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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On children yelling when you wash their hair

(This was in a facebook thread a while back, and I thought I would blog it, and, as so many things do, it ended up hanging around in the Drafts folder. Here it is, shorn of all its original context...)

We have a dual role in our childrens' lives. We are the source of non-negotiable hard things, and we are the source of comfort in the face of those hard things. It is sometimes confusing to inhabit these two opposing roles. But really you get to feel great both about making sure [your kid] has clean hair, and that he has someone near him who loves him when he is enduring hard things.

And, of course, the slings and arrows of the day build up and the kids don't know how to address or release them until some little thing happens -- having to wash one's hair, losing a button -- and that becomes the trigger to let it out. They kids are not actually being turds -- the turds in question are the demons of self-doubt that make us feel bad about being parents no matter how great a job we do (in both roles). The kids are just doing their job in life; mourning the pressing tragedy of the incompleteness of their control over the world. It's often actually doing the kid a favor to impose that last difficulty or limit that opens the floodgates and releases all the day's troubles, especially if we can muster the attention to be compassionate while scrubbing.

Not guilty -- guilt is a distraction from compassion. Amusement is a better accompaniment. And even when we have no compassion and are also dragged down into frustration and crankiness, as long as they can tell that however bad our mood is, we love them, that's more than enough.

(Of course, this was a thread about little kids. My kids are now much too big to allow anyone else to wash their hair! But the principles apply in their own way to big kids, and to adults, too: sometimes we support people best by requiring things of them -- sometimes these things unleash tempests of emotions. If we can stick to our guns and also hold onto a big, compassionate, loving view of the person we are confronting, it is a great and generous gift. This is as true of rejecting a manuscript as it is of insisting on dishes being cleared...)

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"The Orange" in German

I had a terrific time this morning with the students (and some teachers) of Klasse 2E of Gymnasium am Münsterplatz.

(Despite what the word "gymnasium" means in English, there were no monkey bars or Nautilus machines in evidence; a Gymnasium in Switzerland is an academically-oriented high school -- it's interesting where the two languages went with the same root. This particular group of kids is specializing in Philosophy, Psychology, and Pedagogy -- which is pretty darn interdisciplinary by Swiss standards. They specialize early here).

They asked me in to talk to them during their "project week"; they were interested both in my career as a fiction writer, and also in my former career as a computer game programmer. I basically used this as an opportunity to tell my whole life story, from giving up writing as a college sophomore, to formally dropping out of Brown in order to actually learn Italian on my junior year abroad (and how the totally random decision to study in Siena rather than Perugia was an inflection point that, because I met and fell in love with Esther, determined the entire course of my subsequent life), to stalling the decision of what to do with my life by going off to a kibbutz ulpan, to life as a party clown and junior programmer amid the tangled highways of Silicon Valley, to taking up writing again, to househunting with friends in 2003 and failing to find a house with them... and so on. The moral, I guess, was that although they tell you you have to choose what to do with your life, in fact the path is random and chaotic and you may end up in very different places that you ever expected -- or in places you once abandoned hope of getting to -- and so you should probably focus on just doing things that are interesting and that you like and learn from, rather than on getting everything right.

I told them from the beginning of my talk that I planned to exploit them as unpaid labor, so, in the second half, we translated my story "The Orange" into German, and then watched the film of it.

Presenting here for the first time, translated by Klasse 2E of Gymnasium am Münsterplatz... "Die Orange"!

(Grossen Dank an euch alle!)

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Night Waking" at Journey Into...

Marshal Latham of The Journey Into Podcast and his family do a terrific job with an audio version of my story Night Waking... little Nicole Latham steals the show.

It's promoting the Kickstarter campaign to reboot Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt's wonderful "little zine with teeth", Flytrap, where "Night Waking" first appeared. (In fact, there's a story to the story; I told Heather I'd write her one if she gave me very specific directions; she asked for a "700-word Borgesian meditation on fatherhood". The story I ended up writing is not really Borgesian, but the prompt got me started, which is half the battle.)

They're going to do a terrific job with the reborn Flytrap, so go support the worthy cause of resurrecting it.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Dear Barry & Mike

There is something that makes me very sad about Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg descending into whiny self-parody in the SFWA Bulletin.

As much as part of their schtick has always been to flaunt and revel in their old-timey dinosaurness (something which, you know, you'd never catch their elders Ursula Le Guin or Carol Emschwiller doing, or even Fred Pohl), they have also typically displayed a certain dignity and pragmatism.

But it takes a certain kind of willful blindness not to get that slathering wolf whistles all over your tribute to women editors of years past might piss off... well, pretty much anyone born after 1960.

It's not that we don't know how it was when you guys came up. We know that back in the day, talking loudly about Andre Norton looking good in a bathing suit was supposed to be a gracious compliment about which she should be merrily grateful, while talking about Isaac Asimov in a bathing suit was always a laugh line, a way of ribbing on him, but gently ribbing, because who in their right mind would actually care about how he looked in a bathing suit? We know this. We get it. We can make the imaginative leap to your context.

And we get that when you're hanging out together typing stuff up for SFWA it must feel like it's *still* thenadays, and that the temptation is great to just swim in the sweet, sweet nostalgia of when men were men and even the toughest broad cared about her hemline and fedoras were not ironic in the least.

So I'm not even mad about that first slip-up.

What upsets me, though, is that you apparently can't make the imaginative leap to our context. You apparently don't get that talking about how hot an editor is in a skirt -- not in a love letter or a roast or an autobiographical reminiscence, mind you, but in the three sentences you're planning to devote to sum up the influence of her career in a grand retrospective in the central house organ of her writers' organization -- is, for us, kind of disgusting. I don't use that word as an ad hominem attack, or hyperbolically. I mean it clinically and carefully. The emotion it evokes is disgust: like finding a clod of rotten, moldy dirt in your favorite sugary breakfast cereal.

(Disgust is all about context. There is nothing wrong with rotten, moldy dirt in your garden, under the mulch. There is nothing wrong with a delightful anecdote about how hot the SF writers of yesteryear were, in your memoirs. But to climb up on the awards stage and make your presentation speech all about how the winner gives you a boner... see, it's not the desire there that's gross. Go desire! Desire is human and lovely. No, what's gross is the power. You get to talk about her boobs; you know perfectly well no one is ever going to use your moment onstage to talk about yours.)

And then, honestly guys, the confused ramble about censorship? ("I don't know if anyone is trying to censor us, because they are anonymous to me, though perhaps not anonymous to those who went and looked at how they signed their posts, but if they were, that would be bad" -- wtf?) That's just painful. Like, if you say something that sucks, and we tell you it sucks, that's... censorship? Stalinism?

I don't think we need to spend any time here, I think you actually get perfectly well what a tremendously facile and silly argument that is, and in fact, at that point, I think you were just trolling. That is, having been accused of being insensitive jerks, you are on purpose acting more jerky, so people will yell more, so that you can laugh and point. I hope that's not what it is; doubling down on jerk is, you realize, a pathetic retreat, not a valiant stand.

I don't know you guys personally, but I've been reading you for years, and there are men of your generation and background, whom I love, whom I can well imagine doing this. Speaking unthinkingly as if it's still 1958 and the boys' club, and then, when called on it, trying to wrap themselves in the flag. That's why it makes me sad.

Please cut it out. You're better than that. Act like the men you want to be. Can you imagine Bogart and Jimmy Stewart hurting a woman's feelings and then going on a rant about how she deserved it and is trying to control them? No, no you can't. They would listen until they understood, and then gracefully apologize. So come on. You do the same. Time to earn those fedoras.

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