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Wait? You Mean…It’s 2017?!

How have I not posted anything since July?! Well, there were a few abandoned posts that I just didn’t like the sound of before posting them, and the many ideas for posts I either didn’t have the time, energy, or wherewithal to write and post. There were the posts about Star Wars, or politics, or the depression/anxiety I’ve been going through, or…. Well, you get the idea.

…A pause…

…Another…

Those pauses are as much for me as for you, because I realized as I was writing that last paragraph that I’m falling into a voice I employ on this blog which is usually fine but isn’t right now. It’s more chipper than I wish to sound. The fact is, I’ve been in a mental storm for over a year now. Closer to a-year-and-a-half now. I’ll be calling my doctor soon. When I checked a list of symptoms of depression, I’ve had almost all of these on a nearly constant basis since late-summer of 2015. Naturally, 2016 really helped with things. As my graduate studies progressed, and my grades have been superb, my personal writing and reading went down, down, down. Maybe this is part of it. But I don’t think it’s all of it. I found myself sitting around on the days my now-four-year-old was at daycare not writing, not doing homework, not doing anything. Toward the end of my summer vacation, I forced myself out of the apartment to get pizza. It was my birthday. Whee.

There was my oldest daughter graduating high school and moving on to college. I’m so proud of her. I worry about her, though, because I’m her Dad. I also worry for other reasons. But I’m proud of her and happy to see the young woman she is and the woman she is becoming.

There was work-related stresses. Some of those will hopefully be put to rest soon as I apply for a teaching license extension, but until it’s in my hands, I’ll be terrified worried.

In late October, doctors thought they found ovarian cancer in my mother. They did. They also found a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in her lung. They treated the clot and she had the cancer removed. They believe they got it all but she’s going to have to go through chemotherapy soon.

My wife has work-related stress.

Did I mention that I hardly have time to write my fiction as I write my papers, discussion posts, etc.? It’s not simple time management, either. There’s no energy or time. Not in my current life.

I won’t even mention the “election.”

All these could be factors. But….

Look, 2016 wasn’t all bad. There was a lot of good, even great. My family life is amazing. I’m relatively healthy. So are my daughters and my wife. I have a job I really enjoy. I still have the ability, up here in my head, and down here in my heart, to write my stuff. I’ve seen some good movies and read a few of my books, and have been exposed to a helluva lot of good books for my classes that I haven’t really been able to read because of time/energy. By next Monday, I’ll be halfway through grad school. I don’t quite see the light at the end of this tunnel, but I think I see something.

But this…depression? Anxiety? Both? Melancholy? It’s been bad. I’m trying my damnedest in public and with friends to hide it, more to keep myself from falling too far into the chasm, but it’s growing harder to keep it at bay. It really is.

So that’s why I haven’t posted since July. Time, energy, self-doubt, and this funk.

I hope 2017 will change that. I have my doubts. But I will do my best.

I’ve been called pessimistic by some people I know. I’m not pessimistic. If you saw how dark things are in my head, you’d know I was an optimist. I have to be.

So thanks to all who cared enough to show me this past year. Thanks to those who have made me feel like a good man, husband, father, teacher, even writer. I will try to do better in 2017. In these uncertain times, it’s all any of us can attempt.

 

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Peekaboo!, or I’m Right Here, Now Calm Down

Wow. I haven’t been here since April! What’s up with that? If you actually follow and read my blog, you’ll know that I’m a full-time teacher, father of an 18-year-old high school graduate and soon-to-be-college freshman, a 3-year-and-9-month-year-old, a husband, and going through my master’s degree program online. I’ve been busy this summer, too. It will end, someday. Truth be told, by the end of this school year, one which was one of the worst of my career, I was ready for a nervous breakdown. I’m really not exaggerating on that, either. But here I am now, and here you are now, and I thought I’d skip the homework I promised myself I’d do to say hi to my old friends, my blog readers.

I’ve had so many ideas that I wanted to write and post here. Whether I will or not remains to be seen. I’ve got just over a month of vacation left and my little one goes to day care two days of the week, but we’ll see. For today, I wanted to say hi, give a few updates, and maybe talk a little about writing. You with me? All right. As my little one says, “Let’s do yit!”

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First the update. I’d sent a query off to one agent so far for Echoes on the Pond, and that was back before Christmas. Since then, classwork has kept me busy, as well as waiting for a few friends to read the most recent draft and give me their feedback. The feedback in question has me on track for One Final Draft. I’ll pause so you can join me in laughing at that. Done? All right, let’s carry on. This final draft shouldn’t take long, as I pretty much know where to go in with the knife, and also what needs rewriting. It’s not an overhaul by any means, though the ending will change a little to be stronger. Trust me. When the book comes out, you’re gonna love it!

I also started a new novel. I wrote a bit back in late winter, February through March, and only recently was able to return to it at all. More on that below. Besides those things, I also have an idea for a new short story that is so weird, I may just have to write it just to see what the fuck it’s about!

However, most of my writing these last few months has been for my master’s program. I have an 18-to-20-page paper due next week. Tonight I have a discussion board post to write and put up about the 1777 play The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It’s an enjoyable play, but it held me from seeing Ghostbusters yesterday, a movie I can’t wait to see.

All this leads me to….

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The common advice you see from professional writers to beginning writers is Read every day, write every day. This is awesome advice and I agree with it wholeheartedly. I also know that it can be difficult when you’re working full-time, parenting, expected to be an active participant in your relationship, etc. Before my grad classes began, writing every day was a challenge but doable. Since it’s started, it’s damn near impossible. In the past it would’ve depressed me, angered me, and got me all ready to join the Dark Side, Dim Side, or just plain Hulk out. It still does sometimes. When the voices in my head, all characters from current and future projects (and the occasional past project) who want to be heard, want a chance to run in the sunshine, become too much, I can be nasty, depressed, unlikable. Well, more unlikable than normal, anyway. Still, I’ve come to understand something about myself: The stories are still there when I’m ready to return to them.

Look, I’d love to sit down every night after Pamela and G go to bed and work on the books and stories (and blog). I’d love to try writing articles to make some side money and get my name out there more. But I can’t. I have a discussion board to write. Or a journal about this play or that story or that novel that I didn’t get to read all of. I have a major paper to write. Vacation time with a toddler is hardly a vacation. My two days with her at day care are mostly catching up on school work. I did get to write a little bit in the new project a week or so ago, but only a little.

I was asked by a friend last week, “How do you finish what you start?” Because of two little ones running around, I don’t think I actually answered, but the main answer is: Determination. I want to see it through to the end. There have been plenty of stories that have fizzled out on me before I got to THE END, but even those usually reserve a room in the back of my brain and wait for the right time to be written, like Under the Dome and 11/22/63 did for Stephen King. I sit down every day that I can and work on it. And work on it. And work on it. I may work on something else between drafts or because I need to at a certain time, but usually it’s just work on the project until you can’t anymore.

Which is why, unless an agent or editor asks for rewrites, this next draft I’ll do for Echoes on the Pond will be my last. I thought of a few things I can do to make the story stronger based on having it sit here so long as I attend to educational matters, and based on what friends have suggested that are good. See, not every suggestion that’s made gets followed, but when one comes in that gets you excited, you’re a fool not to follow it.

That’s how it’s done. I can’t write fiction every day right now, but when I can, I do. I know that once grad school is over, I’ll be back in the saddle every day. Once my little one is a little older, I may be able to easier, as well. But right now, I do what I can. And I’m all right with that.

Wherein I Peek Out, Blink, & Weep, or What the Hell Is Going On, Anyway?

I posted a quick update at the end of week 1 of my grad school online course and wrote, “when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy.” I am at the start of week 8 of 10. I haven’t completed week 7 yet. I shouldn’t be here, but fuck it. I drank coffee between 8:30 and 9:30 so I could work on a paper that was due tonight by midnight and that I’m still working on because…well…I’ll get there. I promise.

First, the good news. I’ve been maintaining a mid-90s grade. For weeks I was at 94. I dropped to 93 last week, then to 91, and now back to 93. I’m happy. Considering I have little idea of what I’m doing, I seem to be doing it well. I do feel as though the readings have been sinking in, though I rarely understand what I’m reading. I keep looking at the novel I began reading in August, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, which I’ve read tiny snippets of in between Freud, Marx, Lacan, Jackson, Conrad, Woolf, and many more, and want to cry. I’ve loved Byrne’s prose since beginning it but, goddamn, no time. I have Stephen King’s new collection, The Bazaar or Bad Dreams, Christopher Golden’s new novel Dead Ringers (about doppelgangers, which I fucking love), two collections by Charles Beaumont, and more novels that I’m eagerly awaiting to read. Shit! I forgot! The PS Publishing collectible re-issue of Harlan Ellison’s Ellison Wonderland that I’m so eager to read….

But…work. Work-work. School-work. Report card grades were due in the last few weeks. Discussion posts, prospectuses, proposals, analyses were all due in the last seven weeks (and still more are due in the coming three), and that’s not the personal stuff.

Pamela’s car died at the end of September. My computer died this past week, which means this is the first thing I’ve truly written on my brand new HP Pavilion All-In-One desktop computer. Whee. Well, that I’ve truly written that wasn’t for my class. Oh, and my teenager got her driver’s license and my toddler turned three. I found out that my sudden (and by sudden, I mean since the spring) exhaustion is not anemia but may be related to my Crohn’s Disease, so my meds have changed a little, but only in the last two days. So I’m still a refugee from a George Romero flick most of the time.

But, Bill, I hear you say. What about the novel? Are you working on that? We’re waiting for this masterpiece you’ve spent the last century or so talking to us about!

First, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s good, I promise, but not masterpiece material. Maybe future classic… But seriously, I’ve worked on the last edit three times since starting the course. I intended on working on it this weekend when my notebook died. That threw out that idea. However, perhaps later this week. I have about 50 pages left to edit, and then I’m bringing the edits to my manuscript. I still have to check to see if my queries that I’d written had been backed up to Dropbox. I believe they were but I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m afraid to check. I may try to see if I can get the stuff from my hard drive soon.

Anyway, I’m still alive and still dreaming. My goal is to have the novel completed and have begun the query process by the end of the year. I can’t wait to start writing the next book, too. It’s about a man and his child and…oh, you’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the world of the girl, her therapist, and the ghost to tie up loose ends, and working on my grad school work.

Be good to yourselves and good to others. The world needs more of that right now. I’ll try to check in again around Thanksgiving.

Don’t Make Me Angry, I’m Always Angry, or Why You Should Go Eff Yourself

 

It was about a week before the new school year was to begin, this past summer, almost two months back now. Pamela and G had just gone to bed so it was sometime between 8 and 8:30. I was in the kitchen, reaching for the sugar to make my tea and thinking about the following week, the big ol’ return to school and another year as The Best Teacher You Will Ever Have when I had an epiphany: I’m a really angry guy.

If you chuckled when you got to the end of that paragraph, shame on you. This thought chilled me. I mean, I know I’m angry in the same way I know I’m a man, that I have brown hair, too many moles, and ten fingers (one of them weirdly crooked). I know this like I know I have a wife, two daughters, living parents, and friends. But every now and then I still look around and think, Damn! I have a beautiful wife who is able to deal with my stupidity! or Damn! My teenager is pretty freakin’ awesome! or Damn! The toddler is really smart and beautiful and empathetic! It dawned on me that the years of therapy, the growing up, and the calming down that I have endured have simply really been sleight of hand. The anger is still there. And it scares me.

I have near my workspace a quote from Nikki Giovanni that goes, “Rage is to writers what water is to fish.” This seemed really cool when I first found it and taped it to my notebook computer (dead five years now) ten years ago. At 28, being an angry young man seemed like the thing to be, which was good for me because I was an angry young man. I saw all, knew all, and wasn’t afraid to let you know it. At 38, I don’t want to be angry.

I know the anger is a part of me, and it’s a large factor in why I write, why I create, why I insist on trying to succeed in my goals and dreams. I’m still working on grudges that began in elementary school. It’s such an ingrained part of who I am, that I forget just how angry I am, all the time. It’s exhausting.

There’s a scene in Marvel’s The Avengers that comes at the end. There’s been talk throughout the movie about how Bruce Banner is able to not be the Hulk all the time, and he said he had a secret. It all comes to a head at the end of the movie.

When Banner says that line, “I’m always angry,” the audience erupted in applause both times I saw the movie. It’s become a popular meme on the ‘Net. For some reason, anger, and the lack of control of anger, has become a sort of thing people are happy to have and will applaud.

It fuckin’ sucks, though. To have this fire burning in the pit of my stomach, day in, day out, never quite sure when it’ll flame up…it’s tough. People will say things like, “You need to learn to chill out,” or suggest meditation and all that, and I do it, man. I do deep breathing exercises, I write, I journal, I go to happy places, I look at all the good things in my life, all that stuff. But the anger is still there.

I’m angry right now. Something at work got me angry. A few somethings, actually. I’m angry about grad school. I’m angry for no real reason except…well…look at the world!

I’m only writing this because I want you to know that this is not fun. I don’t consider this a plus to anything in my life. I think my writing would be just as good without the anger in the same way that I do my best writing when I’m happy and not depressed, despite what the popular mythology surrounding writers is.

So, yeah…that’s my secret, I guess. I’m always angry.

Grad School: Week 1, or Through the Looking Glass & What Bill Learned There

Today is the end of my first week as a grad student. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. Because I don’t have time to drive and attend an actual brick-and-mortar class, I’m doing my Master’s program online. I decided to do English Lit because that’s what I did for undergrad and because I think my life isn’t painful enough. Also, I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer by anyone what online school’s education programs would be accepted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

So it goes like this: the professor (they use instructor) gives you reading and an assignment. You have to post one assignment by 11:59 PM on Thursday, and a second by 11:59 PM on Sunday, and that’s your module. So I did a fuckload of reading last weekend including Freud and Marx and others, and Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery,” which really was the sugar that helped the medicine go down, and then wrote my response, commented on at least two, and then took a quiz for today. The academic writing was…well…you know how I’m writing this right now? You know how it reads? Yeah, well, it’s the opposite of this. It’s like Alice through the looking glass. I’m writing, something I know how to do (and some say I know how to do well), but I don’t feel like I’m writing. I feel like I’m…I don’t know. Farting in the wind?

Anyway, I posted my writing Tuesday night and wasn’t able to sign in again until yesterday. It seems fairly well received, except I threw out all MLA citations and stuff because fuck you, that’s why. Apparently, mostly everyone else did, too, so the instructoprofessor will be nice to all us grad students who should know better.

Then, yesterday, I signed on to take a quiz about two future major projects. The two questions were so mind-numbingly…devoid of anything I read, that I was shocked.

Still, when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy. I should be reading right now, but I know you missed me.

I also decided the role I would play was frightened and super-stressed new grad student with an extremely busy home life. It’s an easy role to play since it’s 99.9% true. That .1% is just an asshole part of me that refuses to tell the truth. When I look at the syllabus, I’m like, “Wait! Isn’t this online schooling supposed to be easier?”

But the school’s all like, “No way, man. We need to prove that we’re a legitimate institution and not something that has Sally Struthers in the commercials.”

I let the school know I diggit, and I’m proud of it, and then we go out for coffee at the student café, which is very comfortable and always has a good acoustic performer. It’s a good time.

All right, so now I have to read about this, that, and the other thing, and start rereading Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, which I last read a decade ago. I can’t remember much about it so this should be fun.

Where’s It Going?, or Time Flies Because Clichés

swear I thought it was only a month or two ago since I made my last non-Batman-related update. Oops. So, here’s why you haven’t heard from me save when I’ve been writing about men wearing rubber bat costumes:

Life.

I know, that’s broad. I’ve been writing as much as possible since school started back up again in late-August. I finished the second draft of the novel on October 18th. I’m not sure how it is. I’m waiting on a couple of people I trust to read it and give me the lowdown before I start the third (and, I hope, final) draft. When I wasn’t working on the book, I was writing the Gotham to Gautham Batman essays. I even wrote a 5,000 word short story last week.

When I’m not writing, I’m either reading (should finish Stephen King’s superb Revival tonight) or vegging out because teaching is hard motherfuckin’ work.

Before I go, I want to recommend two things to you:

Thing the First. If you haven’t checked out Mason James Cole, you really need to. His Pray To Stay Dead is a great zombie/horror novel. I’m not a huge fan of zombie books, but I loved this. Even better is his much shorter novel Buster Voodoo. I consider him a friend from afar, meaning he connected to me via Facebook at some point in the last five years or so, and we found that we had a huge admiration (obsession?) for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Stephen King, and basically nerd stuff. All that means nothing to me when it comes to the writing. Cole is the real deal, I promise. His writing reminds me of King’s, but definitely is his own. I can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.

Thing the Second. Richard Chizmar, owner, publisher, and editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Publications, recently launched a new endeavor called Stephen King Revisited. With associate (and a really good writer himself) Brian James Freeman, Chizmar is re-reading Stephen King’s books in the order they were published and then writing essays about them. They remind me quite a bit of what I’ve been doing with my movie essays. Funny enough, I’d thought about branching off into the King books, too, but am now thinking that maybe I shouldn’t. Either way, you should definitely check this site out. It’s entertaining, insightful, and will bring you back to the first time you cracked open one of King’s novels.

That’s it for me. My essay on The Dark Knight Rises should be up within the next few days.

A Quick Update, or I’m Not Really Here

Here I am, peeking in just to say hi. Sadly, I broke the chain the other day, Thursday, September 4th. I was just too goddamn tired and depressed to really motivate myself to do the editing I needed to do. So between June 24th and September 3rd, I wrote every day, mostly on the novel. That makes a 72-day stretch. I’m very happy. I worked last night (Friday) and tonight so a new chain is forming.

If you’re following my From Gotham to Gautham Batman film essays, rest assured that they’ll come. I already have the next four essays written, and have gathered the pictures for the next installment, Batman Returns (1992), I just have to format them, place them, and revise the essay. I also have to re-watch Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

So keep watching this space. I’m running as fast as I can.

 

On Being a Divorced Dad & a Married Dad, or I’m Making It Up As I Go

This year marked 10 years since my first wife and I split. I think we’re both happier now, which is great, but I wonder how my 16-year-old daughter deals with it. Having had parents that stayed together, I don’t know what it’s like to have to schlep between houses, between rules, between parenting styles. And I know I feel as guilty now as I did the first night in my new apartment in March 2004, the first night in many that I did not read a book to C, or sing to her (usually Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”). The choice I made back then, I’m still convinced, was the right choice. Unfortunately, the collateral damage is sometimes more than I can handle.

This is all the more on my mind now that I’m a married father again. G turned 21 months yesterday. She recognizes the letter G (or Geeeeeeee!, as she says), loves to draw and color, and loves music. She sings better than I do. There’s a huge difference between her at 21 months and C at 21 months, namely, me. I’m 36 (very soon-to-be 37) instead of 21 (soon-to-be 22). I have a career. Two. Teaching and writing. Back then, I had dreams. I’d sold one story to a small press zine, price: one contributor copy.

My 16-year-old has spent her 3rd summer in a row with my sister in Florida. She comes back this weekend. I’ll be tracking her flight. If I know when it’s overhead, and if it’s during the day, maybe I’ll take the 21-month-old outside to look up in the sky and try to see the plane. Unless she’s landing in Rhode Island instead of Boston. I’ll know soon enough. Anyway, I’ve missed her. She’s spent less time at my house this year than the previous 8. I see her every day since we go to the same school. Hell, I was one of her teachers during her freshman year, and will be again during her junior year. Still, I miss her. Her stepmother misses her. And her sister misses her.

She has another sibling on the other side who is older. She’s missed by this one, too, I’m sure. To her younger siblings, C’s like Wonder Woman, Beyoncé, and Oprah mixed together.

I hope I’ve taught her everything she needs to know. And while I’ve made mistakes, I hope I’ve set a good example. But I guess that’s what every parent hopes, married or divorced. You lead them, then you guide them, and then you let them go. It’s an odd dichotomy to be on both ends of the spectrum, leading one and letting go of the other (she turns 18 in less than two years…egads!).

I love my girls. They’re both insanely intelligent, talented, and beautiful. Sometimes I wish I was a better father, but I know that I give everything I can.

And I always will.

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C in March/April 2000, right before she turned 2.

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G last month, at 20 months.

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C and G in June.

Who Am I?, or Harlan Ellison is 80 Tomorrow & I’m Just Coming to Age at 36

Something happened recently that made me question myself. I won’t go into specifics but it made me really question myself. I came out stronger, I think. And a better person, I think. It may have even been one of the last real steps to me becoming–gasp!–an adult.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to sell my action figures or relinquish my love of comics books, superheroes, space fantasy, Muppets, or Mister Rogers anytime soon. But for the first time I feel…well…like a man.

Let me explain, if I can….

As a teacher, I began telling my students to grow up to be the kind of person they want to be. If they see themselves as a good person, then work their asses off to become a good person. Everything else will fall into place. Now, as I reread that, it looks a little hippie-dippy to me. The best way I can explain it is this….

When I was a kid, I hated to be asked the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hated that question because I didn’t know. I was 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, fucking 10 years old! How the hell would I know?! (An aside: This is one question I will not ask children until they are teenagers. I’m more interested in what they want to be now. Childhood is such a short period of time, why sully it with a glimpse into the grown-up darkness that awaits?). So I’d give them some bullshit answer that would shut up the grown-up and get them off my back.

“A baseball player,” I’d say, though I never played Little League, didn’t watch any sports on TV, and generally despised competitive athletics (I still do).

“A police officer.”

“A weather man.”

“An actor.”

“An astronaut.”

In other words, I’d give the standard answers that adults expect. The only one that really came close to what, in my heart of hearts, I’d hoped to do was be an actor. I’ll explain why I think I never pursued it another time, perhaps.

But around the time I was 9 or 10, I began to get a glimmer of what I might want to do as an adult. Not a job or career, but a general way of being. I knew that I either wanted to help people or entertain them. Those were the two things that I decided I wanted to try to do.

Now, my choices were limiting, because even as a 10-year-old, I knew I couldn’t work in medicine. I’m too squeamish. And I knew I’d make a horrible police officer (although I think I’d make an excellent detective, but I could be full of shit). So that left…what?

For awhile, I thought I would be a comic book writer and artist, until I decided to focus solely on writing when I was 13.

Fast forward 23 years. I’ve had many bouts of wondering what was happening in my life in the last few years. Turning 36 last August was hard. In age, I was an adult. I could no longer blame my stupid actions on being young and naive. Maybe naive, but certainly not young. And I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I had a job—a career—that I really liked, that I’m really good at, but…it wasn’t the career I wanted. But…I liked it. Loved it, even. Not the paperwork, and certainly not the politics, but the interaction with students. The knowledge that I’ve made a difference in lives. I mean, I have students who have given my cards and notes and vlogs telling me how much my classes, how much my work, has meant to them!

And yet…I was so sad. Because I wasn’t writing full-time. Or working on movies. Or comic books. Because I wanted, in my mind, more.

So one day I was talking to some students after school. This was about a year ago. The two were best friends and one was leaving to go to another school. And I told him that I would be there if he needed me. And then I said:

“One of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison, has said that his definition of success is ‘achieving in adult terms that which you longed for as a child.’ I’d add to that that if your childhood self met your adulthood self, would he be happy? Would he say, ‘That guy’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind becoming him.’

“When I was a kid,” I continued, “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to either entertain people or help them.”

And before I could go on to whatever I was about to say, one of the young men said, “And you do both every day right here.”

“Yeah,” said the other. “You’re a success, Mr. Gauthier!”

We laughed and talked a few minutes more before parting ways for the day, but it stuck with me.

This year, I began telling students not to worry about future careers. To have an idea and work toward it, but to decide what kind of person they wanted to be, and the career would present itself.

So I went through a little bit of a fire this year. It made me question myself, and the way I got out was by realizing who I wanted to be. I’ve known since I was a boy. Now it was time to actually be that man.

I’ve always wanted to help and entertain. I’m a teacher and a writer. In my classroom, I help and entertain. If I can make a student laugh, or cry, if I can make a student feel, then I can make them care enough to learn what I need them to learn. In my stories, I can help people escape their lives for a little while, make them laugh, cry, or frighten them. I may try stand-up comedy at some point. I may try acting. I know I’ll write a comic book. I may even try screenwriting. And while I’m still hungry to make the creative part of my life my sole profession, for the first time I’m truly happy with the part of my life that pays the bills.

As a result, I’m a better teacher. I’m a better writer. I’m a better father. I’m a better husband.

I’m a better man.

Harlan Ellison, one of my heroes, turns 80 tomorrow, 27 May 2014. I will leave my usual birthday greeting on his website, and go back to lurking. But I now lurk as the man I know I want to be, not the guy who’s unsure of himself.

It feels pretty great.

It’s a Beautiful Day In This Neighborhood, or Why Mr. Rogers Matters

This will be my second time writing about Fred Rogers, the first was back in September 2011 when I was still attempting to write my ill-fated MediaBio blog. The reason I’m returning to the man the world knew as Mr. Rogers is because of his importance.

My wife and I have introduced Genevieve to TV. More precisely, our TV. I mean, the shows we watched as children. She’s been on a Muppet Show kick (which kind of sucks because the 3rd and, so far, last DVD set came in yesterday, and while the show had five seasons, only three have been released) and via Amazon Prime my wife introduced her to classic Sesame Street  (being my daughter, she prefers The Muppet Show). Prime also has Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Now, I’ve known the power Fred Rogers had for a long time, but especially since the incident I related the last time I wrote about him:

It was 2005, somewhere between May and July, and things had been a little bleak. I’d been separated from my soon-to-be-ex-wife (we finalized our divorce in September 2005) and was working at a local bookstore, which I would’ve loved had they paid me what I deserved, treated me the way I deserved, and otherwise didn’t have their heads up their asses (not all of them, just those who were in charge). I sat down to eat my lunch around 11:30/noon, and I only had twenty cable channels. My choices were game shows, talk shows, or PBS. One PBS channel was running Sesame Street. Blech. Another was running Teletubbies. Barf! The last had on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I decided to leave it on. I quickly realized that I remembered the episode from my childhood. I sat watching this show that I hadn’t seen in twenty years, mesmerized. At the end, Mr. Rogers looked into the camera and said in that way he had, “Just remember that you are special. That there’s no one else in this world like you, and that you are important.”

I can’t explain it. I began weeping.

***

I remember that day nine years ago like it happened yesterday. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time.

So now Genevieve will ask to watch it and she was sick for the last few days so we put it on. She’ll end up playing, but Pamela and I are good with that, because we’re really the ones watching. I’ve seen episodes from before I was born. I’ve seen episodes from long after I stopped watching. I don’t understand why I never had Courtney watch it. I’m ashamed of myself.

The thing I keep noticing is how actually good and kindhearted Fred Rogers was. His meticulousness is evident in the show and the fact that he kept it pretty much the same from 1968 through 2001 is astounding. While Sesame Street changes with the times, Mr. Rogers’s set didn’t change in all that time. Picture Picture didn’t suddenly become a flat screen TV. The Neighborhood of Make Believe never got more complicated puppets or 3D characters. Hell, the same actors worked with him throughout!

I’ve cried several times recently watching episodes. Here’s a for instance for you:

So today, we were working our way through his 5-episode arc about work called “Mister Rogers Talks About Work.” The next-to-last episode featured him going to Wagner’s Market to buy some groceries. We get to meet some neighbors and see how a grocery store worked in 1984. While walking down the cereal aisle, he comments on how when he was a little boy, he’d want to get one of everything in the aisle, and the rest of the store, but how his parents wouldn’t let him get one of everything and he learned that people couldn’t get everything they wanted.

After getting his items, which shows him being friendly to everyone, he returns “home” and puts everything away, explaining how as a parent, there were reasons he had to say no to his children and that children can’t get everything they want. Then he announced it was time for make-believe.

So Mr. Rogers goes over to the bench where he operates Trolley and there’s a top hat there, closed. He pops it open to show his Television Neighbor, and as he takes it off and sits down says, off-hand, “All kinds of things you can think about and do in this world.” And then he sits down and gets Trolley.

The main theme of this episode is that not everybody can have everything. That choices have to be made and it’s the grown-ups in a child’s life who makes the choice. Once the child grows up, s/he can make the choice. This isn’t said with a snarl, or a wagging finger, but with love and respect. And even though that should be enough, it was the off-hand comment made as he was sitting down, “All kinds of things you can think about and do in this world,” that got me.

And there are! You and I, as adults, don’t need Fred Rogers to tell us this…but we do! How often in the busy grind of our lives do we stop and really pay attention? How often do we let life beat us down? The human mind is nearly limitless with imagination yet we begin to kill it the moment a child goes to school and is told to stand in line. Lines are important, so is order, but, as Mr. Rogers states at the end of the episode, so is play.

Fred Rogers ended his show in 2001. In December 2002, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On February 27th, 2003, he died.

There has been no one before his death or since that has been able to sit down and speak to a child through the television without talking down to him/her but still being the adult. Some critics say his message to children, that they special, is the wrong message to send. I disagree. We are all individuals, there is no one else like the person we know ourselves to be, yet Mr. Rogers also gave us a message of love, of helping one another, of tolerance. Of peace.

I feel, in this time when 24/7 news talking heads, Twitter and Facebook hate and shaming, and mass-violence and teenage suicide rates are through the roof, Mr. Rogers’s message is needed more than it ever has been before.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for the love you showed me. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for what you taught me when I was five, 28, and now 36. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for being you. There is no one like you.

Riding the (Radio) Waves, or Listen to Me, Mom!

Sorry about the silence of the last…oh…shit. I just looked it up and my last post was in February! Bad blogger! My apologies, my adoring public. I could give you the grocery list of reasons—being a teacher with grades due, stress, parenting a teenager, stress, parenting a toddler, stress, being a husband, stress, and stress—but I don’t want to bore you. What I want to do is:

1. Assure you that I’m alive and well and will return here with a real post sooner than later.

2. Let you know that this Saturday, April 12th—which happens to be the great David Letterman’s birthday—I will be making my first appearance on The Tim Weisberg Show! I first met Tim back in 2011 when I was invited to so his other radio show, Spooky Southcoast, which he co-hosts with Matt Costa. Tim has been very kind since then. I don’t know what we’ll talk about but probably pop culture stuff. Since we’re around the same age, we’ll probably fall into mutual fondness for bad 1980s cartoons, horror movies, and other such stuff. Either way, I’m pretty excited because I’ve enjoyed being on the radio in the past and Tim and I seem to get on pretty well.

I’ll be appearing on the 8 o’clock hour of the show. You can listen on the WBSM website or on the RadioPup app. Of course, if you live in the Greater New Bedford area on the Southcoast of Massachusetts, you can hear it on your actual terrestrial radio, on 1420 AM.

I’ll try to be entertaining. I promise.

Quickly Speaking

Just so you know…

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know I went through the Nightmare on Elm Street series of movies and I’ve since given the hint that I’ll be doing essays on Superman, too. Rest assured, I’m not intending to make this a media-related blog only. It’s just that I’ve been very busy with the six-month-old, the fifteen-year-old, my wife, my day job (teaching), and writing, which is, I suppose, why you come here. The essays are part of the writing category (I’m trying to broaden my horizons). Somewhere in all that, I need to sleep, to read, and to live. So…the in-between posts have been few and far between.

I intend to write some soon, though. I have thoughts on the horrible act of tagging, and I’m still thinking about doing what I call “Passive Aggressive Responses to Facebook Statuses That Annoy Me”. We’ll see about that last one.

So hang in there. Once school is done, I’m sure things will be a leetle easier.

Boston: A Love Letter

 

In 2007, I met my wife. She made herself known to me through a popular dating website on New Year’s Eve, 2006. I was cool, and waited a few hours to respond. A few days later, in the first week of 2007, she wrote back. Soon we were on the phone and soon we were meeting. We met at the Alchemist, a restaurant on South Huntington Avenue in Jamaica Plain, where she lived. For those of you who don’t know, Jamaica Plain is an area in Boston. One of the reasons I even replied to her, other than that her profile intrigued me, our headlines were almost the same thing, and her beauty, was the fact that she lived in Boston. I lived in the Southcoast city of New Bedford, an hour south of the state capitol. So in mid-January, we met outside the Alchemist. It was snowing. She helped me get there because I got lost. It went well.

It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with Jamaica Plain, to fall in love with Boston, and the Greater Boston Area. My social anxiety made it difficult. I had a panic attack on the streets of Harvard Square in Cambridge on a snowy February day, but by the day in May that my daughter met Pamela (we went to Franklin Park Zoo and then to a Fenway Regal Cinema to see Spider-Man 3), I was in love, not just with the woman whom I’d already suspected would be around for a while, but with Boston.

I moved in with Pamela that October. Unfortunately, I only got to live in Boston for a year and a half. The economy took a turn in 2008 and by February 2009, we couldn’t afford to live in the city anymore.

It still hurts. Just today, Pamela and I were longing for Boston. Pamela lived there for 18 years. By the time we had to leave, that was half her life. I know she misses it terribly. If the pain I get in my heart when I think about living in Boston is any indication, I wonder how she’s not brought to her knees by her pain.

Boston took me out of the small city (big town) that I grew I up in, a place with only two bookstores, two movie theaters (both multiplexes that show the current hits), and a narrow view of things to a real city with many bookstores, movie theaters (that showed a huge variety of movies), and diversity the likes of which I’d hardly seen. Boston also had a huge impact on my daughter Courtney. She was nine when she met Pamela and went to Boston for the first time. As she came more and more, we rode the T and rode the “bendy-buses”. We took her to the Museum of Fine Arts. The Prudential Center (aka, the Pru) and Boylston and Newbury Streets were a favorite destination, especially since Pamela worked in Copley Plaza.

Most of all, for the first time in my life, I really felt at home. Strange, that. Growing up in a small city, a city I love, never made me feel at home. For 30 years I felt like someone misplaced, odd, alien. It took moving to a major city where a small area like Jamaica Plain is more urban than downtown New Bedford, and bigger, too! I felt more at home.

I sometimes think we left too fast, that if we’d only stayed, something would’ve happened. Unfortunately, that something would most likely have been poverty and homelessness. I came back to the area I grew up in, my soon-to-be-wife in tow. But I knew where my home was: Boston.

So when I saw the news on Twitter this afternoon, and then Facebook, and then, hands shaking, when I turned on the TV, I was devastated. I was home alone with Genevieve, the five-month-old. Pamela had gone to the grocery store. I called her to tell her. I didn’t want someone to mention it to her or for her to overhear it. She has—excuse me—we have friends in the city.

Bombs. Destruction. Death. The news people were running around, the Boston channels had their news people right there. Shit, they all had teams covering the Marathon! Much like I did twelve years ago, I watched as events unfolded. Only instead of it being a city I didn’t know, buildings I’d driven by only once, in a bus, this time time I knew the city, had walked those streets with my family as well as alone. I’d cried once before Pamela came home, several times afterward. We wept and held each other. I contacted Courtney, and worry about her. She’s a freshman in high school now and planned on going to college in Boston. I hope she still wants to.

For me, I know I want to go back. With the baby, living in the city isn’t really what we want, but living close enough so that we could drive there one a weeknight for dinner, or to catch a show, or to just do something… Yeah, that’s what we want.

Tonight, I’m hurting. My wife is hurting. My teenage daughter is hurting. Most of all, my city, my adopted home is hurting.

A Sundry Post

So the response seemed pretty good to last week’s posting of my first essay in the Nightmare in Gautham series. I will begin revising the second essay tonight or tomorrow to have up on Thursday.

In case you missed it, last Friday I posted my short story “Snow Day” to the site. If you haven’t checked it out, please do so. People seem to really enjoy it. It’s a favorite of mine to read aloud because you can usually hear the audience react. Very cool.

Work on the novel continues and while I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about this faceless novel, I assure you that I’m making headway on it. And just to make stuff more interesting, I’ve begun a novella for fun. I don’t know if it’ll go anywhere, but I’m having fun with it.

Winter is finally winding down and I’m happy for it. It’s been a busy one. The baby is now 4 months old and the teenager turns 15 in less than a month. Talk about vertigo.

I finally finished The Twelve, Justin Cronin’s follow-up to The Passage. I enjoyed it but not as much as the first book. I’m interested in seeing where he goes for the third book.

My teenager has gotten me (finally) into Doctor Who. I’m in the 4th series (the Tenth Doctor) and am enjoying it, as I’m sure all of you have.

That’s pretty much it right now. Talk to you later.

Changes of Seasons, Changes of Times

I feel accomplished because I just finished an hourlong writing session. I edited and revised a section of my neverending novel. The one I seem to write about a lot. The sense of accomplishment is overshadowed by the fact that—with the exception of a few short bursts of editing over the last couple of weeks—I’ve hardly worked on the book since late August, when my day job (I’m a teacher) started up again.

I find that happens to me whenever there’s a change that occurs, which is problematic if one is to be a professional anything. Knowing this is an issue should make it easier for me to take care of it. As such I’m stating publicly, so I can be embarrassed if I fail, that I’m going to start doing a minimum of a half-hour of writing work every day. I got the timeframe from my writing colleague and buddy Lee Thompson who wrote about writing for a half hour every day.

I’ve been trying to get myself to work for two hours a day since the new school year began but I always find a reason (some may say excuse and I wouldn’t fault you for it, and may even agree with you deep down) not to sit down and do the work. I’m too tired is a biggy. My day is a long one with nearly an hour added to it since my daughter has become a student at my school. I leave the house at 6:35 to pick her up at my ex-wife’s (at 6:50). We arrive at school anytime between 7:00 and 7:20, depending on when she comes out. My day ends at 3, and if I have to wait for her for something, later. Then I bring her home and I’m not usually home until 3:45ish. At this point, two hours of more work feels like two days. By the time my wife gets home (6:20ish) and we have dinner, we’re at 7:30 and I have to iron clothes. After that, I’m too beat to do much more than read and/or watch TV until bed (between 9 and 10).

Now, the time between 4 and 6 is ample writing time. I know that. But teaching isn’t a relaxing job. I spend a lot of my day running around. Think Robin Williams. When I get home, I’m tired. And then I feel guilty. Because I love writing. This blog can help keep me sane in that way. Silly projects sometimes do, as well. Things that I don’t take seriously, just enjoy writing. But the novel…that’s work. Editing and revising is work for me. Fun work, once I get started, but work.

So Lee’s revelation that he works a half hour a day on his writing (I bet his daily schedule is even more crazed than mine) is an epiphany for me. The dude’s published something like a million books—novels, novellas, and stories—in the past year! I’m reading his first novel now and am enjoying it, and have begun saying to myself, “Thirty minutes a day.”

Today’s hour felt wonderful. With the baby coming (due in less than a month now!?), I know my time will be stretched even more, but I can commit to half an hour a day. Even if it means going someplace else for half an hour with my iPad and the Bluetooth keyboard to work.
_________

Speaking of the iPad and Bluetooth keyboard, this is the first time I’ve used to it to write something long. Writing on the iPad is weird. I may blog about this another time. Let me know if you think I should.

The Happiness My Girls Bring Me

I’d done this before.

The first time was fifteen years ago, when I was twenty. Back then, things were different. The idea of my having a child was hilarious, terrifying, and exciting at the same time. I didn’t know that I would soon leave college to take care of the baby and to pursue a writing career, something that I thought would take off if only I could sell my first story. My girlfriend, nineteen, lay on the table. We looked at the screen in the small room in a house that had been turned into the ultrasound office. We needed to know the sex of the baby. We were poor, to put it mildly. We wanted to know what we were having so we could plan. Even then I suspected my relationship with my girlfriend wouldn’t last, but upon seeing the baby on the monitor, I knew the love I felt for my daughter, Courtney, would always remain.

A few days ago, I found myself in a different small room. The woman lying on the table was my wife Pamela. I didn’t know she existed fifteen years ago, nor did she know I existed. Things are different. I’m thirty-four (with a -five waiting for me in August). I have a career now, two, actually. I like to say that by day, I’m a high school teacher, by night, I’m a writer. It doesn’t exactly work that way but it’s close enough. My first publication, a short story called “Icarus Falling” is thirteen years behind me. It didn’t light up my fledgling writing career. Actually, few people even noticed. My writing career wouldn’t really begin until 2003 with my fifth published short story, a little diddy called “The Growth of Alan Ashley.” I still like “Icarus Falling.” I still love “The Growth of Alan Ashley.” I’ve been teaching for five years and have been publishing for thirteen. I have three books under my belt, one of them dedicated to my daughter Courtney. Her mother and I were married in 2000. We were separated by 2004 and divorced a year later. We were still in high school when we started dating. It happens. We’re a cliché. I met Pamela in January 2007. Somehow, it’s worked better than I could ever have imagined.

As I stood near Pamela looking at the new baby on the screen, my heart melted, just as it had the day before when I watched my fourteen-year-old go up to get trophies at a bowling banquet. The ultrasound lady asked me and Pamela if we wanted to know the sex. We looked at each other with dopey grins. “Yes,” we said.

“It’s a girl.”

I’ve heard those words before. It brought joyful tears fifteen years ago and it brought joyful tears the other day.

This is Pamela’s first child. I’m happy to be the one who gets to share this with her. I’m happy I have Courtney to share this with, too. It’s strange. For a long time, I didn’t think I’d ever have another child. For a long time I didn’t want one. Courtney is beautiful, intelligent, funny, and truly someone I adore and admire. I have done–and will continue to do–the best job possible for her. Now to know that there will be another young woman who I can be there for, to retell stories, to share first times with, is amazing to me. How’d I get here?

This is great. This is wonderful. I’ll always find something to bitch about in this life, but I’ll also always relish in the happiness my girls bring me.

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