Something my 31-year-old son said to me last week reminded me about an ancient (18-year-old) hard copy of a manuscript I have buried in the cupboard. I’m pretty sure most readers here have a similar project in a similar cupboard.
The premise was to keep a “journal” for one year chronicling life with a 13-year-old boy. It would cover the last year before high school. I thought that I might be able to capture some useful, universal moments of parenting a “new” teen and see where that took me in terms of developing my writing.
I certainly witnessed the typical teen angst stuff and behaviors, but there was an arc there too about journeys. At the time, I thought it was rather clever tying Homer Simpson, a character from his favorite television show to the author Homer and the Odyssey we both found ourselves on.
Suffice it to say it didn’t work on a larger scale, but I was pleased that one submission was accepted years ago by Literary Mama.
I’ve decided to have a little fun opening the time capsule of writing and picked a few stories to share here. (A few edits were necessary.)
There’s just something about Homer. Homer Simpson that is. We’re off to pick up the latest “must-have” GameCube video game. It’s called Simpson’s: Hit and Run which is an interesting name since that is exactly what I would like to do to the show.
I’ll admit that some of the Simpson’s is pretty funny, but Homer’s loser mentality gets really old. Also, I can’t watch because I hate how the characters are drawn.
In case you are not familiar with Homer and his family, he’s an inept, dim-witted, beer guzzling, big-hearted buffoon of a guy. The show has been on television for over 14 years now.
Will watches every single new episode and loyally watches the re-runs every day of the week. He knows the series so well, in fact, that he and his friends pass time quoting lines from various episodes and they include the episode’s title and which season it aired. He pours through the “Simpson’s Companion” guidebooks with features like “The Stuff You May Have Missed, “Show Highlights” and biographies on the fictional “guest” stars.
The cynical humor revolves around pointing out weak spots in American society (one of their favorites is our runaway consumerism) and then it turns right around and becomes exactly what it mocks – a marketing machine churning out DVD’s, books, games, underwear and Homer Pez dispensers. Somehow the show has been able to walk a thin line between ridiculing our world and the world begging for more. I’m walking my own thin line with my son’s obsession with it. I’ll say this though – neither the game nor the show is violent. A clever wit is the only weapon.
It doesn’t escape me though that he walks ahead of me to the car, keeping a distance between us. Did I do the same thing once I wonder?
Will has talked me into buying him a new pair of sneakers. I wasn’t really surprised when he stood on the black and silver foot scale and it registered a size 11. As I watch him move through the choices, a rather fascinating thought takes hold.
I had heard once about an actor who when exploring a new role, will immediately ask what type shoe the character wears. For him, it is a critical part in defining the person. He said that shoes affect the walk, the mood, the stature and many of the attributes that make that character who he is.
What shoe style is Will going to wear as an adult? I mean once he’s done wearing endless pairs of sneakers through college, will he wear more of the same as he performs experiments in a science lab or will be choose wingtips and work in sales or management inside a fast-paced corporate environment? Or maybe, even, will he wear some type of uniform shoe or boot because he is a pilot or works in the military? Suddenly, I can’t wait to see what will be on his feet ten years from now. Those soles are going to say so much about the man.
It’s a gorgeous, sunny afternoon and I’m busy laying out a conversation that has just transpired which fits into the But Why Can’t I? category. Why today is the day, I’m not sure, but suddenly it Dawns on me, in a rosy-fingered kind of way, what else I am managing to catch on paper here. I finally recognize that I’m not just recording examples of his journey of separation in Operation Odyssey, but I’m also defining the shape of my own as I transition from stay-at-home mom to searching for a separate type of fulfillment….
…we are into a new year and I still feel discontentment. Where am I headed when Will leaves the nest? I understand that he’s heading to high school, not college, but I sense that I should be using this time to explore options. I’m still a free-lancer with our local paper, but that isn’t enough anymore.
This thinking inspires me to schedule a lunch with a fellow mom I know who has successfully published two murder mysteries. (Libby Fischer Hellman) She’s a perfect person to offer tips on what pursuing writing would entail. I email her and we set a date.
We land at the Red Star Tavern, a local burger and rib joint and have barely placed our orders of a grilled chicken salad and a prime rib sandwich respectively, when I ask “How did you do it? How did you find a publisher?”
“Whoa” she laughs. “Writing is not an easy mistress” she confides. “You write for months and look at the draft and realize that parts of it are bad – sometimes horrible. You have to stick with it. Make the changes, be patient, and usually, it improves.” She takes a sip of her wine.
“Then when I reached the stage where I had done everything I could to it, I found a professional editor who read my manuscript and made her own suggestions and changes. She costs a fortune, but I have to say she’s worth it.”
“Then you have to get busy selling your idea to a publisher. There’s a book with hundreds of names of publishing companies. Some are large and it’s going to be difficult to get noticed there. There are also a lot of boutique publishers who specialize in certain genres. You might get lucky there. I did with crime fiction.” At this point, she takes a bite of the hearty prime rib sandwich while I gaze unhappily at my salad.
“The other way to go is to find an agent, they have contacts and knowledge about contract details. That same book also has a ton of agent names listed.”
“The best advice I can offer” she continued “is to understand how much self-marketing is involved. You have to take an active part in helping the sale of your own book. Not a lot of new writers know this when they start. In the end, it’s up to you to make it happen. And I can tell you it’s a lot of work” she emphasizes honestly.
The Great Debate continues. I’m not referring to one argument that resurfaces frequently. I’m referring to any conversation which starts between the hours of 6:30 a.m when he gets up to 10:00 p.m. when I retire. He’s been known to utter “oh, it’s almost 30 degrees (F) out, I don’t need a jacket today” to admitting he has a sore throat but only “because I slept with my mouth open last night.” And, of course, the age-old argument that the sky is any other color but blue.
I was recently enlightened at a parent’s forum I attended whose keynote speaker was a doctor in psychology whose specialty is teen development and behavior. She touched on the topic of teens and arguing. In a word: they crave it.
She explained that “teens love to argue because they are busy practicing a new way of thinking. They form theories and test them out.” Her suggestion was sort of a “if you can’t beat them, join them approach.” Go with the process, encourage a “think tank” environment where any idea has merit, if it can be proven. Engage the debate.
It’s Saturday and Will has a couple of friends over. They are hovering near me because they want a ride to their favorite store in the city called American Science Supply. It’s a strange store filled with used motor parts, switches, magnets, old street lights, mechanical devices and more. This is the kind of store that actually has the kitchen sink and its parts somewhere in Aisle 7.
Will had first visited the store with a friend not long ago and came home a proud owner of a de-magnifier card swipe device and some yellow police tape with large block lettering: CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS.
I shoo them away with a promise that I will take them later, so they disappear outside. They eventually return and we head off on the highway. Upon arrival, they happily peruse through each box of weird stuff, picking up pieces, checking the price. Many of the prices are reasonable at $2 or $3.
It was during the car ride home, when I heard snickering going on between them, that I knew something was up.
“Okay, what’s going on?” I ask. “Nothing” is the chorus of responses I receive.
“Well, what is making you laugh?” I continue.
Will replies “we didn’t buy anything bad, I promise, we just did something fun today – right guys?” There is a new round of laughing.
“It’s no big deal mom, we just had fun at the park while we were waiting for you” and the whole backseat shifts onto another topic.
It wasn’t until 24 hours later when my husband and I were walking the dog at the park when we see something inside the tennis court and walk over to investigate.
It is yellow crime scene tape and I immediately know it’s Will’s. Then I start to laugh. They have made a chalk drawing of the outline of a body and the yellow tape is surrounding it. I understand now why they were laughing yesterday. We take down the tape and head home putting on our serious parent faces to explain that it wasn’t a good idea to deface public property, but privately, we were laughing too.
There’s a mandatory meeting tonight at the high school for 2004-2005 freshman students and their parents to discuss curriculum as well as some of the nuts and bolts of how the system works. We arrive, find some seats and wait. The lights dim and then one of the administrators walks up to the podium, pauses, looks around and says “Parents…how are you feeling? They’re really going to be in high school next year.”
They hand out a thick, heavy registration packet with Will’s name and an assigned school ID number. It is filled with summer school forms, health forms, course descriptions, a calendar and a “After the Academics” list of sports and music etc.
After a few minutes, the speaker shifts to the topic of freshman English. “And it is a freshman requirement here that all freshman read Homer’s The Odyssey. It is one of the great journey stories of all times.” Homer again! But I like hearing this, it’s like my own stories are on the right track.
I am in a cab, heading towards the Vancouver airport. My sister and I, my mom and her cousin got to experience a trip of a lifetime as we chugged along a Canadian Rockies rail line as part of a week-long “Smithsonian Journeys” adventure. It was a gift from my mother’s cousin. We traveled east by train towards Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise in the Alberta province. We then turned around, heading west again, eventually ending our trip in Whistler, British Columbia.
I think about what I have learned. I learned that the glacial water that trickled under my feet as I stood on the Athabasca Glacier will grow into major waterways traveling to the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. And I learned that Grizzlies prefer their food a little aged, so if you survive an attack, the bear will scoop dirt half over you and return in a day or two. If you can wake up, there’s time to make an escape.
I also learned that while traveling on a chartered journey like this, you never know who or what type of personality your traveling companions are going to be. We found ourselves on a bus on the third day, taking a side trip from the train. After a brief stop at a gift shop/food store, an elderly gentleman stood up while the bus was moving and announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Douglas White, can I have your attention for a moment please?” he requested. We grew quiet.
“For your convenience and comfort,” he continued “I wanted you to know that I have just purchased some roll-on deodorant for the remaining portion of this trip” and sat back down without another word. Startled looks promptly shot around the bus.
Someone nearby finally had the guts to say “that was just too much information sir.” The man’s wife seemed suddenly very focused on the view outside of her window.
And I am looking out my own cab window. I see a rather run-down night club. The owner is busy using a hose to spray off the club’s front sidewalk, liberating it of last night’s trash and disappointing endings. I glance at the name. The club is called The Odyssey.
I start to laugh. Since the inception of Operation Odyssey just under a year ago, the word and meaning have been everywhere for me; revealing itself time and time again like cookie crumbs on a trail. Sometimes the references have been subtle, and sometimes the theme of journeys (and I not on one this very moment?) have hit me full-force. Staring at the word written in script and outlined in pink globe lights, I wonder if I’m seeing “The Odyssey” at every turn because I’ve finally allowed myself to see it. The signs had, quite literally, been there all along. Entering and exiting the teen years is a rite of passage and it’s simply my turn.
Two weeks later, and a year of learning about Will’s growing independence leads me to encourage him to bike over to the school with a friend and “walk” to all the rooms where his classes will be.
He looks at me and asks “Why don’t you want to go over there with me?”
I could have responded that I figured it was his wish to do it with a peer, or he didn’t want to be seen with a parent. But I didn’t.
“Sure, let’s go now” and we hopped in the car and for the next hour slowly wound our way through his entire school day through the C and D buildings. It felt amazing to, even for a little while, have our feet walking on the same path together.
It took me two years to find what I was looking for. I started to work for Legacy.com which I found fascinating. I went from part-time to full-time and eventually went into management. They treated me well and I was sincerely proud of my accomplishments with the company.
And what shoes are Will wearing? Well, since he’s been working from home for a year and a half, they’re probably sneakers. He attended American University on a scholarship, received a degree in business, earned his CPA by age 22, and currently works in the anti-money laundering division of a large bank. We simply could not be prouder of him and his hard work and of course, that clever sense of humor. I should note that he took Debate and entered countless competitions throughout his four years of high school.