My birthday is this week, so I'm only popping in to say hello. I appreciate all who take the time to read this blog and comment. I'm screwing off this week because birthdays are awesome and deserve celebration. There is a much longer post in preparation for next week, so please stay tuned, and thank you! Level 46!!
We’ve started a garden, of a sort. Nothing too fancy yet, some herbs, a tomato plant, simple stuff. It got me thinking about “lawns”. The lawn irritates me as an idea. A vast expanse of manicured monotony broken by a building inspires nothing but contempt. I am a lover of dandelions and wild onions, of rampant blackberries and sneaky wild fennel creeping at the edges, of red clover and wood sorrel. I admire the bees and butterflies they bring, and the battles between the carpenter bees and the wasps above their unquiet forest of tumultuous flora.
There is little so disturbing as an even surface devoid of color. The unending sea of uniform green blades leveled and trimmed offers nothing for all the effort contributed. What a waste.
I will sit with a cold glass of dandelion tea and enjoy the war between the pollinating aviators. Our lemon balm and various seedlings will drink deep and stretch their newfound leaves and practice beckoning insects. I’ll talk to Mr. Stripey (the kids named the tomato plant after its common name), tell it how well it grows, and admire its flowers. When the conversations with the garden end for the evening, I’ll pluck leaves and flowers for a salad. Fescue and Bermuda make for a poor salad.
Enough about lawns. I have stories to write and bees to thank.
In recent weeks I have seen some genuine bravery from kids. Two examples stick out in particular. The first was a kid on a climbing wall, the other was at a skating rink. These may not seem like places one would find examples of what most consider “brave”, but what I witnessed struck me as precisely that.
On the climbing wall, this girl made her way to the top. No problem, as up is relatively easy. Her descent was problematic. She panicked, I imagine because of looking down and allowing years of “be careful” and “you’ll break your neck”. Stuck at the top, unwilling to move, she cried. Some in the crowd jeered and jabbed how easy it is to lay back and fall. But it isn’t easy. It is simple to conceptualize, but in the moment, no prior experience with falling from a high place, and a crowd of onlookers… I felt for that kid.
The professional climber overseeing the wall made his way up to her and spoke softly smiling and encouraging her. You could see the change in her demeanor immediately. She was still frightened, but she was looser and smiling. With his guidance, she leaned back and let herself glide to the ground. The jackals, naturally, descended. Muttered under breath, full-grown adults spewed passive aggression at this poor scared kid. She tightened immediately, shoulders clamped face down, eyes searching the crowd for anything kind. Her mom raced up and put her arm around her as shield and comfort, then escorted this brave kid through the sneers and jeers. I hope that my wife and my kind words found her ears as she passed.
At the roller skating rink, one party goer had never skated before and had trouble. She couldn‘t make it far without falling, but each time she got up and wobbled her way until the next fall. This went on for hours. I could tell she was having fun, but it was clear it frustrated her. Everyone else was better, faster.
Her moment of courage was not continuing to try. That is its own thing and admirable, but her shining moment was when she gave up. It irritated her mother, whom attempted to goad her into trying harder. I understood this, as we all want our kids to do well at things. We‘re encouraged to push them a little. But this kid was adamant. She wasn’t rude or “over the top.” She stated that she was scared and tired and embarrassed and could she go home?
It takes a lot to give up. It takes nerve to stand up to a parent and tell them, “I really don’t think I can.” Because we know that someone will chime in how we can do the thing. Maybe we can, but maybe we shouldn’t right that moment?
I had a story in the queue for Apex Magazine (www.apex-magazine.com). I was pretty stoked about it, even though I was 184th in line. I wrote a nice cover letter addressing the editor and covering the bases one covers in such a thing. I wasn’t holding my breath, but I was hopeful. Even a rejection letter would be fine, as I collect them. Yesterday, the editor announced that they were shuttering the magazine for a while. They would release anything in the queue back to the writers and pay off their contracted writers. One issue left to publish, and I wasn‘t anywhere near that one.
My heart sunk. I was a little mad at first. But as I read his reasons, I thought of these two brave kids. They had the nerve to understand they could not continue as they were. Health and sanity are damn good reasons to step away from something as consuming as publishing. And with 200+ stories waiting for you to short-list or reject, it is no wonder he needed a break. Even though I’m still a bit miffed, I’m happy that there are those willing to step away so they can focus on their work (the Book side of Apex will continue), and be happy doing it.
If you have read none of the great stuff at Apex Magazine, get over there and get your fill. Some excellent writers have graced its pages. For my own, I will continue writing and improving my craft by living and observing the surrounding Life.
Four years ago I watched my amazing partner in crime bring my only known blood relative into the open air. As nefarious as that sounds, I am referring to the birth of my daughter, whom is to my knowledge not nefarious. She’s sneaky, smart, and sometimes loud, but more than anything she is the greatest thing to happen in my life.
While she was floating amniotic, we learned that she had a heart condition. A rare occurrence where the lower chambers of the heart reverse function called Congenitally Corrected Transposition of the Greater Arteries (CC-TGA for short) developed as she grew in the womb. Our initial reaction was one of fear and frustration, but with the guidance of some excellent cardiologists and a few supportive groups on Facebook, we could see this condition as a surmountable challenge.
The day she was born, they whisked her to NICU for observation and to assess whether she required surgery. While the love of my life lay recovering (yay, drugs!) I made many trips to our new cohort’s room. I gazed upon this bundle of tubes and blankets from which the tiniest face peeked. I sat in the room as the head cardiologist reviewed her various scans. Tears threatened as he concluded she wouldn’t need surgery.
It was a lot for a new dad (I won’t speak for Mom, though I know it was as much or more for her). Not five years prior I was convinced I couldn’t have kids, had no plans to, and found them a bit creepy if I’m honest. So there I was, looking down at a life I helped bring into the world, wondering how in the hell I was supposed to operate this strange new device. That’s when I realized.
I am not supposed to.
I get to.
For as long as she lets me be her guide and mentor, I have the opportunity. My job is not to convince her to keep letting me be "the dad,” it is to step in ways I hope she will step and let her decide if that is the direction she needs to go. I never realized as a kid that a parent’s position is not to force ideas, but to offer the ones we think best and explain them with the hopes our wards make decisions that take them to good things.
Four years on, I’m still learning (and unlearning) what dadding is. I’m not perfect (I hope, because that would suck) but I learn more every day. Thank you, to my daughter, for always wanting to play and show me cool stuff. And thank you, to the woman who agreed to embark on this adventure with me. I still think kids are kind of creepy (well, YOUR kids. Mine are fantastic), but I’m learning, growing, and damned proud to gush about my weird little superhero.
This past weekend I got to do something fun with my family. As I’ve mentioned, I have bad anxiety in situations with large groups of people. It is at its worst when I know I will be inside for the bulk of that time. Fortunately, the US Space and Rocket Center (Huntsville, AL) has a lot of outdoor activities and spaces.
We started our day in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which houses one of the three Saturn V rockets in the world. As a writer of science fiction there are few things more fascinating than experiencing the actual science behind your fiction. Standing beneath the S-IC first stage’s five massive Rocketdyne F1 engines makes one consider just how enormous an event the space race was. While there were a lot of smaller exhibits with cool stuff, I realized how few gawked at the rare and historic behemoth above them. Most would glance for a moment then move on. “Yeah, sure the space suits are great, but look up, dammit! This got us there!”
The kids got to make rocket fuel, an experiment I missed as I was running around the entire complex trying to find the main entrance. Of all the places to get lost, I picked a great one. I made it back to the lab in time to see the end of their work. My youngest was happy I got a stroller for her to ride in, and the older two were too busy wanting to be on the “simulators” (I know an amusement park ride when I see one, Space Center) to grasp fully what they had just accomplished. And the group moved on...
We slowly realized that we were on a mind-numbing tour that leeched the fun out of everything. We broke off from the tour and let the center breath life into us. This is when I learned something new. The G-Force Accelerator simulator (Ride, damn it. It’s a tilt-a-whirl with fewer steps), spins with a force of around 3 Gs. Before you enter they issue mandatory warnings about heart problems, epilepsy, and asthma (to name a few). Being a dumb guy, I ignored the warnings about asthma. This was not my brightest decision.
Around half-speed I realized I was having difficulty operating my lungs. I felt an elephant standing on my chest. It wasn’t the worst my asthma has done, but I was still a touch concerned. At full speed, it worried me. I could barely inhale. My career as an astronaut would be brief.
The MoonShot launches you straight up at 4 Gs acceleration and you float at the top for 2.5 seconds. The upwards journey has no less than four screaming people. It is an exhilarating and deafening experience.
Being immersed in rockets and space suits is excellent fodder for stories. I’ve got ideas for a few, and experience for one I was already working on. It’s my favorite kind of research. I’ve experienced much of it before (at the Smithsonian Institute and Kennedy Space Center) but never intentionally. I’ve ridden simulators (ri-i-i-i-i-i-des) but never with the purpose of learning. It was amazing and given the chance I will do it again.