Category Archives: Family

“It’s Like Riding a Bike”

bike“I think it would be nice,” my mom starts in while the girls are over this weekend, “if we could go on a family bike ride like we used to when you were little.”

I listen. I’m 31, and I’ve been doing this single dad thing for about four months now. I’ve gotten to be a pretty good listener.

The trouble is that Aurie and Kiera never really learned to ride their bikes. There never seemed to be any time to teach them. Aurie’s bike, which she has outgrown, still has the training wheels on. Kiera’s bike, also much too small for her, is sitting in my storage unit (my chateau, so to speak).

“Kiera ought to be able to use Aurie’s bike,” I wager.

So we pull around Aurie’s old steel horse from the side of the house. It’s still in pretty good shape. Schwinns are like that. A little air in the tires, a little adjustment to the seat, and it’s good as new.

My parents’ property sits on a cul de sac. This is fortuitous for children riding bikes or playing ball because there is seldom any traffic. Soon enough, Kiera is tearing around on her big sister’s bike. It takes my dad about five minutes to get outside with his camera and start taking pictures. There is something magical about watching a child learn this, after all. It’s a rite of passage without being a loss of innocence, and that’s a truly beautiful thing.

I take a few pictures and videos myself.

But the real rite of passage comes when we brave the local Walmart and pick up a new bike for Aurie. It’s 24” with no training wheels—too big for my daughter to sit on the seat with her feet planted on the ground.

“They grow like weeds,” my mom says. “You don’t want to go any smaller than this one.”

Again, I listen.

We fold back the seats on my Honda deathtrap and cram the bike inside. This is no small task with the girls, but we manage. My mom and I explain to Aurie that this is something of a special occasion. As far as either of us can remember, no one ever got a new bike outside of birthdays or Christmases.

Aurie is stoked to have a new bike, but scared because there are no training wheels. This is especially true because we bought helmets (one for each girl), knee pads, and elbow pads. Once we’re back and she suits up, though, she makes a Tron reference and is ready to try.

troncycle

I have to laugh. My kids are cool.

My mom lets me try to teach Aurie to balance and peddle for about 45 minutes. She’s done this with four kids of her own, running up and down the block, holding onto seats and handle bars for dear life. In a way, this is becoming a rite of passage for me, too. I’m pretty fit from four months of hitting the gym and eating better, so the cardio isn’t that bad. On the other hand, Aurie is tall for her age and weighs about 92 pounds. When she leans the wrong way at 10 mph, I have to physically course correct her without planting my feet, or she’ll fall. I liken this to Conan redirecting charging stallions on foot by sheer brute force, but it really isn’t half that impressive.

Conan vs Horse

Damn, I wish we had done this when she was five. I won’t make the same mistake with Kiera.

The neighbor comes out and offers his advice. My mom comes out and has a whole step-by-step system for what Aurie should do that involves starting at the curb.

Friggin’ mechanics and math majors. My daughter’s brain doesn’t work like that—maybe because neither my brain nor her mother’s brain works like that. This is a rite of passage. Aurie has to feel the balance. It’s not something I can do for her. It’s not something anyone can control with their steps or processes or methods.

This is the part where I stop listening.

Aurie has to experience the freedom for herself.

She also needs that seat lowered, I realize, so my dad and I take care of that while I pound a Vitamin Water.

After what seems like the umpteenth time running with her, even though the handle bars aren’t straight and her balance isn’t perfect, I let go. I’m ready to leap for that seat, but she doesn’t fall. I count to three and grab hold again.

She keeps peddling and doesn’t even notice.

I tell her to stop ahead at the stop sign, and I let go again. This time, I try to let her see that I’m running beside her. She doesn’t catch on, and I grab hold of the bike again when she hits the brakes because I’m afraid that she’s going to fall.

This goes on a few times before I announce to her:

“Aurie, look at your shadow.”

The afternoon light throws our silhouettes ahead of us, and my daughter can see herself riding and Daddy sprinting beside her without one finger on her bike.

“I’m doing it by myself?” she shrieks. “I’m doing it by myself!”

“You have been for a while!” I manage between pants.

I’m seriously pretty tired by this point.

We discuss turning and stopping and how to get out of trouble without dropping the bike. I use martial arts terms like “horse stance” because we’ve both studied karate.

Mr_-Miyagi-and-Daniel-The-Karate-Kid

What? This is a teacher thing. Connect to prior knowledge.

Then, elated and confident, my beaming daughter runs my ass ragged all over the neighborhood. My parents think this is hilarious.

Karma, they laugh.

The truth is I’m just happy to be healthy enough to do this for Aurie.

Before Aurie got on her new bike, my mom told her it would probably take a week to get it right, and not to be discouraged. She learned in about two hours. After about three hours, my butt was planted on the seat of a loaner bike, peddling beside her. We did go on that family bike ride—Aurie and I in the lead, Kiera and my parents following behind.

You never know, can’t truly appreciate, how good your parents were to you until you go through something like this.

For me, the hardest part, far more difficult than all the running and Conan course correcting, was letting go of my daughter for just three seconds.

The best part was riding beside her and seeing her smile.

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Filed under Education, Family, My Writing, Rants

Life Unplugged

Broken Controller

Two months ago, I quit playing video games cold turkey.

Someone near and dear to me let me know that my escapism habits had become unhealthy. I was constantly stressed about not having enough time for the things I wanted to do–writing fiction, keeping up with the blog, taking my girls hiking or to the movies–and the things I needed to do–teaching, grading, running a theatre program, and sundry household duties. So in order to “balance” all this and keep up with my gaming habits, which I’ve always viewed as a gateway to inspiration (look at Descarta, for example), I began getting up early in the morning to play games. I then stayed up late gaming after I had accomplished whatever I had managed to that day, which in retrospect, was probably not much.

Two-Extreme-Gamers-Who-Happily-Admit-Playing-485-Hours-Per-Week

This would have been different, mind you, if I had actually been playing new and exciting games instead of replaying Dark Souls for the umpteenth time (my goal was hitting level 712 without cheating!) and trying to stay ahead of teenagers in the Urr Dragon battle in Dragon’s Dogma. Prior to the new DLC, I had done everything there was to do in Skyrim as well.

Hey, I was murdering evil, right? True. But I was also murdering time, my health, and personal relationships. In the meantime, I was writing virtually nothing. My weight was back up to the pregnancy sympathy pounds stage, and I was junking up on energy drinks just to function. I had zero motivation–and this depressed me to no end.

This surprised me. I mean, you’d think with the anthology’s release date nearing and me sitting on Winter Break at the time, I would have been bouncing off the walls. Instead, I was a wreck. Success doth not ensure happiness, especially in the mind of an English major.

This is why I maintain the axiom that all artists–real artists–are either drug addicts or insane. Just like Nicolas Cage.

Nicolas Cage Nuts

This should keep me safe from the bees!

I remember following a much more successful (no hyperbole) blogger/web comic years ago who managed to land a book deal with Harper Collins. After everything seemed like it was going her way, she lapsed into depression. Her last post was about how this had unexpectedly happened to her, and as of this writing, she hasn’t released any new material (other than an interview on reddit explaining her situation to her many fans). I remember being extremely disappointed in her for just falling off the world like that.

Now, to some extent, I understand.

So the games, and indeed my entire outlook, had to go. The trouble is that you can take the gamer out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the gamer. I’ve been gaming since the Atari 2600, after all. Two of my three books are about gaming in a Sci-Fi sense (the other, perhaps paradoxically, is about technology destroying everything that was once sacred in the world). It took me a few weeks just to stop seeing facets of reality in terms of video game analogies, which I’d found to be comforting in times past. I mean, I was the great knight errant on a quest to redeem the kingdom. An overweight English teacher with a penchant for the dramatic can fall on his face and fail miserably at life, but a knight? Never.

Knight Templar

It’s not that I don’t know the different between reality and fantasy; it’s merely that fantasy–stories, ideas, even romance–help us cope with a reality where things seldom make sense.

What happens when you try to take the game out of the gamer? The gamer will inevitably apply what gaming has taught him/her to reality. Take grinding, for example. Grinding is the practice of leveling up your character before a boss fight to ensure that you survive the encounter. I’ve still been grinding. I’ve just been doing it in a gym. Now that I’ve beaten off the sinus infection that was holding me back, I plan to grind a lot more. I’ve also eliminated my dependency on energy drinks. Taken together, these two changes have helped me cut about 20 pounds so far.

Instead of tailoring a fictional character to my tastes, I’ve been working on myself. After all, this is my story, and I have to deal with all these “cut scenes” of me now. I might as well be a protagonist I can be proud of, right?

I’ve also noticed in the past few weeks that I haven’t been camping my iPhone as much. For awhile, it had become like the One Ring. There was a moment about a month ago when I deliberately tried to walk out the door without it, and the damn thing was already in my coat pocket.

gollum_iphone

My Own! My Apps! My Precious!!!

I believe that, at least in my case, fixating on my spiffy little handheld computer with all its apps and checking my blog stats and Facebook every few minutes is linked to my gamer mentality. I might be more out of touch with the world than I was two months ago, but maybe that’s a good thing for my own sanity. I don’t need to become Gollum to write speculative fiction, after all.

New stories will happen because they must. My old Royal typewriter was recently repaired, and that shall be the mechanism of delivery for the time being. I’m sure I’ll be keeping all kinds of people up at night with its sweet cacophony of keys and bells, but to hell with it. Enough is enough.

What does my current cynical attitude regarding technology mean for this blog? Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much, dear reader. Sans the video games and with all this energy from running on the treadmill, I’ve realized that I have much, much more of one thing than I had previously thought–and that is time.

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Filed under Family, My Writing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

Warrior: The Most Biased Film Review Ever

215px-Warrior_Poster

Reviewing movies isn’t normally something I do on this blog. After watching Warrior about 15 times in the last month, however, I’m willing to make an exception. One of my friends from Sci Fi and Sushi recommended it to me back in January, and I figured I’m give it a shot because I’m shaping up to be a Tom Hardy fan. Why? Besides his solid acting, he’s a celebrity that actually looks like a guy–he’s a throwback to the 80’s action heroes I grew up with, a modern monument to the entire decrepit cast of The Expendables.

I’m sorry, but we need more guys like Tom Hardy in cinema after this two-decade parade of Depps and Blooms if only to make mainstream women interested in men again.

bloom-lunch-bwood

…yeah. I don’t even have to say anything here.

So I got into this movie expecting it to be like Never Back Down–somewhat shotty writing, but with the kind of martial arts action that makes you want to pump iron and turn off your brain. I was okay with that. I hadn’t heard about Nick Nolte’s Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor, which I feel was entirely deserved. I also didn’t know a thing about Joel Edgerton despite his portrayal of Uncle Owen in Revenge of the Sith.

When you have kids, these things slip by you. I haven’t gotten out to see a “grown up” movie since Prometheus, and before that, I think it was Avatar. Seriously.

To say that Warrior exceeded my expectations would be a gross understatement, but as the title of this post states, I’m extremely biased. Let’s look at why.

While Warrior does contain the kind of hype one would expect from a movie about MMA fighting, it has a solid script that centers around a very believeable broken family. Paddy Conlon (Nolte), a retired Vietnam war vet and recovering alcoholic, comes home to find his estranged son, Tommy (Hardy), sitting on the steps. The acting and dialogue in these first scenes between Hardy and Nolte sucked me in. I was no longer concerned about the MMA backdrop for the script; I wanted to know exactly what had happened to make Tommy and his mother leave and what had happened since that time. I wanted to know what remained between Tommy and his older brother, Brendan, who Paddy goes on to explain is a high school teacher with a wife and two “beautiful little girls”.

Then it hit me:

I have a younger brother named Tommy who, without getting into details, has been troubled most of his adult life. I also happen to be a high school teacher with two little girls. And just like the brothers in this film, and I assume all brothers since the beginning of time, we once fought a bitter war for our father’s love.

After that dawned on me, I was hooked. Viewing my brother and I as allegories for these characters (whatever, we all do this) now made it difficult for me to root for Tom Hardy, but I still wanted to see his side of the story unfold as well.

Cut to the scene of Brendan having his face painted by his two girls and his wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison) bantering with him about their financial situation. At this point, I was on Brendan’s side. The similarities kept pouring in. Here was a suspended teacher (been there) trying to stave off bankruptcy and keep a roof over his family’s head. I could relate. It’s no secret how defunct the education system is here in Arizona, and as I’ve griped about before, I haven’t had a raise in five years. In fact, I recently went through two horrible garnishments and a half a dozen settlements to avoid bankruptcy.

When faced with foreclosure, Brendan Conlon’s response to the possibility of bankruptcy was the same as mine: “That’s not how I do things.”

We also meet Brendan’s students, who are almost as awesome and supportive as mine.

While Brendan’s situation was tugging on my heart strings, Tommy’s story satisfied my need for good ol’ manly kick-ass-ness. I mean, here’s a guy who wipes the floor with seasoned MMA fighters in practice and rips the doors off tanks. If my brother, who is physically much more imposing than I am at this point, ever became an MMA fighter, his style would be this brutal. I, on the other hand, have been in martial arts since I was knee high to a grasshopper (pun intended), and would probably sport Brendan’s more tactical approach.

Truth be told, I’m more of a puncher, though. Now my older brother, who is a black belt in jiu jitsu…

Both brothers need trainers for the mega-tournament at the end of the flick, of course. Tommy bunks up with his estranged father, who was his trainer when he was a junior Olympic gold medalist in wrestling. Brendan, after a tear-jerking scene in which his father tries to reconcile with him, instead reconnects with his former trainer (with whom he had a rad bromance?), Frank Campana (Frank Grillo).

Now, the character of Frank Campana is about 99% like one of my best friends and former martial arts trainer, who I have recently begun to associate with again as well. He has the same philosophies, unorthodox training methods, and love of good music.

At this point, watching this movie was getting kind of eerie. Seriously strange.

Cut to a training montage with a manly version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. I wasn’t a fan of this part the first time I watched it, but it’s grown on me after multiple viewings. At least this montage was different from your typical Rocky ripoff.

Of course, both brothers end up qualifying for the mega-tournament. While naming the tournament “Sparta” and writing in a massive, undefeated Russian combatant (Rocky IV much?) seemed easy, I was okay with both of these choices. I’m hooked at this point, remember? And I’m the target audience.

Dolph-dolph-lundgren-11015944-546-794

Bring on the martial arts action and commentary from two men who have never been in a fight in their life! The brawls were satisfyingly brutal, and the choreographer managed to make jiu jitsu look like more than two Neanderthals humping on the ground. Unlike most real MMA fighting (my opinion), these bouts were actually exciting to watch.

At the same time, the family redemption story supercedes all this. Brendan and Tommy meeting in Atlantic City after not seeing each other for a decade and blaming each other for the loss of their mother was heart breaking. Learning exactly what happened to Tommy during his tour of duty in Iraq was both believeable and disturbing. The crowning performance, of course, was Nick Nolte’s drunken Captain Ahab scene, which quite honestly makes me bawl no matter how many times I see it.

No wonder they nominated him for an Oscar.

Of course, the two brothers end up fighting at the end. Brutality vs. technique. Rage vs. strategy. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any more epic and hauntingly familiar, Brendan dislocates Tommy’s shoulder. Tommy refuses to tap and goes the last two rounds with one arm. Standing between Brendan and saving his family–not just his house at this point, but his family–is his honor.

Damn.

Ever wonder if a movie or a book was written specifically with you in mind? It’s narcissistic, I suppose, but that doesn’t really change how I feel.

The prevailing theme in Warrior is not some shallow, macho message, but that family will always find a way to reconcile. Maybe that’s the thing I find the most comforting about it. That I even can apply adjectives like “comforting” to a brutal MMA flick probably demonstrates better than my biased musings just how different and underrated this movie is.

That said, I sincerely hope they don’t ruin it with a sequel.

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Filed under Family, Rants, Reading, Writing