Missed a post about kids (one of ours actually) from Emily's Pretty Cool Blog here. The picture is of a liger. Thomas and I had just watched Napoleon Dynamite (surely not for the last time). It was cool that he understand it well enough to root for the good guys and also to see how much of the film he retained via comics.
The most recent post here is about women writing about men and vice versa.
It's been fascinating to see how my four year old daughter responds semantically to realizing that the Disney universe is fictional. She's convinced that princesses aren't real. When I tell her that actual princesses are just women whose parents are kings and queens, or who marry men whose parents are kings and queens, and that such creatures exist in the actual world, she just doesn't buy it. For her it is a necessary property of being a princess that they exist in a world with talking sidekick animals. As soon as she figured out that animals don't really talk, she decided that there were no princesses.
I don't know how much to make of this. She also believes that the associate pastor at our church (Mike Watson) is God. When her seven year old brother challenges her on this, she often indignantly shouts back "My God plays guitar!" Watson can play really nicely, but I can't figure out why that's theologically relevant to Audrey. I can imagine worse cosmogenies though.
Background- Last night I helped escort Thomas (just turned 7) and Audrey (about to turn 5) as they gathered little packages of congealed high fructose corn syrup from those of our neighbors who had their front porch lights on. Audrey was Elsa, from Disney's Frozen. My wife told me that there was a popular drinking game this year where you had to take a shot every time an Elsa rang your doorbell. I'm happy that Audrey was able to do her part.
Thomas was Captain America. I'm always scared he's going to do something stupid when dressed up as a superhero, not because of anything about him, but because I worry about just about any bad fate that's been known to happen. So I was initially chagrined by this conversation during a long stretch between houses with external lights on. But it ended up in a delightful place.
Thomas: Dad, I have a real superpower! I really do!
Me: Uh, that's cool Thomas, but don't really throw that shield at anybody, because they might get hurt.
Thomas: No Dad, it's real!
Me: Isn't Captain America's whole schtick throwing the shield around?
Thomas: Not Dad, MY superpower. It's really real. I discovered what it is.
Me: O.K. What is it?
Thomas: I can see into the past. Dad, I really can.
Me: O.K. What do you see?
Thomas: Mostly people move around and fight. But sometimes they eat.
Me: Awesome Thomas! That's a cool superpower.
Maybe he can get a historical novel out of it or solve crimes or something? As long as the events involved moving around, fighting, and/or eating. Since these cover over half of the mammalian f's, he's probably in good shape.
Here's a not unrepresentative story from junior high school. A friend of mine's father was dying of cancer. Money was also really tight, so his Mom had to work at the same time. It was pretty rough emotionally for him. During the same time period the bullying (faggot! geek!) of the other kids in junior high kept getting worse and worse. The shell-shock from his Dad's dying, combined with the fact that my friend had an overbite so bad as to be disfiguring (he's since gotten corrective surgery), made him a pretty obvious target.
As a result of all of this my friend was able to experience what still seems to me to be the canonical junior high school day. His father was on the downward slide to incontinence and actually shat himself during the time when my friend's mom had already left for work and the school bus hadn't arrived yet. So my friend had to change his own dad's diaper. It was upsetting. Then, when the bus got to school but before school started, a group of popular athletes held him down and shaved my friend's head. It was one of many terrifying and humiliating ordeals he was subject to during what would have already been the lowest point of his life. The whole world seemed like this cruel, humiliating place. I think if his Mom didn't need him, my friend probably would have killed himself. Luckily, he stuck around long enough to learn that there is a lot more to the world than junior high school. These days he's a walking advertisement for the canard about success being the best revenge.
The head shaving day perfectly encapsulates what is so awful about junior high school and much of life before and afterward. We all have to deal with immense natural evil as a result of our fragility and the fragility of those we love. As moral agents we could respond to the fact that we all live in such a horrible dungheap with understanding, sympathy, and mutual assistance. But instead we respond in all the wrong ways, taking joy in other people being further down the dungheap than us, kicking down to get to the top, masochistically embracing our own subjugation as we kiss up (and that's part of how it works), etc. etc. etc. In this manner, junior high bullying and the cliques involved with that strike me as an almost pure distillation of moral evil. Just at the age when we start to become aware of natural and moral evil we turn everything into the Lord of the Flies.
My friend and I found that things can get better. If you're lucky and fight hard you figure out a way to say no when people tell you to get with the program. You can work through the nihilism of distrusting all programs and intuit something beautiful on the other side.
When my kids get old enough (before junior high school) I'm going to bribe them to learn to recite Bukowski's The Laughing Heart. I hope it helps them always see darkness as darkness and also see that there are ways out of it. I also think that the kind of communities one finds in liberal mainline Protestant churches can work as a bulwark against the false values of the world. We've also enrolled both of them in martial arts classes. Audrey and Thomas are only four and seven, but both can kick as high as their heads. It's pretty cool.
The lastest from my son, whose ninja like abilities with respect to my tendency to eat the whole bag of chips just seem to get stronger and stronger. That this might in fact be a genetic condition on my part carries no weight with him. He's not going to let me eat all of the chips.
I obviously have no skill in art photography, and the blurred letters are the result of that. The comic reads, "Dad tries to eat the cheetoes But I stoped him," and then has a depiction of Thomas stoping me.
With this post and this post I started sliding down the slope that ends with my children's art on every square space of my office wall (for the classic very NSFW Maddox take-down, go here). My six year old Thomas has recently completed his first novel, and since I put me and Audrey's collaboration up here, it's only fair for me to post the novel. First, the cover page:
The "Suckers" are, as will become clear, a species of sentient lollipops with lives surprisingly similar to humans. The novel begins with the kind of saying that Thomas collects.
"Each day there is a sucker born." One of the weirdest things about Thomas' language acquisition is how much of it was a function of repeating whole phrases such as this. From a very early age he had a really good ear for picking out whatever was supposed to be the punchline and then repeating it in the same tone. He really took off linguistically when we got him an I Pod and purchased books such as Frog and Toad for it. Given his prodigious memory for chunks of texts, and the way he could maintain the same tone in repeating them, I used to think that it presaged a career in acting. But now I think it's just how he learned language. One of the funny things is that he often misunderstood the point of the pithy comment. But as we follow the course of his novel, we see that this isn't going on here.
I love the "goes and goes and goes" bit. Getting up in the morning is a lot of work (as we'll see in our discussion of the novel's conclusion, this is actually an important bit of forshadowing). Also note the gender inclusive language. He's either absorbing my progressive political commitments, or the Sucker children are of indeterminate gender. Perhaps both? The drawing suggests the latter. However, I should also add that the foreshadowing is heightened by the use of his/her here, but I don't want to put in a spoiler at this point.
I'm a little bummed the child is not going to his/her Dad. I gather that the Dad rides his/her bicycle to his school at 6:15 AM to avoid traffic and be able to write for an hour or so before loud students colonize the floor outside of his office and that Communication Studies instructor starts playing Barbara Bush speeches for her students in the classroom next door (against Barbara Bush, there's only so much that ear plugs and Slayer's Reign in Blood on youtube can do).
Note the shift to singular they. Also note how the Sucker child is actually happy to go to school. This is a huge advance in the Cogburn household.
The kid still needs some work on the whole preposition front. But he's six. What do you expect? Note here that there is no page chronicling what happens at school. This is not an oversight, but the first occurence of a trope that is central to the novel's proper interpretation.
It's shocking how much autobiography people put in what are ostensibly works of fiction. But maybe I just recognize this because I know the author. Here's an inside scoop, the kid likes to eat sugar bomb cereal when he gets home. It's kind of like a huge bowl of dessert, but as a parent you have to pick your battles.
You might not be able to see, but the Mom is saying "Let's go to the Mall." This is maybe more aspirational than actually autobiographical? With the real kid it's usually kung fu, swimming lessons, or occupational therapy.
Sorry I cropped the edge. This page reminds me of the famous story about how John Lennon met Yoko Ono. There's actually a rumor that Yoko lived downstairs from a young Alistair MacIntyre and actually had borrowed the ladder from him. I don't blame him for breaking up the Beatles though.
Isaac Dinesen has a set of short stories that thematize the causal efficacy of absence. I think the way that the Mall is both present and absent in Cogburn's Suckers is a paradigm instance of this trope [For an earlier blog post by me focusing on the metaphysics of this (with some great comments in the discussion), go here].
This is really quite skillful. First, note the blank space on the page, which is a visual commentary on the missing mall. Second, note how this effect is heightened by the indeterminacy involved in the word "they." Is this the singular they again? Is the Mom included. Who else not in the picture might be included? Thus, the empty space on the page is meant to symbolize not just nothingness, but simultaneously everything, and in this manner the story attains a universal resonance. We are all Suckers.
And the story ends with an existentialist kicker. After the night of universal sleep the indeterminate protagonist finds him/herself completely alone. The universe of emptiness gestured at on the previous page has become truly universal, a byproduct of the monadic solitude represented by the picture. Paradoxically, the novel suggest that the only thing we are together in is our mutual aloneness. We see now why Cogburn insisted so strongly in alternating he/she and they.
My four year old Audrey (AKA "Boo," AKA "Flowerstyle")* saw the pictures that my six year old made me draw as punishment for eating the whole bag of chips (here and here), and decided that I needed to illustrate a comic book that she would write, and that I also needed to put it on the computer. So here it is, starting with the cover page.
The book is titled The Hottest Day Ever and the girl is saying "My name is Flowerstyle." On to page 1:
Audrey drew the sun and told me to draw the rest. I think the whole thing is accomplished quite skillfully, with an economy that would be the envy of Hemingway. And then:
"I have a fan." Just enough foreshadowing there so that what follows doesn't seem too counterfactual, given the fictional world's interior logic. How is our protagonist going to react?
The sort of paint by numbers, Hollywood blockbuster easy way out would be to resolve the conflict now, just give the poor guy a fan already. But no. Our protagonist has much more in store for him. Or is he the protagonist after all? Watch and learn.
And then, if that isn't enough of a satisfyingly brain frying reveal, there's this coda tacked on at the end.
Whew! It blew my mind, and I'm the one that illustrated it.
O.K. Back to passive-aggressive winging about the state of the philosophical blogosphere, punctuated by the odd post about vagueness (with speculative realism stuff to come). Though I should say that it's quite nice to be able to make a little girl happy in the midst of all that. Perhaps this medium isn't as wretched as I'd led myself to believe.
[*The first from the little girl in Disney Pixar's Monster's Inc. The second an adaption of "Wildstyle" from the Lego movie. In both cases, immediately after seeing the films, Audrey just decided we had to start calling her that. Audrey is a force of nature, easily the most dominant personality in our household; there's just no arguing with her about stuff like this.]
One of my daughter Audrey's dear friends has verbal apraxia, and some of our friends' kids are autistic. It's a rough slog for the parents, and I think this video helps the rest of us understand a little better the challenges and fears they face. Actually, Liam Oaks's parents have pretty good advice for parents of more neuro-typical kids as well.
In this post, I chronicled my punishment for eating the whole g*****n bag of chips.
One good thing that came out of that is that my six year old promised me he would give me an art lesson so that I could receive a higher score for the picture. Well, the results are in at right (click on the picture for a full sized version), and I'm proud to report that I earned an A+ on this one.
The only problem is I forgot to write the word "chomp" to illustrate the disgusting gusto with which I had eaten all of my son's Dorritos. Thomas had to correct that (note how his handwriting is nicer than mine), but still thought that the entire effort merited the highest possible grade.
My six year old insisted I atone for the sin of eating the whole bag of chips by writing that I won't do it again over a picture of me committing the crime. Three things are nice about this:
My son's sense of justice. If first graders at his school have to write down things they are no longer going to do then so should Dad.*
This is the umpteenth time I find myself being an Onion area man. For some reason, I find that consoling.
My son's insisting I draw a picture, and then correcting it. He added the word "chomp," the teeth, the cupboard, and eyes behind the glasses. He also said he'd help me do a better job learning to make a first-draft today. Not only should my portraits contain eyes, teeth, and contextual cues such as the cupboard, but I need to learn to draw hair properly. It will be a blast getting lessons from him about all of this.
Parenting is often exhausting and frustrating but really the kids are alright.
*Related, this recent post by Tim Morton about helping his daughter resist Texas public school inanity.]
This post at newapps generated a lot of interesting critical commentary and quite a bit of anger. It's obvious in retrospect that I spoke inartfully. I apologize profusely if what I said, or how I said it, caused anyone any hurt (please feel free to complain here). In any case, here's what I should have said.
I find many charges of ableism in the blogosphere to be problematic for a variety of reasons:
The way that the problem of ableism is focused on in blogospheric exchanges often undermines the suffering and heroic struggles of many disabled people. Much of the struggle is against reality itself, not the social configuration theroff. It may very well be bad to call an idea "insane," but to reduce the badness of doing so to the wrongness of negative perceptions of insanity strikes me as cruel to the insane.* It's a real drag to be mentally ill.
I don't find the focus on anti-ableism to be psychologically healthy with respect to dealing with my own limited disabilities.With many of them there's just no possible world where the world could accomodate me. I have to accommodate myself to the world. Consider dementia, a disability perhaps most of us will face at some point. Yes we desperately need social institutions that lighten misery of the demented, but it will still suck to be demented and to have demented family members no matter what anyone does. In such cases wisdom lies in accommodating yourself to the world, not bemoaning the way society doesn't accomodate you. This is a really difficult struggle, but it's reality.
We don't need the protection of Shelley Tremaine (God bless her for all of the important work that she does) when she berates people for ableist speech. I find this protection infantilizing.
I find the self-congratulatory nature of liberal speech policing to be off putting. With the important exceptions of the R word campaign and various anti-bullying efforts relating to GLBT issues, I don't think that censorious academic bloggers make very much of a real political difference. The pretense that we do probably prevents many of us from putting in the real work to make a difference.
While political correctness is an important and necessary solution to the kind of bullying shown in the first two seasons of Mad Men, I agree with Freddie DeBoer that policing of speech in social media has been really destructive. When we take such delight in denouncing people who we don't agree with in terms of moral censure, we end up just preaching to the converted.
I have tried to indicate that I realize there are moral dangers attendant to each point. Most importantly every human life has immeasurable value and I don't mean to imply anything otherwise when I mention that reality presents problems for most disabled people in ways that go above and beyond our contemporary organization of society. I also realize that for most adult disabled people, it becomes a part of your identity and if things are going well something that you would not cast away, for that would be casting yourself away.