Thanks.

After my monumental gripe with the Holiday season (cringe) yesterday, it seems only fitting to embrace the spirit of the holiday today, so for a little change of pace here on the blarg, here are some things I’m thankful for.

  • I am thankful for my two beautiful children, who, despite their daily assaults on my sanity, are pretty much the most amazing future humans I have ever known.
  • I am thankful for my gorgeous wife, who both calls me on my sharknado and manages to inspire me to be the best version of myself. And who is also one hell of a cook.
  • I am thankful that my wife’s family and mine live within a short hour’s drive from one another, and we are therefore spared the uncomfortable situation of having to choose to spend time with one or the other on days like this. I am also thankful for the two over-the-top dinners we get as a result of this double-dip.
  • I am thankful that despite my recent injuries, I remained in good enough general health to return to running in time to complete a race with my wife and sister this morning, having about as much fun as I’ve had in a while doing something that wasn’t all about my kids.
  • I am thankful for my job. Whether it was something I ever saw myself doing notwithstanding, the stability it has brought to our house has made a lot of things possible over the last couple of years, not least of which are the births of my children and my wife’s continuing education. We are not rich, but we are comfortable, and it’s hard to overstate the depth of appreciation I have for that comfort.
  • I am thankful that, for whatever reason, I decided to embrace my fears and my wants and begin capital “W” Writing this year. It’s been a terrifying and enlightening journey, one that I hope I’ve only seen the first steps of.
  • I am thankful that, despite my position as an English teacher and a self-proclaimed capital “W” Writer, I can boldly and with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek end sentences with prepositions, massacre the rules of general good grammar, and play havoc with punctuation, and still (I think and hope!) generally communicate in an intelligible manner.
  • I am thankful that there is great love in both my family and my wife’s, and within our own newly created family.
  • I am thankful that my son did not use any swear words in front of the family on Thanksgiving (that I am aware of). If he did, he learned them from TV, not from me.
  • Finally, and before this list gets out of control (because it could), I am thankful for my readers and followers here on the blarg. Yes, this little chronicle is largely a narcissistic endeavor, but I’d be lying–horribly–if I said I didn’t get a thrill from knowing that other people read (and in some cases enjoy) my drivel. If you’ve ever read my work and laughed sympathetically, or clicked that little “like” button, or left a comment, you’ve brightened my day. I want to thank you for sharing a little of your time with me.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Holiday Creep

I don’t often start my posts with a title, but today I did, and I immediately realized that it’s a misleading title. This is not a post about that guy who’s a creep around the holidays. You know him. He starts wearing the mistletoe hat around, oh, say mid-November and talks a little bit too loudly about the gifts he got for all the women at the holiday party.

As a sidebar, for the love of sandwiches, why do we still have to call this time of year “The Holidays?” Yes, I understand: multiple religions, multiple celebrations, the PC-fun-police basically have to wear diapers to keep from sharknadoing themselves to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes during this sacred time. Yeah, “sacred.” First of all, Christmas is king, anything else is an also-ran (and I’m not saying that as an ardent christian or anything, but look around. Christmas won. Game over). Second, and I’m seriously asking this because I have a hard time believing it–has anybody actually had their sensibilities damaged or their feelings hurt because a stranger in a store wished him a “merry Christmas?” I deplore calling this time of year “the Holidays”, because it feels like hiding under an awning to avoid getting rained on when a tiny wisp of cloud appears in the sky. It’s reactionary in the extreme. For my money, just go around wishing people a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hannukah or a Fantastic Festivus and let them sort it out.

And further sidebar, I know this is the time of year when the religious wingnuts and Fox News especially will start kvelling about the “war on Christmas”. If you’re in that crowd, and you believe a) that there’s a war on Christmas in any way, shape, or form OR b) that if there were a war on Christmas, that Christmas would be in any way diminished by some city hall getting rid of their nativity scene, you’re delusional. Christmas is the Juggernaut and from late October through all of December it goes plowing through the walls of every building in town. Because Christmas isn’t really Christmas anymore, not really. It’s a religious holiday originally, but now it’s a ritual in the only religion that matters in this country: capitalism. ‘Tis the season to run up some credit card debt and stimulate the economy. Just sayin’. I for one can’t wait for all the news reports on how well or how poorly the businesses have done this Black Friday.

Which brings me, circuitously, to the point. I heard a news story earlier this week about a guy who has been camped out at his local Best Buy for a week already in anticipation of the Black Friday deals, but you don’t have to look far to find other examples. It’s epidemic. Somehow, “camping out” in front of a store for hours or even days before it opens has become–not just acceptable (and that’s enough of a Bizarro World scenario to begin with)–but expected if you want to get the best deals, the most ridiculous savings. The guy in question has made a sign where he proudly proclaims his actions, and even invites passersby to take pictures. Presumably, he’s having “fun.”

Apparently this is some new definition of the word “fun” I was previously unaware of.

 

Far be it from me to decry what another person does for “fun.” But I really have to wonder about the state of your life if you engage in this particular pursuit of happiness. I mean, a simple cost/benefit analysis will tell you that no bargain you could snag by camping out is worth cashing in a vacation day for. Say you make $20 an hour and you want to buy a TV that’s $200 instead of $500. And you camp out for a day. Well, that’s a day of work lost to the tune of almost $200. Plus you have to supply your tent and feed yourself. This guy apparently has pizza delivered, so I’m going to be generous and say that your “camping” consumables are going to run you around $30. So, yeah, okay, you’ve really saved a net of almost $100, but then you also had to sleep outside in the cold. And if you camp out for multiple days, the math only gets worse. So don’t kid yourself about the insane “savings” you get.

Also, as anybody who has gone shopping on Black Friday without camping out knows, stores have limited quantities of their best deals, which means that if you’re not in the first wave of screaming charging mouthbreathers through the front door, you aren’t getting that Playstation 7 for only $300. You’ll arrive in the electronics section to find the empty shelving ripped from the drywall and return to pay full price a week later.

So what’s my point? My point is this. This is not the behavior of a healthy society. Camping out for deals, trampling store employees making minimum wage, breaking into fistfights over awful toys for your children… these are not the actions of well-adjusted individuals, yet they happen every year, and we are not surprised anymore. Think about that. Last year, my wife told me that there was a shooting at some store on Black Friday morning, and I almost yawned while asking, “just one?” And it gets worse every year. The arms race is neverending. Macy’s opens their doors at 7pm on Thanksgiving night, so Sears one-ups them and opens at 6:30. I’ve been seeing ads all week for pre-Thanksgiving “doorbuster” sales, all of which are appended with the admonition to “watch for our Black Friday ads!” So I’m supposed to go shop now, and then go back and shop again on the Superbowl of Shopping.

No.

On Black Friday, I will be safely and cozily snuggled in my bed, dreaming of penguins and safe in the knowledge that I am not part of the evil machine that twists the minds of otherwise rational people during “The Holidays”. In the meantime, I will ignore every ad for Black Friday sales, I will sneer every time I hear the word “doorbuster”, and I will laugh derisively at every picture, news story, or anecdote of some idiot camping outside of any retailer to be the first in line for the savings. Yes, I will pay a little more for my Christmas presents. But I will feel rich in the knowledge that I am not a part of this epidemic.

Because make no mistake. If you go out and shop on Black Friday, or–leftovers help you, Thanksgiving Day– then you are a part of the problem. Even if you just go to “see what the deals are”, you are encouraging these retail vampires to continue their lunatic behavior, to keep pushing the shopping season back earlier in the year. You are endorsing the behavior of the idiots who are out there in tents right now sipping horrible coffee and laughing and pretending they’re having fun. They’re not. And if you think you’re having fun camping outside a store to save money on a TV, you need to take a good hard look inward.

Take a stand. Fight the power. Enjoy your tryptophan coma and sleep in on Black Friday.

Everybody knows the best deals are on Cyber Monday, anyway, and you don’t even have to put on pants to get those.

#SleepInBlackFriday


Toddler Life, Chapter 171: Covered in Poop

My children know when their daddy is holding them. They say that the mother releases chemicals that calm her child when she holds them, and these chemicals strengthen the bonding instinct, encourage the child to relax, and so forth–all the things needed to foster a good relationship. I’m convinced that the father emits pheromones of his own, and these pheromones encourage the child to evacuate all of his or her fluids as soon as possible.

I know, I know. I’m the parent of a toddler and an infant, of course I’m going to encounter my share of poop and barf and pee.

But this is more than that. If they were capable of rational, malicious thought, I’d swear it was deliberate. A conspiracy, even. But they’re not. Which means it’s chemical.

  • Exhibit A: My son is three weeks old, and spending another (thankfully) uneventful day in the NICU. At about one in the afternoon, I’m burping him after a feeding and he has a rather violent projectile vomiting incident which bounces off my shoulder, splashes down my back, and splats satisfyingly on the floor. That’s not a big deal; he had digestive issues and spit-ups were all too common. Then an hour later, I’m rocking him in the chair and I feel a warm patch on my stomach. He’s peed through the diaper and soiled my shirt for the second time that day. Okay, that’s a heck of a coincidence–pee and barf on the same shirt in the space of an hour–but it doesn’t mean anything. Until I’m changing his diaper about another hour on, and a fountain of poo erupts from his tiny little butt and sprays out to a distance of four or five feet on the hospital floor, in a horrible messy line up my pants and across my shoes. I take to calling this the trifecta, a day which will live in toddler poop infamy.
  • Exhibit B: My son is about a year and a half old, and he has the stomach flu. If you’ve had a toddler with the stomach flu, you know the pain. If not, I’ll spare you. Anyway, he’s got a happy strain of it, which gives him no ill effects aside from explosive diarrhea, so he’s merrily gallivanting around the house, then he turns to me and says, “stomach!” So I scoop him up and run for the tub, because I know what’s coming, and to my credit, I got him there, but he and I were both doused in poop as he went into the tub. Sigh.
  • Exhibit C: It’s two days after Exhibit B, and we are having a lovely day on a weekend. Mom’s in the kitchen, cooking or doing whatever moms do in the kitchen on a weekend. He’s in my lap and we’re watching an episode of something awful. Barney, maybe, or Yo Gabba Gabba. With no warning at all, his stomach erupts and blankets me and the sofa in a thin film of white, curdled, toddler spew. To his credit, this scares the hell out of him, and he starts crying, which makes it even worse. That couch has never been the same.
  • Exhibit D: We fast-forward to two days ago. I’ve been at work for an extra-long day (soccer practice is starting up after school, so I’m pulling 11-hour days) and I arrive home to find my wife exhausted and frazzled, so I gladly take my five-month-old daughter off her hands so that she can go do whatever moms do in their bathrooms on a weeknight. I’m cradling the baby and cooing and giggling at her and she rips loose with a projectile vomit that ricochets off my shoulder, douses her and me, and covers the bottom half of my face with a fine mist of baby barf. This child never spits up. She chose to have her inaugural barf-your-brains-out movement all over daddy. This moment makes me glad we replaced the carpet in that room with laminate last year.
  • Exhibit E: FINALLY, DADDY CATCHES A BREAK. It’s yesterday. Friday night, and everything’s allllllll right. Baby girl gets grumpy every night in the five o’clock hour, and the best remedy is putting her in the Baby Bjorn carrier, better known in our house as the Daddy Caddy (since I used it the most with sprout #1, though mommy sure gets her fair share with it as well). I think that’s important to point out, because my smell is ALL UP IN that thing. Anyway, mommy’s got her in the Daddy Caddy, and all of a sudden asks me if I smell poop. Well, I don’t, but I do see the poop stain creeping down baby’s leg and the bottom of mommy’s shirt. I’m trying not to laugh but inside I’m turning somersaults because finally, FINALLY, mommy got pooped on instead of me. She even got it on her hands while she was trying to clean up. Life is good.
  • Exhibit F: But payback is a beesting. It’s today. I’ve got baby girl in the Daddy Caddy, and it might as well be a shot-for-shot remake of Exhibit E, except it’s me this time. Poop all over the baby, poop all over the Caddy, poop all over daddy. It’s on my hands as I clean her. I might even have touched my face in there by accident–I couldn’t even tell you. It’s all a haze of wet wipes and orange goop.

This list is by no means exhaustive. I can’t even recount all the times I’ve been sneezed on or drooled on, unsuspectingly touched pee or poop, ended up wearing barf or spit-up. Of course there was the great tub-turd incident back in July. My point is, this is all too much bodily fluids to write off as the by-product of toddler interaction. Either the sprouts are actively targeting me, or, as I posit, something about me causes them to swell to bursting.

The only natural course is to buy a hazmat suit for all future interactions with the kids. For their protection, not mine. And the house’s. And, yeah, okay, also mine.


Inverted Wordsmithy

Editing a novel is not what you think it will be. At least, it hasn’t been what I thought it would be.

I’m about two months deep in the first edit of my draft, and the process has been instructive. Too tentative to wade in with a blowtorch and sledgehammer, I re-read the whole thing slowly, making notes and fixing window dressings, delaying the moment when I’d have to start gutting the structure of the thing, but that time is here, now. I’m about a week deep, and I’m learning some things.

These things are by no means exhaustive, nor do I claim they’re universal–they’re simply some things which have occurred to me throughout the process.

  1. Rewriting is like writing, inverted. Drafting the first draft was a linear task. 1200 words a day, which I could crank out in an hour or so most days. Make the quota and feel super-duper about myself for the rest of the day. Miss the quota and feel like a schlub until I could scramble another twenty minutes later in the day, or crank out more wordcount the next day. But rewriting is an entirely different animal. It’s not just a scramble to get more words down on the page. It’s a scramble to cut out the dead wood. To quote Arachnophobia, “cut out dead wood. Put in good wood.” But that’s a tricky thing to measure. “Okay, I drafted three hundred new words today, but do I include the two hundred I cut out? Or the two thousand I had to re-parse to make sure it still made sense? Or the hour I spent kicking the idea around in my head before I decided to try it in the first place?” I know I’ve spent similar amounts of time on the work as I did in the draft, but the yardstick is out the window.
  2. A bull in a china shop, blindfolded, and on speed. I’ve no idea if the changes I’m making are good ones. When I drafted this thing the first time around I felt more or less confident that the ideas and the progression of the novel were generally sound. Now the jungle has grown thick around me, my map has been swallowed by the raging river, and the slitherers in the night are closing in. Every change I make is a flail toward what I think is the way out, but I have no way of knowing if I’m heading toward the light or further into the depths. The best I can do is trust to my instincts, which have in no way proved that they are trustworthy yet. It’s harrowing.
  3. Motivation is scarce as desert rain. Again, contrast with the draft is the only thing that makes sense. The draft developed a momentum of its own. I wanted to work on it every day. Some days the 1200 word quota passed so quickly I felt like I was selling myself short to write so little. In the edit, I almost feel–dread is the wrong word–certainly an aversion to working on the story. I still want to work on it, but I’m hesitant to begin every day. Partially it’s a feeling of lost-ness, of not knowing where to begin or where to turn next, partially it’s a fear that I’m going to break the damn thing like a priceless Ming dynasty vase and never be able to put it right again. One way or another, I struggle to start, and the starting is the hardest part.
  4. Doubt, doubt, doubt. The draft was riddled with doubt, make no mistake. “Is the story any good, does this character make sense, is this plotline as convoluted as it feels?” Now, as I make changes, the same doubts rear their heads: “is the new story any good, does this action by the character make better sense, have I de-convoluted that plotline any?” But the new doubts don’t replace the old. They move in, cohabitate, and start multiplying like rabbits, giving rise to entirely new doubts: “should I have made that change? Is the new story or the old more reader-friendly? Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” Perhaps if there was a way to monetize doubt, this could all OMG BRB I HAVE TO WRITE THAT DOWN AS AN IDEA FOR A BOOK.
  5. Inspiration from unexpected places. All the gripes aside, I do seem to see the story in a new way every day. Just today, for example, I was absolutely stonewalled and had no idea how to fix a problem in the second act. In a panic I penned a hasty cry for help to a friend, but no sooner had I written the problem out than my brain saw the component parts of the problem, rearranged them with some strange mental geometry, and synthesized a perfectly sensible and perhaps even obvious solution. Said solution even strengthens the story and deepens the development of a character who sorely needs developing. Sometimes you eat the b’ar, as they say.

I think that’s enough commentary on the edit for now. I’ve certainly done a lot of that lately, but in my defense, the edit is looming rather large in my viewfinders. But I’ve got a week off from work coming up, so hopefully I’ll get the chance to mentally clear the pipes a bit and get some good work done on it.

In the meantime, for my next entry, I think I’ll go back to a topic guaranteed to simultaneously gain AND lose readers for the blarg here: toddler bodily fluids. Fun fact: one of the most viewed, and the most-searched topics that lands new people at the blarg, is this post about giving my son an enema. Which goes to show, I guess, that my novel needs more poop jokes.

This post is part of SoCS.


Minor Adjustments, Major Damage

There you are, elbows deep in the carcass of your precious draft, its viscera laid bare before you, your sterile gown smeared with its blood. You look over at the monitors and see the dancing line that is its pulse, hear the slow rhythm of its feeble heartbeat. It’s faint but fierce, clinging to life the way living things do.

It’s laying on your table because it needs help. You’ve sliced it open to see how its insides are arranged and to try to put them back into some semblance of order, but with that first cut all the slimy bits came pouring out like so much spaghetti from an overturned pot, and you have no idea how all this was ever contained in that tiny vessel, nor do you have any idea how you will ever put it back together again. Add to that the fact that you’ve got a few prosthetics waiting to be implanted as well, and the entire ordeal seems about as likely and possible as stuffing a camel wholesale into a shoebox.

So you poke and you prod, and you begin the tedious task of testing what happens when you tug on this muscle, when you nudge that bone, when you tickle this mass of nerves, and watch as the whole organism jumps and dances, demonstrating with shocking clarity all the connections you never saw between this character and that plotline, this complication with that resolution, this joke in the first act with that death in the third. This isn’t just hipbone-connected-to-the-legbone stuff. This is every-blood-vessel-feeds-every-organ-in-the-body. Change one character’s reaction to a simple greeting in the first few pages and the story can end in a completely different place. As intricate and well-formed as the web of story elements may be, it’s imperfect. It needs to be fixed.

You sever a vein here, trim back some muscle there to make room for the new element you have to introduce, and the patient starts hemorrhaging. You get the sense that you’ve ruined everything with one little cut, and blood is rushing to the wound and you can’t see what you’re doing and the only way out is to keep cutting, keep sponging, keep tearing, until the hole is big enough and you can cram the prosthetic in there and begin the bizarre work of reattaching the existent tissue to the alien device, and you’re thinking to yourself, this will never work. It doesn’t fit, it isn’t right, this is a disaster. I’ve killed my story.

But then something strange happens. Through the haze of inkblood and wordgore, you see a sign of healing. The native tissue is accepting the new organ, the capillaries slowly starting to feed it rather than strangle it. The tissue is mending itself, almost of its own volition, as you stitch the narrative flesh back together. As much as you want to save the story, the story wants to survive. The characters adjust the way they react and behave, the plotlines snake and coil into new, more correct pathways, and while the task at hand by no means looks easy, it suddenly looks like it just might be possible. You work and you sweat and you call an intern over to wipe your brow (okay, I have interns in this scenario) and you work some more, suturing and clamping and staunching and stitching, and in what feels like minutes, hours have passed and the patient is stable and has a brand new leg right next to the other three (hey, nobody said I was building a human-normative story here) and if you look at it from the right angle, it might actually be better than the original after all. You close the patient up and he’s stable for the time being and you scrub down and you feel like maybe you’ve done some good for your story despite all your doubts, and then you remember that this is only the first in a six-week regiment of reconstructive surgeries before this patient is cleared to stumble, blinking, into the light of day.

And that prospect is terrifying.

But you’ve survived one day of rewrites, which somehow tells you you can survive another day.

Man. Day one of the serious rewrites is in the bag, and I am exhausted. But I hope — no, I think — that the story is one day better.

 


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