How do you explain this to a five-year-old..?
I recently began writing the second book in the series about Valerius and Evander. Let’s be honest, it’s only really a series if you have more than one book, so duh, given that we called it a series, I needed to continue writing about the two princes whose love story was at the core of book one. I see Valerius and Evander as a way to use to “tool” of a fairy-tale to tell young kids (as a bedtime story) about diversity. Reception of the first book was really great, from both parents, librarians and some of the kids themselves. My son loves it (which is the most important praise.)
The second book deals with becoming parents. A challenging topic for every grown-up. I mean there has to be a reason we invented the stork, right? We use it because we feel uncomfortable talking about sex with children. And because it is difficult to explain the whole eggs and sperm concept to children.
To be honest without overwhelming children (or bore parents)
At first, I had this idea to explain all the various ways in which a gay couple (Valerius and Evander) could become dads. I introduced a Lesbian couple to explain the womb and IVF and surrogacy and suddenly I felt lost. I can barely grasp these concepts myself, from a medical point of view, even though I’ve done it myself in real life and wrote a book (primarily for my grown-up son, but also for adults interested in surrogacy and IVF) about it. However, this is all so very difficult and complex that I finally ended up abandoning the concept. The two queens are still in the manuscript (for now), but they might yet be bumped, as their presence fills no real “need” purely from a storytelling aspect.
Writing for kids, particularly very young children is challenging. As an author, you want to make it fun and exciting while at the same time tell the story and convey whatever lesson the book is meant to tell. Children’s books tend to be a bit on the educational side, and whenever I talk to schools and libraries, it’s what they tell me: we need this or that, we have no books on this or that.
Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018
Focusing on the child, the story, rather than the procedure
What I ended up doing was just writing. I subject Valerius and Evander to a challenge, or two, and then help them figure it out. In this particular case, it’s an orphanage. In the realm of the fairy-tale it’s workable, even though in our modern day and age, most societies don’t have orphanages anymore. We use foster care instead. To use children in an orphanage allowed me to talk about the plight of children who most commonly end up in LGBT families: orphans or abandoned kids.
To talk about why some parents can’t raise their own kids isn’t easy, and this is the most difficult aspect of re-writing and editing right now. I have enough text to fill the book, but is it the right text? The right words? It’s about teaching the kids new words, but also help them understand societal phenomenons and to enable a discussion between parent/teacher and child when reading the story together. In a way, I have to go back to being a teacher and use pedagogy all over again. Fun, yet difficult because in my daytime career, I used to work with adults. The irony…
So what is Valerius and Evander 2 all about?
The story highlights the wish of our Princes to be parents, that which we label as involuntary childlessness. While recognized and part of the medical profession’s arsenal when it comes to het parents, for gay couples, this is still a territory mired with discrimination and–frankly–lack of understanding and deeply rooted homophobia. That’s where the book starts. Easy, right? It then moves on to show how children are a natural part of society and how they are literally everywhere: in towns, on meadows and even in the forest. To use animals helps to keep things grounded for the kids.
That’s when the orphanage comes in and gives the two princes something to sink their teeth into, but as they busy themselves with helping those kids, their own needs are put on the backburner, which, eventually, leads to the big conclusion of the story, and a chance encounter… To find out what that is, you’ll have to wait for the book to be released.
I still feel that I’m a long way from being done with this. The first book in the series took almost three years to be done. Oddly, it’s so easy to write down the story in a rough draft, but incredibly hard to rewrite, to make sure it’s understandable, relatable and on par with the level of understanding we can expect from a four-, five-, or six-year-old child. Once the text is finalized, edited and proofed, I’ll contact Felicity for the illustrations. That’s when the real magic happens…
Are you looking forward to it? Any other topics you would like to see Valerius and Evander to tackle?
Does it make sense to judge past behavior using present norms?
I’m not thinking about murder or theft. I think these are crimes that have always been considered illegal and–more importantly–immoral. While there may be mitigating circumstances for judges and courts to consider, e.g. hunger or self-defense, the basic societal norm doesn’t change. However, what I would like to talk about today is different. It is behaviors, acts that are clearly considered inappropriate, illegal even, from our current, contemporary point of view, things that may have been looked at very differently “way back” when they happened.
The #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on a great many such behaviors by men over the past eighteen months. And I think it is important that we highlight such behavior and speak out against sexual assault, rape, but also behavior that may not necessarily be illegal, but inappropriate, e.g. touching someone without their explicit consent, to not accept a no for a no etc. Racism, how we treat the LGBTQ-community, women’s rights etc. are other areas of how our views on humanity have evolved, for the better.
The people’s tribunal is in session…
Every now and then a celebrity or politician is making headlines for things they did a long time ago. Sometimes we learn when that was, sometimes, it’s more obscure. Let me say this again, just to make it clear because the topic is so sensitive, this isn’t about illegal behavior then and now, but inappropriate behavior. Is it fair to judge someone for something they did in the past when societal norms were different? I would like to use examples, but the trouble with specific people is that it clouds the bigger picture, as you dive into specific circumstances. So I won’t.
A long while ago, I wrote a post about the many statues that commemorate the American Civil War and the controversy they cause today. My point then was that we must see those statues in the light of the historical context during which they were erected. And treat them accordingly. Use them to teach today’s population about history so that we may avoid making the same mistakes again. I think we should apply the same approach to our more personal, human mistakes as well.
…and there is no way to appeal
If a politician made a racist remark thirty years ago may not necessarily disqualify them from holding office today. What was the context of their behavior then? What has their track record shown since? And how did their society, the place where they lived at the time view that which we now consider racist? Or homophobic? Please understand, I’m not trying to condone the act per se, but I also believe in human fallacy and in our ability to learn, to forgive and second chances.
In our days, we are so very quick to judge, so very quick to draw far-reaching conclusions. Social media and commenting here and there make people’s tribunals so easy to reach a damning verdict, a verdict to which there is no appeal. And let’s face it, if we look within ourselves, haven’t we all done things we are less proud of? Things we might not even remember? This is all part of the human equation. As such, everyone deserves that forgiveness, the caution before judgment, not just those we like or those who are on our side of an argument. Who has the right to cast that first stone?
What is your take? Should past actions be viewed through current lenses or through the lens of what society looked like back then, which–once again–is no endorsement of the past? Comments are welcome. Let’s talk.
Hans M Hirschi
Can we have a serious discussion about aging without reducing it to stupid expressions and hollow statements?
Aging. It happens to all of us, yet living in a society (Sweden) where youth is everything, growing older sometimes makes you feel at odds with how you see yourself, compared to how others see you. Aging is a thing, whether we accept it, or not. And it’s something we must deal with, one way or another. To grow older is neither good nor bad, it simply is, as inevitable as the earth spinning around the sun in the vastness of space. So why this post? I think a lot about aging, and no, I’m not “obsessed”, I think about a lot of things, twist them and turn them, look at them from various angles. I’ve also written about aging in more than one of my novels (e.g. Last Winter’s Snow, Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm or Jonathan’s Promise.)
Aging is more than “Seventy is the new Fifty”, “You’re only as old as you feel” or “Age is just a number”
The author at the age of eight.
No to all of the above. 🙂 With all due respect, but I can’t wait for the day when we finally dispense with repeating these stupid statements as if they were some Buddhist mantras. Society changes, norms change and people today act differently than they did ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Oddly, this only ever becomes a thing for the older generations. I’ve yet to year 3 is the new 7, even though there may be as much truth to that. But people obviously aren’t as obsessed with just how much more kids today know compared to what I did some forty-five years ago. And no, one isn’t as old as one feels, because there is always another side to that, how one is viewed by others. In this post, I would like to focus on aging from a couple of different angles. At this point, if you believe that I’m “obsessed” with age or if you think that I’m suffering from a mid-life crisis, then this might not be for you. Neither is true, but I acknowledge willingly that I have no desire to debate with a closed mind…
Speaking of a mid-life crisis. I did have a life crisis, but that was a long time ago. I was actually approaching my thirtieth birthday, and I recall feeling frustrated by that fact, no longer being in my twenties. After many months of feeling sorry for myself, I finally got to the point where I accepted the “inevitable” and enjoyed a great birthday and moved on.
Age is only a problem if you’re afraid to die
Author Hans Hirschi in Lower Manhattan, January 2019. Photo: Alina Oswald
This is one of my core beliefs. I think most people are afraid of the inevitable, death. And while we can’t change that outcome, we can at least pretend that it’s not happening yet. Strangely (I’ve just read another article about that), we seem to do little to stop us from aging prematurely and many of us let our general health lapse with crap diets, too much alcohol and sugar, and not enough exercise. And we’ve spent the past x-thousand years of human society to build elaborate religious systems (the extent of which is really mind-boggling if you think about it) creating fantasies around eternal lives and/or reincarnation. Simply because we cannot accept that life ends when we exhale our last breath. Now picture all the oppression, all the genocides, all the atrocities, the persecution and the hatred that follows in the footsteps of religion and you quickly realize that age and death are probably the biggest “thing” in human culture. So yes, we DO need to talk about it…
I never really counted how much time I spend contemplating aging or my death. I spend little time on the latter, as I can’t know when or how I’ll die. What I can think about is how I live my life, the kind of life I want to live. I also have very specific ideas on how I want my body to be disposed of after my death, something my husband and I discuss at times, to make sure we both understand each other’s final wishes. But ever since I realized that religion truly was “opium for the masses”, I’ve not had any issues with my own mortality. Therefore, aging is not an issue for me. Sure, I’d like to live to be very old (I’m a curious person), but only if I have my physical and mental health to allow me for a meaningful life. That view might change of course, as my aging puts new limitations on what I can do (physically) as the years progress. I no longer jump over fences as I used to and I do wake up every so often with my sciatica reminding me that I no longer have the spine of a teen.
There’s this weird dissonance between mind and body
I’d love to have that body back… Alas. I’d lose much of what I honestly value higher: experience, wisdom, knowledge
Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see my brother, or my dad, not me. This is weird and only lasts a fraction of a second before I recognize that the aging face staring back at me in surprise is, in fact, my own. Sometimes my behavior doesn’t reflect my exterior appearance. Just yesterday, we were on a walk and I was strutting along the path we were on, holding hands with my son (he’ll be six next month.) Some of the people we met were looking at me as if something was seriously wrong with me: “why does this old guy strut like a child?” I still love roller coasters, and the way I dress hasn’t changed much since I was twenty-five. I still prefer jeans and t-shirts/polos. But most importantly, I still ‘feel’ as if I were twenty-five. I don’t feel that I’m more than twice that age, and it goes without saying that this dissonance is growing bigger for every year.
At the same time, I can also readily admit that other parts of my mind do age. I am less tolerant of anti-social behavior (stupid expression, I know, but it’s the best I’ve got) such as feet on chairs, loud music on public transport, people walking on the wrong side of the street, etc. than when I was in my teens and twenties. I just wish everyone could behave properly. LOL I know, this does make me sound ancient…
What I don’t like about aging…
There are several aspects to growing older I don’t like:
- my physical limitations grow, my body decays
- the perception others have on what I can do, cannot do
- society’s views on my age cohort
The most annoying feature of growing older is, of course, my physical decay. When you get an x-ray done and the doctors tell you that your spine is “normal” for someone your age, waking up with back pains every day, my sciatica, how stiff I am compared to how I think I should be, how easily I seem to put on weight these days etc. Those are really annoying things. Oddly, I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been, working out regularly, with a diet healthier than ever before. Unfortunately, the sins of the first forty-nine years cannot be undone completely, and they are a constant reminder of not making them again. It’s also not very nice to see how my hair is getting grayer and grayer, or that my skin is beginning to sag. Then again, compared to others my age (or much younger), I can’t complain. Looking after yourself does wonders!
But much worse than my physical aging is how I am perceived by others. Finding a job at my age? Forget about it. I’m either over-qualified (HR code for “too old” and “too expensive”) or I don’t even hear back. It’s catch twenty-two: apply for a job you’re overqualified for but that you really should land and they’ll be right to claim you’re overqualified, apply for a job that might actually challenge you, and find one every year or so…and get no response. Sadly, for every year, this gets worse. I live in one of the worst societies when it comes to ageism. Here, things start to quickly go downhill as soon as you turn forty. At fifty plus, I might as well give up.
What I like about aging…
Horsing around with my son is still loads of fun. Despite the gray hairs… Photo: Alina Oswald
This is really the fun part. I love all the things I know, the experience I have, the countless things I’ve learned and the wisdom of knowing that I still don’t know shit. I’m also happy that I still remember what it was like to be young and to be dismissed because of that. I also remember vividly that I held very strong views of “I know everything!” when I was younger. Not sure when that changed, but I thought that I knew it all and that I was pretty much invincible until I was at least twenty-five.
It’s quite relaxing to acknowledge that I don’t know it all. Which is different from being right. I like being right at any age. LOL And as I grow older, it’s easier to admit when I’m wrong. There’s less ‘shame’, less sense of losing face associated with that. I am more relaxed about a great many things, simply because I’m not in the same hurry, I feel more patient (even though I still like to get things done quickly.)
Just the other day, a friend and I were talking about the eighties, the advent of PCs at work, fax machines and how slow work life was back then. You sent a letter and then you had to wait, two days, sometimes longer, for a reply. Bank contracts had to be typed up and mailed. No email, no fax stuff, no electronic signatures. It was a slower time, and the pace of life was different. Mind you, not better, not worse, but different. I find it a valuable experience to have in our world today. Just this weekend, I once again realized how fast our world is changing when our son failed to realize what live TV is. We hardly ever watch it, and when he had to go to the bathroom, he asked us to pause the program, in all seriousness. No can do. How do you teach such basic concepts such as time, when kids no longer have to be in front of their TV at a given time, every day, to watch their kids’ show? The way I had to at six pm every Saturday? They turn to Netflix or YouTube any time, pause, resume at their leisure. Not better, not worse, but vastly different.
When you forget…kids are there to remind us
Let’s face it: we all forget stuff. I do, too. I’m lucky though to have a child to remind me of things, from playing to just simply remembering the various stages of childhood. And I am in awe of today’s kids. They know so much, so very early in life. They learn so much. My son dives into learning with gusto. He’s strong-willed and very independent, in many ways the opposite of me, and I’d like to believe that I may take some credit for that. Where my parents were over-protective, I keep him on a much longer “leash”.
I love being out and about with my son because of his viewpoint, his perspective. He sees things so very differently. Sometimes funny, often wrong, but still, it reminds me of my own youth. But more importantly, the constant reminder that different perspectives complement each other. When I was a child or teen, my point of view didn’t matter. It was only the views of the older that mattered.
Today, the opposite seems to be the case. I wish we could see more balance. It pains me that we e.g. seem to forget the lessons of the great wars of the previous century. Let the older generations remind us of that, but maybe we need to let the younger generations tell the story? So that they capture the minds and hearts of the generations that need to heed the lessons?
What are your experiences? Thoughts? Let’s hear it… I for one will continue to ponder this for the rest of my life, as I learn new things, and maybe even unlearn some dear old habits that aren’t really helpful… Have a wonderful week.
Hans M Hirschi
You know Christmas is approaching when “busy” is included in just about every other sentence…
Gosh, I just realized visiting my page on Amazon that I haven’t written in almost three weeks. Which is a lie, because I’ve written a lot. I haven’t blogged though. I’ve been busy. So this post is going to be the musings of someone who feels badly about not keeping in touch, with a diss of social media diss, a bit of nostalgia and probably way too much information on this author’s ongoing health struggles. Mix that in with a healthy dose of emotions and you’ll get a busy, busy blog post.
The Golden One…
The audiobook is almost done and I can’t wait to have it released in time for Christmas. Vance is busy (lol) finishing it up as I type this.
Let’s begin with my WIP I (because there’s also a WIP II, duh), The Golden One. I feel really bad about book two, Deceit, because even though it’s open on my computer, and even though I’ve looked at it several times in the past weeks, I haven’t actually done any work on it. Instead, it’s served as a reference to book three, Reckoning, which is in the final stretches. Thing is, I really, really want to finish book two before Christmas so that I can get it to my editor in VERY good time before the March release date we agreed upon. Then again, It’s already the second advent week and although I’m maybe 80% there, maybe even 90%, I’m not sure I’ll get it done. Because I really want to finish book three before I finish editing book two.
Why? Consistency. I don’t want to restrict myself by saying something in book two that’ll restrict me later on, as the story unravels, and with my mind always coming up with new twists and turns, I need to make sure not to fuck it up and there is one thing in book two that really bothers me now that I’m in book three. I may yet have to fix that. We’ll see. But yeah, it’s kept me busy alright…
A Christmas story…
I’ve been busy writing a short Christmas story about Raphael from the Opera House. I hope you’ll like it.
So many of us get inspired by the holidays. last year I wrote this really cute Dickensian story and this year, I wanted to revisit one of my characters. I gave my readers a few choices and in the end, Willem (Willem of the Tafel) and Raphael (The Opera House) ended up in a tie. I had an idea for Willem, but it didn’t pan out since their time doesn’t do Christmas so it sorta kinda fell apart. But then I had an idea for Raphael and the story practically wrote itself. I had to make a few edits here and there to make it flow better, but I hope I’ll be able to present it to you in my next newsletter, which comes out in two weeks, in the final advent week, on Thursday, December 20th.
If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, there’s still plenty of time. You’ll find the subscribe button popping up every now and then. If it does not, you can sign up here. Oh yeah, to write that newsletter and have it ready by the time we head out for our Xmas vacation. Another thing on my never shrinking to-do list. Did I mention I was busy? If you wonder why this stupid word is strewn in all the time for no apparent reason, it’s because it’s my keyword and my social media analyzer is pushing me to use it more… and more evenly. Middle finger straight up in the air.
The holiday season is crazy busy…
Or are we just telling ourselves? Last Saturday, I swear on the seams of my pants, I could’ve participated in five events, easily: a birthday party my son was invited to, several grand openings, one of them the new intercultural library here in town which I can’t wait to visit, and so on and so forth. None came to fruition as we traveled four hours north to visit my mother in law. That, of course, is always a two-edged sword. In-laws, declining health, “family” in general and what not. But we also spent a night at a great hotel, had an amazing Christmas buffet dinner and I got to have a bit of time with my husband to just talk after Sascha had gone to bed. Getting there was a bit of an adventure, as our electric car uses more electricity with the winter tires on and our “gas station” had some technical challenges, costing us an hour extra. Alas, what can you do?
What world are we leaving behind for our kids?
Sascha in Venice, learning about the effects of global warming first hand.
This is on my mind a lot recently, as we get more and more warnings about not doing enough to stop global warming. And it is really difficult to make headways if some don’t play along. If everyone on a cul-de-sac drives slowly, except Bob, the kids are still at risk of being run over. But how do you get Bob to stop speeding? Why would you not speed if he doesn’t stop?
Global warming is no different, and I’m sick and tired of politicians who say that it’s a Chinese hoax or natural variation. Duh, yes, but it’s never been quite this fast, and why would the Chinese do that? It’s costing them money, too, and have you seen pollution levels in any major Chinese city? I would NOT want to live there with my kids.
Seventeen of the eighteen warmest years in recorded history have taken place after 2000. Do the math. You look at the damage done by hurricanes and typhoons these past two years (they’re even looking at increasing the scales to allow for even deadlier storms, adding factors like rainfall) or the forest fires ravaging California, Greece, Sweden etc. this year and you get a picture that might just be freak weather, but all evidence points in one direction: weather is getting freakier every year, and that ain’t normal variations. Not this fast. Over thousands of years maybe. But never in twenty.
Fly less? Buy less? Live less?
My family has been working for years to try and reduce our carbon footprint. Now I’ll grant you that with our travel, we have a big one, but we do more than most at home to try and reduce it. Our new EV, we do a lot of walking, use public transport a lot when we can, we have all but eliminated beef from the menu and I cook a lot using plant-based proteins. Our heating is electrical and from 100% renewable resources (wind & water.) There’s always more to do and we try, from organic, locally sourced foods to turning off the lights when we don’t need them etc.
But here’s the thing. What I do matters little if the CEOs of big companies fly in their own jets. And my EV matters nothing if 95% of the population still spew out climate gases from their diesel and gasoline engines. We need global solutions because air knows no borders (which I’m actively using in The Golden One!) I remember being in Seoul last winter and the daily smog warnings I got on my phone (I couldn’t read them and had to ask locals.) Bad air blowing in from China. It would either be mild and smoggy (air from China) or cold and clear (air from Russia) in Seoul. Not much the Koreans can do. No DMZ will stop the air…
This week, in Katowice, the world gathers to discuss climate change, again, and to try to find a way forward. I don’t expect any results, because even if China, India, the EU and most of the world agree to improve things, as long as the Americans keep spewing out more climate gas per capita than anyone else and their president claiming “you look at our air and water and it’s now at a record clean.” and the new Brazilian president threatening to deforest the Amazon forest, aka the “lungs of the planet”, we might soon all be facing extinction, as David Attenborough just said today.
Most countries, industries, and individuals are Bobs when it comes to climate. We all expect someone else to fix things, but the climate is a global problem and one we need to tackle together… We’re quickly running out of time.
I used to love social media. I do no more. Apart from the fact that it’s highly addictive and the algorithms almost dangerous to human sanity, it’s also destructive to the human psyche and worse, to our societies. We have become totally obsessed with “me, me, me” and we no longer see society, the need for cohesion, for compromise. Yes, in a good compromise everyone walks away with their heads high, nobody gets everything, but nobody loses. But we have become so focused on winning, on always looking our best that a compromise is seen as “loss of face” and thus unacceptable from the very start.
Facebook’s algorithms, for instance, will make sure that certain of your posts (which changes over time) will be seen by many of your followers, gathering many likes, followed by posts which are hardly seen by anyone (this post will fall under the latter category because it’s critical of Facebook.) The rush to get more likes will get people to post, but the depression or ‘low’ following a post with no likes will get people to post even more psychologists have seen. Facebook wins, but we all lose in the end. Because what is a friendship based on likes rather than helping each other, actually being there for each other?
Advertising now includes stolen email
The latest coup was launched a couple of months ago. Advertisers are now able to upload their email database to target their so-called “customer base”. Facebook, of course, has no way to double check these databases for accuracy and many companies, particularly start-ups will feel compelled to buy email addresses off the web. Oftentimes those addresses will have been stolen or sold. Here are the companies (or search terms) that have uploaded my email address so far, not one of them I’ve ever given my address to (voluntarily), most I don’t even know of:
Not all company names on this list are from that category. There are a couple of names I do recognize, where I actually am a customer, but in the hidden category, they put all the companies, hundreds of them… I still don’t want to see their ads online.
I don’t know where this will end, but I just heard today that more and more people are turning off their Facebook accounts. I’ve already left Twitter and I can’t say I miss it. I still use Instagram, but I merely look at pretty pictures.
You said you were busy?
Yeah, I am. I’ve been writing as much as I’ve been able to, and with the Holidays approaching there’s also been a bit of juggling of Christmas preparations (we have a five-year-old expecting Santa to visit) and the closer we get to Christmas, the crazier things get. I’ve also been in rehab for varying parts of my body, which has been a bit of a downer. My sciatica is a constant pain in the ass, almost literally, and recently I had to see a specialist for weird knee pain. Turns out my knee cap had become inflamed by something, So my PT had me do special stuff for my legs, which I now pay a price for as I’m sore after the first normal work out yesterday. Then two weeks ago, my herniated disk in my neck flared up again, out of the blue, after six years. Oddly, it’s fine now, let’s hope it stays that way. Getting old sucks. LOL, Always one body port or another aching. But alas, it is what it is, as long as I feel fine and my heart ticks on, you won’t hear me complain. It all keeps me busy.
So that’s been my past few weeks. What’s new in your neck of the woods?
Change may be inevitable in life, but how we tackle it defines our legacy to our children
A month from now, it’ll be five years since my mother passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly, but given her suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, a blessing of sorts, particularly for my father, whose own life had been put on pause as Mom got sick. Five years is a long time. While my son met his grandmother a couple of times during the first few months of his life and we have a few treasured photos from those meetings, he has no memory of her. A couple of weeks ago, we were in Switzerland, on our annual visit to my hometown. My mother grew up there, so did my dad, my grandparents lived and died there, and I spent most of my summers there, and I moved there, the day after I graduated from high school. St. Gallen’s annual fall fair is a city tradition, and–of course–a family get-together, as aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends descend upon the city every year. You never know who you’re going to meet.
What am I to do with you? It was clear that Mom was no longer able to form a bond with her only grandson.
Yet things change, at times imperceptibly, at times almost like earthquakes, suddenly, shifting family tectonic plates. And you become aware of how fragile things like family really are, you’re reminded of our own mortality, aging and the depth of the human experience. As I grew up, my immediate family was always closer to my mother’s side than my father’s, for reasons I may not fully understand. Maybe my dad didn’t get along with his siblings, maybe my mother had a better relationship with hers. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my memory that suggests as much, because looking over old family pictures, they’re all there, every aunt, every uncle, with very few exceptions (one who disappeared into the Jehovah’s witnesses for three decades and never attended any family gatherings, and one who was intellectually challenged and just never really fit.)
Phase 1 – Child- and Young Adulthood
Growing up, I lost my first grandparent in 1981, the next in 1993, another in 1998 and finally, my grandma on Dad’s side in 2012. Some losses were profound, particularly my maternal grandparents, as we were very close, and they represented my childhood (summers.) Not to mention that I was an adult by then, realizing what it meant. Yet I was young enough that it didn’t really affect my own views on my own aging, my own mortality. I was in my twenties when most humans believe they’re invincible… I’ve also lost a cousin (to whom I had no relationship), an aunt and two uncles. But in absence of a really close relationship, they had no lasting impact on me.
That changed when Mom died. Suddenly I was one heartbeat away from being my family’s oldest, to be all alone. We often say that we grow up when we’re children, but is that really true? At fifty-one, am I really done growing up? I am glad in a way that it was my mother who left this plane of existence first because I’m so much more dependent on my dad (which btw wasn’t always the case.) Losing him will have a much more profound impact on my life. Yet even with him, the equilibrium of our relationship (and that of my brother) has been changing, subtly, for years. He relies on me for advice of the heart and soul, and on my brother for financial stuff. We talk almost daily and I’m not sure how I will handle the day when he’ll no longer pick up the phone. Luckily, we’re not there yet.
Phase X – You’re it, kid!
Not that there will be any question about it. I know I will. I know myself well enough that some sort of automation will take over and simply make sure that life goes on, functionally, even without Dad. But we’re not there yet. Oddly though, I was reminded of the fragile state of family a while ago, while we were in Switzerland. My dad has a new woman by his side. Well, new may not be the right term. They’ve known each other for a long time. They have a history. Enough said. Prior to coming to the family gathering, he’d visited her and while he had always made sure to organize dinners and gatherings with our local family and friends, this year, for the very first time, nothing. I can feel he’s drifting, away from his “old” family, to his woman’s family, her daughters and their kids. I get to hear stories about them, where I may have heard the latest gossip from his siblings and in-laws in the past.
It fell to me to organize things this year, and amidst it all, I remembered a question he’d asked me a long while ago: “would you mind if I weren’t there this year?” I had told him that his grandson would greatly miss him and he’d acquiesced, but in hindsight, I start to wonder. Is he ashamed of moving on with his life, of seeing the old in-laws? I may be wrong, it’s a sensitive topic. Five years, enough of a waiting time? And how do you deal with all that knowing there is ‘history’ and are former in-laws still, really family? Are fifty-six years as part of a family so easily erased by five years as a widower?
Adapting to the change. Not that I have much of a choice…
I’m growing up, and I begin to realize that it will be up to me from now on to keep in touch with my mother’s side of the family, my three aunts and their families. No one else will. No more natural gatherings at a grandparent’s round birthday. And to be honest, I am not really interested in funerals and seeing people there, as they are such sad occasions to catch up (although, naturally, it’s all we’ve got left) And so I put on my big boy pants and grow up, take charge. Not just for my own sake but that of my son, too. I want him to realized that he has family back in Switzerland. Living abroad, we don’t get to spend a lot of time back home, and those roots are meaningful, they explain a lot of things you’ll see in our house that you might not see elsewhere (from the odd cowbell to Swiss liquor and many dishes on our dinner table.) This is no migration post, but I truly feel that those of us who have “migrated” (stupid word, it used to be “emigrated”) to another culture have a responsibility not just to embrace the culture of our new home, but to retain a connection to the old, for our own benefit, to provide roots to our children, but also to foster amicable relationships between the two cultures, something that has become more and more important of late.
All the while I’ve contemplated and written this post, I have also had my own family to think about. The very own creation of my husband and I, the bond of two very different families. I have my own in-laws, and I remember how difficult it was to “break up” with my in-laws when my ex and I broke up. Losing the family was part of the more difficult things I had to do. Now, my husband is trying to keep alive the very same relationships, in some instances re-building them, after his parents had broken a lot of porcelain due to their alcohol addiction. Life, family, they are so complex, so intricately intertwined. There is so much to consider, so much to think about, and I realize that even at fifty-one, I’m still growing up, still learning new tricks, still finding it hard to let go, adapt to change, accept it, and move on.
The Jonathan Trilogy, is the saga of MY generation, a tale where even the worst background and the most hateful parents won’t keep you from finding love, success, start a dynasty! It’s about Hope come to life across four generations.
A constant topic in my writing as well…
Life, and family, have always been great sources of inspiration in my writing, and quite frequently, when I write, the big questions such as the one above, find their way into my books. Here are but a couple of examples:
- The Jonathan Trilogy: Not intended as such, but books two and three really are all about family, the “Hope” of the first book come to fruition. Probably the world’s first and only gay family saga…
- Family Ties: Focusing on the core family in a very dense format, this story is all about our core family, our relationship with our partners and our children.
- Spanish Bay: I think this is a great example of how we look after our own, how we step up to the plate, no matter what.
But families are at the core of many of my other books, and family members often play pivotal roles, that is also true for my coming fantasy series, in more ways than one. As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, have a look at the YouTube trailer for the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about this topic, my books, my family, or whatever else is on your mind…
When words haunt you, change you
I needed to take a break from writing. I’m currently writing one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever had to write. No, wait. Not “had to”, but I’ll get back to that later. The reason I wanted to talk about this today is because–magically–events in the real world have begun to coincide with my own life. I’m of course talking about recent events stateside where a man accused of groping a woman on a plane claimed that the President said it was okay and the bombs sent to people that same President has been mocking for years. Words matter. Words have an impact. It goes without saying that the person who’s responsible for the groping, as well as the bomb-maker, are raving lunatics, most likely failing any sanity tests. They need help. While that may excuse their behavior, it does not excuse a regime hell-bent on “divide and conquering” the country they’re set to govern.
Sometimes, it takes time for the words to take hold…
Four years ago, I wrote a post about the fact that people around me, from my publisher to readers and reviewers, had begun calling me a “serial killer”, at least within my books. While hurtful even back then, it wasn’t until the last year or so that the label began to affect my writing in earnest. But unlike so many authors around me who write romance (where death is a bit of a mood killer), I write about life, reality, and in it, death is very much the ultimate consequence of life. One does not exist without the other.
It’s been four years since that blog post, and while I bit back against my friends about a year ago, telling them to give the joke a “rest”, the effects have continued to affect me, and my writing. When my mind suggests that it’s time for a character to ‘go’, I no longer let my fingers type the words. I stop. I contemplate, I rationalize, weighing pros against cons, and it usually puts a damper on my creativity.
This time it’s different
I don’t shy away from difficult topics, call them taboos, things most authors wouldn’t even contemplate to write about, child abuse, the death of children, serious illnesses etc. I write about these subject for several reasons: a) they’re on my mind as a father, a husband, a human, b) there are few/no stories for Christopher’s kind out there who tackle such topics, even though we are affected by them as much as anyone else. We deserve those stories, too. And finally, c) these big and admittedly difficult questions make for great stories to tell. It’s never enough though, and I would never tell a story just because it would make a great story. There has to be more.
When I set out to write my current fantasy series, I had no clue in what direction this would take me. The straw that had broken my camel’s back, i.e. the resistance to writing fantasy, was a radio interview on my publisher’s radio station with a reviewer. At some point, she mentioned that I’d be great at it. Now, she thinks everything I do is great, but somewhere in my subconscious, cogwheels began to churn, and a couple of months later, my resistance was broken. Yet given my writing style, I was afraid where this might lead me.
I know where this shit is coming from…
I’ve just begun writing the final book of the series. The ending of book two is a pretty heavy punch straight in the readers’ gut, yet I felt that in order to continue in the final installment, I had to up the antics. And my subconscious had the answers all ready for me. There are two characters in that book that need to go. One of them was close to it already in the second book, but I hesitated. It was too soon. I still needed her. Yesterday, this suddenly appeared on my screen:
“Jason,” he cried out of breath, “you have to come with me! It’s your mother…”
I stopped writing for the day. I couldn’t continue. Because I knew that there would be consequences if I did. Instead, I wrote it this morning, but I struggled, and I had to take several breaks. This is a serious topic. The only way this death makes sense is as a suicide. Unlike the TV show we’re watching on Netflix right now, where they killed off the President’s wife because the actress quit the show, a freak accident made absolutely no sense, and I could tell by the following episode after this mid-season cliff-hanger that they had a hard time explaining her passing. It was indeed senseless and unnecessary. I couldn’t get away with anything like that.
Yet suicide has been on my mind for some time. No, I’m not suicidal, although I’ve loosely thought about it, like most, at some point. I had the scare of my life earlier this summer when a good friend left with a “bang” and we didn’t know if he was alright for more than a day. The emotional turmoil I (and many others went through), is still lingering. And that wasn’t the first incident of mine.
In the end, I “persisted”…
So you contemplate things, you wonder: why? As an author, I’m afforded the luxury of being able to use my creativity, my storytelling to explore the depths of the human psyche. The Golden One is a young adult series. It’s targeted toward teens, which makes the topic of suicide all the more complex and sensitive. How often are the media accused of inciting people to “do it” if they openly report about a celebrity’s passing? And yes, there is research that suggests that hearing or reading about a suicide might push someone over the proverbial edge. However, if that nudge isn’t provided in today’s paper, it’ll come the next time a classmate yells “why don’t you jump off a bridge already?” or they see it on TV or what not. The problem isn’t when we talk openly about suicide, it’s the fact that we do so far too rarely, and treat it as some big taboo. Probably the biggest one of them all.
Just this morning, the same reviewer who got me to write fantasy asked for advice (retrospectively, she’d already done it) about whether to talk to children honestly about her own father’s suicide. This is a topic that needs discussing. Mental health, suicide thoughts are quite common in teens, and even more so in LGBT youth. To write these chapters, these scenes is anything but easy, and I have a hunch I’ll be spending a lot of time editing them, making sure I get it right. But I trust my subconscious to get it right, now that I’ve finally shown the “serial killer” a serious middle finger.
So why did I hesitate? And what does it mean?
Words matter. When people keep calling you that, even as a joke, and even though it may no longer hurt or sting, it still sits there, in the back of your mind, always, a reminder, nagging, eating away at your self-worth, the belief that you can pull it off, that you can write something good and powerful.
Words have a great impact, far beyond the immediate insult they may cause. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable that sometimes we get it wrong, be it as a misfired joke or just a thoughtless comment. Let’s not even mention social media, where leaving a snide comment is oh so very easily done… Once out there, it can’t be taken back. Once the words are said, they’re out. Forever. Yes, you may apologize and feel remorse, but the pain they cause on the receiving end won’t go away just because you did. That’ll take time.
I’m human, and like the rest of you, I know that I’ve caused pain, recklessly, with my words. This post isn’t about asking for forgiveness. I hope to have done that where and when needed. Nor am I asking for people to apologize. If anything, I’d like us all to do two things: a) be more careful in how and what we say and b) not to be so easily offended by things people say. Looking back on my post from 2014, I find the tone of the post relatively light-hearted. Back then, I didn’t take the epithet seriously. Rather, I used it to highlight my work. It was only last year when it was hurled at me repeatedly from several corners that I began to feel the effect it had on me.
Why this post?
You might wonder why I even bother to write this. Well, it’s on my mind, and writing about it helps me focus. it helps me realize where I come from and where I need to go, and why. Just going back over these paragraphs strengthens my resolve and confirms that I ultimately made the right decision. In the end, how we react to words spoken, how we allow them to unfold and take effect is entirely up to us. Yes, words are powerful and they may be hurtful, but when push comes to shove, it’s entirely up to each and every one of us to allow them to turn us into tools. Words are just that, words. Nothing else.
Returning to the examples at the beginning, dozens of millions of the President’s most ardent supporters have not taken to sending bombs to democratic opponents, despite incendiary language by 45 and his regime. They know better. But one individual allowed themself to be turned into a tool. A tool for words. How crazy is that?
As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, remember that later today, October 25th, at six pm Eastern, I’ll release the YouTube trailer for my coming novel, the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about the book, or whatever else is on my mind…