Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On The Edge of a Yawning Maw

You may or may not know I've enrolled in a Young Adult Fiction Writing course. It's for credit, so it's, I guess, real. I'm surrounded mainly by Creative Writing Majors, there's lots of talk about allusions and 'making art' and whatnot. It's great to have a group of people who you can talk with about the 'sagging middle' or the 'tyranny of the blank page' and not have them slowly edge away with terror in their eyes.

So, for this course I have to write about, oh I dunno, 10,000 words? Which, in my beginning days, would be a snap. Word count has been more of an issue as late. Could be debillitating overthinking, or a creeping suspicion that my fiction writing is shite when compared to my blog writing, and my blog writing isn't exactly Meville.

This presents a problem. A problem that I intend to clamber over like a well-intentioned trench soldier leaping out of his foxhole to experience just how bad machine gun bullets hurt.

Now, the good news is that I forced myself to cobble together, rather.. uh.. well, it's a hatchet job, but I finished my Epic Space Opera Farce About Society And Drugs... With Lasers. That was like a kryponite anchor around my neck. Not that I'm Superman or anything, but I hear kryponite is pretty damn heavy. Also, glowy. I've been glowingly weighed down for quite some time on this first draft, coming on two years, or.. three.

Damn.

You just get so far in, and you start all these plot threads and character arcs and in the end aren't really THAT clear on what the hell you wanted to say. So, you're 75,000 words in and are doubtful that your climax, like the proverbial Snickers, really satisfies.

I can write a scene fine. It's clunky and awkward and it's not going to hold the door open for you, but it gets the job done and has some mildly amusing bits in it. I have no problem with a scene. It's the culmination off all these scenes. It's an additive thing. One is never sure that it's going to tie up neatly or to anyone's satisfaction.

In the midst of the tyranny and horror of the blank page, of the new novel, is that sense of vague accomplishment that comes with finishing a first draft. First, hey, great, finished that fu-- damn thing. Second, damnit, it's really utter crap. Contrasting emotions there.

And now I'm onto a new novel. Obviously, since it's for class, this fourth (yes, this is number four, number four in unpublished novels giving me evil looks from the hard-drive, right between a horribly mangled Family Budget 2005 spreadsheet and a picture of what appears to be a rather cute hamster. Or a sentient dust-bunny.) has to be Young Adult.

And now the yawning maw. The new novel. In a genre that I'm not well versed in, Young Adult (13-20). When I was a YA myself, I was reading King, King, a smattering of Tolkien, some Brooks, a dash of Asimov, and more King. It's a bit of the Han Solo problem for me. That is, kids watched Star Wars back in the day because of Han Fricking Solo, not the Ewoks. Yet in YA there has to be YA characters. Which I can understand. I think.

I guess I'm coming off as a negative Nancy here. This course is good for me. There are a few reasons that I decided to take it.

YA sounds like the sort of genre that has the sort of stuff I'm into. Lasers, robots, ninjas, robot laser ninjas.

I mean, yes, there is the other side, the sensitive coming of age story about the a teenage girl as she struggles with her mother's addiction to Percocet, a devastatingly handsome yet alarmingly sensitive boy, and maybe the neighbourhood vampire coven. My impression is that YA is just like fiction in general, that is, the vast majority is written for women.

But I'm interested in the other bit. The bit with outrageous monsters and dry dry humour. Things that are, for lack of a hipper term, 'cool'. At least to me. A vanishingly small demographic, to be sure.

And it's great, the camaraderie, the quick glances at the old, decidedly unhip dude in the back with the Battlestar Galactica shirt, the veiled references that maybe only real writers should be in the class... Where was I going with this. I'm hoping that, like iodine splashed with marked violence into a gaping knee wound, this will be good for me in an excruciatingly exposing way. And now I'm faced with the judgment from my peers, and the yawning maw, the blank page, the novel that must be written.

Fun, this writer stuff.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fraud

There aren't many of us. We hang around indie coffee houses and comic shops, Banana Republic and Ed Wood marathons. We lie and feint and try bold face bluffs in social company; but overall we try to keep our mouths shut. We might catch a snippet here or there, gold mines of information that we can spend, ever so carefully, if cornered and trapped, prodding eyes and waiting ears aimed at us.

We shouldn't be ashamed, of course. In this pluralistic world where Puritans are no longer hunted and children aren't expected to put in a full 18-hour work day, people are pretty open to new ideas; there's no reason to hide it. But we can't help ourselves. What would our coworkers think? Uncle Ralph? What about Stan across the street? He'd never let us borrow his gas powered weed whacker again.

We are the sports idiots. ¹

I mean, we're not even the sort who only watches New Zealand rugby since we 'caught the bug' while backpacking across South East Asia. We don't have a casual interest in curling or bowling or NCAA hoops. We might know that Minnesota has the Vikings, we most likely won't know what sport it is.

It's a group of misfits and navel-gazers and general ne'er do-wells. We probably don't drink beer and perhaps harbour an absinthe addiction.

I'm sometimes relieved to find others like me. I feel a bit of me relax a little. My mind won't have to scurry into the warren of Transformers lore and 'The Fifth Element" lines to try and remember if Naslund is a Canuck or a BC Lion; or if it is indeed March Madness time, and what the hell we are mad about.

And, you know, invariably, I'm let down. This person will say, "Oh yeah, I don't really watch sports", and just as I start to breathe a sigh of relief and quip "WE ARE THE KNIGHTS WHO SAY NI!", they'll add, "Oh, but I love those Tennessee State Tigers! Go CATS! RAWR!".

I mean, I get it. The communal activity of the entire tribe rooting for a common cause. The shared language and experience that sport can bring. Even us sports idiots get pulled into that world when "our" team makes it to some playoff. But if that's hay you notice on our slacks, that's because we love us some bandwagons.

But we have never read a sports section. We have the merest grasps of what various sports rules mean.

And it's not like I think we sports idiots are better than people who watch sports. I'm not the proverbial progressive Mother Jones subscriber who has thrown away their TV and cannot shut up about it. I fully recognized that the nerdy and untoward things I'm interested have no more redeeming factors than sports. Maybe even less.

We sports idiots throw ourselves towards odd pursuits: stamp collecting, black and white manga about zucchinis, indie games released by lone programmers seeking to usurp the current industry power paradigm, marionnette fashion, beat poetry about Latin syntax. We are wide and varied.

We all share the common secret, though.

So if you see us, cornered at a BBQ, eyes filled with fear and darting from left to right, trying to figure out what the hell a "two-yard no-fault lateral offensive penalty" is, please feel free to distract, perhaps holler something like "Go Ti-CATS GO!"



1. For some reason, women are generally given a free pass on this. They don't need to know about sports. No one edges slowly away from them at the coffee machine if they can't speak cogently about 'that bullshit icing call'. Then again, you did have to go through that whole suffrage thing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Light Criminal Activity, Heavy Drug Use, and Voluntary Sleep Deprivation

Everyone wants a memorable birth story; but no one wants to go through one. I mean, that mother who, every year, gives birth to triplets in a cab at rush hour while her obstetrician texts instructions to the cabbie? She'll never have another conversation about vinyl siding or how overrated Jim Carey is, never again.

That's what we want to talk about, anyways; what we want to go through is a textbook birth, whether we want the "home-water-birth with the coven, three doulas and a mid-wife" sort of birth or the "more narcotics than a Columbian drug lord while surrounded by enough MDs to launch a mildly successful soap opera" sort of birth.

Our story is a little bit from column A, a little from column B.

First off, we have fantastic neighbours. Neighbours that'll bend over backwards and forwards and angles found only in extra-credit geometry homework. Generally all-around very giving and nice people. Almost makes me reconsider my hermit personality. They offer to take care of Owlet, take care of Molly (the dog), and come over at any time of night to do whatever is needed.

So, contractions, panic, rustling of various things that we are sure never to need at the hospital. Through no fault of our saintly neighbours, we somehow forget to tell them about the lock we don't have the keys to. In our defense, I don't think we even knew about the lock. On the other side, how could we not even know about the lock? At least Mrs. Owl can blame pregnancy brain. I seem to have just a naturally addled mind of questionable cognitive power.

Long story short, we have to come back (medical thing, we have to go back and forth to the hospital a few times). Lo and behold, the Lock That Doesn't Have A Key is locked. So, while Mrs. Owl goes through contractions every 7 to 10 minutes, we have another neighbour attempt a little B&E on the Owl Roost. Because if there is anything you want to do while your second child is attempting to enter this world, it's jimmying unused credit cards and discussing the finer points of undetectable burglary. To his credit, this neighbour, let's call him Chatwin, has all the criminal aura of a retired beat poet who has gone onto Serengetti wild-life macrame.

It's a long process, trying to breach our own place. We try windows and doors and briefly consider climbing among the insulation and dead hobos in our attic to access our place that way. Just kidding about the attic, of course, we didn't even consider it briefly.

Our final stop is the front door, which apparently is as easy to open as a Starbucks at your previously favourite indie record shop. Chatwin has many theories as to why ours isn't opening so easily. I think one theory involves lasers. We come up with many more ideas about how best to get in. By this time our little cadre of criminal masterminds has climbed to a whopping six people. I'm glad that my moment of heart-exploding crisis is a source of some entertainment. Of the six people, there are four moms. Now, the options we come up with are:

1) kick open the door, relying on shoddy 70's era craftsmanship to give way to our penny-loafers and desk-jockey athleticism.

2) drill into the door knob using some space age material that sounds like it might be a key component in achieving geosynchronous orbit and that is illegal in all the former Communist Bloc.

3) wait for a trained, professional locksmith to open it without major structural trauma to our residence.

Pretty much every single mom there opted for the heart-pounding exciting options of either 1 or 2.

We go with 3. As we are, for some reason, not looking for more excitement.

At some point, we wanted to see Owlet, the apple of our eyes, the focus of the past 2.5 years of our lives together. Oh, carrier of our DNA, offspring of our careful tutelage and guidance! Surely she must be distraught! Heartbroken! Confused!

Our other OTHER neighbour comes rolling by in her minivan, with Owlet inside. We open the sliding door and shower our affection upon a child that has yet to enter her rebellious teen years or utterly baffling college years. She kinda looks at us as the pope might to 100,000 thronging Roman Catholics, surging against police barriers, ecstasy in their eyes; she gives us the polite yet generally uninterested wave, and continues on her way.

It's a comfort to know that homesickness will never be an issue for her, apparently.

After one of our many trips they finally let us stay. We're shuttled off to our (being as this is Socialist Canada) private room. I thank my lucky stars we're not in the States where we no doubt would be forced to give birth in the ER waiting room, you know, right in front of the hospital cash register. This particular room has no windows, it's slightly claustrophobic; but again I consider that at least we don't have to take a second mortgage on the house to have a child. Go universal health care.

The delivery progresses. Contractions become harder, I, father and 'person who should just zip his pie-hole and stay out of the way' try my best to help out, but mostly try and not piss off Mrs. Owl. For instance, I fetch her juice. Juice that's supplied by the hospital. I assume it's actual juice. After tasting it I realize it's some sort of concentrated Tang concoction with thirty times the recommended intake of sugar, syrup, and orange tasting chemical additive.

My job of staying out of trouble becomes much less an issue when the sweet, sweet drugs come. The obstetrician who is consulting with our mid-wife makes some comment about 'how everyone loves the anesthesiologist'. It strikes me that this is a rather condescending thing to say. As if the doctor needs some self-esteem boost. No one would make a similar comment if it was a neuro-surgeon. No one makes mealy mouthed lame-duck bolstering comments to the rocket scientists at NASA, or David Lee Roth, or Maverick.

And then comes the final stretch I'll spare the more squeamish readers the details. There's breathing and squeezing and pushing. But in between there's light banter between our mid-wife and the pediatrician. Light. Banter. Now I understand that any job, no matter how exciting, becomes a little bit run of the mill. I mean, even the calling of delivering a NEW LIFE INTO THE WORLD. It's just disconcerting to see people discuss (however quietly and respectfully), something so mundane and asinine I can't for the life of me remember what it was. I do remember saying quite loudly and not without indignation, 'OH YOUR PUSHING NOW HONEY?!'.

The rest of the miracle of birth and continuation of the species and the bringing of Owl Jr. into this world came off quite splendidly really. But it's the little things you remember. Gives your birth story a little extra something. Because, to be honest, I really don't think Jim Carey is over-rated.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Looming

So, you only get a few massive, rather unsettling, yet still exciting changes in your life.

Many of them, well, you can't really plan for them, they hit you like a wayward brick at a rather shoddily managed construction site: having your kids visit you with brochures for an old age home, winning the lottery, your bestest friend in the whole wide world moving away even though you promised to be like the two musketeers in the sixth grade.

Others are well planned, expected, yet no less, or perhaps even more life changing: marriage, graduating, bringing your aging parent brochures for the old age home, a new baby.

It's a looming event. An event so massive and altering that your brain shuts down trying to comprehend how your life will be different (hopefully better).

I guess I take the 'glass half-full' theory. For many reasons.

One, I quite despise those super happy new agey touchy feely sort of people who insist that the birth of a new baby is the 'adventure of a lifetime' and 'children are such a blessing' and then go off about crystals and indigo children and all sorts of scientifically unverifiable crap that just makes one feel good about being an assistant manager at Kinko's with crushing student debt and three children in Montessori classes you can't afford.

I mean, yes, they are, absolutely, great, fantastic, funny, LOVE LOVE LOVE etc.

But there is the other side, y'know. The side that's made of so many poorly conceived Steve Martin family movies with sappy endings that have no relation to financial realities in a recession economy and the inability for a middle class family to save for post-secondary education.

The chaos, the tears, the meltdowns, the BATTLE OF THE WILLS, the screaming because you had no idea what you're doing before with one kid and now you have two and OHEJESUS WHYDON'T THEYHAVE AHOTLINE FOR THIS (or at least a small SWAT team at the ready)!?

I guess I don't want to delude myself into an idyllic life.

I approach the new baby about to enter our lives as, number ONE, a towering responsibility. Shit don't get more super serious than raising a child. I make light of most things. Anything. But the whole raising a child so he's a somewhat productive member of society is the stuff that adults are made of. Or stuff that crosschecks you into adulthood.

And I suppose I'll cede, yes, children are pretty awesome. They're ALL ABOUT THE FUN. Party times, 24/7 . They're like comedians without any routine. Did I just liken parenthood to raising comedians without routines into being productive members of society? As far as I can tell, that's not far from the truth.

I just hope they pick a good retirement home for me.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Waiting Room Farewell

Owlet has reached her terrible two's. Which is not a fairy tale made up by the Population Control Board to scare people; it's very, very real. Now, the Demon of Misbehaviour doesn't rear it's ugly head all the time, but when it does... well. It's unconsolable, loud, angry, sad, with every motion dialed to eleven. There is no way to reason, no way to cajole it. It has come to test your will as a parent. You just have to try everything until something works, as best as I can figure. But then, 'frantically trying everything' pretty much sums up my parenting style.

So a few weeks back we go to the drop-in clinic. For what, I couldn't tell you, but none of us are dead so it probably wasn't that interesting. It was like, an hour wait, so we walked around the mall, unfortunately, got Owlet good and tired. This is fantastic if we're going home and putting her to bed, this is less than optimal if we are going to spend 20 minutes trying to avoid eye contact with: a young couple (the girl of which, nervously rubs her belly every 3 minutes), a large man in overalls with a mangled steel toe work-boot that has tinges of red in disturbing places, and a mother and daughter who look nervously to the door. It's quiet, it's boring, everyone is trying to avoid chit chat and risk someone asking "So what are you here for".

The room is ripe for boredom, which is the breeding ground of the Tantrum. This is really great because there's also some kids. And every parent who's every been in this situation thinks only one thing, "I hope my kid isn't the one that loses it". Because one will. One must, it's an imperative of the universe, like gravity or gay GOP officials or celebrity DUIs. It's an odd situation, because as soon as one of the kids erupts, the parent automatically thinks, "Oh, they must think I'm a horrible parent", while all the other parents are thinking, "Thank god mine didn't go first".

So, Owlet starts to lose it. Just slowly at first. It's like she enjoys my building dread and horror as I realize all supplications and treats and tricks are for naught. A little more uncooperative, a little less placated by books or toys. And then, bang. There it is. Tantrum time. The arching of the back, the crying, the, great Buddha, where did she get such lung-power?

I pull out my last card, "Go for walk?". She refuses in the inartculate way that all toddlers refuse. I start dressing her anyways, getting her ready for a walk about.

Right in the middle, she stops. I then realize that the entire room has been deathly quiet. Perhaps clucking quietly at me, perhaps relieved that Owlet with her lungs are soon to be gone, whatever. The room sucks in, like a vacuum has just opened up.

Owlet turns to the room, waves, and says, clear as a church bell on a spring morning, "Bye 'body!"

We leave to an eruption of applause.

She's such a ham.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Singing Evangelical Tree



We went to the "Singing Christmas Tree" over the holidays. In it's 40th year, apparently; a heartening thought. Something that goes on for that long must be good. This is lazy thinking, the sort of logic that assumes that since some neo-con pundit with less sincerity than a used-car salesman in houndstooth has published a few best selling books, he must not be totally batshitinsane. Or the rationale that, "Hell, 5 million Scotsmen can't be wrong", right before you take a bite into haggis.

For those of you far too clever to be sucked into one of these 'events', a Singing Christmas Tree is a concert where the choir sits in risers shaped like a , well, you know. Except these risers go about 3 storeys high, and outfitted with enough light to pierce through even this curmedgeon's ill-view of Saturnalia.

It all started well enough, held in one of those mega-churches that are so non-denominational one isn't sure if they are in a church or a very polite talent show. The first guy up was great, youth pastor, he had verve and life and humour and a self-deprecating way that I took a shine to. I was this close to thinking "Hey, church isn't a dark cave of ignorance and hypocrisy. Or as much as I thought!".

Then they let the other pastors take over, who spent a good 20 minutes talking about all their great ministries! Then some time talking about topics they'll cover in the coming year. Somewhere in there Ye Olde Creationism trope is pulled out.

I pucker.

Then he asks "How many of you are first timers to the Singing Christmas Tree". Here I'm thinking, well, forty damn years, it must be a family tradition. There can't be that ma-- and about 80% of the people raise their hands.

Big, blaring alarm bells go off in my brain. Massive clunky things with klaxons and bells and little hunchbacks straining with all their deformed might, trying in vain to get me the hell out of there.

The choir starts off, hits a few good tunes. They've sucked me back in, visions of holly and snow drifts filled with young, rosy cheeked families dragging their Christmas tree home.

This doesn't last, because then the five singers who you see on every single evangelical TV show show up, with their sickly sweet vocals and semi-pop Christian music. I mean, they can sing, they got pipes, but their message couldn't be more ham-handed if you gave the The Thing two large sows and told him it was "Clobberin' Time!". Just bash you over the head silly with the same ol' message I've heard from glossy eyed teens and emotionally overspent theology students. Full of hope and straw-men and logical fallacies that would barely impress a reticent goat with an untreated ear tumour.

The part of me that kept me from bolting for the door withers.

But it gets better. Oh, so much better.

Somehow they fit in some hip-hop dancers to do a sorta Christian hip, but not too hip, dance to the music. I was far too horrified to find this funny at the time, and only now, 3 weeks later, has the horror subsided sufficiently for me to speak of it, but not without cold sweats.

And the coup de grace came, not with the thin edged rapier of subtlety, but with the 10-ton cleaver of ridiculousness. They had a running skit. Interspersed between more choir music and hip-hop dancing. A running skit by over enunciating Super Cool Christians doing a real "hard-hitting" story about "real people" finding the "real meaning of Christmas" (no, not Saturnalia). It was as if they squeezed in all the logical fallacies, all the cheese, camp, and ridiculousness of the past hour and honed it to a presentation so pure, so unadulterated, I started laughing. Out loud.

We left soon after.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Just. F*cking. Omelettes.

No, we don't have any crepes. We don't have OJ or corn bread or waffles. We cannot and will not offer you bacon, sausage, or ham.

Just. F*cking. Omelettes.

Read the damn sign.

We got an omelette station and a pretty questionable dishwasher. There are two goddamn tables in the entire establishment. We can't even afford new hairnets, for Christ's sake. Just. F*cking. Omlettes. Do I have to repeat myself for every customer? You have the menu, you see how all the items are under one title that says, oddly enough, 'Omelettes'?!

Our sign is twenty goddamn feet long. With neon.

What's that? Oh sure, I can make you a pancake. It might look and taste like our onion and liver omelette, though, hope you don't mind. Because, you know, that's all we f*cking do. Just. Omelettes.

I don't know who sends you here. Zagats or some fruity food critic. You've been mistaken in our culinary range. It's ok, we all make mistakes. Just accept it. Accept that I will not make you 'eggs over easy with a touch of hollandaise sauce'.

Oh, you want scrambled eggs, just scrambled eggs? Alright, fine.

But I'mma gonna throw in some chives just to fuck with ya.