My Restrained Addiction

cookie monster addictionI don’t have time for any more addictions.

Wife, children, writing, reading, role-playing, Doctor Who – I can’t take on one more interest; I don’t have the time.

Now, let me be clear, the new show Dads that premiered on Fox dads picTuesday night was never likely to be a show I watched. I hear it’s insulting and offensive on several levels. And it’s a sitcom, a style of television that I’ve never enjoyed. Oh, and we have chosen not to have TV in our house, just internet. But still…

There is very little new material (TV shows and movies primarily) that I have the time to take in. My choices have to be made very carefully, and with a purpose. 

As an example, I consider myself both a nerd and a geek to my core – and yes, there’s a difference, which adds to my nerdiness. But in spite of my nerd/geek status, I’ve never seen a second of The Big Bang Theory. It’s not that I’m a snob, or elitist, but when would I watch it? Instead, I’m watching Boardwalk Empire right now, because it’s research for my current role-playing game, and also because of a novel I’m working on that takes place in 1918. And I still get through only one or two episodes a week. Another example would be the sci-fi show Defiance – which my friend Eric assures me is well worth watching. I have only seen the first half of the pilot episode and it wasn’t amazing enough to hold me.Boardwalk-Empire-Enoch-Nucky-HD-Wallpaper_Vvallpaper.Net

So I find myself – because of time constraints – doing something that I generally hate in others. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s true. I judge TV shows by their promotional material, and the buzz I hear from those who have seen them, and if I’m not amazed, I don’t watch it. 

I am prejudging, with no personal experience of my own, and this is exactly what I have done with Dads. I will likely never watch it just because of some negative comments I heard on NPR, so I’m excluding it without ever learning about it. If I saw you doing that, I’d probably tell you how that’s a bad thing. If you said to me “I don’t like (person/group/thing) because I hear (it/they) are (place stereotyped or prejudiced description here)” I’d get angry. But here I am, doing the exact thing I dislike.

Does that make me a bad person, or just one who realizes his limitations? And does that mean I have to reconsider the prejudice in others? 

Let me put a very fine point on it. If I don’t watch a TV show because I believe I won’t like it, how is that different than somebody not talking to a certain person or group of people because they believe they’ll have nothing in common?

Something to consider.

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The “E” Word

e word 2So there I was, cooking dinner. Somewhere in the house my four-year-old son was getting into mischief. Someone else was supposed to be watching him, but you know how four-year-olds can be. Sneaky.

For just an instant the lights dimmed, and then from behind me I saw flashing light. I turned around in the echo of a heartbeat (that’s a good title. It’s mine, so don’t steal it!) and saw my son facing the 220 volt outlet in the kitchen. A shower of sparks was falling down around him, and he just – sat down on the floor, like someone had removed his legs for a second. I was two steps away, and on the floor next to him before the above heartbeat-echo could even fade. He was conscious, but hurt.

One ER visit later, and we pieced everything together. While nobody was looking, he had grabbed a bobby pin – you know, for hair – and inserted it into the outlet. The doctor informed me it could have stopped his heart. Thankfully he just went home with a u-shaped third degree burn on his thumb and pointer finger. e word 3

The experience for him was painful and frightening, and he struggles to this day with electricity and fire – both of which seem to revive this memory. I feel bad for him, but at least he doesn’t have a need to become an electrician. In other words, he can avoid most exposure to this thing that gives him pain.

I, sadly, am no longer that lucky.

This past week I was instructed that something I hate to do, something that gives me zero pleasure and 100% pain is now something that I must do every single day. Each morning when I wake up, I must willingly inflict pain on myself – my entire body and my mind – or I may not live to inflict the same pain on myself the next day.

I want to wear this to the gym. They all need to know!

I want to wear this to the gym. They all need to know!

Now I do realize I am being a bit over-dramatic, but I’m trying to illustrate a point. I know I should be happy to have the chance to do this thing – that I am not already dead or past the point where it would help. And it’s not like I am diabetic or have some very serious health issue. But if I don’t hurt myself every day, I will.

Exercise.

It’s been the “E” word (like the “F” word) for 25 years. I hate it. Ugh. But in spite of becoming a vegan, and making a choice to reduce my portion size at every meal, I can no longer avoid it. Treadmill, vigorous walks, elliptical machine, bicycle – it doesn’t matter. I must find a way, or my health will begin to seriously decay. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of dying slowly and suffering for years. So, to avoid this suffering, I must make myself suffer. And I’ll likely live longer, so I’ll get to suffer the entire lengthened time.

bff-hate-exerciseI don’t wanna!

How do you convince your brain that touching a hot burner every day is in your own best interest? I don’t know. I think I’m more scared of the “E” word than I am of the alternative. And yet this revelation – nay, commandment! – by my doctor set off a whole inner journey. I began thinking of the terrible church I was raised in – and the anger I still hold towards Pastor and Mrs. Focht, who might never have intended it, but hurt me badly. I thought of how this meant I was “giving in” to conformity. I dwelt on how my least favorite word in the English language is ‘Tradition’. I thought “I might as well just cut my hair short and buy clothing at American Eagle.” e word

Wow! I had no idea how much baggage was attached to this one thought. I had no idea that my carb-addiction and my extra 50 pounds might be related to how people I perceived as conformist and traditional – people who held power over me – hurt me.

I had no idea that, lurking inside me – at least the child and teenaged me – was raw hatred, seething anger, and naked fear. Who could have guessed? My rejection of traditional society and norms makes more sense to me now, though there were many intellectual reasons for rejecting this broken Frankenstein’s Monster we call American Culture. Some of the roots have made more sense to me over the past few days.

I hate this gif

Click Me!

So what does this mean? For me personally, it means I’ll be facing a dragon I didn’t even know was sleeping inside me. I’ll be fine, I guess, in the long run, but I wasn’t expecting this in my mid-forties. It also means daily “E” word. Plek.

But I’m an optimist, and here’s the bright side: I have a clearer picture than I did a week ago of how deep and complex a person’s motivations can be. And as a writer, that’s going to come in handy. As I edit Bloodsun Rising for submission, at least two of my characters will beexercise-motivation1 viewed a little differently. Perhaps I’m going through this physical and mental challenge because they demanded it. Perhaps they knew they weren’t written well enough yet.

And for you, writing or creating in your own way – or even just dealing with others – learn a little from me and respect the depth and complexity of others, be they fictional or real.

Give them the chance to be deep and complex, or you might find yourself walking a treadmill at seven am.exercise

Love and Marriage and Anxiety

So, my sister-in-law got married this past Saturday, September 7th. It was a lovely ceremony and a beautiful day. The bride was radiant, and the groom was darkly handsome. More important than that, however, it was heartfelt. I’m not sure every couple I’ve ever seen married actually liked each other. These too, I’m pretty sure they do, and I’m thrilled for them. So why does this post seem to have a bit of a sardonic tone to it?

Heidi and Anthony Dancing at Their Wedding

Heidi and Anthony Dancing at Their Wedding

Before I go any further about me, I want to be clear that this post also relates to writing. And let me also be clear that I have no great concerns about their marriage, or my own. The tone struck here is more a reflection on modern American marriage, not on any one individual marriage.

As writers, we often use marriage as a motivator for characters. They want to get married. They’re getting married. They’re recently married and figuring everything out. They’ve been married for a long time, trying to rekindle the fires. They want a divorce. The list goes on and on. Part of this, of course, has to do with the very real fact that most people you know are, have been, or will get married at some point. You were likely born to married parents, even if they didn’t stay that way. You’ve grown up seeing marriages, good and bad. It’s familiar territory for almost all of us.

It is also a powerful force in our society. Hallmark makes lots of money convincing you to send beautiful cards to newly married couples. De Beers makes lots more convincing you that diamonds are forever, even if the marriage isn’t. Caterers and bakers and dressmakers and tuxedo makers and wedding planners and limousine companies are all out for a cut of your wedding money. And then there’s the legal side of things. When you get married, depending on state, some, most or all of what you possess – both “stuff” and debt – become co-owned. And if one of you dies – as one of you eventually will, before the other – there is an important transfer of wealth that occurs.

van-eyck_marriage-of-arnolfiniIn older societies, marriage was the single most important transaction that occurred. Wars have been prevented – and a few fought – because of weddings. Powerful merchant interests or noble families were made weaker or stronger by a poor or good choice in spouse. Human history is littered with these transactions. As writers, then, this is a gold mine. But all of this sociological and historical information doesn’t matter if the story doesn’t feel real, doesn’t resonate with the reader. That’s where our personal experiences come in.

I was terrified of marriage as a young man, and I had right to be. My parents had had a rough marriage. My brothers would likely differ with me on the causes, but the net result was the same. For a time when I was just a baby, they split up for a year. They got back together – and had my little brother – but they fought heartily. More than once I remember my mother hurling something at my father – usually a pot or pan – and calling him something I won’t repeat here. It was ugly.

In fact, I’m probably a writer today in part because of how they fought. When things got bad, I would retreat to my bedroom – an impregnable fortress, at least in the mind of a young boy – and I would read. And read. And read. Did I mention my parents fought often? I became a storyteller because I found safety and peace traveling with Captain Kirk or Frodo Baggins or Arthur Dent or Skeeve and Aahz or any of a number of fantastical counselors and psychotherapists.

In my mid-twenties I met the mother of my children and ended up marrying her. I’m not sorry I did this because I have two amazing children, but, yeah, not the best move I ever made. And I’m not sure I’ll ever really understand why I did it. You see, all the fear I had previously from my parents marriage was still there. I just choked it and stuffed it into a trunk. I seemed, as they say, to be a good idea at the time. It ended badly, but she and I still communicate somewhat as co-parents.

So there I was. Thirty six years old, divorced, unable to see my children nearly as much as I wanted. I was clinically depressed, working a job I hated, depression is like cancerbuying way too much whiskey and ice-cream. It was a dream come true, for a writer, at least. It was a dream because it was ugly and painful. My parents had died a few years before the divorce, and I really felt alone. I thought deeply and reflected often on my mistakes and what purpose my life had. In short, I really suffered. Death, divorce, loneliness, ennui and angst. Yeah. It was fun. But it was exactly what I needed.

Fast forward a few years, and I met my now wife. We didn’t start out romantic, but when we realized our boats were lashed together and we had drifted into the Sea of Sentiment, I was faced with the same choice about marriage. Now granted I had changed much since my first marriage, and the circumstances were very different, but still…

You can see a character in a book with the very same back story, can’t you? And that’s kinda my point. Marriage is everywhere. It shows up in – or can show up in – nearly any form of fiction imaginable. And it has to be there. If there were no marriage, any human-like people would have invented it anyway. They might call it “mate-bonding” or “life-promise”, but a rose by any other name still costs too much. Or is that smells as sweet?

So, marriage is here. It’s not going anywhere in your life, even if you reject the cultural definition of marriage and never commit or actually go through with it. If you live with the same person for ten, twenty, thirty years, you’re married in all but name. And it’s not going anywhere in fiction either. People have a need to be with someone else for more reasons than I care to mention here. It’s part of who we are, and that

My wife and I, we gonna be like dis, yo!

My wife and I, we gonna be like dis, yo!

isn’t going to change. So consider how you can use the complexities of marriage in your stories, and consider how marriage will affect your life, even if you life alone all your life.

So to Heidi and Anthony, may God bless your marriage.

Mazel Tov!