School Begins

My three year old daughter Soleil began her long journey through school last week. Her first day of Montessori was on Wednesday the 8th, and today completes her first full week.

It’s kind of amazing really.

I am sure most parents feel this way, but the first time you drop your kid off at school just bowls you over. And yes, I teared up.

I am so thrilled for her. Soleil’s meeting new kids, and painting everyday. She even has a friend named Johnny, who’s real name she doesn’t know. But depending on the day she calls him her boyfriend. Today she said, “He’s not for me.” I need to meet this boy.

Her vocabulary is rapidly improving in just a week and a half, and of course, she is picking up some mannerisms from the other kids. For example, Soleil likes to comment on her hair all of the sudden. “It’s so crazy,” she said after her bath earlier this week. Then for the first time, she asked me to brush it. The poor kid has a double cow lick and a small dose of Daddy’s curls (that was before I went bald).

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She cries or whines about going to school most days. Then she comes home and says she had fun!

Soleil’s sense of responsibility is picking up, too. We definitely encouraged her to put away her dishes and clean up beforehand, but the Montesori regimen (and seeing her peers in action) is kicking in. It’s great to have a little helper.

All in all, it’s a magical experience to watch.

Thoughts on New Mexico

This week the country experienced two more school shootings, most notably a 12 year old who opened fire on his fellow students with a 20-gauge shotgun in Roswell, NM. I am sorry to bring it up, but the danger of such an incident occured to me as we helped Soleil through her first days of school. It was not an overriding fear, just a tiny shadow.

It seems like every month there is a school shooting now. It’s hard not to think about this rash of senseless violence.

You probably noticed in the picture Soleil is wearing a private school uniform. There is a lot to say about private versus public school. For starters, the results tend to be better for the kids. But given that some of the public schools in our neighborhood are very good I cannot say that Soleil will always attend a private school.

Certainly, it is more expensive. I suddenly find myself taking my lunch to work. And as someone who went to public school, I have my own preconceived notions about private schools.

Private school also feels safer to me. They rarely experience the type of violence that you read about in the papers at public schools, and in particular the disgusting rash of shootings that are occuring at public schools.

I can’t imagine picking up the phone and having to pick up my child after a school shooting. Then there is the horror that dozens parents across the country have experienced on the past few years: Finding out your child is wounded or dead.

Private school is not a silver bullet to avoid violence, but it does reduce the risk. And I realize that it is impossible to shelter Soleil from everything.

Do we really have to consider our children’s lives are at risk when we send them to school? We live in a country where a school shooting happens almost every month. Yet our lawmakers won’t take the necessary steps to protect children. Insane.

Whatever education path we choose for Soleil, I hope that she and all of the other children across the country never have to face this kind of tragedy.

The odds of it happening are minute yet that tiny gnawing fear remains. May the madness stop.

Crazy Characters Work Better

So I thought it might be talk about creating fictional characters as we head into the weekend. On that note, when writing about folks I prefer boiling unpredictability into characters, or a little bit of crazy.

When reading or watching stories, I prefer main characters who screw up, make bad decisions, flip flop, and do other things that generally drive people a bit crazy. They are human, and we can identify with or simply doubt them.

Developing a character or screenplay in a novel requires tension and conflict. And there is no greater conflict than the one that lies within. We think we know how folks will respond, but then they do things contrary to expectations. This is true character development to me, reflecting what we experience in reality.

Tensions exists because we lack certainty about how protagonists will act. It’s the quintessential trust issue. Perhaps that is more a reflection of my own expereinces with people.

Invariably, man or woman, people will always let you down at some moment. This is the human condition. But principles never do, and that creates tension between doing right and wrong.

Favorite Crazy Characters

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This crazy factor is why Cervantes’ Don Quixote is perhaps the most brilliant of early novels. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are maddeningly nuts (chase that windmill!). They don’t make characters like that anymore!

In the modern tough guy vein, Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs evolves and matures over time. Morgan’s work created a series that I could not put down, and desperately hoped would continue. Like so many characters though he does seem to fit into a stereotype, the anti-hero tough guy that survives and eventually conquers, albeit in a never-clean fashion. You kind of always know how Kovacs is going to respond to things.

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is a sweet young man who faces terrible challenges. His character is pretty straight forward, and in that oh so English way, he continues because he must. Frodo does succeed, but the journey bludgeons him, killing his spirit. In the end as he sails off to Valinor in an effort to find peace.

While I loved Kovacs and Frodo, I’m not sure they’re really human. Because both protagonists are heroes, they rise above the normal foibles we all seem to muddle through.

A better tough guy is the comic character Batman, who is just nuts, as all of us familiar with the movies know. The underlying gritty subversiveness of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character reminds me of the duality of ideal versus humanity.

This same character tension was played out subtly and brilliantly in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Through narrator Nathan Zuckerman’s recreation of the Swede we saw how really crazy and subversive people are regardless of their outward presentation.

Exodus features an anti-hero character, Jason. I actually named him after Jason of the Argonauts, because that Jason seemed too perfect to me. I thought a little more perspective on a young “hero” was needed. Several of the characters are named after Greek legends, an intentional ode and post modern riff on epic tales.

In Jason’s case, the fundamentalist threat alluded to in the novel’s teaser text provides external conflict, which in turn forces his internal crisis by thrusting a great responsibility on his shoulders. This is a classic character development technique.

Most novels make you wonder how the hero will succeed. Me, I wonder if Jason can handle it or if he’ll go nuts. His process is very much what I think happens in real life as opposed to the archetype of yeah, we know he’s going to make it, it’s just a question of how and when.

What do you like about your favorite characters?

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