Going forward, posts about family, faith, and other life topics may be found at “Thoughts of a Formerly Dead Man“, which is up and running with a half-dozen or so posts at this time.  You’ll also find links to family-, spiritual-, and life-oriented blogs and sites there, some of which have previously been linked from here.  Although I will not delete previous posts of that nature from this blog, I want to narrow the focus of this blog and return it to its original purpose of supporting and publicizing my written work.  Posts here will include–as I originally planned–progress toward publication of my first and subsequent novels; observations on the art and craft of writing; and entries into my short-story series.

Readers of one blog are welcome at both, and I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.  Happy reading! ~Timewalkerauthor

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I was making the regular Sunday morning post-church trip to Wal-Mart (an unintentional tradition, but one that stubbornly refuses to go away, possibly because payday is only two days prior and I never have time to shop for anything on Saturday) when I popped in a Phillips, Craig, and Dean cd. Two minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my six-year-old son, Ethan, singing along in the backseat to “This Is How It Feels To Be Free”. Such a great song! It was gratifying to hear those words coming from his mouth, at the same time that it was surprising—not because he doesn’t like the music, but because I didn’t think I had played that song often enough for him to have learned the words.

It didn’t take long for a hole to be poked in that particular bubble of pride, though, as I shortly realized that he doesn’t understand the words. He can recite them, but he doesn’t grasp them. Did I mention he’s only six? I’d like to think my children are geniuses and prodigies, but alas, it is not so. They’re smart, very much so—I have test scores to prove it—but they still have a lot to learn.

Music is a very powerful force for people in general, and it’s no less true—perhaps even more true—for us Christians. For the world at large, music is an expression of what is inside us, a way of not only telling the world how we think and feel, what we value and what we hate, but also of determining those things. How often has a song changed your opinion? Perhaps not on something large, but in small ways, I would guess that you’ve had that experience. Music influences our emotions, our state of mind, even some aspects of our physical wellbeing. As a believer in Christ, I have the same experiences, but with the added dimension of viewing the music in which I engage as a form of service to the Lord. Christians, as well, use godly music as a method of teaching and passing on our faith; it’s no great surprise that the creeds of the past were often set to music, or that the old hymns are rich in theology.

I listen to a great variety of music, both secular and sacred. I’ve found over the course of my life that I love music which has a grand feel to it; songs which are inspirational because they grapple with great and majestic themes, and because their musical presentation is uplifiting and powerful. I like nobility in music. I like precision in the choice of words, I like powerful imagery, I like strong and bold lyrics and bright, vibrant chords. I want to be moved, but I don’t want it to be simply an emotional response; I want the concepts and truths in the music to resonate with me for what they say as much as for how they are presented.

My six-year-old and my eight-year-old? They don’t care about any of that.

Tonight, while driving home, I played another song that resonates with me, especially on this Easter holiday: Steve Green’s classic, “He Holds The Keys”. I was singing along, as I often do in the car (the kids haven’t reached the eye-rolling stage yet), and then in the background I could hear them trying to do the same, feeling out the unfamiliar words, trying to piece together this new song. Suddenly the realization hit me: They aren’t singing because the song resonates with them. No, they’re singing because they like to sing. We play a lot of music in the car; I sing all the time, and it’s clear that they’ve picked up the habit. Which leads me to think that, possibly, deep down, they’re singing to be like me, which is entirely another form of gratification. Still, it gave me pause.

I feel as I do about “He Holds The Keys” and “This Is How It Feels To Be Free” because I’ve spent half my life gaining the knowledge and experience it takes to understand those songs in a deep and abiding way. I studied theology in college; I had excellent teachers for years in church (in addition to my school life); and I’ve studied on my own. As well, I’ve had the kind of life experiences, both good and bad, that only come with adulthood. When the song says, referring to Jesus, “You spared no expense for my pardon—You were used up and wasted for me,” I know what it means. I’ve been an adult, and I know what sin is, what forgiveness is. The same is true when the songs I play talk about suffering and hardship and difficult choices and need and pain and regret and all the other evils of life—it takes having lived life in order to truly understand.

My kids? They don’t understand it, not yet. When they hear and sing those words, they’re just that—words. That is as it should be right now. But they won’t be children forever, and that is where I come in—where each and every parent comes in. Parents, it’s our job to bring our children safely to adulthood, and that doesn’t mean preventing every bruised knee, or even every broken bone; it means giving them a foundation for maturity. It means that, although they will learn some of those evils of life through their own experience, we’re responsible for teaching them how to handle those things—and moreover, we’re responsible for teaching them the meaning of those things.

I want my children to hear these songs, someday, and feel what I feel, or something like it. I want them, ultimately, to grasp what I grasp, and perhaps more. I want them to know what the song means when it says:

And from death’s barren womb, the captives cry,
“Arise, for our redemption draweth nigh!
For He holds the keys,
He holds the keys;
And though we’ve been held captive,
At long last we are free,
For He holds the keys!”

But for now, that’s beyond them. They need direct statements. They need facts. Abstract concepts are still a stretch for them. There’s a reason why bible lessons for children usually consist of narratives rather than topical lessons; they can’t think that way yet. The stories teach character and other lessons as by example, rather than directly; and it’s the same with music.

But that will change. It’s up to me to prepare them for that change. Because, of course, it isn’t solely about music, but about life. It’s about truth. Music is one way of presenting it; there are others. In every way that comes to hand, be it music or something else, it’s my job to teach them the meanings behind what they face. It’s up to me to make the words make sense.

Slow-Motion Avalanche

For any readers who were wondering, I haven’t died, or become a leper and lost my typing fingers, or any other colorful fate.  I had decided, some time ago, that I would only be posting when I actually have something to say; and that has proven to be “not that often” over the past several months.  As well, this thing called life keeps intruding, pesky thing that it is.  This is not an apology, but perhaps an explanation; and unless further intermissions are the result of some dramatic cause (which would get its own post), this explanation will be the last of its kind.  Moving on!

I went to work yesterday to cloudy skies and clear streets.  Silly guy that I am, I had paid no attention to the incoming weather reports—I long ago turned off the notifications for the weather app on my phone, and the last time I watched a weather report on television, they were giving alerts for an incoming comet that was scaring the dinosaurs.  No, scratch that joke; I have long since made it clear that I’m not an evolutionist, so I should be joking about the Flood instead.

I knew something was up when coworkers started bailing out of the office at an alarming rate.  It wasn’t until after the boss told me to leave early if it got bad out, that I looked out the window and saw snow.  Lots of snow.  It wasn’t falling fast, but it was relentless.  Within an hour, every visible surface was covered, and the 24-hour staff who nominally work under me (I’m not the supervisor, but I was the closest thing on duty) were refusing to drive anywhere, so I took the boss up on the offer.  Throughout the night, it was like an avalanche in slow motion, burying everything, but so politely that you could hardly be angry about it.

We topped out at about fourteen inches today.  That isn’t much for places like Minnesota or Maine, but it’s quite respectable for West Virginia.  The last time I saw a foot of snow here, it brought four of its friends with it, all in one night, and collapsed twenty-three buildings around town.  That was in 1998, and if I may say so, we’ve had an easy time of it since.  As a consequence, no one is particularly happy with the current state of affairs, if the level of complaining to be seen on Facebook is any indicator.  Most of the complaining, of course, is about that perennial fan favorite:  School closures.

Confession Time:  Some of the complaining was me.

Confession Time: Some of the complaining was me.

Is it really that bad?  With apologies to every parent I know, I don’t think it is.  If they were out for weeks on end, I might think so, but so far this year my kids have only missed one complete week of school, plus a smattering of other days.  In a mountainous state, that’s a fair bargain.

The problem that we parents, all of us, have with snow days is not the slow-motion avalanche I mentioned.  It’s the second slow-motion avalanche:  that gradual accumulation of cabin fever in the kids, and sometimes in ourselves.  It threatens to bury us, too.

I knew I was in trouble today when I found myself sending the kids out of the room for the simple crime of being bouncy.  It’s not always wrong to take a breather; sometimes it’s necessary.  I knew, though, that I wasn’t at that point; I knew I was only doing it because I was short-tempered.   I was the one who was in the wrong this time.

That’s what happens, isn’t it?

When you’re a parent, you’re in the business of being right.  You have to be.  You are the authority figure, and what you do is going to shape your child’s view on right and wrong.  The sad side effect is that when you’re always right, you’re always right.  You come to a place where you don’t stop to question whether there’s a better way.

I don’t know what decisions you might have to face as a parent.  There are enough pitfalls to go around, so I couldn’t deign to advise you on yours, because I don’t know which ones you have to navigate.  For me, today it was the choice between pushing my kids away, or spending valuable time with them.  I started to push, but then I stopped, thought about it, and pulled them back.  After all, they aren’t getting any younger, and I have precious little time to shape their lives.  This is something I’ve been challenging myself to work on.  I still have my own ambitions, and still chase them, but for the moment, I’ll live with the reality that my time is divided, and that they deserve their share of it.  They only have one father, and that’s me.

But, you, Other Parents, I will offer you one piece of advice tonight:  Stop and think.  In whatever situation you are, stop and think.  Think about the decision you have in front of you, and what each option will mean.  Before you act, think.  How will your choices affect your child, affect you, affect the world around you?  When you deal with your children, you deal directly with the future.  Choose wisely!

Maybe that advice isn’t for you, because you already live it.  Good for you!  Pass that wisdom on to someone who needs it.  And if you are the one who needs it, then, there is no time like now to start.  Then, maybe, your own avalanches won’t have a chance to bury you.

Coming Back to Christmas

Christmas is here again.  It feels like it’s been so long!  I feel that way every year, to some degree, because it’s my favorite holiday.  This year, though, you’ll have to forgive me if I seem more excited than usual—you see, I skipped Christmas last year.

No, it wasn’t like that John Grisham novel-turned-Tim Allen movie.  Great story, though, in both forms.  I laughed my way through both.  No, I didn’t skip Christmas by choice.  You see, I was sick.  Very sick.  Nearly the sickest (is that a word?) I have ever been in my life, topped only by the misdiagnosed and life-threatening infection in the sixth grade, and the insanely violent case of the flu in 2009 and strep throat in 2011.  Yeah.  Not fun on any count.  Apparently when I get a common illness, I do it in uncommon ways.  At any rate, in this case I spent ten days lying on the couch, interspersed with painful and dramatic trips to the restroom.  So sorry, Internet; sometimes the truth hurts.  In this case, it hurt me.  I won’t give you more of the disgusting and humiliating details, but I will say that even sitting up was out of the question.

But, here’s a secret for you:  If I had had a choice, I might have skipped Christmas anyway.  2012 was not a good year for me.  I haven’t made any secret of the fact that my wife and I divorced in 2012—or rather, we separated, and initiated the divorce; it wasn’t final until April of this year (adding insult to injury, it was final on tax day).  The separation happened just before Thanksgiving, thus coloring the entire holiday season.  There were other things, but none of them can top that.

I wrote my proposed version of the custody agreement—the version that we used until we had our preliminary hearing, and upon which we eventually based our final agreement—to give us alternating holidays with the kids.  It only seemed fair, since I was pushing for primary custody, which I did ultimately receive—that is, they live with me.  Trying to be gracious, I gave her custody of them for our next upcoming holiday, which was Christmas (and just as well, since I ended up incapacitated).  So, it was my first holiday in six years without Emma, Ethan, or their mother.

Somewhere along the way, someone asked me, “How do you do it?”  I don’t know what I said, but the truth is, I didn’t know.  I still don’t.  Now, Stephanie and I—have I said her name here before? I can’t remember—are lucky enough to have worked out our differences after the fact.  For certain reasons, we won’t be putting our marriage back together, but we get along.  We can talk, and even spend time together now, and it’s okay.  None of that makes the holidays any easier when we spend them apart, passing our children back and forth like packages.

So, I was glad to get back to celebrating this year.  There were obstacles, of course.  My Christmas lights, after two years in storage (I was too sick to decorate last year), don’t work properly, except the white lights that are preattached to the tree and one string of blue lights that could wrap around my house three times and still line the tree.  Most of my glass ornaments were broken and had to be replaced.  Most irritating of all, sixteen years of collectible ornaments have disappeared, leaving their boxes behind (and despite suggestions by family to the contrary, the ex-wife did not take them; I’ve seen her fully decorated tree this year).  But it was worth it anyway.  Best of all, the children are with me this year, and though I don’t begrudge their mother her time with them, I’m glad to have them home.  So, we decorated the tree (with all-new decorations), and we went Christmas shopping, and we wrapped gifts, and we made hot cocoa, and we put out milk and cookies for Santa.  Tomorrow we’ll open gifts, and we’ll visit family, and we’ll read the Christmas story together.  Life is good.

That’s the thing, of course.  Life is good.  It isn’t perfect.  Did you expect it to be?  I think I did.  Certainly I wanted it to be.  I had a picture in my mind for years, a carefully-drawn picture, of what life should be like.  It wasn’t a pipe dream; it wasn’t some fantasy about how life should magically come together.  No, it was a blueprint for something I wanted to build, and I did my best to build it.  No, perhaps not my best; but I tried.  I made no excuses for myself, and I gave it my all for years.  It wasn’t enough in the end; we were defeated by something I never could have anticipated or prevented—my wife’s mental health issues.

I’ve had a picture in my mind of what Christmas should be like, too.  I like the Hallmark version.  I want the big, handsome, warm, inviting house with the big picture windows.  I want the perfectly decorated tree where it can be seen through those windows.  I want the lights outside, and the snow, and the big meal at a beautifully set table.  I want my family around, all in one place, all getting along.  I could go on…you’ve seen it in so many movies, so you know what I mean.  I want it  storybook perfect, every year.

It doesn’t work out that way.  My family is big and scattered, and they fight with each other.  I live in a rented trailer.  My tree is four feet tall.  I don’t cook turkey well enough to do the holiday meal (thank you, Mom and Dad, I’ll keep buying if you keep cooking!).  It rarely snows on Christmas here, even in the mountains.

It’s not perfect, but that’s okay.  Perfect gets in the way of good enough.  The tree may be short, but I decorated it with my kids.  They don’t care if all the lights are white, as long as they illuminate presents underneath.  We don’t eat around my table on Christmas day, but I get to see my daughter, my son, and my two nephews have Christmas dinner together, and enjoy each other’s company.  There may not be snow (though I hope there will!) but it’s still December 25th, with all that it means.

Christmas isn’t all that’s okay.  My life is not perfect, but it’s okay.  I’ll never say “it’s good enough” in the sense that it needs no more work, but I can say that it’s good enough for me to be content where I am, even while I work on improving.  I have two beautiful children.  I have parents who are there for me.  I have one grandmother remaining, and she still has her mind, which I have discovered is an invaluable thing.  I have a brother and sister whom I love, even when we don’t see eye to eye.  I have aunts and uncles and cousins who make my life colorful.  I have a good relationship with my ex-wife, who also loves our children.  I have the best friends any man could ask for—you know who you are.  I have a good job, sufficient to my needs.  I have a home and a vehicle and everything I need.  I have a God Who doesn’t just love me, but everyone, equally and with intensity.  And I have today.  Every day is a blessing, and Christmas is one of the best.

I know there are people out there who are suffering, or lacking, in some way.  Maybe it’s you.  I hope you understand that I would never say these things to hurt anyone, or to be arrogant or presumptuous.  The topic of how to graciously respond to suffering is complex and lengthy, though it can be summed up in “love your neighbor as yourself”.  That’s what I want to do.  But here, now, I say these things just to say that I’m thankful for what I have.  I  know I may not have it forever—next Christmas, when the kids are away, you may see a different side of me—but I have it now, and I’m thankful.

So, have a good Christmas.  Sleep well on Christmas Eve.  Hold your wife or husband, if you have one.  Hug your children, and watch them open any gifts they receive.  Sip some egg nog or hot cocoa, as I’m about to do.  Eat some turkey or ham tomorrow.  Watch “A Christmas Story” for 24 straight hours, if you like.  Sit by the tree and think.  Remember a baby who was born in a desert country, with no snow on the ground, and no star on a tree, but one in the sky.  Remember that He’s still alive today.  And be thankful.  In all of it, for whatever thing you choose, whatever you value, be thankful.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Some feelings, you can't buy.  Emma and Ethan under the tree.

Some feelings, you can’t buy. Emma and Ethan under the tree.

It’s Good to Be Bad! The Villain in All of Us

I learned something this summer:  Single parenting is tough!  While that is not the topic of today’s post, it IS my brief and totally inadequate explanation for my absence since June.  Summer vacation sank its claws into my family with a vengeance, and though it had its good moments, it also constituted a second full-time job.  Hence, the summertime hiatus in my blog entries.  But, I’m back!  I won’t say better than ever, because that remains to be seen.  Fortunately, I have my friend and fellow writer Cyndera to thank for a fantastic guest entry, on the topic of villains and whether they are really just misunderstood heroes.  I have gotten a bit away from it, but as I’m reminding myself, this blog is for the purpose of promoting my own literary aspirations, and the topic of writing in general; so, with all that said, in this post, we’ll have a look at the entire idea of villainy, and just why we all get so hung up on it.  (And, Cyndera:  You can just exclude this introductory paragraph from my word count, thank you!)

This guy.  Everyone has to learn from someone.

This guy. Everyone has to learn from someone.

My oft-misquoted literary idol, Stephen King, said in his manual On Writing: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”  I find that to be easy to do, because—and here is confession time—my hero characters are not usually my darlings.  Oh, they are certainly interesting (I hope), and fun to create, but they are not nearly as exciting to write as my villains!  And, of course, we kill off our villains, all too often.  The real question, though, is why are they so exciting?  Just what is it about these terrible people that entrances us so much?

Cyndera’s post gives some compelling answers, and I’ll not go back and repeat them.  I will expand on them, though, and suggest this:  Villains are fascinating characters because of the lure of the forbidden.  Does it matter what, exactly, is forbidden?  Of course not!  But there is not a human on the planet who doesn’t know the temptation of forbidden fruit.  We get it honest; Adam and Eve ate the apple, after all.  For your villain, the fruit isn’t forbidden—or rather, he (or she) doesn’t care.  When he bites in, we get to find out the answer to that age-old question, What if?

Villainy is a hot topic these days.  More and more writers, on the page and on the screen, are creating villains who are complex, not to mention heroes who are flawed.  This can only be a good thing.  After all, we live in a jaded society; and let’s be honest, how many Supermen do we really need?  Much has been written about Superman’s relevance as a heroic character, because he is, in essence, a god.  He’s untouchable, aloof, and dare I say squeaky-clean?   Give me Batman any day.  For that matter, give me Two-Face!  Now, there’s a character we can relate to.  A hero or a villain is only relevant inasmuch as we can see ourselves in him.  It’s a tight balance; we want to see something that we can aspire to (our Superman), and yet we want to see that we can, in fact, rise from where we are.  Hence, the flaws in our heroes, and the virtues in our villains.

This brings us to the question:  Can the villain be the heart of the story?  In essence, we’re trying to make the villain into the protagonist.  The protagonist of a story is the one whose goals are central to the story; the story is “about” whether the protagonist achieves his goals or not.  Most of the time, the answer will be yes, but not necessarily.  In popular culture, we could make a case that Darth Vader, while being the villain of the Star Wars films, is the protagonist (now that we have all six films to examine, at any rate; had we only the original trilogy, we would absolutely cast Luke Skywalker as the protagonist).  He is clearly the villain, and yet it is his goals that shape the story.  As well (and setting aside issues of the actors who played the part), the early chapters cast him in a sympathetic light:  hard, single-minded, yet not wholly evil.

Viewpoints in literature, as with the rest of society, swing like a pendulum.  Decades past have been dominated by Superman stories:  clear-cut, squeaky-clean heroes; dastardly, reprehensible villains; diametrically-opposed goals for each; and good always wins.  We may be swinging now to the opposite extreme, where everything is grey, and absolutes are frowned upon.  I think that’s a fantastic turn of events for characters; I’m not so certain that it’s a good thing for plots.  Call me old-fashioned, but I like stories where good wins. (To be fair, I don’t think that means the hero should always accomplish ALL of his goals!  Sacrifice and loss have been making stories great since the dawn of time, and always will.)  Nevertheless, I think there’s a place for the complex villain in today’s world; the type of complex, gray-area plot that is becoming more common, can allow a good villain to come into his own.  Certainly there is no excuse for any writer who neglects his villains!  They deserve as much respect as the heroes.

After all, our villains are part of us.  Our heroes show us where we may go; our villains show us where we came from.  They’re as complex as us; they took the choices before them, and went the other way.  Rarely are they one-dimensional; rarely are they, in a nutshell, just plain bad.  That’s what makes them worth our time.  To borrow another line from Stephen King:  “Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do—to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.”

Misunderstood

It’s The End Of The School Year As We Know It (And I Feel Fine!)

I just passed a major hurdle in life; a milestone, if you will.  I survived my son’s first year of school!  I had my doubts about making it this far, to be honest, but we did it.  Now, I sit back and think about the year just gone, its highs and its lows, and a simple phrase floats through my mind…”What the heck just happened?!”

For those who may be coming into this game a little late, I have two children.  There’s Emma, age seven, and Ethan, age five.  Emma is finishing the first grade this week, while Ethan has just finished pre-Kindergarten.  (It seems to be fashionable on blogs like this to give your relatives creative nicknames rather than use their real names, incidentally; I can only assume it’s for privacy reasons.  Well, as I plan to humiliate my children on Prom Night some day with every funny thing I’ve ever documented regarding them, I’m inclined to use their real names.  I did, however, briefly consider referring to them as Thing 1 and Thing 2, from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat, especially after I posted photos of them in costume as those characters.  However, I’ve seen at least one other blogger doing that already, and it would be rude to borrow the idea, I think.  Especially with a good blog.  Check her out at http://missfannyp.wordpress.com.)

They made a lovely pair of Things, in my opinion

They made a lovely pair of Things, in my opinion

Now, I don’t consider my children to be bad kids.  They have the usual mishaps that kids have.  They aren’t exactly what I would call discipline problems, but they’re not perfect either. What I CAN say is that they are night-and-day different from each other.  For two years with Emma as the only child in school, we never had any issues:  not a grade issue, not a parent-teacher conference, not a single call to the principal’s office.  Her pre-K class used a color system to evaluate daily conduct:  Red, yellow, and green, with green being good behavior, red being bad, and yellow being a warning.  I can count on one hand the number of times that she was in the yellow, and only once do I remember her being in the red.  With Ethan…ah, Ethan, Ethan.  On the day we enrolled him, I looked at his teacher-to-be and said—I kid you not—“This is the child that will make you pay for all the good days with Emma.”  And he did!  I can count one hand the number of days he was in the yellow…this week.  Sometimes that was true of the red, too.

He’s a very excitable boy.  The vast majority of his disciplinary incidents, both at home and at school, stem from him getting caught up in what he’s doing, getting very excited, and then telling someone about it.  At length.  Despite instructions to the contrary.  His conduct form tells the same stories over and over:  “Talking too much”; “Wouldn’t walk away from the board when instructed”; “Had to be told three times to do [insert activity here]”.  Notice, I’m not saying he’s distractible—let’s not jump to the all-too-common conclusion of ADHD—but just the opposite; his attention span is nothing short of amazing.  So is his level of interest in whatever he’s doing.  It invariably gets him into trouble.

Ethan has his academic issues, too, but it’s a little early to say whether they reflect a real problem or not.  He has been a little slow to pick up some of his letters and numbers, and his handwriting didn’t improve much over the year.  It was only a month ago that he learned his phone number, and he still doesn’t have his address figured out.  (On a side note:  Has anyone else, like me, made the transition from landline, household phones to an all-cellular lifestyle?  And if so, does it feel weird to teach that number to your child?  I’m just grateful that there is only one that my kids have to learn right now; if we were still a two-cell-phone family, the confusion would never stop.)  I’ll admit that I lack a good point of comparison; we receive a list of the goals they have in mind, but not a statement of what constitutes acceptable progress.  No one fails pre-K here.  I think, though, that his progress overall has been satisfactory, if on the low end of satisfactory.

Come to think of it, I’ll take satisfactory.  Satisfactory silences the naysayers.  You see, I have an overachiever in the family, too, and she has the perilous position of firstborn.  Perilous?  Oh, yes!  I know, because I lived this reality myself as a child.

Emma is a fantastically bright child.  Now, if you are yourself one of the naysayers I referred to, here’s the part where you get angry and switch webpages, because you’ll resent the fact that I say that about her.  There are three reasons why you might do that:

  1. You think it’s arrogant of me to say that about my child.  You’d say that about anyone doing so, unless maybe it was your child, and then it would just be honest observation, right?  Us awful, nearsighted, overparenting Americans, thinking our kids are SO amazing.  I’ve heard this so many times, and it always amazes me how vehemently it is said.
  2. You think it’s favoring one child over another.  After all, I just said that Ethan has academic issues.  Now I’m turning around and talking about how Emma doesn’t, really, so I must prefer her!  She must be my favorite—especially since I just hinted that I was also a bright child.  Oh, if only you knew how hard her mother and I have worked to prevent ANYONE, ourselves included from favoring one child over another.
  3. You think it’s not true.  How would a parent know?  We’re blinded by the fact that we want the best for our child, and that she is OUR child, so we must be just assuming she’s intelligent, when really she’s just average.  Time will tell!

Emma has an IQ of 142.  She’s in the top 1% of every subject in her class except handwriting (sloppy writers, this family, myself included).  In most of the test categories, her scores read as >99.999%, meaning perfect scores, but the computerized scoring system’s margin of error won’t allow it to say so.  She reads on an eleventh grade level in the first grade, with comprehension on an 8th grade level.  She entered the local gifted-student class at the beginning of the second semester, having missed the first half of the year, and immediately shot to the top of their class, as well.  When I say she’s smart, I’m not just talking.

Lest the common objections start surfacing, let me say that she’s well-adjusted, as well.  She’s a happy, social, outgoing child with just a dash of shyness at first meetings.  She’s well-rounded in what she can do; she isn’t only academically skilled.  She picks up talents the way most of us breathe, but she is not a bit arrogant or proud.  She’s happiest when she’s helping others.  All around, she’s a wonderful child.  She does have her disciplinary issues, as well; we’re going through a stealing phase with her right now.  In the past, it was lying, and fighting with her brother.  She learns her lesson, and we go on.

And the naysayers?  You know the type.  The prophets of doom who love to point out all the pitfalls that are waiting to destroy your family!  I’ve already mentioned their favorite prophecy of doom:  favoritism.  After all, if Emma does so well, won’t I give her the lion’s share of my time and energy, and shuffle Ethan off to the side?  Obviously he’ll fail, because he’ll get the short end of the parental stick.  How awful of me!  Except, it didn’t happen that way.  If anything, he got slightly more attention, because he did need a little more help.  But overall, everything worked out well.  And we’re doing well, as a family.

It could have been different, I suppose.  This year could have been a disaster.  It certainly had all the makings of one.  You see, in addition to the challenges I outlined above, we faced another serious challenge this year:  This year, I divorced their mother.

I’ve avoided talking about this, except in passing, because…well.  Certainly not because I don’t want to talk about it—I do.  Rather, because it’s difficult to know what to say and what to leave out.  On three or four occasions, I’ve sat down and tried to write a post about my divorce, and why it happened, and the aftermath, and so on; but I failed, every time.  I got bogged down.  So, maybe it’s better that I tell the brief version of the story here, in a post about school, where it can’t take over the post.

My ex-wife, to put it briefly, is mentally ill.  The details aren’t important enough to break her privacy so intimately, so I’ll leave it at that.  We were married in 2002 after dating for almost five years; the trouble began two years later, in mid-2004, after the loss of our first child, Samuel.  He wasn’t here yet when it happened; she was twenty-six weeks pregnant.  I don’t fault her for losing a part of her mind after that; I went more than a little crazy myself for a while.  For her, it wasn’t a while; it was forever.  The eight and a half years that followed were up and down, but generally down.  The pressure of parenting was more than she could handle, although she did try for a long time.

And yet, even with all of that, I didn’t leave her for that reason.  (Actually, I didn’t leave her at all—she left me, at least twice—although I did ultimately file the divorce papers.)  I didn’t stop loving her, although it was close, and although certainly my love for her changed over the years.  Even now, I don’t hate her, or have anything personal against her.  When I filed for divorce, it was because she was doing things that would have soon cost us our children, and I couldn’t allow that to happen.  (Again, the details aren’t important enough to merit invading her privacy that way, here; but I do feel compelled to put something to rest:  She was not in any way abusing or mistreating our children.  The things that happened were dangerous in the sense that they created a dangerous environment, which is another matter entirely.)  So, I divorced her to protect them from a situation that was otherwise out of control.

It was for the best.  I believe that now, even though I hated myself for doing it.  But any divorce poses massive problems for children, and I’d  be a fool to think that mine is any different.  The children live full-time with me, so the burden is on me to make sure their mother is able to be a part of their lives, as backward as that may sound.  And make no mistake:  They need her to be a part of their lives as much as they need me.  It’s a challenge every day.

We’ve risen to the challenge, or so I like to think.  It’s very rare to find a divorce in which the parents aren’t at each other’s throats, but we actually get along better now.  I’m not responsible for her care, and that allows me to be patient with her in a way that was beyond me before.  She’s risen to her own challenges, as well; without the full weight of the day-to-day responsibility for the children, she’s able to do much better for them when she’s with them.  As well, she’s much more stable herself; she’s much closer to her old self than she has been in years, to the point that the caregivers who work with her often don’t believe me when I talk about the challenges we faced.  I’m not so unwary as to believe that this change is permanent, though; it’s conditioned on the situation she’s in now, and so I would not be wise to consider taking her back, or any such thing.  She would relapse almost instantly.  But it’s good to see her healthy after so many years of struggle, and it’s good to be able to work with her on things pertaining to the children.

So, all in all, not a bad year.  A hard year, but a good one.  Now, for the biggest challenge yet:  Summer vacation!  They’ll be home all day, every day.  If you need me, I’ll be in my padded room.

Age Is Just A (Channel) Number

A while back, I posted that I am old, because I couldn’t figure out how to work my son’s toys.  He was barely five years old at the time, so I think you’ll understand when I say that this was not one of my finest moments.  (I am happy to say that I did, in fact, figure out the toy in question…over a month later.  Now, if only I could figure out the larger toy to which it attaches!)  It made me feel as though I were some kind of relic—after all, I’m supposed to be the knowledgeable one here!

Happily, my kids make me feel young just as much as they make me feel old.  I have been advised that this will not last, but let’s not rush anything; I have five more years before the oldest becomes a teenager, and I plan to milk their childhoods for as long as I can before surrendering to the ever-so-fun teenage years.  Yikes.  I ask my daughter on a regular basis, “Who gave you permission to grow up so fast?”  (Apparently, Mommy did.)

If only my kids were the only thing making me feel old!  Alas, it is not so.  Pop culture is taking care of that role quite nicely, thank you; and by pop culture, I mean television and music.  Thousands of people have said it before, but I’ll say it again:  It was a different world when I was younger!  (I say younger.  I refuse to say young.  I may describe myself as old, but that’s in reference to how I sometimes feel; I steadfastly refuse to say that I am literally old.)  I always expected that someday I would feel that way; I never dreamed I would be in my thirties when it happened, though.

I blame Disney.  It started with their take on television.  Now, I know that the Disney channel has been around for years; I remember watching Dumbo’s Flying Circus during one of the rare instances that we had cable in my childhood, and a few other shows as well.  But you can’t deny that things have changed!  In my childhood, we had this:

To this day, if you put a sword in my hand, I would point it at a housecat and wait for it to grow

To this day, if you put a sword in my hand, I would point it at a housecat and wait for it to grow

Now (or recently, I should say, as this is not a current show), it’s more like this:

Did...Did I sleep through an entire decade?

Did…Did I sleep through an entire decade?

I’m not slamming this show, or any others (Disney people, if you read this, don’t sue me!), because I don’t think they are bad shows.  I’m just saying that things have changed.  And it didn’t stop with television, because the Disney machine is everywhere (along with its major competitor, Nickelodeon, a channel that I remember for green slime and You Can’t Do That On Television.   Maybe they shouldn’t have done it on television; I’m not sure I like where it took us!).  No, it continued into music.

Disney isn’t single-handedly responsible for everything going on in the music world today, but it is a trendsetter, perhaps the trendsetter when it comes to music for and by young people.  Although I’ve been seeing it for years, I’m still amazed at the way Disney (and Nickelodeon, let’s not leave them out of the party) create multi-purpose child stars, and give them a tailor-made career that carries them for years.  Of course, the company makes scads of money in the process, so from a business standpoint, I’m not surprised at all.  I may be slightly concerned about where it has taken us, musically and as a society.

This.  This is where it has taken us.  This is where the apocalypse starts.

This. This is where it has taken us. This is where the apocalypse starts.

This isn’t about Disney, though.  It’s about the way that pop culture has changed since my childhood.  And change it has.  I hesitate to say that it reflects a decrease in maturity, although you certainly could argue that point; I want to believe better things of people at any age.  I do think, though, that our common outlook on life, as reflected in pop culture, has changed.  I don’t think it’s changed for the better.

A coworker and I were talking yesterday about the television shows we watched as children.  She and I are of a similar age, so we had a lot in common (not least of which is the mutual realization that we watched a LOT of television as children.  Seriously, when did we have time to do anything else?)  We named a number of shows that will have many of you nodding along:  The A-Team, Knight Rider, McGyver, Airwolf, The Incredible Hulk, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica (the original version), Earth 2, and so on.  We’ve had similar talks about other genres of television.  These were shows for adults, but they were suitable for children, for the most part; and I loved them.  Even then, they didn’t shy away from complex themes or topics, although they all had their simplistic moments.  The difference I see when you compare them to modern shows is this:  Morality and ethics were clearly presented in the older shows.  Today, it’s in fashion to blur the lines.  The heroes would have been villains in older shows.  Here’s the obvious and gratuitous example:  Vampires.  Historically, they were considered evil, demonic, and terrible, and that’s how they were portrayed on the screen.

NO

NO.

Today, not so much.  They still kill—and are we all agreed that murder is still a bad thing?—and they still drink blood, but they are really not such bad people, despite all that.  They’ve become sympathetic creatures.  And it gets worse:  our shows may not even have villains, or heroes for that matter; they may even trade places.  As a society, we think this is great; we don’t want heroes, we want antiheroes.  We want all our villains to be likeable, and we want them all to be not so bad in the end.  I’m all for a good redemption story—the first movie I ever saw in a theater was Return of the Jedi—but we don’t even want our villains to need redemption in the first place.  Morality is unclear.

And that is fine for entertainment that is directed at adults, because we adults have already crafted our own internal compass.  We’ve learned our morality.  Our children haven’t, and therefore we need to remember: our children watch the same things we watch.  Don’t kid yourself if you think otherwise.

They listen to our music too—and they pick it up.  Yes, they misunderstand some lyrics, sometimes to hilarious effect.  They catch most of it, though; and that should concern us.

If my son sings "Want U Back" ONE MORE TIME...

If my son sings “Want U Back” ONE MORE TIME…

Music shapes us, and never more than in our teenage years.  It gives us pieces of our identity that stay with us for years to come; why do you think we so readily say, “This is MY song”?  I was a teenager in the 90’s (and I would tack on a few years of my early twenties, because they were still formative years for me, in my opinion).  I still listen to the music of that era.  Tonight, I pulled up a Spotify playlist that I use frequently; here’s a random sample:

  • Hootie and the Blowfish, Only Want To Be With You.  For years, I considered this to be THE representative song of the 90’s, and I still like it today.
  • Lisa Loeb, Stay
  • Vertical Horizon, Everything You Want
  • Matchbox Twenty, Push
  • Savage Garden, Truly Madly Deeply
  • The Goo Goo Dolls, Here Is Gone
  • Avril Lavigne, Complicated
  • Smashmouth, Walking On The Sun
  • REM, The End Of The World As We Know It
  • The Offspring, Pretty Fly For A White Guy (Don’t judge, you listened to it too)

If you are anywhere near my age, you’re probably nodding (I’ll leave it up to you whether you mean it in agreement or embarrassment).  That music didn’t define me, but it taught me some of the ways I could choose to define myself.  (And no, my tastes weren’t that narrow.  I also listened to country music, and Contemporary Christian music, and even a little classical.  This just happened to be the playlist at hand.)  The same thing happens today, but the options, I think, have changed; it’s like my argument with television, that the lines have been blurred.  Topics and attitudes that were largely ignored, or at least kept in the realm of allusion, have become plain today, especially with regard to vices such as sex and drugs.  That progression, of course, is all over society; as my history professor once stated, “What one generation tolerates, the next generation propagates.”  He was right.

I don’t intend to make hermits of my children—they have to face the world eventually, so I won’t remove them completely from it—but I do want to have a hand in what they tolerate, and eventually propagate.  It’s the only responsible attitude a parent can have.  Children are like empty pitchers, waiting to be filled—if you don’t fill them up with your morality, someone else will surely fill them with theirs.

I’ve been grim long enough.  I want to leave on a cheerful note.  Here’s one:  Morality might be an endangered species, but quick thinking is not, at least not in the Timewalkerauthor household!  On the dashboard of my car sits a little, green, plush monster:  Om Nom, from the mobile game Cut The Rope.  Om Nom, it seems, is married, although living apart; Mrs. Om Nom, as it turns out, lives in another state with my friend Cyndera.

The one, the only, Om Nom!  Candy not included.

The one, the only, Om Nom! Candy not included.

Mrs. Om Nom.  The green one, not the blonde.  Picture by Cyndera, and used without her permission; let's see if she kills me now.

Mrs. Om Nom. The green one, not the blonde. Picture by Cyndera, and used without her permission; let’s see if she kills me now.

Now, it seems, they have children of their own (pretty impressive for hundreds of miles apart!).  Tonight, I posed this stumper to my daughter:  I asked her what the names of the two junior Om Noms were.  Her answer?  Omelette and Nomelette.  Naturally.

Omelette

Nomelette.  I'm sensing a pattern.

Nomelette. I’m sensing a pattern.

Well played, Emma, well played!