March 27, 2008

Eighteen years ago

(Quick book biz: I made a best-seller list, here in Dallas. Not the end-all hootenanny of hootenannies, I realize, but baby steps, I tell you. More stuff coming, too, so stay tuned. My plan to eventually install Schuyler as the Cyborg Queen of America is proceeding on schedule. Mwuh-ha-ha-ha...)

This week marked eighteen years since my father died. It wasn't exactly a sad anniversary; eighteen years is a long time, after all. It won't be long before I will have lived without him for longer than he was here, and not that much longer before I find myself having lived longer than he did. So I've had some time to come to terms with not just his death, but his life, and mine as well.

If you've read the book, you know better than others how many of my father's most egregious faults have become my own. I'm aware of them, and I've fallen prey to some but not all of them. I'm a better husband than my dad was, but not always by much (and fans of Chapter Seven know what I'm talking about), I'm a better diabetic by far, and while I have my father's temper, I watch it constantly and at the very least vent it in ways that don't hurt anyone. I'd like to do better with that temper, but I remember just how afraid I always was of my dad when I was Schuyler's age, and I won't allow her to feel that same fear, ever.

It's one of the reasons I refuse to spank/beat/whatever-word-you-like my kid, and to be honest, it's the same reason I don't think anyone else should, either. Who has the temperament and self-control to be trusted never to cross the line between discipline and abuse? You? Are you sure about that? I'd want to be pretty sure myself, but that's just me.

(Sorry, tangent. Settling down now.)

I'm working on a new project, and what started off as a book about fatherhood is turning into something more personal, sort of a fatherhood memoir, from my perspective as a father but also as a son. There are still other stories I am including, such as Paul and Gage Wayment, and Joseph and Rolf Mengele. But it's my own perspective as the father of a broken but extraordinary child and the son of an abusive but complex father that I find myself wanting, or perhaps needing, to explore.

I'm forty years old, and I'm working on a second memoir. How narcissistic is that?

Will anyone want to read it? Well, obviously I hope so. We'll see. I wasn't sure anyone would want to read about seven years in the life of a mute child, either. There are plenty of inspirational warm fuzzy fatherhood books out there. I don't know that the world needs another Tim Russert book, and if it does, I think Tim's probably got that one covered.

Eighteen years ago, standing at my father's graveside, I thought that perhaps I hated him, and that he certainly hated me. Almost two decades later, I know that I don't, and probably never did, not for long, anyway. As to how he felt about me, I find myself not much closer to that answer. He took that one to the grave with him. Which is perhaps just as well.

March 24, 2008


Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
A few quick book things to report. First of all, the book trailer I put together last year is being featured on the Barnes & Noble site, thanks to the tenacious work of the very cool Monica Katz at St. Martin's. I'm really happy with the continued support from St. Martin's. Also, while I am as "Fight the Man", pro-independent bookstore as anyone, I'll never say a word against Barnes & Noble, who have gotten behind the book in a big way.

Back in the spring of 2003, Jim Shelton at the New Haven Register in Connecticut did a feature about local bloggers, and was kind enough to write about me then. It was fun at the time, although the story of us changed rather dramatically a few months later when Schuyler was diagnosed with polymicrogyria and our world turned upside down. Last week, Jim called me up and we talked for a bit, and the result is a new story in the New Haven Register. It was a nicely done story, and it felt a little like a homecoming for me. I miss New Haven like mad.

Last night marked the end of Spring Break for Schuyler and me. Julie had to work most of the time, so we didn't go crazy this past week, but instead just sort of enjoyed the time together. We hung out, flew kites, watched a lot of Kim Possible (one of the few shows that Schuyler watches that i can stomach; it is the anti-Hannah Montana for me), and even went to a dog parade. It was a nice week.

After Schuyler went to bed last night, Julie and I watched To Kill a Mockingbird again. I can't tell you how many times I've seen it, or how many times I've read the book, for that matter. They seem like two parts of one whole experience, so perfectly matched as they are, in a way that is rare for books and their film adaptations.

I've loved that book most of my life, ever since the first time I read it back when I was probably about the same age as Jem Finch. And yet, in looking back on the years, it seems strange that I would have ever known that book or the film without associating them with Schuyler. I watch the movie now and I am aware of the relationship between the father and the daughter, the wild and different little girl who is curious about a world that is meaner than she is but which is also full of mysteries to be explored.

I always identified with the kid characters growing up, like just about anyone else who read it when they were young, but now I find myself experiencing the story from the perspective of the father. Atticus tells Scout that you can never truly understand someone until you see the world from their perspective, to climb in their skin and walk around in it for a little while. I think I finally understand.

It's an imperfect parallel, of course. Schuyler is herself equal parts Scout Finch and Boo Radley, and I am no Atticus Finch, although God knows I do try.

March 21, 2008

Bok bok

Rather than make my usual, snotty and perhaps predictable "Zombie Jesus" jokes about Easter, I thought I'd remind everyone of the most persistent Easter memory most of us (or a certain age) still retain.

Well, okay, perhaps not the ONLY memory...

March 16, 2008

A Thousand Miles in a Ford Focus

I got back from the book tour a few days ago, and I've been getting caught up on work stuff, and Life stuff, for a few days. (The one thing I haven't gotten caught up on is email, so if you wrote to me within the past three weeks or so and are now thinking "Wow, what a dick!", I am going to answer your mail. I just don't want to respond with some pat little "Hey, thanks for writing, buddy. Buy my book!" Because then you'd be completely justified in thinking, "Wow, what a dick!" I don't mind you thinking that, I'd just like to earn it like in the old days.)

The book tour was a great experience in a lot of ways. There were a few with a big turnout and also a few with maybe a dozen or so people by the end, but I never had an event where the dreaded "what if you had a book signing and no one showed up?" occurred. I got to see writers I dig, like Gwen and Ariel, and a lot of old friends, and I got to meet people who touched me profoundly.

I've read a lot of critiques of the book tour as a marketing tool, and strictly speaking, I agree with much of what I've read. When you factor in travel expenses and hotels and all that, the sales you make on tour aren't going to even cover the cost of the tour itself. Perhaps the real value is in generating buzz and word of mouth, but still.

However, I wouldn't trade the experience of the book tour for anything. It's one thing to write about Schuyler's experiences and my own, and even to receive emails from the people who have been moved by those stories. It's quite another thing to meet people, however. I heard stories from parents who are in the place that we were with Schuyler a few years ago, a place with more questions than answers, and I cried with moms who were just happy to tell their story to someone. Never mind the fact that I was an author in my fancy pants. They were telling their story to someone who'd been there before them, and that was enough. What they didn't realize, perhaps, was how much I got from the experience.

So now it's over, and after driving over a thousand miles around Texas and feeling both very fancy and authorial one minute and then not one bit famous and fabulous at all the next, I'm home. Back to work, and back to play with Schuyler.

Yesterday I took Schuyler to see Horton Hears a Who, and when we got home, she took out her Big Box of Words. Together, we very carefully found all the words she needed (and spelled out a few not on the device), so that when Julie got home from work, Schuyler could tell her something very important she'd learned.

"A person's a person, no matter how small."

Today, Schuyler begins playing soccer, at a local program for special needs children. I took her to a sports supply place the other day and got her outfitted. We're taking Schuyler to play soccer today, and if you're a parent and that sounds like the most boring, every day, every kid sort of thing to write about, I agree.

It sure took a lot of work on Schuyler's part to get there, though.

March 10, 2008

Jumping Monkeys

I've been looking forward to this for a while, because it's a program I've started listening to since I was a guest a few weeks ago, and I've really come to like it. I recorded a guest spot on a podcast called Jumping Monkeys, hosted by Megan Morrone and Leo Laporte, and they are running my program now. Go check it out, it's a lot of fun. It was easily the most fun I've had in an interview. Also, when you're done, check out their very funny interview with blogger Dad Gone Mad.

There's a funny story behind my Jumping Monkeys interview, by the way. When my publicist set this up, we worked out the date and time and I was given a phone number to call. When the time came and I sat down in a quiet office and called, it rang a few times and then suddenly I was hearing voices. It was the hosts, talking about no call lists.

I figured that like many stations, I was on hold and listening to a pre-recorded program instead of hold music. I'd certainly rather listen to Jumping Monkeys than, you know, Chariots of Fire on the pan flute, so I just sat back and listened while I waited for the program producer to pick up.

And that's when I heard it.

"Hey, speaking of calls, I hear Robert on the line!"

Oh, I'm live. I see!

Turns out, I had called directly into the program, and whether it was God or Fate or my Imaginary Friend in the Sky, some powerful force kept me from talking to myself or belching or practicing my F-bombs during that minute or so that I thought I was on hold. Aside from a slightly surprised "why hello there!" tone to my voice, I don't think you can even tell.

I tell you, I'm a cautionary tale just waiting to happen.

March 9, 2008

Schuyler in the Dallas Morning News

"New book chronicles Plano girl's battle with disability that's left her unable to speak" - Dallas Morning News (March 8, 2008). Annette Nevins reporting.


With apologies to everyone else who has written about Schuyler over the past few weeks and months, I have to say that this story, which apparently ran in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, is my favorite so far, if for no other reason than the video. We pretty much disrupted class for the better part of a morning to get this, so I'm glad it worked out. (I hadn't disrupted a class and gotten away with it in a long time, so it was nostalgic. And I didn't even have to make any fake fart noises to do it, either.)

Today is my signing in Austin, at the store where I once toiled for The Man. Funny how things turn out sometimes.

March 7, 2008

"Say a little prayer for Mister Fancy Pants..."

First things first. Last week, I was interviewed by Jennifer Stayton at KUT Radio, the NPR station in Austin. Her story, "Taming a Hidden Monster", ran during Friday's Morning Edition, I believe.

I'll warn you, it's a little disconcerting. Since there's no introductory material included with the clip, it just goes right into it. Also, I'm stammering like a head injury patient, for some reason. (I recorded the interview at KERA in Dallas, so while it was live, I wasn't actually looking at the reporter, but instead was facing a big, intimidating, floofy microphone. For some reason, that made me nervous.) Other than that, I like how it turned out, especially the reading at the end. She actually got a little choked up when I read it, but that part didn't make it into the story, which I think is a pity. They also edited out the section of the reading where I got to drop a big fat F-bomb. I guess they enjoy their FCC license. Big babies.

So I'm sitting here in my hotel room in Houston, living a life of fancy pantsedness that you can probably only dream of. The glamor of a book tour is hard to describe in mere words; the empty Popeye's bag in the trash can will have to tell the tale for me. I went down to the hotel bar, but I'm staying near the airport and the collection of sad, half-buzzed businessmen didn't hold so much appeal for me as I thought it might. I reluctantly gave up the promise of that glitzy scene and came back up to my room to post for you fine people instead, because as you know, my biggest flaw? I care TOO MUCH.

I do have a traveling companion, however. Jasper 1.0 joined me on this trip, sitting smartly in the passenger seat the whole way down. Now that I've gotten accustomed to his one eye and his rough-chewed edges, I find myself becoming weirdly protective of him and his reputation. Perhaps I need to find some human friends tomorrow when I get to Austin.

I made an important decision about the Jaspers. When I get back to Plano, I'm going to come clean with Schuyler. I might even do it tomorrow morning via video conferencing, which Julie and I made work tonight, thanks to the magic of iChat. That would blow Schuyler's little mind. Julie already began explaining what happened to her earlier this evening, and she said that Schuyler seemed unconcerned. I'll show her Old Jasper and explain that he's delicate now and is going to retire up on a shelf of honor, so New Jasper is going to step in and take on his duties. Sort of like Joe and Steve on Blue's Clues, if Steve Burns had left the show due to a disfiguring accident.

Don't ask me why I feel so guilty about trying to deceive Schuyler regarding the Jaspers. I think it bothers me because I seem to have gotten away with it. I think I would feel better about it if she'd called me on my bullshit.

March 6, 2008

Jasper 2.0

Either I got away with it, or she doesn't particularly care one way or the other. Welcome to the fam, Jasper the Second.

March 5, 2008

Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi.

The Jaspers
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
It was perhaps tragically fitting that my last post included a photo of Schuyler with her beloved friend Jasper. If you've read the book, or if you've been around for a while, you know that Jasper is Schuyler's oldest inanimate friend.

He was originally purchased while Julie was pregnant so that he could ride around in my car with me and let me see if I could ever get accustomed to the name "Jasper" in case we had a boy. I couldn't, of course (could you?), but the name stuck, and after a period of rejection by Baby Schuyler, he eventually became one of her most treasured friends. She even insisted on a girlfriend for him. (They have a baby bear, too.)

Julie and Schuyler fell asleep on the big floofy chair in the living room tonight, and at some point, Jasper slipped from Schuyler's grasp and fell to the floor, met by the gaping, slobbery maw of Max, Schuyler's very very very bad little dog. The rest you can probably figure out.

I looked over and saw the tragedy unfolding before it could get very far, and I managed to snatch poor Jasper up and take him to the other room before Schuyler could notice. The damage wasn't horrible, but it was bad enough. Ears chewed, one foot stripped of its fur, and most horribly, an eye completely missing. Jasper had been disfigured to an extent that couldn't be fixed.

Well, this is one of those parenting moments where they don't exactly tell you what you're supposed to do, now isn't it? What's the right thing to do here? Let Schuyler face the ugly truth and see what her nasty little hellhound had done to her best friend? Or run to the mall and pray that the Gap (Jasper's port of origin) would carry another that looked like him and try to slip a new Jasper 2.0 past Schuyler? In general, I am all about letting Schuyler see the world in all its grandness and all its pain at the same time, but tonight, I just couldn't do it. Ten minutes to drive to the mall, five minutes in and out of the store, and a sly switcheroo after she had crawled into bed in which she accepted the doppelgänger under darkened conditions, and the deed was done.

We'll see if it worked in the morning. These little Gap bears all seem to be a little different (lovingly hand-crafted by Chinese slave labor, no doubt), and Jasper Mark II looks a little different from his now one-eyed predecessor. Julie and I aren't in agreement on this, by the way. She feels like Schuyler is tough and could deal with the truth. I guess I agree, but then, I feel like she gets to handle the tough truths a lot. I will say that if Schuyler isn't fooled and notices the difference, then I'll come clean with her.

As for poor old Jasper, I think I'll take him on the book tour with me, one last hurrah for the little guy, and then maybe get him an eye patch and seal him up for the future, to be given to Schuyler when she's older and ready for a foolish, sentimental gift from her old man.

This was a tough call. There are times for me, I suppose, when honesty in parenting takes a back seat to the preservation of the fragile world that Schuyler creates. I'm not sure myself if this was the right thing to do. I only know that there's a lot I'll do in this world, right or wrong, to make Schuyler happy.

Happy trails, Jasper...

Sick day

The Jasper Collection
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
As I write this, Schuyler has been asleep for about thirteen hours straight. She was sent home from school yesterday with a temp of 100.3, and while she spent the day at home with Julie in good spirits and seemed to be her usual happy self when I got home from work, she crawled into our bed at about 6 last night and is still there now.

It's interesting to me how much energy seems to get sapped out of the world when Schuyler is sick. It makes me realize exactly how much of my own attitude and enthusiasm is drawn from her. Anyone who has met Schuyler knows what I'm talking about. Her energy is contagious. Here's hoping that whatever has her laid out for thirteen hours (and counting) isn't.

I take off for my book tour in two days. Houston on Saturday, over to Austin on Sunday, and then San Antonio on Tuesday. If you're in town for any of these, come out and say hello. I'm looking forward to this as much as anyone looks forward to driving over 800 miles in five days. There are a lot of people I'm looking forward to seeing on this trip, and I'm really excited about meeting new folks as well. My social circle in Plano is pretty limited. (And short, and mute.)

March 3, 2008

"Positively TEXAS!"

Another TV moment, from "Positively TEXAS!" on CBS 11 in Dallas, hosted by Iola Johnson. I didn't expect it to run until next weekend, but my DVR is apparently smarter than I am.

This interview felt a little awkward, for some reason. Perhaps it was all those extra chins I wore that day. Good lord.

March 2, 2008

Media mentions

(Photo by Bruce Maxwell, Star-Telegram)

Two quick media moments for the scrapbook:

1) There's a story in today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram, called 'Schuyler's Monster' gives voice to family. I know I'm not exactly objective, but could that photo of Schuyler be any cuter? Also, she is kind enough to mostly cover my entirely uncute face, which I do appreciate. Trust me, you do, too.

2) I can't believe I forgot to mention this back when it ran, but I was the subject of a Quirky Nomads podcast, in which I read from an entry from this here blog o' mine. (I need to learn how to read without sounding like I'm recovering from a head injury.)

March 1, 2008

"Don't believe you're all alone."

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
I've mentioned it before, but there's a line that I love from a song sung by my favorite musician, Andrew Bird, in a cover of a song by The Handsome Family. The song is called Don't Be Scared, and seems to be (at least to my ears) about a child who lives mostly in an internal world and who perceives our world differently. The line that always reminds me of Schuyler is this one:

"Don't be scared. Don't believe you're all alone."

I frequently think about Schuyler being alone, which is interesting only in that practically speaking, she is almost never actually alone in an immediate sense, aside from when she plays in her room by herself. Even then, I get a little nervous, because one of my greatest fears is that the seizures that she is statistically likely to develop could land on her while she's by herself, and the thought of her going through that for the first time without someone there with her makes me want to go roust her out of her bed this very moment and keep her by my side until I grow old and die, and not let her go one second before.

In a larger sense, I worry about what will happen to Schuyler after we're gone. I think about her having to make her way in this mean fucking world, and I almost can't stand it. It's funny how fear and love go hand in hand so often in our lives. The very act of opening up your heart to another human being can also reveal such vulnerability and rawness that to contemplate abusing it feels like imagining a murder. Or a suicide.

Yesterday I watched Schuyler charge through her little world as a reporter, a photographer and a videographer from the Dallas Morning News followed her around at school. I was once again reminded how easily she adapts to change, how in fact she thrives on it. Schuyler only seems to stumble when things become too routine; her world thrills her when it throws her curve balls.

I envy that about her. Last night, I attended a local music showcase and got to hang out with a newish friend whose media work I've always admired, and I had a great time being me for a change, not The Author or The Father or anything else. And yet, I was still aware the whole time of how shy and unwieldy I can feel in unfamiliar social situations. Sometimes I feel like Bigfoot, dressed up like a normal person and trying to fit in despite being, well, a big clumsy monster. It is in those moments that I appreciate Schuyler's breezy ability to embrace the world on her own terms.

In my dreams, Schuyler talks to me, telling me that things are going to be okay. I think she means more than just her own monster battle.