Mind Your Business!

Day before yesterday, at the zoo, where I had taken my wife and two sons, I turned to a man—about my size though perhaps a touch older but definitely less round in the middle—and told him—sternly, aggressively—to mind his own business.

 

When the man just sort of stared back, I stood, having theretofore been seated on a bench, the man likewise on the next bench over, and, standing, I told him again.

 

The previous evening, I had given my wife a draft of a story that I had been working on and that I had just finished (or at least had just finished drafting). The story’s protagonist is named Bob Sanders, and I’ve used Bob Sanders as the protagonist in two other stories. Bob Sanders is sort of a version of myself. Just sort of.

 

The story takes place at Disneyland (and we just so happen to be going to Disneyland in two weeks), and early in the story Bob—along with his wife, Linda, and son, Bobby Jr.—is kicked out of Disneyland when Bob gets into a row with another man at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Twelve years later, Bob—now along with his wife and three sons (one teenager, two toddlers) plus his aunt—is kicked out again for a row at the Disney Jr. live show.

 

In the first row, violence is threatened. In the second, the story’s climax, it is enacted.

 

Said climax gets going like this:

 

The man behind Bob and Little Stevie and Just Teddy loud-whispered to his wife, “This. Is. Ridiculous.” It was hard to hear what the puppets were saying over Just Teddy’s screaming and gasping. The woman loud-whispered back to her husband, “Maybe he should take him outside.” Then the man touched Bob on the shoulder and loud-loud-whispered, to Bob, “Maybe you should take him outside.”

 

Bob immediately turned back to the man and said, “Mind your business.” Bob had just known that that man or that woman were going to say something, and he had been all ready to tell him or her or them to just mind their business.

 

After telling the man to mind his business, Bob stared at the man, longer than before. The man stared back, then looked over Bob at the puppets.

 

Then it escalates from there.

 

While reading the story, my wife, Liz, said: “I like that he’s you but so much worse.” Which is kind of the point.

 

But she also said, “I’m so nervous for his wife.” In fact, the story and its disastrous events made Liz so nervous about our upcoming trip to Disneyland that she had to put it down for a while.

 

At which point I reiterated, as I have had to do before, that Bob is not me. That they are not us. That it’s all made up. It’s fiction.

 

Then came the zoo, the following morning, where Liz looked up from monitoring a five-year-old and a two-year-old on the playground structure to see her husband standing, looming over another man and loudly (though I don’t remember saying it loudly though it was loud enough for Liz to hear across the screaming-kid-populated playground) telling the man to mind his own business.

 

Here’s what the man had done:

 

So there were all these kids and mostly they were going down the slide and before I go any further let me say that this guy was sort of this Oh I’m so much cooler than everyone else ever and I’m a grown man who wears board shorts to the zoo and uses hair gel so anyway for whatever reason this guy is like making these like scoffing noises clearly directed at all the not-as-cool other parents including at Liz and then at one point Sam our two-year-old stops at the top of the slide and holds up the line and this girl who turns out to be his daughter is behind Sam and this guy does his scoff sound again (the best way to describe this sound is that it’s the sound that the popular jock who actually hates himself makes throughout the preview of the school play that his teacher brought his class to) and then the guy mutters Just go and by the way the muttering-tone of this grown man in board shorts is that of a twelve-year-old girl and Sam ends up not going down the slide and Liz like has to go up and get him and then the guy’s daughter goes and that’s when it started to get weird because this girl goes down the slide and says something to the effect of Didja see, Daddy? and then this guy just announces to who-knows-who “I don’t micromanage that crap” and then a minute later the girl is up there again and shouts something like Watch me, Daddy! and then the guy says “You know the drill; I don’t micromanage that shit” the implication obviously being that the rest of us not-in-board-shorts parents were un-cool micromanagers. It helps if when you’re imagining all of this, if you are, the guy is sort of slouched down on the bench, with his legs spread as wide as humanly possible.

 

And then another dad waited for and caught his toddler at the bottom of the slide, and the scoffer scoffed again and teenage-girl-muttered Just let him go. And I’d heard enough from this jackass. And I turned to him and told him—sternly, aggressively—to mind his own business. And when he just stared back, I stood up and told him again.

 

Was I cognizant of the fact that I had turned to a man and had said the exact same thing that in the lead-up to a violent and climactic fictional moment was also said by Bob Sanders, who I had the night before insisted to my nervous wife was fictional and not representative at all of my own behavior, or potential behavior?

 

No. Not at all. Liz had done exactly the right thing in reacting to the aforementioned image of my looming and had grabbed both of our children for a quick exit.

 

As I followed her off the playground, claiming that it was all fine because the guy didn’t do anything, he just sat there and looked away, I didn’t picture myself as Bob Sanders. A hybrid of Captain Call and Madison Bumgarner, rather, forcing everyone by threat of violence to behave themselves.

 

Liz had to explain the obvious later, in the car.

 

She didn’t get mad, though, about any of it. Which is perhaps more than I deserve.

Borges at Disneyland

I read a lot of Borges.

My critical thesis in grad school was on Borges’s influence on the fiction of John Barth.

There’s a framed illustration of Borges in the hallway of my house, surrounded by pictures of my family. The Borges picture is bigger than the other pictures.

See:

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In Borges’s fiction, there is a finite number of possibilities–a finite number of things that can happen to an individual–so what separates, or sets apart, each individual is the particular things that happen to each of them, and to Borges these particulars are limited by time, so that if everyone was immortal, then all things would happen to all people, and all people would therefore become one person. Each individual, for instance, would at some point write Hamlet, so each individual would be Shakespeare (or would have lived the particular events of Shakespeare’s life), but each individual would also be Justin Bieber, having also lived the life of Justin Bieber.

Because of this worldview, characters in Borges’s stories (for example: The Immortal, Shakespeare’s Memory, Borges and I) often blend into one another (or, to put it another way, using Borges’s common motif of the mirror: characters become reflections of one another).

And that’s what I kept thinking about when we took our kids to Disneyland.

Everywhere I looked, I saw a reflection of myself (or, to put it another way: everywhere I looked, I saw my own life being lived by hundreds and hundreds of other men).

For example, here’s a picture of my kid eating a churro. I’m not in the picture, but there’re at least four other versions of me that are in the picture. Can you spot them?

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And, of course, it’s not just me. The lives of my wife and of my kids are repeated over and over, as well. Some of those repeats are in this picture, too.

Take, for another instance, the picture above of Borges in my hallway. Next to Borges is a (much smaller) picture of me and my wife and my mother and my kids with Mickey Mouse. What the picture does not show is that we had waited in a long line of families (dozens of families) all of whom took that same picture, and that same long line had formed dozens of times over the course of that day, as it did and as it will do on all other days, including today, such that thousands of thousands (millions?) of families have the same picture with Mickey Mouse hanging on their wall (though probably not next to a picture of Borges).

So we are all at the same place having an individual experience that thousands of other people are also having on the same day and that thousands and thousands (millions!) of other people also have had or will have on each day prior and each day after the day that we had it.

Yet: it’s an incredibly individual and magical experience. Or at least Day One is magical.

Most of the people who are on that day living the same life as you are living either Day One or Day Two (for some, there is also a Day Three, but for almost all, there is Day One and Day Two).

And because you are at Disneyland and not at California Adventure, then you and most of the other people who are also living your life (specifically, the ones with strollers and giant, over-stuffed diaper bags) are living Day One.

All of you individually planned a trip, and all of you are on Day One of that trip. Day One is Disneyland. Day Two is California Adventure. If there’s a Day Three, it’s back at Disneyland (which means that, everyone who is living Day One will encounter some people who are living Day Three, but it’s easy to tell the people living Day Three from the people living Day One: the people living Day Three are the people who look like they are trying to recreate the magic of Day One, quickly, before driving home, but failing).

It was pretty much the same when I was a kid, except that Day Two was Knot’s Berry Farm, or later Universal Studios, because when I was a kid California Adventure was the parking lot.

Anyway, Day One is magical. For everyone, but especially the kids. And the kids don’t know and probably wouldn’t care if they did know that thousands of other kids who are living an alternate version of the same life are also having an independently magical experience. Each of the dozens of kids who are lined up to meet Princess Aurora has the individual and magical experience of meeting Princess Aurora, and that experience is unaffected by its repetition for dozens in front and dozens behind (plus hundreds and thousands and millions who have done and will do the same on a day that at Disneyland always looks the same and that repeats itself into infinity)

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About Day Two:

Day Two is pretty awesome, but perhaps less magical. Day Two is about strategy and efficiency. Everyone living Day Two has lived the magic of Day One and is now going to get their money’s worth, because this s-word is expensive.

Day Two begins at the rope line. Everyone living Day Two has read on Pinterest that they need to get there (to California Adventure, where, as mentioned, Day Two is lived) before it opens and to line up at the rope line.

Some people who are living Day Two have read on Pinterest that as soon as the rope drops they need to speed walk straight to the line for the Cars Fast Pass.

Other people are living a version of Day Two in which the thing to do is to speed walk past the Fast Pass line and directly to the Cars ride itself.

A few people are living a version in which the thing to do is to go do something else other than Cars precisely because everyone else who is living Day Two is going straight for Cars, but this way of living Day Two basically means foregoing Cars altogether, and Cars is pretty awesome.

We lived the version of Day Two in which we went straight to the line for Cars. It was pretty awesome. We were glad we lived this version because the people who lived the version of Day Two in which they got into the line for the Cars Fast Pass had to wait a long time for that Fast Pass, and the Fast Passes were mostly for late that afternoon, and pretty soon they were gone altogether.

Anyway: everyone who is living Day Two has a strategy with which to conquer Day Two, most of those strategies meant to outsmart everyone else who is also living Day Two and who have the same or similar strategies.

The rest of Day Two is basically a contest to see who in the family first gets to the point that they’ve had so much fun they could kill someone.

And then the next yous arrive and you go home.

 

 

Married Couple Abandons Parenting for 3 Months to Write Book

Potential headlines for this story:

Married couple writes book.

 Married couple writes book in only 3 months.

 Married couple abandons parenting for 3 months to write book (ultimate winner).

Married couple surprised by how little they come to hate one another while writing book in only 3 months.

Married couple, as side effect of co-writing book in 3 months, becomes those people at Starbucks with all their computers and cords and stuff and about whom you wonder Don’t they have a home?

Parents of infant and toddler who placed ad in search of parents found at local Starbucks, indexing.

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, Things that Have Happened Since the Last Time I Posted on My Blog, in which I singled out five things:

Thing #1: I quit blogging.

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

Thing #3: I (we) took first kid and second kid to Disneyland. Twice.

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife.

Things #5: I was informed I have high cholesterol.

 

In that last post, I went into more detail about Thing #1 and Thing #2. This is Part 2 of that post and will be about Thing #4, skipping Thing #3 for the time being, just because.

 

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife

A full explanation of the book’s intent and the impetus behind it is explained here.

So we (Liz and I) had this idea for a book. We’re both high school English teachers, and it’s a book about teaching high school English.

The idea started out as a book about teaching Slaughterhouse Five, the idea later expanding to a book about teaching Slaughterhouse Five as well as half-a-dozen other books we like to teach.

We batted it around for six months or so, getting serious enough from time to time to draft some chapters and eventually reaching the point at which we began to think about the possibility of submitting it, at which point we learned about book proposals.

So we spent (spent should be precisely defined here as referring to no more than ten to fifteen minutes every few days scratched [into? out of?] an at-home schedule dominated by parenting and grading and Netflix) the next six piecing together a book proposal, which included a query letter and an overview and an annotated table of contents and market research (I say included market research not actually knowing by any degree what market research is and therefore whether or not what we did is it but anyway we analyzed who/what our market is and other books for which the market is the same and how our book was/was not similar and etc.) and a sample chapter.

We sent the proposal out to a handful of education publishers, from which we received rejections, some of which were non-form and encouraging, before finally hearing from a very nice acquisitions editor at Rowman and Littlefield named Sarah (in fact, R&L had been suggested to us by one of our previous non-form and encouraging rejecters).

Sarah asked for some additional materials and some revisions to the sample chapter and then needed to take the proposal to the editorial board. A few days later, she wrote back with an acceptance. We were delighted.

Here’s the said-sarcastically-fun part. Sarah’s acceptance came on July 23rd of 2015. In the same email, Sarah expressed that it would be an advantage for the book—though it would not yet be published—to have an ISBN number and be promotable at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference that November, and for that reason Sarah wanted to know if we could submit to her the final manuscript by early September (this would later be extended to the first of October).

Now, at that point (July 23rd), we had the sample chapter and a couple of other very rough and incomplete chapters, all amounting to less than fifty pages.

We also, at that point, had a nearly-three-year-old and a nearly-three-month-old, as well as full-time jobs: me teaching and Liz at home with the kids, Liz having taken leave from that upcoming school year. I also had a part-time teaching job some evenings and Liz also was working on her Master’s degree.

But I had this memory from grad school of one of the faculty members, a novelist who also wrote screenplays, giving the advice, said advice delivered within an anecdote about a screenplay, that the answer is always, Yes! Like, for example, if “they” ask you if you happen to have any stories/manuscripts/screenplays/whatever about bla bla bla, you always answer Yes, and then go write a story/manuscript/screenplay/whatever about bla bla bla, and it was with this anecdote with its embedded advice that I convinced Liz that despite the apparent impossibility of pulling it off we should just say Yes!

So we did.

For the several months that would later follow the book’s release, when people would ask something along the lines of How’d you do it, I would repeatedly give the same jokey answer: “We just quit parenting for 3 months and did it.”

But we didn’t really quit parenting or abandon our children–Liz in fact clutched our three-month-old and declared that we could not let this affect our time with the kids–though we did for a time parent them less.

We wrote early in the morning. We wrote at night after bedtime. And for a rather large chunk of each of about twelve consecutive Sundays we got a babysitter and went to our local Starbucks.

 

Things you notice when you spend 10 or more hours per month at your local Starbucks:

  • Much like Walmart, people will wear almost anything to Starbucks.
  • In any span of several hours at the local Starbucks, a lot of people come and a lot of people go, but the four or five people who remain through all of those hours are pretty much the same four or five people who are also there week after week.
  • If you are one of those four or five people, location is everything, and the ideal location depends upon your purpose. For some, it’s those comfy chairs. For us, it was a balance of table space and access to a power outlet.
  • Though you may not start out there, if you stay at the local Starbucks long enough and if you’re willing to repeatedly pack up all of your stuff and move, you will eventually get your ideal spot.
  • If there are two of you, and you each have a laptop and papers and books, you may very likely need to initially split up, but you will eventually (see above) reunite.
  • Starbucks food seems wholesome and even kind of high-end. And you get the impression that they (Starbucks) don’t even really see it as food people would regularly eat, like at McDonald’s, but food people get to go with their coffee or food people need because they’re starving after waiting in line so long for coffee. It seems more like premium food.

But it’s not. In reality, it’s food taken out of a plastic package and put in a microwave, which is what you get when you eat at a gas station (which I happen to know a lot about), except at the gas station you do the microwaving yourself, and when you eat enough re-heated Chicken Artichoke on Ancient Grain Flatbreads, they just start to taste like gas station food.

My first book took three years to write. All the same things happened with this book—frantic drafting with the recurrent thought that nothing that I am typing right now can ever be in a book in fact it’s so awful it can never ever be seen by anyone ever; never-ending laborious revisions such that one reads the same chapters and the same pages and the same paragraphs and sentences over and over and over again; that feeling that when this is over I never want to read or see or even think about this book ever ever again in fact I’m never going to do anything difficult with my free time again just Netflix and ice cream from now on. All the same stuff, just this time crammed into 3 months.

But it all worked out. We finished. On time. And the people we need to thank are: Sarah; our babysitter, Lizzie; our two readers, Susan and Ellen. And of course our kids, for getting along without us for a while.

 

 

THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED SINCE THE LAST TIME I POSTED ON MY BLOG

The last time I posted anything on my blog was March 22, 2014. Two-and-a-half years ago.

 

Here are things that have happened since then. All these things are about me, which seems self-involved, but then it is my blog, so…

 

An increasingly regular responsibility in my capacity as a high school English teacher is convincing/encouraging/suggesting/urging teenagers not to end every statement with so…. Or so yeah…. Or just or

 

So, here are the things:

 

Thing #1: I quit blogging.

 

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

 

Thing #3: I (we) took first kid and second kid to Disneyland. Twice.

 

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife.

 

Thing #5: I was informed I have high cholesterol.

 

Other things (in no particular order):

  • Read a lot of David Foster Wallace
  • Read Finnegans Wake (spellcheck understandably wants me to put an apostrophe on Finnegans but there’s no apostrophe)
  • Got a part time teaching job to go with my full time teaching job
  • Sold my horse, thereby becoming horse-less for the first time since I was 14 years old.
  • Wrote/compiled a story collection
  • Got said collection rejected
  • Started a novel
  • Started another novel within that novel
  • Built a patio

 

There are other things, of course.

 

Here’s more about the first two:

 

Thing #1: I quit blogging

 

I started blogging in 2011 because I had a book coming out. It was one of the things you were supposed to do. For the same reason, I also opened a Twitter account and added like 2,000 strangers as friends on Facebook.

 

There’s no big reason as to why I quit blogging. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was just much easier to stop than to continue. In that way, it’s like jogging (and blogging and jogging rhyme, so…). And like the opposite of smoking, or eating cookies. It’s like this thing you do that you know you should do more often—in fact, you’ve been told by people for whom it seems supernaturally easy that if you aren’t doing it blank many times per week then you may as well not be doing it at all. So then it becomes this thing that when you do do it you feel pretty good about it (Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing, I love having written.”) but mostly you just feel guilty all the time for not doing it or not doing it enough, hence it being much easier when you finally make the decision to just stop doing it altogether.

 

But it (blogging)’s not like jogging because it’s fun. Nothing about jogging is fun. It’s good to do but not fun. Writing, though, is fun. And it’s no-or-at-least-less-pressure writing, so there’s less of that ohmygodthisisallcrapi’mafraudihatemyself part.

 

But, anyway, I’m gonna give it another whirl, so we’ll see.

 

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

 

The second kid’s name is Sam. Sam is eighteen months old. His older brother, by the way, is Tom. Tom is four.

 

Sam’s birth story is far less dramatic than Tom’s birth story. Because Tom’s birth story ended with a C-section, Sam’s birth story begins as a planned C-section, planned C-sections, as you can imagine, eliminating much of the apprehension and anticipation surrounding imminent birth because you make an appointment.

 

The wrinkle in this planned C-section, though, was that when we arrived for our appointment, come to find out, Liz was in labor. The very early part, but labor (and then Liz read the handwritten draft of the sentence currently being parentheticalled and shouted at me across the kitchen that it wasn’t the early part of labor it was labor labor then insisting that I add parenthetical reference to said shouting).

 

But other than that, it all went as planned and it all went fine, and Sam was born and he was healthy and, to be honest, he was much easier than Tom had been, which may very well have had a lot or mostly to do with the fact that this was our second rodeo, but, anyway, Sam screamed less and “latched” better (those two probably related) and, speaking of Tom, the most challenging part of the entire three days in the hospital came when Tom’s Grammy, with whom Tom had spent the last three days, brought Tom to the hospital to see the parents he had not seen for three days and also to see his new baby brother, Grammy and Tom happening to arrive at the hospital at the same time that Tom’s other grandma and Tom’s aunt and uncle were also visiting, such that the scene Tom walked into was just about half the people he knew on the planet all huddled in this strange room, plus this baby. He immediately lost his s-word. What followed can best be described as an existential meltdown—think Luke Skywalker after finding out Darth Vader is his father, but of longer duration and with more agony—the shrill screams of No No No prompting everyone but Mom and Dad to file out into the hall, the nurse shortly thereafter rushing in to retrieve the bassinet because apparently it’s against the maternity ward rules to carry a newborn into the hall, the screaming toddler evading both parents, dodging behind medical equipment, eventually taken against his will into the arms of Dad and held literally kicking and screaming for the what-seemed-like-much-longer-but-was-probably-like-five-minutes that it took Mom to coax him back from insanity.

 

Existential crisis if not resolved then at least silenced, consensus was reached to just send Tom back home with Grammy. But, in the hall, before leaving: a curious peek, on tippy toes, over the bassinet wall; a glance up at the adults; “Do you want to see your baby brother?”; a nod in the affirmative; a trip, for baby brother, around the ward, pushed ever-so-carefully by big brother; a reading, with considerable concentration, of I’m a Big Brother; a kiss for everyone, including Sam, before leaving.

 

Sam is now eighteen months old, and several of those months ago he ceased being Tom 2 and became his very own Sam.

 

He smiles a lot.

 

He roars a lot. He has various roars. A tiger roar, for example, and a dragon roar.

 

If the roars don’t work, he’s a pretty good screamer.

 

He climbs. Everything. Chairs must not be left adjacent to things taller than chair or Sam will be on top of that thing.

 

He runs. Walking seemed to take a while to get going and I guess we were worried at the time but that’s a distant memory because now he’s a runner.

 

He signs. He uses the signs for All done, More, and Please. More is the most often used sign and has evolved into the sign for More as well as for Do! Like, Hey one of you two tall people that does things, do something. Do something else. Do it now. Determine from my pointing and other wild gesticulations what it is I exactly want and do that thing. More. Please.

 

We were worried about having two brother—you know, because of Sam Shepard plays and the Book of Genesis—but so far they get along great. Sam will begin speaking in sentences soon, though, limiting Tom’s ability to say, “He said I could I have this” without protest. So we’ll see.