On Blogging, On Writing

A Purposeful Post: Part Two

They grow up so fast!
Sniff! They grow up so fast!

A couple weeks back, my blog pal, Harula, posted a writing exercise. The theme was “Purpose” and the idea was to complete the following four prompts with whatever spontaneous musings sprung to mind.

* When I was a child, I believed I was here to…

* As a teenager, I believed I was here to…

* As an adult, I believe I am here to…

* The most important thing life has taught me is…

The answers to the first two prompts can be found here. In this post, I get the last two:

***

As an adult, I believe I am here to…

…write. It’s trite for a writer to say this, but I do believe it. I hope that one of my books outlives me. I hope that it might be handed down to the next generation, the same way I gave my old children’s books to my son.

But my son is the big reason why I’m here – to raise him the best way I know how, which is almost certainly not as good as it should be.

Parenting doesn’t come naturally to me, for I’m too solitary and regimented. Now that I’m a dad, I am in a sort of war with myself to resist these natural inclinations.

Fortunately, Ellen is better at this sort of thing. Not a moment goes by when I am not grateful for her presence, for it is she who shoves me back on the right parenting path on the occasions I become too hermit-ish.

I have one child. When people ask me why Ellen and I don’t have more, I have a stock answer: “My boy got all of our best traits,” I say. “A second child would get all the the genetic diarrhea.”

I’ve been told that this is not how science works, but I still choose to believe it.

Another reason I have only one child is because one child works for me. I don’t like messing with what works.

“Once you have two kids, three is easy,” a dad leading a parade of screeching moppets once told me.

“But you have four,” I pointed out.

“And once you have three, four is even easier,” he replied, his smile wide and condescending. It was the smile that got me. The smile said, “You don’t have what it takes, Buddy Boy,” and it stung because I knew he was right.

But I was also thinking, “Well, at least I’ll be able to pay for college, Mr. Smug Guy.”

That’s another reason why I’m here. I believe that, if possible, kids should graduate college no worse than flat broke. It troubles me that college debt is The New Normal. I will do whatever it takes to keep that from happening to my son. It’s hard enough to build up from nothing without having to begin one’s adulthood deep in the red.

The most important thing life has taught me is…

…that failure is not a big deal. I’ve spent much of my adult life screaming this fact from the rooftops. I’ve seen way too many people more talented than I give up on their dreams way too soon because the idea of failing is just way too terrifying.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Jealous?
And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Jealous?

I believe that almost every success I had is based on the fact that I’ve simply refused to stop trying. I love to repeat my old chestnut, “I got 114 rejections before my first book contract,” because I’m proud of it. I think that my many rejections say more about me than my one book does. It says that I will never give up.

Granted, it also says that I’m a little tweaked. But, hey, for a writer, that’s just par for the course.

So! What’s the most important thing that’s life has taught you? Tell me in the comments!

On Blogging, On Writing

Query Response #1: Bookshelves!

Eve (from the movie Wall-E) guards a few of my animation books.
Eve (from the movie Wall-E) guards a few of my animation books.

Last week I asked, “What do you want me to post about?

You responded — and your wish is my command. It might take me a while, but I will get to each and every one of your requests (even Sarah W’s).

***

Today I’m going to answer a question posed by Anne, PamHarula, and Jilanne.

They wanted to know what I read. So! I present to you some pics of my bookshelves!

Some shelves from the living room/library...
Some shelves from the living room/library…

next shelf top

Mike Bookshelf Top

Mike Shelf Middle

Mike Bookshelf Bottom

My awesome Stickley.
My awesome Stickley.
Who needs a bannister when you can make bookshelves? Seriously.
Who needs a bannister when you can use the space to make bookshelves? Seriously.
And this is how the stair books stay in place. I took a decorative end of the a a curtain rod and screwed it into a wooden dowel. The dowel goes in the holes where the bannister supports used to be.  Yep. I'm crafty.
This is how the books on the stairs stay in place. I took the decorative end of a curtain rod and screwed it into a wooden dowel. The dowel is then inserted into the hole where the bannister spindle used to be. Yep. I’m crafty.

There are more shelves all over the house, but this is a pretty decent sample, I think.

Be sure to check in again. Query Response #2 is coming soon!

Essays/Book Reviews, On Writing

Put The Cat Out

I used to be allergic to this guy.
I used to be allergic to this guy.

Perhaps my dislike of cats can be traced back to The Cat In The Hat.

My adult self can appreciate the punchy rhymes, solid story arc, and gorgeous pen and ink drawings. But a big part of me can’t help but consider Seuss’s most popular book to be a misfire of sorts. Seuss didn’t write for adults, he wrote for kids, and, as a kid, I found The Cat In The Hat to be terribly unsettling.

Think about it. Two children, perhaps seven years old, are home alone. That’s a vulnerable situation to be in. I had firsthand knowledge of this; I was a latchkey kid and was allowed to be home alone at about that same age. I liked having the house to myself because it made me feel very grown up, but those feelings of maturity were tempered by…was it anxiety? I’m not sure. But when I was alone, a teensy little thought sometimes niggled around in the back of my brain: “What if something happens?” I didn’t know what that something could be, but I did know that some somethings could be very dangerous. Would I be able to handle it? Would I know what to do? Could I keep safe?

The Cat In The Hat seemed engineered to tap into that fear. Without warning, or even a knock on the door, a cat, the size of an adult male, bursts into the house and demands that the children take part in reckless and destructive games that aren’t really games at all.

And this cat is a bully. At the first sign of protest – courtesy of a fussbudget fish – he retaliates with a game called “up-up-up with a fish,” perching the finned fellow’s glass bowl on the handle of his umbrella. When the fish protests further, the cat goes out of his way to make him even more alarmed, by grabbing and balancing more household objects until they all inevitably crash to the floor.

For the young me, that fish was The Cat In The Hat’s lonely bright spot. I loved that little guy. Even after a terrifying fall; even though he had to endure the humiliation of swimming in a pot; even though he was in direct conflict with a natural predator; that proud, brave little guy ripped that cat a new one.

Just take a peek at the fish’s post-fall rant:

“Now look what you did!”

Said the fist to the cat.

“Now look at this house!

Look at this! Look at that!…”

And on it goes. It’s a fabulous “I told you so” moment. Oh, I loved it so.

As a child I loved neatness and order. I liked to play by the rules. Because of this, I tended to gravitate toward wet blanket characters in children’s literature. My favorite Sesame Street Muppet? Bert. My favorite animal from Winnie the Pooh? Rabbit. I identified with characters who existed only to be tormented by the act-first-think-later Ernies and Tiggers of the world.

Fortunately, in Bert and Rabbit’s case, the worst punishment either character received was exasperation. That fish, however, was being threatened with bodily harm.

But the little guy still fought, God bless him!

The fish’s moral victory is a fleeting one, of course. A few moments later, the cat unleashes the Things, and the situation goes from bad to much, much worse.

At least the cat didn’t try to destroy the items he balanced on his umbrella. It was an accident. A stupid, selfish, dangerous, and entirely avoidable accident, but an accident nonetheless. Those Things, on the other hand, were wired differently. The destruction they wrought was deliberate. They delighted in it. I found it awful.

Yes, yes, I know. The boy in the story eventually springs into action and traps the Things in a net. Yes, the Cat cleans up the mess before the mother gets home. But that, in my view, did not make everything OK. That self-absorbed interloper created a lot of undue stress for the kids and that fish, all in the name of “fun” – fun that only he was having.

Not cool, cat. Not cool at all.

Dr. Seuss wrote a lot of stories with similar types of mayhem built in, but The Cat In The Hat was the only one I didn’t enjoy. It was a book that knew exactly how to push my buttons.

That said, I did, eventually, learn to appreciate The Cat In The Hat‘s charms. When my older sister was pregnant with her first child, I offered to paint a mural in the new nursery.

What I chose to paint was that confident cat, locked in eternal conflict with that marvelous, underappreciated fish.

This guy is about seven feet tall. Not pictured: two terrible Things flying kites. (Click to see larger.)
This guy is about seven feet tall. Not pictured: two terrible Things flying kites. (Click to see larger.)
Fish detail. I love this guy. (Click to see larger.)
Fish detail. I love this guy. (Click to see larger.)