All Parents are Terrible

Parents are terrible. You know this incontrovertible fact if you’ve ever read any published memoir about growing up. There’s one universal theme to all of them: the parents should be arrested and the key thrown away for the cruelty they inflicted on their progeny, the writer. If you were a space alien and the only thing you knew about the parenting practices of earthlings was what you read in books like The Glass Castle and Running With Scissors, you’d be justifiably horrified and immediately set about liberating the youth of the world through abduction (wait a minute, you don’t think…?). In fact, for a lot of coming-of-age memoirs, that literally is what the book is about: all-time, world class, terrible parenting. It’s the very best revenge anyone ever devised against all the therapy they had to shell out for later: immortalizing the parental misdeeds in print.

I suppose there’s a universality to that experience, and it certainly makes for good copy, but it’s pretty far from my own experience and, at the very least, the experiences of most people who belong to the same Church I do* (aka the culture I’m most familiar with). I tend to think there are more decent parents out there than bad, and I’ll hold up my own as a good, if imperfect, example.

*I say this having conducted no studies and done no polls, so I’m speaking mostly from experience and observation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church teachings provide a solid foundation for highly functional families. Any parents who draw from that deep, deep well are bound to get it more right than wrong.

Which brings up a good question: If I’ve written an entire book (tentative title: The Other Side of Fear) about my own growing up and my parents are a big part of it, how is the story I’m telling in any way interesting or exciting?

I guess it’s not. Save for a handful of chapters, my parents and I largely get along.

So, boring book.

I’m being a little facetious. Once you throw in the shootings, the murder, the bullies, the helicopters circling our house at 1am, the flooded city, the thief my dad runs down, the missionary tales, and everything else, you don’t really need to ladle bad parenting on top to have an interesting and exciting story. But bad parenting? No, that’s not really one of the ingredients I’m cooking with. My story is about growing up through through difficult things with good parents.

People clamor for good, clean, positive stories, but they flock to conflict and the controversial. These types of stories are not mutually exclusive, but they can be difficult to bring together, depending on the market and the audience, and, most importantly, the writer. Those who traffic in positivity can be afraid to let the real world in for fear they’re not being positive or uplifting enough. Their stories, consequently, can be, yeah, super boring. Meanwhile, those who focus mostly on conflict and controversy can easily choke out anything positive, or simply dismiss such notions altogether for fear of “watering down” or because their worldview doesn’t allow for it in the first place. I’m talking extremes here. The pendulum doesn’t only swing one way or the other, but I would argue that the mainstream creative world encourages a more cynical form of storytelling than not, and for good reason: it sells. At least, that’s the current thinking.

And I think it’s that kind of thinking that leads mainstream publishing towards bad parenting and cynical, isn’t-life-horrible? narratives, and away from any kind of positive, uplifting, religious narrative, even when done in a way that’s inclusive (another topic for another time).

I am not a fan of extreme positivity or extreme cynicism. Speaking of religion, I think good stories are like a religious life well-lived: accepting of the reality of the actual world we occupy while acknowledging the hope and reality that is above this world. It’s only when you combine the two things together that you get a story that is truly true and resonates and moves and uplifts and entertains and enlightens and encourages. You get your conflict and your controversy, and you slam it up against hope and positivity, and you end up with something that is dynamic. That isn’t so one-note and serves a defensible purpose.

My parents are both very human in the telling. They have flaws and foibles and quirks and maybe do not-so-great things because they are not perfect, godly beings. But, if I’ve done my job correctly, it all makes them more endearing than anything. There to prove them real and relatable, not to take them down. I can’t present them as real people if I only speak of them positively. And being real is the only way to get at the truth.

***

In other news…I’ve done a lot of the homework publisher Cedar Fort assigned me to get the book ready for publication. Writing my bio, submitting my author photo, etc. One of the big tasks that will take months to complete is reaching out to people for “endorsements.” These are the blurbs you read on the backs of books from people with some reputation whose praise you can trust. It’s a huge favor to ask someone of influence to read your book and appraise it, so I was a bit nervous to go out and ask. I hate asking for favors.

But, I’ve already gotten three “Yes” responses back! I can’t wait to share with you who they are (they’re very, very cool), but that feels premature right now and there’s always the chance they could read the manuscript, not like it, decline to offer their endorsement, and ask for monetary compensation for time wasted (wait…that’s not a thing, right?). But still, they’re willing to take a shot. Which is awesome.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

 

A Brief History of Mother’s Day Drawings – 2020 Edition

There’s only one compulsory gift I give to my wife, and this is it. Thankfully, I only have to do it every 3-4 years, on Mother’s Day.

I don’t know why she likes it so much. If I was married to me, I’d be sick of my art by now, but so long as she continues to love these “couch drawings,” I’ll continue to do them.

If she had her way, I’d do one every year, but the trick for me is to wait long enough that we have gone through some significant changes and I can represent that change in some way through the drawing. Otherwise, what’s the point?

What follows is a brief history of Mother’s Day drawings, going all the way back to 2007, and concluding with this year’s latest.

For the curious, though the drawings have changed, the method for creating them has remained the same: a rough pencil drawing turned into a more fleshed out pencil drawing, followed by an ink drawing done using a lightbox on smooth Bristol board. I use Microns: 005, 01, 05, 08, and 1. That ink drawing is then scanned in, brought into Photoshop, cleaned up, and colored in three layers: flats, shadows, and highlights. I’m not really much of a colorist, really. I have one method and I stick to it.

* * *

2007:

MothersDay2007

Full disclosure: this drawing makes me cringe. Literally, the only thing I think I pulled off well was my own face. Everything else is garbage. My opinion.

Subsequent Mother’s Day drawings would stick to a “sitting on the couch” theme (my wife calls them “couch drawings”), but with this first one I didn’t have anything like that in mind. I just wanted to do a drawing of my family and I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to say something.

2007 was a rough, rough year for my little family. Cami, our youngest, was just 2-years-old. Very shortly after she was born in 2005, we discovered she had some severe physical and mental disabilities that, honestly, still do not feel totally real.

In 2007, Erin, my wife, was not okay. It would be another three years before she could totally accept Cami’s differences and in the meantime she filled her days with doctor visits, physical therapy sessions, trips to specialists in San Francisco, battles with the school district, and just trying to remain positive and healthy in the face of the realization of her greatest fear. We just wanted to know what was wrong with Cami. We wanted a diagnosis because the limbo of not knowing is a true, ugly, tear-filled Hell. We never got that diagnosis, and it took a long time to come to terms with that. This drawing was made when we were still in the thick of the pain.

I drew us happy and smiling. I drew Erin and I protecting and encircling our two girls. Our world was small at the time, and intentionally so. The more we kept to ourselves and away from the reminders of how different and disabled Cami was (i.e. all other typical children and their parents), the happier we were.

Cami did this thing back then where if you asked her how big she was, she’d raise her arms up high. Elora, our oldest, was an adorable, typical four-year-old with one killer dimple. Erin, apparently, had anime eyes. I had a big, floppy wave of hair. A lot of that would change.

2011:

MothersDay2011

This is a bit more like it. The first “couch drawing” came just after we had finally become the family we were supposed to be as Violet’s arrival that year opened up the world in a way we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the family and Erin’s attentions weren’t all about Cami anymore. This was needed. The hyper focus on Cami and her needs left little opportunity for Erin to actually be a mother like she wanted to be. Violet, a bright, sparkly breath of fresh air, gave Erin a chance to step back from Cami and get reconnected to her as a mom and not just as her doctor or therapist or teacher or lawyer or any other of the thousands of roles she was asked to play for Cami’s sake.

I decided to depict both Erin and Cami, 6,  as extremely happy. Cami had just gotten her haircut and donated her hair to charity, so she had this crazy cute short cut. In her hand is a duck toy she played with constantly… whose name I can’t remember now. Cami is a champion fidgeter and always needs something to whip back or forth or she’s just not happy.

Erin is holding Violet, 3 mo., who was basically a lump of smiley humanity at that point. She didn’t give me much to work with. I generally try to depict us in the actual clothes we wore at the time, but for some reason I chose to have Erin wear the shoes she was wearing when I first met her back in 1998. Somehow, I still remembered what they looked like.

Elora, 8, was big into peace signs at the time, and a fashion style we not-so-lovingly referred to as “hobo chic”. The child had nice clothes, but she refused to wear them in nice combinations. Since I was the artist, I chose to put her in the most fashionable outfit she had, but it certainly wasn’t how she always looked. Now, I kind of wish I had given her something a little more accurate and ratty.

As for me, I look way cooler than I actually did at the time. The frayed pants and sweet shoes are very true to the too-long pants and wife-selected shoes I wore at the time, but I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. I generally hate all my clothes about two seconds after buying them. So, in this drawing I’m wearing a shirt I have never actually owned. But I thought it would be cool if I did, so…

2014:

MothersDay2014

Everything was going so well that year. In the time between this and the previous drawing, I’d been promoted to Art Director at work, Erin had started doing work as an on camera talent at the same company, we bought a new house, Elora was elected as Student Body President, Cami found a place to call just her own at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, and Violet was Violet. And there’s no getting Violet down. Erin and I even got the chance to vacation in Europe, a first visit for both of us. It was an incredible time.

I let Elora, 11, choose her own outfit for the drawing. It’s hard to tell, but her shirt depicts a dog riding a surfboard. It was her favorite. I have no idea why. She was also really into fluffy skirts and tutus at the time.

Cami, 9, experienced a serious growth spurt since the last drawing, and now her fidget toy of choice was a little Brobee (from Yo Gabba Gabba) doll. Her shirt shows off her newfound love of horses after her first year as a regular rider at Heart of the Horse.

I don’t know why I never thought to put our pets into the drawing before now, but I went for it this year. Oz, our dog on the couch, will never stop licking. He’s gross. On the floor, Batman the dog chases King George the cat–a daily occurrence.

Erin is wearing my favorite t-shirt of hers and a necklace with the first letter of each of our kids’ names on it. The necklace is tiny, but if you zoom in you can actually see it. Even though she was working part-time for the first time since Elora was born, she’d really come into her own as a mom and the pains and trials of yesteryear had developed into a strength. She’s an amazing woman.

Once again, save for the pants and shoes, I’m not actually wearing what I wore at the time. Also, I lost a lot of hair between the last drawing and this one, so I pushed my hairline back a bit and shortened it. I’ve also got a bit more going on in the chin–as in, I’m doubling it up a bit. Just a bit though.

Violet was a crazy person two years ago. Still is. She’s a spunky little thing and climbing around on the couch like a little gremlin absolutely fit her.

2016:

MothersDay2016

Hoo-boy. Shortly after the last drawing our world blew up. My wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other and this captures us as we were rebuilding our careers and trying to stay afloat financially. It was a struggle that continued long past when the drawing was completed, and even continues to one degree or another today.

This couch is crowded, and that’s even after having taken the dog down from off it from last time. I’ve drawn us more closely together, like we’re circling the wagons a little bit. We endure our challenges and trials together.

Elora, 13, was quite the poised young woman then, and I needed to find some way to represent that, so I gave her a regal pose. She was only an inch shorter than Erin in 2016, and I think you can pretty much tell that just from this drawing. Once again, she picked out her own outfit.

Cami, 11, I chose to keep largely the same, save for a little weight gain. Cami looks like she’s five or six years old. She’s a bit perpetually frozen in time. Her shirt reads “Team Happy” and that’s the effect Cami has on people, and certainly on us. The previous Fall, she donated her hair again, so she’s back to the short hair.

Our pets, after several accidents, were no longer allowed on the couch, so they’re all stuck on the floor. Oz is particularly saddened by this.

Erin has returned to school that year to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s our professional, so now she gets a dark, professional look (this drawing is darker overall, which I think fits with how beaten up we all feel at this point). At her feet is her book bag. Also, after having drawn it on the wrong side for the past two drawings, I finally got the part in her hair going the right way.

I’m dressed like an 8th Grade boy, which is accurate to how I dressed then as I fulfilled my role as a stay-at-home dad and worked on various projects. The hat I wear has the Tremendum Pictures logo on it, where I worked (mostly at home) at the time as a writer (among other things). My shirt is actually a real shirt, one of very few I enjoy wearing. I don’t really care that it says Batman, I just like the fit. My shoes, you’ll notice, are the same from last time. My wardrobe was deteriorating at time because of both my hate for clothes shopping and our financial challenges. Also, you can barely tell in the drawing, but my temples are now gray.

Violet, 5, was just OBSESSED with Star Wars that year, and particularly with Rey. The costume she’s wearing was real and she wore it all the time, and she had the light saber, too. Still does, in fact. Her enthusiasm was adorable. The Star Wars fever extended to Cami as well. They’re the only movies she would ask for and her new fidget toy is a little Stormtrooper.

2020:

MDay2020Smaller

It’s a good thing I drew this before the COVID-19 pandemic, otherwise we might all be wearing masks.

This is the drawing I gave Erin today. This is certainly the BUSIEST drawing I’ve ever done in this series. And for good reason. The last four years have been, hands down, the busiest time of our lives (which is weird to say on Day 57 of quarantine). We have been running far, far away from our lives before the job loss and into something much more rewarding, but also scary. It’s a scary time in more ways than one.

Right off the top, I know what you’re thinking: the color of the couch is different. Okay, so you probably didn’t notice, but we finally switched up our real life couch color, and this reflects that.

Elora is a 17 year old Senior now, class of COVID-19. She dyes her hair black as night these days, and her wardrobe has changed to match. Despite all that darkness, she’s actually a positive, acerbically witty, and athletic (Badminton) young woman who we are trying to convince to live with us as long as possible while she’s in college. Since no actual high school graduation looks to be in her future, she’ll have to settle with the cap I’ve given her here.

Cami, 15, is her usual cheery self. She has grown a bit in the last few years, and we’re not quite sure if she’s done. Now that she’s in high school, I’ve dressed her a little older and little more fashionable. Her see-saw between long hair and short hair continues, but truthfully the long hair is the most constant. Her fidget toy this time around is a silicon potholder, which has turned out to be the most durable and cheapest out of all such toys we’ve ever given her. So, she has a lot of them.

Erin did get that Master’s Degree and has been working as a college professor ever since, at one school or another. Her wardrobe is still professional, but it’s got a little bit more of a casual touch to it than last time, signaling how much comfortable she is with her profession and how much she’s settled in. She’s smarter now, too, with that fancy degree, so, glasses! Around her neck is special necklace with each of our names on one of the four sides. Not readable in this drawing, but she knows what it is. And her hair is now curly. Again, I think it’s reflective of her comfort level with herself and her new occupation; she feels free to play more. Erin is all about purses and shoes, and what you see here are her latest and most prized acquisitions.

I pretty much always dress in black these days because it’s slimming and dieting and I are enemies. My career has taken a much wilder path since 2016, doing a lot of my own things, creating and working in all kinds of media, now with Stellar Lense Productions for some of it, but also as a published author and writer and director of my own films. To reflect that autonomy, I wear no logos now. You’ll also notice I look just a little older as my baby face is finally starting to show some lines, and there’s not even a hint of hair anymore. Underneath that hat is nothing. Male pattern baldness for the win.

Violet is a 9 year old with style to spare, and she’s not afraid to show it. She is an incredibly sweet girl with so, so much energy, so it still didn’t feel right to have her sitting properly on the couch. Her best friend is our new dog, Baxter, who doesn’t understand boundaries.

Our other pets, amazingly, still live. Our little dogs are around a decade old. Oz pretty much lays around all day, but Batman still has the energy and youth of a puppy. I don’t understand it. King George, our cat, is striking his usual pose. He is 80% fur and doesn’t care what you think or do. The house is his.

* * *

I’m so grateful for my amazing wife and for this little family we’ve managed to create together. Giant, giant Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there! You do a great work.

I get asked all the time what I charge for “couch drawings.” They’re labor intensive and  not cheap. I rarely draw anymore, to be honest, so I have no prices for you! I just don’t do this kind of work anymore. Sorry.

CONTRACT SIGNED: The Other Side of Fear Will Be Published This Year

I don’t understand how 15 years of heartache can be over just like that. When I signed the contract this morning, it was so simple. Almost anti-climactic. 15 years and with a few strokes of the keyboard and a click of the mouse, it was done.

To be fair, I spent about 8 of those 15 years completely ignoring this little book I’d written and all the disappointments that came with it. But. But, that’s all behind me now. Because Bullets and M&M’s aka Raised by a Dead Man aka A Suspicious Peace aka THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR* will be finally be released this year by Cedar Fort Publishing.

“But Brock,” I hear you thinking (I have superpowers). “You’ve already had a book published, and don’t you have a graphic novel coming out in July?

First of all, thank you for paying such close attention. That’s really flattering. Second, yes, this is not my first go-round with publishing, but this book is different. This book is my baby.

This book is the reason I started writing in the first place.

I can remember it distinctly: I was 28 years old, I’d just vomited a series of blogs about my dad, and I got the clear impression: write the book. I had never written a book before. Never written anything close to that length, but I knew I was supposed to do it anyway. Write my father’s story; make sure he is remembered and get it published. I was so clear about my mandate and never doubted the book’s publication despite the fact I was a first-time author and literally teaching myself how to write properly over the next 5 years it took to craft the tale. I was naive, but driven.

So, after that effort crashed and burned, I was left confused and a little aimless, but mostly confused. Why would I be inspired to write a book no one would ever see? “For your kids!” my kind friends would tell me. “They have no money!” I would shout back.

I’m kidding. If anything has changed between 2012 and now, it’s that I don’t really care about the money (shh. don’t tell the publisher), I just want to get the story out there for the same reason I felt compelled to write it in the first place:

I think it can help people. It has helped people already.

Cedar Fort is a fantastic publisher that’s been around for over 30 years. They are a big player in the Latter-Day Saint market, putting out around 150 books a year. Among them, they’ve put out memoir titles like More Than the Tattooed Mormon, Left Standing, and We Are All Paralyzed. They also have made great strides in mainstream publishing, even expanding their reach into multimedia to include movies, music, audiobooks, etc. Could we see The Other Side of Fear turned into an audiobook? It’s possible!

This is a big swing from my original ambition. Originally, I sought mainstream publication and acceptance of the book because I really, genuinely thought a good story well written is a good story well written, no matter where it comes from. But that’s not really how publishing works. They need to market, first and foremost, and there’s no place in the mainstream publishing world for a spiritual coming-of-age memoir with good parenting that doesn’t end with the author turning their back on their religion. There just isn’t. A hard lesson well learned.

If I had to guess, I’d say I had to wait this long to sign with Cedar Fort to shake my personal tree of knowledge properly and appreciate and be worthy of the market that’s been under my nose the entire time. There’s some amazing work being done in the faith world, and Cedar Fort publishes some of the best of it.

It’s a real full circle moment. I’ve got a connection to Cedar Fort I don’t think they’re even aware of. The first book they ever published was a collection of near death experiences called Beyond the Veil by Lee Nelson. My dad collected books like that, and my mom read that one as well. In fact, Mom was so inspired by the book she wrote Lee Nelson a letter all about my father’s 1989 shooting and how he would have died that night but for divine intervention.

Lee Nelson was so taken with my mom’s letter he asked for her permission to print it in the second volume of the series. And, lo and behold, there’s my mom in Beyond the Veil, Vol. 2, telling the story of my dad’s shooting 30 years before Cedar Fort publishes my version.

There’s so much to do next. Getting the right title and the right cover art designed is way up there on the list. Those two things alone can make or break a publication. There’s also more revisions to do on the manuscript now that Cedar Fort’s editors will have a crack at it (thankfully, I actually enjoy rewriting). Marketing plans will be crafted, a website will be updated/designed, and endorsements will be sought.

All of that is ahead. To those of you who took the time to read the chapters and offer your insight and stories of how it impacted you before I took it down off the web, I thank you. You’re a big part of why I had the confidence to risk putting this book out there…one more time. And here we are!

*It’s possible I’ll need to add another “aka” as Cedar Fort reserves the right to change the title yet again to something more palatable to the market. I’m certainly pulling for The Other Side of Fear, but if I’ve learned anything over the past 15 years it’s this: I know nothing. 

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

What I’m Listening to #intimeslikethese

I swear if I see one more commercial that starts with some somber woman intoning the words “In difficult times like these…” I think I might pop. This is a time in which we are all seeking comfort, but I don’t look for or need it from a Subaru advertisement. God help me if I ever do.

Where I actually find a lot of solace is in things like prayer and family. And music. Music is big for me. I have no actual talent in the creation or performance of music whatsoever, so the listening of it is something I do purely for pleasure, not for examination or study.

I recently came to the conclusion that the song No Hard Feelings by The Avett Brothers (see below to listen) is perhaps the most beautiful song released in the last couple decades or so. (Argue with me if you want, but that just means you haven’t heard it.)  It’s a song that didn’t strike me immediately on first listen, but my appreciation of it has grown and grown over the years. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the lyrical content, which (to me) is about the relief waiting for us in the next life when old hurts and regrets are wiped away and we are reunited with our loved ones and our Savior, with whom we will “shake hands laughing.” It’s just gorgeous.

My cousin Carly added the song to her “Being Held” playlist, the idea of which I quite like. There is a need to reach beyond this virus and all the turmoil it’s causing in our hearts and in our streets and in our hospitals. I think we’d all like to “be held” right now. And, as a person of faith, I’d like God to do the holding. Metaphorically speaking, I believe He is, and a playlist that reminds me He is there and always present is a good thing.

So, here’s my “Being Held” playlist. All of these songs are either about God or make me think of Him. They may not have been intended as such, but that’s what they are to me. And, when it comes to music, I think what it means to me is the most important thing.

Maybe you’ll find a few gems in here that will help you, too.

(Note: If you build this for yourself, I recommend not hitting shuffle. I sequenced this sucker!)

  1. Slow Your Breath Down – Future of Forestry. A good reminder, especially #intimeslikethese.

2. No Hard Feelings – The Avett Brothers. Chills every time it reaches the climax.

3. This Road – Jars of Clay. You’re gonna see a lot of Jars of Clay on this list. This song is like a warm blanket.

4. Before You Were Young – Travis. Not hard to imagine who is singing this song.

5. Open Arms – Elbow. Makes me tear up. This is what I want God to say when I return home.

6. Hymn – Jars of Clay. “So melt my pride that I may in your house but live…”

7. Division – Moby. No lyrics, just a vibe.

8. Help Me – Johnny Cash. This is speaking to God from a desperate place. A prayer given by a man at the end of his life who has said a lot of them.

9. I Don’t Mind – Phantom Planet. Whatever the Lord needs to inflict upon me, I’ll take it because I know it’s worth it. I don’t mind.

10. Oh My God – Jars of Clay. Now, in almost every instance I view exclaiming “Oh my God” as using the Lord’s name in vain. This is Jars of Clay crafting an entire song around the idea that there actually is a circumstance in which using that phrase is appropriate. What they come up with is absolutely devastating. This lays me flat every time, and it’s in my personal Top 3 favorite songs.

11. I’ve Been High – R.E.M. This always, always lifts me up.

12. Let Your Heart Hold Fast – Fort Atlantic. “For this soon shall pass like the high tide takes the sand…”

13. Morning Light – The Hunts. This song, sadly, is not available on YouTube, and is even difficult to find commercially. It’s worth tracking down though, believe me. A sweet song about turning the “darkest night into the morning light.” (A huge theme in a lot of my writing.)

14. Worlds Apart (Live) – Jars of Clay. A plea to God to “take my world apart,” which is a good thing to do when your world is bad. (Find the live version off their “Furthermore” album, if you can.)

15. Outro – M83. I think it’s a synth, but I wish the organs in our churches sound like this.

16. Bathed in Sunlight – Fort Atlantic. Wouldn’t we all like to be? Even I, who prefers dark rooms to the outdoors, want that sunlight.

17. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Jars of Clay. Probably my favorite hymn, and this is the best rendition of it.

18. Til Kingdom Come – Coldplay. Coldplay actually did a straight up, no-holds-barred Christian song, and I feel like people forgot about it. More overt than anything U2 ever put out.

19. On the Nature of Daylight – Max Richter. No lyrics, but the feeling this song evokes is extraordinary. I find myself thinking in cycles, life and death, that sort of thing. I think about God.

That’s it, those are the songs I’m drawing the most comfort from right now. Anything you would add to it? What are you listening to that’s bringing you to a better place?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay