A Small Spark vs. a Great Forest

I am a revolutionary. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at me. I wear nondescript clothes and I live in a nondescript house in a nondescript town deep in the backwoods of rural Maine. On a day-to-day basis, I take care of my kids, clean my house, spend time with my wife, and play video games. Also, I like to listen to music. Revolutionary music. Oh yeah.

So, what is it about my musical taste that makes it so “revolutionary”? First of all, there really is no genre of music that I don’t, at least to some extent, enjoy. Pop punk, punk rock, metalcore, death metal, black metal, just plain ol’ metal, post punk, post hardcore, post metal, post rock, rock ‘n roll, hard rock, alternative rock, indie rock, emo, hardcore, grindcore, hip hop, country, alt-country, jazz, classical, folk, you name it, I’ve probably heard of it, listened to it, and liked it. But the styles of music I like most of all are those that fall in the broad categories of punk and metal.

Most of the artists who perform these styles of music are not singing/screaming about lollipops and rainbows. For the most part, this music is performed by angry people who see how messed up and rotten this world is and want to do something about it, or at least let others know how they feel about it. These are artists who are not satisfied by the status quo, politically, spiritually, or musically. The best purveyors of this sort of music (actually, of any music really) throw the rule book out the window, and are unconstrained by any preconceived notions of what their art should be.

Isn’t this what revolutions are all about? The idea that our lives shouldn’t be dictated by slavish adherence to the traditions around us, but rather that our hearts and minds should be free to roam in any direction we choose? I suppose it depends on how one defines “revolutionary”, but in any case, there’s something about this idea that is terribly appealing to me. Perhaps I should give an example to illustrate this.

I mentioned previously that I filled in for my wife while she was on maternity leave. She is an 8th grade teacher. I also believe I mentioned that I hated it. Part of the reason is that I have a tendency to be rather anti-authority. As a substitute teacher, I was the person who was in a position of authority, which was a very difficult position for me to be in. When a kid acted up, I had to punish them in some way, but deep down inside I was like “Yeah! Fight the power, man!” This anti-authoritarian perspective of mine may not be very compatible with being a teacher, but it jives well with the rebellious attitude of punk and metal.

Now, someone might bring up the question, “How do you reconcile your ‘revolutionary’ tendencies with the fact that you are a Christian? After all, Christianity is a pretty conservative religion.” My response is that I feel that the conservative nature of Christianity tends to be over exaggerated. When Jesus walked this earth, he wasn’t shy about getting in the face of the authorities of the day. I believe he at one point referred to the religious leaders as a “brood of snakes”. (Actually that might have been John the Baptist. I can’t remember off the top of my head, and I’m too lazy to look it up. Either way, it’s hard not to call that sentiment “revolutionary”.)

Of course, it’s been 2000 years now since Jesus walked the earth, and there’s now something like a billion or more people who claim to be Christians in the world. Maybe that sheer size in both temporal and spatial terms has turned what was once a radical viewpoint into something a little more staid and traditional. I would say that it’s probably true that Christianity as an organized religion is probably more conservative now than it was in the first century. But the core tenets of Christianity are just as radical as they ever have been. As Jesus said in Luke 10:21, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (ESV) The things of God are not the things of the world. Christians are the ultimate revolutionaries. We are out to take everything that the world believes is “normal” and turn it on its head. Faith in Jesus Christ breaks the slavery of sin in our lives and frees us to be the people that we were born to be.

So really, punk and metal actually goes quite well with Christianity, which probably has something to do with why there seems to be such an explosion of new Christian punk and metal bands in recent years. Not that Christian punk and metal is anything new. I spent my high school years listening to bands like MxPx, Value Pac, Ghoti Hook, Crux, Unashamed, Overcome, Strongarm, Living Sacrifice, Zao, and more that I’ve probably forgotten now. (Like Blaster the Rocket Boy! Sorry, just had to give a shout out to that band when their name popped into my head as I was revising this post.) But it does seem like Christian punk and metal bands are getting more attention lately. For example, every year the (thoroughly secular) magazine Alternative Press asks its readers to vote on the “Band of the Year”. Said band gets on the cover of AP and gets a big ol’ write up as well. Last year’s “Band of the Year” was The Devil Wears Prada, a crushing yet melodic death metal band who also are devoted to Jesus Christ. Their singer, Mike Hranica, even has the words “God’s Will” tattooed on his knuckles. How’s that for devotion?

In any case, I guess my point with all this is that I feel compelled to explain my love for punk and metal music because so few of the people I know share this love. My wife loves music too, but her taste in music is pretty narrow. And that’s fine for her. But my mind and my musical tastes are too restless and wide-ranging to focus on just one style. In an ideal world, I would be able to listen to every song ever written. But instead I will have to settle for just listening to as many songs as I possibly can. And that’s probably good enough.

Patterns

My son has autism. It’s not something I talk about very much. Not because I’m ashamed of him or because I want to pretend everything is okay. It’s just kind of an awkward topic. How do you even bring something like that up with another person? “So, how are you?” “Oh I’m fine. How are you?” “I’m okay. By the way, my son has autism.” I’ve just never known quite how to broach the subject in conversations. I feel bad when I think about people I know who don’t realize that he has autism, like I’m trying to hide it from them or something.

I guess I’m just concerned about getting sympathy from people about it. As in, “So, my son has autism.” “Oh I’m so sorry for you!” Well, it’s not really something to be sorry about. My son isn’t “defective”. There’s nothing “wrong” with him. Yes, he is different from “normal” kids. But he’s not “retarded” or “inferior” or anything like that. I don’t need people offering their sympathy, like my son has some terminal illness or something. So I just keep my mouth shut about it.

Obviously, having autism means there are some things he can’t do or doesn’t do well. He doesn’t talk much, and when he does talk, it’s not in a way that follows “normal” rules. For example, if he says “Want some food?” it means that he wants some food. He doesn’t recognize that as a question, he just knows that’s what his mother and I say to him when we’re trying to figure out if he’s hungry.

On the other hand, there are some things he does very well. He’s only 4 years old, but he can count to 100, he knows the entire alphabet, and he can spell several words, such as “rain” and “school bus”. Because of this, I don’t feel like there’s anything “wrong” with him. His brain isn’t defective, it’s just wired differently than that of a “normal” person. He has different strengths and weaknesses than most people.

My original intention with this essay was to talk about what it’s like to be the parent of a child with autism. I’m finding that it’s a difficult topic to write about though, because I don’t know what it’s like to be the parent of a child that doesn’t have autism. I do have two children, but my daughter is only 6 months old, so it’s too early to tell if she has autism or not. Besides, nobody really knows yet what causes autism. Are kids born with it? Or is there some environmental cause? If it’s the latter, it could well be that she doesn’t have autism now, but she might have it later. Or maybe she’ll never be exposed to whatever it was that caused my son to have it. In any case, all I can do is put this in God’s hands and trust that his will is going to be done.

That said, I do know other people who have “typically developing” children, so I do have a bit of an idea of what it’s like to raise such children. One thing that’s frustrating is that it’s hard to tell if a difficult phase is due to him having autism or just due to the age he’s at. Right now, he’s going through a phase where he cries and screams if anything is even slightly different from what he expects. For example, he will sometimes scream at me if I take two bites of my morning bagel in a row, instead of taking a bite of bagel and then a drink of coffee. Clearly part of that is autism, since one aspect of autism is that an autistic person has certain patterns that they feel need to be followed, and for whatever reason, one of my son’s patterns is that I have to eat my breakfast in a certain way. But part of it could also be the fact that he feels more strongly about his preferences right now, because he’s a cranky four year old. Either way, it’s annoying.

Another difficulty is that it can be difficult to communicate effectively with him. Sometimes he’ll ask me for a drink, and I intend to give him one, but I can’t do it right that second. So I’ll say “Just a second, bud!” Well, to him, the fact that I didn’t say “Let’s go get a drink” and head straight into the kitchen to get him a drink means that I’m not going to get him a drink at all. So he screams and cries, and I vainly try to explain to him that I AM going to get him a drink, it just is going to take a few minutes. Again, this is annoying.

But so far I’ve made it sound like there’s nothing positive about my relationship with my son, and that’s certainly not the impression that I want to give. Whenever my son says “Snuggle with Daddy?” and cuddles up next to me, it makes (most) of the frustrations melt right away. When I see my son unexpectedly do something that I never would have thought he could or would do, it makes all the hardships worthwhile.

For example, we’ve been trying to transition him from drinking out of a sippy cup to drinking out of a “big boy” cup. Our first step is to make him sit at the table when he has a drink. In addition to this, we’ve removed the stoppers from his sippy cups, so that he’s more used to a faster flow. The first time I did this, he wasn’t used to it, so some of the juice spilled on him. He came over to me and said “Towel?” Now, I know from prior experience that this meant he wanted a paper towel. (He used to ask for them so he could ball them up and throw them in the garbage.) So I gave him one, and he went over to his chair and cleaned up his mess with it, and then went to the garbage can and threw it away. That blew me away. How many typically-developing four year olds clean up their own messes unprompted?

I never expected to have a child with special needs. I was always kind of creeped out by them when I was a kid myself. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever end up with one myself. But I wouldn’t change my son for the world. He is his own person, and he is my son, and I love him.

What Should I Write About?

It’s been a long and crazy week this week, and I’ve barely had a chance to think about what my topic should be for my next blog post. So I decided that that’s as good a topic as any. What should I write about for my next blog post?

My initial thought was to write about what it’s like being the parent of a child with autism. However, I’m short of time this week, and I really want to put some serious thought into that topic, so it is on the back burner for now.

My wife and I went to a ballet on Saturday in Waterville, a town about 3 hours away from where we live. While we were driving there, I was talking about my blog and how I couldn’t think about anything to write. My wife, the brilliant and lovely woman that she is, came up with all kinds of great topics for me to write about. I can’t remember any of them.

I could write about video games, and how fantastic they are. Sweet, sweet video games. I played a couple of demos last night. One was for a PS3 game called inFamous, and the other was for a game called Heavy Rain. Both were excellent. I must buy them both. Someday.

Writer’s block is such a strange thing. Why is it that some times my brain is full of (what I think are) wonderful ideas, and other times it’s like there’s just an empty void swirling around inside my head? Well, I suppose right now it could be because both my children are shrieking and my wife is trying to tell me various random things. That might have something to do with it at the moment.

My wife just reminded me of one of the topics we talked about in the car on the way to Waterville. She bought me a book at Borders for my birthday, and I was telling her about how exciting it is to browse the stacks at a bookstore and find a book that I’ve heard of and want to read, so she suggested that I write about that. This requires a little bit of explanation. I have a real passion for history. I majored in history in college, I am a member of the American Historical Association and the World History Association, and the vast majority of what I read is historical literature. I generally don’t read “popular” history books. I’m more into historical monographs, which are basically books written by historians, for historians. They tend to be rather dry and/or technical, and thus they are the sorts of things that bookstores don’t exactly sell many copies of. So when I find one that I’ve heard of at a place like Borders, it’s quite exciting.

Speaking of books, my children find books quite fascinating, which, as an avid reader, makes me very happy. My son has a bookcase full of books, and he loves to just take them out and gaze at them. We’ve actually had to pack a large number of his books away, because he’d take them all out and cover the floor with them. And my daughter, who is only 6 months old, absolutely adores being read to. She quivers with excitement when she sees a book, stares at them with rapt attention, and tries to turn the pages and eat them. It fills me with joy to know my children love books so much, especially when it seems like so many people nowadays don’t have any interest in reading books. It also makes me feel a little guilty, because I definitely don’t read to my kids nearly as much as I should. It’s somewhat difficult with my son, since he has autism and is very particular about what he likes and doesn’t like. But I really have no excuse for not reading to my daughter, since she’s young enough that she doesn’t care what I read. She just likes all books.

I suppose I could write about my recent thoughts about going back to school someday. As I mentioned earlier, I love history, and not just in a “history buff” sense, but rather in a “I want to spend my life in a dusty, dark archive doing research” sense. When I first went to college, it was with the intention of someday getting a Ph.D in history. However, as time went on, that just became less and less feasible. But it’s an idea that I haven’t completely given up on yet. I want to specialize in world history, since that’s the field I’m most interested in, but programs that offer that specialization are fairly rare. I’ve also thought about getting a master’s in library science. I love libraries, so that seems like it would be a good fit too. But that’s a dream for several years from now, for various reasons.

Another possible topic would be for me to talk about what exactly world history is. I imagine that the average person would look at the term “world history” and assume that it meant “the history of the whole world”, but that’s not really what the term refers to. World history is more a way of looking at history from a larger perspective than that of the “nation-state”, which is the unit that historical analysis is traditionally based on. World history looks at various themes, like migration, disease, trade, and so forth, and examines how these things united (or separated) various areas of the world. Another type of world history compares two areas of the world (such as, say, China and Europe) and looks at how these two areas were similar and different during a given period of time. No matter how one looks at it, world history is a very expansive and wide-ranging field of history.

Well, this has been a long and rambling essay, but at the very least I have some ideas for future blog post topics. Hopefully next week I can come up with something a little more cohesive.

I Am Old

Most of the time, I go about my daily routine and don’t really think about it too deeply. But there are times when the reality of my situation hits me like a ton of bricks, and that reality is that I’m not a teenager anymore. I know, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it? But I have a wife and two kids and a mortgage, and all of that is pretty good evidence that I am not, in fact, a teenager. Not only that, but the magic of the interwebs has allowed me to recently reconnect with some people who I haven’t seen since high school, and shockingly, they aren’t teenagers any more either! What is this world coming to?

Okay so, I haven’t been a teenager for almost 11 years now (if you assume that one becomes an adult at the age of 18), so it really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to me that my teenage days have come and gone. And for the most part, I’ve accepted the fact that I am now a full-fledged adult. But there are times when I sit and reflect and… holy crap I’m really not a teenager anymore. Wow.

Recent events helped this fact to hit home for me. A few months ago, I filled in for my wife while she was on maternity leave. She teaches 8th grade, so her students are just entering their teen years. That was an eye-opening experience on many levels, but one thing that particularly struck me was that when I was their age, they weren’t even born yet. How is that for making a person feel old?

There were a couple of interesting factors at play in this situation. First of all, I’m a pretty socially awkward person. So I didn’t exactly connect very well with other teenagers even when I was a teenager. Because of this, I didn’t really figure that I would connect with teenagers very well as a 28-year-old. And for the most part, I was right. On the other hand, I’m not one of those people that romanticizes the things that I was into as a teenager, like music. I still like the music I listened to as a teenager, but I also make sure that I’m keeping up with what’s going on in current day music as well. So I figured that I would have heard of most, if not all, of the things they were into. But they managed to surprise me, at least a little bit.

In regards to music, it wasn’t so much that they listened to anything that I hadn’t heard of, but rather that their musical tastes were different than I expected. Oddly, this is one area of my subbing experience that made me feel less old, because I kind of expected that, in this day and age of easy accessibility to almost any music one could imagine via the internet, their musical tastes might be a little bit more eclectic than what was common when I was 14, but it seemed like they mostly just listened to popular stuff. In that regard, nothing had changed since I was in junior high. But other things certainly have.

See, when I was 14, the internet probably existed, but I had certainly never heard of it. I didn’t start using the internet until I was a sophomore in high school, and then it was on a painfully slow connection in the school library. My friends and I didn’t use the internet to communicate with each other, even in high school. But these kids, they don’t know a time when there wasn’t an internet. And they know about all these crazy websites and do things with the internet that never would have occurred to me to do. And I’m not exactly internet illiterate. I would spend 24 hours a day on the internet if I didn’t have to sleep and take care of my kids and spend time with my wife and whatnot. So that makes me feel old.

The crazy thing about this whole topic is that I am not, of course, old. I turn 29 in a couple weeks. That’s really not very old. And I’m sure that in twenty years, when I’m almost 50, I’ll look back at this blog post and think “what the heck was I even blathering on about back then?” The thing is, my teen years seemed like they crawled along. I was so anxious to get out of school and get started on “real life.” And then I graduated from high school, and time has utterly flown by since then. It’s been almost 11 years since I graduated and I still sometimes get that “waiting for life to start” feeling. And then I realize that I have a wife and two kids and a bachelor’s degree! Life has started! I’ve already lived a whole bunch of it!

My biggest fear in this regard is that I’m going to keep “waiting for life to start” and end up missing my children growing up. I’m so used to waiting for and being excited for “the next big thing” that I have a hard time just living in the moment and enjoying life as it is. My son is already 4 years old. Those 4 years have slipped by quite quickly, and sometimes I feel like I wasted that time because I was so focused on what was going to happen next. I want to slow down time and enjoy my children while they are young. It’s difficult though. I’ve really been trying harder to focus on the present with my daughter and not miss out on so much. But she’s already 6 months old, and it feels like she was born just a couple of days ago. So I guess time flies whether you want it to or not. Next thing I know they’re going to be all grown up and having children of their own. And then, I will REALLY feel old.

Postscript: The day after I wrote the first draft of this post, I went to the school to pick up my son, and I was told by two of the students in my wife’s class that I’m old. I thought that was appropriate, considering the topic of this post. I just console myself with the fact that, someday, those kids will be old too.