Dad the Writer 3: Soul

Father, husband, writer...
Father, husband, writer…

August 10, 2015

This is the final installment (for now) of “Dad the Writer.” We’ve gone over how to keep mind and body sane and healthy while you juggle being a parent and an artist. Obviously, as cliché as it sounds, we end with keeping the soul sane.

Whether or not you believe in the soul is immaterial. If you’re an artist, if you want to create something, make an idea tangible, then you have a soul. Maybe you didn’t have one before you started. If you’re reading this and want to be a better artist, congratulations. You have a brand new soul.

It’s not enough to simply be good at something, though. It’s also not enough to keep your mind sharp. Anyone can sit at a computer and just type at normal speed, maybe even half speed, and write a novel within a week or two. Anyone can buy a camera and take pictures of animals, landscapes, and people. Anyone can shoot videos or write poems. Doing any of these well, though, is another matter. That takes practice and dedication.

And a healthy artist’s soul.

the artist by samuel123 on DeviantArt

A healthy artist’s soul means being willing to fail. Again. And again. And again. If you’re doing whatever you’re doing for the chance to get rich, you’re doing business, not art. You’re looking at trends and what’s hot and jumping on the bandwagon. You’re not creating. You’re selling. Creating something that rings true to people, something that can last generations and change people’s minds, something that has, for lack of a better term, a piece of your soul, is difficult.

This takes time.

No piece of writing is ever good on the first try. Or the second. Or the third. Maybe, a handful of times in your career, you’ll stumble onto the perfect line, the perfect shot, and that’s fantastic. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it requires patience and determination. And failing is the last thing artists want. I know it’s something that gives me nightmares to this day. I’m afraid of creating something, pouring my history and my troubles into it for others to see and learn from, and then finding out it’s complete garbage.

creativity ? by wesso85 on DeviantArt

Do not be afraid to fail. You will. Just remember that your work is not final until you put it out for the world to see. You can make changes, go back and redo your work, or do anything that needs to happen in order for your art to be better. Embrace failure, but reach for perfection. And don’t be disillusioned when your work isn’t perfect. It never will be. Every writer, for example, can look at old stories and find mistakes. I look at my work from even six years ago and find not just errors in grammar but also plot holes and clutter that I would strike out in the first editing session today.

Just think what you’ll learn in another six years.

Your work does not have to be perfect, just as perfect as you can make it at the time. At some point, you need to stop and say, “It’s done. I can do nothing else.” Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of your life checking work that needs to go out and be seen.

Which brings me to one of the Ultimate Truths About Art™ that you need to understand to keep your soul healthy.

You will always improve, as will your work, if you have dedication and support.

Surround yourself with people who can encourage you, be honest, and promote your growth. Find those who will give you honest feedback, and maybe a little ego-boost, when things get dark. You need someone who will tell that your work is the greatest thing in the world even if you don’t believe it. Balance this with actual criticism because constant failure can wear you down.

Creativity by BFXWalker on DeviantArt

It’s not easy to have that kind of dedication and will. That, like anything worthwhile, takes practice. So go ahead and fail. Cry. Drink that six pack and pass out. Cry again. Curse the day you thought you could do this.

And try again. And again. And lean on those around you. The loner artist is a myth, a romanticized idea that rarely works. You need that support to keep you grounded or your ego will kill you one way or another. If you gain an audience, it will make you think  things are easy and you’ll flounder. If you don’t do well, it’ll tell you it was never meant to be.

Use your support network. Use your loved ones. Bring them along for the ride.

And now, to help you pass the time between reading and working on your own work, here’s the trailer for a feel-good family movie about parents and their children.

Okay, maybe not so much.

Dad the Writer

The writer's greatest fear.
The writer’s greatest fear.

I’ve written extensively about the many things that a writer needs to do to make time and create good works and excel at his or craft.

That was before my wife and I ushered in Mattie, our precious little spawn.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Mattie to death. Nothing cheers me up more than hearing her laugh. That little smile of hers and her “I know I own your ass” look she gives us are some of the greatest moments of my day.

That being said, our toddler can be such a baby.

Every parent knows this. We certainly knew that any semblance of free time was gone the instant Mattie was born. What does this mean for our projects, though, for my wife’s photography and for my writing? It means we have to work much smarter than before.

Fatherhood by Kevrekidis on DeviantArt

I can write almost anywhere. Give me some paper and a pen and I can outline, draft, and do anything I need. I could do this before, but it’s so much more important now. I can’t just go to the computer and write an idea. Sometimes, I can’t even pull out paper to write said idea. Taking care of baby requires two hands, after all.

Time to get creative.

My wife and I have started using Evernote. It’s a handy way to quickly write down a note or save a webpage that we need for future reference. Because we both have the app, we can share lists, photos, and anything else we need while keeping everything sorted and catalogued for later. Barring that, having paper and pen handy, despite the abundance of thrown food, is still a viable option. I keep a notebook and pen nearby whenever I’m with the little one, and despite the focus needed to keep a little human in good working order, I’ve found that it’s still the best way to quickly write something down and keep going. When I do have time later in the day to actually sit and work, I quickly pull the notebook out and start expanding the notes and ideas, or the outright passages, into Word documents.

SPECTRUM DISORDER // STRESS by melissahooper on DeviantArt

This stop-and-go method to working is tiring, though, perhaps more than actually sitting down for a few hours to type. You can’t focus and let ideas just come to you. Sometimes, it feels like you’re forcing creativity, that the clock is ticking, and you need to get it done NOW. There’s no sitting and thinking and drafting and just letting ideas happen.

While it would be easy to think that any free time should be devoted to craft, that’s not the case. I’m not about to spend every minute the baby is asleep working on my writing. Aside from the fact that we still need to cook food and keep the house clean, there’s also the very important matter of spending time with my wife, talking, just spending a few minutes lying on the carpet and relaxing as the Little One plays by herself. This was one of the mistakes I made years ago, one for which I apologized profusely. Despite the writer in me demanding I sit down to work if I have even five minutes, I need to spend time with my family too. I can’t ignore them or the people I’m doing this for will suffer.

This all means focus is so much more important than before. When I work, I work. Nothing else matters. It helps that my wife and I have our desks next to each other, so that when one of us is working or if we’re both working, we can still chat and share ideas. This also means we need time to relax. Mediation, music, a walk outside, anything and everything to clear the ol’ brain pan before the next mad session. It’s not a perfect set-up, but it works, and discipline is paramount.

Stay tuned for Part 2! In the meantime, enjoy this:

Adults Only

Porn and social studies... Man, homeworks going to be WEIRD.

February 8, 2010

When I was in high school, teachers sometimes used films to highlight points in science, English, and history classes. We’d read a short story, then watch an adaptation of it and try and find the differences, discuss its themes, and otherwise enjoy the lesson more because the lesson came alive. Even the kids who didn’t like to read could participate, though not as well, as the ones who read. Science films let us see our lessons instead of just reading about them, and in a world where multimedia now applies to everything we do, it’s really the next logical step in education. Films are a new tool.

And every new tool needs a determined opposition. Click on the image to go to the story.

If you skip the link, here’s the deal. Council Rock high school students are protesting a movement led by several parents to ban the use of R-rated movies for educational purposes. The school uses films such as Schindler’s List, Merchant of Venice and Saving Private Ryan to supplement lessons, and the district already has a policy that allows parents to not give permission for their children to see the films. Some, however, say that this creates an unequal playing field and R-rated movies should be banned completely.

Said one concerned parent, “Do we not have filters on our computers? These movies are potentially harmful to our children…I can’t help but think that these things will have an effect on our children. There are many other school districts in the area that have excellent educational programs that do not allow Rated R films to be shown. So why do we?”

Oh the children. Who will speak for them?

Several hundred high school students have signed petitions asking the school board to not proceed with the ban, but as of this writing, no action has been taken.

Yeah, because high school is already such wonderful preparation for the real world, right?

There are really two issues at work here. First of all, do these movies enhance the learning experience? Secondly, are these movies harmful?

Let’s talk about the second issue first. Are movies harmful? The parent who gave the above quote seems to think so. How is a movie harmful? Will it teach children that certain kinds of behavior are acceptable? That really depends on the individual movie. One of the movies referenced is Saving Private Ryan. It’s bloody, violent, and features scenes during one of the most far-reaching wars of the last century. High school students won’t see these images of men getting cut down by machine gun fire and suddenly come to the realization that they too must get a fifty-caliber machine-gun and go PCP-monkey-crazy on someone.

These are the kids that play GTA, remember? This is the Modern Warfare generation. They know what it’s like to see someone get shot in a FICTIONAL account because THEY’RE the ones doing the shooting. They may be desensitized, a by-product of society taking a much more lax view of violence, but they aren’t going to suddenly see the Battle of Normandy and get some insight into violent behavior. At best they’ll realize that these kinds of things actually happen, that real people have suffered in wars, and maybe they’ll get a certain respect for the men and women that actually put a uniform on then put their lives on the line. Besides, if a student can see history, even a recreation of it, it makes the lesson much more real.

Movie ratings are a knotted affair, so all I’ll say is that an R-rating is not the harsh stamp many people think it means. The MPAA says:

An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children.

An R-rating doesn’t mean much concrete information. What, may I ask, is an “adult activity” and an “adult theme”? I guess showing people working in a cubicle farm would be considered an adult activity. Is menopause an adult theme? Not a lot of teenage girls with inactive reproductive systems. And what exactly does “hard language” mean? If I use the word “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis,” I think most people would consider that hard language. I can barely pronounce it. The rating, as many other people much more highly qualified than me have said, is highly subjective and open to debate. It’s, at best, a highly imperfect gauge of a film’s content and themes. Furthermore, the argument that we have filters on our computers and should use the same kind of logic when shielding students misses one very crucial point. YOU set the filters. You can put them up, lessen them, increase them to eleven, whatever. But it’s YOUR choice.

This brings us to the second point. Everyone learns differently. Some people are visual learners and others need to read information. Some learn by hearing. In a class, I try to use as many senses as possible. Pictures, diagrams, charts, hands-on activities with groups, anything to get the kids motivated. I’m sorry, but high school students need a swift kick in the pants. They can be… well, dense.

I’m sorry, but I loved my students and I wanted them all to succeed, but I’m a realist. I know not all of them will pass. I know it. They know it.

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If there were movies that actually taught English and writing, I would have shown them. The sad thing is that parents, according to the article, didn’t say much other than the movies were inappropriate and they might hurt the students.


How does a movie hurt a 14-18 year-old? Does the DVD jump out of the case and slit someone’s throat?

The movies work. The students themselves, the ones being “affected” by these images, are the ones who are lobbying to keep them. They’re saying the tool works, and yet some parents still want to take them away based on the fear of the hypothetical student hearing a naughty word or otherwise seeing something bad.

Next they’ll be dancing!

I’m speaking as a teacher, tutor, and writer. If a tool works, we need it. We’ve coddled the students in this country so much that you can actually pass high school without doing any work. Seriously. The United Independent School District in Laredo, Texas, will pass students for the sake of moving them to another level on the theory that they’re not going to pass their current grade level, so they should try in the next one. In this way, a student who never passes a single gradel can graduate high school without any comprehensive reading, writing, reasoning, mathematics, or even study skills. Budgets get slashed and teachers have their hands tied by bureaucracy and the ignorance of a few paranoid parents.

If I’d had the time and resources to show movies, I would have done so if I felt the movie would contribute to the lesson. You can’t discount any strategy when you’re trying to teach. If you need to bring hand-puppets and do voices, do it. Learning is a skill. Many people don’t have it. Teachers need to pick up the slack and use whatever means possible to make sure the students retain knowledge. Movies are one such tool. It’s not like the district was showing Showgirls or Battlefield Earth.

Now THAT would be a crime.