Recently, my Facebook feed is full of links to blog posts featuring charged comments on controversial issues. I think that spirited discourse is important. There are important social and political issues that need to be hashed out through the various discussions.
At the same time, I do get a bit weary of it all sometimes. I am not advocating censorship or telling people to shut up and be quiet. But everyone seems so quickly offended and enraged. Everything seems to bring such highly-charged, deeply-fraught responses. So-and-so writes a post about something that is important to him/her. It goes viral as those that agree like it into viral status.
However, it inevitably bothers someone who sees the world differently. A day or two later, one of these folks writes a rebuttal, which soon becomes viral as well. And so hunker down, lobbing viral blog grenades at our foes from the safety of our foxholes.
Again, it's not that I question anyone's right to do this. And I don't mean to say it's somehow wrong.
But part of me wonders if it's wise. Or helpful.
Do we ever change any minds with this viral blog grenades? Or do we just feel good in hearing our position articulated and reinforced? Does it make us feel good to think that no one in their right mind could possibly disagree with this latest post?
It all seems a bit tiring to me.
A colleague at work has political opinions so different from mine that I don't know if there is any common ground. And yet, this person is a good and honest soul. A hard worker, kind, helpful, and devoted to family.
On which experience should I base my relationship with this person? To which should I give the deciding vote? Our ideological differences, or all the goodness in this person's heart and actions?
This person and I will likely never see eye-to-eye on some issues. But this is not the crazy, maniac that my ideological compatriots would paint all our foes to be.
And this person is my friend.
I watched a great old movie the other night. "Friendly Persuasion" with Gary Cooper. He plays the father of a Quaker family during the Civil War. Their pacifistic beliefs are put to the test as the war comes very close. At one point, when confronted by enemy soldiers, Gary Cooper says something to the effect of, "No man is my enemy." That's a cool thought.
As we argue about all these things, can we stop for a minute and take a breath? I know it sounds hopelessly naive to suggest we see each other as humans and not as advocates or specific positions and policies.
But if I were to discard my friendship with my colleague because we disagree on some things, I woud lose a treasure.
I participated recently in an email discussion about a sensitive topic. Highly intelligent people (who were somehow kind enough to include me) had a respectful, thoughtful conversation. We didn't all agree. I strenuously disagree with some of what was said. But, there was no name calling nor lobbing rhetorical bombshells. While my basic position remains unchanged, I learned a great deal and came away with much to consider. I was enriched, not diminished by the conversation.
So, wanting to do make changes I hope to see, here's my commitment.
If you are my friend who is a Christian fundamentalist, a lesbian feminist, a liberal democrat, a constitutional conservative, you are my friend. If you believe marriage is between a man and woman, or if you believe it should be anything that two consenting adults choose, at the end of the day, you are my friend.
If you are my friend and you hate Common Core or think it's the best thing ever, you are my friend. If you hope Obamacare crashes and burns, or think it's our last best hope, you are my friend.
Whatever labels your ideological baggage carries, and however that baggage differs in shape and appearance from mine, let's first and foremost be friends. Seriously.
Does that sound trite? Let me explain what I think it means.
I will listen to you. I will try to understand. When I disagree with you, I will attempt to do it with clarity, but with kindness, realizing that my views are formed by the same fallible means as yours. And when I fail, as I certainly will, I will apologize.
I will not require your conformity to my ideas as the price of my respect or friendship. I will not conflate disagreement with bad faith or stupidity. I will see being exposed to differing ideas as the price of your friendship, one I am willing to pay, and see it as a feature, not a bug.
If you post something on Facebook with which I disagree, I'll try to ignore it. If I just can't do that for some reason, I'll try to understand the point and see if there is any common ground. I will resist the urge to fire back, remembering that Thumper's mother's advice is probably still the best in most situations. If I simply can't resist responding, I will at least do so by engaging your ideas, not your motives or personal goodness. And I won't pick fights with your other friends and embarrass you.
Don't get me wrong. I have beliefs. I am not mushy about them. I think I am right and I will work to support the causes and organizations that advance my beliefs. I will express them when I feel I should.
But I don't think the gap between our political, theological, cultural, or other beliefs ought to be the defining aspect of our relationship.
I will realize that when I post on your wall, or comment on your posts, I am essentially a guest in your virtual home and ought to allow you your own taste. It seems to me that many of us would never walk into a house and say, "What an ugly painting. How can you stand this awful color of carpet? What idiot would possibly like that style of couch?" And yet we do that all the time with our reactions to various online pieces.
If you are my friend, I will do (or not do) these things. If you are mine, perhaps you can reciprocate.
But whether or not you do, I think this is how I will try to live my life, both on- and off-line. Writing this publicly is my commitment. Feel free to hold me accountable. That is what a friend would do.
Years ago when I wrote my very first book, someone read it and was quite dismissive. I didn't mind that the person didn't like it. That's life, and I don't begrudge anyone their opinion. I did, however, bristle a bit at what I thought was a patronizing response. This was especially true because this person didn't have any particular credentials or expertise other than that they considered their opinion to be that of an expert.
Some time later, this person published a book. I was a judge in a competition in which the book was entered. I read it and thought it was pretty good. Not great, but good. But there were some very basic mistakes I thought this author had made--the kind of things many first time authors (myself included) do early on.
Other works in that contest were stronger and so I honestly voted for one of them.
Still, it reminded me of a basic lesson in life that applies to parenting. Be kind to others. Don't judge too quickly. You may well be in the same situation someday.
One of the points I try to make often is that middle school kids are kids. By definition, they are not very mature or experienced.
Adults have experience to draw on. They have perspective and what I call emotional depth perception. Kids have none of these things. They are currently making the mistakes that will give them experience and help them learn perspective.
That process is much like walking. You simply have to learn on your own. No one can do it for you. There are no short-cuts.
So, it is important to remember that children, yours and others, will do stupid things. They will act in ways that hurt others. They will embarrass you. They will do things that will be totally in opposition to what you have taught them. They will.
They will go to school with others who are in this same phase. Other children who will do stupid, mean, ill-advised, thoughtless, careless things that will mortify their parents too.
It is easy to sit and judge another person's child as being deficient, malevolent, or poorly brought up. Resist that urge and show the forbearance you would like when your child does the same thing.
I say "when" and not "if" on purpose. If your child never messes up then something is seriously wrong and he or she is not progressing or maturing in a normal way.
Sometimes being tolerant is easy. Perhaps another person's child just does something immature or silly, but no harm is done. That's easy.
However, what if that child does something that hurts your child's feelings? Or causes them to lose an important ball game? Or get a bad grade on a project? Or any number of other things.
Now it's harder. Anytime our children experience difficulty, those incidents trigger the mama/papa bear instincts in us all. However, I strongly suggest resisting the urges to get involved. Absorb the drama, don't feed it.
Don't talk about it with other parents, don't form a negative opinion. Just let it go--and give your child the gift of learning how to let go as well.
Life tends to change the roles we play often. It's best to establish a merciful standard of judgement, not knowing when we will need it applied to ourselves or our children.
Note: I'm not talking about allowing your child to be in danger. I'm not talking about bullying. But don't conflate bullying with garden-variety, plain old immaturity. Bullying generally involves a few criteria: 1) A power imbalance; 2) An element of intentionality, and 3) A continued, consistent pattern. Bullying is a real problem and it needs to be dealt with as it has harmful complications. But it's important to make sure that it's really bullying. Most of unkind, hurtful, immature things I see are not bullying.
Assuming we are not talking about bullying, show the same forbearance that you would hope someone will show your child when s/he does something stupid or mean--as they most assuredly will.
Super busy today. I have to have a draft of Luminescence to my editor tomorrow. So, there will probably not be a Middle School Monday post.
Instead, I'm going to post a scene I cut out of the book. Originally, some important information got conveyed here, but that changed in later drafts. Eventually I realized it really didn't have much of a purpose. And since I'm trying to hit a certain word count, alas, it had to go. I really like it though, so I thought I'd post it below.
They are at play practice, rehearsing "The Sound of Music," with Mr. Blinson, Dr. Timberi's substitute. No one likes him, for obvious reasons. Some big stuff with Light just happened, and Madame Cumberland worried there might be an attack of some kind. Madame Cumberland always makes me smile, and I liked her quick-thinking here. It just felt right. But, alas, not important:
"Melanie’s reply got cut off as a silver comet streamed into the theatre, resolving into Madame Cumberland. She stood center-stage, brandishing her pointer-stick in a combat-ready position.
Her eyes flicked back and forth, scanning the theatre before she relaxed her battle stance.
A theatre full of kids, and a glaring Mr. Blinson stared at her in shocked silence. And no wonder. It would have looked to them as if she just appeared out of nowhere.
Noticing the strange looks, Madame Cumberland smiled and gestured theatrically, fencing with the pointer-stick. “And I offer one universal challenge to you all! Approach, young heroes—I will take your names. Each in his turn—no crowding.” She flourished the pointer, then lowered it. “One of the great fight scenes from Cyrano de Bergerac. What a lovely play. I went to an all-girl’s school, so I played Cyrano. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist a few lines.”
“Where did you come from?” Mr. Blinson asked. “I didn’t see you come in.”
“Well, I came to talk to Lexa and Melanie about French—and you were all so focused on your work—but when I saw you all on the stage, I just had to jump out,” Madame Cumberland said with a big smile. “You know how hard that acting bug can bite. I’m sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Blinson, but I need to talk to Lexa and Melanie about their French homework.”
“And you had to interrupt rehearsal?”
She smiled. “It’s an emergency.”
“A French emergency.”
“Oui. Oh, I see them there, off-stage.” She walked back through the curtains where the Trio clustered around the sofa.
Is everyone all right? I felt a huge rush of Light, almost like you were fighting, so I worried there might be an attack. Is everything okay?
Yes, ma’am, Lexa said. It was another connection with Dr. Timberi and he was really suffering. I almost passed out. It came on so sudden. And then--Lexa paused. She grabbed her pony-tail and tugged, clamping her mouth shut. Melanie, you tell the rest.
Conner stared at Lexa. Had his sister really just relinquished the spotlight of an exciting story?
Melanie also seemed a little surprised. Well, since I was head-talking with Lexa, I heard Dr. Timberi screaming. It really upset me, and before I knew it, Light jumped out of me and into Lexa. It’s what happened a few weeks ago. Dr. Timberi said that I can Augument people from far away and that it happens automatically when I’m worried about them.
Remote Autonomic Augmentation, Madame Cumberland said. Morgan told me about it. Lexa, what happened when Melanie’s Light jumped inside of you?
I only felt it for a second. Right here. Lexa put her hand over her heart. And then it disappeared. I think his sigil soaked it up. Dr. Timberi stopped screaming, but I thought I heard someone else yelling—but I don’t know for sure because the connection faded.
So you think he’s--Madame Cumberland paused. He’s still there?
Lexa nodded. Positive. I can feel his sigil. It’s like it’s sleeping. But he’s alive.
Well, things are never dull with you three around, Madame Cumberland said with a smile. That’s one of the reasons Morgan loved--she paused--loves you three so much.
“No! No! No!” Mr. Blinson yelled at the nuns on-stage. Madame Cumberland looked through the crack in the curtains at the rehearsal and shook her head. That poor man.
Mr. Blinson? Conner asked. You feel bad for him?
Madame Cumberland smiled. He must be a very unhappy person. Unpleasant people usually are. I’d better go and send Lee a sigil. I’ll see you all later.
Some time ago, I had a wild and unruly kid in my theatre program. A parent (not the parent of the child) asked me why I didn't come down on him harder. I demurred and said something non-comital, but I didn't tell the whole story.
I directed my first play at the age of 15, and did the second and third in close succession. Like most 15 year olds, I was immature. This meant that I had insecurities masked as a large ego, and was prone to be impatient.
My plays met with some success, which made me even worse. I was terrified of not meeting the expectations I'd established.
During one of the plays, The Wizard of Oz, one of the stage crew made a mistake. He was supposed to move a rolling platform out on-stage during a blackout, before the backdrop came down. The platform that held the Scarecrow who was not supposed to be mobile yet.
Well the kid forgot. I don't remember if it was an honest mistake or goofing off, but I was livid. The lights went up and there's a cornfield backdrop, but no platform and no Scarecrow.
The resourceful actor playing the Scarecrow realized his platform wasn't coming on, so he lifted the backdrop and crawled out underneath it and then stood as if he was on a post.
I was livid. Furious. Enraged. Seething. I ran backstage and pulled that stage crew kid out in the hall and let him have it. I don't know what I said, but I was furious and out of control.
It took me a few years and some hard lessons to realize that during a performance, I get tense and can get very, very angry.
Eventually, I realized that I needed to allow for this. So, I made a few rules for myself. I don't wear a head-set during the performance since I don't want to be in the position of yelling at the light tech if they mess up, or screaming at the stage manager if a set change goes awry.
I always calm down after a few minutes, so I've learned to not allow myself to act until that happens. This provides a buffer that keeps me from making a mistake I'll later regret.
The reason I didn't come down on this crazy kid in the past was because I didn't trust myself to do it in a rational way. I felt that my tendency would be to be too harsh, and I had to adjust accordingly. In my mind, it was better to not come down on the kid in question than to come down in disproportionate anger.
Some people who read this post will be surprised. I am known, I think, as being fairly patient and kind. But that was not my nature and not how I started. By knowing my weaknesses I was able to develop rules for myself that helped me compensate for and work around the weaknesses. These habits served me well, allowing me the time to develop patience. The habit became a stand-in for the actual trait.
I find that when I check my temper, I do err a bit on the side of indulgence. However, and this is important, I don't error nearly as far on that side of the spectrum as I would if I were erring on the temper side. I am closer to where I want to be, even though I'm not perfect. A good teacher is both loving and strict, right in the middle of those two attributes. But my natural tendencies might pull me ten or fifteen degrees too far towards strict. If I compensate, I might end up four degrees on the kind side. I'm much closer to the ideal, even though I'm still not perfect.
We are all going to make mistakes. No parent will be perfect. No teacher will be perfect. In my mind, the trick is understanding where we are likely to make our mistakes and then adjusting. Sometimes we might adjust a little too much. But I would argue that in those cases we are still more likely to be nearer the ideal than we would with no adjustment.
I've met some parents who are, by nature, helicopter parents. Their every instinct and trait pushes them to that extreme. They need to figure out some rules and guidelines, and develop some habits that will check them in this tendency. They might go too far to an extreme sometimes, but their child will be better off, I think since that extreme will be closer to the gold mean than the helicopter parenting.
I've met other parents who are the exact opposite--Tiger parents who could stand to mellow out a bit, for their children's sake.
All of us have natural weaknesses, areas where we are likely to make mistakes.
I've come to believe that, as parents, we don't get to choose whether we'll make mistakes. But we can, I believe, choose which mistakes to make, understanding that some mistakes may actually get us closer to where we want to be.
I think in the next few weeks, I'll do some blogs about figuring out where our weaknesses and blind spots are, and how we go about this process.
Today while I was working on Luminescence, I found a scene I'd written for The Kindling, but had to be cut for the sake of word count. I put it in Penumbras--but once again, it had to be cut. I think this scene was eventually condensed into a few lines. So, I thought I'd post it here.
It takes place during the summer training at Mockingbird Cottage. Tension is beginning to cause rifts between Conner, Melanie, and Lexa.
After breakfast, Dr. Timberi led them outside to a shady place underneath some trees. Conner tried to maneuver himself next to Melanie, but she always seemed to keep Lexa between them. Lexa noticed, too, because she kept looking at Melanie, then looking at Conner, shouting all kinds of unspoken questions on her face.
“Our task today requires energy, but no movement, so if you wish, you may lay on the grass while we do this.” Conner dropped to the ground, enjoying the soft coolness on his skin and the sweet smell of the clover. Lexa followed him. Melanie hesitated, then looked up at the deck, and flicked her fingers. One of the chairs flashed pale pink, and then bobbed over to where they had gathered.
“I don’t like bugs.” Melanie sounded apologetic. “May I sit instead of laying down?”
Dr. Timberi smiled. “Of course, Melanie. Now, the three of you have seen Magi become invisible, and it is a distinctly useful technique. This is phasing, and it is based on the fact that there are forms of Light we cannot see—ultraviolet or infrared, for example. Essentially the frequency on which some light waves operate makes them invisible to the human eye. When you phase, you cause the Light inside of you to form wavelengths invisible to the human eye.
“This is one of the great advantages we have over Darkhands. When you are Phasing, they cannot see you—although they may be able to sense the Light in other ways. However, when they are shaded, which is essentially their equivalent, you can often detect them. The principle there is that Light can illuminate and pierce Darkness, but not vice versa. You’ll remember a few months ago that you could see the Stalker when others could not. He was Shaded, but because you had Kindled, you saw him.
“At any rate, most people either find phasing either extremely easy or very difficult because you don’t do anything. There are no physical actions to take. It is all done mentally.
“Now, begin, as always, by opening yourself up to the Light.”
Conner tried, but nothing came. He couldn’t connect to the Light. He tried thinking of Melanie—which is what he usually did, but today, that upset him even more. What was wrong with her today?
It didn’t matter. He didn’t deserve her anyway. Not after what he’d done—stop it! Stop it, he ordered himself. The cherubim told him it wasn’t real.
But even if it was imaginary, his actions in the Shadowbox had to come from somewhere—stop!
“Now, hold your hand in front of your face. Visualize the Light flowing over your hand—around, over, and under it. Visualize the Light as series of waves, consistent, large waves and fix that image clearly in your mind.”
Dr. Timberi paused and looked at Conner. Both Lexa and Melanie had Light glowing around their hands. Conner hadn’t even opened his gateway. Dr. Timberi met his eyes and smiled. It’s all right, Conner. I’ll help you in a moment.
“Now, change the image. Think of very small waves coming quickly now. Focus on that image. And as you get it clearly in your mind, try to speed up the waves and make them even smaller.”
Conner had given up even trying to open his gateway. At the moment, he just hoped he could keep the sharks from devouring him. Hard enough anytime, but now--
Melanie gasped, and he looked over at her in time to see her right hand disappear. Her arm went down to her wrist and then vanished.
Melanie jumped, then reached over with her left hand and patted it.
“Excellent, Melanie,” Dr. Timberi said. “Excellent! See if you can extend those invisible waves farther up your arm.”
Melanie closed her eyes and scrunched her nose. She took a deep breath and the rest of her arm disappeared.
A look of surprise jumped onto her face, followed by a big smile. “I did it! I finally did something!”
“Wait, we’ve Kindled, so why can’t we see it?” Lexa asked.
“A perceptive question, Lexa. If you were Phasing at the same precise frequency, then you would be able to see Melanie’s arm. As you get more proficient with this, you will be able to adjust your frequency to those around you. But that is an advanced skill.”
Conner got distracted by a really big, colorful firefly hovering near him for a few seconds. It was followed by another one, and then another. Did they usually come out in the day? They’d been hanging around him last night, too. Weird. Did they usually follow humans? A loud squeal chased them away before he could think much more about it. Conner looked over and saw Lexa wiggling fingers that were invisible from the middle knuckles up.
“It tickles!” She laughed, and then her entire hand disappeared.
This little bit has now been cut from two books. It was was supposed to be in Penumbras, but I had to cut it because of space (I have a tight word count to which I must adhere). So, I used it in Luminescence--but, once again, I had to cut some words. So now this little scene is going to find a home on my website.
This is from a scene where the Twilight Phalanx is in a battle. One of the Phalanx members is a guy named Brighton.
"Three of the Darkhands twirled, fading into their cyclone forms and heading toward Brighton. He sneered and jumped into the air blurring into an aqua comet that shot at the cyclones. He crashed into the middle one, shaking the rocks, and sending colored showers of sparks flying. His comet exploded, and the blast knocked the second tornado into a column of rock. Brighton returned to his human form in mid-air, completed three flips, then landed with a silver crossbow in his arms. In rapid succession, he fired bolt after bolt of sizzling aqua Light into the third cyclone, peppering it with holes until it looked like a piece of evil Swiss Cheese. One more bolt pierced the cyclone, and it faded away.
"Colonel Murrell shot blast after blast of hot Light at everyone in black he could see. When one of them tried to counter-attack with a ball of black fire, Lee glared. “You just wish you could, son!” He punched the air and a fist of dusty Light smashed the ball into tiny bits of fading black flames."
Sign up for my parenting newsletter:
Sign up for my mostly-weekly parenting newsletter here.
Subscribe to the Newsletter for Special Deals and Exciting News!
I will never give your information away! We'll only use it to communicate special deals and exciting news.
Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
Genre: YA Paranormal
Genre: YA Speculative
All content on this website, including the blog is protected by U.S. Copyright laws. It may not be copied without my express permission, although you are welcome to link to anything.
Please don't steal my words! Whatever I lack as a writer, it's still one of the few skills I have.
If you foolishly disregard this warning, I will send this guy after you. He's 6' 6".