Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Handling Our Children with Rubber Gloves

"Tell them the dangerous things can be over come. Tell them that you can go out and dream. Tell them that you can go out and change the world." --- Neil Gaiman

I've been thinking about something a lot lately. Have you noticed how, as standards on one end of our society continue to make more allowances -- you are now allowed to say the "f" word once in a PG-13 movie -- the allowances at the other end of the spectrum are becoming much more strict.

I was watching Kung Fu Panda at the daycare I work at, and I started thinking about something. Anyone who watched that movie must agree with me that it is a very, very kid friendly movie. And yet, it's rated PG. Why? No where in there is there anything that should garner a PG rating. Then I thought back to the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. Have you seen that movie? It's incredibly violent. It's amazing, and of course I'll let my kids watch it, but it's also very dark, very moody, and pretty violent. Wolves attack Belle on her horse, the beast is all kinds of angry and violent, and although it may get lighter for a bit, by the time Gaston is out to get the best -- to the tune of a song called "Kill the Beast" -- it becomes very violent again. While Po gets a few karate chops in, and uses the "Wushi Finger Hold" -- which involves a whoosh of air and that's it, Beast gets shot with several arrows and stabbed in the arm with a knife before Gaston falls to his death off of the castle.

Let's not forget a few other children's classics from a few years earlier -- The Black Cauldron, The Secret of NIMH, and The Wizard of Oz. All pretty dark and scary, and yet amazing and valued to this day for kids to watch. And then look at Enchanted, a very cute Disney movie that does a throw back to classic Disney cartoons -- including the witch turning into a dragon at the end. The rating...PG! Even though the movie was a live action amalgamation of every Disney movie ever made, it was rated a whole rating higher than those old movies.

So, I have to wonder. Why do we worry so much about our kids. I was raised on Rocko's Modern Life, Doug, Aaaaah, Real Monsters, and even stuff like The Nightmare Before Christmas. All of those were way darker and more mature than Phineas and Ferb, The Replacements, Lilo and Stitch, and The Emperor's New School. I'd like to think I'm a fairly normal person.

Back in February, I watched a new movie. It was based on a children's book, and when I watched it, I was blown away. The movie was spooky, yes, but it was also fantastic. The movie was Coraline, based on the book by Neil Gaiman. It was a very well received book, and a very well made movie.

One thing that I think makes a really good children's movie is where there's depth -- things for kids and adults. Of course kids aren't gonna notice a lot of the adult jokes -- and they shouldn't. But the adults enjoy it too. And it feels real, instead of dummed down and boiled down to a simple little drivel.

I always heard the phrase "A hero is only as power as the villain he overcomes." That's why fairy tales still resound with us to this day. Sure, it's pretty scary when the witch turns into a dragon at the end of Sleeping Beauty, but what kids take away is not that evil witches and dragons exist...or anything evil for that matter. What they take away is that they can be beaten.

What made me decide to write this post was an interview I saw with Neil Gaiman on YouTube. It covered a lot of his works -- his book Coraline, the fact that it was being made into a movie, and his new children's book The Graveyard Book, which won the 2009 Newberry Medal. There was a bit of controversy that it may be too scary for kids, but from what I've read of it, it's got about the same tone as Harry Potter when it came out. And it's a fascinating read for anyone, with little jokes for adults and kids throughout, well written, smart, and provocative. True, the book may start with a triple murder...but most stories start with an important death. Harry Potter started with a double murder, The Secret of NIMH started after Mrs. Brisby was widowed, and while the Scarecrow didn't die in The Wizard of Oz, he was torn limb from limb by the flying monkeys.

Anyway, there's really no right or wrong answer, I'm just curious why we've decided to treat our kids with rubber gloves more and more over the years. Kids used to be raised on the Grimm's Fairy Tales, and those were very morbid, but they taught us love conquers all, good defeats evil, and magic really does exist. Now we have very watered down versions of the original tales with the dragons' defanged and the witches' warts removed. And with these new prettied up versions of the old tales, are the heros really as heroic as they once were if the villains that they're overcoming are now mere shadows of their former selves? How heroic would Harry Potter have been if Lord Voldermort had been just an angry man with a grudge against kids instead of a murdering sociopath? Or if the dementors had been just hooded guards? What if the prince from Sleeping Beauty hadn't had to fight that dragon to get to his love?

Where have our heroes gone? And why do we feel that we need to diminish their struggles to protect kids from the real world. Neil Gaiman uses an amazing quote by G. K. Chesterton at the beginning of his book Coraline:

"Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

What do you think? Do you think it was wrong to show us those scary, mature things when we were kids? Do you think that we should protect our kids from the darkness of the real world for as long as we can, or do you think that kids know there is darkness in the world, and these little stories and things are a message of hope that you can beat the witches? Let me know in the comments.

And judge for yourself. You can listen to Neil Gaiman's entire book The Graveyard Book on his site here. -- Read by the author! Very cool to see.

Also, here's the original interview -- a long interview, but a very, very interesting one.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Walking On Cloud Nine...Er...Driving

I don't believe I've mentioned it much on the blog, but my car is...a junker. It's a pretty good car for what it is -- a '90 Chevy Caprice Classic. It was nice in its day, and it still has the remnants of a nice car on it. It was great back in 2004 when I got it, but I've driven hundreds of miles every other week for two years. That does some work on a car. It has a problem with accelerating sometimes, two of the doors are broken, it's just got a huge scratch on the side from my fridge, one of the side mirrors hasn't worked since I got it.

Despite all that...it was a very good car.

However, every car has a time when they're getting past their time. Granted, any car can be repaired, but I don't have the money. I need to give it to someone who can. And in the meantime, I need something to drive. Something smaller, faster, that gets much better gas mileage.

I went shopping around, skeptical about even being able to get a car (I was unsure that I could access my inheritance yet, which has been tied up in court and legal stuff.)

I found a car that I liked that wasn't ridiculously expensive, and so I checked it out. It was a great deal -- great gas mileage, very few miles on it, low price, great shape. So a quick call to my lawyer revealed that I can in fact, get a little of my money if it's for a car.

So, I am now the proud owner of a 2005 Honda Civic.

And I think it looks very snazzy. Really a great buy. Runs like a dream. And when I went to the gas pump, I put $20 in it...and almost filled it up completely. I grinned ear to ear, the whole way home.

P.S., As if to throw out one last "Eff you!" to me, when I got home to get my checkbook to buy my new car, I got back in to discover that now it won't start at all. It won't even chug like it wants to. I had to get my brother to take me so that I could buy my replacement car. Irony, eh?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Revenge of Lobster Man

How did I get here again? I'd like to say that I made some kind of horrible mistake, and I'm reaping the consequences of my actions, but that wouldn't be true. This is one time where I am not to blame for the misfortune that has befallen me, it is simply sorrow delivered straight from the Universe.

No, I didn't perform scientific experiments revolving around the genetics of lobsters and humans resulting in a super powered lobster man to rampage through my lab and nearby town in a furious rage on a quest to understand his origins. That would be way more interesting.

Thursday was my day off. To celebrate my day off, my friends and I -- and My Darling Dearest -- packed up and headed off to a swimming hole that we know of. It took a while to get there. My brother, who came along, thought we were fooling him when we told him you had to climb rocks to get there. We weren't. We were actually underplaying it a bit. It's a pretty hard hike to get to this swimming hole -- over enormous rocks cliffs.

Once there, I put on enough sunblock to fill the ozone layer and protect the Earth for the next 30,000 years. Then I went swimming. Then we ate lunch. Then I put on even more sunblock. I was literally dripping with it at one point, and I asked my girlfriend to aid me in the quest of rubbing it all in. We're both significantly Irish, so we burn easily. We knew the dangers.

Anyway, by the end of the day, which had resulted in about five hours of swimming, we headed back. It was hot. So hot, as a matter of fact, we all almost passed out. My face started going numb, so we all got back in the water -- a different spot, since we were on the hike on the way home -- to drop our body temperature some. By the time we got back, we were all thankful to be alive.

However, since then I have learned of the price I paid for my desire to continue shuffling along on this mortal coil. My ears, face, and back are sunburned raw, and my shoulders are so sunburned I have hundreds of blisters popping up. It hurts to move, and shirts are things worn only in the most dire of situations. Nobody else got it that but, just me and Oh Dearest One. She got it just as bad as I did.

I missed work Friday because it was so bad, and while it's improved since then, I'm not looking forward to going back to work today just so I can see the little tykes and have them slap me on my burns. By the way, it's "Wet and Wild" themed week at work...yippee dee. I get to be outside in the baking hot sun for hours on end. And I have to go to a water theme park on Wednesday with the kids. Even more time spent outside...

As if that wasn't bad enough, I got a TB test on Monday. On Wednesday, I was supposed to have it checked, but my boss left for the day and left me in charge, so i couldn't leave. So now I have to start all over!! I hate needles, and now I have to do it again...and then again b/c if you haven't had a TB test in 2 years, they make you take two...

Wake me up when this week is over, okay?

Friday, June 19, 2009

One

The other night, I was out with my girlfriend. We had just had dinner, and then we went and just wandered around Wal-Mart (I looked at the books, but she got bored so she wandered around looking at a few knick-knacks) and then we left there, too. We went to McDonald's and had a tea and we just sat and talked.

The next part of the evening was the best part. It was that strange part of the evening where there's nothing left to do in a small town, but you really don't want to go home yet. So, we drove around for about an hour, talking. We talked about everything -- family, friends, school, our hopes, our dreams, where we saw the future taking us. It was an amazing conversation, one that doesn't get had very often.

I brought her back home at about 11:00, and we noticed that someone had left her door open and the dogs were out and running around in the dark. So, I helped her wrangle them up, and after we got them back inside, I put my finger to her lips and leaned my head back.

"What are you doing?"

"Listening."

"To what?"

"Nothing."

She was silent after that, listening to the same thing I was. Then, I tapped her on the shoulder and pointed up to the sky. The stars were very prominent out in the boondocks where she lives. I could almost reach out and grab a handful.

Something came over me right then. It was the strangest feeling I've ever had, and really had nothing to do with the situation. I could almost see how the flow of time was going. How everything in my life had led up until this moment, and I could practically see where my life was headed too. It was like the veil that closes off the past and the future from us had thinned, and I could easily peak into one or the other for a short time.

It was the most calming and yet awe-inspiring feeling I've ever had. At that moment I was truly happy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Being a Public Nuisance

So, on top of the new job, I am now the proud owner of lower ears. I received two things yesterday: a new haircut, and a shot.

I had to be talked into the haircut. I don't mind haircuts. Except for the fact that I never like the outcome -- which is probably more the result of me being terribly down on myself -- they're not terrible experiences. My aunt, my mother, she who is so dear to me all talked me into getting a shorter haircut that can be gelled into the "messy" look. Since that was three votes from three women I respect highly, I caved. They think it looks fantastic, so I'll take their word for it. Anyway, haircuts = not a big deal. Sitting in a chair while someone hacks off the fluffy curls that I get when I let my hair grow long isn't painful, and actually sometimes results in some nice conversations.

On the flip side, needles are the devil in every way. Shots are an outdated procedure, and a large source of physical and mental torture, in this age when we can land men on the moon and carry an entire library of books on a device about the size of a cigarette box or smaller. I also, I'm ashamed to admit, throw a huge fit when I have to get them. I complain for days in advance, and the complaining grows worse the closer the shot gets. On the plus side, this means I can never be a heroin user.

Because of my new job, I had to get tested for TB. I have never had a TB test before, but anything that has to do with needles or me losing blood to anybody else puts me on edge.

My girlfriend went with me and, God bless her, she should be optioned for sainthood for not strangling me in the waiting room. I complained the entire time about how they were going to stick me with the wrong concoction and then I'd be sent home in a pine box. When the nurse finally led me back there, I heard a kid crying, and started accusing the doctors of running an underground organization that tortured children and sold their tears on the black market. All this was in good nature, but to cover over how scared I actually was of the needle. I don't think my girlfriend realized how scared I really was until she saw the look on my face -- the look of panic in my eyes -- when I saw the needle.

"Are you serious? Do you see that thing? I thought they said it'd be tiny! You could harpoon a whale with that thing! I was thinking a quarter of an inch long, not two inches! Are you harvesting my marrow? You'll scrape my bone with that thing!"

My girlfriend is way too patient. She even managed to keep her cool when I began demanding blood for blood when the area I got the shot started bleeding.

On the way out the door, I was still ranting, so they gave me a sticker with a happy purple hippo on it that said, in big, happy, ironic letters, "I got a shot!" I accused the hippo of making a mockery of my traumatic experience, and obviously the hippo got it's jollies by laughing at my pain. Also, because the test left a bump for a few minutes, I began trying to convince my girlfriend that what they really did was give me an injection that would raise my body temperature to ridiculously high levels, and that bump was actually me boiling from the inside out.

Eventually, for the sake of our relationship, and my relationship with anybody that meant anything to me at all, I shut up. I consider it payback, though. Dearest One has had her moments where she has gone off on rants too -- usually in traffic when she sees a bumper sticker that contradicts her beliefs, or when she's cut off by some inconsiderate bozo. Once, she tried to tailgate and intimidate a diesel hauling a backhoe in her tiny little Ford. You just can't do that.

I may have been loud and obnoxious before and after the shot, but during, I was calm, quiet, and still as can be. There's something to be said when all you have to do is look into someone's eyes and know that everything is going to be okay.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sore, Sick, and Satisfied

Being home for the summer opens up a lot of problems. I don't have as much money, if any is left, and so it eventually becomes needed that I get a job. Unfortunately, my experience with jobs has been pretty poor. Fast food restaurants are really terrible places, and I couldn't bring myself to work at another. I was desperate to find a job other than a fast food restaurant.

However, as I mentioned before, my town was hit by a tornado a few months ago. Jobs have become scarce, since many of the places that you could have worked are now piles of rubble. Just because the jobs are gone, doesn't mean the bills stop coming, though, and I had a nasty sized car insurance bill coming my way. My mom was very insistent that I find a job since I didn't have any leftovers from my refund check this time -- I spent down to the wire, mostly on emergencies that kept popping up.

As my flexing room got smaller and smaller, and the ideal places to work -- where I can score a more desirable, and cleaner, job as a cashier or stockboy -- hiring fewer people, I could practically see the fast food employers rubbing their knobby hands together and getting the human parchment contract ready. (For those who don't know, I claim to this day that the last fast food place I went to work made me sign a human skin contract in my own blood.)

Just when things started getting desperate, my family reunion rolled around. These things always mean two things: 1) A whole bunch of people will pack into one very hot place, and 2) There will be much smiling and greeting and idle chatter until they eventually cluster off into little cliques like some kind of bizarre high school. I'm always hesitant to go to these things because I only know a handful of people really well, the rest are just acquaintances I see every year. To make matters worse, I was talked into doing a skit for them this year. God bless my girlfriend, she spent the whole hour before I was supposed to go on doing her best to pump up my ego enough to get me on stage -- I think mostly it was so she could laugh at me.

Anyway, I digress. I did the skit, and then I started talking to my aunt. She's an awesome lady who I love dearly. I mentioned that I was getting desperate for a job, and she mentioned needing help at the daycare she's running at her church. Of course, I'm thrilled to find this out. True, kids are a handful, but it's so much less stressful than a fast food place. I was ecstatic. I love kids, my girlfriend says I'm nothing but an oversized kid anyway, so I couldn't wait to get started.

Now I'm sore all over. I haven't been this tired in a long time. And to top it all off, it's only a week in, and I already caught a cold from one of the little...darlings...despite all this, I'm amazed at how smart these kids are, and at how creative they are, and as long as they have someone to mediate things, how well they get along.

Needless to say, I'm very pleased with how things turned out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fear

Fear. Writers try to ensnare it in words all the time. It's our job to try to find those words that will make readers' hearts race, their palms sweat, and their hairs stick up on the back of their necks. An entire genre was created for those who couldn't get enough of the heeby jeebies, and even if you don't read horror, every writer uses the tool of fear at some point or another because every character has fears, desires, goals, and the like.

I thought I knew fear. I've experienced some terrifying things before. When I was six, I fell into the adult deep end of a very large hotel swimming pool. I was terrified that I was going to die, and if one of my family hadn't seen me fall in and dove in to get me, I may have.

When I was 12 or 13 I was hiking with my dad one day and fell off the trail and off the mountain. The only things that stopped me from rolling and crashing to the bottom was a patch of briars that I bounced into.

A couple of years later, when I was hiking with my step brother on a camping trip, we became surrounded by coyotes.

However, I never really knew fear until a few months ago. I was talking to my girlfriend on the phone. We weren't quite dating yet -- we were in that awkward "basically dating, but still not official" stage, when suddenly she told me that she was watching the news, and some pretty big storms were brewing. I was at college, so I was more concerned with her, but she was more concerned about the ones brewing near me. As I spoke to her, I was slightly concerned, but nothing more than the typical, "Man, I hope the storms don't get too bad."

Well, is the storm progressed, she was placed under a severe storm warning, and then a tornado watch. I became a little more apprehensive, but tried not to let it get to me. My dad died about a year ago from tornadoes, so I have a new found respect for their power. I know what they can do -- I saw his solid oak and stone log house. It was gone except the foundation.

As I continued to talk to her, the "watch" progressed into a "warning." Then, she told the sirens went off. My heart leaped into my chest. She had to go into their shop so that she could be away from windows. She lived in a mobile home...this could end badly.

I had two things come to my mind. I had to talk to her, because she was crying and hysterical and her mom was rocking back and forth in the floor praying and frantic, but I also worried for my family, because my mom and brother were in the same town. However, my mom could console my brother, and my girlfriend had no one, so I talked to her.

Now, I've been terrified, before, but I knew nothing of real terror until this moment. Nothing has ever made my heart stop more suddenly, or my blood run colder than these words: "I can see it."

In those four words, I felt my entire life go away. More than that, I felt my sanity break down. My mind shattered. I stopped breathing, my legs gave out, and the only thing holding me up was the fact that I was leaning against my bed. I was silent, speechless, and in complete and total shock. I finally came back to my senses when my girlfriend said in a fragil, tiny voice, "If you could say something to talk me through this, that would be great, because I'm kinda scared right now."

I was instantly talking. I told her everything would be alright, I told her that nothing was going to happen, she would be fine. I told her all these things, but I didn't believe a word of it. I had an empty feeling in my soul. I could feel a blackness hanging around me, and I felt hopeless as I was witness to everything I loved being torn from me.

After a few minutes of talking, it was over, and my girlfriend got in her mom's car, and her and her mom went to go check on a few things. She heard word from her mom, who was on her cellphone, that the tornado hit the court house, which is just a few blocks from my family's house.

I immediately began calling my family. I couldn't get a hold of anyone. My mom's line was dead, my grandmother's line was dead, and when I tried to call back my girlfriend, I couldn't get through to her either. I was completely and utterly cut off from everyone I loved.

As the minutes dragged on, each second counting off a thousand years, I became convinced that everyone I loved was dead. My stomach twisted into knots, I doubled over, and I cried. I cried with everything I had. As tears streamed down my face, I looked up at the sky and begged God to let everyone be okay.

For 30 minutes, the longest 30 minutes of my life, I called the same 5 numbers over and over again: my mom's cellphone, my house phone, my grandparents house phone, my brother's cellphone, and my girlfriend's cellphone.

Finally, I got a hold of my girlfriend, and while I was relieved, I wasn't consoled. I still hadn't heard from my family.

Just when I was about to go into a full hysteria, with my girlfriend doing her best to console me, I heard my phone beep. My mom's cell. Like a flash, I switched lines, ecstatic to hear from them. Not only were they okay, but there was no damage done to our house. The tornado hit, literally, 2 blocks away, and went in the other direction.

I missed my college classes that day and went home for the weekend early. My town was decimated. Hundreds lost their houses, and a good portion of the town was just gone. It will never be the same again. I could see signs of the damage a couple of miles before I even got there.

The first place I went was to my girlfriend's house. It was then and there that I told her it was ridiculous of us to try to fight it, that I cared about her more than I've cared about anybody in a long time, and that I wanted her to be my girlfriend. Obviously, she accepted.

Next, I went to my grandparents house, because all the roads leading to my house were damaged or covered with debris so badly that no one could get through. I met up with my grandparents, and then found a tiny back road that I used to sneak past the cops and the National Guard and went home, and hugged my mom and my brother, and then we went to go see how my aunt fared the storm, all the while, my girlfriend and I called friends to make sure they were okay.

I'm so glad that everyone I cared about not only is totally okay, but none of them suffered any damage to their homes.I've never really understood fear, but after that night, I know it. I've seen it's face. I almost lost everything I love. I'll never take my family for granted again.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In Which Our Hero Realizes He's Very Competative

So, for the past several days, I've been playing a lot of board games. I used to hate board games. As a younger kid, I thought you had to be really bored to play them (hence the term "bored" games), but for some reason the older I got, the more fun I had with them.

Recently I was challenged to a game of Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture Edition 2 by my girlfriend (Miss Gloatsalot) and her mom. Unfortunately, I already knew how this would go. I know a fair amount about pop culture -- being 20, it would be embarrassing if I didn't -- however, I also knew that they cheat. And the bet was, losers wash the winner's car.

Miss I-Must-Be-The-Best-At-Everything and her mom came out of the gate swinging. Honestly, I don't know why I was there. I just sat in awe as the two titans started going at it. The cheating began early. Since there were no rules included in the game -- as it was bought from a yard sale -- they started making the rules up as they went along. I feared for my life when one would begin protesting rules the other one made.

Eventually, a winner had to be found. And thankfully, it wasn't me, or her mom, which was a good thing. If either one of us had won it, I have a feeling I would never have heard the end of it.

However, there came time for a rematch, and I was tired of her smack talking. So, I went out for the crushing.

The night before the Epic Grudge Match of Revenge and Gloating, we had a small game of team Scene It with a couple of our good friends. My girlfriend and I were on a team, and I noticed we work well on a team. We don't get angry, we're nice and cooperative, and supportive. However, I learned that when it's just mano a womano...things get fierce.

The first match was in Scene It TV edition, and while I didn't win that one, I came very close. My girlfriend didn't either, thankfully. My brother did. The next one just wasn't fair. We played Scene It Music Edition. My girlfriend has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of all things musical. Of course she won that one, but barely. I was right behind her the whole way.

It was just two games, but we trash talked each other and gloated like crazy. Sparks nearly caught the curtains on fire as we gestured rudely behind each others back, and my brother just sat in wonder at our titanic battle.

Fortunately, nobody said anything stupid, and we know how to leave our stuff on the field...er board.

But next time...oh she's in for it. I'm gonna brush up on music and get her. And she has a new challenge: Harry Potter Scene It.

Bring it on.