April 28, 2008

Deus ex machina

The Management
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
When Schuyler's Monster was published, I think the thing that surprised my friends the most, even more than my confessed infidelity (because let's face it, who was really surprised?), was the fact that I wrote so much about God. To be honest, I was a little surprised myself.

"For now, she largely remains an enigma, the most daunting one of my life. She is the source of my joy and my sorrow, and for all my resentment at him for giving her this burden, it is nevertheless when I am with Schuyler that I feel closest to God."

After the book came out, and especially after I began talking about faith issues on tour and in book clubs, and now on television, a lot of people have been writing to me about it. That's fair enough, and it's a dialogue I welcome. If I didn't, I wouldn't have written about it. But it's been hard to discuss because my own feelings are in flux. I think that's the way faith is for most people. Does anyone ever truly arrive at an endpoint in their philosophy? I'm not sure I trust anyone who is absolutely sure of very much in this world.

It didn't take me long as a child to decide that I wasn't a Christian and never would be. Sorry, Jesus. I'm just not that into you. But my feelings about God have been more complicated, even before Schuyler was born. It's probably no secret that my feelings have become much more convoluted since she was diagnosed. Well, of course they have.

But the thing is, I've never given up on the idea of God, not completely. My God might not be your God, not if you buy into the whole "angry invisible man in the sky" idea. I find the idea of moral judgment from on high to be so subjective as to be meaningless. When I refer to "this grand rough world" as I sometimes do (and no one has ever identified the source of that phrase), I mean a place that is wondrous and terrible, a universe of unspeakable beauty and unblinking cruelty. It can be difficult to place God in the context of such a place.

And yet, sometimes I try. Sometimes I want an answer from God, an answer to why he sometimes breaks children. It seems like a fair question to me, and yet the God that I seem to have constructed in my head (like I think we all do, which is why our God tends to hate all the same people that we do) doesn't have the answers. Perhaps my God is less of a Creator and more of a Manager. Maybe he built the store, but now he works behind the counter, and what his customers do is beyond his control and maybe even his understanding.

I find Manager God easier to accept than Control Freak God, because then we're back to the idea that he intentionally breaks little children, allows vile things to happen to them, makes a mockery of their innocence. And that's hard. I hear a lot of variations on "God works in mysterious ways", about how Schuyler and all the broken children in the world are here to teach us things, or how their brokenness has some greater meaning. And I just can't accept that, I can't make peace with the idea that they exist and suffer in order to illuminate the rest of us.

And yet.

There are things about myself that I accept as a sort of hardwired reality. I can resist them, and I do, but they are there and they are me. I'm always going to have a temper, and poor impulse control, and most of all issues with authority. I'm not actually sure I'd want to change all that. I'm never going to be the poster boy for monogamy and I doubt very seriously if I'll ever get a job as a responsible financial planner. I can always try to do better, but the thing is, it'll always be something that I must try to improve. I'm flawed, like the rest of you but probably more than most. Perhaps it is to my advantage that my worser nature is in a book now; people who can't deal with my flaws can't say they weren't warned.

And yet, Schuyler came to me. To me, and to Julie, who shares most of my flaws. And I'm going to flatter myself to think that we've done pretty well for her. We made lots of mistakes, and we continue to do so, and our flaws haven't magically disappeared. But we're managing to raise a pretty amazing little girl, one who is as broken as we are and yet perfect in her own way.

I don't know how God fits into that. I remember that very few of the people in the Bible or throughout history who were doing God's work were very strong believers. Blind faith and religious fealty don't necessarily seem to lead to great deeds. They doubted, and they sinned, and if a doubter and a sinner can labor for God while simultaneously calling him on his bullshit every so often, then perhaps I've still got some work to do. I can shake my fists at the sky and say "oh, that's fucked up!" when such a gesture is appropriate, and then get back to work.

God and I have some things to work out. But negotiations haven't broken down just yet.

Chapter Seven

First of all, can I get a woo? Why, thank you.

One of the parts of Schuyler's Monster that has gotten the most attention has been the notorious "Chapter Seven", which has become a sort of shorthand between Julie and myself. ("What's going on with them?" "I think they're having a Chapter Seven moment." "Oh, shit, that's no good...") The Fox reporter from Houston who came to see us a few weeks ago, Greg Groogan, did a piece this morning about the issue:

Raising Autistic Children Making Marriages Difficult

His story on Schuyler should run at the end of the week.

April 25, 2008

Pimpin', yo.

Author appearance
Saturday, April 26, 2008
2:00 pm
Barnes & Noble - Lewisville
Vista Ridge Village
2325 South Stemmons Freeway Suite 401
Lewisville, TX 75067

I'll be there with Schuyler. This is the last regular appearance that I've got on my schedule (there's one in Fort Worth next month, but I'm not exactly sure how it's going to work), so if you want to meet Schuyler, abuse me in person or kill us and eat us (not recommended), this might be your last chance for a while.

I'm working on an entry on Faith, by the way. Hopefully I'll have it done today, just in case someone wants to issue a fatwa before the book signing. I share because I care.

April 24, 2008

When the visigoths get to the gate, I hope they have flag pins

Every now and then, someone will email me and ask if I ever intend to talk about politics again. This blog has sort of turned into the Rob & Schuyler Show, and that is in part intentional, especially for now while the book is new and people are coming here as a result.

But the truth is that I just haven't had much to say about politics. I've become so disheartened by the whole process that honestly, I don't have much to contribute. I've become the saddest of Independents, the kind who has given up on the two parties as Evil (R) and Incompetent (D). I'll never believe in the Republicans because they stand for everything I deem to be foul, but the Democrats? I may actually despise them a little more, since they dress themselves in my progressive values and then achieve almost nothing of worth at all. Both parties have achieved a level of consistency. I can always count on the Republicans to do the wrong thing, and I know the Democrats will follow up by trying half-heartedly to do the right thing, maybe, if the polls say they should, but ultimately fuck it up catastrophically.

Anyway, I've placed a little Obama widget on the sidebar there since unlike the Nixonian Hillary or the Magoo-like McCain, I can at least believe in what he says he stands for, and his much-maligned "lack of experience" means that he hasn't had time to really don the Cloak of Disappointment yet. But in my heart of hearts, I suspect he will. (Bill Clinton did, after all. Good lord, he needs one good and true friend, someone who's not afraid to lean over and say, "You really need to shut the fuck up now.")

Anyway, since the primary race has officially and flatulently stunk up just about every corner of the media and trying to ignore it is becoming impossible, I thought I'd let The Onion speak for me.

Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters

Good Morning Texas Redux

Some of you were having trouble seeing the video from the WFAA site. Also, it cut off at the end before you got to see Julie's Stepford Wife smile and Schuyler mentally compiling her list of places she would rather be at that moment. So here's another shot at it. (Sorry the quality is sort of weird. I'll keep working on it.)

April 23, 2008

Good Morning Texas

Good Morning Texas
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
Well, that was fast. My interview on Good Morning Texas is already online, so go check it out. I'm sorry to say, this clip cuts off before you get to see Schuyler and Julie sitting in the studio, so sadly it's just me and my unusually large meaty head.

I thought it went very well. It's hard in these very short segments to really get into very much of depth, but Paige McCoy Smith managed to cover an astonishing amount in a brief period. She asked me about my faith, which was a little unexpected (although she did give me a heads up before we started) but something that I was actually happy to talk about. It's funny, but the interviews for which I am the most prepared in terms of knowing questions in advance and what my answers will be, those tend to be my least favorite, and the ones that I think are the least interesting. Discussing my feelings about God on live television isn't something I would have ever expected to actually enjoy doing, but I'm glad she asked it. My answer was pretty much on the fly, and yet I'm entirely happy with it.

Another thing that Paige brought home to me was just how much I enjoy doing interviews with journalists who have actually read the book. That seems like an obvious point, but you'd be surprised. And it's always obvious, too. Not so much that they know facts that are pertinent, although that's part of it. (My favorite from a past interview was, about Schuyler's static brain condition, "Good luck with her continued improvement.") It's more that once you've read a book, you know a great deal about the author's personality and beliefs and such than you'll ever get from a press release or a book flap description. Paige McCoy Smith and KERA's Krys Boyd and Fox's Greg Groogan were responsible for interviews that I've enjoyed immensely, for just that reason.

Schuyler had a great time, of course, and charmed the pants off of everyone, as usual. The studio at WFAA is wide open, with glass walls everywhere, even the green room, so while you're waiting, you can see much of what's going on. She spent the better part of the morning having her mind completely blown, and finished off the experience by eating the strawberry smoothie prepared in a segment by "celebrity chef Jon Ashton". Julie finished up the morning by slobbering all over "celebrity chef Jon Ashton". It's sad, really, watching a woman of her advanced years lose her dignity like that. Really unfortunate.

Okay, so I really shouldn't tell this story, because past experience suggests that the chances of it getting back to the parties involved are somewhere near 100%. But it's been a while since I've started any trouble online (at least here; I've been poking a bees' nest on a parenting site on the topic of spanking, a metaphor that only works if you imagine really dumb bees), so I think I'm due.

While we were waiting for the show to begin, we were sitting in a room watching "Good Morning America" with two fashion models who were going to be on a segment before mine. GMA was interviewing Marlee Matlin about her appearance on "Dancing with the Stars", and she was signing away as she talked.

One of the models turned to the other and said, with absolute sincerity, "Do you think she's deaf?"

April 21, 2008

Take Your Daughter to Work Week

This is a busy week for us, in the best possible way. As I mentioned before, this Wednesday I'll be on a Dallas-area program called Good Morning Texas, on a segment called The Not So Perfect Parent. Julie and Schuyler will be in the green room, and may very well make an appearance on the show. Well, I certainly hope they do, because let's face it, who would YOU rather watch? Lovely Julie and enchanting Schuyler, the self-described "Queen of the Monkeys"? Or, you know, fat old Robba the Hutt? The show comes on during the breakfast hour, after all. No need upsetting people while they're eating.

The other thing taking place this week is a book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Lewisville, Texas. If you live in the area and would like to meet me (or really, more to the point, if you'd like to meet Schuyler), we'll be there at 2:00pm. It's going to be a special event (as in, totally unpredictable and possibly chaos-in-pink-Chuck-Taylors) because Julie has to work, so it will just be Schuyler and me. This means that if I do a reading, she'll be on her own. Anyone who has seen her at these events knows just how much fun that might be. Come to the signing and watch the last shreds of parental authority fly out of my shaking hands!

A bonus for people in attendance: Schuyler loves to sign books, and she's become very sophisticated in her approach. We attended a very cool book club last week, and it should come as no surprise that her signature was pretty clearly coveted more than mine. Which is as it should be.

When Schuyler signs a book, her name stretches across the page, the letters blockish and angular but very meticulously written out. She ends her autograph with a period, every time, and occasionally she'll sneak down and put a period at the end of mine, too. If she gets to the edge of the page before she's done, she simply shifts into vertical mode for the rest of her name. Sometimes she'll pick a different page to sign, and often she quickly signs in the spot that I usually use, just to be a turd. She even laughs when she does it. Every time she signs her name, it's different, and not just slightly.

I'm always thrilled to sign books for stores, and I've been happily signing a lot of books for Prentke-Romich, makers of the Big Box of Words. But we decided at the very beginning of all this book business that Schuyler would only sign books for individuals, either in person or sent to us or whatever. I like the idea of Schuyler's autograph rendering someone's book into a totally unique thing, different from any other in the world.

Just like Schuyler herself.

April 15, 2008

I have macho cred

Shut up, I do!

(By the way, the macho tv watching behavior I engage in is actually those police chase video shows. Seriously, if I'm channel surfing and I come across one of those shows, I am powerless to NOT watch it. Dash cam or helicopter POV, it doesn't matter. If loving the spectacle of drug-crazed teenagers driving stolen cars into oncoming traffic or over those spike strips that make their tires EXPLODE is wrong, I don't want to be right.)


Promo Proofs
Originally uploaded by girlsgonechild
One of the things that still catches me off guard is the fact that anyone gives a damn about what I think concerning books. Even now, in this age of consumer-driven content and Amazon reader reviews, the idea that my own credentials as a writer might give my opinion some added weight or validity doesn't naturally occur to me. When Karen Harrington, author of the very excellent Janeology made mention in an email of the review she had received "from a big-time memoirist", it actually took me a few seconds to realize that she was talking about me.

Nevertheless, when a book really does it for me, I try to put something together to express my feelings of gratitude to the author. And it really is gratitude. A good book is no small thing, nor (more to the point) is a bad one. When you watch a movie that you think is going to be good and it turns out to be a stinker, that's a good two hours of your life that you've tossed away. But when it's a book that leads you astray, the hours and even days that you've invested in it that you'll never get back. You'll be on your death bed one day, muttering to yourself, "If only I hadn't spent so much time reading all that fucking L. Ron Hubbard." You learn to cherish the good ones.

When I started reading Rebecca Woolf's Rockabye: From Wild to Child, I'd followed the marketing closely enough to know what I was supposed to be getting. I settled in to read another memoir of a party girl transitioning to parenthood while struggling to remain hip and cool. Which was certainly fine. Never having been actually cool myself, that transition was fairly straightforward for me, so I occasionally like to vicariously gank some cool from others.

By the time I finished Rockabye, I was looking at a different book altogether.

Simply put, this is a book about the tranformational power of a parent's love, the kind of love that can envelope you and warm you, but also consume and burn you. In bringing her son Archer into the world, Woolf begins to discover her own true heart and her own capacity for love and growth. Yes, part of that evolution involves leaving behind some of the party-all-the-time aspects of her youth, but the more important parts of herself, her independence and her insistence on doing things her own way, relying on her instincts, these are the pieces that she clings to.

I want to make something clear. Rebecca Woolf is a fantastic writer. She's open and honest, unblinkingly so at times, and yet her command of language and the near poetry of her wordplay feels like music. It's been a long time since I've gotten lost in language like that, just floating in someone's wordplay.

There are some striking parallels to Woolf's story and mine (or rather, to Archer's and Schuyler's), but I don't want to make too much of them. I would recommend her book to anyone who liked mine, if only because of some of those parallels, but honestly, I'd rather recommend Rockabye for no other reason than I found it to be a viscerally satisfying read. At its best, it feels like a gift, and it's at its best a lot.

I think you'll like this book. I'm pretty sure most of you will. Rebecca Woolf's the writer that I wish I was, and that's the truth.

Thank you for choosing me to mother you. Thank you for sneaking in through my window and saying "Boo! Here I am!" Thank you for stirring and purring and screaming and crying and laughing and talking and standing and jumping. You are my exclamation point in a world of dot-dot-dots. You are my star in a sky muted by city lights. You are my sun. My son. My sun.

Rebecca Woolf, "Rockabye: From Wild to Child"

April 10, 2008

Things that give me pause in a busy world

February 2000
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
I just wanted to quickly post and say that I'm alive and well, just a little busy and getting caught up. We received a visit from Fox 26 Houston reporter Greg Groogan, who spent some time with Schuyler and Julie and myself, both here at the apartment and at Schuyler's school. I'm told that his story will probably run in early May and may be picked up by affiliates in different parts of the country. In your town, too? Well, perhaps!

It felt like a really good interview; Greg's got a lot of experience with special needs kids, both personally and professionally, and it absolutely showed. I've talked to a variety of reporters since the book came out, and some of them were exceptionally sensitive and good, but with Greg, it was almost disconcerting, being interviewed by someone who really gets it. I'm curious as to how it's going to turn out; I suspect it's going to be outstanding. When we were doing the actual interview, I almost got a little weepy a few times. Not he-manly at all, I know. I suspect Greg was slipping estrogen into my water when I wasn't looking.

There's so much I want to talk about in more depth, such as the fact that I did a little book-for-movie exchange with Dan Habib, the father and filmmaker behind the brilliant documentary Including Samuel. I'll have much more to say about this, but for now, let me simply say that if you have any feelings or questions about inclusion and mainstreaming for special needs kids, you really do owe it to yourself to see his film. We're not in 100% lockstep agreement (you can probably imagine how I feel about the page in the film notes called "Words Matter", about person-first language), but we come to the same conclusions about the benefits of inclusion for these kids. Not just for my kids, but for yours, too. See this film if you get the opportunity, even if you find yourself opposed to inclusion education. Or especially if you're opposed to it, really.

In my book, I mention the polymicrogyria online support groups that I follow. I never contribute to them, probably out of something akin to misplaced guilt for Schuyler's comparatively good fortune, but I read them religiously. In Schuyler's Monster, I wrote about the heartbreak when a parent comes on the forum and reports the death of their child. There was one a few days ago; I showed it to Greg when he was here, and I think it made a powerful impression on him. Well, of course it did. If you're not touched by reading a parent's words as they report the death of their three year-old as a result of repeated, nasty seizures, there's something dead in your chest. You might want to go have that checked by a physician.

How does a parent watch their child die? How do they make peace with that, with their seemingly cruel or indifferent God and a world with such monsters in it? How do you bury your own son or daughter? People have been telling us how brave and how strong we are, but that's a world of brave and strong that I've never lived in, and do not believe I am capable of. I don't breathe the air on that planet. People have said that God never gives you anything that you can't handle, and I'm here to tell you that's the worst kind of bullshit-on-a-stick there is.

Compared to the Godzilla-like monsters that snatch up little babies and consume them before their heartbroken parents' eyes, Schuyler's is the fucking Cookie Monster. And that's good enough for me, thank you very much.

April 5, 2008

The John McMullen Show

I survived my first live radio experience with a minimum of anxiety this week. It was a longer interview than I've done before, and a little light on laughs, but he asked some questions that were different from past interviews, so that shook things up a little. Overall, I think the interview went pretty well.

Sadly, there were some weird technical issues that made the actual broadcast almost unlistenable. For some reason, the levels on my input kept getting louder and softer, over and over, as if I were walking around waving the phone like a maniac. In fact, I was sitting at my desk at work, with a minimum of maniacal gesturing, so I can only assume that there was something about my phone that was sabotaging the call. Stupid phone.

I did manage to get a clean copy from a nice person out there, and I went into iMovie and futzed around with the levels to try to minimize some of the weirdness. It still sounds a little strange, but I think it's at least listenable now.

Anyway, here it is.

April 3, 2008

Fancy pants LIVE

A hundred copies
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
A few booky things for you this morning.

I'll be venturing into the terrifying world of live radio tomorrow, on The John McMullen Show in Palm Springs, California. (AM 970, 1140, 1250) If you live elsewhere but would still like to listen in and see if I'm going to drop an F bomb or throw up on the air, go to the K-News Radio 970 page for streaming audio. The show is on from 10am to noon, Pacific time. (Crap, now I have to do math.)

Next week, a reporter from a station in Houston is coming up to do a story on us. I'll keep you posted.

I've also got a live television appearance coming up on April 23, on a local Dallas area show, Good Morning Texas. The segment is called The Not So Perfect Parent. Schuyler might just make an appearance, so catch it if you can. If Schuyler has one predictable quality, it is her unpredictability. She loves chaos. I have no idea where she gets that.

April 1, 2008

Is Schuyler a political pundit or a techie futurist?

You talk too much.
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
This question was on Schuyler's home work. I'm still trying to decide what to make of her answer.


New Things

The White House is where the U.S. president lives. Life in this building has changed over time. The White House got its first telephone in 1879. It got electric lights in 1891. An indoor swimming pool was added in 1942. The White House got its first fire alarm in 1965. After that came other new inventions such as computers and cell phone.

1. Make a prediction. What do you think the White House will get next?

Her answer?

"A brain hat."


I asked her about the brain hat. She says it looks like a helmet, hers is yellow and mine is green. "Brain hat help you work."

Where did she get the idea that the current White House occupant needs a brain hat? I guess she's paying attention after all.