October 31, 2009

Dads on an Uncertain Mission

October 31, 2009 | 2009 Texas Book Festival | Austin TX
Saving Your Children: Dads on an Uncertain Mission

(l-r) Antonio Ruiz-Camacho (moderator), Rupert Isaacson, Michael Greenberg, Robert Rummel-Hudson

With Michael Greenberg, author of Hurry Down Sunshine

With Rupert Isaacson, author of The Horse Boy

October 30, 2009


Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
This is the beginning of a busy weekend, beginning with an event tonight at Legacy Books here in Plano, after which we'll pile into Atomo (The Air-Conditioned Hellcar of the Apocalypse) and drive to Austin for the Texas Book Festival on Saturday and then a fun surprise for Schuyler on Sunday that I look forward to telling you about after it happens. (Oo, teaser.) As you may or may not have heard, tomorrow is Halloween, so if you're at the Book Festival, watch for the tiny Amelia Earhart. If there's more than one, go for the Amelia that's speaking Martian.

There's excitement here, and there's nervousness. The other two authors on my panel are best-sellers, after all, and I'm usually somewhat unconvinced of my authorial worth even on a good day. But I'm also looking forward to meeting them and especially to the panel. We're all three fathers with broken kids, and we've all dealt with that role in wildly different ways, but there are similar threads running through all our stories. I think it's going to be an interesting discussion.

Through all the book fanciness and all the advocacy opportunities and the speeches, and in every simple and complicated and euphoric and sad aspect of my world, at the center of it all sits Schuyler. She's the reason for it all. When everything else has faded and gone, there she'll be.

We went to see Tibetan monks as they built a Mandala sand painting in Dallas recently, and I explained the concept of impermanence to Schuyler. She seemed to get it, how nothing lasts forever, how my father grew old (sort of) and died, and how one day Julie and I would as well. She didn't like that at first, but when I also pointed out how one day she would grow old and die, too, and so would HER kids, Schuyler seemed weirdly comforted. I got the sense that on some level, she really got it, she connected with something bigger than us all.

We took Schuyler to see the Amelia Earhart movie, which, I must point out first and foremost, was not a very good film. But it looked beautiful and it hit most of the important big events in a way that Schuyler could grasp, and so for a nine-year-old with an interest in the subject, it wasn't bad. One of the few parts of the film that was really compelling was the very ending. (SPOILER: She disappears, probably as fish food.) We talked at length about that after we left the movie.

"What happened to her?" asked Schuyler. "Did she die?" She accompanied this with her self-created sign language for dying.

Julie and I looked at each other as if to weigh exactly how to answer this, but the thing is, Schuyler already knew that Earhart had disappeared. She did a report on her last year. That answer wasn't very satisfactory to her, however, and she wanted more from us.

"Yeah," I said, just putting it out there for her. "She probably crashed her plane and died. That's really sad, isn't it?" Schuyler nodded, clearly not liking where the discussion had gone.

"But here's the thing," I said. "Amelia Earhart died doing the thing that she wanted to do more than anything else in the world. She wanted to fly airplanes, right? And I'll bet that if you could ask her how she would have wanted to go, she would have said that she wanted to die flying her airplane, doing the thing she loved the most."

She turned this over in her head for a few moments and then nodded. "Yeah," she said.

"The cool thing about Amelia Earhart was that she wanted to be a pilot and fly airplanes, and she made that dream come true. I like that she's your hero, because that's what you're going to do, too. Whatever you decide you want to do, you're going to make it happen. I know that."

Schuyler liked that answer. Well, I like it, too.

October 24, 2009


Since we'll be in Austin on Halloween for the Texas Book Festival, here's one more reason for you to come. You'll get to meet Amelia Earhart.

October 16, 2009

Wild Things

Schuyler had a day off for parent-teacher conferences today, so Julie and I took the day off as well. After a brief and painless meeting, we went to see Where the Wild Things Are.

And now I have a few thoughts on the film, which was not at all what I expected.

I can't say that Schuyler loved it, not with the wild abandon she has loved other monster movies or kids' movies. She was fascinated, and she wanted to discuss it after, which is always a good sign, but I get the sense that she's still trying to decide how she feels about it. I certainly wouldn't describe Where the Wild Things Are as a monster movie or a fantasy film, but as for whether or not I would call it a kids' movie, I'm not so sure.

It's not a children's movie in the sense that the Wild Things themselves are in any way fantastical or entertaining as mythical creatures. They are very human, in some vaguely neurotic but very familiar ways. But I think that Where the Wild Things Are is VERY much a kids' movie in that it perfectly hits some emotional truths about what childhood is really like, and especially how horribly and confusedly we treat the people we love the most. That these truths come from the mouths and the actions of weird Sendak monsters makes the perspective feel new, and yet totally familiar.

It's easy as adults to forget that childhood can be in large part a scary and frustrating experience, full of insecurity and fear, and that like Max in the film (and to a lesser degree the book), often the only course available to kids who find themselves feeling powerless and afraid is to act out. Not in cute, "rambunctious" ways, but with an intense, feral energy that leaves them even more conflicted and fearful after it's spent.

When Max lashes out, it's a little shocking, not because we've never seen it before, but because the emotions that drive him remind us of our own long-buried childhood experiences. His issues stem from his own complicated family relationships. He loves the people around him, but his young emotions are complicated by his worry for their sadnesses which he cannot fix, and his rage at the complexity of his own place in their lives, and in a world where things aren't fair and the sun will one day die. Max is confused by his own anger, as if the choices he makes are inexplicable to him. You don't have to be ten years old for that to feel real.

When the Wild Things misbehave or simply express their own neurotic impulses badly, it also feels weirdly familiar. If you don't know someone in your real, adult life who can be represented by just about every one of the Wild Things, then I suspect you don't know very many people. More to the point, if you don't recognize significant parts of your own personality in each of the characters, I don't know. Maybe you're just more well-adjusted than I am, but there's also the possibility that you might be living a somewhat unexamined life. If you are open to the experience, I think Where the Wild Things Are presents a rare opportunity to examine that inner self.

Is it the book? No, it's not. If you are wanting to see the book, Where the Wild Things Are is not your movie. (Although really, the good news for you is that the book didn't suddenly cease to exist the day the film opened.) Like the best adaptations, the film takes a starting point from the book and becomes something alive and relevant in its own right.

For little kids, the ones for whom the original book is age-appropriate, this film probably isn't a good choice. Not because it'll be too scary, I don't think (except for one or two sequences, if your kid is especially sensitive), but because it is probably a little more introspective than they are looking for. The Wild Things might be cool monsters, but they're still mostly just talking things out.

Kids who are a little older may take to Where the Wild Things Are, however, in ways that may surprise parents who might fear that it's too dark. If I'd seen this movie when I was ten, I think it would have resonated with me like crazy. It certainly did now.

October 15, 2009

Schuyler's Halloween Preview

The first (and most crucial) parts of Schuyler's Halloween costume arrived in the mail yesterday.

When we began the whole "What do you want to be for Halloween?" dance this year, we assumed it was going to be the same "Fairies vs. Mermaids" struggle we go through every year. (Fairies! Mermaids! WHO WILL TRIUMPH?!?) Both present problems that go beyond just "Really? Again?" For example, good luck finding (or assembling) a fairy costume in which your sweet innocent child doesn't end up looking like some fetish-specializing hooker. And mermaids? No feet. Have fun hopping from door to door like that. Also, again, mermaids don't typically wear a lot on top, you know? No feet, and boobs. It's a father's worst nightmare. Nine year-olds shouldn't be sexy, my friends. They really shouldn't.

This year, Schuyler surprised us by agreeing, very excitedly, that she should go as her beloved Amelia Earhart. This new hero thing began last year, when she was assigned an oral report on a historical figure for school. From the list she was given, Schuyler picked Earhart (with some help from us, I confess -- does the world need another little girl who wants to be Princess Diana?), and ever since, she's shared that little report on her device with anyone who'll listen. So if you've met Schuyler in the past year or so, chances are you've learned a little somethin' somethin' about her hero.

In an interesting bit of serendipity, we recently learned (the quaint old fashioned way: via a television commercial) that there's a movie coming out in a few weeks about Earhart, starring Hilary Swank. So things are going to be all about Amelia Earhart around here for a while. We might get sick of it eventually, but for now, Tinkerbell has taken a back seat to an actual admirable historical figure, and one whose personal philosophy, like Schuyler's, might best be summed up as "You say I can't do that? Fuck you."

We'll actually be at the Texas Book Festival on October 31, so I have no idea what we'll be doing vis-à-vis Halloween, but at the very least, the chances are excellent that if you attend my panel, you'll get to see Schuyler in full-on aviatrix mode.

Anyway, here's your Halloween preview.

October 12, 2009

Go Team Schuyler

Julie, Schuyler and I ("Team Schuyler", naturally) have decided to participate in the 2009 Childhood Apraxia Walk in Fort Worth, after following a link on organizer Anne Devlin's Facebook page. I realize that you may be struggling with the idea of me actually walking for three miles without there being some kind of automotive emergency or the actual breakdown of civilization. But this is a cause that goes right to the heart of us, because verbal apraxia is one of the manifestations of Schuyler's Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria.

It's the monster that keeps her from speaking.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech is a motor speech disorder. For reasons not yet fully understood, children with apraxia of speech have great difficulty planning and producing the precise, highly refined and specific series of movements of the tongue, lips, jaw and palate that are necessary for intelligible speech. Apraxia of speech is sometimes called verbal apraxia, developmental apraxia of speech, or verbal dyspraxia.

The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America or CASANA's "mission is to strengthen the support systems in the lives of children with apraxia, so that each child has their best opportunity to develop speech". CASANA is the only charitable organization in the United States whose exclusive mission is to represent the needs and interests of children and families affected by apraxia.

We're hoping that if you live in the area, you'll join us for the 2009 Childhood Apraxia Walk in Fort Worth. It'll take place on November 15, 2009 at Trinity Park in Fort Worth. It will be a family-friendly walk with the option of a 1-mile or a 3-mile. If you register by October 26, you'll be guaranteed a Walk for Apraxia T-shirt in your size.

If you can't join us, we would appreciate your sponsorship. All proceeds from this event benefit CASANA's apraxia programs and research.

Seriously, we hope you'll be able to join us. You'll get to spend three miles with Schuyler (no more than ten or twenty feet of which will take place in a straight line, I suspect; she walks like a moth flies), and if my old, fat Robba the Hutt body fails me from the extreme trauma of walking three whole miles, you can point and laugh with a clear conscience and non-boomeranging karma.


On Columbus Day

I just realized that today is Columbus Day, and in doing so, I remembered writing about this holiday once. When I went and looked it up, I realized that it was actually six years ago. I can't believe it's been so long; I actually wrote this shortly after Schuyler's diagnosis, when we lived in New Haven, Connecticut.

Anyway, I remembered it as being amusing, and you know how I live to amuse, so here it is, along with a short followup.


October 8, 2003

I was looking ahead on Schuyler's social calendar and realized that her day care is going to be closed on the 13th. (Child-nappers, take note: not a good day to grab her.) When I did some probing investigation (i.e. asked someone), I was surprised to learn that the center (and presumedly a bunch of other stuff) will be closed because of Columbus Day.

Columbus Day? I was sort of surprised to learn that Columbus Day is still a national holiday, much less one where people get to stay home and drink beer. I guess I figured that Columbus had been tossed out in a blaze of political correctness, which actually would be fine with me. I'm not sure many of the indigenous populations he "discovered" would be inclined to throw a barbecue in his honor. I can't imagine that "Smallpox Day" is a popular holiday in the Bahamas.

I'm not sure why we even bother with Columbus Day, really. He's not much of a role model, after all. He mooched money off of swishy inbred monarchs in order to finance his expeditions. He was a failure as an administrator of the lands and peoples he subjugated. He was famous in his day as a visionary and a skilled mariner, but history has judged Columbus as a greedy, ruthless imperialist, a bit of a religious kook, and the earliest vanguard of the European plunder of the New World. He was brutal to the native population, even trying at one point to introduce them as slaves to Spain. Perhaps most importantly, he never actually set foot on the North American mainland and was never shaken from his belief that he had reached Asia.

So it would seem that Columbus was a bit of a doofus. ("Hi, I'm Columbus, your host. Welcome to Japan!") But of course, the main problem with celebrating Columbus as the European discoverer of America is that he was beaten to the punch by about five centuries.

We shouldn't be celebrating Columbus Day. We should be celebrating Viking Day.

Vikings reached North America around the year 1000, probably led by either Leif Ericson or his son, and for a decade or so they stomped around and presumedly set shit on fire and engaged in lots of indiscriminate recreational killing. The Vikings even tried to establish a colony for about three years before getting sick of fighting with Indians and returning to pillage boring old Europe again.

Vikings in America! How cool is that? I imagine them getting out of their long Viking boats, with their big beards and their horned helmets and furry boots and big giant monster axes and swords. They jump out of their boats, look around menacingly, and then say "YAR!" and start killing everything and setting shit on fire. They run around killing bears and and biting the heads off of rabbits, and then they see some gentle Indians walking out of the forest bearing gifts of welcome. The Vikings say "YAR!" again and start killing all the Indians. They pillage and burn and destroy, then they sit around a big fire eating some of the animals they slaughtered, wiping their big greasy hands on their new pelts.

I imagine the Indians looking out of the woods at them and thinking, "Oh man. White people. This isn't going to end well."

So yeah. I think Vikings are a much better representation of the American spirit. They sailed around and invaded other countries, burning stuff and killing people and generally being a pain in the ass. They were primitive barbarian badasses who drank wine out of human skulls. And unlike Columbus and the "explorers" who followed him, Vikings didn't pretend like they were doing their victims a favor. They pillaged, but they were up front about it, at least. I think that as Americans, we've sort of lost our way in that respect.

Viking Day. Think about it. Yar!


June 9, 2004

I'm always interested and amused at the unexpected things that draw people's ire from my writing.

Do you remember the entry (one of my favorites, honestly; it's one of the very few times that I managed to crack myself up) where I wrote about Columbus Day and the Vikings? I wrote about how the Vikings beat Columbus to the New World by about five centuries and made better role models for Americans anyway.

Now, this wasn't an entry that I expected to receive much irritated email about. If anything, I thought I might get some sort of "what's a mattah YOU?" email from some proud Italian-American out there (remember that episode of The Sopranos?), but what I DIDN'T expect to get instead was a stern correction from a Viking re-enactor (I swear to God) who wasn't happy about my representation of Vikings. They didn't wear horned helmets, she said, and didn't rape and kill indiscriminately, and CERTAINLY didn't drink wine from skulls. (She could have been right about that last part, I might have made it up.)

I guess my point is that I never know what's going to piss someone off, and it is honestly one of the reasons I keep writing online. It's like some sort of wacky social experiment that I'm carrying out on YOU, my Slobbering Minions. (I did have someone unsubscribe from my notify list because she didn't like being called a Slobbering Minion. That was perhaps less surprising than the Viking thing, now that I think about it.)

Incidentally, I'll admit that the wine drinking from human skulls thing was probably bogus, but I'm standing firm on the horned helmets. I mean, how else would people know that the barbarians burning down their village were actually Vikings? It's not like you'd want to go to all that trouble, only to have someone ask you, "Hey, who are you guys? Visigoths?"

It's all about the uniform.

October 9, 2009

The Boomtown Curse continues (or "Why does Jay Leno hate America?")

You know, sometimes I hate being right.

NBC Cancels Well-Regarded ‘Southland’

Today, NBC canceled one of the best-reviewed shows of recent years, the police drama “Southland,” before it had a chance to get on the air for its second season.

The show, which premiered in the spring and had a strong start in the ratings, though it struggled in its later episodes, had six new episodes produced for the new season. But NBC delayed its start date from mid-September until Oct. 23. NBC has been filling that hour — 9 p.m. on Fridays — with the newsmagazine show “Dateline NBC.”

Now NBC has dropped “Southland” altogether. Ratings for Friday shows have become universally low, and expensive dramas seem to be faltering especially on Fridays. “Dateline” can be produced for a fraction of the cost.

“Southland” started as a 10 p.m. show on Thursdays, and its style was consistent with others that have played there for decades. But NBC no longer has any 10 p.m. periods for drama because it has moved the new “Jay Leno Show” into that slot every weeknight. The style of “Southland” was largely distinguished by gritty police work and sometimes dark, troubled characters — not unlike previous NBC hits like “Hill Street Blues.”

The rest of you can get all worked up about Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize today. All of my tinfoil hat-wearing outrage is directed at NBC, the network which is, if I hadn't made this clear yet, DEAD TO ME.