Thursday, February 21, 2008


In Which I Reside in a State of February...

Well, that's problem with getting out of the habit of doing something, isn't it? Once you stop doing it, you, er, stop doing it even more, and then where are you? Why, you're in February, where nothing much ever happens. And that's my life right now: February.

I wish I could give you a good accounting of myself since last year, but I'm afraid I've been up to not very much. Well, not very much that you would find interesting. I seem to have entered a phase of life best characterized by a total lack of setting myself on fire with a snowblower, or re-enacting Third World torture methods in the middle of an editorial brainstorming meeting. As proof, a brief catalog of my activities of late:

Feeding the baby: Since none of my mammary glands--not even the extra one--is capable of lactation, I always welcome the inevitable point when the baby of the moment decides that solid food RULES!, and proceeds to revel in it--not necessarily actually eat it, understand, but just revel in it. Apples and blueberries are a particular favorite. For me, I mean. When it comes to baby food, I think the Éclair enjoys sweet potatoes the most, but I enjoy feeding her apples and blueberries the most, because that's the puckeriest food she can eat, and watching her screw up her face and make thoughtful smacking noises just gives me no end of delight.

We all have our favorite foods to feed the baby. The Brownie likes giving her small, gummable pieces of cereal (and the occasional unidentified suspicious food that leaves telltale chocolate marks around both their mouths). Thomas makes such a ritual of feeding his baby sister Ritz Crackers that I think he might have a future as a priest. When he removes the trademark red-and-gold box from the pantry, he starts with this echoing, angelic chanting ("Ahhhh-ahhhh-AHHHHH-Ahhhhh-aH-Ahhhhhhhh") and walks solemnly toward her, as if he had altar boys waving incense behind him, while the Éclair hitches half up out of her high chair and begins screaming "Ra-ra! RA-RAAAAAAA!!" (her word for "Ritz Crackers") Blaze occasionally brings her one of his disgusting dried pigs-ear chewy snacks (a Christmas gift from Uncle BB). I won't tell you how many times we've rounded a corner to find her sitting in the middle of the floor, gnawing contentedly on one, and in return, she brushes all manner of food down onto him (including, once, my entire supper, plate and all) . It's a joyous time, generally. At least until the Éclair gets a distant look in her eyes and her face takes on a decidedly strained cast--think Uri Geller bending spoons, and you've got it--and suddenly we're arguing about whose turn it is to change the impending diaper of doom.

One word--Pokemon: Thomas and the Brownie are both surgically grafted to their Nintendo DS games, and a year or so ago, when Nintendo's PR person (who loves my kids) sent them a package, it contained the new Pokemon Diamond and Pearl games, as well as an assortment of Pokemon figures, a DVD of the cartoon, and about a dozen packs of Pokemon cards. Her Lovely Self took one look at these and made a face: After seeing the quavering stacks of these cards in a neighbor kid's room, and spotting their $3.99 per-pack price tag at the store, HLS announced she'd sooner have our kids buying crack than Pokemon cards.

But one thing led to another: The further Thomas and the Brownie got in their video games, the more of these clever little creatures they saw and learned about. Thomas in particular was impressed with the artwork in both the game and in the few cards he'd been sent. So it was that on his last birthday, after getting his traditional gift of 20 brand-new singles from Uncle BB, Thomas asked if he could buy anything he wanted, and when we said yes, he immediately insisted on some new packs of those damn cards. The fact that he could only buy 5 of them with his money didn't slow him down one bit, especially once he opened the second pack and found an ultra-rare Level-X card. And just like that, he was hooked.

To his credit, Thomas actually will build himself a deck and play the game with his friends or with me. His sister just hoards the cards and, when she gets a rare one, uses it to tease her brother's friends, a trait which I think bodes very ill indeed.

The truly horrifying thing is how much lore and lingo I've absorbed on the subject. I can't reliably name a single person in my wife's extended family past her aunt and uncle (although I've been to countless weddings and family reunions and had to share tables and lots of uncomfortable silences with these people). Heck, I couldn't even tell you the birthdays of my niece or nephews--even though two of them are my godchildren. But by God, I can tell you that Torchic evolves into Combusken (and in turn into Blaziken) and I know which Pokemon is the biggest (Wailord, which Thomas has. He's got about 200 hit points), and if you asked me whether the Empoleon Level X card is rarer if it's got the Poke-Power listing or the Poke-Body one, I could reliably answer you (but I won't here). I suppose it's no different than when my generation (and generations before mine) memorized stats off the backs of baseball cards, but that somehow feels like a more worthwhile pursuit, especially when you consider that baseball cards cost a quarter a pack AND you got a stick of gum with the damn things.

Writing (well, sort of): I wouldn't call it a New Year's resolution--because that's just an exercise in self-jinxing where I'm concerned--but one goal I committed myself to was finding a new agent and shopping a book proposal around this year. So I've been slowly picking away at a little something. I decided to start with modest ambitions, spinning off from my previous book-writing experience (when I wrote on topics related to men), and cleaving to what I'm immersed in right now in my world and the end result is that I'm cobbling together a quasi-memoir about my life as a Dad. I suspect I'll be able to use a few ideas that have already appeared in the blog, but mostly it would be an original work. I think there's a strong market for work like this. After all, I and other men like me represent a transitional point, the last generation who grew up with distant dads (defined not least by their enforced absence in the hospital delivery room) and who in turn expected--and by society have been expected to--play a much greater part in their children's lives than any previous generation. That alone ought to ensure a sizeable reading audience. The trick for me will be to make my experiences worth reading.

And true to form, the moment I decided on this course of action, I proceeded to do...nothing. Oh, I started researching agencies, and I pecked away at a proposal, but I have since done very little about the actual book. I wouldn't call it writer's block, per se, so much as writer's distraction. As soon as I start thinking about the book, I'm distracted by thoughts of other work in progress (well, in progress in my head). For example, I long ago promised my parents to write about my summers growing up in our small New Hampshire town, and in the wake of their deaths, the urge to tell that story has never been stronger. I've also toyed with the idea of finally writing an instructional-but-fun book about the kind of magazine writing I do, which is mostly service or how-to stories (and I find a "how to how-to" book tremendously appealing).

And of course, there's the story I promised Thomas I would write. Not long ago, I told him about my real-life boy detective adventure, and what really impressed Thomas was not that his Dad actually acted and thought like a genuine detective at the age of 11, but that he broke all these rules and still got away with it. Thinking fast, I assured him that I was simply very stupid and very lucky, and that today, if I'd been caught eavesdropping on the principal or trying to break into a school bus motor pool, they'd probably send me away to reform school. This led to a lively dinnertime argument in which Thomas insisted that I wouldn't go to reform school (or "kid jail," as he charmingly called it) because those were places for bad kids, and I was just a good kid who did one little thing wrong. He seemed to think there ought to be a reform school for good kids who did one bad thing. "You know," he said, "maybe you'd get sent to, like, a home for wayward boy detectives." Don't ask me where a 9-year-old boy living in the 21st century picks up such a Dickensian word like "wayward," but that night we started telling each other the story of a boy who gets sent to a summer school for wayward sleuths and we're in the process of imagining the kinds of friends--and enemies--he'd make, the sorts of classes he'd take, and the sinister secret he tries to uncover, even if it means breaking the law and getting sent to REAL reform school if he's caught. It's the sort of activity that keeps you busy on cold winter nights, but of course it also keeps you from your real work, as well as your friends who check in on your blog so faithfully, so perhaps I ought to drop it and get my ass in gear.

Speaking of ass in gear, my lunch break is long over, so I'd better get back to work. And I can't really work late tonight: Her Lovely Self has a class tonight so I have to be home in time to feed the baby (tonight's menu: pears and peas. Mmm!). Besides, there's a new series of Pokemon cards that just came out, and I promised Thomas we could go to the store after dinner and get some.

I know, not the most exciting life in the world.

But that's February for you.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

I love the book ideas! The one about New Hampshire sounds especially great... think there might be some room in there for an October Moment or two?? ;)

I laughed out loud at Thomas saying "wayward." What a character!
The book ideas are great, but what about one that tells the story about how you rescued Blaze when he was stolen? You hinted at the time there were more details you were omitting. I love a story with a happy ending!

So glad you're back MM!
- Aquilegia
Doesn't have to be exciting stuff, MM. It just has to be whatever is on your mind and happening in your world - told only the way YOU can tell it.

So happy to be reading new stuff from you again!

I agree that Fetching Blaze would make a great book, when you have time for it after writing your other ones. I know..."time" and "new baby" do not often go together, but I'm sure you'll get something published eventually which we'll snap up from the bookstores.

How about some BB stories? Looking forward to hearing how his Christmas visit went there.
I want to read the boy detective story! :)
a book about the boy detective would be awesome! let us know when the book tour hits our local bookshop so we can come hound you for autographs :)

so glad to have your writing to look forward to again! and extra glad all is well in magazine land!
Ooo the story about wayward boy detectives is awesome I love it.

I'm not surprised Thomas knows a word like wayward. He probably picked it up reading. I knew words like "dias" way earlier then expected 'cos of that. My uncle was grateful though, he needed it to finish his crossword
I'm kinda into the "wayward" sleuth story as well. That could actually fill the niche that has been left now that Harry Potter has successfully saved the world.
I'm sure anything you decide to write about will be wonderful. I look forward to new blog posts so just imagine my happiness in a real, live book; one of my favorite things :)
The boy detective story sounds great. You and Thomas definitely need to keep brainstorming that one!

I can't believe that Pokemon is still so big. I have a 13 year old and he was all into Pokemon when he was younger. I didn't think it was still as popular. Enjoy all those cards!

I wasn't going to tell you about this - just let you find it on your own sometime - but the co-incidence of you linking your Boy Detective story within a day or so of my linking it, is just too much. Go here for my latest glowing review of your work:
"The trick for me will be to make my experiences worth reading."

I wouldn't worry too much about that one! I think you'd have to try pretty hard to be dull.
The best times in life make for the lamest blog posts, I have found. There just does not seem to be a way to transmit that perfect joy of peace and love at home that is so sweet to live in...

I think it all sounds great!
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