Thursday, 31 May 2012

When Life Imitates Fiction In A Bad Way

Every news outlet has been buzzing about the dismembered body parts mailed to various government groups.  It reminds me there's always a "ewww" factor when these things happen in reality versus on a fictional show.  But sadly, the writers of crime shows are not nearly as disgustingly creative as actual psychopaths.

One of the experts they were interviewing on CBC was insisting that this was a new kind of killer, one driven by media attention.  He was vague on how this constitutes a new class of murder and since I seem to recall the Zodiac serial killer had a very detailed interest in his press coverage, I don't see how adding Facebook and YouTube into the mix makes it any different.

I was a little disappointed to hear that several people had tried to alert the police to the alleged snuff video but were told it was likely only special effects.  I can't blame the police since I have no idea how many of these things are brought to their attention.  Hindsight brings clarity but rarely any useful insights.  If I had heard about it, I likely would have wanted to believe it was only special effects rather than someone sick and crazy enough to kill someone on film.

I almost didn't post about this because I believe the killer wants attention and I feel it's everyone's responsibility to make sure he doesn't get it.  The focus should be on the victim.  Yet at the same time, there's a terrible fascination for this glimpse into the depths of darkness in the human psyche.

It used to be assumed that humans were the only animal which killed solely for pleasure.  Not territory or food, but just to kill.  But chimps have been documented leading what can only be described as killing mobs, a group of chimps that move silently into another group's territory to find an isolated chimp and kill it.  Perhaps these unthinkable impulses have marred our evolution for longer than we'd like to believe.

I hope the killer is caught and brought to justice soon.  I hope this doesn't trigger a wave of copycats.  I hope that something catches the media's attention which can restore our faith rather than playing to our fears.

Because for every sick, twisted individual out there, there are lots of decent people.  I believe that truly and sincerely.  Humanity as a whole doesn't deserve to be defined by the worst of us.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Brat Rage Continued

In the first post, I talked about why brat rage wouldn’t have the claimed result.  But I didn’t talk about my very real fears for my children.

I am terrified about not being there when someone decides to take out their frustration on my child.  It’s a high risk.  They behave oddly and sometimes aggressively.  As they get older, people’s tolerance for non-typical behaviour gets smaller.  Once they’re ostracized, it becomes easier and more acceptable for other people to strike out at them.

We’re social creatures.  We’ve evolved to depend on our social interactions for survival.  Loss of the group’s support and approval can and does lead to tragic consequences.  When someone is identified as being outside the group, it becomes part of the group dynamic to show that they are excluded.  Rudeness becomes acceptable, followed by more aggressive steps if the outsider doesn’t get the message.  People on the receiving end of this ostracism can go one of two ways.  Their spirits are crushed or they embrace their anti-social position, becoming even worse.

My children are bright, genuine little people.  I don’t want them to be crushed by society and I certainly don’t want them lashing back at those who haven’t accepted them.  There are problems with their behaviour, no question.  But there’s something worthwhile under that and I don’t want someone in a temper to scar them emotionally.  No one deserves that.

The only defence I have is to work on their behaviour, specifically aggressive behaviour.  Make them less of a potential target.  I may not be able to prevent ostracism, but I can certainly try to minimize the odds of them being physically attacked.  It adds urgency to what was already a difficult situation.

It would be much better if people could react with compassion instead of offence.  It seems like there’s no trust in our society any more.  At its root, brat rage says: I can’t trust the parents to manage their child, so I have to take direct action.  It’s vigilante justice, which often results in innocent people getting hurt in real life.  There are always multiple sides to an issue, no matter how simple we would prefer it to be.  Selected context can twist just about anything.  Taking direct action against a brat can become an assault on a disabled child.  The words create the spin and define the perceived reality.

Most people aren’t violent.  I may get a lot of disapproving “bad parent” looks, but that’s usually as far as it goes.  Sometimes I get unasked for opinions and advice.  And once in awhile, things go further.  It’s not acceptable and it spotlights the incredible vulnerability of me and my children.  The attackers may be dealing with their own issues and I imagine they often feel sorry afterwards, but that doesn’t change the terror they’ve unleashed in the moment.  It can’t be taken back, no matter how many apologies happen.  It can become a life-changing event and the victims will never be the same as they were before.

That’s why I believe we should expect better from ourselves.  Expressing feelings is all well and good but there should be respect and compassion for others as well.  You can get the same relief of venting by complaining to friends or family as by directly confronting the object of your frustration.  The feelings themselves are completely justified, but expressing them violently overshadows everything else.

It’s time to renew the virtues of decorum and self-restraint.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Geeking Out As A Parent

Every night I sing a song to each of my boys.  Alex is very predictable, he likes to hear Madonna's Drowned World/Substitute for Love.  But Nathan likes to switch it up.  Some of his favourites include What A Wonderful World (he calls it Trees of Green), The Rainbow Connection (the Muppet Rainbow Song), Sentimental Journey (the Train Song), Glory of Love, The Rose and Sing A Rainbow.  He'll be fine for a few weeks and then he'll demand a new song to be added to the repetoire.

A few days ago, he demanded a new song and I drew a blank.  All I could think of were really depressing songs from Les Miserables or pop songs that I only half knew the lyrics toI try to pick songs that have a nice message and that I don't mind singing (since I'll have to do it a lot if he likes it).  Singing a child to sleep with On My Own or Empty Chairs at Empty Tables just doesn't seem right.  And don't get me started on the lyrics for Pink Floyd (my husband suggested Comfortably Numb or Mother).  I think I'll wait until he's already a depressed teenager before singing messages that love is hopeless and he should trust no one.

I'm sitting there, trying to think of something good and knowing he hasn't been fond of the Disney selections I've tried in the past (it's unnatural but what can you do?) when I was struck by inspiration.

Sheldon's sickie song, Soft Kitty, from the show Big Bang Theory.

So I tried it (and yes, I already knew the words).  It's a simple little song.

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur.
Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr, purr, purr.

That's it.  Less than 30 seconds to sing and that's if you do it twice.

And Nathan loved it.  He's asked for it again and again since.  He sits in my lap and pretends to be a little kitten purring and rubbing his head against my arms.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Brat Rage

A friend forwarded this article to me:


It talks about the phenomena of brat rage, where people take it upon themselves to physically discipline children who are misbehaving.  It’s a terrifying phenomenon for someone whose children have special needs but aren’t visually distinct from typical children.

I’ve seen it happen.  Another mother pulled her hand back to slap Alex while we were at the park.  I grabbed her arm and held it briefly.  She screamed something uncomplimentary and stormed off with her child.  I was grateful I was close and have fast reflexes but it could have been a very bad situation.

When did it become okay to physically hit or shove someone else’s child?  I can understand the frustration at misbehaving children, especially when the parents or caregivers are ignoring the problem.  After five years of being immersed into the world of autism, I can generally pick up the difference between a child with autism and one who is just running wild (although I try to give the benefit of the doubt). 

When a child comes up and snatches a toy from my child and then deliberately breaks it, I feel the same irritation and anger that anyone else would.  But I never forget that this is a child.  They don’t have the experience or knowledge to truly understand what they’re doing.  This is an unflattering metaphor, but a misbehaving small child is no different than a misbehaving pet.  It’s the parents (or owner) who haven’t done their job.

Those who support physically disciplining other people’s children say they’re teaching those children a lesson.  Teaching them that people won’t tolerate that kind of behaviour.  They’re deluding themselves.

Hitting a child just teaches them that bigger bullies call the shots.  Might makes right.  Teaching proper behaviour is a long, drawn out process.  Even with neurotypical children, it takes a long time, especially if you’re having to correct previously allowed activities. 

Take the example of biting.  From a child’s perspective, biting works.  Bite another child and they drop the toy you want, they leave you alone, they make a big reaction or the biter become the center of attention.  If any of these results are something the child wants, then biting is an efficient way to get there.  To teach the biter that biting isn’t a good behaviour, you first have to figure out why the child is doing it.  Then you can start teaching them alternative acceptable behaviours that will do the same thing and actively prevent them from slipping back to the old problem behaviour.  If the child has been biting for weeks, it can take months to fix the problem. 

A single incident of violence isn’t going to sudden teach someone the error of their ways.  It’s only likely to make the problem worse.  The only thing it does is provide a momentary relief of frustration for the attacker.

I expect adults to hold to a higher standard of behaviour.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sucking Up Complaints and Getting My Hands Dirty

I was thinking about my earlier post “House Envy” and specifically, my complaints about my worn-out couches.  My great-grandmother was an amazing craftswoman, adept at sewing and all sorts of artistic embellishment.  She had incredible patience and an eye for detail.  She had a small stone cat that she decided was too plain and so she clipped plush fur from a stuffed toy and glued it, tuft by tuft, onto the stone cat.  When she finished, it looked professionally done.

She told me that you can teach yourself to do almost anything provided you’re willing to take your time and be patient. 

So I decided to swallow my complaints and teach myself the finer points of upholstering.  I’m a decent sewer.  I’m tall, but on the short side of tall with a short waist and long arms.  Which means I end up having to alter a lot of my clothes to make them fit.  I sew Hallowe’en costumes for my children and over the last few years, I’ve patched a number of the holes on our couches.

I ventured out and bought myself a set of upholstery needles and three king-sized bedsheets.  Then I spent the next four days custom fitting a set of slipcovers onto our couches.  I’ve tried standard slipcovers in the past and discovered they don’t tend to stay put very well.  Instead of simply wrapping fabric around the couch frame, I sewed it into the upholstery.  That should keep everything in place as children and cats bounce all over the living room.

It looks pretty good if I dare say so myself.  Once again my great-grandmother’s advice has been proved right. 

Saturday, 26 May 2012

42

I've just had a lovely evening of geeking out with friends to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  This year, Dave turns 42, which every Hitchhiker fan knows is the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

The books (at least the first few) are hilarious, but it's a verbal sense of humour.  Sadly, this means it doesn't translate well to film.  The movie version of Hitchhiker is great for fans but I imagine it's probably rather incomprehensible for those who aren't familiar with the material.

I discovered Hitchhiker when I was a teenager.  The description of a hapless ordinary Joe who bumbles through the universe after the Earth is destroyed by an interstellar construction force appealed to my dark sense of humour.  The revelation that the Earth was a giant computer program built by aliens and run by mice appealed to my hormone-fueled paranoia and burgeoning conspiracy awareness.  And the wonderful and unexpected descriptions brought me back to the series again and again.

Who doesn't love description such as "they hung in the sky in the exact way that bricks don't" or "a beverage almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea"?  Douglas Adams probably sparked my lifelong love of witty and unusual wordplay.  Not to mention steering me towards science fiction.

I've heard people complain about the silliness of it all.  But a little silliness is good in life.  Otherwise we'd all be like Marvin the Robot, smart and horribly depressed.  Silliness can restore you in ways all the good intentions in the world can't manage. 

Maybe that's why the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.  It's absurd and silly, practically meaningless.  If there's no grand plan to life (which certainly seems possible some days) then laughing at it is the best defence we have.

In Babylon 5, the character Marcus utters something to the effect that he takes great comfort in the unfairness of the universe.  Because it would be awful if we deserved all the horrible things that happened to us.

I take comfort in our neverending ability to find meaningless and inappropriate humour in the face of great tragedy.  As long as we have that, we'll get through somehow.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Consumer Confidence or Recklessness?

I was listening to a news program on CBC and the reporter was talking about the lack of consumer confidence in the economy.  By which he meant, people are not spending as much money as they were before.

How is this a bad thing?  Did we not just go through a major economic crisis because people were spending far more than their income could afford?  Are we not still dealing with those repercussions?

Complaining that people aren't spending as much is like complaining your car isn't going as fast as it was right before it crashed into something.  Technically true, but neither is actually a good situation.  Spending was out of control, people were racking up more debt than they could ever hope to pay off.  To continue with my car accident metaphor, we didn't just hit a buried curb, we were skidding on ice and smashed into a very foreseeable brick wall.

The last thing the government should be doing is encouraging people to go back to their pre-crisis spending habits.  Our economy might not churn as quickly but we'll be a lot better prepared for unforeseen setbacks.  If our economic model depends on reckless spending, then we need a new model.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Golden Rule

I heard something years ago which stuck with me.  The infamous Golden Rule "Do under others as you would have them do unto you" is backwards.

Rather than doing things for other people that you would like them to do for you, you should do things for other people that they would like you to do.

There's a lot of misunderstandings which happen because people aren't paying attention to the reactions of other people.  Someone who likes to talk and share after a difficult situation tries to push their preferences on someone who would prefer to have quiet time to sort through their own thoughts.  The quiet person begins to get flustered and irritated and eventually, if the talking person continues to push, you end up with a fight.  Or vice versa, the quiet person walks away, leaving the talking person alone and the talking person feels abandoned.

Our emotions have been compared to a beetle in a box.  We all have a box and inside we all have what we call a "beetle" but we can't see into anyone else's box.  Our beetles could all be very different but we assume they're all the same. 

It's difficult to throw away preconceptions about what works.  There's a built-in drive to treat people fairly, which we usually equate with treating them the same.  But it's not fair to treat people all the same.

Alex likes to have a quiet time to himself at the end of the day.  Most of his day is full of people pushing his comfort zone and telling him what to do.  I would like to spend time cuddling with him and playing with him, but he wants to have some time totally free of social demands.  I have to respect that.  I can't assume he reacts and thinks the same way I do.  Another child might feel alone and neglected but Alex needs to have his quiet space.  He sees social interaction as stress, even when it's loving.

He's not shy about telling me what he needs.  If I try to play with him, or if I even try to sit down in the same room, he takes me by the hand and takes me to another room.  It took me awhile to believe him but I'm glad I did.  Even if it makes me a little sad, it's worth it to see him happy.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

What Happens Next - House (Finale Spoilers)

In my post What Happens After Happily Ever After? I mention that I often find myself wondering and imagining what happens after the credits roll. 

House's final episode pulled something fairly close to a happily ever after.  House faked his own death to avoid jail time and rode off on a motorcycle with his best friend, Wilson, who has five months to live.

Naturally I am unsatisfied with this conclusion.  Not in an annoyed-with-the-series way, since they had to end it, they did well with the ending.

But here's my theory on what would happen to the characters.  We see that Chase takes over as Head of Diagnostics, Foreman continues as Dean of Medicine, Cameron as the head of the ER.  Those stories I see continuing more or less as is.  They take what they learned from House and are better, more efficient doctors.  It's a good legacy.

But what happens to House and Wilson?  In their final on-screen exchange, Wilson tries to talk about what he wants when his cancer begins to get bad.  House stops him, saying "Cancer is boring."

House has faked his own death.  He can't be a doctor any more.  No more diagnostic puzzles to solve.  He's given up the one thing he cares most passionately about in order to be with his best friend during the last few months of Wilson's life.  Not bad for a self-professed ass whose selfish actions have defined the series.

I don't think it could last. 

House has never been able to resist a puzzle when he saw it.  Even when he knew it would cost him his freedom (at the beginning of the season when he was in jail) or his health (when his psychologist told him he absolutely had to stay away from medicine and the hospital to avoid relapsing into drugs), the puzzle was always more important.  I could see a potential reunion TV movie, three to five years from now, where rumours of miraculous diagnoses lead House's old team back to him.  He won't be able to resist revealing himself.

They wouldn't even have to leave Robert Sean Leonard off the cast list.  House has had many hallucinations acting for his subconscious mind.  Although Wilson would be dead, a hallucinatory Wilson would probably continue to provide advice and warnings.  So House wouldn't be entirely without his best friend. 

I'm not sure where the story would go from there, but I think those two facets are inevitable if House survives past Wilson's death.  He wouldn't be able to resist the medical puzzles he would run across and he would continue to hallucinate Wilson.

I say "if House survives" because I don't think that part is guaranteed.  House is self-destructive and prone to dramatic, simple solutions to his pain.  I would guess there would be a significant chance House would commit suicide, deliberately or subconsciously, when Wilson finally died.

Those are the two paths I see stretching out after close to eight years of watching these particular characters.  I don't know if anyone will professionally revisit the world of House, although I'm sure fanfiction will continue to churn.

For myself, I'm content to wish them all well on their future fictional paths.  They entertained and made us think, laugh and cry.  You can't ask any more than that.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

When Your Brain Holds You Hostage

I’ve been trying to be a good professional little writer and focus on getting the first draft of my Sidhe sequel done.  I have my outline, I like my concept and I’m excited to continue the story.

But a large portion of my brain is devoting itself to ideas and scenes for another novel I was working on, the tale of a feral burlesque dancer and a psychometric youth counselor.  Words are flowing out of my brain as if someone else is dictating them to me, sometimes literally faster than I can type them out.

And yet, when I turn my attention to my as-yet untitled rival, I hear the siren song of the Sidhe calling to me, reminding me of all the fun I had writing the first novel and how much fun remains to be had with the second (and eventually, third).

Add in an unusually busy schedule due to birthday season and preparing for Dave’s upcoming cancer treatment and the two halves of my creative brain have been battling royally for the much diminished laptop time.  Sadly, I am one of these people who truly doesn’t function well without sleep, so I can’t stay up late to try and get these stories out of my head.

On the one hand, it’s nice to have not one but two stories jostling for completion.  I think every writer fears eventually running out of ideas, so it’s good to know my brain is still fertile.  But on the other hand, I know I don’t write well when I’m too distracted.  Immersing myself in a single world helps me to keep that world consistent, which is important when you’re making up a big portion of it.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to work with these competing urges but so far, it’s not clear what to try.  I was focusing on the Sidhe novel and just trying to get down detailed notes for the other, so that I’d have them to spark new interest when I had more time.  It hasn’t been completely successful.

I think I need to find a way to increase my writing time or output.  Get both these stories out as quickly as possible because more ideas are bubbling in my brain.

Monday, 21 May 2012

King Lear and Musings on Race

I’ve been doing some more thinking about the all aboriginal production of King Lear which I saw.  Specifically about how some people insist all Shakespeare should be performed in Elizabethan dress and  by British actors since to do otherwise misses the context.

I disagree with that statement.

Context is important.  No question, but I’ve been wondering if race is as contextually important as society presents it.

I was stymied in a debate a few years ago when Samuel L. Jackson took on the role of Nick Fury for Marvel movies.  One of my friends was upset about the decision, claiming it “completely changed” the character.  I was surprised at the vehemence and insisted it wasn’t a critical change, to which I received the incredulous “You don’t think race is a critical factor?”

I didn’t have a good answer then and so it’s floated in and out of my thoughts since, getting put through the gristmill of my mind.  Was I insisting race wasn’t important out of a liberal politically-correct blindness?  After all, we all know racism is still a problem and there have been numerous experiments where people reported very different experiences after being made up to look like different races.

Yet it’s still stuck in my mind that casting Samuel L. Jackson as opposed to say … Anthony Hopkins wasn’t a big deal.  (And by the way, I love Mr. Jackson’s Nick Fury.)  Same as I don’t see a problem with casting Shakespeare with different ethnicities. 

Here’s my attempt to justify my instinctual position:  I don’t think race matters as much as background and experience.  If you’ve lived in a suburb with a fairly comfortable financial status throughout your life, then it shapes your view of the world.  Your view will probably be close to another lifetime suburbanite even if the two of you are of different races.  If you’ve grown up poor in a gang-controlled area, your view is going to be different than the suburbanite, even if you share a race.

Thus I don’t have a problem believing in Jackson’s portrayal.  I know Nick Fury’s backstory (mostly) and the performance is consistent with it.  The skin colour is incidental.

I’ve been challenged to see if I’d say the same if one of my favourite characters were changed.  Say if Batman was played by Chow Yung Fat, or Wolverine by Will.i.am.  I’ll be honest and say I probably wouldn’t be an initial fan of the casting choice.  But then I’d want to see how they did with the role.  People can surprise you and sometimes you can find amazing insight through unexpected changes.  And sometimes the changes don’t work and it’s crap.  But I’m more inclined to blame the performer and director than the concept.

So maybe once Christian Bale is done with the cape and cowl, they can call Mr. Fat’s agent.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

House Envy

Nathan has been having playdates at his friends’ houses which means I’m getting a look inside the other houses in the neighbourhood.  And now I’m suffering from house envy.

Not in a bad way.  I’m pleased for them that they have such lovely homes, beautifully decorated and maintained.  But I can’t help but wish we had one, too.  When we first moved in, I had a lot of ideas for improvements.  I wanted to save up for granite countertops.  I wanted to build custom shelves for all our books.  I wanted a large playroom in the basement with a full bathroom and a sauna.  I wanted to replace all of our IKEA furniture with more solid, elegant pieces.

Ten years later, most of these things haven’t happened.  The few nice pieces we had begun to accumulate have started seriously wearing out.  Unfortunately, the money we would have used has gone to pay for autism therapy.  If I had even a small fraction of it, I could have done major renovations or purchases every year. 

I don’t regret the choice to put our resources into our boys and their future.  It was never even really a question.  But it doesn’t stop me from being wistful and wishing we could have nicer things.  I feel ashamed to invite the other moms over when their children come on playdates.  Our couches are starting to be more patches than original upholstery.  It bothers me to feel that way about our home.

I draw a little comfort from knowing we’re not the only ones in this situation.  A lot of families with special needs find themselves stretched financially.  There are a lot of creative tips on saving money on the websites.  I’ve even contributed some myself, like saving on laminating costs by using clear packing tape on pictures for the schedule or for communication.

We’re going to be pinching and stretching our pennies for a long time to come.  I accept that.  I’m even a little proud of our new-found skills to repair items we already have or jury-rig solutions.  But it won’t stop me from wishing we could have a home which matched the vision in my head.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

King Lear and Art

I went to see an all-aboriginal casting of Shakespeare’s King Lear this weekend.  The reviews had been mixed, some loving the idea but not liking the execution and others not liking the idea at all.  The play was set during the early years of North American colonization.  The idea interested me and I wanted to see how it was done.  One neat feature was the costuming, Goneril, Reagan and Edmund regularly appeared in more European clothing, highlighting their separation from their societal and family ties.  Another was the choice to have the same actress playing both Cordelia and the Fool.  Both are trying to awaken Lear to his role in his downfall and it made some interesting subtexts in the dialogue.

In all, I would say it was a solid performance and one I was happy to see.  I’ve always considered Lear to be a difficult play since the societal assumptions and roles have changed so much since Shakespeare’s time.  Fathers and kings no longer receive the unquestioned devotion of their subjects and children.

I saw a version in Stratford where the director portrayed Lear as having Alzheimer’s.  I thought that was an interesting approach and one which fit his behaviour well.  Lear’s irrational shifts between demands and tears, his descent into madness, his apparent inability to tolerate any dissent or discussion about his behaviour, those are all familiar to those whose loved ones suffer from Alzheimer’s.  It gave Goneril and Reagan some useful sympathy.  Rather than vicious unnatural vipers intent on destroying their father, they are women attempting to manage their father’s illness.  It made their later actions harder to understand, in terms of their war to seduce Edmund, but I thought the choice worked.  Purists might complain and wonder if Shakespeare was even aware of Alzheimer’s as a disease, but that’s for historians to debate.

I wonder sometimes how Shakespeare would feel about modern interpretations and adaptations of his plays.  I’m sure he’d be both tickled and flabbergasted to realize they were still being performed four hundred years after his death.  There are times I imagine he’d be frustrated by tedious and weighty performances, full of sonorous importunings.  I can see him charging out of the wings, shouting “No! No! No!” before rolling up his sleeves and directing the actors.  From his work, I would guess that Shakespeare loved to laugh.  The jokes and plays on words speak for themselves.  Even in tragedy, he inserts wry jests and comic relief.

In fact, if I may dare critique, sometimes I think the jokes distract from the story.  The Fool in Lear is a fun character, lots of fun to watch, but he distracts from the events of the story.

(Waiting to see if lightning strikes me down from the heavens for my impertinence … Nope?  Okay, still good.)

To me, the genius of Shakespeare was the universality of his characters and his ability to use the English language like an artist uses paint.  The plots of his plays are mostly lifted from history or contemporary culture and tend to be melodramatic.  But the language and characters transcend the predictability.  You don’t go to a Shakespeare play to be surprised by the ending.  (Or else they certainly wouldn’t have lasted this long.)  You go to enjoy the journey.

I like the character developed in Shakespeare in Love.  It feels genuine.  He’s a writer who is desperate to get his work done but he’s also frustrated with the limitations available to him, the “notes” from the theatre owner and his life in general.  He’s not an isolated genius sitting in an ivory tower and penning great works, he’s a playwright who wants to make rent and food money.  I think it’s important not to forget that the plays weren’t intended to be scholarly subjects.  They were meant to be performed and enjoyed by an audience.  Hopefully enjoyed enough that they’d come back for the next one.  They were commercial.

Art done for popular culture isn’t necessarily invalidated by its own popularity.  I’ve always believed that if a piece was so obscure that it needed a ream of footnotes to be understood, then the artist didn’t do a good job of connection with his or her audience.  Not everything which is popular is good (cough, cough, reality TV, cough).  But if it connects with a lot of people over a long period of time, then you’ve got to look at it again and see what is resonating.

Friday, 18 May 2012

I Love Death Scenes (Fringe Finale Spoiler)

I love a good death scene.  The raw emotion appeals to both my inner drama queen and my inner cavewoman.  I love them because they’re honest (which may be odd to say about fictional stories and characters but still true).  When one character dies, the other characters show their true emotions in the moment.  If someone has just been killed in front of you, that’s a crisis and people always show their true colours in a crisis.

There is a scene which has stuck with me from childhood.  I can’t remember what show it was from or how old I was when I saw it but it has played over in my head thousands of times.  I suspect it was one of the Hasbro sponsored Japanese anime shows which I grew up on (dating me for anyone who cares to do a little research). 

The woman has been injured or infected with something fatal (can’t remember, isn’t important).  She’s lying on a hospital bed with one of her teammates by her side, the one who has been the romantic interest, at least to my keen eyes.  He’s holding her hand between his as the steady beeping of the machine begins to slow.  He doesn’t say anything, just stares at her with hard, wild, heartbroken eyes.  His hands tighten on hers.  The beeping stops and her hand goes limp.

Doctors start to flurry around the bedside (and I am sitting on my couch with my hand in front of my mouth telling myself that she can’t have really died!  It wouldn’t be fair!).  He puts her hand down gently on the bed, stands up and walks out of the room.  One of the other teammates reaches out to comfort him but he shrugs off the gesture and keeps walking.  We only saw his back but his steps were steady and purposeful.

He walks out of their headquarters out into a rainstorm, completely ignoring the rain pounding down.  I remember flashes showing his boots and clothes with water pouring down them, still walking at that same deliberate pace.

Then he stops.

He looks up at the sky, his face still hard except for his eyes, which are screaming pain.  For a moment, he stands there, rain streaming down his face.  Then he collapses onto his knees, still staring up at the sky, and begins to bellow out his rage and pain.  I can’t describe the noise but it lives in my head as the sound of ultimate torment, of a soul deprived of everything which ever gave life meaning and robbed of all hope and joy.

I haven’t gone back to try and watch it again.  It probably isn’t nearly as good as my memory paints it.  But the raw emotion of it struck me and I’ve carried it with me ever since.  When I read the Wolverine comics where he has to kill the love of his life, Mariko, because she’s been poisoned with something incredibly painful and lingering, and they describe him as howling to the heavens, that’s the sound I imagined he made.

Other scenes have impinged themselves into my memory, some from the most surprising sources.  There was a sequence in Justice League where Wonder Woman is trying to stop a rocket and it buries itself into the earth with her underneath it.  Batman jumps up and begins frantically digging at the earth, knocking Superman back on his butt when the Man of Steel tries to tell him there’s no hope.  It takes three of them of them to haul him back.  His face sets into this stone mask and you just know he’s being ripped apart inside.  Then the rocket begins to move and Wonder Woman comes out.  Everyone is congratulating her except Batman.  He’s still standing off to one side.  She looks at him and he very deliberately hides his muddy gloves behind his cape.

Another favourite of mine was the season finale of Castle from last year when Beckett gets shot by the sniper.  Castle’s face goes blank with shock and then he leaps forward to get to her before anyone else.  You can tell he’s panicking and desperate, his voice cracking and wavering.  He tells her he loves her, the first time he’s admitted it. 

And I have a new addition, from the Fringe season finale.  The team is confronting William Bell, who is using Olivia as an unwilling and unconscious energy source.  To save the world, Walter shoots her in the head.  The blank shock followed by sheer panic on Peter’s face struck right to my heart.  Nothing else matters to him at that point.  He doesn’t care about the world, he doesn’t care about catching the bad guy, nothing matters except that she’s gone.  His face is crumpling and he’s crying as he alternately tries to wake her up and cradle her close to him.

I was savouring the memory of these scenes when I started to ask myself why I enjoyed them so much.  After all, I’m a romance fan.  I love a happy ending.  So why are these death scenes my favourites?

The easy answer is because no one actually stays dead in these examples.  In the first one, it turns out that the woman’s death is a trick by the villains who made her appear dead in order to kidnap her.  The team figures it out, she’s rescued and the story continues.  Beckett survives her shooting in Castle and Walter does some very rough brain surgery to save Olivia’s life in Fringe (along with an awesome line:  Peter is crying and repeating “She’s dead” over and over and Walter shoots back “You should know that’s never stopped me before.”)

But I think that answer is too simplistic.  The “happy ending” part isn’t the part I go over in my head again and again.  So I think it goes a little deeper.  I enjoy tough, strong, stoic warrior males for the most part.  Aside from Castle, all of the men involved fit the description of a strong, get-it-done kind of guy.  The flaw with such men is that they rarely show the depths of their emotion.  Even Castle hides his true feelings behind jokes and pranks.  It’s the breaking of character which makes it special.  The shell is cracked and the true feelings come pouring out.  There’s no disguising how much they love their partners.  The thought of losing these women is enough to destroy them utterly.

I think every woman would like to be that important to someone.  No one likes the idea of someone she cares about in pain.  But we all like the idea of being capable of it.  Of being so intrinsic to someone’s life that their world falls apart without us.

That’s romance.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Forgiveness

I’ve been catching up on my Dr. Phil and something caught my attention which has always bugged me.  He was talking about the need to forgive when something bad happens to you.  He went on with the standard caveat that forgiveness didn’t mean saying what happened was okay but rather a letting go of the pain.

I don’t like the term “forgiveness” because I think it does imply absolution.  If you always have to explain that it doesn’t mean what happened was okay, then we need a new word for the psychological action necessary.

I like “letting go” and “accepting” because I think they’re better descriptions.  You can’t forgive someone for beating you up for years, but you can accept that it happened and let go of your hatred and shame.

People get caught up in the “what if” game when they’re trapped by their past.  It may start off healthily enough as a way to see what mistakes happened so that you can avoid them in the future.  But once you have that information, going back again and again, telling yourself what you or others should have done to avoid the situation isn’t helpful.  No one can change the past, no matter how many fantasy, sci-fi or comic stories they read or watch. 

Being trapped by your past is a horrible thing.  Dr. Phil describes it neatly as “taking poison every day and hoping the other person dies.”  The person who perpetrated the original offence is long gone but you keep on reliving it, which keeps you under their power.  It’s necessary to sever that connection, otherwise it’s going to bleed you dry.

But psychologists should stop using the word “forgiveness” to describe it.  Forgiveness is a religious term and all the explanations in the world doesn’t change the fact that it usually means to absolve and then forget, behaving as if the offence never happened in the first place.

Trauma can’t be forgotten.  And urging people to behave as if it never happened actually keeps them trapped because they feel like they are the only ones who can understand what happened.  They need to keep it alive because otherwise it’s meaningless.   If it never happened, then the pain they suffered didn’t mean anything.

To me, accepting is a better description, especially since you can break it down into multiple parts.  You can accept that what happened to you can’t be changed now.  You can accept that it was horrible.  You can accept that you or others couldn’t or didn’t take the steps necessary to prevent or stop it.  You can accept that it will always be part of your life, the psychic equivalent of a scar.  It’s all simple to say, but each of these steps can take a lot of work.

Then you can start letting go.  Letting go of the hate, the shame, whatever emotion is holding you in the past.  I think the accepting makes it easier to let go.  You can start to understand the necessity of breaking free at a gut level.

Pain isn’t a measure of love and joy isn’t a betrayal of loss (another Dr. Phil classic).  Understanding these truths is a necessary step of healing.  I just think it would be a lot easier for people to do without the expectation of dismissing their pain.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Family Update

Things have been somewhat difficult the last few days.  Alex cut his forehead banging his head on a post at school so we've been trying to keep him from reopening it.  He's been very irritable and upset since it happened.  We knew to expect something like this since he had a lot of ice cream over birthday week and if he has a lot over a short amount of time, it generally takes a week or two for his system to settle down.  Normally we're very strict but once a year we give in.  Between his head and the sugar, it's not surprising he's having trouble.  Last night he tore up the Elmo poster I got him for his birthday.  I knew it was inevitable since he likes tearing up paper into confetti and stimming off it but I was hoping for more than four days.

Nathan is still getting up at four in the morning.  I'm getting better at keeping him quiet while everyone else sleeps but it means I'm staying in his room until it's time to get up.  Sometimes I'm lucky and he dozes back to sleep for awhile which means I can nap, too. 

We've also had a lot of activity with the past few weekends, which has left the housework in a state of catch-up.  However, I think we're slowly coming to the end of the chaos.  With luck, things will be settled by the time Dave begins the next round of tests and treatment for his cancer.

There's some good evidence that Alex's medication is helping.  His therapists and teachers agree he's been much more compliant and more able to focus on tasks.  The amount of aggression is still up but we're starting to see some days with no aggression at all.  His doctor is pleased with the effects and there are no signs of the usual bad side effects.  We're still taking it slow and we won't be making any changes to his medication level right now until he settles down again.  Overall, it seems to be giving him some more mental space to process what's going on around him.  If that's the case, it may make behavioural intervention more effective but it probably take about a year to be sure one way or the other.

It's a slow process doing anything with children with autism.  It will teach you the virtue of patience and persistence.  Times like these are difficult but we keep our goals in mind and do our best to keep everything consistent.  That's the key for success.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

What Happens After A Happily Ever After?

I like a good romantic story.  But I’m often plagued by insatiable curiousity after the credits roll or the back cover closes.  What happened next?

Sometimes I feel as if the entire story I’ve read or watched is only a prologue to the interesting stuff.  Often both the hero and heroine have had to undergo substantial shifts in their worldview.  A witchhunter has accepted that supernatural powers don’t automatically corrupt.  A woman travels back to the nineteenth century to be with the man she loves.  People are transformed into werewolves, vampires, all sorts of supernatural beings.  These are huge decisions/events and I always want to know how they impact the people who made them.

Romantic stories also usually have an accelerated timeframe.  Challenging fundamental assumptions and beginning a new relationship are a lot of changes to absorb in under a week.  There’s going to be some kind of backlash as the implications start to seep in.

They may be old but I like the movies Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile.  Romancing is a typical romance plot, danger, internal and external conflict and the transforming power of a loving relationship.  But Jewel is my favourite because it talks about what happens after.  When Jack, the carefree rogue, starts to irritate Joan, the prudent novelist, with his irresponsible ways.  When he gets irritated with her work-comes-first attitude.  And yet the two manage to come together and rediscover what drew them together in the first place.

Somehow the second connection feels more real and permanent than the first.  Getting swept up in a new relationship is one thing.  Recommitting to an existing one, warts and all, is something more.

Love is worth fighting for.  Worth working for.  It shouldn’t be tossed aside when it starts to get a little tarnished and dull.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Avengers

I love Joss Whedon.  I’ve mentioned it before but it’s been affirmed again.  Damn, but that man is good.

I’ll try to avoid giving too much away for those who haven’t seen it. 

The Avengers was awesome.  (And to be totally clear, I'm talking about the new movie of that title with Robert Downey Jr.  Sean Connery still owes us an apology for the other one.)  I can’t think of enough superlatives to describe how much I enjoyed the movie.  I am a comic book geek and it was an awesome comic book story.  I’ve been eager to see how this would play out ever since I saw Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury at the end of Iron-Man.  I had my worried moments, namely with Thor and Captain America.  But it all came together beautifully.

The casting was great.  They managed to get the original actors from all the movies, all except for Edward Norton who played Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk.  Mark Ruffalo did a great job but I prefer Mr. Norton.  His Bruce Banner had a good combination of a sense of humour, desperation and determination.

I’ve heard some reviewers haven’t liked the movie, complaining it’s too shallow, too fan-oriented, too comic-bookish.  My response to that is: Hel-lo-o?  The fan-oriented and comic-book parts are why I love it!  We know the main story isn’t about how the heroes defeat the villain, that part is inevitable.  The part which makes a great story is watching the heroes interact with each other and no one does petty bickering among superpowered characters like Joss Whedon.  I don’t think the movie was too shallow either.  There’s not a lot of screen time with seven main characters, which is why most of them have their own movies to cover their origin stories.  It’s an action movie, not a literary character art film.

I enjoyed it from start to finish.  There were even a few parts where the whole theatre laughed out loud and applauded.  I think the Hulk ended up being the real hero of the piece.  Iron-Man, Thor and Captain America form a great trinity of petty sniping and position-jostling.  Loki is a great villain, pithy and condescending and self-defeating.  Scarlett Johannson is a great Black Widow and kudos to Joss and Marvel for letting her wear an actual uniform.  No cleavage or midriff showing.  I understand why some of the fans were disappointed but as a female comic geek, it’s nice to see the female heroes treated with respect.

This one is definitely going into the DVD collection.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Thoughts on Mothers

“Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.”  Spoken by Brandon Lee’s character in the movie The Crow.  I’ve always felt that quote sums up the terrible responsibility of motherhood.  And the tragedy.  To have the responsibility of God without the knowledge or power of a divine being.

And yet, it is the simple truth.  As a child, your parent, particularly your main caregiver, is all powerful.  They control almost every aspect of your life.  And as a child, you worship your parents.  You believe they got up five minutes before you to hang the sun in the sky.  There’s nothing you believe they can’t do.  They can make the airplane land an hour early or the restaurant open up to serve your favourite food.

Realizing your parents are human beings who make mistakes is one of the big disillusionment of growing up.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s what fuels some of the adolescent rage we all remember feeling.  Realizing there isn’t a all-powerful, rock-solid foundation behind you as you venture into a frightening and uncaring world, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see anger.

I was watching a Roseanne comedy special the other night and she was complaining about how her daughters blamed their problems in life on her not being around as they were growing up.  Her rebuttal: “Stop bitching about me not being around.  Do you have any idea how (bleep)ed up your lives would be if I’d have taken an interest in them?”  It made me laugh out loud.  After all, no matter what mothers do, they tend to reap the grief of their children, particularly their daughters.

Mothers are human.  We make mistakes, sometimes spectacular ones.  And even if your children remain silent, there are a host of experts both professional and amateur who are willing to point out your mistakes for you.

I believe most mothers are good intentioned.  There are those who are narcissistically self-absorbed or pathologically destructive, but most are doing their best to raise children who turn into functioning, productive, happy adults.  Maybe a good Mother’s Day gift would be to recognize that no one has a magic formula for parenting and that raising children is not a competitive blood sport.

So thanks, Mom, for all your efforts.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Happy Birthday Alex

Eight years ago today I became a mother for the first time.  I looked into exhausted little eyes and realized I had no idea what I was doing.

Eventually I figured it out.

Alex has had a great birthday.  Last night I snuck into his room and put up a life-sized poster of Elmo, right where it would be the first thing he saw when he woke up.  He got a birthday breakfast sundae, with a candle.  And he got a new school bus for his collection, this time a Playmobil one with roof lights that light up and flash.

It's been a little hectic getting everything ready for the party in the afternoon but I think it went off well.  We had some minor hitches, like forgetting a baseball bat for the pinata and our cake being mis-filed at Dairy Queen, but they all came together.

It was really good to get to see everyone.  My aunt, uncle, cousin and her fiance made it out and we don't usually see them more than once a year.  And Dave's mom was able to come, usually she's travelling in early May.  It's nice to have a broad selection of people there for the boys (and for us).

They got a ton of presents.  A lot of MegaBlocks, some books, remote controlled vehicles.  Nathan had a little trouble accepting that it wasn't all for him, but that's to be expected at his age.  We all enjoyed the ice cream cake and each boy blew out his candles.  It turns out that the blue food dye they used for the icing is a little more persistent than I was expecting.  I still have blue fingertips.  But the cake was great.  Alex ended up polishing off two monster slices.

I think the pinata was the hit of the event.  The boys' cousin Logan joined them in a frenzied free-for all which left the candy shattered on the floor.  But all the kids were much more interested in the demolition than what was inside.  The pinata was so well constructed that we eventually had to grab sides and rip it apart manually.

After everyone left, Alex asked to go for a drive with the family.  It was nice, all of us in the car together, just enjoying the Tron score and the scenery.

It was a good day.  Tiring, although Dave definitely chipped in with his share of the work and then some.  But a birthday should wind up with everyone feeling cheerful and tired.

Happy Birthday, Alex. 

I'm so glad to be a part of your life.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Entering My First Contest

I have officially entered my first writing contest.  Or at least, the first one I’m going to count, since I did enter some contests when I was a teenager.

I sent the first twenty-five pages of Lord of Underhill and a four page synopsis in for the Paranormal Romance category in the Toronto Romance Writer’s Catherine Contest.  I’m feeling pretty excited about that.

I won’t find out any results until the end of August.  It would be awesome if I made it to the finals but every entry gets a critique by three published authors.  That’s the part I’m looking forward to.  I’m sure it’ll be tough to experience.  It’s always tough to hear criticism on something you’re proud of and emotionally invested in.  But it will help me to become a better writer.  And that’s worth a few hours of angst.

Honest criticism is vital to become a professional writer.  So far, it’s the hardest part of becoming a professional writer for me.  It’s hard, but I recognize the necessity.  And if I’m honest, I have to admit they’re usually right in their criticisms and suggestions.

I’m learning to cope with my emotion surge quickly and I think I’m starting to become better at it.  Almost every writer talks about the difficulty of accepting rejection and criticism so I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.  But the professionals recognize the necessity and learn to cope with it.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

House

The end of an era is approaching.  Not the Mayan Long-Count calendar, but the final episodes of the TV show House. 

I started watching House in its second season.  The initial description of a cranky, drug-popping doctor treating mysterious ailments wasn’t one that appealed to me.  Particularly coming on the tail end of a glut of medical shows ranging from ER to Dr. Quinn.  I dismissed it as just one more doctor show.

My husband started watching it and I began catching the last twenty minutes of it when I came home from karate class.  House hooked me with one line in particular:

Foreman: So your motto is ram the treatment down the patient’s throat, unless it’s curing their paralysis and then we stop?

House: Yeah.  It used to be live and let live but I’m taking a needlepoint class and they gave us these really big pillowcases.

I’ve mentioned I am a sucker for good dialogue.

I’m really going to miss watching Hugh Laurie turn what should be a completely unsympathetic misanthropic character into something more.  House is mean, crass, hurtful and brutally honest, with the emphasis on brutality.  But Hugh Laurie managed to create a sublayer with quiet moments and subtle facial expressions.  Without saying a word, he convinced me that he cared about his patients and colleagues, cared so deeply that he was bleeding deep inside for each and every one of them.  The sarcasm and attacks were partly because he was absolutely convinced of his own rightness and willing to do anything to get the patient the treatment they needed.  And partly, they were a shield against others knowing about his vulnerability and using it to manipulate him.

Take the snippet of dialogue above.  Foreman is upset because they’ve removed a treatment which is helping their patient.  He’s lashing out at House.  House responds with sarcasm because he sees the answer as so obvious that it doesn’t need to be spoken.  The patient was on several treatments.  By withdrawing them and doing them one at a time, the team will figure out which condition the patient has and be able to treat it more effectively.  Later in the episode, there’s what I call the House-crisis moment.  This is when he’s no longer confident about his answers and diagnosis.  The sarcasm vanishes (although the meanness and attacks still sometimes happen).  His flippancy disappears as he gets more desperate to help the patient.

Within the show, House is often accused of only caring about solving the medical puzzle.  But if that were true, he wouldn’t show the desperation he often does.  No matter how passionately we want to solve an intellectual puzzle, we aren’t desperate to solve it.  Frustrated at lack of progress, certainly.  But not desperate.  It’s how the actor and writers show that House really does care.

My favourite episode of all time is The Lecture, an episode from the first season.  House is lecturing a bunch of medical students about thinking outside the box when it comes to diagnosis.  He tells them that despite what they’ve been told, right and wrong are real and not knowing which is which is no excuse for making the wrong decision.  When a student is hesitating over giving an answer and complains that it’s difficult to think with him shouting and standing over her, he snarls back: Do you think it will be any easier when you have a real patient really dying?

I hope that I can someday write a character with such deep layers.  I hope I can take someone who would seem to be completely amoral and unlikable and show their other side in such a way that they become fascinating to a reader. 

The writers never made the mistake of turning House into a good guy.  His prickliness is a part of him and downplaying it would have made the character into the same boring old Beauty and the Beast interpretation.  Love/affection/satisfaction/whatever transforms the Beast into a Prince.  House is always a Beast.  That’s what makes the glimpses of the Prince inside so satisfying.  But through it all, he’s still a Beast.

I love the series but I think they’re finishing at a good time.  There’s not much more they could throw at House without venturing into the ridiculous.  Ending it now makes sense.  I’ll miss it, but that’s why the gods invented series DVDs.