Wednesday, July 25, 2012


A Portrait of the Art Lad as a Young Man

Transcript from a typical day:

[Door opens. Slams shut. Windows shake in their frames. Candlesticks fall from tables.]

MM: Hey. Is that you? How was your day?


MM: Hello? Thomas?


MM (louder): Thomas? Hey, who just walked in the back door?

[distant rustling sounds, as of someone rifling through cabinets and drawers]

MM (very much louder): HEY! Who just came into my house? I’m here in the living room. And, uh, I’m armed. Thomas? THOMAS!!

Thomas: God! What?!? I said it was me!

MM: Did you say it telepathically? Because—

Thomas (with heavy, oh-my-god-SO-heavy sarcasm): Like anyone would break into this place! Like hell! Just getting something to eat. Is that okay? Is that allowed?

[more rustling sounds. Extravagant beeping of the microwave. Footsteps, coming closer]

Thomas: Hey.

MM: Oh my God, what is that?

Thomas (aggrieved): What? I made some nachos. It’s a snack. Oh, we’re out of Velveeta. I had to use the whole brick.

MM: Dinner’s in 20 minutes!

Thomas: I just need five.

[loud crunching sounds, followed by satisfied lip-smacking]

The Brownie: That is SO gross.

Thomas: Muh rrr ow fumpha buhnuh, mummafumpha!

MM: HEY! You don’t talk to your sister like that!

Yeah, that’s 13 in a nutshell.

I had hoped my offspring might avoid the cliché, go for something more original when he hit adolescence, but my people are, at their core, great traditionalists and my son is no different. He is the living damn avatar of the surly, sarcastic, misunderstood teen.
I’m pretty sure I wasn’t like this when I hit my teen years. Ahhh, we all know that’s bullshit, don’t we? Okay, fine: I was a self-important wiseass, always listening less and speaking more, always so sure I was right about everything, and convinced that any authority figure who tried to tell me what to do was criminally stupid. Good thing I outgrew that.

I was different from Thomas in one way, though: I talked more to my parents. I may have been rude and obnoxious most of the time, but my parents—my mom especially—had a pretty clear window into my life. Mom had a way of finding common ground with me, some little thing that gave her a foot in the door. Thus she came to know me at that age: she knew who my friends were, she knew what, or who, was troubling me at school, what my aspirations and ambitions were. Thomas and me? Not so much. Not at all, in fact. Somewhere in the past year or so, he turned into the fricking monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey: Dark, inscrutable, unsettlingly mysterious.

Also big, did I mention that yet? Not beefy, chunky like my Big Brother. Tall-drink-of-water big like both of my grandfathers, who cleared six feet easily. Last summer, Thomas went through a growth spurt that was a little slower than, but not otherwise dissimilar from Bruce Banner transforming into the Incredible Hulk. Like so:

artlad 002



But the hardest change to bear was that my son seemed to back away from all of the creative endeavors that used to define his very existence. A couple of years ago, he was scribbling away on a novel of his own (perhaps trying to nudge me by example to finish mine), working with scary intensity on stop-motion animation videos, and still finding time to draw a few pictures, comic strips, and storyboards of his videos.

As near as I could tell, all of that went away. Thomas started spending more and more time suckling at the great teat of the XBox, squirreled away in darkness, playing Halo online with friends from school who have never come over to the house, who I wouldn’t know if I passed in the street. When we moved from our last apartment into the new Magazine Mansion last summer (just shy of Thomas’ 13th birthday), I tasked the kids with getting rid of junk they didn’t want anymore and it broke my heart to see that at the top of Thomas’ throwaway pile was the looseleaf binder containing his novel in progress. He gave various LEGO sets—in other words, all of the props, sets, and actors of his stop-motion epics—away to his younger cousins. I tried gently to convince Thomas to rethink keeping some of these things, advising that later he might regret getting rid of them. But my parental wisdom was met with a contemptuous scowl and utter silence.

“Don’t you like doing this stuff any more? You’re really good at it,” I offered.

Scowl, scowl. “Like hell. You have to say that. Parents always have to say that stuff.”

“You’re very creative. And you know, it’s not just me. You had a lot of fans in your Art Lad days, you know.”

Scowl, narrowing of the eyes. “Please. I was, what, six? Art Lad is dead.”

I confess that I lost patience. I lose patience a lot with the adolescent who has displaced my sweet boy. In a vast and eye-popping catalog of my failures as a dad, this is my most glaring right now, hitting that breaking point, and abandoning whatever wisdom I might have in favor of haranguing him. Our battles, marked by both tremendous shouting and deafening silence, have been epic, sparked by a range of topics that are eminently sensible: enforcing parental rules and oversight regarding his use of the computer, insisting on talking, howsoever briefly, to his XBox Live battle buddies (the better to confirm that every one of them is indeed a school friend, or at least not some perv or troll on the prowl). But all too often they descend to the absurd, such as an argument that almost came to blows over Thomas’ inability to sort his own socks. Not our finest hour.

Too often, I wonder if it’s me who really has the problem. At least once a day, I find myself telling him to get his head out of his butt, to unstop his ears and listen once in a while, to show a little more appreciation and gratitude, to treat his parents with respect. Good God, who’s the walking cliché, huh?

And yet…

And yet there are days when things are sublime, when the surly teen surprises me, and I see something that gives me hope for the future.

One night not long ago, I found myself coming downstairs to perform my nightly—and nightly hated—duty of peering into the darkness of the basement and telling my surly teen that it was time to say goodnight to his XBox buddies and go to bed.

For some reason, I didn’t announce myself on this particular night. For a change, I was actually silent, speaking less, listening more. And what I heard from the top of the basement stairs shocked me. Ordinarily, most of what I can discern from the basement when Thomas is gaming is a series of muffled grunts and guttural orders, shouted into a headset and, I always assumed, related to some group tactic involving the digitally rendered mass destruction of a mutual enemy.

But this night, for the first time, I actually listened to the voice coming up from the basement.

“Okay, Pwned27, I need you up on the platform while I set up this tracking shot. Jubjub12, Magooberax, you to move across the field from left to right. Remember, you’re running at the end so it’ll match up with the next scene.”

I blinked. That didn’t sound like a tactical plan in the offing. That sounded like…

“Are you making a movie?”

Thomas yelped and leapt off the couch. “God! You scared me! Why’d you sneak up like that?” He turned his head slightly, speaking into his headset. “Not you, Pwned. Let me know when you’re in position. No, I can’t see for myself. I’m not looking at the screen.” He looked at me, frowning and guarded. “What?”

I looked over his shoulder. In the dim light, I could see he was running his XBox through an old video capture device I had last seen in a carton of cast-off electronics in the bowels of the old Basement of Crap, and now that device was in turn connected to our aging laptop, where he was running a video editing program that I could never figure out. His online pals with the goofy names were performing a scene. And Thomas was directing.

“You ARE making a movie,” I said, staring at the laptop screen.

“It’s machinima,” he said, the disdain plain in his voice.

“Your what-a-ma?”

He sighed. “Never mind. Yes, I’m ‘making a movie.’”

I looked at the computer, then back to him. “Can I watch?”

Thomas blinked, surprised. But the “Like hell!” still fell from his mouth reflexively.

“I’ll be quiet,” I said. “I won’t say anything or ask any questions.”

My son looked me in the eye. He’s tall enough to do that now. “I don’t know,” he said.

“Also, you don’t have to go to bed til you finish this scene,” I added.

“Have a seat,” he offered.

Well, it was a revelatory hour, I’ll say that for it. During that time I learned that Thomas and his friends spend most of their evenings, not shooting aliens or one another, but improvising stories about videogame characters who shoot aliens and one another.

“A lot of companies build machinima software tools right into their games, so it’s pretty easy to do,” Thomas shared, in between directing takes of his scene. He shared other tidbits as he went about his work—it was like being on the inside of a DVD commentary track. He was directing one of his players to move to another level of an elaborate platform, with stairs going every whichaway. Some of the stairs didn’t appear to lead anywhere. The construct looked familiar.

“I had to build the set for this scene—" he started.

“You built this?” I began. “How--?” But he gave me a stern look and I remembered my promise.

“The game includes the tools to make your own levels and structures. It’s not that big a deal. Anyone could do it.” He squinted at the screen. “I was trying to build something that looked like Escher’s Relativity.” He looked at me. “That’s a picture by M.C. Escher, with a bunch of staircases that are, like crazy. They’re upside down and sideways to each other, but people can walk on each one and—“

“I know the image,” I said, thinking, I didn’t know the name, but I know the image. And I’m impressed as hell that you do, too. Then, not knowing why I wouldn’t say that too, I went ahead and said that, too.

Thomas smiled, and forgot to remind me of my promise to shut up. “Well, I read about it. It’s a neat image. Anyway, I can’t really get it to work here, because I need, like three different gravity fields to really use the staircases. But I’ve got three characters in this story and they all have, like three different reasons for fighting this war. And I thought: well, I could use the Escher tower as, you know…”

“…a symbol?”

“Yeah.” He turned into his headset then to issue more instructions to his cast (however did he get three other teenagers to follow his directions, I wondered).

I sat for a while longer, but the scene was running long. In the end, I left him there, indicating that he should go to bed when he finished, and not before. He nodded and that was that.

The next day, he showed me what he’s put together so far. His machinima masterpiece currently is over 40 minutes long, and he estimates that he’s halfway through.
Then, the day after that, we were back to the same old script, arguing again, this time about the importance of locking the shed door after you’ve finished mowing the lawn.

So in the end there was no great, lasting rapprochement, no magical sea-change that led us to a perfect father-son relationship. But we had a moment. And you know what? I’ll take it.

Art Lad is dead?

Like hell.

Oh, MM, I actually hesitated when scrolling down past that picture of pre-teen ArtLad -- looking so much like my sweet, creative nine-year old today.

But the rest of the story was worth it.

I was following Wil Wheaton's blog as his two boys went through their "pod-people" stage and it gives me great hope to see that he has a great time with them again, now that they've come through to the other side.

Is there some kind of Hippocratic Oath for parents of teens?
So glad you're posting again...I've missed your descriptive wit!
Man, he has gotten big. And welcome back to blogging! I need to relaunch mine now that the move to the Midwest is in the rear view mirror of life.
Dang, that kid grew in a year. While you were gone, I was wondering if mayhaps you had been banned from blogging about the present day events of your children. Glad to see at least one of them will suffer a story now and then.
You have pretty much described daily life with our fifteen-year-old. At least it's not just us.
I had the same growth happen to me between 12 and 13. I just shot up to like 6 feet in a manner of 4 to 5 months.

Its good to see you back here.
I do actually miss reading your stuff.

Don't worry about artlad.
You know him and he knows you.
As far as I can tell, these type of conversations are meant to be this way between father and son.

It will take time.
And it will take a lot of love.
But at the end, you will do what every parents do.
You will love him with all that is you and more.

eventually he will get it.
until then, tell me his youtube handle so that I can watch his Machinima. :)
I do actually follow these "movies" and might have already watched it online.

I am so damn happy your back.
Very happy you have returned. :)

My 12yo daughter & I are having the same battles, right down to sorting socks. Those "revelatory moments" must be why we keep trying. They certainly shine like a beacon that says there is hope!
You and I know a secret, as adults, that Thomas will grasp later on in life, and it's this: Lads transform, but do not die. What the boy enjoys doing, the grown man will also enjoy doing. It may take a slightly different form, and it may happen in a different place, but it will continue.

Also, for your own mental health, always remember these words attributed to Twain:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
Ah, the words of wisdom that come forth with this post's comments! After reading Suldog's comment, I have to toss in another old adage too "Misery loves company!" as any parent can probably totally empathize with your problems of today with Thomas! Been there, did that with my three children and now, with my granddaughter going on 9 and developing already into the preteen smart mouth (much like her mother was oh, about 27 years ago and her uncle about 30 years ago and her aunt 36 years ago) it is the norm and it is very disconcerting too at times. Fortunately, the good news is they do generally outgrow it -well most of it at any rate!
He's huge! And he's clearly still an artist as well as a leader. He's going to be an awesome adult. You'll get there.

The teen kind of attitude has begun with my own oldest (only 11 still), and I'm not relishing the challenges of adolescence.
Wow - he did shoot up. Having my own 13 year old, I find the stories of others comforting. The teens are payback for all the h*ll we gave our parents back in the day.
Soooo glad to see you're back!
Welcome back! I've checked in hundreds of times this last year.
This article is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand, Thanks for sharing the picture it has great detail in it and i really appreciate your true artistic work!

High School Diploma
Oh MM I feel for you! My oldest is now 14 and my youngest is 11, both girls...It's nothing but moods & hormones at my house. Cherish those occasional moments, they are few & far between. When they happen though, they are enough to give you hope that there's life at the end of the tunnel.
Lawdy he has become a young man!!! You have my sincerest sympathies over the next few years.
I'm still waiting for the aliens to return my son.......and he's 22 now!
Damn! He's huge. I guess that's what happen. He needs to post his videos on Art Lad. Haha

Glad to see you posting again. I feel like the Lost Boys in Hook.

"Pan's back!"

Hope you're doing well.
Try to buy them to add life to your laptops [url=]toms outlet online[/url]
There are many bag stores in the market that are specific for the cheap bags for carrying luggage [url=]louboutin[/url]
They can give you some ideas about where to start looking [url=]christian louboutin sale[/url]
I say, why would we? This little flower shop has seen 58 Valentines Days come and go and each and every year its the same thing [url=]thomas sabo bracelet[/url]
Reflecting or deflecting light can help in bettering picture quality [url=]christian louboutin[/url]
Hello. And Bye. Thank you very much.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?