I came to think of my own Christmas story last night, my husband and our first celebration together
A bit of a personal Christmas story today, all real, no fiction. We’re approaching the half-way point in the Rainbow Advent Calendar which I hope you’re following. I’ve already read some really cute and some quite unique stories. And plenty more to go. If you missed it, don’t worry, all the open doors stay open for you. You can go back and read anytime you like. My husband and I met in 2001, on 9/11 (it’s an important piece as you’ll see soon), and after that, things moved quickly. We had been talking online and on the phone ever since our first contact in April that year, but our first date was 9/11, in part because he lived three hours away from me.
Our official Christmas picture!
He moved in with me December 2 that same year. I’d spent the night up there in his apartment and on Sunday morning, we left it all, dumped the furniture (which was mostly old stuff anyway) and took what little belongings he owned, to my car and drove to Gothenburg. The lone exception was a bicycle, a gift from his parents we couldn’t fit. We’d be back for it later. I had known by then that Alex’s parents were quite homophobic but I wasn’t prepared for what I was in for. He’d also told me that Christmas had always been a dark period for him as he grew up, with his dad leaving for his mistress and/or both his parents drinking heavily. It was not a Holiday he looked forward to. For me, it had always been the opposite. I LOVE Christmas, and even when I was alone, I always had a tree. I was on a mission: I’d show Alex that Christmas was a time to enjoy, a beautiful time for family memories to be made, and yes for unconditional love.
I came to think of this last night, as our little family was enjoying a traditional Swedish Yule table, our Christmas version of the famous Smörgåsbord with delicacies ranging from herring to cold cuts, sausages, meatballs, ham, and fish, not to mention a great assortment of candies and desserts. It was one of the gelatine-pressed meat dishes that triggered my memories because back in 2001 I had bought food for a six-headed family and then some. I’d cooked the ham but most of the rest I’d bought in the story. I had, after all not spent that many years in Sweden and I wasn’t exactly an expert on Swedish cuisine.
Our tree this year.
So I bought “Sylta”, which is minced meats in a form surrounded by gelatine. Quite delicious, but yeah, I’d bought a big sized pack and it was more than too much… We sat down, as tradition bids after noon, to eat. We didn’t get far, as the phone kept ringing off the hook. Alex’s father had left his mother for Christmas, to spend it with one of his mistresses, up north instead. So he called Alex and expected him to be home with his mom, rather than spending time with a [insert colorful expletive] faggot… After fifteen or so calls, we put the phone on voicemail and after thirty plus calls, we pulled the cord. Finally, we’d get some peace and quiet… But by then, the magic was gone, and so were our appetites.
On Boxing Day, we fled the country. No, not because of Alex’s dad, but because that year was special. After 9/11, people stopped flying, for fear of ending up in a building, and in New York, hotels stood empty. We got a super cheap deal and were able to fly to New York on Swissair and stay at a four-star hotel for almost no money at all. We had a great few days in the Big Apple, visiting the various sights, even going to Ground Zero to pay our respect to the many victims we’d watched live. We had a great New Year’s Eve dinner near Times Square and celebrated the arrival of 2002 with a million New Yorkers chanting “Fuck Bin Ladin!”
On our way back to Europe, I was able to upgrade us to Business Class, a first for Alex. That was our first Christmas, and I’m happy to report that seventeen years later, we still celebrate Christmas, we’ve made some amazing memories along the way, traveling with my family around the world. Now that we have a child of our own, the Christmas tree is back, and I’m currently sitting right in front of it, watching TV with a bed-ridden kid. Things turned out alright for us, which is the one thing you never really find out in those romances. They just kind of leave you hanging after that first kiss, right? Well, sometimes, IRL really can rock. Today, 11/12 also happens to be our wedding anniversary. Alex and I got hitched today, thirteen years ago. Sixteen years as a couple, thirteen as spouses, certainly longer than the average marriage these days…
Have a great week, and now go on and read some more Christmas stories. I know I will. There’s one I’m not quite done yet. Remember, my own Christmas story is due On Christmas Eve… Don’t miss it.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. The next issue is due next week. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram.
PS: don’t forget to check back in on Friday, when I’ll be posting my release day review of Roe Horvat’s new book, a total must read, just like her last one…
I moaned and my husband asked me why: tale of a homemaker
I’ve been a homemaker for almost five years. In fact, I quit my last full-time job four years and eleven months ago. Since then, I’ve been primarily using the house as a base of operations for my consulting, my teaching gigs, and writing books. With that home office advantage also comes the expectation that I should look after said home. From the get-go, we set out some rules: we’d outsource the coarse cleaning to an outside cleaner coming by every two weeks, but I’d do the daily maintenance around the house and the household.
Yeah, I bake and cook, like any good homemaker. The baking is fun, and it’s nice to see the happy face of your child. But I don’t have the time to do it often…
As we got going, we also expected our son, and I spent the first six months with him, followed by my husband. I was still at the house then, so we were basically both home, me writing and publishing, him doing the child thing. In the four years since, we’ve slipped into this comfortable routine of getting up in the morning, me getting our son ready for school, while he gets himself presentable for work. They leave the house at 7:05 am and don’t usually return until 5:30 to 6 pm. Once they’re out of the house, my routine begins, and it consists of your typical modern “authory” things: social media, blogging, writing, editing, reading & reviewing etc. Apart from that, I also try to make a buck or two from my consultancy and training firm. I’ll be honest: I’m not making much money. My husband is pretty much the sole breadwinner of our family, and therefore, the pressure on me to at least keep the house(-hold) in ship-shape is ever increasing, and my guilt with it. Don’t get me started about my dwindling 401K…
I also empty the dishwasher in the morning, put away the dishes, do laundry, fold clothes that weren’t folded after our (shared) Sunday washing day. I clean up after our son, I prepare and cook our evening meals, I run errands to the post office, downtown and to various malls (on public transport, since my husband uses our only car for work), and I feed our cats and keep their litter box tidy. Did I mention that I also take out the garbage and refill the compost container with a new bag every Wednesday after it’s been collected? I take in the mail daily and I’m our finance minister, meaning I pay our invoices and keep tabs on our credit card spending. I book all of our trips, stay in touch with our son’s school, I book electricians, carpenters, gardeners and others who need to do work in and around the house. I’m also the legal guardian of my mother-in-law and do all of her finances. A couple of times per week I hit the gym to keep my new and improved body in ship-shape.
The traditional image of a homemaker, a woman. Sadly, still a reality, and for the few men out there, invisibility is challenging.
Mind you, I am not complaining. I have a lot of freedom in what I do, when I do it, and how I do it. Writing is a dream come true! But I have to run after a gazillion little things without which our household would seize functioning.
Tonight, after dinner, my husband sat down in our reading corner to work some more. He’s a senior manager for the city of Gothenburg and yeah, he works a lot, often until 10 pm, several times per week. No, he’s not nearly paid enough for it. I remember, having once been an executive myself, I know the work hours of senior management. And I wonder, how did we do things back then? Not having a kid must’ve helped… Still, how did we manage?
Our son was tired and after I had gotten him to finish his dinner, he went to bed. Early. I brushed his teeth, combed his hair, helped him gargle with his mouthwash, spritzed cortisone spray up his nostrils as he’s been having difficulties with his nasal tract again, and saw him off to bed, with a fresh glass of water, and after having fluffed his comforter and pillow for him. After that, I had to empty the dishwasher from the afternoon post-baking load (see picture above. I’m trying out to create the perfect oatmeal cookie) and to put the dinner dishes in, clean the table and the kitchen countertops. You know, the usual post-dinner clean-up. At some point, looking at my husband sitting comfortably in his recliner, laptop in lap, working away, I must’ve moaned. He must’ve heard, and he asked what was wrong.
Well, my dear husband, nothing really. As the one who costs more than he brings home, I don’t have the privilege to complain, really. I work from dusk to bedtime, literally, as my jobs don’t have regular hours, maybe with the teaching exception, but even course preparations often require evening work. I miss having colleagues, people to go to lunch with every day, or brushing off every now and then, having coffee with a colleague or a meeting or two (I know, I know, who would’ve thought I’d ever say that…), but the only ones I’m usually talking to throughout the day are the cats. And the fish, on a bad day…
Yeah, almost. Although I never breastfed our son. This is, of course, the stereotype of a housewife, but there’s a lot of truth to it. We do have a lot to juggle, every day. Being a homemaker isn’t about watching daytime soaps…
Before long, and this is why I’ve stopped complaining a long time ago (apart from the not really being allowed to), is that our marital “chore split discussions” inevitably end up in “but do you really have to… [blog/be social/talk to readers every day/go to cons/do publicity interviews/review books or read this shit/ etc.]?” And I mostly shrug, because as a management consultant, I have that VERY same conversation (unpaid mind you) with my husband every other day, about these worthless and unproductive meetings he (has to) attend (which I question, nevertheless), tasks he finds meaningless (and which I recommend he divest, but he can’t/won’t) etc.
The big difference is this: I’ve been a corporate executive. I’ve lived in his world for many years. He’s never lived in mine. He doesn’t understand the complexity of being a self-employed consultant, or an indie author in today’s publishing flux, or how much fucking time I get to waste in phone queues with hospitals/suppliers/government agencies/etc. to fix things for us, our son, or his mother.
So yes, every now and then, I moan, simply because I wonder – silently of course – what it would be like to go back to a day job, contributing financially to our family again, and to have a looong discussion with my husband about how to redistribute the household chores equally between the two of us. And I wonder, silently of course, what it would be like, having to get up even earlier, for both of us to be ready in time for a 7:05 am departure, and to come home at 6 pm night after night, getting dinner started, rather than sitting down and eating. Would I still be able to write? Would I find the time? The energy?The inspiration?
I don’t know, but yeah, these questions, too, deserve a moan every now and then because I am aware of my contribution to running our family smoothly. No thank yous (usually), no pension funds/points, but at least I know my husband and my son can focus on their days.
Author Hans M. Hirschi, photographed by Alina Oswald in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017.
Me, I get to let out a moan every now and then, before it’s back to work for me, too, a 1,400+ word rant on my blog, a post dedicated to the world’s silent worker, who like me, isn’t paid, doesn’t get pension points and far too little gratitude and attention: the homemaker.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good week.
Homemaker, father, author, consultant, teacher, former corporate (& future again?) executive
It’s release day for Disease, and I can’t wait for you to read this one…
Disease, my new novel, releases today.
“How do you explain Alzheimer’s to someone who doesn’t have it?
It’s really impossible. One moment, you’re just like everyone else—talking, having fun, being part of a conversation—and then boom! You forget something, a word, a face, a memory, something that belongs right there, in that conversation. You stand there, in that circle of people, and that which you have forgotten becomes the elephant in the room, with everyone staring at you, waiting for you to remember. And you panic, you get stressed, and yeah, at that point, you’ll never remember it anyway.
People laugh at it when they think you’re just like them. Normal. Healthy. Not so much when they know you have it. The disease.
“Don’t worry, Hunter. We all forget stuff. It’s no big deal.” But it is a big deal. It is a very big fucking deal. It’s my memory—my life literally turning to goo inside my head. This thing is going to kill me!
Not that I’d ever say anything. People get antsy around sickness, around disease. So I keep my mouth shut. I drop out of conversations. Slowly. Retreat into the safety of my thoughts. For what it’s worth. For what’s left of them. If Ethan is with me, maybe I’ll take his hand, award him a glance. He knows of my pain. He’s the only one who really understands how I feel. At least, I like to think so.
Have you ever read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende? at is exactly how my mind is. Like Fantastica. Well, sort of. My mind was never really fantastic to begin with… But, just like the novel, Nothing is taking over, and little by little, it breaks down my mind, my Fantastica. Only there is no Bastian to rescue me. No Atreyu going off on adventures on my behalf. No Falcor to fly to my aid. Just the Nothing. Taking over, bit by bit. And you never know what’s next to go.”
Release day, and when Amazon finally opens the floodgates and sends the book to all those who pre-ordered it (thank you btw), I’ll be approaching the runway for a landing at Munich airport. So yeah, this is a pre-recorded post. Sorry. It’s my fifteenth release day since I began writing, and while I’m not feeling particularly nervous this time (I have seen so many gorgeous reviews already that I know the book will be well received), I feel a sense of accomplishment, pride. I hope you’ll forgive an old man’s indulgence. Yes, pride is a good word.
I lose my mom far too soon, yet it was still a relief for us. Why? The book will allow you to understand.
I also feel thankful to Hunter, Ethan, and Amy, for allowing me to tell their story. And I am grateful for the time I got to spend with my mother, herself a victim of the wretched disease that is Alzheimer’s, and in a way a template for Hunter’s mother. Through mom, I got to experience some of the later stage symptoms first hand, the emotional turmoil, the paranoia, and all the other symptoms that are associated with the disease, like losing your appetite, your sense of taste etc. While Hunter’s story is rooted in my own fears of having Alzheimer’s (unfoundedly as it turned out), his struggle helped me play with various scenarios of how we, as human beings, deal with a death sentence. To be handed a best before date is probably one of life’s greatest challenges, and Hunter allowed me to pitch various scenarios, different viewpoints against each other. In a way, Disease isn’t just about Alzheimer’s, but it’s a story about life, living life to the fullest, but also about our own control of our own fate, society, and our friends and families. At least philosophically.
Why read Disease? I’ve been asked this question many times. Whether you’re personally affected by Alzheimer’s (through family or loved ones) or if it’s just a theoretical concept for you at this stage, you can read the story from the above perspective, see how we rise to adversity, how we play the hand that life has dealt us. But Disease is also a love story, romantic even (yeah I know, I’m a sappy romantic even when I kill my main character in the end), showing how two people love each other, stand by each other, no matter what (and I mean this literally). Or you could read the story to understand, to fathom how and why Alzheimer’s Disease is such a wretched thing to happen. I’ve been told by many reviewers just how cathartic a read it is:
“As I medical professional, I have encountered this illness. I have been caregiver to one particular patient and it is heartwrenching and not the best feeling. It makes one exam their own mortality and question: How brave will I be if this were me?”
My gratitude to Hunter, Ethan, and Amy for sharing it with me, allowing me to tell you their story. But now it’s time for me to let them go. They are yours now, and I shed a few tears as I take my leave from them and place them in your care, and I ask you: “how brave are you?”
Hans M Hirschi
This is how I’ll be consciously protesting the Nazi march through the streets of Gothenburg tomorrow
In our lives, it’s often difficult to discern good from evil. Life isn’t black and white, it’s mostly shades of gray. We all know that. However, there are some notable exceptions, and Nazis are one of them. You needn’t be a historian to understand that the genocide of more than six million Jews, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses & mentally disabled people was a defining moment for humanity, unparalleled in its industrial approach, its cold-hearted planning and faithful execution by the German Army and the various police forces of the era. It’s evil, pure and simple. The hatred against minorities, be it religious (e.g. Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses), ethnicity (Roma, Africans, Asians) or otherwise (disability, sexuality) is nothing new, and most certainly not a German problem. And the simple method of scapegoating is perpetrated again and again, in every country challenged by today’s complex world.
Gothenburg, my home town. Photo: Daniel Sjöström, CC
Sweden is, sadly, no exception. We’ve long prided ourselves for our open and welcoming society, and in recent decades, much like America has been in times past, we’ve welcomed immigrants to fill the jobs our own refused to do: clean toilets, look after the sick and elderly, janitorial services etc. On the other hand, our educational system is failing, after countless attempts by far too many politicians hellbent to leave a mark and fix a system that was geared toward graduating everyone “because they tried”.
We’ve had three (!) completely different grade systems in the 25 years I’ve lived in this country. Young Swedish males (they are primarily male) who fail school, don’t have much of a life to look forward to, they’ll find it difficult to find partners if they live in rural areas (because young women are more likely to get educated and more likely to move to university cities), jobs, and they often look to explanations outside of themselves. Racism (be it the socialist version we call Nazis or the conservative version that is fascism) provides all the easy answers. If only we didn’t have them, we‘d have plenty of jobs… If only they‘d assimilate, we wouldn’t have to rape to get women… Their sense of reality as warped as it can be.
This Saturday, the most active Nazi group in Sweden, The Nordic Resistance Movement, is going to conduct a march through the streets of Gothenburg, do demonstrate while the Gothenburg Book Fair, Sweden’s largest annual cultural event, takes place. Loads of international media on site, Yom Kippur on Saturday as icing on the cake, and thus plenty of opportunity for great press (according to the motto: “all press is good press!”) They’ve already conducted an impromptu march a couple of weeks ago, taking everybody by surprise, as they hadn’t sought approval for a march. According to Swedish law, you can demonstrate any time, anywhere in public, as long as you don’t disturb the peace. To seek approval only gives you first dibs to a specific time and place. The route of the demonstration is still disputed in courts, and the Nazis have claimed to ignore any official ruling. The Police have built make-shift lock-ups for hundreds of people underneath police HQ, and the extreme left have vouched to bus people to our fair city to stop the Nazis from marching. Violence begging for violence.
Gothenburg, an open, inviting and international city, built by immigrants for free global trade, from day one. Photo: Rob Sinclair, CC
Gothenburg is a vibrant city. Sweden’s second largest was built on clay soil and swamps by primarily Dutch, Scottish and German engineers after King Gustav II Adolf decided he needed a fortified city on the west coast to protect the nation against attacks from primarily neighboring rival Denmark in 1632 (we are now very close to our Danish neighbors, just saying.)
Today, greater Gothenburg is home to some 1.5 million people from over one hundred cultures. Our weather isn’t the fairest, but we have a vibrant cultural scene and my city, which was already once plagued by Nazis in the nineties (see my book Last Winter’s Snow), when even I was once attacked by VAM, raised itself above it all, and will host EuroPride 2018 together with Stockholm. It’s a diverse city, for sure, home to some very large global companies like Volvo Cars, AB Volvo, SKF, SCA, Essity, Mölnlycke Healthcare, AstraZeneca and many others, companies who all rely on experts from around the world, companies who are home in almost every corner of the world.
For weeks, I was determined to stand alongside the march, draped in a Swedish and a Rainbow flag, the symbol of universal love, to show those monsters that there is another story of Sweden, a story of Sweden where color plays no role, where love is universal. I was determined to not sit idly by when the symbol of our nation (our flag) is hijacked by a group of thugs and criminals (the majority of the leaders of NMR are convicted felons according to research by local newspaper GP.) They don’t scare me as an individual group, but I am of course concerned with the wider implications of the rise of “white power” across Europe and the United States. Have we already forgotten the sacrifices of our grandparents?
There are several demonstrations planned against the Nazi march, some by individuals on the extreme left who are just as unpalatable, re “only a dead bourgeois is a good bourgeois…”, “kill those capitalist swines!” No, I would never join any of those groups, but I was looking forward to my silent protest, as scared as I was that it might provoke the Nazis to physically attack me. Despite the largest police contingency planned since the fateful 2001 EU summit, it doesn’t take much to hurt someone. But, as you can see from my use of time, I was going to protest on site. But an article in today’s Metro changed my mind. The authors of that article are spot on: the Nazis want attention, they’re first class attention whores, which is why they’re doing this now, while the world is gathered here for the Book Fair. Instead, the authors propose that we actively turn our backs, not physically in situ, but by staying away from the streets they’ll be marching on. Remember the 1980s peace movement mantra: “what if there was a war but no one showed up?” Kind of the same thing. We should instead actively protest their idiocy by spending time with our families, our children, our friends, do loving things, and suck the oxygen away from those thugs. The city of Gothenburg has also begun to fly the rainbow flag across town, as a strong symbol for love and our city’s diversity. When I dropped off a guest in front of the fair grounds and saw it fly I almost cried. It is a potent symbol for love, universal love.
My grandparents. I miss them very much, and I am proud of their stance and accomplishments during the WWII Nazi plague. Photo: private
Allow me to share an anecdote from my own family. I have German ancestry. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side emigrated from Imperial Germany to Switzerland, where my grandpa was born in 1907. My grandpa was my childhood hero. He was the operator at one of my hometown’s theaters. I loved him and grandma to pieces, spending every childhood summer at their place in St.Gallen. Grandpa was no saint, far from it, but he did one thing right: he refused to join the Wehrmacht (Germany’s army) in 1938 when he was drafted. He and his entire family subsequently lost their citizenship and my mother was born stateless in 1941. My grandpa spent the entire war in camps, as free labor on Swiss farms, far away from his family who suffered enormously of famine and lack of pretty much everything. His brothers all joined the war effort. None returned alive, and there was considerable dissonance between my grandpa and his sisters because of his choice. Personally, I think it’s amazing that my grandpa had the balls to stand up to Hitler and give him the finger. Whether he did if because he was a coward (as some in the family have claimed) is irrelevant today. I have many German friends who live with the stigma of having a grandfather who served in that war and who may have participated in crimes against humanity. How do you deal with that?
He and his entire family subsequently lost their citizenship and my mother was born stateless in 1941. My grandpa spent the entire war in internment camps, providing free labor to Swiss farmers, far away from his family who suffered enormously from famine and lack of pretty much everything. His brothers all joined the war effort. None returned alive, and there was considerable dissonance between my grandpa and his sisters because of his choice. Personally, I think it’s amazing that my grandpa had the balls to stand up to Hitler and give him the finger. Whether he did if because he was a coward (as some in our family have claimed) is irrelevant today. I have many German friends who live with the stigma of having a grandfather who served in that war and who may have (willingly) participated in crimes against humanity. How do you deal with that?
The author of this post in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017. Photo: Alina Oswald.
I have to honor my grandpa for his choice, I have to honor my grandmother who worked tirelessly to shelter, clothe and feed her four children born during the war without any help from her husband, I have to honor my uncle and my aunts who suffered from the long-term effects of malnutrition their entire lives. The tragedy of WWII, and the horrors bestowed upon us by the Nazis linger.
I have a four-year old son. I have a responsibility to make sure that his friends at his international school, Nigerians, Somalis, Iranians, Indians, English etc. all have the same shot at a happy life, regardless of the color of their skin, their creed or who they might eventually end up falling in love with.
This Saturday, Gothenburg has a choice to make when the Nazi march through our city takes place. We let them, because it’s part of our system of free speech and freedom of assembly, but we don’t have to let them do so without showing how pitiful, small and insignificant they are. There are no two sides to this! Will you be with me? Will you stay away from the Nazi march through town, not ogle them, not demonstrate against them, most certainly not use violence against them, but spend time with your loved ones, and demonstrate (as in showing) that Gothenburg and indeed the world, can be a kind place, a loving place, a place where infinite diversity can peacefully co-exist in infinite combinations (to lightly adapt a Vulcan proverb).
Thank you and have a wonderful weekend. If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram.
Hans M Hirschi
author, husband & very proud father
I still remember my childhood, reading books
I face fierce competition in my strive to get my son to start reading books. Since the age of nine months, the iPad has been the most popular toy in our house. He’s not unlike other boys though, toys with sirens (particularly fire trucks) are always cool, and I don’t recall how many times we’ve driven by our local fire station just to make him smile. Spiderman is his (and many of his friends in school’s) favorite superhero, and there’s always a train track covering the floor of his bedroom. Plus Lego etc.
At some point we had to limit his iPad consumption, and mind you it’s not violent slasher videos he watches, but Peppa Pig (which Daddy despises with a vengeance), Ben & Holly, the Cat in the hat etc. Good kids entertainment. And for us parents, the iPad is a blessing. He gets up on a Saturday morning, grabs his iPad and crawls back under his covers to watch his cartoons without waking us. Needless to say, Pappa and Daddy are happy for the extra hours of sleep. During meals, between ten am and noon and from one-thirty to four pm, and always after seven pm, the iPad is disabled thanks to an app we have installed. And the great thing is, we can increase that time on the fly, or decrease if needed (long car drives, plane rides etc.)
Remember this? I doubt that very many millennials have seen one of these in real life. I believe this was the most popular program on our channels…
When I was a child, we had a handful of TV channels, and more often then not, in the afternoon or mornings, you’d see the “test screen” on your TV. There was simply no programming. Today, all channels broadcast 24×7 and there are more channels out there than you could ever wish for. At some point, my dad (he’s got a satellite receiver) had over 400 channels in his TV, making it virtually impossible to find anything valuable to watch. We’ve completely abandoned old-TV style watching, unless we want to watch NPR-news when something’s happened. Otherwise, we use our old DVD to watch one of our many hundred discs lying around the house, or it’s Netflix or something directly from Apple on our Apple TV. Books compete with a lot more media today than when I grew up.
But it’s not just more competition for books, it’s also (or so it seems to me) less time. When I was my son’s age, my mom was at home. A home maker she raised us until we “had to” go to pre-school at the age of six. My son began pre-school at the age of one due to both parents working. He’s already in his fourth “academic” year and he’s only four and a half years old. He has long days, starting at 6:30 am and he won’t be home until 4:00 pm today, often later. My school days began later, were shorter, which left me more time to play.
When I was able to read, I also began to read (and write). And while I can’t remember what books I read at what age, I recall the emotional impact of diving into different worlds, whether it was science-fiction with aliens and rockets and star ships, or to be transported across time and space to the old west and Karl May’s many books about cowboys and indians, with the Winnetou trilogy my childhood favorite, along with many others. It was that feeling of instantly being transported to a different place, imagining that place, the characters, living their adventures, following along on whatever track they were pursuing. It was so riveting, so fulfilling.
Reading books is still one of my favorite past times, even though I have less time for it now than ever before. But unlike TV or the big screen, where we get to watch one person’s imagination of whatever it is we’re watching, reading books allows us to fill the blanks ourselves. We get to design costumes, build sets, choose the actors to play the roles, we determine if the sun’s out or not in various scenes, and we get to hop from character to character and live vicariously through them.
My son’s library. (Picture) books from several cultures, some new, some classics. My own childhood books are stored elsewhere. We also read a book a week from my son’s school library.
I really want my son to experience that. I really do. And whenever we read a book together, usually before bedtime, it’s one of our best times together, as we both dive into a story, and you can tell which books excel at enabling children at this journey, and which don’t. My son goes to an amazing school, and every Friday, he brings back a new book from their library to read over the weekend. An amazing program for sure, and we usually send the book back Tuesday or Wednesday. We want to make sure he gets to read it at least twice and our weekends are often bookless, as he gets to stay up late because we’re out or watching a family movie together. But to read with Sascha, kid in my lap, even if we’ve read the same book one hundred times already, is always something special. And he already has a fair collection of books in six different languages: English, Swedish, German, Alemannic, Hindi & Raeto-Romansh.
Children have an almost limitless imagination. Once they reach scholastic age, that imagination is slowly but surely driven from them, until they are mostly grown-up automatons. As an artist, I managed to keep some of that imagination, that ability that allows me to think outside the box (to speak corporate for a second), to challenge status quos, see new ways to do things. I want my son to retain that ability, too, because it’s such a priceless gift. Just as he picks up a stick in the forest to be used as sword or magic wand, he can read books to transport him to strange new worlds or quaint places instantly, to learn and grow as a human being, to walk a mile in the shoes of those less fortunate, those utterly unlike him. And when he’s old enough, I hope he’ll read my books, too, including the one written specifically for him, because I have a hunch that his opinion is one I’ll cherish more than that of a Nobel Prize critic…
How did you get your kids to read? Do you find it hard to compete with TVs, phones and pads? Share your best tips here… If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.
Doctor Who? How a TV show highlights the world’s problem with equality
Do you watch or follow the English Sci-Fi series Doctor Who? I don’t. I’ll be honest. Never seen it, never watched a single episode. But I understand that it’s to the English what Star Trek is to the rest of us (sort of). Like I said, I haven’t seen it. But apparently, they announce new doctors every now and then, and this week, the BBC announced that the thirteenth doctor (anyone superstitious?) would be a woman, for the first time. In a healthy society, this would’ve been met with shrugs all around, because this would only matter to the aficionados. Some would love it (because they like the actor), some would hate it (because they dislike the actress). However, our planet is not a healthy society and before long, the Internet was overflowing with hatred, “too little, too lates” and then some… But it was this article in a Scottish newspaper that had my head spinning. Here was a “feminist” decrying the move as hurtful to equality. He makes some interesting points, which is why it took me a long time to wrap my head around it. Particularly since I don’t watch the show.
Captain Chris Pike and his female Number One (in the pilot of Star Trek) Pike was replaced by Kirk and Number One wasn’t cast again until the Next Generation in the eighties when it was – of course – a guy… The first female captain was seen in the first Star Trek Movie in 1979, in a small role. Source: Tumblr
Here’s the thing. I agree with Mark Smith initial statement: to cast a woman in the lead role of a sci-fi show in 2017 is hardly “edgy”. Had they done it in the 1970ies, yes, but even an “edgy” show like Star Trek couldn’t (wouldn’t? dare not?) cast a woman as First Officer aboard the Enterprise in the sixties. See the interesting pilot with Eugene Roddenberry’s wife as First Officer, aka Number One. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was later cast as a nurse (how female, right?) and as the computer voice. Eventually, in the movies, she advanced to Doctor (1980s). Here’s the problem: women are still universally seen as lesser beings than men. In every aspect of society with the exception of child rearing and ‘care’, where the opposite is the case. Naturally, both views are utterly wrong. Men can be as caring as women and men can be as “worthless” as women are seen.
Yet when a woman replaces a man after twelve instances, people are still either outraged or bored. Let’s assume the opposite. What about Doctor 14? 15? 27? What if the next thirteen doctors were all female? Imagine the outrage! Most major countries in the world have still not had female leaders, and once a woman has had the position, she’s replaced – almost assuredly – by a man. Because “they’ve had their turn, can we return to normalcy now?” NO, we can’t and we shouldn’t. Normalcy won’t be until we don’t even notice what gender, sex or sexuality a person has when it’s equally “normal” aka boring for a superhero to be trans as it is for them to be a man. But for now, we can assume that doctor #14 will be a guy again, that the next English PM is a guy again, that the next German PM is a man again etc. We could, of course, say the same about other countries and “occurrences”. While we applaud the fact that Ireland has a PM who’s gay, you can rest assured this won’t happen again (anytime soon), or that Iceland had a female AND Lesbian PM (her successor was straight, corrupt and yeah, a straight guy). It’s how our society works. For a while (2010-2012), Switzerland had FOUR female ministers in its seven head government (plus a female federal chancellor), a majority, for the first time, ever. Now? We’re down to two. And that’s what most people, even women, consider “normal”.
The “kiss” that rocked the south… Source: Wikipedia
It’s not just gender though, is it? When Star Trek “featured” their first Lesbian kiss it was only acceptable because one of the women was a man in a previous life, and the worms they carry inside their humanoid bodies are basically sexless (gods know how they procreate). And even though there was an outrage when Kirk kissed Uhura in the original show (she was black!) it was under “duress”, not because they wanted to. Imagine if Kirk had been of sound mind, wanting to kiss a black woman! The outrage! The show would never have aired. Even as recently as the 1980s, when Stephen Carrington came out as gay and had an (ex) boyfriend (subsequently murdered (!!!) by the show’s main character and Stephen’s dad), Stephen was almost instantly recast as “bisexual” to soften the blow and later married Sammy Jo. No wonder bisexuals have a bad rap… Bisexuals DO exist, trust me, but bisexuality is not to meant to be a tool to ease heterosexual discomfort… facepalm But yeah, I could go on and on and on, but just stay with Blake Carrington killing his son’s boyfriend and getting away with it, and his son forgiving him for it… Yeah, that’s what my youth looked like! And we complain about a TV show in 2017 casting a woman in the lead… If I have one complaint is that it’s at least fifty years too late (the show first aired in 1963, three years before Star Trek premiered).
Allow me to make it worse, if possible. On Facebook, some of the people I follow, decried the Doctor Who thing as “robbing boys of their last male role models” and it made me wonder: how did girls survive the past millennia with ONLY male role models? Utter rubbish, and utterly sexist, and yes, sadly women are as sexist as men and often step on their own feet of potential advancement. Why, please tell me why, shouldn’t a boy be able to see a girl as a role model? A hero? WHY? Am I missing something? Are girls so much smarter? Because they’ve had no problems seeing Spiderman, Superman, Aquaman, or Batman as role models. But I’m only a gay man, what do I know. We all know that I’m possibly located even lower on the scale than women, just above Lesbians and trans people… frown I do my best to let my son watch the movies/shows he wants, and he loves Elsa as much as he loves Merida or Moana/Vaiana, strong characters, “despite” being girls. And yes, he likes Spiderman, too, or his other cartoon characters in the shapes of trains, little buses, ambulances or what not. Oddly, he is still young enough to not have his mind polluted by the construct of gender. I cherish every moment it stays that way, although I know it’s a battle I’ll lose. Just the other week someone said that Sascha “looked more masculine with his hair short”. Needless to say, I’ll let it grow out again if he wants to. What an insolent comment. As if manliness resides in short hair! But yeah, that’s where we are in real life, in 2017! facepalm
Because in the end, that’s really what matters, right? REAL LIFE. How we educate our kids to be good citizens, respectful of everybody, no matter what, and I for one will do whatever I can so that my son has role models based on their actions, not their gender, sex, sexuality, age, skin color, ethnicity, faith, culture etc.
Notice the representation on this stock image I once bought for my company? Yeah, no blacks and no Asians, but at least we have gender equality…
So how do we move forward? I’m a liberal (in the European, original, sense of the word), I don’t really (want to) believe in quotas or affirmative action, but I’ve also seen how we (in Sweden) have achieved a considerable level of equality, due to quotas. Here it’s a given that approx. half of our parliament is female, that half our government ministers are female. Sweden is far from perfect (re pay gaps), but we constantly talk about it and make slow and constant improvements. The current Canadian government is also a great example of inclusion, but look at how Trump rules in the U.S. and note the not so subtle difference.
So yes, quotas can help. When the Swedish government threatened publicly traded companies with legislation about a 40% female quota on their boards, companies began to look for women for their boards. Sadly, before that, they were mostly complaining about quotas and how they were looking for the right people, not their sex. Suddenly, they found women who were competent. Odd, eh? It’s getting better, slowly, way too slowly. In TV and film, various ratings (e.g. F on IMDB or the Bechdel test) guide viewers to movies with a healthy representation of sexes. And while I can frown upon commercial stock photos with your Asian, your black person, your brown person and a white one, perfect representation of the sexes, I also realize how important it is, and that companies have realized that. Problem is, we’d (as a western society) not accept a commercial with an all black cast or an all Asian cast, as we just wouldn’t see “ourselves” in it, which is problematic at best (I spoke about that with regards to love in my review last week.) This is something we all need to work on, and I believe literature has an important role to play, as our characters don’t have skin colors, don’t have ethnicities unless we give it to them. Why not let them be secrets until after a book is released and then tell people? Yeah, I know, most will assume an all white cast, and that’s at the core of this debate, right? But what if you had a character named Chris who turns out to be a black, Muslim, trans woman? Gotcha! You thought Chris was a straight, white guy… Yeah…
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to this conundrum, but I know one thing: blaming a TV show for being too late won’t help. Instead, make sure they stick with it, not by being representative to the dot, but by being inclusive in all things, and that means not just adequate representation, but seeing beyond all that, to go beyond skin-deep, to the human core of us all, until we get to the point where “what” we are isn’t as important as “who” we are, our character. What’s your take on all this? Do you have any ideas on how to fix this?
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