try not to mess up your kids

Ugh, dreams. But bleary and committed to wakefulness I have to ask: does anyone ever tell kids its okay to be afraid of things? Is that part of the parental playbook? Because I just crashed out of sleep in the middle of a dream about a diner, wherein I was listening in to the booth behind me as I ate my food, and it was a father and son, maybe what, of seven or eight? They were eating ice cream that was some sort of consolation award because the kid had tried to do something and he was afraid of it and hadn’t done it. I’m going to say riding his bike without training wheels but that is me projecting because that terrified me—I don’t remember what it was for this kid in the dream. But it was something like that. Some kid thing that is, yes, terrifying. And the dad is trying to talk him out of this. I, in the next booth, chafe, thinking this is ludicrous—the kid’s afraid, you jerk. With reason. You want to screw him up implying he’s a coward, that he should never be afraid of anything, that he should just barrel into the world white knuckled and teeth bared and guilt about STILL being afraid (even if only a little) wadded up in the pit of his stomach like an oily rag? I was fighting in the next booth not to say anything. Not my kid, not my business, etc. etc.

Then—o, hallmark of our times—some jackass shows up shooting. Of course. Glass breaking, people screaming, bits of food exploding as it is hit, smearing everything. I am under a table and the kid is too. His face is smeared with exploded scrambled eggs. His dad is smeared with what could be ketchup but isn’t. I’m still watching them even though the situation just got way worse. The guy, with his gaspy hurting breaths, is trying to tell the kid it’s okay. And I, watching, am filled with fury. I want to yell, “This is NOT okay, dude! The fuck you think you are doing, telling your kid not to fear this? He should be afraid! This is terrifying! This is for you isn’t it? You just can’t bear the thought of your little boy being in a world that has justifiable cause for fear so you LIE to him about it and tell him it’s not scary. But it is! Look at this mess! You were eating scrambled eggs a minute ago and now you’re huddling under a table dying in front of him! And you want him not to be afraid? In your final minutes you can’t be honest enough with him to tell him you’re scared out of your mind for him and maybe of dying too but mostly for him—you have to keep up this miserable charade of fearlessness?!?!”

I was irate. And then the guy died. And his kid met my eyes under the tables and I mean what the hell do you say? What good does my rage do? I’m no damn parent. Maybe it’s really hard to admit to yourself you can’t shelter your kid from this and that it won’t be okay like you always say it will be and that to say it WON’T be okay feels like an even worse betrayal than lying about it looks to be to me, from the outside. Probably begrudging people on death’s door this last fiction they tell themselves is small and mean of me. Maybe being in shock will prevent the kid from taking it too much to heart?

But there it was, my rage, and the object of it whisked out of life before I could address it at all, and my loss (my what, unrequited trolling?) was as, rightfully, NOTHING compared to the loss of that kid staring at me under the tables as bullets continued to whiz by overhead. (All of this was mere moments, you see. And the fact that we could see each other under tables despite having just been in booths—dream logic.) And then my alarm went off and woke me up.

I don’t know why my subconscious served that up. Before bed I watched the gun people yelling at the Sandy Hook dad in the courtroom but obviously my anger was not at the dad. And after seeing it on the Colbert Report I ordered Rookie, which arrived yesterday (“if only it had existed when I was in high school! actually…I wouldn’t have touched anything girly with a 9-foot pole in high school”), and which contained an article by Dan Savage which contained the phrase “No kid should do today what I did 30 years ago, not in our post-Columbine (google it), zero-tolerance world.” That blew my mind. Columbine? Google it? Are you crazy? Have you been living under a goddamn rock? Everyone has some shittily grand dream of being a hero or a martyr or both in middle/high school. Mine was of defusing various Columbine-like situations. Either of rescuing the people I respected most, or being killed in the process if it then guaranteed their safety. (Oh adolescent vanity—as if any psychopath would choose raping me over killing all the innocent people he set out to kill in the first place.) That event thoroughly fucked my teen angst-filled daydreams (right up till 9/11 showed up and thoroughly fucked them from the other side), not to mention those of the legions of kids like me I’m sure, and Dan Savage is telling kids to GOOGLE it??

Well, yeah. These kids were, what, toddlers at best when it happened. Soon they would only have been piles of protoplasm and then they won’t even have been a thought in their parents’ heads. So they’ll only get heresay. Maybe it’ll start to sound like precautions against date rape or blackout drinking—“oh sure, bad stuff happens but it won’t to me.” They won’t have been there in lockdown as their teachers run back and forth to the news, shitting bricks. It’ll be just another thing adults try to scare them with. Something to sneer at.

But when, as seems hopelessly inevitable here, it DOES happen in their lifetime and they ARE afraid, are their parents going to tell them not to be? Even though the parents themselves get all white-knuckled on the remote just watching the news? Are they going to tell that lie?

What else are they supposed to say, I guess. “Be afraid, kid, be very afraid. Because this is the shitty kind of place I brought you into?” I guess that would mess you up too.

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spring(ish) cleaning

Cleaned up the blog. Got rid of the dark-background-with-white-text-boxes because that is too similar to the Japan blog, hard on everyone’s eyes, and unnecessarily emo. Have been eyeing the Inkhorn theme for awhile. Not sure my sunset-turned-fire header still looks okay given the new theme but I am loath to get rid of it since the site I used to make it, Picnik, has since been bought by Google and summarily buried, much like Who Killed The Electric Car except with fewer climate change implications. The big loss there, I should point out, is their fonts. I don’t have all those cool fonts and I’m not about to spend hours sifting through free ones available online. I’ve got things to do.

Moreover, have been able to keep blog to a dull roar since purchasing Day One, thus fulfilling desire to spill guts on iOS devices without actually mawkishly spilling guts all over internet. Think this will be for the best; can thus keep posts in the realm of the interesting/insightful and cease persistent forays into the precious and maudlin. This use of the word “precious,” incidentally, was taught to me by a coworker who has since departed for the West Coast; I had no idea that a word whose greatest negative connotations for me revolved around unwanted grandparently attentions during tweenhood could and has been repeatedly, to the point where it is something of a trending word, been turned on its edge and used to cut things to ribbons. Spying some tasty-looking cupcakes over her shoulder while she forsook work to browse Pinterest instead, I was on the verge of exclaiming how awesome they looked when she wrinkled her nose at them. “God, it’s embarassing that I even look at this stuff, it’s so precious.” Since then have seen it in articles aplenty, and resent it a little. Its use in this way seems unnecessarily condescending. Think if one doesn’t like something one should just say said thing sucks, rather than try to assassinate its thingness outright via barbed remarks and backhanded compliments. Which, really, this latest use of the word “precious” seems to be.

Also today, attempted to build bridges with three people: one who hates me, one who shouldn’t remember me and thus should have no idea how sad he made me once, and one who I persist in telling myself has some kind of empathy disorder that leads to out-of-the-blue cruel comments. The middle one responded well. The other two: zilch. I tried, people. I do try.

so open it hurts

Oh wow. Okay, so, there were a bunch of different articles between me and this one:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/magazine/george-saunders-just-wrote-the-best-book-youll-read-this-year.html?pagewanted=8&_r=3&nl=afternoonupdate&emc=edit_au_20130104&

which I only found by reading the beginning of this one in Flipboard:

http://www.salon.com/2013/01/21/the_best_author_profile_youll_read_this_week/

which I was touched by because I didn’t know other people thought about reviews/profiles so much, in these terms, like I did. By “touched,” then, I mean, I felt a kindred spirit or whatever. To the point where what was moving this person was what I too, I figured, would be moved by. Which was what I wanted. So I stopped reading the second one and went to read the one it was talking about—the profile of George Saunders, whom I’m sure I’ve read before in one writing course or another. But I don’t know when or what. But that is immaterial.

I will post quotes, as much for myself (the article will be archived and cost money to see, one day) as for someone finding this blog who cannot or will not read the whole article. But before that, several urgent statements:

1.) I should have been a man and 20 years older than I am. I could have been friends with these guys. No serious male writer wants to be friends with a girl in her twenties. They either want to sleep with you or to keep their distance in case you want to sleep with them. They never get beyond sex. I find this deeply frustrating. I should have been able to come of age before blogs. Then I would have told to someone’s face what I only tell to a screen, and maybe they would have liked me for it. They would have drunk some foul brews with me at ungodly hours of the night. Perhaps we would have argued sometimes, and some fisticuffs might have ensued, but being men, we would forgive, not hold a grudge forever and ever. These thoughts always occur to me when I encounter writers of that generation, that moment. I would have been there. I would have had compadres.

2.) How have I not been drawn to George Saunders before? Based on the conversations clipped from him here I should have been brandishing his stories as my raison d’être a decade ago. I do not know how i missed him.

Okay, quotes:

“There was an experience he was living that hadn’t adequately been represented in fiction yet. Not a Kafkaesque existential deadness, but something else, something that captured “not the endless cycle of meaningless activity but the endless cycle of meaningful activity.””

“I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person.”

“I admired him so much,” he said about Wallace. “His on-the-spot capabilities were just incredible. And I thought, Yeah, we’re a lot alike. We’re similar, nervous guys. And then when he died, I thought [of myself], Wait a minute, you’re not like that. You don’t have chronic, killing depression. I’m sad sometimes, but I’m not depressed. And I also have a mawkish, natural enthusiasm for things. I like being alive in a way that’s a little bit cheerleaderish, and I always felt that around Dave. When he died, I saw how unnegotiable it was, that kind of depression. And it led to my being a little more honest about one’s natural disposition. If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you’ve doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it” — which is, in part, what the process of writing allows — “then the possibility exists that you can convert it.”

“It’s hard to maintain, the softness. It’s an effort. That Dubai story ends with these lines, wisdom imparted from Saunders to himself: “Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

on attention-capturing captions

I amuse my coworkers when especially silly publications crop up by explaining the schema of academia title construction, post-1980. It works pretty much like this:

[Intangible Yet Potentially Tantalizing Concept] : [Concrete Terms That Make Clear How Boring This Publication Will Really Be]

For example:

Determined to Succeed : Performance versus Choice in Educational Attainment

Spectacles of Reform : Theater and Activism in Nineteenth-Century America

The Fragile Wisdom : An Evolutionary View on Women’s Biology and Health

This morning, however, I happened upon an improved subtitle/caption, which might suggest a sea-change in this by now terribly dull tendency among academics seeking to transmogrify yet another limping dissertation into yet another limping book:

Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, Web Search, and Other Situations When Close is Close Enough

Well, that will get their attention. I suppose when the real title of your book is itself a bag of hammers, you do what you can.