What Elmore Leonard Taught Us

Dutch

Elmore Leonard was one of those great pulp writers who helped create modern fiction and along the way taught many writers how to write. Like the best in any “genre,” he proved that genre doesn’t matter, only quality. Whether you’re writing about cowboys or bank robbers or astronauts or superheroes or ennui-laden academics fucking around on their wives and feeling really really uncertain and depressed while they wash the dishes, the content isn’t what’s important, it’s the skill and insight and art that the writer brings to the tale.

Rest easy, Dutch.

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On Father’s Day, I Honor My Son

Son

It is Father’s Day, yet I do not honor my father.

My father was an abusive drunk who put me through years of hell and regularly did everything he could to crush my spirit. He did a hell of a lot of damage in that regard; I’ve struggled for years with chronic, enervating, soul-crushing depression that several shrinks have identified as deep post-traumatic shock pounded into my marrow and mind during my childhood.

So today, I honor my son.

Nathaniel is seventeen, intelligent, kind, thoughtful, socially adept and funny, loves his parents, loves being around his parents, and has never been a behavioral problem in any way. When people ask us how we discipline him, we always say we don’t. If there’s an issue, we talk it out, and it’s no longer an issue.

I attribute this mostly to his innate character, but also to the fact that from the day he was born, both his parents have treated him with respect and have never seen dealing with him as an innate conflict or power struggle. He is the way he is because we allowed him to be the way he is, not because we beat it into him or forced him to act certain ways or made him follow stringent rules. We always honored his right to be acknowledged, to be present, to be heard. We pointed out when he was in the wrong, but also stood up for him when he was in the right.

We gave him love and respect at every step along the way, and as a result, he has given us love and respect in return. He doesn’t have to rebel because we’re not holding him back from being who he is and living life on his terms, and because we trust him, which lets him know that he is worthy of our trust.

Because of who he is, and how he was raised, my son didn’t have to bother with being a surly teen. He went straight to being a man.

The Secret To Desire

By the light...

Interested in long term romantic relationships? Marriage? Sexual satisfaction? Sexual adventure?

Give a listen to this TED Talk by Psychotherapist Esther Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic. I think she’s on the right track.

Childish Things

Hearing this week’s song of the week today brought to mind a discussion I had with another writer on Facebook a few weeks ago. The release of World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion was nigh and, as many of you know, it was introducing the pandaren as a playable race. The pandaren are basically kung-fu pandas, mystical shaolin-style monks, and their homeland is based heavily in eastern cultural tropes. (They also predate the Kung-Fu Panda movies by several years).

Now, I haven’t played WoW in many years, but my son still does occasionally, and I’d watched him play some of this content during its beta testing. It was fun stuff. the pandaren had a lot of charm and character, their abilities were clever and different than the stock WoW fare, and the world-building for their lands was gorgeous and epic in its scope.

Anyway, this writer snorted derisively at any grown-ups out there who were actually looking forward to playing panda warriors. Why? Because pandas are cute, naturally, and only children could conceivably want to play such cute creatures. I challenged him on it, because not only do I see the pandaren as neither more nor less intrinsically ridiculous than elves, dwarves, gnomes, or any of the other fantasy races you can play in WoW and similar games, but I think a fantasist attacking other people’s fantasies rather unbecoming. This writer makes his living writing face-to-face roleplaying games in which the players pretend to be monsters (as indeed I used to when I was a writer for White Wolf Games). Quite a few people would consider that sort of thing childish.

I wrote:

I just have an innate negative reaction to arguments that denigrate the tastes of others in ways like calling them “childish,” when as far as I’m concerned pretending to be a kung-fu panda is no more ridiculous or childish than pretending to be a stalwart shaman cow. Or a magical mystical mummy, for that matter.

He wrote:

I *completely* accept that the pandaren might be considered cool by players of a given age range, those of commensurately immature taste, and those who engage them as part of spending time with their kids, and I hope you’re right that those folks enjoy playing the hell out of it. But it’s not for me, play-wise, nor for the adults with whom I game on the regular…Pretending to be a bouncing anime panda-person may not be more ridiculous than pretending to be a shambling mummy, but it *is* more childish, and there’s just no way around that.

Note the pointless zealotry, the refusal to accept that any mature adult might be able to enjoy playing these fantasy creatures, while playing other fantasy creatures is presumably quite adult. Pandaren might be enjoyed by players “of a given age range” or “commensurately immature taste” or those playing alongside their children. He couldn’t just take a reasonable step back and think, “Maybe an adult might enjoy this simply because it’s fun and they get a kick out of it.” He had to insist that an adult who liked this sort of thing was not the proper sort of adult at all.

I replied:

To personalize it, I think the pandaren are cool, and were I still playing WoW I’d be looking forward to playing one. To therefore say that only people of a certain age range or “commensurately immature taste” can find them cool is insulting. I seriously doubt my tastes are any less mature than yours, and in fact the tendency to argue the “maturity” of such things seems to me an immature one.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

But, to be agreeable, I’ll cede your point that making believe you’re a scary monster is much more grown up than making believe that you’re a panda-esque warrior. Because what the hell.

Don’t try too hard to be a grown-up, folks. It’s something that happens naturally in its course, and it has nothing to do with whether you can still have fun or not.

Here’s James McMurty with our song of the week…

The Nature of Apology

I’ve been thinking, of late, about apologies.

Saying “I’m sorry” is an act of humility, and of strength. But it can also just be a tool used, insincerely, to alleviate conflict and evade direct responsibility for one’s actions.

Interestingly, this week I had someone pull out an apology I had made to them months ago and try to use it as a bludgeon against me. She pointed to the fact that I had apologized to her, for whatever part I had in the collapse of our friendship, as proof that I was not only fully at fault but downright malicious. That’s right: by apologizing, I had apparently admitted to complete culpability and that culpability proves that I’m a vicious bastard.

Had I not apologized for anything, like her, I’d presumably have the high ground. I’d be free of all guilt. I’d be the victim.

For the record, if I sat down with you and tried to tell you what the hell happened, what I did that was worth throwing a friendship away for, I couldn’t do it. I’m as perplexed now as I was then. And ultimately it doesn’t matter, because clearly a friendship so cagey and fragile is no friendship at all, and its demise is to be celebrated, not mourned.

She was the one who turned hostile. She was the one who literally refused to discuss whatever was happening. She was the one who responded to my apology by blocking me on Facebook. She was the one who then wrote a lengthy blog post that wasn’t about me, but in which she defined herself by listing things she doesn’t like, which happened to be things I like (pulp fiction, comics, Bruce Springsteen) which she had apparently been pretending interest in to get close to me for months.

So, if I say I’m not sure what I did to enrage her so much, and that she acted with such unreasoning hostility, why did I apologize in the first place? Continue reading