Category Archives: Family Stuff
Gabby Ray Arrives!
Gabby Ray has lived in my family since 2007. It began as a joke but I’ve used the character as an example for years in my class when I teach Photoshop, InDesign, etc. Last year, I did a project with the students and actually did the project with them. Writing, drawing, all of this comic book.
The assignment was to take a myth, fairy tale, folktale, or legend, and adapt it as a story for an original character the students created. So I did this. It features Easter eggs of my sister, her partner, my wife, and both of my daughters. Han Solo and Harlan Ellison might also make an appearance. Most importantly, my mother makes an appearance.
My Patreon Patrons got to see it first. I hope you enjoy it!
My Best Big Brother Moments (Just Not for My Younger Sister), Part I
I’ll often say I lived my childhood like an only child, and it’s pretty close to being true. My younger sister, Tracy, was born three-and-a-half after I was, and while we sometimes played together and had a good time, we often fought, and are very different people in a lot of ways. I could be, frankly, abusive toward her. I didn’t know that then, but I see that now, and I honestly feel bad about a lot of the shit I pulled. Even as adults, we really didn’t have much of a relationship, until last year, until my mother died.
I think neither of us really knew how to talk to the other and because we didn’t have a lot in common, we didn’t try hard. Especially me, the big brother. So when Mom died, we suddenly had one huge, massive thing in common. And it brought us closer. I wish I believed in an afterlife so I could believe that Mom sees how Tracy and I have grown closer. Tracy believes in an afterlife and believes my mother does see us and is happy.
This isn’t about any of that heartwarming stuff. This about two times that I got under Tracy’s nerves that I don’t consider mean, and that make us laugh now. They were good.
When we were kids, Tracy got into wrestling. I mean, she loved that shit. Me? I kinda hated wrestling from the get-go. Our older cousin, Cindy, enjoyed it and watched it and because what she said, went, we would watch it if we were sleeping over my grandmother’s. And because Tracy watched it all the time, I got to know the characters. Tracy had saved up money from birthdays and holidays and had a couple of hundred dollars put away, unlike me, who never met a penny I wanted to hold onto for too long. Well, Tracy went through that money on wrestling events. Wrestlemania, Summer Slam, Oily October, Enema Everyday, whatever the were. She’d have my mother order them on Pay Per View and watch those things. Fucking family members would come over and watch them, and because that’s where the action often was, I often watched them. I didn’t know it completely then, but now I do. I was gaining knowledge, knowledge that I could use.
I’d started suffering from insomnia around the age of nine. By the time I was 12, I was up late on Fridays and Saturdays because my parents allowed me to. These were grand times. The late-1980s, when horror TV shows were, everyone had a late night talk show (even that sponge, Pat Sajak!) and I loved it. Sometimes, though, when there weren’t horror movies or softcore porn flicks on Cinemax to watch (those last were ones I’d “sneak,” and the quotes meant I thought I was sneaking them but realize that my parents knew exactly what I was doing), I’d flip through the channels to find something. I learned a lot this way. One night, I happened upon wrestling.
Here’s the set-up: In one of those events a few months before, the Ultimate Warrior fought Hulk Hogan and won. Now, this was a Big Deal for wrestling fans. The Ultimate Roidier–er…Warrier–had defeated Hulk Hogan so badly, that the Hulk left the WWF!! Tracy got really upset when I pointed out that maybe it wasn’t because Hogan got hurt so badly but rather was off shooting a movie in his umpteenth attempt to get a film career (John Cena and Dwayne Johnson must really fry his frijoles!) and she’d cry and Dad would tell me to leave my sister alone.
Anyway, here I was, flipping through the channels, there he was, all oiled up, bleached hair, asthmatic breathing, bright yellow clothing, talking to Mean Jean Okerland (was that his name?). This was the moment Tracy had been waiting for. She’d even mentioned she thought Hulk Hogan was coming back. The thing was, she watched the show on Saturday mornings. Here it was, late-Friday night, early-Saturday morning. And Hulk Hogan said the words that have been stuck in my brain for about 30 years now.
He said, with all the seriousness and heart that only a professional wrestler can summon, “I’m a born-again Hulkamaniac, brother!”
It was like Shakespeare. I was moved to tears. Tears of laughter. “I’m a born-again Hulkamaniac, brother!” Oh, shit, this was gold. And a plan formed. I shouldn’t be proud of the plan. It wasn’t nice. But it wasn’t terrible, either, and we can laugh about it now, so fuck it.
The next morning, I watched TV or read in the living room or some shit like that until Tracy wanted the TV. Saved By the Bell followed by what my Mémé referred to “wrasslin’.” This was often my cue to leave the room. Not this Saturday morning, oh no.
Wrestling started and I had to sit through what felt like four decades of it until the moment came. I can’t remember what she’d done, but Tracy had pissed me off earlier that morning, and I knew just what to do. The segment started and before Hulk’s intro, I turned to her and said, “Here he comes!” She looked at me, her crystal blue eyes and mouth all o’s. Then her face quickly turned to panic.
I stood up and began doing the Hulk Hogan twirling my hand and listening to the audience.
“Stop it!” she yelled. “Shut up!”
He was introduced. “Daaaaddy! Billy’s being stupid!”
From the other room: “Leave your sister alone.”
Mom was working. That’s fine.
I sat down and Tracy leaned close to the TV. Hulk Hogan had survived his fight with the Ultimate Warrior, and as he spoke to Mean Gene about how he’d had a crisis in faith, I began laughing. I couldn’t stop it.
“Shut up!” Tracy said. “Daa-aaaddd!”
“Call Dad one more time and I’ll tell you what he says.”
Tracy looked horrified.
“You see,” I said, standing up, doing an okay impression of Hulk Hogan.
And right on cue, Hulk Hogan and I said, “I’m a born-again Hulkamaniac, brother!”
Then I started laughing so hard, I cried. Tracy skipped the former and went to the latter. She cried for Dad and he came to the living room door, exasperated. He yelled at me, I’m sure, but I was laughing and crying. And for years, if I wanted to get a rise of Tracy (which is something older brothers often enjoy doing with younger sister’s), I’d say in my best Hulk Hogan impersonation, “I’m a born-again Hulkamaniac, brother.”
That’s all I’ve got in me right now. But I’ll be back soon with the other big thing I did, that was really a stroke of genius if you ask me.
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Aftermath & Updates
Today is Dad’s birthday. He’s 78. I talked to him tonight and made him laugh a few times. It’s a gift, this ability to say the thing to make him not cry. It was a gift that I used during the two days we stood by Mom’s deathbed. I helped my sister through, too. So that was my present to Dad tonight. I made him laugh. It was something small, but it was something.
I’m numb. It’s been a month and five days since my mother died and it feels…wrong. Strange. Inconceivable (and, yes, it’s okay if you read that in Wallace Shawn’s voice, I did, too, as I wrote it). She was a force of nature. And now…
I’m told I haven’t been the same, that I’m not myself. Everyone expects it, of course, but still. I haven’t had a full breakdown moment, yet, where I wept and cursed the heavens or anything like that. My crying has come in moments, flashes, and then gone. I have laughed a lot, telling funny stories about Mom, which I think she’d prefer anyway. But still, I’m numb.
Very quickly, I found the one thing I could do was write. I’ve been working on the new novel pretty well. I’m just over 64,000 words into it and know the story is rolling. It’s mainly telling itself. I’ll call it The Monster right now, because it fits the book, though that’s not the working title. I haven’t worked on it as much as I’d like because I’m taking a state-mandated course for my teaching license, and the general exhaustion I feel through this time of melancholy, but I’m still doing well. I submitted Echoes on the Pond to an agent. Well, the query letter and first ten pages. I’m hoping he’ll bite. It’s a good book that I think deserves a chance in the sun. Once I finish the first draft The Monster, I’ll begin editing/revising my middle-grade science fiction novel, which I’ll call SpaceGirl for now. G and Pamela loved it and I think it also deserves its moment in the sun. It feels good to be wordslinging again. It’s falling into place in a way I haven’t felt in a long, long time.
One of the things I’ve done as I mourned is listen to Bruce Springsteen. All right, let me revise that. If you’re a reader of this blog (or my social media, or you know me personally), you know that I listed to Springsteen a lot. Well, of course I’d listen to him during this trying time. I’ve found The Rising to be an album that rises to the challenge. No pun intended but feel free to laugh. “The Rising” itself is a song about having died and going to the Great Beyond, whatever that is. But songs like “Lonesome Day,” “Countin’ on a Miracle,” “Mary’s Place,” and “You’re Missing” are built for this kind of thing. Maybe I’ll write about these songs in regards to this.
One of the things I’m afraid of is that I’m talking about (or writing about) Mom too much. I’m worried people will think I’m trying to play a pity card or something. I’ve been assured by friends that it’s natural, but it’s still a fear.
Anyway, I’m bouncing along, doing what I can. I feel lost, still, most days. My mind allows me to jump to jokes and stuff like that to protect me, I guess. Either way, I’m working on a dream (to steal from Springsteen again) as I write, and I’ve been very lucky to have a good support system around me. That’s where I am right now. I hope you’re well. And I’m glad I got to make Dad laugh for his birthday. I did something good today.
Yesterday afternoon, Friday, February 22nd, 2019, Patricia Ann Gauthier, Pat to her friends and loved ones, Mom to me and my sister, and Mémé to my two daughters, died. She was 68 years old, two weeks away from 69. I was there, holding her hand, at the end. My father had just come in from bringing a much-despised aunt home and my younger sister, Tracy, had stepped out for something. The nurses came in to do something and Dad and I stepped out into the hallway. They came out and let us know that we should go back in. The end was arriving. I texted Tracy and Mom died before Tracy got there. That was Mom. Wait for her Sweetie, my Dad, and save Tracy from seeing what she wouldn’t want to see. And me? Well, she knew I’d be there. I’d been there all day. I acted as her voice, sometimes pissing people off, but that’s all right. I’m used to it. She’s gone and, in the end, well, I hope I did good.
Death is ugly. In the movies, someone lies on their bed, says something dramatic, and fades away, as though they are sleeping. I’m sure there are deaths like that. Not this one. My mother was gone, for all intents and purposes, Thursday morning. She never really responded to me, though I was told that she could hear me and even responded in her own way at that point, and I’ll hold onto that, and feel bad about that, and everything else. You know, the regular human emotions. Mom made me her healthcare proxy because she knew I could, and would, make the decisions she wanted. I have to say, that when it was left up to me, the last few days went mostly well. There were hiccups, yes, because death is ugly, but she was a force of nature, and I had to learn to be at times.
Death is ugly not just in what happens as a person dies (Mom would appreciate that the writer in me found the process fascinating and logged it all–it’s my curse, my cross to bear) but in how the survivors behave around death. Grief and anger are the ugliness of these. I know I have alienated family members, and I’m all right with that. First, I haven’t seen most of them for a decade or so, so I was already somewhat alienated; and second, I called out bullshit and while I could’ve (should’ve?) handled it better, my mother was dying. Another time a family member that my mother did not want to be there forced herself in, getting to my father, who actually brought her there (see the “much-despised aunt” from above) and then needed to bring her fat ass home. She actually had the gall to ask if he’d stop for bread for her! I gave her the cold-shoulder almost the entire time she was there, and not subtly, either. When she came to a place where Dad, my sister, and I were standing, I walked away, down the hall and out of sight. She is a relation by marriage. She was Dad’s sister-in-law, married to his brother, who died two years ago. She hated me growing up. Mom didn’t want her there. Neither did I. The decision was made when I wasn’t around.
Mom was the first person to encourage my talents. She loved art and storytelling. She was a daydreamer. She was so smart and had wanted so badly to go to college when she was a girl, but was told by a guidance counselor in 9th grade (back then, junior high was 7th, 8th, and 9th grades) that she was a welfare brat and would never be able to afford college, that she should take the business track at high school. My mother could be stubborn, but sometimes she could bend too far, too. Instead of telling the guidance counselor to get stuffed, she followed his advice. When I first went to college in 1995, she was more excited than I was. When I left at the end of 1997 for the birth of my first daughter, she was devastated. She never told me that, but I knew. When I went back in 2003 and earned my B.A. in 2005, she was very happy. I was the first college graduate in the family. When I got my Master’s last spring, she was so proud. By then, though, she was sick. Sicker than we knew, I guess. Still, she got to see me get my Master’s.
That’s what I use to help me through this right now. She was proud of me. She had copies of my books that she would haul out and show whoever came over. More than once in the last few years I grinned and felt strange as my mother introduced me to nurses as her son, the teacher and writer. “He had a story in a book with Stephen King!” she would say, with a smile on her face. I know she’d tell them about how my students generally tend to love me as a teacher, and she thrilled in stories I would relate when I’d drive her to Boston for her first round of cancer back in 2016. Some students made a video thank-you for me that I showed her and she cried tears of pride during it.
She was proud of my girls. Courtney, who will be 21 in April and is in art school in Boston, and G, who is six and in kindergarten, were both very important to her. She loved them with a radiance that burned like a sun. Courtney was living my mother’s dream, going to art school in the hopes of doing art professionally. G was the little granddaughter she loved to talk to and hear stories about. She had such hopes for G, and knew she would go on to great things. We’ll see, but I think she may be right.
Mom was proud of me for my second marriage. She loved Pamela, and knew Pamela could put up with my crap but wouldn’t take it, kind of like Mom.
My parents hardly ever fought, and certainly didn’t shout or swear at each other. I never saw them do this. Neither of my girls are as fortunate with their father, but Mom and Dad loved each other with a love that was unreal. They had nothing in common, but they loved each other ridiculously. Together 45/46 years, and they were still gaga for each other. Yeah, they got on each other’s nerves, but their love was truly something.
Mom could be a pain in the ass. She knew how to push buttons and sometimes, I suspect, did so somewhat happily. We weren’t as close when I was an adult as when I was growing up, and part of that was her ability to push my buttons. Others saw it, too, so I know it’s not paranoia, but at the end, I tried to be there as much as possible, calling as often as I could. Mom could be frustrating in her stubbornness, something we’ll be dealing with for the foreseeable future, as we go through her things and find hidden food, unopened items from a variety of sources. She could be a child sometimes, during the last decade. She had no filter, never did. That could be fun. When I was growing up, she at least had tact most of the time. But she ran us around. A quote of hers was, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It was funny and said in jest, but I always felt she really meant it. She would say what came to her head, and was born before political correctness was really a thing. She said things that would make your jaw drop, but there was never really any malice in it. As my older girl, Courtney, would say, “Oh, Mémé.”
Mom was funny. She loved dirty jokes. She told us all to watch out when we stepped off the sidewalk because we might step on her mind. I learned of things at a young age that most kids don’t learn until high school amongst friends, because of her humor. She let me watch R-rated movies at nine because she knew I was sneaking up after everyone was in bed and watching them on HBO and Cinemax, anyway. It’s because of her that I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street at nine. She trusted me.
We would sometimes lie in her bed and talk for hours. When I was bullied in school, she would listen and give advice. When I was sad, she would listen and tell me stories. She told me lots of stories of her youth. It wasn’t a particularly happy one, but she told me stories that weren’t terrible. She would listen as I talked about anything, even if she wasn’t interested. We would have good talks. I could always go to her when I was a kid.
When I was an adult, I found out she’d been sexually abused by a stepfather when she was in her teens. It helped fit some of the puzzle pieces together. She never really did get the mental health help she should have, despite my suggestions that she do so. Mom had a pretty crappy life until 1973. Her mother and father weren’t happy. Her father left the family and started a new one. Mom’s older sister was a ne’er do well with a terrible disposition. Mom’s younger brother was the typical hellion, a regular Dennis the Menace. His name was Billy. My grandmother would have two more daughters, one born nine years after Mom, and the last, Donna, was born with Down Syndrome and severe mental retardation. My grandmother was an alcoholic. My older aunt got pregnant and left the family as soon as she could. Mom raised Billy and the two younger girls. When Mom was 17, two weeks before Billy’s 12th birthday, he died unexpectedly from a brain tumor. Her last words to him were, “Oh, don’t be stupid.” She carried that with her to the end. She vowed to name her first boy after him. That’s where I get my name from. Sometime during this, as she had to call various bars to find her mother, as she had to get a secretarial job in high school, as he became addicted to cigarettes and food–and spending–she was molested by the stepfather.
In 1973, she met Dad. His friends told him he should go talk to the blonde at the bar. He went to a blonde, not the right one. Their relationship ended yesterday with her death. Dad turned Mom’s life around. She told me once that she could’ve been on a very bad path before meeting Dad. He saved her. Divorced and untrusting, he was wary to remarry. But in 1974, they eloped to New Hampshire.
There’s so much more I could write about Mom. She always had sayings and colloquialisms, most of which I’ve forgotten, but she had them all. She had a chip on her shoulder to anyone who she thought tried to be better than her. She loved dancing and music, oh, did she love dancing and music. She could dance! When she began suffering from chronic pain around 2005, not being able to dance hurt her so much. She was in too much pain to dance at my wedding to Pamela in 2009, and it hurt her so much. It hurt all of us, because we knew she’d be out there all day if she could’ve. She loved movies and reading and drawing and art and cooking and jokes and animals and her family and….
And she’s gone now. Her suffering and pain are gone. I still can hardly believe it. I don’t want to believe it. I wait for her to tell us that the last ten years was all part of some crazy, ill-conceived joke. But she wouldn’t. She didn’t like practical jokes.
G asked me if Mémé went to heaven. She learned about heaven at daycare. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I stole a Bruce Springsteen line and told her that Mémé’s heaven is in our hearts. I told her that Mémé will always be in our hearts and minds, we’ll always remember her. For me, she will be constant. I will always wonder if I’m making her proud. I know I’ll fall short, but I also know she’ll always be proud of me.
Mom knew she was dying Wednesday night. She said her goodbyes. Her and I laughed and cried, and we hugged and kissed, and I held her hand, and she yelled at me when I rubbed it too hard (my Dad, too), and she said that she was afraid of going to sleep because she might not wake up. Dad and I told her not to be afraid, that she needed her sleep. I don’t know if Dad’s advice was simple advice, but mine wasn’t. I wanted her to know that I was all right if she needed sleep, for the night or eternally. I wanted her to know that we loved her and that we’d be all right. I wanted her to know that while I wasn’t always there, I would always be there.
My universe lost a bright, bright star. A star that shined brighter than many stars. I feel a little lost, now, but that’s normal, I guess. I hope she knew I tried my best, I always tried my best. Yeah, she knew. I am going to miss that woman.
In 2019, I Promise to Something or Other, or I’m Here, See?
As has been the case for the last few years, I’ve meant to write here sooner. When I think I might, though, I think of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancin’ in the Dark,” the opening lines of which are, “I get up in the evenin’ / And I ain’t got nothin’ to say.” That’s how I’ve felt. At least a little. I have things to say, but are they worthy of being said? Now right there is a problem that the internet has created, isn’t it? Lots of people saying shit that doesn’t need saying. I certainly do that enough on Facebook and Twitter. And even Instagram, when I think about it. But this is my space and….
And I’ve been working on other things. Here’s what’s gone on:
I started writing a middle-grade science fiction adventure novel in July because my youngest daughter asked me to write a story for her. At four years old, we began reading junior novels to her and she loved them. That summer, she asked me to write her a story but with grad school going I didn’t have the time. I began it this summer but once she was out of daycare in August, I didn’t have the time or energy. Then school started. I got back into writing in the fall, though, when I edited and rewrote Echoes on the Pond. Right around Thanksgiving, I began submitting it. I’m still waiting to hear back from an agent but we’re very close to the two months where I may not hear anything. But either way, Echoes on the Pond has begun going out there.
In December, I finally finished the middle-grade science fiction adventure story. It’s about 21,000 words and I read the first draft to Pamela and G and they loved it. G was so happy, she kept hugging and kissing me. She’s six now and she loves those longer books even more. So that’s the next to be revised, right after I finish…
A new novel I’m writing! This one is an adult novel, horror/supernatural suspense/dark fantasy. I’m only about 25,000 words in so far but I feel like I’m digging well and may not break the story too much.
I have a short story I need to put into rotation, too. The other stuff I’ve written about? Well, I still need to work up my druthers to pitch column ideas, but it’s there. The main thing is that I’m writing again and having fun doing it.
As far as other things in life, they’re fine, I guess. Medical bills and student loans both suck. I’m sick of dealing with those people. The world seems like it’s ready to fall apart around us but there’s also an energy and hope that I’ve never seen before. My depression has been pretty bad for the last month or two, but I know that’s how it works. Depression seems like an ocean, to me, with the waves ebbing and flowing and right now, it’s stormy and the waves are big. My job is to ride them. My mother has had a rough go of things and that hasn’t been fun. Things could be improved upon in my family’s lives but overall, I’m happy.
The main thing, for this blog, is that I’m writing again. And I hope that this means I’ll be here more. Time will tell. Take care of yourself and happy 2019.
Tippity-Tapping While the World is on Fire, or I’m Here & I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Do you want the general update first? Yes? All right.
I received my Master’s Degree in May. I am officially a master. I get a seat on the council without whining. So there’s that. I’ve been catching up on reading that I put off while reading for the graduate program. Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog and The Cartel…holy shit! These are good books. Stephen King rewarded me for the Master’s by publishing The Outsider in May and kicked my ass with it. Jeremy C. Shipp’s The Atrocities was a hallucination nightmare and recommended. There are other things, too, but we’ll worry about them another time, if at all.
I’ve been writing, too. I’m editing Echoes on the Pond and should be doing revisions next week. I should be able to begin submitting to agents/publishers by August. I also started a new novel, which is a middle readers novel. My youngest daughter loves novels as much as she loves picture books. At five years old, she’ll sit and listen as her Mom and I read a chapter or so a night. This has been going on for about a year. While I was still in grad school, she asked me to write something for her. Well, it just so happens that I had a story I came up with when I was between 10 and 12 years old, I even drew a picture of it. Funny enough, I found the drawing about four or five years ago in my parents’ attic and brought it home. It’s a slightly revised version of that original idea but I’m writing it now. I also wrote my first (good) short story in a few years and submitted that. It feels good to be back on the horse.
And that’s the thing, that’s the real topic of today’s post. It feels so good to be writing again for me and, by extension, you.
I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half years writing academic papers with only a few small forays into my own writing that I feel like the world is mine for the taking. But it has also led me to think about (or rethink about) (or re-rethink about) some things. This blog is one of them. Now, before you get all sweaty and freak out, having waited oh so long for a new post from me and now you’re afraid I’m about to say I’m going to stop, calm down. If there is anyone out there reading these posts, I assure you, I intend to keep them coming. I’ve thought about several topics to write here on the blog in the last few months. They include:
- How the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Margot Kidder made me realize how their characters taught me about women when I was a child
- Writing about keeping the dream alive when everything seems to be working against it
- General observations about the world
- A remembrance of Harlan Ellison
The first and last things especially have hit hard. The thing is, though, as I look at the time that I have, it’s limited. I can either work on my novels, stories, general fiction that I hope to submit and get paid for, or I can write blog posts about things that I’d love to talk/write about but there’s no chance of getting paid for it. Money is very much in my mind right now. I owe over $100,000 in student loan debt. And even though on paper my wife and I make a pretty good income, the cost of living is rising ridiculously. This past month alone, I’ve found myself tight in the wallet, and I foresee next week is going to be really hard. Part of this is that changes will have to be made, and I dig that. But I also need to be able to earn some extra income. So while I’d love to be able to write more here, I think I’m going to look into turning these ideas into essays, columns, whathaveyou.
Now, I may look into Patreon at some point, once I’ve hit my writing groove again, and if I do, you will be the first to know. I may pitch some ideas for columns, too. Maybe bring back American Gauthic or something else entirely. I don’t know. But if going through grad school taught me anything, it taught me that I can juggle some of these things more than I ever thought I could. And if the last three weeks have done anything, they’ve lit a fire under my ass.
What happened in the last three weeks to do this? 1) The money thing. 2) The death of Harlan Ellison
If you’ve been a longtime reader of mine, you know how much Harlan Ellison meant to me. Since his death, I’ve been watching commentaries and listening to his lecture CDs put out by Deep Shag Records. It has reinvigorated me. I’d like to write more about Harlan but I think that should be its own post, and I also have another idea. You’ll know when and if I pull that other idea off.
So there we go. As the world burns around us, I am doing my thing. Writing, telling stories, and watching. I will report back, I promise. How and when is the real question.
Wait? You Mean…It’s 2017?!
How have I not posted anything since July?! Well, there were a few abandoned posts that I just didn’t like the sound of before posting them, and the many ideas for posts I either didn’t have the time, energy, or wherewithal to write and post. There were the posts about Star Wars, or politics, or the depression/anxiety I’ve been going through, or…. Well, you get the idea.
Those pauses are as much for me as for you, because I realized as I was writing that last paragraph that I’m falling into a voice I employ on this blog which is usually fine but isn’t right now. It’s more chipper than I wish to sound. The fact is, I’ve been in a mental storm for over a year now. Closer to a-year-and-a-half now. I’ll be calling my doctor soon. When I checked a list of symptoms of depression, I’ve had almost all of these on a nearly constant basis since late-summer of 2015. Naturally, 2016 really helped with things. As my graduate studies progressed, and my grades have been superb, my personal writing and reading went down, down, down. Maybe this is part of it. But I don’t think it’s all of it. I found myself sitting around on the days my now-four-year-old was at daycare not writing, not doing homework, not doing anything. Toward the end of my summer vacation, I forced myself out of the apartment to get pizza. It was my birthday. Whee.
There was my oldest daughter graduating high school and moving on to college. I’m so proud of her. I worry about her, though, because I’m her Dad. I also worry for other reasons. But I’m proud of her and happy to see the young woman she is and the woman she is becoming.
There was work-related stresses. Some of those will hopefully be put to rest soon as I apply for a teaching license extension, but until it’s in my hands, I’ll be
In late October, doctors thought they found ovarian cancer in my mother. They did. They also found a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in her lung. They treated the clot and she had the cancer removed. They believe they got it all but she’s going to have to go through chemotherapy soon.
My wife has work-related stress.
Did I mention that I hardly have time to write my fiction as I write my papers, discussion posts, etc.? It’s not simple time management, either. There’s no energy or time. Not in my current life.
I won’t even mention the “election.”
All these could be factors. But….
Look, 2016 wasn’t all bad. There was a lot of good, even great. My family life is amazing. I’m relatively healthy. So are my daughters and my wife. I have a job I really enjoy. I still have the ability, up here in my head, and down here in my heart, to write my stuff. I’ve seen some good movies and read a few of my books, and have been exposed to a helluva lot of good books for my classes that I haven’t really been able to read because of time/energy. By next Monday, I’ll be halfway through grad school. I don’t quite see the light at the end of this tunnel, but I think I see something.
But this…depression? Anxiety? Both? Melancholy? It’s been bad. I’m trying my damnedest in public and with friends to hide it, more to keep myself from falling too far into the chasm, but it’s growing harder to keep it at bay. It really is.
So that’s why I haven’t posted since July. Time, energy, self-doubt, and this funk.
I hope 2017 will change that. I have my doubts. But I will do my best.
I’ve been called pessimistic by some people I know. I’m not pessimistic. If you saw how dark things are in my head, you’d know I was an optimist. I have to be.
So thanks to all who cared enough to show me this past year. Thanks to those who have made me feel like a good man, husband, father, teacher, even writer. I will try to do better in 2017. In these uncertain times, it’s all any of us can attempt.
Girls Like Superheroes, Too, You Know
It’s hard raising a daughter. Somehow, in 2016, I feel like the world has gotten tougher for girls. Maybe it’s because social media amplifies everything to a ridiculous volume, but it seems that times are getting…well…worse. The Tea Party movement created a backwards thinking environment that’s juxtaposed against a post-1960/70s Women’s Lib movement that has gotten people crazy. My 18-year-old is on a fine track. She’s political, aware, and verbal. I may not agree with everything she proclaims because life and experience has taught me it’s not always that simple, but I’m proud of her.
My 3-year-old though, G…I’m worried. She loves Doc McStuffins, Sheriff Callie, and Sofia the First, and Disney Princesses, but she also loves Star Wars and superheroes. I recently got her the Star Wars: Galactic Heroes Millennium Falcon playset, along with some figures. The ship came with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and R2-D2, and I got her Luke Skywalker/Yoda, C-3PO/R2-D2, and Darth Vader/Stormtrooper. She wanted Princess Leia. The store had none. Amazon has none. From what I can tell, except for older versions of the Galactic Heroes line on the second hand market (eBay, etc), they don’t make Princess Leia. Sure, Rey and Captain Phasma were just released and will soon make their way home (along with Finn), but where’s Princess Leia?
We were at Target and she saw the Fisher-Price Imaginext DC Super Friends Batcave (one of several, this one is huge and comes with Batman and the Joker). She loves to mess around with it. Underneath it was the Hall of Justice, with Superman and Batman. She flipped. She’d asked for Princess Tiana before that. The Hall of Justice came home with us. Soon she had Lex Luthor, the Joker, Harley Quinn, Plastic Man, Martian Manhunter, the Batmobile (one of about 75 from what I can tell) that comes with Batman and Red Robin (and his winged jetpack), Commissioner Gordon (I never owned a Commissioner Gordon action figure! Which I desperately wanted…because they didn’t make them in the 1980s!) and a GCPD police cruiser. Today, Wonder Woman and her invisible jet, which was bought on Amazon on the collector’s market, arrived. She was thrilled. In my research, Fisher-Price Imaginext released a Batgirl and her motorcycle figure recently. It’s very hard to find. Those are the female superheroes. Mind you, this toy line has Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Cheetah. I may have missed someone. No Supergirl. No Hawkgirl.
G loved the DC Super Hero Girls shorts on YouTube. We couldn’t watch the one hour special on Boomerang because we don’t get that channel from our cable provider. They don’t carry it. I got her the Wonder Woman costume, and she’s getting a Batgirl costume from her grandmother. I intend to get her the Supergirl and Bumble Bee ones, too. The action figures, though, are recommended 6 and up. She’s three. I think they’re more than she can handle. Same with the dolls.
I’ve been following the strange way these toys are marketed. The Hasbro Rey fiasco, and the Hasbro Black Widow fiasco. Here are characters that creators are including to try to break the mold, to open the world to more than just white males. But the toy lines are behind. It bums me out. When she asks me, “Daddy, can we get Supergirl or Hawkgirl?” I have to say no.
“Because they don’t make them.”
“I don’t know, honey.”
She’s okay with it. She has her imagination. One of the Batman figures will become Batgirl, no doubt, just as Superman will sometimes have to be Supergirl. Guaranteed if I get her Hawkman, he’ll be used as Hawkgirl. But I’m not okay with it. Because she can’t be the only girl who loves her new Imaginext DC Super Friend toys.
Wherein I Peek Out, Blink, & Weep, or What the Hell Is Going On, Anyway?
I posted a quick update at the end of week 1 of my grad school online course and wrote, “when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy.” I am at the start of week 8 of 10. I haven’t completed week 7 yet. I shouldn’t be here, but fuck it. I drank coffee between 8:30 and 9:30 so I could work on a paper that was due tonight by midnight and that I’m still working on because…well…I’ll get there. I promise.
First, the good news. I’ve been maintaining a mid-90s grade. For weeks I was at 94. I dropped to 93 last week, then to 91, and now back to 93. I’m happy. Considering I have little idea of what I’m doing, I seem to be doing it well. I do feel as though the readings have been sinking in, though I rarely understand what I’m reading. I keep looking at the novel I began reading in August, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, which I’ve read tiny snippets of in between Freud, Marx, Lacan, Jackson, Conrad, Woolf, and many more, and want to cry. I’ve loved Byrne’s prose since beginning it but, goddamn, no time. I have Stephen King’s new collection, The Bazaar or Bad Dreams, Christopher Golden’s new novel Dead Ringers (about doppelgangers, which I fucking love), two collections by Charles Beaumont, and more novels that I’m eagerly awaiting to read. Shit! I forgot! The PS Publishing collectible re-issue of Harlan Ellison’s Ellison Wonderland that I’m so eager to read….
But…work. Work-work. School-work. Report card grades were due in the last few weeks. Discussion posts, prospectuses, proposals, analyses were all due in the last seven weeks (and still more are due in the coming three), and that’s not the personal stuff.
Pamela’s car died at the end of September. My computer died this past week, which means this is the first thing I’ve truly written on my brand new HP Pavilion All-In-One desktop computer. Whee. Well, that I’ve truly written that wasn’t for my class. Oh, and my teenager got her driver’s license and my toddler turned three. I found out that my sudden (and by sudden, I mean since the spring) exhaustion is not anemia but may be related to my Crohn’s Disease, so my meds have changed a little, but only in the last two days. So I’m still a refugee from a George Romero flick most of the time.
But, Bill, I hear you say. What about the novel? Are you working on that? We’re waiting for this masterpiece you’ve spent the last century or so talking to us about!
First, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s good, I promise, but not masterpiece material. Maybe future classic… But seriously, I’ve worked on the last edit three times since starting the course. I intended on working on it this weekend when my notebook died. That threw out that idea. However, perhaps later this week. I have about 50 pages left to edit, and then I’m bringing the edits to my manuscript. I still have to check to see if my queries that I’d written had been backed up to Dropbox. I believe they were but I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m afraid to check. I may try to see if I can get the stuff from my hard drive soon.
Anyway, I’m still alive and still dreaming. My goal is to have the novel completed and have begun the query process by the end of the year. I can’t wait to start writing the next book, too. It’s about a man and his child and…oh, you’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the world of the girl, her therapist, and the ghost to tie up loose ends, and working on my grad school work.
Be good to yourselves and good to others. The world needs more of that right now. I’ll try to check in again around Thanksgiving.
“Tee-Vee, Daddy,” or Kid’s Shows That Won’t Make You Want to Join a Cult
Posted by Bill Gauthier
We all say that when our child is born s/he won’t watch TV. Nope. Our lil one is going to learn the treasures of play and literature early, and while the TV won’t be off-limits, it will definitely be regulated more than when we were kids. I said that back in 1997 and early-1998 when my first daughter, Courtney, was in gestation and shortly after her birth in April 1998. By the following April, she loved Teletubbies, Elmo, and Blue’s Clues. By two, she was an avid fan of Bear in the Big Blue House, the Muppets, Rolie Polie Olie, and Little Bear. Throw in Franklin as well. I hated Sesame Street back then, and Barney, too. She got those when she was with her cousin or when I wasn’t home, which was rare.
Fast forward nearly 15 years. In March 2012, Pamela found out she was pregnant. She declared not long afterward that our child wouldn’t be raised on the glass teat. I agreed, but without the force that I had 15 years prior. I knew better. After you’d gone from reading to playing puppets to playing dolls to playing blocks to reading to more blocks to running around to…you need a break. And that giant rectangle in the corner will help with that.
G is 2-and-a-half. She loves to read. She loves to draw. She loves blocks, playing, jumping, exploring, dancing, puppets, make-believe, and so much more. She also loves TV. I’m not passing judgment on myself or my wife, we do our best to limit her TV-watching, but there’s shows she likes and, damnit, we kinda like them, too. So if you’re feeling guilty about your toddler watching TV, here are some shows that we watch and I think they’re good entertainment, as well as a little (sometimes a lot) educational.
All right, I know this goes without saying, but you have to understand something: I grew up hating Sesame Street. I loved The Muppet Show, which would air on Saturday nights at 7 PM, but Sesame Street was never my thing. Even when Courtney was a little one, I didn’t like it. And by then they’d gotten Elmo. Ugh. The sound of his voice sent shivers down my spine and goosebumps over my flesh. I was in my early-to-mid-twenties. Now I’m in my mid-to-late-thirties and I’ve finally discovered Sesame Street. And that high-pitched, bright red monster? Yeah…he’s kinda cute. He’s still not a favorite of mine, and I’m no fan of Abby Cadabby, but I’ve finally discovered why Sesame Street has been around for 46 years. From parodies on Game of Thrones, Star Wars, the failed Spider-Man Broadway musical, to the simple stories and whimsical moments, I’ve become a fan.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
I’ve written about how Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Fred Rogers have been there at important moments in my life. Thanks to Amazon Prime (or the PBS Kids website), the classic show is easily available for binge-watching. It’s by no means complete, but it’s still great. However, if you don’t have time for fussing with that, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a great modern take. Produced by the Fred Rogers Company and Out of the Blue, the show is created by Angela Santomero, who co-created Blue’s Clues and Super Why! The titular Daniel Tiger is not the Daniel Striped Tiger that you and I grew up with, but rather his son. DT, as my wife and I call it in code, is a kinda-sorta sequel. It takes place in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, which has the giant clock, the castle, the treehouse and tree, and the Museum-Go-Round, and familiar characters like Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and King Friday XIII and Queen Sarah Saturday with their son Prince Tuesday are all there. However, the new characters are the real stars of the show. Daniel Tiger, O the Owl (X’s nephew), Katarina Kittycat (Henrietta’s daughter), Miss Elaina (Lady Elaine’s daughter), and Prince Wednesday are the focus of the show. There are other new characters like Mom Tiger (the original Daniel, who is now an adult, is known as Dad Tiger) Music Man Stan (Lady Elaine’s husband and Miss Elaina’s father), Dr. Anna, and Baker Aker are all new additions. And of course, the neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without Mr. McFeely.
The show is broken into two segments with neighbors from our world (usually from Pittsburgh) in between and its focus is emotional development, just like Mister Rogers. Santomero’s work on Blue’s Clues and Super Why! comes into play as Daniel will greet us each day with, “Hi, neighbor!” and include us in the story, asking us to participate throughout. Small jingles help teach the lesson of the show. Pamela and I have found these jingles useful as we try to navigate G through the world. “Use your wor-or-ords. Use your words!” has come in handy when she’s been frustrated. “When you have to go potty, stop! and go right away! Flush and wash and be on your way” is another good one. And this past winter, with all the sickness we all seemed to get, singing “When you’re sick, rest is best, rest is best,” has come in quite handy. She’ll sing these lessons to us as well. When I made a mistake recently, G chimed in with, “Keep trying, you’ll get beh-etter!”
My one complaint is some of the creative choices that were made. Harriet Cow is no longer a resident or teacher in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, instead it’s a human woman named Teacher Harriet. And poor Anna Platypus is nothing more than…a puppet at the pre-school. Her entire family is wiped out. There doesn’t seem to be a Westwood, no mention of Lady Aberlin, and nearly no outside conflict. Lady Elaine, the biggest grump in Fred Rogers’s day, has had work done, married, and never plots, schemes, or even complains. Other than those few small things, it’s an excellent show.
Neither Pamela nor I were impressed when we first watched the PBS/Imagine Television adaptation of the classic book series by Margaret and H.A. Rey, but Curious George has grown on us and G loves it. Yeah, the plots are far-fetched and silly. I enjoy making fun of the fact that all these humans can’t seem to figure out what a monkey can, but it’s fun and, more or less, educational. Fluff, but good fluff.
A show starring an African American girl as a play doctor, whose mother is a real doctor, Dad seems to be a stay-at-home dad, and a fun little brother may seem foreign, even to Gen Xers like me, and it’s wonderfully so. I can happily turn this show on and know that, if nothing else, my daughter will see a positive female role model as well as an intelligent, beautiful, and fun person of color as the lead. Creator Chris Nee and her staff also write some great stories for this wonderful little girl with a huge imagination. The lessons aren’t just medical-based, though they often are, but they also cover the landscape of the human heart. A wonderful show if you haven’t checked it out. And if you have a boy and are afraid it’s a “girl’s show” (which I’ll get to in a little while) it’s a great show for him, too. He should also be inspired.
It’s British. It’s funny. We love it.
Sofia the First
When I first heard of this show I though, Nope. No need for Disney Princesses in this household. Now I’m a fan. So is my wife. And, more importantly, so is my daughter. The show has a feminist ideology that is proud to be “girly,” but isn’t hampered by it. What I mean is…well…let me tell you about the show and I think my commentary will make sense.
Sofia and her mother, Miranda, are commoners. Miranda is a cobbler who is hired to make shoes for King Roland II. The King and Miranda fall in love at first sight (this is Disney, after all) and they marry. Now Sofia is a princess with two step-siblings, twins James and Amber. There’s no mention of their mother that I know of. Anyway, Sofia is the average girl who’s been thrust into this new world of magic, royalty, and etiquette. She handles it well. James is a typical boy who is sometimes real nice, and other times a fool. But it’s Princess Amber, Sofia’s new sister, that I really want to focus on. Amber is the typical “princess.” I put the word in quotes because she behaves in the way a woman (or girl) who fancies herself a princess and makes demands of those around her in a fashion that is unbecoming, rude, and can never be fulfilled would behave. For instance…
I know of a couple a few years younger than my wife and I who married around the same time we did, and had their first child around the same time G was born (Pamela’s first child). The guy is a public servant. Let’s say a firefighter. Good guy. Stand-up guy. Nice guy. His wife is a “princess.” Her engagement ring not only had to have this, but this and that, as well, and it better not be under…ooohhh…$XX,000. She must have this, and have that, and she simply cannot work with two children (they’ve had another) though she’s constantly dropping them off with grandma and grandpa so she can go to yoga, or for coffee, or…. She is a “princess” and has called herself one. You know these kinds of “princesses.” Unfortunately, I’ve known a few myself. Get it?
Amber is that kind of princess. She is the kind of princess that girls growing up on a steady diet of Disney Princesses believe they should be. Of course, none of the Disney Princesses are actually like that. These Real World Princesses base their princessism on “And they lived happily ever after…” assuming that these women would become those kinds of princesses. She is full of herself, wishes to do as little work as possible, is rude, is narrow-minded, and is obsessed with appearance both in terms of clothes and what others think. This is not the complete picture of Amber. The show’s writers are very good at adding dimensions to the characters and Amber can be quite kind, giving, and selfless. She’s also quite intelligent. But the overwhelming portrayal is of the typical mythical “princess.”
Sofia, on the other hand, is Disney’s reinvention of the Disney Princess. She is kind, intelligent, imaginative, quick-to-laugh, inclusive, open-minded, strong, resilient, and human. She has faults. Sometimes she gets a little full of herself. Sometimes she’s jealous. Sometimes she does wrong. She is given an amulet that, unknown to anyone, gives her the ability to speak to all the princesses that ever were. This means that she sometimes gets to speak to Cinderella, or Belle (from Beauty and the Beast), or Ariel (The Little Mermaid), or any of the other Disney Princesses. The classic princesses aren’t in every episode, not even close, but are in enough to help move product–I meant…er…to rewrite some of the less feministic aspects of their original stories.
Sofia makes Amber a better person. Amber isn’t one- or two-dimensional. She is well-written and changes a over time.
This is a show that teaches about emotions, tolerance, how to treat people, and kindness. Like the aforementioned Doc McStuffins, it tells girls that they can do anything. I am a fan and highly recommend it.
I have to mention Arthur. The PBS series based on the Marc Brown books is great. I used to watch it with Courtney, and now G loves it. Yeah, it’s a little old for her, but she still digs it, and so do I. Their stories have skewered standardized testing, the loss of original intent with the American Girl doll line, and other topics that one wouldn’t expect in a children’s show. It’s really not a pre-school show but it’s on when I get home from work and G watches it and enjoys it.
I could go on and on, I’m sure. Sid the Science Kid (G loves it, Pamela and I don’t, though it preaches science and we’re for that, so we stomach it), Peg + Cat (also from the Fred Rogers Company; Pamela and I love it, G isn’t as fond), Dinosaur Train (fun show), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Caillou (which I used to hate, have now grown more fond of, but Pamela hates; G loves it) are a few of the others. If it sounds like G consumes too much TV, it’s because that is a lengthy list, but it’s not watched all in one day, and she rarely goes above the 2 hr limit that researchers have found is bad for kids. On the rare days she does go over the 2 hr, she’s sick, I’m sick, or Pamela is sick, and it’s a good way to keep her calm while someone rests.
And if you’re thinking that a lot of these shows are girl shows, I suggest you chill out. I think Sofia the First, the “girliest” of these shows, can be great for boys to watch if they sat down and actually watched them. The stories are often filled with adventure and Prince James is a great role model for them. Basically, if they’re not interested, fine, but I think we should be beyond worrying about such things.
Now I’ll climb off my soapbox and go watch some TV. Maybe Doc McStuffins has an interesting new case, or Sofia has a new adventure.
Posted in Family Stuff, Parenting, Pop Culture, TV
Tags: Arthur, children's programming, commentary, Curious George, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, disney, Disney Junior, Disney Princess, Doc McStuffins, kid's TV, kids, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, parenting, PBS, PBS Kids, Peppa Pig, pop culture, recommendations, reviews, Sesame Street, Sofia the First, toddlers, TV