The Little Prince

littleprinceOver the last few nights I read classic book The Little Prince to Byron. I had offered to read it numerous times and he always protested, but I wore him down. He listened patiently and quietly. He commented on the pictures but rarely the text. However, last night he didn’t want me to stop reading and we saw it through the end. When asked later how he liked it, he said “It was actually pretty good. I didn’t think it would be that good.” But how much the book’s profound truths affected him, I don’t know. Continue reading

Anger

Anger from the movie Inside OutWhen I was a kid my brothers and I lived in constant fear of our father’s rages. Something like a little spilled ketchup on the counter would set him off and he’d yell at one of us or all of us for an hour or more. No exaggeration: we would time his rants and kept records. He didn’t spank us that often but we would go off on ceaseless torrents of verbal abuse.

Even though I suffered through approximately one of these rages a week for my entire childhood, I can remember almost nothing of what he actually said. That we were careless? Probably. That we were useless and ingrateful? Possibly. All you really can hear when someone is yelling is: ANGRY I’M ANGRY YOU MADE ME ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY

Forget to walk the dog? ANGRY I’M ANGRY YOU MADE ME ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY

Bad grade at school? ANGRY I’M ANGRY YOU MADE ME ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY

Do nothing at all? ANGRY I’M ANGRY YOU MADE ME ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY

That was all a long time ago, but I deal with it daily. Parenting, holding down two or three jobs at a time, and the other challenges of adulthood are picnics compared to managing the recurring sadness, anxiety, and (yes) anger over being treated so shabbily as a child. I have forgiven my father, but that doesn’t make it any easier to function as an adult and especially as a father.

The toughest challenge has been, ironically or inevitably, wrestling with my own rage. I know my brothers have the same struggles. It’s like we grew up on the outskirts of a frequently-erupting volcano, and now all tend to our own respective pools of bubbling magma. We rarely get together because it’s too volatile.

I am thus compelled to see anger as a singularly destructive force that ruined my childhood and must be watched vigilantly lest it destroy my adult life, so it goes that I’m wary of a recent trend to romanticize anger.

Donald Trump says people are angry; Bernie Sanders says people are angry, and where they agree is that the anger itself is a force that must be reckoned with. It’s not questioned that angry people have a right to be angry, or even why they are angry. We’re supposed to ask what the rest of us can all do to make them feel better. That’s how anger works. It is selfish and manipulative. As a child I cried and promised to try harder and be better; it was years before I realized my dad’s anger was unreasonable.

I don’t think people decide to get angry, as a strategy, but it certainly serves their own ends to be so. Angry customers get special treatment. If you tell a friend you’re angry, their immediate reaction will be to apologize and try to make it up to you. Get angry as an electorate, and politicians rally around you, you get stories written about you and your rage and what the country can do to make it better.

Anger is also stupefying. It heightens your own feelings and makes you less considerate of the feelings of others. Anger literally gives you tunnel vision: your field of vision narrows as you get angry, sharpening and highlighting the focus of your rage while blinding you to objects on the periphery. Evolutionarily this was a survival strategy; now it allows the angry to see perceived injustice with special clarity while blurring background noise like: the thoughts, feelings, and basic humanity of those people who have allegedly wronged them.

When I think on how my father, who is a good man, could have treated three children so terribly for so long, I can only think: the anger made him do it. His rants shaped a narrative of unruly, ungrateful kids, and his anger kept his brain focused on the points that proved it and blind to other evidence or concerns.

I don’t think anger serves functional political dialogue any more than it serves functional family life. It encourages us-and-them, black-and-white, style thinking. Of course certain politicians reap the benefits: the kind that want people to be angry, and stay angry, because they are easier to manipulate.

Obviously (I hope) the alternative to anger is not acquiescence; it is calm and decisive action. There are healthy, constructive ways to be dissatisfied, to air a grievance, to identify problems and brainstorm solutions. In my experience anger doesn’t lend itself to solutions; it creates problems and is a problem. In fact, I’m inclined to say it’s the biggest problem facing us…

Nah, that’s still (by far) global warming. But if I think too much about that I’ll get angry

The Murdock 67 (Advice on Culture Building)

In author circles, particularly those writing fantasy and science-fiction, there’s a lot of talk about “world building,” which I visualize as writing ad-hoc descriptions of physical and political structures. (I know world building is more than that; I can’t help what I visualize.)

So I now use the expression “culture building” knowing that “world building” encompasses that, but finding that gets more at what I would want to do in a work of speculative fiction, and because it gets more to the heart of the matter. How are these humans (or animals, or aliens) human, and what shape is their humanity? I came across this incredible list, written by the anthropologist George P. Murdock (via E.O. Wilson; you might have seen that coming), who sought to create a comprehensive list of all the human cultures he’d encountered. The list follows.

  1. age-grading
  2. athletic sports
  3. bodily adornment
  4. calendar
  5. cleanliness training
  6. community organization
  7. cooking
  8. cooperative labor
  9. cosmology
  10. courtship
  11. dancing
  12. decorative art
  13. divination
  14. division of labor
  15. dream interpretation
  16. education
  17. eschatology
  18. ethics
  19. ethnobotany*
  20. etiquette
  21. faith healing
  22. family feasting
  23. fire making
  24. folklore
  25. food taboos
  26. funeral rites
  27. games
  28. gestures
  29. gift giving
  30. government
  31. greetings
  32. hair styles
  33. hospitality
  34. housing
  35. hygiene**
  36. incest taboos
  37. inheritance rules
  38. joking
  39. kin groups
  40. kinship nomenclature
  41. language
  42. law
  43. luck superstitions
  44. magic
  45. marriage
  46. mealtimes
  47. medicine
  48. obstetrics
  49. penal sanctions
  50. personal names
  51. population policy
  52. postnatal care
  53. pregnancy usages
  54. property rights
  55. propitiation of supernatural beings
  56. puberty customs
  57. religious ritual
  58. residence rules
  59. sexual restrictions
  60. soul concepts
  61. status differentiation
  62. surgery
  63. tool making
  64. trade
  65. visiting
  66. weaving
  67. weather control

It’s meant to be descriptive, but I think it could be to creative writers — like Joseph Campbell’s work — prescriptive, a means of planning. Murdock’s list is a series of hints and suggestions to creators of imagined and imaginary cultures the many things they might consider working into their book. As I prepare myself to delve into a project that would require full-scale world/culture building, and wondering if I am up to the task, I find this list is extremely helpful. Each item is a question to answer, a challenge that leads me to fully develop my world… and some could lead to passages, with key plot points and character development, that might not have occurred to me otherwise. I don’t think I’ll need to plod people through ALL 67, but I know I would return to this list again and again for ideas.  I also see those points that other authors covered, that made their books rich and wonderful, whether or not they actually read anthropology books: Rowling and 2, Jacques and 22, Richard Adams and 15. They might have had muses whispering in their ear, but for me this list will help me fake it.

Quidditch

 

* Because I had to look it up: the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses.

** If, like me, much of your career has been charting the lives of middle-school-aged boys, this one is optional.

Go Set a Record Straight

Go Set a WatchmanForget what you’ve read and/or assume about Go Set a Watchman. It is not a “first draft” of To Kill a Mockingbird. And while it may not narrowly meet the definition of sequel, it sure reads like one: a new story, set decades later, with most of the same characters. Indeed, it really feels like the writer of this book assumes readers are familiar with the events and characters of To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, there are inconsistencies, huge ones, which indicate it was not written after final edits to Mockingbird. But it mostly works as a sequel. Continue reading