The Perfect Plot Twist

For the perfect plot twist to work on you, you have to feel afterward like you should have seen it coming, but you didn’t. As a result, when the big reveal happens, it blows you away.

If I know there is a twist in a plot – then, Game On. I’m like a hog snuffling after a truffle. Some (my wife) might say I have a problem. Continue reading “The Perfect Plot Twist”

Just a Pit Stop in the Galaxy

I recently finished a book called Way Station by Clifford D. Simak, and thought it was good enough to post about. Enoch Wallace is a civil war soldier whose house is transformed into a transfer station for aliens traveling around in space. It’s kind of a like a backwater bus stop no one stays at because there’s nothing to see. He becomes the keeper of the station, and therefore immortal. The story picks up with the government finally noticing the strange behavior of this hermit, hiding away in a remote part of Wisconsin, who never ages and who sends diamonds away every now and then to maintain his funds. You’ve probably never heard of the great diamond mines of Wisconsin. Well, neither has the U.S. Government. Enoch has lived a hundred years or so as the keeper without an incident, but forces beyond his control are bringing things to a head. (Warning: the analysis of the book below contains spoilers). Continue reading “Just a Pit Stop in the Galaxy”

Thanksgiving and 70

My mother turned seventy this past week. I flew my family out to surprise her in Colorado. As part of the surprise plot, my mother and my sister picked me (and only me) up from the airport, because my brother and I told her months ago he and I were going to celebrate with her. But she had no idea the whole family was going to be sprung on her. So while they were picking me up, my bro-in-law was picking up my wife and kids at another part of the airport. The conspiracy was on! Continue reading “Thanksgiving and 70”


My youngest was on a favorites spree two nights ago, and my wife was coming out on the losing end of the stick. I was the big winner in almost every competition. “Who’s your favorite – a chocolate milkshake as big as your head, or Daddy?” “Daddy!”

We were at the dinner table during this episode, enjoying a meal my wife had lovingly prepared, and she was holding it together pretty well, until the dam finally burst. I think my youngest had picked our dead cat (whom she’d never actually met) over her mother, and the gloves came off.

“Who cooks your meals, changes your diapers, wipes your nose, takes you to therapy after therapy after therapy, agrees to be Stitch or Mulan or whatever random Disney character is lodged in that head of yours and I don’t even beat the cat? I mean, come on!” Continue reading “Favorites”

Oh Mother Where Art Thou?

Two books I’ve read in the last few months share themes that make them worthy of a post (more than worthy!) They’re both excellent, tightly written, suspenseful horror fiction, and both explore a mother realizing her child is the embodiment of evil. These two masterpieces of Mommy Macabre (mahvelous!) are Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin and The Bad Seed by William March. If you haven’t read them, and don’t like it when someone gives away the plot, read no further, but for the rest, let us proceed. Continue reading “Oh Mother Where Art Thou?”

Ex Machina: A Mechanical Victory for Feminism

This isn’t a movie review, per se. So, I’ll open by saying Ex Machina is worth seeing. High quality acting, directing and writing put this film a step above the usual movie house fare, particularly when it comes to science fiction. It’s not “action packed” however, so if you’re looking for that, look elsewhere.

Instead, the movie is “idea packed.” And because this short essay is going to deal with various plot points, if you would like to see the movie without knowing the twists, read no further. In other words, spoiler alert. Continue reading “Ex Machina: A Mechanical Victory for Feminism”

8:36 a.m.

Do you know the minute you were born? 8:36 a.m is mine. I always watch the clock on my birthday to see when I officially cross over into that next year. I’m sniffing around middle age now, and I’m not sure I like the smell.

My mom always says she loves the age she is now. She declares it like she’s planting a flag in the ground with her age emblazoned upon it. I’m not so declamatory, nor do I feel her absolute confidence. Maybe I know too much about slippage, how things fall apart, how the ends of my dividing cells are degrading, senescence in essence, and how old age creeps in and makes the aches ache and suddenly crawling out of bed seems like “one more thing to do.” Do I remember springing out of bed and attacking the day in my twenties? Not in that cartoonish fashion, but I can definitely feel a difference as I dip into my fifth decade on the planet. What is that line from the song: “My get up and go, just got up and went?” Continue reading “8:36 a.m.”

Werewolf, magic, with a twist

The Changeling Prince was a very readable book, and Velde does a great job of having you root for the central character, Weiland. He is a sympathetic young man/wolf put into impossible situations, and this is all to Velde’s credit. The drawbacks of the book are: 1) Weiland doesn’t really think his way through any of the problems. When there is a big reveal at the end, it isn’t because the main character has reasoned it out, which is ultimately more satisfying for the reader; rather, it is just dumb luck. 2) The climax is rushed and feels very deus ex machina. I won’t give much away when I note that the character of Kedj, the villainess’ henchman, is incomplete and yet he figures heavily in the final crisis. 3) The villainess is vile to the extreme but she lacks in levels, character shadings that would make her more realistic. She is a spoiled child with incredible power, but that is about as deep as it goes.

All in all, I’m glad I read it. A little above the level of juvenile fantasy in terms of writing style and subject matter. I would give it a partial recommend.

More on Anti-fragile Parenting

I’m trying to bring this new outlook (anti-fragility) to bear on various aspects of my life. The first, and most obvious, application is how I interact with my children. I want to encourage them to be anti-fragile. This leads me naturally to being more of a hands-free parent. I’m sure you’ve all read or heard about helicopter parenting, and how that stifles creativity. We aren’t raising Tom Sawyers any more, let alone Huck Finns. I read this entire article, for example, and while setting fires while in a designated park still feels supervised, it’s more danger than our kids typically experience today.

Anti-fragility is bigger than just having your kids roam, though. It’s having them roam with the right perspective. My wife was telling me my oldest’s biggest fear was being left alone, for instance, at a store, and not knowing what to do. I was thinking to myself, there’s a certain type of kid who would think, “All right, I’ve been left alone, what kind of experiences am I going to have? This rocks” Ok, maybe the kid would just have the last thought, but then he would go forth and do. And then I’m thinking, does that type of adventurous, come-what-may kid actually exist?

This line of thinking dovetails with the reading I’m doing with my oldest. Daddy daughter book club! She and I are trying to read the Hobbit together. I’m listening to it in the car, while she’s reading the words themselves. But I’m having to remind her all the time to read. She was excited at the outset, but then, she checked out a slew of other (dare I say, lesser) books from the library. They simply interest her more. The Hobbit can’t compete with the latest American Girl Adventure. The anti-fragile view of learning would say I should release her from the agreement to read the Hobbit, because fiction is only enjoyed (and learned from) when you want to read it. As soon as it is “assigned” the mindset changes and part of your brain shuts down. This was supposed to be an activity we enjoyed together, but I feel myself swiftly turning into a scold. “Have you read, have you read, have you read?” This is the same reason I quit trying to teach her piano.

I’m torn. Should we be done? I’m going to give it a think, and get her feedback. We already nixed one book (jointly) but this would be the second. Time for a new strategy. The daddy daughter book club is falling apart, after such an auspicious beginning.

And, of course, there’s also my son and his sports. I saw him outside practicing with the soccer ball. By himself. No one asked him to do it. I thought this was great. I need to get him more options (very anti-fragile) so he can try out as many sports as possible. But I also need to get him involved in things without rules (rules are fragile) so he can gain in confidence that he can handle anything. The artificial environment of a sports activity does not match life. I think there is some cross application, but in the end, I want all the kids to be good at life. And sports doesn’t fully prepare them.

So, in the end, my hope is that they are not afraid to be left alone in a store and, also, that they can function when there isn’t a rulebook.

And, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that I need to look for ways to anti-fragilize me, myself and I.

Brinley Cake

My youngest turned four on the 13th of this month, and we had her party yesterday. About sixty people descended on the homestead, we put up a bouncy house, the weather could not have been better and kids sucked down juice boxes like mosquitoes attached to a major artery.

The same cast of characters shows every year, though the guest list has grown steadily. We buy some pizza, Italian beef, my wife whips up a mean coleslaw and we stock up the fridge with drinks (besides juice boxes). My sister-in-law bakes a cake every year for the party. She calls it Brinley cake.

This cake is the the best cake ever made. Can I say that with a straight face? Yes. Because no matter what fine torte Louis the XVI enjoyed or what delightful baked sweet the Queen of England ever let pass beyond her lips, it cannot match this cake.

How am I so sure? There is an extra ingredient (besides the sour cream that makes it so moist you want to cry). The ingredient is Brinley herself.

My sister-in-law made the cake when my daughter was born to be part of the general celebration. But as it happened there was no celebration. The news was not good from the start. And oh, we were not prepared. At all.

My wife, who will willingly say she has the patience of a gnat on methamphetamines, used to joke with a friend that if she ever had a kid with special needs, the friend would have to adopt it, because my wife couldn’t handle it. (The friend is an avid supporter of Special Olympics). Be careful when big ears are listening.

The day after the birth I came home to see my older kids and my wife’s family who had gathered to welcome the new little one. I rose up from the couch in the living room, legs stiff, voice thick, nose plugged, the usual symptoms of grief. I thanked everyone for coming, and I’m sure no one understood the words, but everyone understood the pain. We tried to eat the cake then. It tasted like sand. Because everything tasted wrong that day.

The next year, the first time we had this party, the tradition began. My sister-in-law arrived with the cake in tow. My youngest daughter, who we doubted would even recognize us when she was born, smiled to her friends gathered around her. She did freak out a little when the whole group started singing to her though. Nonetheless, the Brinley cake was passed out and the people ate their pieces and closed their mouths on ecstasy, and weren’t scared to remark on it. The cake melts in your mouth, with chocolate chips strewn throughout like little nuggets of gold. Brinley had defied the doubters (including, at times, her own parents) and the cake’s flavor now had an ingredient no one, not the best European chef, could account for.

And so it was again, yesterday, that the Brinley cake arrived. We sang “Happy Birthday,” but this time remembered to sing it more Norah Jones style rather than Axl Rose, which pleased the girl of honor very much, thank you. She blew out the candles on her namesake cake, along with slightly too much drool, and then the pieces were passed around.

It was delicious. The best ever made.