Parenting. Never have I derived so much satisfaction from something I’m so terrible at. I really enjoy watching my kids grow and mature and begin showing signs of becoming competent adults. And I cringe whenever they display some negative behavior that I can point to and say, “Oops, they get that from me.” They have a good mother, otherwise these poor souls would be doomed.
But let’s face it, it makes no sense. I don’t get this much satisfaction from my work, and I’m actually fairly good at that. Nor do I get this level of satisfaction from most other things I’m terrible at. (Husbanding comes close, mind you, but fortunately my wife is an adult (which is more than we can say about me), so it’s harder for me to ruin her.)
It’s strange to think that we’re in the “home stretch”. Our youngest is eleven, and in eleven more years they should all probably be on their own. My brother and his wife seem to be handling “empty nesting” okay, so I suppose it’s nothing to fear, but it just seems…weird. And a little panicky. I’m running out of time to try and fix my mistakes, and to give them final instructions. And at times it seems like they’re running so fast I can’t keep up. “Hey, wait for me! I can help you with that!”
So what’s got me so maudlin? I’ve had several chances this week to view my kids in their natural, non-home environments. We’re nearing the end of the school year, so there have been a lot of “final concerts” to attend. I’ve been able to watch my kids from a distance and see how they interact with their peers and their teachers. It’s enlightening, and reassuring. I’ve got good kids. I think they’ll turn out okay. I just need to enjoy them while I still can.
Evidently Marvel has decided to make Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, a Hydra agent from the beginning. Just when I was beginning to take an interest in the superhero genre in large part because of the Captain America character. I rather liked the idea of someone who not only stands for good, but is good. Someone whose “outdated” morality we can look up to and learn from today. So of course they’d have to decide to ruin that.
Where did we reach the point that all our heroes have to be deeply flawed, conflicted, morally ambiguous, or practically indistinguishable from the evil they are fighting? Anti-heroes used to be only one way of telling a story. Now it’s increasingly the way.
At what point did we as a society give up? When did we decide we’re not capable of living up to these paradigms of goodness like Captain America, Superman, and the others–at least as they were? It’s as if we decided, “No, we just can’t be that good. Being good doesn’t get us what we want, so let’s lower the bar, shall we?” Next thing you know we’ve got “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, where not only do both heroes fail to live up to their heroic standard, they spend their efforts fighting each other instead of the real evil out there. We have Captain America proving to be false. We have Guardians of the Galaxy, a group of criminals with good hearts, fighting evil because no one else is available. And we have Suicide Squad, which takes a bunch of supervillains and makes them the good guys by virtue of the people they’re coerced into fighting are somehow worse than they are.
Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that moral ambiguity is a virtue, and all the “good-is-good, evil-is-evil” movies and TV shows of the 1980’s are being remade with a “new and improved” modern morality. And we wonder why our kids are growing up thinking that anything goes, as long as you can make it look cool. We forget that without a strong moral standard to live up to we’re making our heroes and bullies almost indistinguishable, as if they were two sides of the same coin. Our “heroes” are heroes only by virtue of being the main characters.
The result is an government that can’t seem to bring itself to declare ISIS and Al Qaeda as evil, because, you know, they have their reasons, and well, we invaded Iraq and all, and really, who are we to judge? They’d rather deal with the real evil as they see it, which seems to be Americans who disagree with their policies.
Marvel can, of course, do whatever they want–Cap is their property. At best making money has pulled even with telling a good story, and they are part of the Disney machine now, which is also on a mission to “redeem” all their villains. So perhaps it was always just a matter of time. Ultimately I don’t really have a dog in the fight. While I’m increasingly interested in superheroes as a concept, I’ve yet to spend much money on them. Marvel isn’t marketing to me.
But it seems ironic that in an era where we’re supposedly working to improve humanity and eliminate at least some vices we’re also getting rid of anything we might have held up as the example to which we could aspire. We seem to have forgotten that it wasn’t their powers that made superheroes great, it was their super morals. We forgot that the only difference between superheroes and supervillains is what they direct their powers toward, and how they choose to do so. We forgot that we love superheroes because they’re like us, only…better.
Well, I’m still writing, so I guess we’ll call that a victory. The last couple months have been rough–not because I haven’t had much time to write, but because I’ve had a hard time convincing myself I even want to write. I won’t bore you with the self-pity and details, but the question “to write or not to write” has been very hard to answer. It’s even overflowed to my blog–I missed nearly an entire week in April, and it kinda felt good not to bother.
It’s still a struggle, and I’m still not sure I’m writing because I want to or only because I don’t know what else to do. It still feels like a chore. But there have been some bright spots. Over the weekend I cranked out a scene that was not work, and actually felt…good. Things clicked together in unexpected and interesting ways that turned out better than what I had originally planned. I really like that when it happens. It makes me feel all writerly.
But it’s also going slowly. I haven’t had a 1000-word writing session in…a long time. Five hundred words seems more the norm these days. And that bothers me. Perhaps it only means that the story hasn’t become exciting enough to me yet. But it could mean something else.
It’s also been hard to keep up my regular column over at the Authors’ Think Tank. It’s usually hard enough to feel like I have any advice or support to give when I’m not really a published writer. It’s entirely another to write advice and support columns when you’re a whisker away from giving up writing altogether. There’s a word for that; it starts with an ‘H’ and ends with a ‘E’ and has an ‘YPOCRIT’ in the middle.
But things have been getting better. For some inexplicable reason my writing seems to be connected to my emotional state. I’ve been rather unmotivated toward life in general of late. It happens, and I’m working on it. The funny thing about life is that so many different aspects are so interconnected that you may not even know where the true problem lies. It can also lead to a form of paralysis where you don’t really know where to start to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with life. But lately I’ve had enough and just picked a place to start, and it seems to be helping. Clearly the interconnectedness works in both directions.
Anyway, this is not a desperate cry for sympathy, pity, or reassurance. This is simply a glimpse into the complex, and sometimes dark, workings of the mind of a writer. Those who think that writing is all sunshine and oak desks in beautiful libraries with endless coffee or lemonade have another think coming. It’s work, and as with most jobs, there are days when you just don’t want to get up and go to work, and even when you put on your big-person pants and go anyway it doesn’t automatically mean you love your work. I’d be doing a disservice to anyone considering being a writer if I were to claim it didn’t get that way from time to time.
And perhaps the measure of whether you can call yourself a writer or not is if you can keep writing even when you’re not sure you want to. That or masochism. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I’ve been seeing a lot of jokes and headlines lately at the expense of vegans. I keep telling myself not to be offended. After all, there are some aggressive, even militant, vegans out there that give us all a bad name. But let’s face it. That’s a lousy excuse that no one would tolerate for any other group. We’re not allowed to blame all Muslims for extremist terrorists, after all. I don’t hear Emma Watson apologizing for the militant feminists–nor should she have to. And just because a lot of vegans are quiet about it and don’t shove it down people’s throats doesn’t excuse people thinking all vegans are like the bad ones.
I know veganism runs contrary to popular culture. I know veganism makes people uncomfortable. I get it. And yes, we can be a weird bunch. But choose any other “weird” bunch and you’ll find carnivores at the center of it. So what does that tell us? Nothing at all, except that people have a tendency to be weird.
So why do we have to single out vegans? Why do we have headlines like one in the Washington Post recently: “Woman trying to prove ‘vegans can do anything’ among four dead on Mount Everest”? As I can see from reactions on Facebook, people are taking that headline as a sign that vegans are stupid enough to try stuff they shouldn’t. Clearly, however, they don’t read farther. Nor do they look beyond the obvious in the headline–wait a second, three other non-vegans also died. Does that mean that a carnivorous lifestyle makes you three times as likely to die on Everest? Of course not. But even though hundreds of people have died on Everest, we’re more than happy to assume the vegan was the stupid one.
First of all, Maria Strydom was married. Her husband, also vegan, survived. Both were very experienced climbers, who far along in their goal to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents. They had yet to tackle Everest, especially after two earthquakes in the past several years have stalled other expeditions. According to the article, “That gave the couple time to train vigorously. In the intervening years, they proved that their diet would not keep them from mountain-climbing by scaling Denali in Alaska, Mount Ararat in Turkey and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, among others.”
The article goes on about the risks of climbing Everest:
“On Everest, death is not necessarily a sign of failure so much as one of a particularly sad inevitability. Much like many places humans have ventured in our boundless curiosity — from the ocean depths to outer space — it cannot sustain life, and it often takes it. Shrestha told the BBC that altitude sickness and fatigue, along with natural factors such as blizzards and avalanches, kill a few climbers each year. It’s a potential outcome known to its climbers and gruesomely illustrated along the way by the almost 200 bodies that have frozen on or near the peak.”
And that’s just the climbers. Sherpas also die on the mountain in high numbers. And while it’s true that as many as 4000 people have successfully climbed the mountain since 1953, a 5% death rate is not easily dismissed. One in twenty climbers will die on Everest. (Also, the “4000” statistic is the number who have made it to the summit. It doesn’t say they all made it back down safely. Nor does it talk about which side they attempted it from–there is a difference.)
It should also be noted that within the same few days two other climbers have gone missing, and as many as 30 other climbers have suffered from altitude sickness or frostbite or both. Clearly they were not experiencing ideal climbing conditions. Around 330 other climbers have made it this year. Sometimes the weather does not cooperate. And it changes very quickly up there.
In any case, what killed Strydom was not unusual:
Everest, though, proved unscalable for them. The couple reached Camp 4, the final camp, at 3,000 feet below the summit, before both suffered from altitude sickness. It caused fluid to build up in Strydom’s brain, which killed her Saturday. Gropel, alive but fighting a fluid buildup in his lungs, had to be taken down the mountain by sled, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. He was taken to a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal.
There is nothing in the article to indicate that veganism caused or contributed to their altitude sickness. Yet people feel a need to point out–and make fun of–the fact that Strydom was vegan who hoped to prove that vegans can do anything. Wow, how stupid to try to fight stereotypes and misinformation. When a blind man scaled Everest we were all inspired–wow, look at that! He overcame difficult odds! Sure, he had no choice in his blindness, while Strydom had a choice to be vegan. But then just as Erik Weihenmayer could employ compensating factors, so could Strydom. And she had successfully climbed other difficult mountains.
What if Erik Weihenmayer had died on Everest? Would we all be clucking our tongues and shaking our heads at the stupidity of a blind man trying to do more than he should have? No, we would still have admired his courage and consoled ourselves that he died following his dream. It’s only stupid when a vegan dies, evidently. And trust me, we’re clearly aware that people are just looking for things to mock us for. The potential for negative exposure was very much on the mind of Kuntal Joisher, another vegan climber who attempted Everest in 2015:
But there was one item he could not replace with vegan-friendly material —the full-body, down-filled suit that mountaineers wear on summit day on Mount Everest. He wrote frantic Facebook messages to six companies who manufacture mountain suits. Four replied saying they do not have any plan to make a synthetic substitute. He wrote to dozens of influential vegans in the West and asked them to weigh in.
“Imagine if you summited holding a vegan flag, wearing a down-filled suit,” he said. He even thought of tearing up his synthetic sleeping bag and wearing it on summit day as a body suit. “But what if I died on Mount Everest wearing it. That would be such a bad publicity for the vegan cause,” Joisher said.
Sad, but true. Few bother to go looking for examples of vegans who excel in their various sports. They’re only interest in the failures, it seems.
Heavyweight boxing champion David Haye is a vegan, and I would love anyone to question him about his protein intake. The best female tennis player in the world, Serena Williams, is a vegan, as is her sister, Venus. Marathon runner Fiona Oakes and Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier also abstain from meat and dairy products. There are lots more, but you get the picture.
It’s also a little bizarre how people find veganism so difficult to accept, and yet have no trouble at all if it’s for the “right” reasons:
Joisher spent a lot of time briefing the Nepalese kitchen staff who travelled with him in the expedition, and cut out cream from soup, milk from oatmeal, cheese from pasta and butter from cinnamon rolls. He got so tired of explaining the ills of factory farming to the Sherpa cooks that he just told them he had an allergy that could impede his climb. They got it immediately, he said.
It’s funny. When I tell people I’m vegan (usually because they asked, not because I volunteer the information) I’m usually subjected to a lengthy explanation (sometimes more diatribe) why they could never be vegan, and usually with a tone that implies that I’m of questionable sanity. Except I never even suggested they should try it. I only told them what I am. Clearly what I am is very threatening.
I regularly have to deal with the department admin who gets offended if I offer to bring my own food to company functions rather than not participate, and yet she complains constantly about the inconvenience of having to find other options for me and the other vegetarians in the department. I didn’t ask her to go out of her way, and I don’t expect her to. I know my diet is odd, and I’m prepared to make it easier on everyone. But no. I’m a burden. It’s tempting to, like Joisher, just tell people I’ve got a food allergy. That would make it all okay. No one would bat an eye then. But it would be lying.
To be fair, not everyone is this way. I had a good conversation with another father at our recent church campout when he noticed our cooking separately from the group. He asked sincere questions, and I tried to answer politely and non-judgmentally. He thought it was kinda cool, and we left it at that. In fact, oddly enough, considering how everyone is so convinced that religious people are bigots, I’ve found more acceptance from my local congregation than I have from pretty much any other group. They will sometimes include vegan options at potlucks and dinners, and they don’t seem to be bothered if we bring our own. I certainly don’t want to fall into the trap of only seeing and recognizing the “bad apples” out there. It’s difficult to be vegan in public, but not everyone is out to make it even harder, and quite a few try to make it easier.
Still, I have to wonder how vegans became one of the few groups left that it’s okay to pick on. Is it because so few actually know one? Is it because they equate vegans with groups like PETA, who kinda ask for it (don’t get me started on PETA–they do more harm than good)? Is it because the only time they notice vegans is when it’s one of the annoying ones? I don’t know–and I don’t know how to combat it. It seems like a catch-22. Be quiet about it and no one notices, and therefore no one realizes there are “good vegans” out there. Speak up about it and suddenly you’re one of those “bad vegans” that can’t keep quiet about it and are shoving it in everyone’s faces–even if we never say a word advocating veganism for everyone.
Chances are in even posting this, in which I decide I’ve had enough of sitting quietly and taking it, I’m going to offend and alienate people–including some that see nothing wrong with mocking me and my choices. Well, I guess that’s a risk I will take. Clearly veganism doesn’t grant infinite patience.
Kiruna, Sweden sits atop one of the richest iron deposits in the world, which is its blessing and its curse and its blessing. The ground beneath part of the town of 18,000 is in danger of sinking. But the company that operates the mine is willing to invest over a billion dollars to relocate a large portion of the town two kilometers away. For some buildings, like the famous Kiruna church, this means figuring out how to move an entire building. For most of the residential and commercial properties, they’re simply buying them out or building them a new building in the new part of town.
The whole situation and the chosen solution are oddly compelling. As is this video:
I’m continually blown away by the depth, variety and vividness of Brandon Mull’s imagination. It also occurred to me in thinking about this book after finishing it that I should also be more impressed by his writing ability, but he writes so well it’s practically invisible. Very seldom does his writing call attention to itself. The more I think about it the more he ranks right up there with my favorite authors. I don’t care if he writes “kids books”. They’re still better than many of the adult books I read.
Death Weavers continues the story of Cole, a teenager who, along with his friends and many of his schoolmates, gets kidnapped and pulled into The Outskirts, a separate world where magic not only exists, but is segregated out into five kingdoms, each with it’s own variety of “shaping.” Initially on a quest to find his friends and return to Earth, Cole soon finds himself neck-deep in events in The Outskirts as he helps a princess reclaim her stolen powers and fight against her tyrant father.
Along the way Cole discovers that he, too, has shaping ability, but soon loses it when evil shapers mangle it so that he can no longer access it. But he and his friends, both new and old, push onward, hoping to find and rescue all four of the princesses in order to overthrow the king and restore freedom to The Five Kingdoms–and perhaps even get home again to a world that has forgotten he ever existed.
In Death Weavers Cole and company head for Necronum, where shaping gives a person access to the realm of spirits, known as the Echolands, and also where Nazeem, a powerful and ancient evil, is imprisoned. But Nazeem is growing closer to escaping, and the shaping in Necronum involves subtlety and cunning that Cole finds dangerous and hard to avoid. Things are starting to look pretty grim for our adventurers.
If there’s one thing that ties this series together it’s the creativity and sheer wonder of Mull’s settings. I’m regularly reading along and thinking, “Dude, that is so cool! He thinks it all through, and establishes rules that readers can rely on to try and think their way out of things on Cole’s behalf. And perhaps one of the most cool elements in this installment is the ability to bring in “guest appearances” by some of our favorite characters from other series. It was fun to see some beloved characters get to take another bow.
Where Mull really excels in this book, however, is in his ability to seamlessly work in moral dilemmas and concepts. Cole is really run through the wringer in this book; given several opportunities to do what’s best for him and ultimately decide matters most in the face of overwhelming opposition and certain death. And yet it never feels preachy, even while dealing with such weighty topics as the purpose of life and the nature of faith. Instead he sets up situations where such questions come out naturally. Heavy stuff, and in a kids book, no less!
The one frustration is that it’ll be late next year before the final book comes out. And it’ll be early next year before his new Dragon Watch series begins. But let’s face it, no good writer ever writes fast enough to satisfy us.
On my way to the break room at work yesterday I passed through another section of our department. I saw unexpected movement out of the corner of my eye and noticed the top of someone’s head protruding from their cubicle doorway, rising and falling. This was so unusual for the workplace I admit I stopped can gawked. In hindsight that might have been a bad idea.
It turns out that particular group gets together several times during the day to do some group exercises. This particular person had been on the phone during their most recent round of push-ups, and so she was catching up on her own later. She dared me to join them. I demurred.
Last night at home we had a bit of an incident when my wife tried to remind one of our boys to do his daily exercises for his Physical Fitness merit badge program. He doesn’t like being reminded. It’s not that he doesn’t like exercise; it’s just that there’s always other things more interesting to do. So, thinking back on my encounter at work, I decided to set an example and informed my family at breakfast this morning that I would be joining in with that group at work.
What this group didn’t tell me was that they don’t just do pushups. Today is Plank Day. This is a plank:
You assume this position and then hold it–no sagging at the midsection! (Oh, and this picture is most definitely me!)
This group is up to two minutes as their starting duration, and they raise it by thirty seconds each subsequent rotation, though they do make accommodations for newbies (ie. me). After the first minute I was thinking this wasn’t so bad. By a minute and a half my back and abs were quivering and burning, and I was tempted to take the “newbie out”. I pressed on, and made it to two minutes with everyone else, but that was from sheer stubbornness. I’m pretty sure I’ll be toast during the noon session. And three minutes at 3:00 pm? Not a chance.
But I’m going to try to stick with this and see how it goes. It’s time I shook things up a little in my slacker routine.
(Oh, my apologies to anyone who came here this thinking I’d be discussing the “Bathroom Wars”. Sorry. I tend to think in song or movie lines, and I’m old enough to remember “Smokin’ In the Boys’ Room” from long ago.)
I hear a lot lately that I should check my privilege. So I did, and found this:
Now, perhaps the list is cherry-picked, but to hear most feminists go on, you’d think that men had all the advantages across the board. Perhaps that was true once, but if you seriously look at this list, it’s not looking as good for my boys as for my daughter. And if she wishes to marry, perhaps not even so good for her, either.
“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” – Westley, “The Princess Bride”
Last week President Obama issued the equivalent of a stick (as opposed to a carrot) to bypass the debate on gender identity and privacy and coerce schools to allow children to use bathroom, locker room, and shower facilities based on their self-identification, supposedly with the goal of ensuring safety and respect for all students.
It makes me wonder if Mr. Obama has ever been to school. Schools have been failing at ensuring both safety and respect among children since…the invention of schools. We’ve been hearing about numerous anti-bullying campaigns and training for years now. And just how successful have they been? If anything it sounds like bullying is a worse problem than when I was a kid, only now the bullied are not even allowed to resolve the problem themselves. When has “I’ll tell the teacher!” ever worked?
As for respect? That’s laughable. Kids have never been particularly good at showing respect to one another. They’re still learning what that means! And unfortunately the lessons they are (maybe) taught by parents and (sometimes) from media are vastly outweighed by a society that no longer respects anyone or anything.
But the President believes we can fix all that by simply letting the transgendered into the bath- and shower-rooms of their choice. And, for some inexplicable reason he believes that our K-12 schools is the best place to start. Not the White House, not government agencies, not even public spaces, but schools–where staff are already extremely restricted in what they are allowed to do to assist students and where it’s usually best to avoid being in any of those spaces with kids for fear of legal issues.
The idea is ludicrous: “Hey, I know. Let’s foster safety and respect by taking biological boys and girls and placing them together in a space where teachers fear to go. Viola! Instant Nirvana!” That’ll work about as well as all that racial healing we were promised.
But not to worry, we’ve provided an incentive! Any schools who fail to do this may lose Federal funds. Here in Utah we stand to lose over 10% of our state education budget if we fail to comply, plus the cost of any lawsuits the Federal government may file. It might be one thing if this directive had been the result of any open and transparent process in which Obama called in experts and representatives of all sides of the issue and worked out a best path scenario, but we’ve seen no indication that this is so. At best this seems to be yet another “I’m smarter than you, so sit down and shut up” measure by an arrogant man whose own daughters will more than likely be completely unaffected by this move. At worst, this seems like a hissy-fit by a brat of a President who didn’t like it when North Carolina recently told his administration to take a hike.
“For The Children!” has long been a mantra by anyone who wants change, but clearly this is more a matter of “For a small percentage of the children–damn the rest of them!” But more importantly, this is a naïve and intentionally oblivious ignoring of the facts: you can’t ensure safety or respect. Period. Not even among adults, let alone children who are still figuring out the world and are far from emotionally or mentally mature (to say nothing of teenagers who are going through physical and hormonal changes that make them entirely irrational at times). This is also a deliberate ignoring of actual science–something liberals claim to adore–which indicates that transgenderism is a psychological issue akin to anorexia and other “body issue” disorders. There certainly has not been any significant research into whether forcing children into bathrooms or showers together will actually help in matters of “safety and respect.”
So now we have President Obama telling us he can deliver a pain-free childhood for our children when decades of liberal management of our schools have continually failed, if not increased the problem. I suspect our dear Westley was right: he’s selling something. The question is what, and to whom–and what the ultimate price will be. In this case it’s not just our firstborns, but all our children. To extend the Princess Bride metaphor, we’re being led by President Vizzini, who is brilliant in all the wrong ways. To him, the idea that this could possibly go wrong is “completely and in all other ways inconceivable.” And we know how that turned out.
But at least Obama will be able to feel good about himself, and that’s all that matters. Because that’s why we elect presidents–to help them with their self-esteem.
Stop and think about it for a moment. There are six months left before the Presidential Election. Six. Months.
Do we have to keep yammering on about Trumbernillary as if the election was tomorrow and this is our LAST CHANCE TO SAVE THE WORLD?! Seriously, is there anything all that new to be said about any of them? Do we really think that with all the posts that have gone before it really all comes down to this one more post that crosses your feed, and if you don’t share it the evil blasterds will win?
I promise you that if you unplug for the next five and not start paying attention again until October you won’t really miss anything. There will still be time to evaluate if everything you think you know about them has changed at all. There will still be more debates to watch. There will still be plenty of commentary, editorializing, and perhaps even some actual journalism to dig through in case you actually do want to know the facts.
About the only important thing likely to happen within the next five months is either Sanders or Hillary will have been forced to concede. Is that really worth paying so close attention between now and then? Most of us are long past having our say in the primaries/caucuses. Do we need to fill up our feed (and everyone else’s) with more political quackery? Let me summarize everything you’re likely to see between now and then:
- Politicians lie.
- So-n-so is the most vile human being to ever defile the earth.
- What Candidate X did really wasn’t so bad.
- This statement, when taken out of context, sounds really, really bad.
- People who support Candidate Y are total amoral loons without redeeming quality.
- If Candidate Q wins the world will destroy itself from the inside out within seconds.
- Celebrity B will move to Canada if Candidate J wins. (There will be no coverage whatsoever of how many celebrities threatened that last time but failed to follow through.)
- Why does everyone think what so-n-so did/said is such a big deal?
- Everyone who disagrees with me lacks perspective/honesty/integrity/intelligence.
Did I miss anything? I just saved you six months effort. You’re welcome.
I never thought I’d say this, but could we please see more pictures/videos of cats for a while? Or anything else that might actually remind us that life will somehow go on–at least until after the first Tuesday in November?
Seriously, folks. Six months. Save it for October. Please!