Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Scattering of Letters

I have fallen way behind on my writing.  It has been…busy…for the last couple of weeks.  I don’t mean to make this sound like I’m complaining; I’m not.  Most of what has kept me running around the past several days have been very good things.

Last weekend I got to see the brother-I-should-have-had by means of a happy accident.  It was fun to spend some time with him, see a movie, and hang out for a (late) evening.  The remainder of the weekend was pretty mellow, and I got to spend a lot of time around my wife and children.

I had another close friend come to visit early this week, and he brought with him another person whom is always lovely, lovely company.  We went to the zoo for an afternoon excursion, and over the course of the visit there was lots of food, lots of beer, and lots of conversation.

Summer school is going well.  By the time this has been posted, I will have completed the entire first semester with my students.  I can say that it seems all of my students will pass and be able to move on in their coursework in the fall. I was told how difficult it wold be, that these students were the “bottom of the barrel,” as one colleague put it to me.  This is what I have learned about expectations: don’t invest too much in to them, because when God is around (and when is He not?), things tend to not turn out exactly as we thought they might.  It has been difficult at times, certainly, but in three weeks my students will have read eight short stories, two novels, written twelve paragraph’s worth of constructed response essays, finished two papers (both of which went through three drafts, minimum requirement), learned what plot, conflict, theme, motif, tone, exposition, climax, catharsis, simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, and onomatopoeia are, and will have done it all sufficiently enough to pass with mostly Bs and a few As. Bottom of the barrel my ass.

My son and daughter are growing more and more each day.  My son is exceedingly sweet and laid back, and I love him dearly.  My daughter is talking enough now that we are able to have little conversations about things, and she is growing up to be heart-achingly beautiful.  A few nights ago I was sitting on the couch having an aimless conversation with my wife while my son slept heavily in my arms and my daughter laid sprawled out across my lap.  I had a moment in which I became aware of Atticus’s sleep noises and Clara’s shallow, steady breathing, and I felt absolutely enfolded in miracles.  I sat there and soaked it up, blanketed in Life.

This weekend I have a much needed opportunity to get out of town for a while.  Next week I hope to write a bit about my trip, so after today’s brief work I intend to offer more in the future. In the meantime, I will leave with this thought:

Advertisements

No More Goodbyes

I have always had a difficult time saying goodbye.

When I was very young, I would cry whenever relatives or friends came to visit and it was time for them to leave, or vice versa.  My mom told me that once, when we  went to visit my grandmother in Virginia, I began acting very stubborn and irritable while my dad was packing the car.  I couldn’t have been any older than four or five.  My mom couldn’t figure out why I was behaving so poorly.  Finally, she asked me if I was upset that we were leaving.  I immediately burst into tears and cried all the way to the car, all the way through goodbye hugs and kisses, and all the way out of my grandmother’s driveway and down the street.  I even remember sitting in the very back of my mom’s red Chevy Cavalier station wagon, waving at my grandmother through the rear window, sobbing the entire time.

This did not change much as I got older.

Once, while we were living in southern Alabama, we moved out of one house and into another on the other side of town.  I was in third grade, and I went to school right across the street, so I walked to school every day.  I had made several friends in the neighborhood, and I remember feeling very depressed for the first time in my life as I contemplated giving up what I believed was an ideal situation.

Later, at the end of my freshman year of high school, we had to move away from that town, three hours northward to Birmingham.  That one was a long, painful, drawn-out goodbye.  My mom took a new job, and after putting her through management training the company relocated her.  In January of that year I had to pack up my bedroom in what is to this day my most favorite house I have ever lived in.  In late February of that year I had to move in with my grandparents so that I could finish out the school year while my mom went ahead of my sisters and me to begin her new job.  It was a long, sad, and very dark year for me.  I felt angry, vindictive, and spiteful.  I did whatever I could to rebel and be selfish.  Now, I believe that if someone had asked me if I was just upset that I was leaving, I may have begun weeping and cried until the day my mom came to pick me up to take me to Birmingham.

Fortunately, I settled in to my new environment pretty quickly.  I made several friends at my new school, and in 2001 I successfully graduated from Hoover High School. This brought about more change, and with it, more decision making.  I lived in Birmingham for four years, and after working full-time for a year, I made a college decision: I would move to Springfield, Missouri, and attend Evangel University.  This decision, however, necessitated that I once again engage in a long, painful, sometimes destructive, series of farewells.  The most difficult one to date was telling my mother goodbye.  She decided to work on the day I left for college, so I drove up to her store with my Honda Civic loaded to the seams.  We stood outside in the parking lot as she cried and told me how proud she was of me and how much she would miss me.  If you’ve ever made your mother cry, you know that this is, by far, one of the most terrible experiences one can endure.

Once again, I settled famously into my new city.  Even though Evangel did not pan out for me in the long term, I made several friends there, most of whom I am still very close with.  I even met the guy who is still my best buddy, friend, and brother-I-should-have-had. The summer after Evangel I met my wife. I would say that, in this case, “goodbye” lead to many more “hellos.”

College is a weird time. I went through some strange (and in retrospect, often comical) personality shifts.  Through them all, though, I had my girlfriend/fiance/wife and my three best friends. Besides those four, there were many, many more close and dear acquaintances, as well as several frequently-around friends.  For a while, everything was stable and solid.  During that time I had more fun and experienced more joy than I thought life was capable of producing (until I had children…).

Then, inevitably, the next round of goodbyes began.

First, one friend moved home to Kansas City.  Another left to join Peace Corps in Africa. One went to attend graduate school in Scotland.

The year before I got married, my three best friends decided to move to Kansas City so they could pursue a more prolific career with their band.  These were the guys with whom I had truly grown up (whatever that means).  We lived together for three years.  We shared many, many meals together.  We spent countless evenings, year-round, smoking cigarettes on the front porch.  We lived in a state of perpetual “hanging out’ as we came and went from jobs and classes. We stayed up too late.  We drank too much.  We laughed and yelled and wrestled and watched movies and read books and played video games together.  And now, they were leaving.

This is one of my most favorite photos.

The goodbyes continued as my wife and I had to leave Springfield and move to Columbia.  We began to build a family and become connected when, once again, we had to move.  Farewell.  Goodbye.  See you around.  Stay in touch.

I really hate saying “goodbye.”

It seems that it will continue.  Even though my former roommates moved to KC, it would seem they can still get further away.  In a few short weeks the brother-I-should-have-had is moving to another state, as he has finished graduate school, found a fantastic girl who is, amazingly, willing to marry him, and he wishes to be closer to his family. All of this is fantastic, blessed news.

Why does it still make me so sad?

I suppose though, that this will not be the last.  Eventually I will have to make a decision about whether or not to continue to raise my family in St. Louis or to move to another city or state.  Eventually we will become older, and eventually we will begin saying farewell to those going home.  One day we will have to say “farewell to shadow lands,” and leave behind, for a time, those we love and who love us.

I guess, in the end, it is in the “for a time” part in which I must take comfort.  Even though goodbye is sad and scary and difficult, I believe that one day we will all end up calling the same place “home.”  In fact, whether or not we know it, it is already where we belong. We are merely waiting.

Life is wonderful and beautiful and blessed, because each day is a day that the Lord has made.  I love my life right now, and I am overwhelmed by the caliber of friends and family with whom I have been blessed.  I guess that is why saying farewell is so difficult for me; I dearly love and appreciate everyone who is and has been a part of my life.  Every memory and experience is a treasure.  This life is full of amazing wonder if we are willing to receive what God is willing to give and has already given.

This life is good; I wonder what the next one is like.

I look forward to no more goodbyes.


Everybody Needs a Villain

Today’s  post comes inspired by my friend Cody’s review of the Green Lantern movie.  Before reading the rest of my post, go check it out on Popgun Chao$!

This post got me thinking about what makes a good villain.  When I read a good book, see an awesome movie, play a fantastic video game, or read a great comic book, they typically always have one thing in common:

A villain you can believe in.

So, today on [Poor Scribbler], I would like to give you a list of my favorite antagonists of all time, and a brief explanation of why each makes the list, in my opinion.

1. Ansem, from Squaresoft’s Kingdom Hearts

This guy is a great villain for a few reasons.  One, he is definitely a “means justify the ends” kind of guy.  To him, the drowning of worlds in darkness is acceptable so long as it bestows upon him god-like power.  Two, he ruined the Hundred-Acre Wood.  I have never wanted to defeat a bad guy so…badly.

2. Princess Azula, from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender

This girl is just mean.  She will do anything as long as it brings suffering upon another being, especially against her own brother (one of the greatest heroes of all time, in my opinion).  In the end, her malice is so strong that it drives her insane.  Oh, and she’s wicked powerful.

3. Commodus, from the film Gladiator

Without a doubt, Joaquin Phoenix was a prime attraction in this movie.  I have never, ever wanted so much for a baddie to get his. He killed his own father, then had an innocent man sentenced to death and his family executed. He’s also the biggest coward on the list.

4. Fernand Mondego, from the film version of The Count of Monte Cristo

I put this guy on the list because he betrayed his own best friend to prison so that he could both a) take a position of employment that was rightfully his friend’s (even thought he didn’t need it), and b) move in on and marry said friend’s fiancé.

5. Caleb, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7

This guy was the villain in the final, and by far best, season of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  He derived super-human strength from the original source of evil, he does something horrible to one of the Scoobies, and he is as sadistic as they come.

6. Doomsday, from The Death and Life of Superman

This guy is destruction incarnate, and he actually killed…that’s right…killed…Superman back in 1994.  I’ll never forget it.  The New York Times ran it as a front-page story, as if a correspondent had actually been on the scene.  It’s okay, though; it lead to the most glorious moment in comic book history: the miraculous resurrection of the Last Son of Krypton.

7. The Dark Lord Voldemort, from The Harry Potter series

In my opinion, this is the greatest villain of all time.  First, there is a reason he is the villain.  He has an elaborate harrowing, and complex backstory.  He represents death itself, which is ironic, because his ultimate quest is to gain eternal life.  In order to do so, he commits so great an act of abomination against nature that he is doomed to live a cursed, half-life, and must go on killing in order to sustain himself.  Beyond that, he is deceitful, prideful, and above all, deadly.  By the end of the series he has inflicted such a great amount of pain, despair, suffering, and darkness upon the protagonists that you feel as if you are emotionally obligated to stand with Harry until the very end.  He was one of my favorite villains as it stood after I read the books; when Ralph Fiennes donned the persona, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. The struggle between Voldemort and Harry is so violent and enthralling that I almost hated to make it to the climax of the book.  In the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has one of the most flawless climaxes I have ever had the privilege of reading.  I love hating Voldemort almost as much as I love supporting Harry.  Needless to say, I will probably see the final film multiple times.

I think I wrote this post mostly for myself. I love discussing villains as much as, if not more than, discussing heroes.  But not as much as I love my anti-heroes…I’ll save that one for another day.

In the mean time, please enjoy this song from This Will Destroy You.  As always, thanks for reading.


An Open Letter to a Girl Still Waiting on Her Father

This was difficult to write, because it concerns one of the worst things about being a teacher. I wrote it as an admission of guilt and as a way of working it out so that, hopefully, I will know better what to do.

I have a good friend who once told me that when writing poetry, focus on words, not meaning; put the words on paper and meaning will come. I thought about this, and realized it was great advice. When I am going through something and still trying to make sense of it, I often times make sense of it as I talk it out with someone. Lately, I have found that this is true for writing as well. I can have merely an image or some unexpected phrase float into my mind, and when I don’t worry about what it means or where I am going with it, and let it take shape as I write, typically I discover gems I didn’t know were waiting to be uncovered.

So, here it is. Feel free to comment below, and please enjoy.

***

An Open Letter to the Girl Still Waiting on Her Father

As I walked out of the building today,
talking with a colleague of mine
and shrinking in the furnace of afternoon

I walked past you,
briefly breaking out of my conversation long enough to tell you,
“Goodbye, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Your face and your eyes were red (I saw, even though you hid your face),
and at first I told myself it was just the heat;
after all, waiting outside so long on a day like this will do that.

I knew, of course, there was more than this,
and realized it was me who should turn around,
to ask if you were okay,

especially after this morning, what you wrote during class
about spending the weekend at your father’s girlfriend’s house
where he (not you) would probably be moving soon,

and about how he had been working nights lately,
which is why you preferred to stay with your mom and her boyfriend,
even though she takes you to your father’s girlfriend’s,

but I continued on toward my car, checking my phone,
stepping hastily onto the sun-soaked asphalt
and convincing myself there was nothing I could do.

I suppose you got the best of me when I started the engine
and the air-conditioning roared to life;
I thought about how I had nowhere in particular to be
and there was nowhere in particular for you.

I pulled the car up to the bench by the front doors of the school
where you waited, still crying and giving in to helplessness
as the “sun” continued to color your face.

I finally asked if there was anything you needed
or if someone was coming for you.

You gave an uncertain reply,
which told more than you meant,
Even while maintaining better composure than any other freshman girl.

I told you to use my phone and check on your ride,
And stood back as you dialed, waited, got the machine;
I heard you get upset and plead with no one.

I wanted to comfort you,
so I pointed out the other people still hanging around, willingly, after-hours,
informed you that the office was probably still open, if you needed to call again.

I then drove away convincing myself it was all I could do
and that late was better than never.

Michael Hylton, 2011 St. Louis, Missouri


Two Weeks In

Two weeks ago I witnessed my second child coming into the world. It was as beautiful and frightening the second time as it was the first. Today, I would like to dedicate some time to reflecting on what it is like now that I am a father of two.

When my wife and I found out we were expecting our daughter, Clara, we had just moved to Columbia, Missouri so that I could attend grad school at Mizzou. Because of our income and health insurance circumstances, I had to move to our new town early in June, and Kara had to stay in Springfield, Missouri to continue working full time until my salary kicked in sometime during the fall. It was a really difficult summer, and Kara was coming to Columbia to spend every-other weekend with me, making the three-hour one-way drive multiple times throughout the summer. On the day we actually learned that Clara was coming, it was a Sunday morning, early, and I was online purchasing Dark Knight tickets, as Kara and I planned to attend an afternoon showing immediately after church. Kara told me that she had been feeling poorly all summer, that she couldn’t seem to get enough sleep, and that even though she had been nauseous she was voraciously hungry. Snarkily I suggested that she take a pregnancy test, which I thought was really cute and funny. I guess she took my suggestion to heart; a few moments later I heard a shriek come from the bathroom, and my life got a little more exciting.

As Clara was coming along, I remember freaking out over every tiny thing. Every time Kara got uncomfortable, I just knew that preterm labor was imminent. We bought a play yard six months before Clara was supposed to arrive. We registered for everything in the store when we did our baby registry.

Then, Clara came along, and everything I thought I knew about being prepared changed on that day.

Suddenly, I could hear God speaking to me through every little thing I experienced. He was in the stillness of our house as my wife and daughter napped. He was sitting in my office with me while I read research journals and slowly constructed a thesis paper. He was in every bite of food, every song, and every walk. Having a tiny little life for which I was entirely responsible humbled me to the core; I knew there was nothing I could do without God’s assistance.

Fast-forward eighteen months.

Many things happened during that time. I was laid off from one job, and quickly had to locate another. We had to move to yet another new city, our third in two years. Once I found the new job, my wife and I had to decide whether or not she would return to work or stay home with our daughter for a little while. Eventually we decided to make it work with Kara staying home, which raised the challenges of living on only one income.

Eventually things settled down. We developed a routine with our daughter, and she began to walk, talk, eat on her own, play with other kids, and sing. We decided that Kara should return to work the following year, and in due time she found a job that payed well and was (more or less) in my wife’s field.

I spent the summer off, and I enjoyed the many, many blessings that God bestowed upon us. As school started up in the fall we were able to get ahead financially, and we were able to (finally) purchase a new car. We even began talking about trying to have children again that year. It was only talk, but still…

In late August of 2010 I had just gone to bed, later than usual, on a work night. I was having difficulty falling asleep, and I got up to get some water. When I returned to the bedroom, Kara was waiting for me, smiling and pointing to something on my bedside table. It was another pregnancy test. It was another positive pregnancy test.

Nine months later we had a son. I have noticed a few key differences between having one child and having two. First, I have to make a much more deliberate effort to keep up with things that aren’t immediately necessary, such as reading and writing. Second, the evening routine in which my wife and I try to get both children and pets settled for the night takes much, much longer, and sometimes it never really happens at all. It is also a great deal more interesting to attempt to watch a movie in one sitting, or to try to read an entire chapter of a book, without having to change a diaper.

There are some things that are still the same. Changing diapers hasn’t changed much, and neither has cleaning and clothing a newborn. Nap times for my daughter have remained undisrupted, as well as her daily room-trashing. I still make a pot of strong coffee each day before I go to work, and I still come home every afternoon to a busy home. It’s pretty nice to have some consistency.

Beyond what I originally thought possible, some things have improved since Atticus got here. My wife and I became much closer, as we did when my daughter was born. Nursing went a lot easier for my wife, and we are getting a lot more sleep than we did with Clara, at least for the time being. Clara is absolutely in love with her brother; I have never seen her light up as much, nor be as self-aware, as she has been with Atticus. He is the only person upon whom she will shower affection. As for me, my heart has grown larger. I do not feel that I have to take attention, time, or affection away from my daughter in order to distribute it equally between both of my children; God doubled the measure when my son came into the world.

So, two weeks in and all is well. I was worried about many things before my son was born, and my anxieties have once again proven to be short-sighted and originating in a lack of faith. Once again, Things have turned out much, much better than I originally hoped.

***

Lately I feel that I have been throwing material together at the last minute in order to meet my “new content twice weekly” goal. I hope that I will soon be able to get ahead of my posting schedule and put out higher quality writing. I appreciate all those who continue to stop by and read faithfully. Please continue to do so; you support has helped me transition confidently into this new phase of my life. Thanks!


On Not Damming the River

I have been through a lot of transition in my life over the last couple of weeks.

In early June I wound down my third year of teaching and bade farewell to one of the greatest groups of students it has ever been my privilege to teach.  At around the same time I welcomed my son and second child into the world.  Almost immediately after that, I began teaching summer school, and it is the first summer during which I will be teaching since I began my career.

It seems that I have been required rapidly make many decisions and cross many thresholds but have not had ample time to reflect upon and examine them.  Typically I like to take time out to simply sit, think, and decompress.  By nature of the recent developments in my life, however, this has been difficult.

Not that downtime hasn’t come altogether.  On the evening my son was born, after shoving my phone into the face of an unsuspecting and tolerant cashier at the grocery store and forcing him to look at pictures, I sat quietly, in the empty space of my apartment, sipping a beer and thanking God for what had been and what was to come.

The other night I sat on my balcony with a friend, again sipping beer, and this time smoking pipes, while talking about nothing in particular as the dark, humid summer-night air made us sweat.  This was something I had not done in years.

When changes happen to me in such quick procession, I begin to feel as if I am losing control of who I am and what is happening to me.  I fear that I will one day wake up and realize that I have lost my way or that I am unhappy with the person I have become. I am much more comfortable with transition when it happens slowly, if at all.  I like to measure and account for each thing in my life that has come into change.

I recently learneded that this may not always be the best thing to do.  Sometimes God lets blessings trickle into our lives, drop by drop.  At other times He allows a steady flow, like a spigot filling a cup.  Still, there are times when He bursts the levee and allows blessing to wash over us, to overwhelm us, to utterly drench everything in our lives.  In trying to slow everything down, I was trying to dam the river.  In wanting everything to pass by slowly enough for me to see and examine it as it happened, I was attempting to control my own circumstances and hold back the flood.  God wanted to bathe me in Grace and provision; I only wanted what quenching a leaky faucet might provide.

My life is truly blessed.  I am married to a beautiful, wise woman.  I have two wonderful, astounding children.  I love my job and my home.  I eat good food and have fantastic friends.  So far, God has not lead me astray or allowed me to succumb to the challenges of life.  Why should I fear a raging, wild river of change?  If the One I believe to be in control is truly in control, what, then, shall I fear?

What, then, shall I fear?


Summer Reading

Now that summer is here, I have begun to think about what I would like to read.  Typically I set a goal of at least five books each summer.  Today I am going to publish my list for this year, as well as a list of books I have read in the past which I highly recommend.

My 2011 Summer Reading List:

1. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin

I read A Wizard of Earthsea several years ago when I was in college.  It is one of the best fantasy books I have read. Actually, it is one of the best books I have read, period.  Since then I have wanted to continue the series, but as things go, I never got around to it.  Then, recently, a friend brought a few books over to our house for my wife to read while she is at home with Atticus.  I took it as a sign that I should fulfill my intention of completing The Earthsea Cycle.

2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

I have read many, many selections from this landmark work by America’s most beloved poet, but I have never read it in its entirety.  It is with intention to more fully understanding the birth of American poetry that I will begin reading this book.

3. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard

I actually don’t know much about this book.  It was recommended to me by a friend, and I have heard Dallas Willard referred to as a contemporary-era C.S. Lewis.  That was enough for me.

4. Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins

This is Billy Collins’s latest work.  I have yet to pick up my copy, but I have recently come into a little cash, so I think I will soon be buying it.  I have read the first several poems in the book, however, and I am extremely excited about completing it. The subject matter is similar to Ballistics, but while Ballistics was a bit morose and melancholy, Horoscopes for the Dead returns to Collins’s more familiar style of inserting humor and scathing sarcasm into his musings over heady topics.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia by John C. S. Lewis

I have read this entire series many times before, but it is a summer tradition for me.  I read through all seven books in one big go, usually in about a week.  My favorite books in the series are The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Horse and His Boy, and The Last Battle.  My wife loves The Magician’s Nephew.

That’s it for my intended summer reading list.  To finish today’s post, I would like to include a list of books I have read during previous summers.  I recommend these books for any taste and preference in literature. I list them here in no particular order:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is one of my all-time favorite books.  I believe that this is one of the most important American novels ever written, next to only Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. If you have never read To Kill a Mockingbird, I recommend that you do so promptly.  My son’s name was inspired by one of the principal characters in this book.

2. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I believe this book definitely deserves a spot on the list of most important books ever written.  Samuel Clemens was writing during and after the American Civil War, and he was one of the most outspoken abolitionists of the era.  He has a sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek way of making his points, which has lead to him being accused of racism, and his most successful book to be protested in many, many schools and libraries. However, if one reads the book carefully and knows a bit about the author, his message becomes apparent: slavery and forced subservience is an abomination.

3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This is a fantastic Dust Bowl-era novel, and it is a quick read.  If you want to enjoy (?) a very sad story, this is the book for you.

4. Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

I know that the market is saturated with supernatural, and especially werewolf, stories.  Even so, you should give this book a chance.  It is nothing…nothing…like the current most popular supernatural romance story.  I promise.  It takes place in south L.A. and is written in the style of old detective noir stories. There are gangs of werewolves who use their ability to run a methamphetamine ring, an unsuspecting and down-on-his-luck dog catcher, hippie surfers, confused detectives, dangerous romance, and lots and lots of violence. Oh, and the werewolves could more accurately be described as werepitbulls.

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

I am not recommending this book because the film is scheduled to be released next month; I am recommending it because it is a really good book.  The only drawback is that if you haven’t read the entire rest of the series, this may not be a great place to start.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one, though, because Rowling’s treatment of her characters is meticulous, and the way in which she deals with the subject matter (primarily mortality, the fear of death, and the afterlife) is profound and mature.  It is the perfect climax and resolution to a series as magnanimous as Harry Potter.  And if you like a good villain, the Dark Lord Voldemort is probably my favorite antagonist ever written.  He is truly malignant, cold, and vicious, and he really shines in books six and seven of the seven-part series. Make no mistake: Harry Potter may start out as children’s literature, but by the end it is as dark, deep, and original as any of its canonized peers. Yes, you should certainly read them before you see them.