A Common Enemy

writers_block_binder-p127099439763846099ffe6m_400Writer’s Block is a pain in the ass.

If you follow me on this blog, or on the other blog I contribute to–Today’s Author–you’ve doubtless noticed that I’ve been quiet lately.

This is not because I have no time to write.  It’s because every time I sit down to write, I spend all my time trying to wring even the smallest bit of creative thought from my atrophied pool of creative energy.

For the last couple of months I’ve been free writing by hand each morning, in an attempt to get the gears grinding.  But as often as not, I have resort to finding a writing prompt just to give me direction.  And it feel like busy work.  Sure I’m filling the pages, but it’s workaday drivel, and isn’t furthering any writing goal.

In my house I’m not the only writer.  My new wife enjoys writing, too, and last year she self-published her first YA Novel.  Lately, she’s stuck, too–not quite as stuck-neck-deep-in-the-mud as I’ve been, but she spends plenty of time spinning her wheels.

Last night she and I decided to try something new.  We’ve challenged each other to publish something new to our own blogs at least once each week.  It can be a thought, a rant, a product review, a book review, or–fingers crossed–something truly creative.

Why on our blogs, and not in our own notebooks?  We’re trying to keep it public so we can nag encourage each other when the other one is falling a little short.

So, here is the first of what I hope to be a renewed creative presence on the Interwebs.the-interwebs-20100930-084712

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My Super Family

Here’s a fun little diversion.

Head over to the Hero Factory—a website where you can make your own comic book heroes, or if you’re in the mood to make it a little personal, make yourself into a superhero.

I spent 20 minutes or so and made my whole family into a team of supers. Part of the fun in that although you get to pick all the visual particulars, the program determines the hero’s name.

Meet my Super Family…

DC's alter egoJen's alter egoClaudia's alter ego

Gabe's alter egoLea's alter egoJake's alter ego

My Kids Grew Up Too Much Last Week

Parenting is an odd mix of pushing your kids to grow up while at the same time trying to keep them young and innocent. Much of childhood, and it seems the entirety of the teen years, pits the child against the parent as they take opposite sides of this battle. They want the ability to stay up late and go out alone while not helping around the house and coasting through school; while we want them to work hard and help out while staying home safe and sound.

But sometimes outside forces tip the balance, and before you know it they’ve taken a few steps forward. Steps you wish hadn’t been necessary.

A week ago today a friend died. He was very close—And even though he was no relation, the kids all called him Uncle Rob. He was that family friend who acts responsible, if a little funny, around adults, but hams it up for the kids every chance he got. They adored him.

And last Monday night, at dinner, when we told all four of them the bad news of his passing, the hysterics were instant. As only kids are capable of, the rest of the week they handled their grief easily.

Then, Thursday night we took them all to the viewing. We had taken the time to explain what a viewing was, and assured each of them that they wouldn’t have to see the body. In fact, there was a special room set up for all the kids to hang out in. And for most of the night that’s what they did.

But gradually, one by one, they each slowly walked into the viewing room. And each slowly walked up to the casket and said their goodbyes before backing away and dissolving into tears.

I was a little surprised when the 13-year-old did it, but after all she is a teenager as is always trying to prove to us and to herself how grown up she is. I was a little more surprised when the 11-year-old took his turn—he’s very mildly autistic and just about any conversation that involves emotion embarrasses him. Once those two had said their goodbyes, I knew the 8-year-old was next, and she would never let anyone outdo her in anything.

But I have to admit being both shocked and apprehensive as my little 6-year-old took slow cautious steps, and peeked over the edge of the casket. The majority of my head, and every bit of my heart wanted to dash forward and shield him from it all. 6-years-old is just too soon to have to understand death. But the part of my head that held me back thought that at least this way he was facing death on his own terms. If I stopped him here who knows how he would deal with it in the future.

But my little trooper quietly spoke his mind to his Uncle Rob, and when he’d had enough he turned away and collapsed, crying into his mother’s arms.

About 15 minutes later I saw him go up to Uncle Rob’s 17-year-old son and offer his condolences.

I guess they’re going to grow up, no matter what we do to stop it.

Are We Devolving Ourselves?

Are we causing our devolution? This is a question that has been bothering me, off and on, and to varying degrees, for many years now.

Most of the computer using world (and hence the people with access to this post) live in one of the safest environments that has ever existed on this planet. We have a security force, a military force, government agencies, and a rather robust collection of laws all of which are there, essentially, to make sure we don’t die.

Likewise there is an entire healthcare network who’s purpose, aside from making enormous profits, is to keep us alive and healthy so we can keep buying products.

We no longer have to worry about being hunted or eaten. While murder is still a problem it’s no where near the problem it has been in other historical periods.

But does all this come at a cost? Through litigation, overprotection and advanced science are we hurting our own species? Are we creating a world that our own children won’t be able to live in?

This idea took seed long ago when, during a casual conversation, a friend began to rail against school speed zones (his rant was intended as pure humor, and at the time was taken that way). He lived near an elementary school and a high school as was often frustrated by the 2 miles of 15 MPH he had to endure to get from his house to the nearest major street.

When I was a kid, he reasoned, there were no speed zones. We had crossing guards who made the kids wait until it was safe to cross. So, we learned how to safely cross the street. Now, there are speed zones, and the cars must wait for the kids, no matter where they choose to cross. So, today’s kids learn that they can cross whenever and wherever they want to.

Although the argument is quite funny, especially when my friend was in one of his moods, there’s a nugget of truth in there. To expand it out to it’s evolutionary impact you could say that it used to be, that kids who couldn’t learn to cross the street got hit by cars, and hence were less likely to produce offspring.

In our society there are far too many examples of this to count. Lead based paint is now a no-no. Why? Because some kids would eat it, get sick, keep eating it and eventually get lead poisoning. And their parents sued someone. So now there is no lead-based paint. But why did that kid keep eating it when hundreds of thousands of other kids ate paint chips, got sick and decided they’d had just about enough of that? Maybe the kid who keeps eating paint shouldn’t be producing offspring.

Now one of the sticky spots I find myself in here, is that if I continue this line of thinking I get to a group of people that includes myself. Modern medicine makes a long normal life possible for people who in previous ages would have died off early. When I was 12 years old I had a massive asthma attack. In order for me to survive I had to have fast transportation, a close hospital, well trained, readily-available doctors, and modern medicines. And even with all that it was close. Even 20 years earlier and I probably wouldn’t have seen my 13th birthday. So, at just about any other time in human history I would not have had the opportunity to pass along my genetic makeup.

If this theory is correct, and we are in fact damaging our own ability to survive in our own environment, there could be many repercussions, some long term, but some much more immediate.

In the immediate, our society may have to deal with a new generation that is increasingly unable to solve problems. Back to the speed zones for a moment…there is a certain level of cognition and abstract reasoning that allows a young child to understand, “if this adult is stopping me from crossing the street until the cars are past, then maybe I should always wait to cross the street until the cars have past.” And maybe giving kids the benefit of speed-zones until they are out of high school is a little too much coddling.

But in the long term we may be hurting our species. Are we burdening our genetic pool with too many people who are unable to learn how to cross a street? Or who are unable to learn not to eat paint chips? By keeping people with illnesses alive before we can correct these illnesses, are we stocking our genetic pool with scores of “manageable” illnesses. Is our rapid medical advancement creating a genetic dependence on advanced medicine?

On the other hand, I could just be upset that my 13-year-old, doesn’t know how to properly cross the street.

My Kids Will Never Leave Home

How does a parent teach common sense? This is not a rhetorical question. I need to know the answer. Or my kids will never leave home.

This has been on my mind of late, as my oldest has wandered aimlessly into her teen years.

I listen to a radio talk show on the way into work, and yesterday one of the hosts related a story about his kid who just went away to college. For his mother’s birthday he sent home a card. It arrived with a 1¢ stamp and 41¢ postage due. When he asked his son why he bought only a 1¢ stamp he replied that he thought it made sense to buy the cheapest one they sold.

After some well-deserved teasing of his son, the host asked if this indicated a fundamental lapse in his parenting. His co-host responded, correctly in my opinion, that eventually people have to take the responsibility to ask questions, and that it’s not possible for a parent to know everything his child still needs to learn.

This anecdote gives me some comfort that my kids are not unique in their inability to question and learn from everyday life. But it does little for my hope that they will one day evolve to the point where they can safely leave home.

I mean, at 13, Claudia should understand why it’s important to take the pots and pans out of the oven before preheating it. And if she forgets to do it, she understand the reason she should use a potholder to correct the problem.

At 11, Gabe should understand that he should close the door before letting the dog off the leash.

They should know this, right?

I remember asking questions when I was young. And not just the why is the sky blue variety. Why do we pay sales tax? Why do we need immunizations? How do you mail a letter?

Sure my kids ask why, but it’s more a way to question authority than in a quest for understanding. Why do I have to clear the dishes. Why do I have to go to bed now?

All this makes me wonder if—both in our own home, and in society as a whole—we are nurturing a generation of people who desperately want control, but who are wildly unprepared to get that control.

Post-Holiday Malaise

I’m not the biggest fan of the holidays. Not a Scrooge mind you—I probably fall right in the middle of the bell-curve. But the time of the year right after the holidays always seems to bring with it a downswing in my mood. And I’m not sure I ever really understood it until now.

When I was a kid, I always thought it was the normal back-to-school lethargy. Then in high school and college I reasoned that the abrupt change in schedule just meant I was tired. As I moved into adulthood I attributed it to the annual belt-tightening that naturally follows a period of financial excess. And then as a parent I thought it was just the post-Christmas poverty.

But now I think I just miss the lights.

I’ve never been a big one for going off the deep end with decorations, but during the holidays our house would probably best be compared to a low-rent casino trying to advertise some new promotion. There are mismatched strands of lights, three different inflatables all dressed as Santa—as if Snoopy, Pooh and Tigger are about to rumble for the right to deliver presents (my money’s on Tigger), trees festooned with unbreakable ornaments—half of which were already broken (which I suppose makes them unbreakable in the same way shattered glass is)—and walkways lined with lighted canes and snowflakes.

I know it sounds like a lot, but I’ve got 4 kids. You try telling one that they can’t have their favorite inflatable in the front yard when the other got their snowman decoration staked out in the front yard. I know I could pull rank, but then we’d just be laying down the law for the entire four-week break. And what fun would that be. Parents don’t get the luxury of good taste.

And out house wasn’t even the brightest on the block. The house down the street had a nativity set that not only lit up, but he blanketed the front yard with net lights. The resulting lawn grid made the whole thing look like a manger scene from The Matrix.

Yes it’s all gaudy, and tacky, loud and obnoxious. But now that it’s all gone, the street is just so plain. On a street where all the houses look pretty much the same, mime is no longer distinguished as the one that most interferes with star-watching. Instead it’s the one with the arch in the garden, that you really can’t see because it’s too dark. What fun is that?

It’s all rather like being in Disney World long enough to see them power down the rides for the night.

I Miss My Papa

As of yesterday, my Papa has been gone for 19 years. I phrase it that way because it seems a little morbid to refer to “anniversaries” of someone’s death. Anyway, I tried not to think about it too much, but I couldn’t seem to shake a low-grade funk all day.

I miss him. It’s such a simple thing to say, but to truly miss someone is a concept we don’t often take the time to understand. When I say I miss him, I don’t just mean that I wish he were still alive. I mean that there are things I’d like to do with him that I can’t. I would like to introduce him to his grandkids (he wouldn’t care about the “step-” any more than I do).

I would like to hear his voice again. I’ve now lived longer without him, than with, and I can’t really remember what he sounded like. I remember him being a very good singer. I was blessed with both parents being exceptionally gifted in the vocal department, and was always being dragged around to different functions (church, barbershop and whatnot) and singing was an integral part of our lives. So it is something fundamental when I say I miss his voice.

I would like him to tease me about my hair going grey (and going away). I would like his advice on parenting.

One of the things I regret most about him dying so young, was that I never got to take him to dinner. I remember the first time I took my Mom to dinner. It wasn’t preplanned that I would pay, but when the bill came I took it, and she didn’t fight. It’s subtle but meaningful step in the relationship between a child and their parent. And I never got to do that with him.

None of this resolves anything. I still miss him, and I guess I always will. And I don’t have a problem with that.