Life, family and growing up: hard lessons you learn as you get older

Life, family and growing up: hard lessons you learn as you get older

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.

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…

Hans

Words matter, words are having a real-world impact

Words matter, words are having a real-world impact

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…

Hans

What world, what future, are we leaving to our children?

What world, what future, are we leaving to our children?

More and more often, I question the wisdom of having brought a child into this world…

I love my son, more than anything else on this planet. And like most parents out there, I’d gladly give my life to make sure he got to live. I needed to say this before I go into today’s blog post. Because given the way we are treating this planet, I worry. I worry about the state of the planet, where we’re hading, and what kind of world I will be able to leave behind for my son, what future he’ll have. My husband and I live unusual lives. We try hard to reduce our negative impact on the planet’s ecosystem. We drive an electric vehicle, we have modern efficient heating systems, we turn off our LED lamps when they’re not needed, we buy organic food and we have reduced our consumption of red meats to a minimum. We teach our son the value of life, all life, from the tiniest bug to kindness to other people.

My son and I on the highest point of our island. I try to teach him respect for Mother Nature's creation in all aspects of life.

My son and I on the highest point of our island. I try to teach him respect for Mother Nature’s creation in all aspects of life.

We are but three in nearing ten billion people…

Yet what are we? A family of three in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. We still eat plenty every day, we can afford to buy organic, despite the price point. We do all those things at a great extra cost for our wallets, for what? To soothe our conscience? What good does it do if the eggs I buy are organic if the next mom buys the cheapest eggs for her family, from hens who live caged all their lives before being destroyed?

What good does it do if we pay extra for an EV if the Fords, the GMs, the Toyotas and the Volvos of the world continue to produce huge SUVs and sell them to people who really don’t need them?

And what good do all of our combined efforts accomplish if entire nations, e.g. the U.S., actively work to increase carbon emissions by rolling back laws and regulations to levels from the nineties, leave the Paris accords, allow the break-up of Natural Parks and the pollution of rivers, lakes and entire oceans?

Willem of the Tafel deals with the ultimate consequences of climate change. Not a future I want for our planet.

Willem of the Tafel deals with the ultimate consequences of climate change. Not a future I want for our planet.

The new IPCC report is brutal reading

I woke up this morning to the release of the latest report from the UN climate panel, the IPCC, and their highly anticipated report on the effects of 1.5 C degree target on our climate. It is horrific reading. We’re already past 1 C and unless we take action now, we’re heading toward 2 degrees, which will see e.g. 70-90% of all coral reefs gone. If we go to 2 degrees, we’ll lose 99%! I’m a scuba diver. I have scuba dived among some of the most beautiful coral reefs we have. The thought that they’d be all gone, along with all the species of fish, shrimp etc that live in those stunning ecosystems is heartbreaking. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that my son might not get to see them.

We are way past doubting the effect humankind has on global climate when 17 of the 18 warmest years in the past 136 years have occurred since 2001!

Add to that the way our world is changing politically, philosophically: Brexit, Trump, along with the upheavals taking place in Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, Italy, and now Brasil? To name a few. Why does war feel like something that could happen any day? Is this the future I had envisioned for my child?

What can I do? What can you do?

 

My coming fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today, climate change above all else.

I can’t stop Trump. Nor can I stop Brexit. Or any of the madness going on around the world. I can’t. I can only vote here in Sweden, and I did my best to make sure to vote for a political party that is a guarantee for an open-minded society, an ecological future. You can do that, too. In your country.

 

I’ll continue to buy healthy and organic foods for our family, cooking healthy meals, making sure we don’t throw away food. All of that we’ll obviously continue to do. As an author, I also have the privilege to have a voice that is louder than most people’s. It’s still a whisper, sadly, but nevertheless. And I feel as if I have to use that voice to scream about global warming and the effects thereof. Which is one of the reasons why the fantasy trilogy I’m working on is about a group of environmental warriors, the Byeonsin. And I think I know how the series will end, and that makes me both hopeful and frustrated, all rolled up in one. *no spoilers, nothing is written yet* I’ve also tried to spell out the effects of Global Warming in my novel Willem of the Tafel. Not a future I want to happen, despite the utopian feel of the book.

We have no planet B!

I don’t actually know who first said that but it’s a true statement, and we are still decades away from being able to reach other stars, planets. This Earth, our Earth, is it! We can’t keep going at the rate we are, we simply can’t. We ended this year’s “supply” of Earth on August 1. Sadly, the overshoot date is moving in the wrong direction, year after year. We behave as if nothing were wrong as if all the above were merely fairy tales.

Picture your child, your granddaughter or grandson! Picture them in a world where Miami is four feet under water, where many of the Pacific Islands, and the Maldives, are gone forever. Where billions of people are on the move from Africa and South Asia because of severe drought and famines. Picture the wars, the carnage when embattled Americans and Europeans try to keep them away, out. It’ll be our children, your granddaughters and grandsons holding those guns, protecting their homes from our mistakes.

“I don’t doubt the scientists, but it’s so far away, this thing, this climate change…”

My son's future is pretty much the most important thing I care about. All else is secondary.

My son’s future is pretty much the most important thing I care about. All else is secondary.

Actually, it isn’t. To even reach the 1.5-degree target, the entire planet must stop emissions of CO2 by 2030. That’s twelve years from now. And we have no clue how. Well, that’s not entirely true. We do know how, but our politics are heading in the wrong direction. And to claim that climate change isn’t happening now? Every year, the planet is warmer, every year, storms are deadlier, droughts are longer, wildfires rage in more places, the Arctic sea ice melts more and more. It IS happening, right now. To deny that, or to claim it’s the weather or the sun, is naïve at best. You’re playing Russian roulette with your children’s future, and unlike in real Russian roulette, where there’s only one bullet in the chamber, this one’s fully loaded!

Time to act is now. Let’s make sure that our children and grandchildren have a planet left to live on, happily. Please?

No, I don’t regret my son, but I am worried sick about his chances for a happy and fulfilled life. It is his future I fight for. Will you do the same for your kids and grandkids?

Hans M Hirschi
Father, author

 

Gender identity: biology, sociology, predestination or choice?

Gender identity: biology, sociology, predestination or choice?

In politics and psychology, the war to explain sex and gender is hotter than ever. Why?

A few weeks ago I listened to a segment on our public broadcasting radio. They were interviewing a psychology professor who was vehemently defending biology as the defining factor to distinguish gender, men from women, male from female. Leading up to our election a couple of weeks ago, our conservative parties were ranting against “gender politics” and “norm critical” education in schools. Which made me remember my own studies of psychology and the lessons we’d been taught there, how our teachers painstakingly tried to explain the differences between biology, sociology and how we don’t really know how they interact with each other, what ultimately is the defining factor, except one. More about that later.

DNA, chromosomes, and hormones

I have yet to hear anyone argue that a newborn boy and a newborn girl are the same. They’re not. Obviously. Chromosomes decide what sex a child will have, even though Mother Nature has been known to surprise us with various varieties, children we consider intersex, kids with various chromosomal defects, for lack of a better word. We also know that the male hormone “testosterone” and the female hormone “estrogen” impact on how male or female a body appears. Boys with little testosterone will have less body hair and softer features, to exemplify.

So far so good. We also know that hormones will affect our mood, potentially even our personality. However, we also know that all of the above isn’t a given. It’s not a law of nature, like gravity, with no exception. In fact, that is where “nurture” comes in and starts to change things. There are plenty of experiments with how children are affected who are “raised” as the opposite from their birth sex, and there are – of course – our gender fluid and trans friends, not to mention intersexual people. Nature vs nurture. Who is more important?

Front cover of my new children’s book The Dragon Princess, which released September 20, 2018. Get your copy today!

Nature vs nurture. Why is it so important to some?

Seeing how people fight and argue in this debate you’d think it actually matters as if the future of humanity were at stake. But does it? And why? Looking at research and what little I know about nature vs nurture, my take is this: so what? Whether our gender is predetermined by DNA is really not important, because plenty of people live perfectly happy in bodies where their DNA and chromosomes do not match their gender. The opposite is–unfortunately–also true: people who are miserable in their bodies even though the chromosomes perfectly match how their bodies appear.

It’s probably not a big surprise that I believe in choice, that I believe that nurture is much more important than nature. Sure, nature provides us with different preconditions, but that’s it. It merely determines our position at the starting line of life. How well we manage to go through the parkour of life, that’s an entirely different question, where I believe nurture plays a role, and–most importantly–personal choices. These personal choices will, of course, be influenced by both natural predisposition and how we were nurtured.

In a perfect world, that would be it. People would be allowed to determine their own gender expression, whether it’s trans, gender fluid or even genderless/agender. Unfortunately, society complicates things, for a great many reasons.

Conservatives vs progressive

In politics, you’ll find resistance against “free” individual gender expression on the conservative side (on the famous GAL-TAN scale, which is different from the classic left-right scale, as many socialist countries also discriminate against gender expression) while progressive voices usually are much more open-minded.

In our western society where “liberalism” is the lodestar (sorry, couldn’t help it, and no, I’m not behind the infamous op-ed) people’s individual choices are at the center of the economy, and most conservatives want us to make our own choices. Yet oddly this is different. Boys are blue and girls are pink. As mentioned above, our conservative parties in the election fought a fierce battle in the recent election against gender politics, against a preschool where kids are given a choice and taught that it is okay for boys to play with dolls and for girls to play with tools.

Somewhere, there is this idealized picture that we have a pre-defined role closely associated with our sex, our gender and the expression thereof. If you dream of a society where women are the care-takers, child raisers, cooks, and homemakers, it may seem comfortable to find your explanations in biology. You can tell the frustrated women that they don’t really have a choice: “don’t blame me for inequality, blame Mother Nature. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing!” Take it a step further and replace Mother Nature with a deity and you have the perfect storm. And gender politics is evil, as it fights–like Don Quixote–against that which is predestined.

Choice, however, makes things much more complex. Suddenly, you have individuals who live in a soup of biological factors, social factors, and personal choices to be made. And gender politics are a tool to help them find themselves. Some boys will be more “masculine” in their gender expression, some will realize that they are really girls and will want their bodies to match that. The very same is true for girls. At the end of the day, we all find ourselves on a spectrum, from one-hundred percent masculinity to one-hundred percent femininity, where the vast majority is somewhere between the poles.

Nature is at the core of my coming fantasy series. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today. Coming November 15, 2018.

What are you, my friend?

Part of the conundrum is the value society attributes to the two poles. Like a battery, masculine is “+” and feminine is “-“, male attributes are desirable, feminine ones are not. That is the sad truth at the core of it all. Our entire world is seen through those lenses. A woman crying in a public hearing is weak, hysterical, a man doing the same is passionate, in touch with his emotions.

I’m a man, but I’m also gay, and thus very much associated with all the negative associations attributed to women. In Turkey, for instance, the word “gay” is exclusively used for bottoms (or receiving men), whereas a top is not. It’s the “female” role that defines who’s gay. A large part of my coming out process (which is a life-long thing btw) was focused on my gender identity/expression, to come to peace with that which makes me a man and that which might not. I have loads of traits which society might consider female and I have spent years trying to figure out whether I should “blame” nature or nurture for them. You know what? I don’t care why. It doesn’t make any difference to how I feel. It shouldn’t matter to anyone. The important thing is how we feel if it’s due to chromosomes, hormones or socialization is irrelevant, or it should be.

But what makes a difference is how I am perceived by others, how my choices are reflected in society. When people or groups keep insisting that my choices are wrong, even though they are just right for me, that’s hurtful. Do I care? At my age, I can barely care enough to lift a middle finger, but I understand that it is a HUGE issue for our young, our impressionable members of society. Our teens who define themselves not based on who they are, but based on their relationships with others. They are at the epicenter of the struggle. It is them we need to support.

On my mind…

I often write about stuff on my mind, big, small, important, inconsequential. And I love to debate. Grant you, it would be easier and more welcome to do so over a cup of coffee/tea, sitting in comfy chairs, but that will have to be another day. For now, feel free to comment and add your two cents, or three. What is your experience? Do you agree with the above or do you have a different view?

Here’s the thing. If only we keep talking, across the great divide of diverging views, we can bring them closer to each other. Yelling, screaming and tweeting will not. So feel free to add your comments. Have a wonderful week.

Hans

When exactly did I become “old”?

When exactly did I become “old”?

Contrary to popular belief you’re not as old as you feel…

How often have I heard that sentence: “you’re only as old as you feel…” Bullcrap! You’re as old as you’re perceived, that is the sad truth. While it is true that the way we perceive our own age changes imperceptively, we do age before our inner eye. A blessing I guess. Who’d want to be a toddler all life? I also believe that our own view of our age, and how we are perceived by others, are interacting. People who “behave” old are perceived as being older. Our looks also have an impact on how we’re perceived: people who look after themselves, dress smartly and youthful are perceived as younger as those who do not. So far so easy.

Age is but a number, my ass!

However, sometimes we are judged merely by our date of birth. A long time ago (over a decade in fact), Swedish telco giant Ericsson offered everyone older than 1968 a severance package. They were considered “too old” to contribute positively to the company’s future. And oftentimes, it’s said that people above the age of fifty are too old to be considered for a job. And too expensive, I guess. So let’s dispense with this notion that we control our aging, because we don’t, not fully anyway. Yes, there are things we can do, but at some point, you realize that you’re no longer young, but old. How exactly does that happen and is it a bad thing?

Always too young, suddenly too old. How did that happen?

I was the youngest to ever apply and train to be a civil protection ‘soldier’ at the age of sixteen. I was the youngest candidate ever (at the time) to run for public office in my hometown. All my life I did things that people my age had not done before, always fighting this perception that I was too young. I remember the feeling, the frustration of not being taken seriously, that somehow my views were not worth as much due to the date on my birth certificate.

Years pass and suddenly things feel different. Suddenly I’m too old for e.g. politics. I’m too old to hold a job. My views are considered outdated and old, and I’m bombarded with a gazillion memes making that point: if you remember what a VHS tape or a cassette is, you’re practically three feet under. Why thank you.

So what changed?

I’m not denying my age. I’m not denying that some days, getting out of bed is a painful exercise. Yet at the same time, my body is in better shape than it has been since 1985. I look at my face and I see the changes, but compared to people ten, fifteen years my junior I still look pretty good. I feel great.

And part of that greatness is due to the changes in my head. Albert Einstein once said: “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know!” I second that motion entirely, and I wish people my age had been able to tell me, when I was young, why they dismissed my views. First of all, I don’t dismiss the views of the young. Ever. Because I remember how frustrating it was back when I wasn’t taken seriously. I would never do that to anyone else. It’s so disrespectful. But I also know things today that I didn’t know back then. Life experience, more factual knowledge (I/we know so much more than we knew in the eighties), and I think I’ve become a ‘tad’ more patient. I’m not as pushy, impatient than I was in my twenties.

Unfortunately, when I was a child and until I was about thirty-ish, even afterward, the older generations simply didn’t take us seriously. Whatever the younger generations had to bring to the table wasn’t worth considering. Often times we weren’t even listened to. Exceptions existed of course, but they were exactly that, exceptions. Strangely, those are people I still admire to this day.

Experience, wisdom (?) is a blessing

Back then, people didn’t explain why they didn’t value our views, or why they believed/knew differently. At least nothing beyond a “you’re too young to understand…” and yeah, that is not helpful, as we were well aware of how old we were. I try very hard not to make that same mistake when I meet younger people. Their view of the world is shaped by their perception, their unique untainted view of youth. That is an important view. Age affords me knowledge of how slow change can be, how important compromise is, how reality works. Youth provides insights into the desperate need for change, and the desperation that “waiting” will always lead to lost opportunities, to loss. Period.

While I enjoy knowing so much more than a younger counterpart, I also find it important to impart to them the reasons why I know this, not to just disregard their views. I find particularly discussions about our planet, the environment and changes to our climate interesting. We currently have an interesting debate in our city, about a new train tunnel to connect and circumvent our terminus station. There is a lot of opposition against the tunnel. Some just don’t believe in public transport, some (in certain suburbs) don’t see the need, as they are nowhere near a railway. However, I’ve noted in recent months that some of the opposition is age-related, with older people opposing the project because “the city would be a mess for years”. I even had one person argue “I won’t be around to use it…”

If I’m old, this person is practically ancient. How sad is it that we begin to look at say five years of chaos in a city and disregard the decades and decades of a better future this will provide for us? That makes me sad.

Have things changed? Or is it a generational rather than an age thing?

When I see my generation (born in the fifties and sixties) argue against progress, because it takes too long or isn’t immediately visible, I wonder: are younger generations more apt at seeing the bigger picture than we are? Are we so obsessed with quarterly results, “me me me” and instant gratification that we can’t view beyond the tip of our noses? Is it my generation that’s off track rather than us just getting older?

I honestly don’t know. I am very happy with the place where I am at, mentally, even physically. To be able to reflect, to have the experience I have, having seen what I have, done what I have, affords me great luxury in terms of analyzing the world. Grant you, I wish I had more working collagen in my skin to keep it from sagging, but hey, there’s a price for everything… But it worries me to see that so many in my generation have lost that precious gift of seeing the bigger picture, the grand scheme of things. Short term gains more important than long-term future. Need I mention #Brexit as a prime example of this, both in the arguments leading up to that disastrous vote and in politicians’ actions in the two years since.

What is your take? Let’s discuss… Meanwhile, I have to go back and finish a book. Have a great week.

Hans

Release Day: The Dragon Princess, a children’s fairytale

Release Day: The Dragon Princess, a children’s fairytale

My first children’s book, a book about love, available today

I had to redesign my website the other day, specifically the book-page. I don’t even remember off hand how many books I’ve released since my first in July 2013. Let me go check: nineteen. Today marks my twentieth release. Wow. Twelve novels, two non-fiction, one short story collection, and three anthologies. Today, I embark into new territory: children’s books. With the release of The Dragon Princess, I give you a book, unlike anything I’ve written before. To write for children is radically different than writing for adults.

The blurb

Love is love and dragons are evil or are they really? The Dragon Princess is a story about love and how it holds the power to transform even the coldest of hearts. A classic bedtime story for children of all ages.

Background

My son and I.

My son and I.

When my son was little, my husband and I were actively looking for books. Reading had been important to me when I was a child, and we wanted Sascha to be read to and to read by himself, too. We began to buy books, we were gifted lots of books and his bookshelf is well filled. But there are, at this stage, only two books that portray rainbow families and diverse love. Our son is five years old and he is starting to understand the differences between moms and dads. To him, having two dads is totally okay. It’s just the natural state for him, but just this morning he asked me if his mother was still alive. I know that he is trying to make sense of things, subconsciously. Ever now and then he’ll ask a question, and we’ve talked about this repeatedly.

Sometimes, it helps to have children’s books to help parents explain things. That was my starting point when I began to write about Valerius and Evander, the heroes in the book, two years ago. I wanted to create a series of children’s books where I could explore LGBT themes for kids, on a level they would understand.

Easier said than done

First, I wrote a text that encompassed sixteen scenes. I wanted to try and tell a classic fairytale. There are a lot of kids who love dragons and the struggle between good and evil. It needs to be a relatively simple plot, with clear-cut roles. And it needs to end well. Writing the first draft took a couple of hours, but I wasn’t happy with it. I don’t think I’ve ever edited and rewritten a text as many times as I’ve worked on The Dragon Princess. Sometimes I would edit the text several times in a day, then let it simmer for months. All in all, it took me over two years from the first draft to a final manuscript.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

When you write for small children, pictures, illustrations are a given. Kids like to read along, and when they can’t read, the pictures is where they ‘read’. They see the words in the picture, and as you read, they try to find those words in the illustration. My son is beginning to read for real, and it’s only now, at the age of five that he’s showing interest in the letters for the first time, asking me things like: “does this mean…?” pointing at the words on the page. In Felicity Swan, I was lucky to find a great illustrator to work with.

A new genre, new audience, a new approach

Yeah, how do you market a children’s book? I live in a country where marketing toward children is strictly forbidden and frowned upon. I have always been a genre hopper. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me that always sees new and shiny objects everywhere. From romantic love stories to gruesome books about child abuse, discrimination against first nations to debilitating dementia, I’ve covered new topics in every book.

To me, branching out into children’s book was a small step. Difficult, but small. The biggest challenge for me is to find my audience. We’ll see how that goes. For now, my take is simple, hoping that my existing audience buys the book for the children around them, from their own offspring to grandchildren, bonus kids, nieces, nephews etc.

Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018

A great big thank you to my publisher…

It’s no secret that I am very happy with my publisher. They’re a small house, but they treat every book as a gem in its own right. I felt that The Dragon Princess was handled even more carefully than my adult writing. Working with me and the illustrator, they put in a ton of time to make sure the book would be as perfect as humanly possible.

There is so much work going into even something as seemingly trivial as a forty-page kids book, from web pages, publishing, paginating, layout, proofing, editing, to making sure it’s available on release day on every single of the dozens of sites (and distribution) that sell books.

Beaten Track Publishing has that little extra love for children’s books. As an author, having my work treated that way makes my heart skip a beat. Thank you! Have a look at their catalog of children’s books.

Valerius and Evander are now yours to treasure, I hope you enjoy their first adventure in The Dragon Princess!

Hans M Hirschi