Monday, July 19, 2010

Trained Chickens and Children

I have suspected for several years now that chickens may be among the least intelligent organisms in creation, below paramecia and perhaps just above chalk dust. (Is chalk dust an organism?) Imagine my surprise when we went to the bird show at Hogle Zoo, and they had a "trained" chicken. I put that word in quotes because its routine wasn't terribly impressive.

The show consisted mostly of parrots answering questions and various large raptors flying over the audience low enough to knock the top hats off the people wearing them—which was no one, fortunately. The chicken's trick was walking from one side of the stage to the other at apparently random times during the show. For the highlight of the performance, it "danced." I put that word in quotes because, well, it didn't exactly do the chicken dance, if you know what I mean. Basically, it just scratched around in the dirt. Pretty much like chickens normally do, except it did it at a certain time. Then the trainer told it to exit stage right—about half a dozen times. All this while there was probably another trainer trying to lure it offstage with a strawberry or something.

All in all, I was still impressed by how well the chicken performed, considering. I think the secret is training it to do something that kind of came naturally to begin with. Maybe that wisdom can be applied to raising children. Perhaps I should try using their natural proclivities instead of trying to get them to learn things that are completely against their nature.

I'll start teaching them to never flush the toilet, to fight with each other every opportunity they get, to put non-food objects in their mouths, and avoid actual food with the exception of desserts. Then I'll go to sleep at night knowing I'm a complete success as a parent.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


So, I write a post entitled "Suicide," and then go two weeks without posting anything else. Oops. A little weird?

And now for something completely different.

I love to write about love. The romantic kind. I'm a hopeless romantic, and this sometimes annoys my wife. (We defy gender stereotypes in that regard.) She does usually like the way I handle romantic elements in my writing, though.

Now, don't misunderstand what I mean when I say I'm a romantic. I'm not a flirt, player, Casanova, or anything else remotely like that. I think love should be like dutch oven cooking, not slapping a steak on an overly hot grill until the outside is seared and the inside is still raw. You've got to be patient with a dutch oven.

Nah, forget it; dutch ovens are boring. Flames are fun. Sizzling is exciting. But you still have to just let it happen, not force it or even expect it. When I write a love story, (and I've written, like, three of them,) it takes the entire story to get to the first kiss. Oh, except for my current WiP, which has a love story in reverse. Even then, it spans the book.

Love just always sneaks in there--along with suicide and food.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I've written two novels. In both stories there are many ideas and themes that made their way in without my having to intentionally put them there. For instance, in each book, a central character is suicidal at the beginning. Furthermore, it’s part of the premise of a novel I’m planning.

I write about things and people that reflect who I am and my experiences. Obviously, I’ve never committed suicide, nor have I known anyone who did. But I do have some personal experience in that area. After you’ve attempted suicide, it’s hard to admit to anyone, even yourself, that you felt those feelings, did those things. But I can never forget where I've been. It makes life that much more precious, even ten years later.

In my writing, the suicidal characters are both female. (Maybe that’s a subconcious attempt to distance them from myself.) In Aersh, Tuatha is the embodiment of all my anger. She’s trapped in a bad situation with no out, and decides to strike out against her oppressor in a sabotage mission that will end in her death. In a way, she’s courageous, but she’s still checking out of life early. Her relationship to my own experience is metaphorical.

In The Sense, I never intended for Leah to become so much like me. I gave her the gift of a perfect memory, and somehow it became a curse. She finds herself trapped by memories of every mistake she’s ever made. Still, she doesn’t have Tuatha’s horrible past. She’s not trapped on a spaceship, forced to fight an unjust war. She’s never killed anyone. She still has family. Superficially, there’s nothing in her life bad enough to justify wanting to end it—her reasons are all internal. She has no excuses, no good reasons, and no hope. She walks to a cliff over a river, intending to kill herself. It’s not courageous, and there’s no higher purpose. Leah only wants to end the pain. Then Esha stops to help.

What happens next is that Esha uses her newfound supertalent to fix Leah’s memory problem. It’s essentially magic, but there’s much more happening here.

I, the author, put someone in Leah’s path who can help her, and even though she’s been let down so many times before, she accepted the help. Esha’s presence was enough to keep Leah from jumping, and Leah did her part by taking the hand that was offered to her. It’s the beginning of the book, and Leah’s problems come back. When they do, there’s someone else there to help her. Eventually, she’ll be the one offering help.

This isn’t metaphorical or magic—it’s what really happens. Thousands of people Leah’s age attempt suicide. It’s a part of life for many of us, one that we rarely discuss.

Suicidal tendencies don’t make for a good first impression. When the subject comes up in conversation, you don’t say anything. The people who know what you did don’t mention it, either. 

You know that what you’ve been through was painful and difficult. You know you’ve overcome great obstacles, and should be proud of yourself. You also know that you tried to kill someone dear to those you love. You nearly put them through all the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one. You are the victim and the murderer.