Tag Archives: Identity Week

Identity Week: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Identity Week: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

A good friend of ours is throwing a pre-Halloween Halloween party tonight, so—yeah—we’re pretty excited.

My wife and I each brought a costume box into our marriage, and we’ve made good use of the combined fantastical wardrobe over the years. There’s no portal at the back of our closet; Narnia exists within the confined space itself, all corsets and vests, scarves, gauntlets, and boots. We’re equipped for any Renaissance faire, theme party, or theatrical production (not that we find our way into many of the latter, but still), and the collection only continues to expand through thrift shop and garage sale finds.

We have wigs of the powdered, anime, and Rapunzel variety. We each have a cloak. We have items that lace, buckle, snap, and tie, and we like to make use of them.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the Shallows that thoughts of trick-or-treating yet to come prompted us to avoid Halloween itself as a wedding date, but we still wanted an excuse to dress up. So we had a masquerade ball a couple of weeks earlier, justifying the theme—not that we needed justification—as a celebration and exploration of identity, considering our debut as a new Us. We chose an overarching appropriate Bible verse to reflect the idea: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” We encouraged our guests to dress however they felt. There were Victorians and Edwardians, pirates and wizards, some medieval folks, and others.

The idea of a new identity, one not worn every day, is so appealing to me. I love acting. I recently began playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends, which involves roleplaying a character. When I write fiction, of course I try out fresh voices coming from my own throat. And I love dressing up for Halloween. Why is all that?

In years past, I’ve been Hagrid from Harry Potter, Strider (not Aragorn) from The Lord of the Rings, and Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. My wife and I have aimed for literary-related costumes since our first child was born (that year I went out as Edgar Allan Poe, my wife was a pallid Lenore, and our baby was a raven with a “Nevermore” speech bubble Velcroed to her), though the more kids we’ve had and the older they’ve gotten, the more will they’ve exerted when it comes to costume decisions.

Last year, my firstborn chose to be Superwoman, my younger daughter chose Clark Kent, and my baby son was Kal-El (i.e. Baby Superman, being raised by the bucolic Mrs. and Mr. Kent, played by my wife and myself, respectively). As a geek at heart (and every other part), I wasn’t arguing. And we were even still characters from a printed medium, if not literature.

My favorite costumes include the set from three years ago, when we co-hosted a Steampunk Mother Goose party and dressed our eldest as Little Miss Muffet. My wife was a Victorian lace spiderweb wearing our then-baby daughter as a clockwork spider. I was the tuffet.

And two years back, we aimed for Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is as wonderful a book as you could hope for. Ray Bradbury—my favorite, favorite author, from whom I once managed to get a signature on my vintage typewriter—was a master of language in a way that leaves me adoring and jealous, and his story of a dark carnival descending on a small town and the two boys who learn about boyhood, manhood, fatherhood, friendship, life, and death is an amazing seasonal read. It’s an amazing anytime read, but Bradbury particularly breathed October into his tales, and you can smell the woodsmoke and falling leaves on these pages.

The carnival at the heart of the story is dubbed Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, and Mr. Dark is a man with images of his circus performers and sideshow acts inked up and down his arms. He uses the tattoos to manipulate his subordinates.

For the party we threw two years ago year, I obtained photos of many of the expected guests and printed them out on a special tattoo paper my wife had found. Then I transferred their faces onto my arms and hands. My wife was Mr. Dark’s carousel, which bent the age of any rider depending of the direction it spun. My girls were its passengers. We were pretty proud of this one.

Since the party for tonight is Disney (and therefore also Marvel and Star Wars) themed, this year, we’re going the comic route again, per my daughters’ request. Since the oldest wanted to be Firestar and the middle wanted to be Spider-Man, we figured we’d round out the cast of the 1980s cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends by making the baby Iceman. My wife and I are doing our own thing: She’s the evil queen from Snow White, and I’m her mirror. As I’ll be standing next to her, and I’m sure she doesn’t want to lose me now, I’m expecting to get some Justin Timberlake jokes.

Perhaps the best thing about costumes is being able to take them off at the end of an agreed-upon appointed time. It’s like a low-risk identity trial period—not that a costume wearer is necessarily seeking a new permanent identity (especially an evil one). There’s some comfort in wiping off the make-up, unlacing and and unbuckling and unsnapping and untying everything to find yourself still you underneath it all. Kids know that. We should too.

So what are you dressing up as this year?

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Identity Week: Freaky Friday

Identity Week: Freaky Friday

My kids are storytellers.

They’re obviously wired to be storytellers, what with my genetics and all, but they’ve also been raised on a steady diet of dramatic narratives, from their minimum of three nightly bedtime stories to the repeated tales I tell about past family happenings at every chance I get.

My firstborn will recount, in great detail, the time she found a black widow that had fallen into our house from the mail slot near the front door. Likely stunned at being shoved from its home by a sheaf of letters, it had curled up into a ball like an obsidian marble in our entryway. An unexpectedly large obsidian marble.

“I reached out an stroked it, once, with my finger,” she says, demonstrating the hesitant gesture. “Slowly, it began to stick out its legs … .”

The telling—complete with hand motions—is a near-verbatim recitation of my own telling of the event to friends and family. And I wasn’t even there to see what had happened firsthand. My wife was the only adult in the house at the time, so my account comes from her descriptions.

My daughter was about 18 months old when it happened, so there’s a chance she doesn’t actually remember it at all and has just adopted my version of the story as her memory without realizing it.

Either way, shortly after my wife realized what her child was petting, she clamped a cup down over it (I don’t know why she didn’t just smash it then and there) and called me at work to say that there was a large black widow trapped near the front door, that she was leaving the house and taking our kid with her, and that she’d come home after I’d taken care of the (contained) threat.

Reality Week throwback: I was next prepared to write some sort of profound musing on the nature of stories and how they define us, weaving together disparate thoughts on the Bible, J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of a “eucatastrophe” (“the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears”), Neil Gaiman (my favorite author, besides Ray Bradbury), comic books, and more. And then my 1-year-old decided that flopping around, screaming and crying, and accepting anything offered to him (sippy cup, apple sauce, blanket) only so he could throw it angrily away was preferable to sleeping for several hours last night. So I got up early this morning to finish it off to find that both my daughters chose to wake up, too, to catalog, trade, and bicker over candy they got from a piñata at a birthday party last week.

Then, after my wife came downstairs with the baby (asking, “Why are you kids up so early?), my firstborn declared: “We’ll make a surprise breakfast for mom. The baby will distract her by running away from her. Dad, you’ll cook it.”

To which my next daughter replied: “Yeah, I’ll tell Mommy! ‘Mom, were making you a surprise breakfast! But I won’t tell you what it is.'”

Firstborn: “Actually, Mom, we’re just having eggs. It’s a bummer. Don’t look at the nonsense in the kitchen.”

So apparently I have to go make eggs.

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Identity Week: It’s in the Cards

Identity Week: It's in the Cards

Just a couple of days ago, a Facebook friend put out a general question: What was the first CD you bought?

I answered honestly: “Soundtrack to The Little Mermaid.”

His response: “Your Man Card has been deducted by 2 points.”

He was joking, of course, and even leavened his words with the admission that he bought the Aladdin soundtrack when it came out.

Of course I didn’t feel like my masculinity was genuinely being insulted. In fact, I responded once more: “Meh,” I wrote. “Man Cards aren’t worth the frilly pink paper they’re printed on.”

And I meant it.

A Man Card, if you don’t know (or do know and just want to hear my own brilliantly concise definition), is a theoretical document that jokingly certifies your manhood and can be revoked if other men feel you’re not being manly enough. In their opinion. I’m not sure when it started, but it’s been around for several years, at least.

There’s even a website, officialmancard.com, where people can submit reasons to revoke their friends’ man cards, with offenses ranging from one dude crying when Beth gets her piano in Little Women to a guy being unwilling to sleep with a prostitute who had already been paid. Seriously.

For my 34th  32nd birthday a couple of years back, I took my then-foursome of a family to Disneyland on Super Bowl Sunday, because I’d heard that was one of the least-attended days of the year. After seeing the lines for myself, I don’t think that’s true.

My parents, my wife’s parents, and my wife’s siblings and their significant others came along, too, and at one point I went with my in-laws to find a fast ride while my wife took the kids to something more child friendly. (She was pregnant, so she couldn’t ride anything that would jostle her around. Otherwise I totally would have reversed the roles. Plus I later sent our daughters away with their grandparents and surprised my wife with a visit to the Blue Bayou for lunch, so stop judging me.)

Anyway, when we settled on an attraction, I texted my wife to let her know—except I entered the wrong number and ended up messaging some random stranger who had no idea why I wanted him to know I was about to go on Space Mountain. He suggested that I give up my Man Card for choosing the Happiest Place on Earth over watching a football game. (Apparently, Disney-related activities and purchases aren’t manly.)

The idea of a Man Card is ridiculous. It’s meant to be jokingly and good-naturedly insulting in that way guy humor can tend to be. And I get that. I don’t care if someone takes a dig at me, because I can take it. Casual insults happen, and in fact I often feel more accepted if a friend can hurl them at me, because that means he’s comfortable enough to not worry about being mistaken for someone who genuinely has something critical to say.

The Man Card concept specifically, however, is insulting to men and women in what it’s saying about our respective roles. Men are supposed be this way, not that way. Do these things, not those things. You’re not a man if you don’t fit society’s (or some section thereof’s) definition of one, and, unfortunately, people who joke this way are denigrating empathy, sympathy, respect for women, honesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. They’re saying real men prize getting their way over cooperating or compromising. Real men don’t care what their girlfriends or wives think. Real men do what they want.

This is dangerous. I’m not saying that joking about the Man Card is the downfall of modern masculinity, but it’s certainly not helping in a culture that blames the victims of sex crimes for leading their attackers along. It reinforces the already warped attitudes of men who believe they’re entitled to a woman’s body because, hey, men are men and everybody should know there’s only one reason a guy is interested in a woman. It’s right there on the card. Or it’s implied, anyway. And you wouldn’t want your buddies to think you weren’t a real man.

Wow. That got dark quickly. Sorry.

Bottom line: I don’t want my daughters growing up in a world that tells the men in their lives to treat them like objects. I don’t want my son feeling pressured to conform to a stereotype of brutish idiocy masquerading as a coveted brotherhood.

This is why I make no secret to my children, or the world, that:

I cried at the end of Cars. (Seriously, Disney again?!)

I cried at the end of A Walk in the Clouds.

I have acted as a living dressmaker’s dummy for a bustle my wife was creating on a gown.

I enjoy playing Halo.

I know what ruching is.

I am obsessed with gadgets.

I know what ruching is from watching Project Runway.

I grow and maintain a thick beard.

I know what ruching is from watching Project Runway and enjoying it.

I drive a mini-van.

I hate stopping the mini-van for any reason after I’ve started driving on a road trip.

I can name all the Disney—yes, them again—fairies.

I drink scotch.

I know more ballet positions than my 6- and 4-year-old daughters.

I list pink as my second-favorite color (it just can’t beat grey), and I wear it regularly.

I don’t think the things listed above are manly or unmanly. They just are.

So, do you think I’m overreacting?

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Identity Week: Worry Wednesday

Identity Week: Worry Wednesday

I know you can’t get AIDS from a soda can.

I know it. Right?

And yet I worry.

I’m a complete and total germaphobe—a realization to which I only recently came. I haven’t always been this way. It seems to have started, however, when my first daughter arrived, and suddenly the world looked like a massive infection-delivery system.

Every passerby’s cough was of the whooping variety, every mosquito bite was laced with West Nile, and every feather on the ground—the sorts of feathers I used to collect on walks when I was young—was lousy with bird flu. This is not something I’m happy about, nor do I think it’s a healthy—ha!—way to live, and I can keep it in check when I try. Most of the time.

I need to remind myself that I’m a guy who, in junior high, found a dog skull in a remote corner of a park, picked it up, and brought it home, uncleaned. There was no meat sticking to it or anything, but it was still pretty dirty. I have it to this day. I used to display it in my home, until it fell off a shelf and cracked.

A couple of years back, my family was at a pumpkin patch with some friends, and my then-4-year-old daughter took a few steps away from where we had all stopped to sit and eat lunch. I looked away, and when I looked back, she was drinking from an abandoned can of soda she’d picked up.

I broke out in a cold sweat, mentally cataloging the diseases she’d likely—pretty much obviously—just contracted. Anything that can be transmitted by human saliva. And mucous. And blood, because what if the person who was drinking this before had a cut in his or her mouth? What if there had been blood on the rim? What if somebody had peed in it? What if the can had been left there on purpose to make my child an unwitting Patient Zero is some horrible outbreak?

I’d like to say that I’m exaggerating and that I didn’t fire up the computer once I was back at home to Google possible transmission media for AIDS, meningitis, and a host of other diseases, infections, syndromes, bacteria, parasites, and the like. I’d really like to say that I’m smarter than that.

This is the sort of stuff they teach you about in high school biology and health class—most of it, anyway—so you don’t go around perpetuating misconceptions about some serious medical issues.

But I don’t do well with stuff I can’t see. If my daughter were to have fallen and scraped her knees, I’d have been fine. I know how to identify, assess, and treat skin abrasions.

But if she gets a fever or a rash—how am I supposed to know what’s going on? Especially if I try to get to her to point to exactly where it hurts or describe to me what her throat feels like inside, and all she does is cry at me, sort of angrily? Like even she gets that I’m overreacting.

I have a fear of flying, too, and I think it stems from the same place. I’d be OK, I figure, if I could sit in the cockpit and see and hear what the pilots are talking about and not freaking out about. Back in the cabin, every little jostle and bump makes me think: “Was that it? Was that knock the sound of my imminent death? If it was, they certainly wouldn’t tell us back here.”

If I could just see for myself that the people in charge aren’t worried, that nobody’s silently mouthing “uh-oh” as they watch a little sonar outline of an engine dropping 30,000 feet (I really don’t know how planes work), I would be fine. Better, anyway.

So it’s rough, because in my family, when one of my kids handles dirt that I’m pretty sure had cat poop in it (toxoplasma gondii!) or pops some little yellow pellets into her mouth—pellets she randomly found under a rock while camping, as actually happened this past summer—I’m the one in the cockpit. The kids are looking to me to see whether they should be worried. And I’m often looking to my wife, who assures me (and thereby the kids, who just hurt me blurt, “What if that was rat poison!”) that the stuff wasn’t rat poison.

(It wasn’t. In an act of sacrifice and scientific research, I popped a few into my own mouth. They were lemon-flavored Nerds. But even then, I worried a little that maybe rat poison manufacturers make their products extra sweet in order to attract more vermin.) (I really did.)

Look, knowledge is key here. The unknown is scary, and parenting already has unknowns enough without my throwing in unreasonable hypotheticals.

Honestly, I don’t have much of a “lesson learned” for the end of this post. Instead, I’m declaring Wednesdays to be Worry Wednesdays, so I can maybe excise a few of these ridiculous recurring nightmares I have about outlandish concerns. And you can laugh at me. Or shake your head. Or, in the case of my wife, do both, punctuated by a pitying-and-yet-loving, “Oh, Honey.”

As a bit of penance (and to show that, yes, I do actually know how AIDS is transmitted) and to try to throw some support to a worthy cause, check out the AIDS Support Network, which offers services to people living with HIV disease and AIDS in my neck of California. The group “works diligently to stabilize clients’ health—financially, emotionally and physically, at no cost to the client.” There’s a fundraising Walk for Life set for Nov. 2. Sign up, support someone else who did, or look for something similar in your own community.

And if you do join the walk, don’t drink from any random cans you find lying around. There could be bees in them, and you don’t want one to sting your tongue.

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Identity Week: Just a Brief Interruption

Idenity Week: Just a Brief Interruption

I’m going to tell you something, and this something is absolutely true. My wife will confirm it.

Each morning as I get ready for work, I assess how I’m feeling, how the day is expected to play out, how tired I am, how stressful the next eight or nine hours will likely be, and then I choose my underwear.

I have a lot of underwear. I like variety, so some are boxers, some are briefs, and some are in-between (between those categories, that is, not between anything else) (except for one pair).

Some are stylishly plain black, and some have Wolverine on them. Some are cotton, some are polyester, a few are modal—that’s beech—and one’s bamboo. It’s actually bamboo fibers, not a whole plant. I don’t walk around with a stick up my butt.

I have a whole set I only wear in December because they’re holiday themed. I have St. Patrick’s Day boxers, but I wear them at other times, too, because they say “I [Shamrock] Guinness,” and I [shamrock] Guinness throughout the year. (Picture an actual silhouette of a shamrock where I put the word in brackets. But don’t picture anything else, please.)

When I’m feeling exhausted, I put on my boxers patterned with steaming coffee cups. But I don’t actually drink coffee—an admission I made recently to the owner of one of the last movie-rental stores on California’s Central Coast, prompting her puzzled reply: “No coffee? So how do you get your caffeine?”

If I’m feeling particularly blah, I go for the Batman boxer-briefs. They don’t have the Caped Crusader on them or anything—just the logo right across the front. The Bat-Signal. I feel heroic all day in those. Same for the Wolverine boxers, though those actually have the character on them. His claws extend over an area I would prefer to keep away from even the suggestion of sharp objects, but I like to think that keeps me alert and on my toes.

I have dragons for when I need to be fierce, Pirates of the Caribbean for when I feel like a rogue, robots for when I need to keep my emotions in check, fancier pairs for fancier occasions, and—since I’m on the subject and you’re obviously comfortable enough with this to have read this far—sometimes I decide to mentally skip the day altogether, and I get dressed with coming home to my wife in mind.

While writing this post, I realized that I don’t own any Star Trek underwear, though I have put some on a wishlist. I was going to do the same with Star Wars, but for $42 for a single pair, I don’t need Boba Fett down there. There’s a sarlacc pit joke here somewhere, but I don’t feel like hunting for it.

Also while writing this post, I realized that it has little to nothing to do with my kids, but frankly, my underwear is way better than theirs.

It’s probably better than yours, too.

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