Meet the Geeklings: Superheroes!

CivilWarBoysThe Pink & Ginger posts have been surprisingly popular, I thought I’d give something else a try. Everyone seems entertained by the quotes I share from Connor and Griffin, my 11- and 7-year-old sons. And it’s true: they’re hilarious and clever and insightful and weird.

So every once in a while, I’ll have a conversation with them on here. Today’s topic is near and dear to the Banks Family’s heart: Superheroes.

ProfBanks: So, who’s your favorite superhero, and why?

Griffin: Superman is bulletproof, and that’s awesome. Even if they shoot at his butt, it bounces off!

Connor: I’m sorta mixed between Deadpool and Green Lantern. Deadpool, because he’s so hilarious and unexpected, and he talks to us, like, “Hey readers!” And Green Lantern, because he can make anything that’s not yellow…

I can’t believe neither of them mentioned this flaw in GL’s powers.

G: He can’t make a rubber duckie!

C: And he’s a good person, and that gives him the privilege of being able to make anything so he can help. Why I said it’s a tie is that his weakness is yellow, so Rubber Duckie Guy could beat him, and that’s pretty weak. We could throw a pencil or a LEGO guy’s head, and he’d be all, “Oh no my only weakness!”

Darling Husband (interrupts): The Golden Age one’s weakness was wood.

C: That’s even weaker! A pencil would totally take him out!

G: He couldn’t ever go to school! But what do you like about those guys?

C: Because they’re kinda like me. Deadpool is funny and unpredictable, and Green Lantern is creative and open-minded.

PB: Awesome, Connor. Griff, I’m kinda surprised that you said Superman, because you’ve always been about the villains more than the heroes, and I thought that’s why you liked Batman best.

G: Well, Batman can beat Green Lantern with his belt!

C: Stop talking about how your heroes can beat my heroes!

PB: Stay on target, kids. Tell me more about Batman.

G: Awesome tools! Fighting crime! Sweet mask!

PB: You know, I can type whole sentences.

G: I feel bad for him, actually. I feel bad for his parents, and I hate the robber who killed them. Can I tell you how he killed them?

PB: Yeah.

G: He used a gun. He shot them in the head.

C: Did you know that Batman actually used to use a gun, back when he started?

G: Wow, Mom’s writing this all down! Yeah, it makes me really sad. Can you make a little ūüôĀ ?

PB: Sure.

G: I like how he found the Batcave, too. It’s awesome because there’s a gigantic penny! He could use it to buy something really expensive!

PB: That’s not how money works.

G: What if someone painted it as a dollar bill?

PB: …

C: I do want to say that Green Lantern’s movie sucks. I mean, it was kinda cool, but it also sucks at the same time. It didn’t feel right, like with the Christopher Nolan series or with Man of Steel. It was more lighthearted. I liked it anyway, but it’s too bad.

PB: So what kinds of stories do you like best when you read or watch about superheroes?

C: I like the ones where there’s an essential key that you can’t imagine. Like, Captain America versus Iron Man in Civil War, or Superman losing his powers. I like how the writers are so creative and descriptive of how those things would happen. You don’t imagine Spider-Man killing one of the Avengers, but they make you understand all the pressures on them and how it could happen. What about you, Griff? Do you like the ones where the bad guy wins?

G: I like Teen Titans, because Robin’s in it, and he’s one of my favorites. He’s my favorite sidekick.

PB: So, Griff, you like stories for the characters in them most of all.

G:¬†Yeah. Robin’s pretty cool, but not cooler than Batman.

PB: Why’s that?

G: He’s awesome because he’s Batman’s sidekick, and he’s funny. I think he’s probably the same age as my brother.

C: Do you like that because he’s a good kid rolemodel? To grow up and be great and help people? Would you like to be Robin someday?

G: Mm-hm.

PB: You realize Robin’s family dies, right?

G: Yeah, I’m also sad for Robin too.

PB: What does feeling sad for a character do to make the story good or bad?

G: I don’t really like it when people die. It makes me feel really sad, because it’s like they’re my friend.

C: I think it helps the story, because it helps you understand what happens to them. Like with Jason Todd. When he died, you really wanted to keep reading so you’d know what happened to him. Lots of people come back to life in Batman, and you want to know how they do that.

G: I’m also sad because Robin dies. I mean, Damian Wayne.

PB: Is that your favorite Robin?

It’s true: he does have awesome hair. But those are escrima sticks, not nunchuks.

G: Yes, plus also Nightwing. He has nunchuks and cool-looking hair.

PB: What do superheroes teach you about how to act like a good person?

C: It’s hard to explain, but superheroes give me inspiration to do good things, because they show that if you do good things to other people, even if you’re not in the best situation yourself, good things will come back to you. Captain America and Spider-Man are good examples. Spider-Man has had many deaths of people he loves and are close to him, because of bad choices he made.

PB: Was it really Spider-Man’s choices that made those things happen?

C: One of them, Uncle Ben. He started out cocky. And Captain America has had more deaths, but less personal to him. But he still chooses to fight for freedom, instead of Spider-Man who is a vigilante.

PB: Why is Cap better than Spider-Man because of how he fights?

C: Spiderman fights for certain people in his life, but he puts all his care into them. Cap spreads out his care across the world. Except for Nazis. He doesn’t care about them.

PB: Griff, what about you? What things do you see superheroes do that teach you how to behave?

G: It’s a really hard one. I don’t get it, because all the time, they just fight. It’s confusing that they’re good and they fight, because we’re not supposed to fight people. It’d be better if at the beginning of each movie, they said, “Don’t do any of this at home. Or at school.”

C: Or anywhere! Except maybe a boxing match.

G: They also teach you not to rob banks and stuff.

C: It’s kind of weird that Spider-Man’s theme song makes it sound like he’s singing at villains. Also, another thing: Who lives in America since they were born and doesn’t know about superheroes?

PB: Good question. Why do you think America is so into superheroes, especially right now?

C: Because we need leaders or reasons why to keep going, because we’re in a tough situation with the government shutdown and Osama bin Laden. We’re still getting over 9/11! So we need to have someone to watch over us, to protect us.

G: Because they [Americans] might learn from them how to protect themselves and how to be good.

C: Mom, are Americans terrorists to Afghan people, since we attacked them?

PB: That’s a really complicated question, Connor. Some people in other parts of the world do feel like Americans are bullies because of how we use our power to affect their lives. That’s not just military power; it’s also economic and social.

C: That’s not good.

G: No, not good.

PB: How do you think that relates to superheroes and how they’re supposed to represent American values?

C: I think it represents them kinda badly. To us, Superman and Captain America are the good guys and they fight for America and they’re good guys because of that. Recently (but before the New 52) Superman became more international, and maybe it’s because America’s not always right.

PB: Do you think that everyone appreciates the same values and stories about superheroes? What ideals do you think would be different?

C: There’s an episode of Justice League where they put Green Lantern on trial for breaking interspace law. It turns out he’s being framed, but the trial reveals that we have all these loopholes. Our politics are really dumb here‚ÄĒnot dumb, but bad and some people who work there are dumb and close-minded. We arrest people with no good evidence.

PB: Is that how you think Americans seem to the rest of the world sometimes?

C: Yeah.

PB: How do you think that current superhero media can address that impression?

Not like this, though. This is bad.

C: Superman’s not just an American icon now‚ÄĒhe’s known internationally. He fights for good, and he won’t stand down to an injustice happening. He’s not lazy about not wanting to go to bad areas; he’ll go anywhere something bad is happening.

PB: What about how we show superheroes as more flawed individuals, like Iron Man, not just big archetypes?

C: Man of Steel is a good example of this. Superman’s his own person, with his own clues and mysteries to solve in the world. He has a choice to make. He’s not perfect all the time.

PB: I did not expect to go this deep. Thanks, guys. As always, you rock my world.

 

 

 

 

Oct 11, 2013 - Physical Ed, Psychology    No Comments

Written In My Bones

Last March, I stopped sleeping. I’m no stranger to insomnia, so at first I just thought I was launching into another warped cycle. I stocked up the Netflix queue and resolved to wait it out.

But it didn’t resolve. No matter how tired I got–well past the point in any normal round of sleeplessness where sheer exhaustion would keep me down all night–I woke up between 1:30 and 3:00am, and couldn’t fall asleep again until the alarm was about to go off to wake the kids for school. I couldn’t figure it out. I cut caffeine after 6pm, I stopped napping (no matter how much I needed the extra spoons that helped me steal back), I adjusted my night-time meds up a notch.

Nothing. 3am and wide awake.

And then I remembered: Exactly that time, one year earlier, I lay awake to listen for Connor’s footsteps on the kitchen floor, going for a knife to kill himself. I never heard those footsteps last March, thank the gods, and there was no such fear this March. But my body knew that anniversary better than I did, and it sent a clear message–“It’s March, and you need to keep your boy safe. You can sleep when the sun is up.”

We all have smells, sounds, textures, even lighting that bring us directly back to very specific times and places. The silky binding on a baby blanket. The smell of the cleaning fluid from that time in the hospital. The unreasonably comforting taste of Kraft Singles melted on Wonder bread. The suffocating weight of a body, even though it’s not the body, pressing down on yours. When I asked about how their bodies store memories, friends mentioned more of these than I could keep up with. There’s no doubt that sensory triggers own the key to our memory, whether we like it or not.

Those experiences don’t surprise me anymore, except sometimes in the strength and speed that they fold time neatly in half, delivering us back to a precise moment in the past. What does surprise me is how well my body remembers past events that my conscious memory has long packed away in mothballs.

This March wasn’t the first time I’ve felt the gravity of memory. For almost a decade, I’d get depressed and irritable in May, around the time of year I was sexually assaulted. And a year after my deepest dive into suicidal depression, I was so anxious and high-strung, I was absolutely intolerable with trying to make everything better than the previous August. Neither of these is surprising–many people who go through trauma of some kind experience difficulty with anniversaries of those occurrences, well beyond just realizing that significant time has passed even as it felt like the hours and days were barely creeping along since incomprehensible loss.

There are other things that can trigger buried experiences. I worked with a physical therapist who practiced myofascial release. Fascia is the connective tissue that links our musculoskeletal system; it covers every single muscle, fiber, and organ in our bodies. When our bodies sustain stress and trauma, it stretches and tightens this connective web, causing pain. And therapists practicing this technique help people unwind and loosen the places where the fascia is bunched up and causing problems.

My therapist warned me when we started that unwinding damage sometimes causes memories to rewind in equally powerful ways. He said my body remembered things I hadn’t thought about in years, maybe even things that precede what I consciously knew. He advised me to have some time free after each appointment, in case I needed time to recover emotionally. And he was so right. We unwound injuries and threats as old as I was: fear and bracing against an unpredictable alcoholic father, a rib-breaking high-speed run-in with a vaulting horse, and the car accident that most likely triggered whatever latent potential for fibromyalgia rested in my body. I cried at almost every session, and only once was it from physical pain.

Now, so soon after helping my friend through the first steps away from sexual trauma, I find that my pain levels are sky-high. I’m not eating much. Honestly, I’m drinking more, though still never to drunkenness. I feel ill at ease in my body, and I find myself devoutly wishing to change its landscape, whether with wax (don’t ask) or tattoo ink, or cloak it in clothes that aren’t heavy with past wearings.

I can’t afford any of that, though. So I just sit here, with this body that remembers too much.

Oct 5, 2013 - Domestic Engineering    3 Comments

Pink & Ginger: The Secret of Our Success

Today is my 17th wedding anniversary with the Darling Husband, so I thought it would be fun to do another installation of Pink & Ginger, in which we talk about what’s made this partnership work for so long.

You can read more about our backstory elsewhere on the blog, but we’ll start at the beginning here:

 

 

 

Worlds' End screen

The Worlds’ End Bar on AmberMUSH, where the DH and I first met. For real.

ProfBanks: ‪So, Mr. Banks, when did you decide you wanted to marry me?

 

Darling Husband: Oh good, we’re starting with the easy ones.

 

It’s a toss-up between the time you killed my character on AmberMUSH with random dice rolls, and when you sent me that first mix-tape that was totally spot-on perfect.

 

But like every relationship’s beginning it’s the sum of all of its parts. Kind of unfair to single out.

 

PB: I can’t remember the exact day, but there was a point in the fall of ’95, when we were making plans for your visit, that I turned to Mari and said, “Hah, wouldn’t it be funny if I came back from Scotland married?” She looked at me like I’d lost my mind, but the little flip-flop in my stomach told me that, if you asked to elope, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

 

CandJFranceBirthday

DH and me, celebrating my 21st birthday in France, in all our ’90s splendor.

 

PB: I’m sure it must’ve been like watching a bizarre, incomprehensible rom com unfold over the year. Add that to the generally weird experience of living abroad with a group of Americans (and Dutch), it had to have been the best entertainment around.

 

DH: Plus the unpredictable hours and time differences! From time to time, there was the additional worry of, “Holy crow, she’s a million miles away in France. If anything were to happen, how would I get there in time?” There were a couple of occasions like that.

 

PB: I remember some of those. Honestly, though, I wonder sometimes whether we’d have moved along so quickly without that 12-hour time difference. It really greased the skids for what was probably inevitable, but never easy.

 

Do you ever think about how our relationship would’ve been if we’d had something like Skype? Or even just Internet with pictures?

 

DH: I imagine the outcome would have been quite different if we’d had Twitter. I see this with a lot of romances and couples nowadays. And not being able to constantly know what each of us were doing was probably a good thing, too.

 

PB: Well, actually, Twitter strikes me as much closer to what we DID have.

 

DH: I suppose. Maybe I’m talking about always-available smart phones.

 

PB: Oh that. Yeah, even just today’s long distance rates might’ve kept the urgency levels for being together lower.

 

So, what’s the best thing about being married to me?

 

DH: The absolute best thing is knowing that we have our own culture and shared intellectual & emotional space that nobody else has. It’s a hybrid that started up in the days of MUSHing and exists now with a thousand little in-jokes, references, interests, and hobbies. Even though we don’t do the same things all the time, I never get the “why does she do that?” thought that comes with, say, not understanding why you like Prince so much.

 

 

 

When DH makes fun of my love for Prince, doves cry.

 

PB: The Prince thing is easy‚ÄĒit’s because Purple Rain is the best thing ever. But yes, we’ve built this whole world and language and symbology that I find hilarious on a daily basis. And while I value that immensely, I also want to say that I appreciate the fact that we work pretty seamlessly as a team, and we’re rock solid when we do. I often feel like circumstances are overwhelming, but I never doubt that we’ll make it through.

DH: Yes. I think that’s emblematic of this shared life, though. It’s the foundation for why we can relax enough to enjoy that. Sometimes things are incredibly stressful for one or both of us, but I know laughter isn’t too far away‚ÄĒand if not laughter, at least a firm set of the jaw and a desire to kick some ass.

 

PB: “A firm set of the jaw and a desire to kick some ass” should be on my business card.

 

What’s one weird thing I do that you kinda love?

 

DH: There are a ton of things. One of them is the weird voices and sounds you do that accompany watching or acting out things. “Wahoo! Wahey! Whoopee!” as you watch cat fail videos, for example. It’s like you narrate life in a fun way.

 

 

DH with a sock puppet of the Serpent of Chaos that I made for his birthday. Don't try to explain it.

DH with a sock puppet of the Serpent of Chaos that I made for his birthday. Don’t try to understand it.

PB: It’s hard for me to choose, but I’d say I’m pretty enchanted after all this time by the Closet of Random Weirdness you can dial into. Nobody else does that quite like you, except maybe Eddie Izzard.

 

So, is there a quality about yourself that you think has been essential for building such a strong marriage? I know it’s not what you thought you were signing up for when we exchanged rings.

 

DH: I’ve said this fairly often in the past, but it’s a combination of being fiercely loyal and having a lot of willpower. That’s not to mean that sticking with you has required a force of will, but I’ve chosen to invest in something I believe has value and worth and is greater than myself, and so I will move heaven and earth to ensure that it’s held up.

 

I hope this also comes out in my parenting and my job, too, but really I think my surprise at anyone asking how I can be married for this long comes from “Well, what else did you expect me to do?” I made vows, I made a promise, and I entered into it willingly and without an expectation that it would always be roses and leafy garlands.

 

PB: Yeah, but fibromyalgia and a house full of neurodiverse people and a cat that’s determined to rid you of the ginger caterpillar on your upper lip? I can’t even say how many people would’ve run the other way.

 

DH: I suppose it’s a good thing I’m not those people? I mean, I’d be a sad dude. Plus nobody ever knows what’s going to come along. I think my whole life with you has been one of discovery in spite of the setbacks to health, finances, or geography.

 

PB: Well, with all the other baggage I’ve unwittingly brought into this relationship, I think the one thing that I have that makes it work is flexibility. That sounds weird, considering how often I freak out when things don’t go the way I wanted them to, but where it’s important, I’m pretty good at just rolling with it.

 

DH: Nobody could ever accuse you of being static. As a teacher, I think you appreciate the importance of always learning. You read a hundred times faster and more often than I do. It’s alarming, and it’s a thing I wish I was able to do. I think that part of my brain likes to just shut off. Or else it’s what my Mum always warned me would happen if I read too many comic books.

 

PB: Nonsense. I’ve always taken refuge in books and learning, not to say at all that you haven’t. But as much focus as I can summon for that, you can actually focus on a single project in a way I find difficult. I can’t turn off the multitasking enough to lay down a good stretch of track like you do. Plus, it helps that you’re ridiculously creative, so you just unspool ideas like no one I’ve ever known.

 

DH: It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s possible to get caught up in a rat’s nest of ideas and connections that I get the creative equivalent of falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. I think this is at least part of why my time management sucks so bad. I’ve got to get on top of that. Maybe I should start making lists like some of our efficient friends do? Only, I think I’ll probably just ignore them.

 

PB: Luckily, though, your time management doesn’t really have a giant effect on our marriage, except for the stress that it causes you. Honestly, I can cope with it by flexing stuff around it. No biggie.

 

So what’s the most annoying thing I do?

 

 

I’m not saying I’m like this in the kitchen, but kinda yeah.

DH: Probably how you can create amazing dishes, baked goods, or other food and leave the kitchen a titanic mess. Which you say you will clean up, but I usually can’t stand it long enough before I end up doing it. So, on the spectrum of annoying things spouses do, that’s pretty low.

 

PB: That’s true, though I’d like to make a plea that my mess wouldn’t be as big if I had more counter space. Don’t ask me how I think that would work, but I’m sure it would help.

 

DH: We would likely find a way to cover every surface in something, eventually.

 

PB: Face it: If it weren’t for you, we’d soon be snowed under completely by dirty dishes, homework, books, and crap. I’m so grateful for your willingness to pick up my slack on physical chores.

 

There aren’t too many annoying things about you that I can’t attribute to my hyper-tuned autism senses. And you always turn over to stop snoring when I shove your shoulder in the night, so that’s not a big thing.

 

Ironically, I think the most annoying thing is also the thing I most envy, which is your ability to filter out everything going on around you and get lost in what you’re doing. I’m completely unable to ignore the noise and motion of the kids, so I get frustrated sometimes that you don’t notice when I’m struggling to get them to do something. We’re so lucky that you can stay calm through that, though‚ÄĒI sure can’t.

 

DH: When it gets particularly annoying, it probably looks like I’m not paying attention. Which of course is totally an illusion, because I know what’s happening around me at all times.

 

PB: Bah, I say. Bah. All the bah.

 

DH: So do we have the secret to a successful marriage here?

 

PB: I don’t know what a secret it is. We laugh, we work together, we’re honest, we cover each other’s weak spots, we tolerate, and we make room for new ideas, priorities, and experiences.

 

DH: Plus we have these kids.

 

PB: Right. How weird is that.

 

If we could celebrate our anniversary in any way, with money as no object, what would you want to do?‬

 

DH: Fly back to Scotland. Spend time in Aberdeen again, then this time go the rest of the way up, and take a boat across to Ireland. Revisit places we were at before. Follow up with another New Zealand trip, or one to France, or Rome.

 

PB: With or without the kids?

 

DH: You know, if we could fly them in after a romantic weekend, that would be OK. But if money were no object, I’d drop them in the lair of a grandparent or two and ditch.

 

PB: That sounds nice. I’d even be content with something closer to home, like being able to buy ourselves really swanky clothes, then go out for a fancy dinner and a show of some kind, then spend the night in a comfy hotel.

 

DH: Yeah, those are the anniversaries I like. Just recognizing them with alcohol and time together.

 

I make us sound like drunks.

 

PB: Which is funny because I’ve never been drunk.

 

But since money is the only object we lack at the moment, what would you like to do tomorrow?

 

DH: We’re going to go out and get an early bite to eat before catching a 7:10pm screening of Don Jon, of course.

 

PB: Yeah, I could be down with that. You do know how ridiculously lucky I am to have had you for the last 17 years, though, right, Mr. Banks?

 

DH: Right back at you, sweetheart.

 

CandJWedding2

 

 

 

 

Oct 2, 2013 - Psychology, Sex Ed    1 Comment

Right Where I Should Be

Being right where you’re needed is exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also the most rewarding thing in the world, the thing that convinces you that all the trials you’ve endured aren’t just character building, but of redeemable use to other human beings. But I feel like I could happily sleep for a month.

Monday evening, a dear friend was raped. I got the text just as a panel on school pushouts was starting. Instead of mourning and raging at a distance, as I’ve done over the years when faraway friends went through their own trauma, I could do what I’d always wanted–even needed–to do: I quietly stood up, made my apologies, and raced to be with her within 15 minutes.

There’s something profoundly startling to hear your own words coming out of someone else’s mouth. Parents experience it all the time when their own favorite gems emerge from the miniature humans. But those dark thoughts of doubt, self-blame, and instinctive mistrust of your own reactions don’t sound right when you hear them out loud in another voice. She was full of “I shouldn’t have” and “I must have” and “If only.” It was hard to look at those ugly ideas in the light of day, and it gave me pleasure to shoot each one down with precision.

Eventually, she reached the conclusion that she wanted to report the assault. Several of the pieces of her story gave me that bone-deep certainty that this was his modus operandi, and that she wasn’t his first victim. She wasn’t content to be a statistic, and she felt safe enough and angry enough to do what she could to make sure she was his last victim. I worry I influenced her to do this because I wasn’t able to.

I went with her to the hospital, and apparently projected so much authority and right-of-place that it took a few hours for the staff to realize I wasn’t an official advocate from the local sexual assault survivors’ service. I held her hand, I made inappropriate jokes, I explained what would happen next. I told her to ride the waves of emotion without resistance or embarrassment, because fighting them would take energy she’d need for other things.

The one thing I didn’t have to do was advocate for her against skeptical or disrespectful people. Every single person we encountered treated her with credulity, sensitivity, and most of all, kindness. The nurse told us that police department, hospital staff, and survivor services had worked together to create an integrated, victim-centered care system. I want more women in our city to know this is the case. There are so many reasons women don’t report, and fear of bad treatment doesn’t have to be one, at least not here.

All throughout this, and since then, I’ve been able to say the things I wish someone could’ve told me. I don’t think my friend knows how meaningful and precious that chance is. And because if they’re worth saying once, they’re worth repeating, I’ll say them again here:

Nothing you did made him hurt you. You’re not wrong for wanting to find someone. There’s no way you could’ve known that when he agreed to the boundaries you carefully articulated, he wasn’t planning to respect them. You weren’t stupid to find him attractive and trustworthy–he was grooming you and putting on his best show.

You’re not wrong when you think things will never be the same. And the only way through this is forward; there’s no reverse gear in this car. Things and places that used to feel safe won’t feel that way for a while, and whatever you need to do to find comfort and refuge is okay. The sooner you get into therapy, the better. There’s never a need to go through this alone.

There’s no timer on recovery. There are no milestones that you need to achieve in a certain order or by certain calendar marks. You may not want to think about dating again for a good long time. You may want to take back control of your body and your pleasure sooner than you think you should want to, but that’s not wrong or “slutty” or even illogical. All you have to do is live through this at your own speed.

You’re not responsible for anyone else’s feelings, and telling people the truth doesn’t require you to shepherd them through their own emotional responses. People say things in shock that they don’t mean, so don’t invest too much in their first reactions. Some people just can’t make themselves emotionally available for this, and they may offer stuff instead. You’re not obligated to invent things for people who want to help that way.

Finally, you’re part of a not-so-secret society now. Our stories are remarkably similar, no matter how different they are. We’ve shared common thoughts, common physical responses. It’s true–this destroys some people. But it empowers many others, and how you choose to put your experience into action is up to you. And if you’re very lucky, someday you’ll be able to take what you’ve learned and make it work for someone you love, and it’ll all seem strangely worth it. Be sure to thank that person for letting you help.

Sep 20, 2013 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

What I Can Do For You

I didn’t set out to be a Woman of Mystery. Really, I didn’t–I’ve always thought the whole thing with secret identities was super-hokey.

But it appears that some folks don’t actually know what all I can do. That probably has a lot to do with having a number of different jobs, some of them concurrently. So I thought that maybe I’d write a post that just stands as a more chatty sort of CV, for future reference. I know I’ll be back in here to fiddle with the things I’ve left out, but this is basically me.

EDUCATION

I have 15 years’ teaching experience. Most of that is at the university level, but I substitute taught for middle and high schools for 3 years, where I was a special favorite of the foreign language teachers. I also have experience teaching short-term history and foreign language courses for homeschool collectives where kids to get instruction on subjects a little more technical or diverse than most parents can provide.

I’ve written whole courses, including websites and primary source collections, for Western Civ, Intro to World Religions, Women in Religion, Early and Medieval Christianity, and Rhetoric and Composition. I lecture, I organize group activities, I lead discussion groups, I write and grade exams, and I give one hell of a test prep session. And I am exactly the person you want to bring along on a trip to a museum or an historical site. (I may not be the person you want to go see a movie about medieval times with, though.)

I can train folks on skills commonly used in (but not exclusively by) community organizing. I’m a good consultant on issues of diversity, especially women’s and LGBT issues and neurodiversity, because I can effectively articulate the reasons why things do or don’t work.

EDITING/PUBLISHING

I offer professional services in copyediting and proofreading, as well as art direction. I edit for content, consistent style and voice, continuity, and flow. I can also check formatting in academic work using MLA or Chicago style. I’m good at highlighting problematic topics and language that might not be accessible or welcoming to every reader. And I’m like the kid from The Sixth Sense when it comes to proofreading: “I see typos. Everywhere.

I have had paid gigs editing and/or proofreading academic papers, roleplaying games, board game instructions, marketing material, self-help books, and SF/F novels. I’m eager to branch out into editing more genres of fiction (I would rule the world at romance novel editing), and I’m looking forward to my first paid job translating a major work from French to English soon.

I adore doing art direction, especially for RPGs, because I get very clear images in my head from the text, and I’m good at describing them for artists to interpret. I include copious photo references (all digital links these days) for people, places, correct period costumes, weaponry, and other relevant details.

CREATIVE

I crochet, knit, cross-stitch, sew, and make jewelry, as well as a number of more or less useful one-off crafts. I brew herbal medicines in my kitchen, including “magic stuff” which may be the most useful substance ever invented. I perform tarot card readings (yes, it seems to work equally well over Skype, email, or Twitter). I blog, and I write short- and long-form fiction–I would dearly love to participate in an anthology. I can design meaningful multi-faith (or no-faith) rituals for any occasion, like weddings, memorials, or baby blessings. I’m good at public speaking, and have performed speeches, sermons, and MC duties. I’m designing my first card game; I’m also writing a roleplaying adventure that teaches social skills to kids on the autism spectrum.

Sep 11, 2013 - AV Club    No Comments

DC Comics: Make It Right

Saturday night, I finally got to watch the movie 42. It’s about Jackie Robinson as he crossed the color lines of pro baseball right after World War II. I was ready to cry. I cry a lot at civil rights stories, for reasons I don’t completely understand, except that I can feel my heart tearing in two to see humans being treated as less-than.

What I wasn’t ready for was the way I burst out in tears during the trailer reel. It wasn’t even a really good movie preview that did it–it was a Public Service Announcement from Warner Brothers for a DC Comics child hunger initiative called “We Can Be Heroes.” It was everything I love and find moving in the iconography and symbolism of the Justice League and its members: protectors of humanity wherever they’re needed, asking for no thanks or compensation. Just doing good in the world. Take a second to watch; you’ll see what I mean.

But I was fresh from anger so blinding that I brought in the Darling Husband to help me write a blog post about it because I was worried I couldn’t write sensibly on the subject. So the tears that sprang to my eyes and clogged up my throat were tears of fury and frustration. Why couldn’t DC Comics be THIS instead of the ongoing train wreck I recounted last week?

I care about this because DC is family to me. I grew up in the glory days of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman and Christopher Reeve’s Superman and the technicolor weirdness of Sunday-afternoon episodes of Batman. I had the Underoos to prove it. I waited in line to have my picture taken with a distinctly sausage-like Batman at the local Toys’R’Us, and I was thrilled about it.

Later, the Darling Husband romanced me from afar with DC comics, mostly Vertigo titles that filled a space in me I didn’t know was empty. And when our first son was born, DH flew him around the room ever-so-carefully when the theme song of the Justice League cartoon came on. After a while, Connor’s head would swivel between TV and Dad every time he heard it, drooling (literally) in anticipation of his thrilling flights. The boys were born just a little too early for the cool Fisher Price Little People versions of DC characters that are in stores now, but we bought all of the large, chunky ones designed for slightly older kids, and they’re been loved to pieces.

We’re in that gap now where there isn’t much for kids coming out of DC Comics. TV appears to be the only place they’re making kid-friendly content.The title Superman Family Adventures was nice, but it’s been cancelled. There’s no DC analog for video games like Marvel Ultimate Alliance or Marvel vs. Capcom, which are slightly more mature than the admittedly excellent LEGO Batman games, but still not too warped or bloody. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight movies and Man of Steel are un-fun and too mature for kids.

I’m not saying that there should be no material aimed at mature readers, not at all. I’m saying that DC has abandoned creative products for one end of the spectrum of readers and fans, while continuing to market their merchandise with the force of a firehose to those young children. And that doesn’t even address the way they’re driving their women readers away with a stick.

So here are five things I can think of that DC Comics could do right now to get on the right side of this problem and reclaim their historic place:

1) Let Batwoman marry her fiancee. Happy relationships make terrible drama, so I don’t expect it to be a Happily Ever After, but get with the times and let them have a wedding.

2) Green-light a Wonder Woman movie now. And don’t put it in the hands of some dude who’s made a bunch of superhero movies. Put it in the hands of a woman who’s made great films about heroes, like The Hurt Locker (and Oscar-winning) director Kathryn Bigelow. Let Jane Espenson and Mary Robinette Kowal collaborate on a script. And of course, get Kathleen Kennedy to produce. You can cram in as many SFX as you want, but the creative team needs a different grasp on the character and story than superhero movie directors usually have.

3) Stop putting sexualized violence in every video game scene involving a woman. Her name is Catwoman, not “Bitch.” No pulling women around by the hair. And if I can’t kick Batman in the bubble bag, you shouldn’t be able to kick a female character in the crotch.

4) Make more age-appropriate content. If you want kids to be into Batman enough to buy pajamas and plastic cups and Halloween costumes, tell them stories so they understand why Batman is cool. Don’t market Man of Steel merchandise to elementary-age kids who would be terrified by the dark, bitter Superman of the movie.

5) Don’t force your creative teams to fall on the sword for every PR disaster. Maybe some dumb ideas originate with a writer, artist, or editor, but they don’t make it to the public eye without a whole lot of executives signing off on them. Many execs were creatives once themselves, so they should know that if the corporation doesn’t give them enough support and latitude, artists can’t take the courageous leaps that make great, lasting art.

Sep 6, 2013 - AV Club    11 Comments

Pink & Ginger: What’s Bugging DC Comics?

So, I’m trying this new thing where I try to share with you some of the awesome, free-range conversations I have with my Darling Husband, a/k/a Cam Banks‚ÄĒInternet-famous author and game designer, family man, and Twitter’s Dad. Thanks to Eric Paquette for the series name: it makes us sound like an awesome spy duo or a delicious drink!

Today’s topic has been on rising boil for a while, but just blew the lid off last night with its latest flare-up. First, asking vociferous homophobe Orson Scott Card to write for¬†Superman; then, this week, DC letting the¬†Batwoman¬†creative team quit rather than publish the same-sex marriage of BW and her partner, followed by last night’s kicker, the Harley Quinn “Break Into Comics!” contest art direction, which invites folks to draw HQ trying to commit suicide in a series of ways, including naked in the bathtub. People are so outraged that sources say individuals at DC are getting threats, in typical and totally unacceptable Internet fashion.

So my question to you, DH, is this: What in the pluperfect hell is going on at DC Comics right now?

DH:¬†This whole direction of being incapable of seeing what effect their portrayal of various characters is having isn’t new, obviously. You only have to look back to the past few years to see decisions like the really blatantly sexualized female characters in some of the¬†New 52¬†titles. There’s a reason that one website has a “X Days Since the Last DC Comics Blunder” counter. [You can find a timeline of departures from DC since the¬†New 52 reboot here.]

ProfBanks: Right. But all of these things have to make it past many sets of eyes before they finally go live. How do you think DC has become so divorced from their readership and core values?

DH:¬†I think it’s more complicated than people think over at Warner [DC’s parent company]. Remember, this is a gigantic multinational entertainment company, and the turnover has been really crazy. Executives coming and going. People in charge of making decisions being fired or let go or moving on. Look at the fallout after¬†Man of Steel, for instance. At DC Comics, I’m not sure some editorial staff know from one day to the next who their boss is. That doesn’t really explain why the folks who have their “boots on the ground” so to speak aren’t aware of the messages they’re sending out.

PB: What fallout after Man of Steel? I totally missed this.

DH:¬†So, there’s been a lot of discussion of what would happen if they made a Justice League movie. Part of the deal with Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Bat-flicks and¬†Man of Steel¬†was that they could somehow tie into one another and everything would naturally go¬†Avengers-like. Unfortunately there was a dispute among the various executives in charge of movies and media, and Legendary Pictures walked away from Warner. Long story short, I don’t think the upcoming Batman/Superman movie was Plan A. Plus, a lot of people were seriously upset with¬†Man of Steel¬†anyway.

PB:¬†I know I was really disappointed by how careless the destruction was in the movie during the fight between Supe and Zod. In the¬†Superman II¬†version, Zod and his team were able to break Supe’s focus by endangering people, whom he automatically went off to save. There was none of that care in Man of Steel, and pretty egregious destruction. I get the “But I just wanna stomp Metropolis!” urge for a filmmaker, but compared to¬†The Avengers‘ battle in New York, the big Supe-Zod showdown just felt like a boss fight on a 2D video game backdrop where there are no consequences.

DH:¬†Exactly. And this is a good example of missing the point. Now, I don’t think it’s an epidemic of thoughtlessness, it could just be another symptom of the push to get bigger, better SFX and visuals out there and skimp on story and plot. And we all know that no single screenplay in Hollywood ever gets to stay intact without being stripped apart and rebuilt hundreds of times by producers and studio executives. But even if this were shown to test audiences, I would have thought at some point somebody would have said “Hey, isn’t this kind of just disaster porn?”

PB:¬†What I keep coming back to is the growing gap between the values DC has always espoused, especially through Superman but also underlying other core characters, the whole “truth, justice, and the American Way” thing. The “American Way” is changing as demographics change, and while the old mythology is powerful, aren’t they missing a huge opportunity to be more to today’s readers?

DH:¬†They are. And in fact, there have been great strides made in terms of certain creators and writing and progressive characterizations. I don’t think you would have seen Batwoman‚ÄĒa really kick-ass lesbian hero character‚ÄĒheadlining her own title a decade ago. Not the way folks like J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman¬†have been writing her, anyway. But somebody higher up the food chain didn’t read the memo. Or, in this case, tossed out their wedding invitation.

PB:¬†Whereas Marvel actually sent out wedding “invitations” before their same-sex marriage in¬†Astonishing X-Men¬†#51 last year, and it sold hugely for them. Do you think DC execs just don’t have a good idea of who their readers are?

DH:¬†It’s possible. It’s also possible that we don’t know who their readers are, not completely, and that we’re sort of assuming that there’s a huge untapped audience of LGBT and multicultural readers who are being sidelined. That’s the problem with demographics. In some cases, an exec looks at two numbers on a sheet and says, “Well, we can afford to kick those people to the curb because this larger group won’t be interested and they give us more money anyway.” I have a feeling however that they’re on the wrong side of history here even if they believe they’re making good business sense.

PB:¬†Compared with the success of Marvel across the board right now, I can’t understand how they think the move toward…I don’t even know WHAT they stand for anymore…is the right one. I mean, honestly, at this point, I have serious reservations about letting our boys consume DC material. What about you?

DH: I think you could take that stand, but on the other hand, so much of the tie-in stuff has nothing to do with this. Like, the Young Justice animated series that recently ended was amazing. I can only assume the new Batman cartoon will be a lot of fun, too.

But I think we’ve both come to the conclusion that certain properties like¬†Injustice¬†or¬†Arkham City¬†are too intense and don’t portray women or minorities in a way we want our kids to be exposed to. And hey, there really is no end of Marvel stuff out there.

Plus, having read¬†Batwoman, it’s for mature audiences anyway. Not because of the character’s sexuality, but because a lot of the Bat-titles are written for mature audiences. (Don’t get me started on THAT mixed message, though.)

PB:¬†Right?! Merchandising and marketing is aimed squarely, with the force of a firehose, at getting kids into Batman, but they’re not producing new content that’s age-appropriate except for the new show. And don’t get me started on¬†Arkham Asylum¬†and¬†Arkham City‚ÄĒhaving that battle with the kid every other damn week is wearing me out. He thinks it’s okay that he understands that the way women and minorities are portrayed and treated is really messed up. He doesn’t believe me when I say that knowing it isn’t enough when his brain is absorbing these messages in formative years.

DH:¬†Insert “I consumed media like that when I was a kid and I’m OK” comment here. At the very least, I’m conscious of how much we work to include diverse characters, stories, and other media into our kids’ lives so that, rather than necessarily getting rid of problematic stuff, we present more positive alternatives and make those more appealing. It would sure help if our major entertainment media companies would pitch in a little more in this regard.

PB: Yes, please. Let us leverage our vast combined influence on the entertainment media complex to make this happen.

DH:¬†Great case study:¬†Minecraft. But you watch. One day we’ll find out somebody who works on that game is a Nazi sympathizer or hunts big game in Africa.

PB:¬†We’re not talking about¬†Minecraft, dear. We’re talking about the screws loose in DC Executive Land.

DH:¬†So my big take-away from this is that someone, somewhere, in DC Land needs to get a handle on the messages they’re sending out. They’re not in charge of that message right now. They might think they are, but I think the evidence (and the departures of writers and artists) is to the contrary.

Plus, for crying out loud, don’t use naked suicidal Harley Quinn as your art contest subject.

PB:¬†Because that’s not triggery in any way.

DH: Nobody thinks this is a good idea.

How about‚ÄĒshocker!‚ÄĒa contest where you’re tasked to gender-flip a major DC character or present them as a non-white non-traditional character? That’d be a wonderful use of creativity.

PB: YES. MAKE IT SO.

DH:¬†It’s already being done by every progressive artist on Tumblr or DeviantArt anyway. Maybe DC is just permanently late to the party. What do you do when your audience can find better uses for your IP than you do?

PB: Total regime change. The King is dead. Long live The King.

Thanks for the chat, honey.

DH:¬†You’re welcome! We should do this more often.

PB:¬†Yes, let’s.

Sep 3, 2013 - Sex Ed    2 Comments

Low Like Water

“Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.” — Lao Tzu, Dao De Ching

NotDrowning

Lao Tzu says that no one can lay low like water, but he’s wrong. Women do it all the time. Women lay low like water. We rain down, we nourish, we quench, we delve to the deepest roots. Women give freely.

Like water, women find a way where there is no way. We flow: over, around, under, and eventually, through every material. We soak, we saturate. We infiltrate.

When the scorching sun of pain, hatred, and worst of all, indifference, dry us up to crackling thirst, women lay low. We condense, we collect. We gather in shallow places, then run in a whispering trickle. We flow, we race, we roar.

Even when women are separated by barriers, we join back up again through time and tributaries. The things that keep us apart can’t hold us back: we rush over the dam of racism, we flood the banks of classism, we overflow the narrow channels of age and beauty and size.

And women will–I promise you this–we will jack up your foundation. We will break down your machines. We will wear away the power of your stone edifice. We will liberate the ink from the pages of the books that say water is weak, that women have no power. We will borrow the forms of our oppressors, filling them until they shatter and we are free. And we will lose nothing of ourselves in the process.

So lay low, my sisters, lay low like water. Flow swiftly and quietly toward one another; fold yourselves into the larger body where we are undistinguishable, the larger body that has no shape, that has every shape. We are water; we are women. We always prevail.

Aug 26, 2013 - Social Studies    4 Comments

Breaking the Alliance

I’m in the midst of a fundamental transformation, and it’s time for me to say to all the people whose rights I’ve worked to protect and expand:

I am not your ally.

This may come as something of a shock, given all the hours I’ve put in at phonebanks and lobbying and trainings and rallies. Yes, those are your bumper stickers on my car, your emails in my inbox, your scripts still invading the dreams in which I try to persuade talking dogs to call their legislators.

And no, I’m not giving up on activism. Far from it–I’m more committed than ever to bringing new people into the movements for safe schools, racial justice, gender equity, livable wages and housing, quality health care, and all the other things I care about.

But I’m not your ally anymore.

See, if I were your ally, I wouldn’t have a stake in these fights. I’d only be working for others; that work would have no appreciable impact on my own life. And it may seem like that to some of you who watch me flail around for the common good. After all, I married the person I love with no legal impediments. In fact, I even helped him immigrate, with no risk that he would be questioned or rejected or quota’d out of consideration. I’ve only had two, thoroughly planned pregnancies. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have reasonably affordable health insurance coverage for all but four months of my life. I’m white. I’m highly educated. I’m employed.

I am the veritable picture of privilege. So why can’t I be your ally?

I can’t embrace that title anymore because it’s mistaken. It suggests that I don’t benefit from the changes I help create. And that just isn’t true.

Better wages improve my economy. More affordable housing in safe, diverse, closely knit communities improves my family’s living conditions. Schools that foster the dignity and abilities of every child improve my kids’ education. The dismantling of the prison-industrial complex lifts an unfathomable burden from my society. High-quality, truly accessible health care keeps me alive.¬†Environmental conservation preserves my planet, and by extension, the most sacred part of my soul. Broad civil rights for communities of color and LGBT people protect my own rights to vote, to speak freely, to exercise my most fundamental human aspirations. Autonomy, safety, and respect for women’s choices, bodies, and lives guarantee my own ability to live fully into myself.

I’m not an ally because your rights are my rights. Your liberation is my liberation. Your safety is my safety, and that of all I love.

I don’t know the word for what I am, but I am in this with you all the way. And I won’t stop working until we are all free and whole together.

UPDATE: A darling friend from church came up with what may be the correct answer to my dilemma: the word “ubuntu.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu defines it thus: “Indeed, my humanity is caught up in your humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced mine is enhanced as well.” You can read more of the interview that yielded that quotation here. Yes, I know it’s also a computer term, but apparently the name was chosen deliberately to claim that friendly, collaborative, interconnected effort. So, ubuntu, y’all.

Aug 22, 2013 - Fine Arts    1 Comment

His Father’s Son: A Short Story

“Knock, knock.”

Victor bit his tongue as he eased the door open a crack. He shouldn’t have said that. Trevor hated it when he said, “Knock, knock,” instead of actually tapping his knuckles against the doorframe. It didn’t really matter, though. Even when he knocked correctly, Trevor never answered.

But Victor knew he was in there. It was impossible to miss the wobbly smack of the screen door, the clatter up the stairs, the sturdier slam of the bedroom door. The Jacob’s Ladder in the corner was quietly zapping.

It never meant anything good when he turned on the Jacob’s Ladder.

Victor craned his head through the opening, and peered into the gloom. He could see the glossy black mop of Trevor’s hair cresting over the slouchy armchair that faced the window. God, he hated that sullen dye job–it looked like a pile of squid-ink pasta perched on his son’s head.

“Can we talk for a minute?” Victor asked, stepping over the jacket and backpack dumped on the floor.

“I s’pose,” mumbled the chair.

“I’m guessing you know what I want to talk about.”

“Prolly.”

“So? Can you explain what happened at school today? I mean, what were you thinking?”

“I dunno. Just made me mad, I guess.”

Victor gasped a slightly hysteric little laugh, and scrubbed his face with both palms. “He made you mad? That’s it? Son, lots of things are going to make you mad in life. You can’t go around breaking all their noses with cafeteria trays.”

Trevor gave a laugh in reply, lower and more fatalistic than his father’s. “I dunno,” he repeated. “Sure solved this one pretty well.”

“Well, that one kid might leave you alone from now on, but solving that one problem the way you did just brought down a whole host of other problems on all our heads. They’re talking suspension.”

“So?” Trevor asked insolently.

“So?” Victor echoed. “So there’s no way your mother and I are going to let you sit on your suspended butt at home alone all day while we’re at work! If we can’t trust you to behave at school, we sure as hell can’t trust you alone here, where there’s stuff you could really get in trouble with.”

That got a reaction. Trevor turned in the armchair, one eye appearing around the wing back, amid a straggle of black locks. “You mean your lab, don’t you.” He snorted. “Like I care about any of that.”

“You don’t have to care about it to make a mistake even I might not be able to fix,” Victor retorted quickly.

“No, I mean I don’t even care enough to go in there. And it’s not like you’ve done anything important in there for…what, now, like…sixteen years?”

Victor gritted his teeth. The kid always knew where to stick the knife. So he hadn’t started anything new in a while. Work, parenting, life–they all sapped his creative energy. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had enough left at the end of a day to even climb the attic stairs.

“That’s not the point,” he said, trying to regroup. “The point is, you’re not getting suspended.” He sighed, ran a hand through his already mussed hair. “You’re so different lately. You just…you don’t have the old spark anymore.”

“You should talk,” Trevor taunted softly.

“This isn’t about me! I mean, really, kid, what happened? When did life get so hopeless?”

The eye disappeared back around the side of the chair. Victor heard the shuffle of those ugly clodhoppers Trevor had taken to wearing. The thick black boots only made it more obvious that they couldn’t seem to get the boy pants that stayed long enough for more than a week. And those awful throwback suit jackets, with the shoulder pads and frayed cuffs. Who the hell decided these things were fashionable again? Victor grizzled to himself. They didn’t look good the first time around, and on a gawky teenager, they were downright monstrous.

Victor scrubbed his face with his hands again, and attempted a more sympathetic tone. “Was it that whole thing with Elizabeth this summer?”

“Like that was ever going to work,” Trevor spat bitterly. “I bet you and Shelley thought you’d created the perfect little couple.”

“Don’t call her Shelley,” Victor replied with more heat. “She’s the only mother you’ve ever known, and you’ll treat her with respect.”

An oppressive silence fell. Victor picked at the quilt covering Trevor’s bed, where he sat. The heavy boots thumped irregularly, from floor to chair to windowsill to floor again.

Then, just as suddenly as conversation had been extinguished, Trevor thrust himself out of the chair and into an uneven elliptical track of agitated pacing. “How could I even compete with him?” he demanded belligerently.

Victor’s head reeled as he tried to absorb the sudden shift. “Compete with who?” he asked, a bit desperately.

“With Henry, that’s who!”

“Is Henry the kid whose nose you broke today?”

No reply.

“Is he the one Elizabeth’s going out with now?”

Fuming silence, more clomping steps. Then, suddenly: “I mean, GOD, Dad, I’ve still got stitches! Nobody has stitches anymore!”

Victor felt the waters closing over his head. “What do they have, then?”

“Staples, Dad!” Trevor groaned with the despair of every teenager who ever wondered why their parents were hopelessly uncool. “Or at least clear poly thread! Man, the only other kid with black stitches is that exchange student from East Bee-Eff-istan.”

Victor held his tongue at Trevor’s swerve toward profanity, and took a few deep breaths. “So Elizabeth would like you better if you had staples?”

Trevor began worrying a hangnail with his teeth. “I dunno. At least I wouldn’t look like such a loser.” He sighed, stopped pacing. “And they keep bringing up that thing.”

“What thing?”

“The thing at Homecoming.”

“Oh. That thing.”

Trevor flopped down onto the bed, throwing an arm over his eyes in misery. “I’m never going to live that down.”

Victor scoffed gently, “That’s what everybody thinks in high school.”

“Dad. I screamed. Like a girl.”

“Everyone does, sometimes.”

“At a torch.”

“Well, it was really close to you. If I had as much junk in my hair as you do, I’d be afraid too.”

Trevor just moaned and rolled over, not even bothering to rise to the dig.

Victor moved to rub a hand down his son’s back, but hesitated. Instead, he gave the boy’s shoulder an awkward pat. “Look, Trev, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s this: Life isn’t over, even when everyone else says it is.”

“It’s not the same as it was when you were young. There’s video, Dad. On YouTube. Something like 5,000 hits.”

“Yikes. That’s unfortunate.”

“Yeah, that’s one way of putting it,” Trevor sneered. “Here’s another one: I’m going to be the freak who screamed at fire until the day I die.”

Victor sighed. “If anyone knows what it’s like to carry around a reputation, it’s me, kid. I’ve been called a nerd. A freak. Out of my mind. And not even when I was in high school, where you can leave it behind someday.” He paused. “At least, not only in high school.” With a quick shake of the head, he refocused. “The point is, I know how it feels. It feels pretty lousy. But the truth is, everyone’s so worried about the kind of freak they are, they don’t have the brain power to worry about the kind of freak you are for long.”

“Great, thanks, Dad. You think I’m a freak too.”

“No, that’s what I’m trying to say! We’re all freaks!”

Trevor cried, outraged, “And you’re okay with that? You’re telling me I’m a horror show and I should just embrace it? What the hell kind of parenting is that?!”

“It’s the only kind I’ve got!” Victor shouted back. “It’s not a science, you know!”

“Maybe if it were science, you’d actually be good at it!”

Victor opened his mouth to yell a retort, then closed it abruptly. He rubbed the frown lines on his forehead. “Uh, thank you?” Trevor seemed equally startled by the compliment, if it was such a thing when given so impulsively and unconsciously. He fretted a loose thread on his sleeve as he searched for a reply.

The phone next to the bed jangled–not very loudly, but enough to startle them both. Trevor lifted the chunky old black handset. “Hullo?”

Victor watched as something like a conversation rolled out. If you could really call a series of false starts, nervous laughs, and mumbled sounds a conversation, he thought. I feel like I should be recording this for the anthropological record.

Trevor gave one last huffing laugh, then something that passed for a sign-off, and slowly returned the phone to its cradle. He looked a bit shellshocked, but slowly, a flush of color rose in his sallow complexion and a crooked sort of smile unfurled on his mouth.

Victor leaned in a little, nodding encouragingly. “So, was it her?”

“Yeah. Elizabeth.”

“And?”

Trevor swallowed hard enough to ripple the stitches on his throat. “And she wants to go out tomorrow. Someplace nice, she said. I guess Henry was pretty low-brow.”

“She dumped him? Even though you smacked him with the tray?”

“I guess it got back to her what he’d said about her before I hit him.”

Victor rolled his eyes. “You didn’t mention that part of the story, kid.”

Trevor shrugged. “Nobody at school asked why.”

“So where are you going to take her?” Victor prodded. “No candlelight dinners, I assume?” he teased.

Trevor gave a little laugh–small but real. “No, probably not. ‘S okay. She says she likes to look at the lake. I was thinking maybe a picnic.”

“Nice. Romantic. She’ll like that.” To himself, he muttered, “Good lord. Teenage dating. This’ll raise your mother’s hair.”

Trevor nodded absently, a far-away look in his eyes already. Victor reached out, shook his shoulder. “Come with me,” he blurted impulsively.

“Come with you where?”

“Upstairs. Just for a second.”

“Why?”

“Just come,” Victor urged, grabbing Trevor’s hand and tugging him off the bed. Together, they clattered down the hallway to the heavy metal door to the attic. Victor fumbled his keys until the lock turned with a disused wheeze. They squinted in the sudden darkness as they climbed the steep old-fashioned staircase, emerging into the cluttered space of Victor’s lab.

Trevor stood awkwardly, then poked at a dangling length of tubing. “What are we doing here, Dad?” he asked as his dad rushed around, flipping switches and tugging at rust-frozen latches. At last, Victor came to a stop beside a large metal crank extending from the wall, and all his frenetic energy transferred to forcing the bar along its circular track. “Come help with this! You’re young and strong!” Victor shouted.

Figuring that, if he was in for a penny, he might as well be in for a pound, Trevor clomped over to the crank, and settled his hands between his father’s. They’re the same size as mine, Victor noticed. A man’s hands, on my boy’s body.

They both flinched and blinked as sunlight suddenly speared through the widening crack in the roof. Victor coughed; Trevor sneezed. They broke the embrace they’d formed around the crank, but Victor hung onto Trevor’s hand and drew him over toward the raised wooden platform. “Here, pull this chain,” Victor urged him, rattling the clanking links impatiently.

As Trevor pulled, hand over hand, the platform rose toward the late afternoon sky. Only when they were level with the rooftree did it shudder to a stop. Victor planted his fists on his hips, his chest expanding with the rush of fresh air and freedom. He smiled, perhaps a bit manically, up at Trevor, who somehow looked even taller to him.

“Well?” Trevor asked. “Now what?”

“Now,” Victor said, “we do this.” He raised his arms over his head, provoking a squawk of alarm from a raven in the nearby tree, and yelled over the newer, shorter houses around their old Victorian mansion. “I’M ALIVE!” he bellowed, startling the rest of the ravens from the tree. “I’M ALIVE!”

Trevor gave a nervous laugh. “I’m not doing that.”

Victor plucked at his wrists again, urging Trevor’s arms upward. “No, really, there’s nothing quite like it. Just once, once for your old man. After all, I gave you life–that’s got to count for something.”

 

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