Ben's New Study/Writer's Retreat/Super Villain Lair/Childhood Dream

You may have had this experience when you were a child. Some adult gave you a piece of paper, probably that kind that has lines on the bottom half and a space to draw on the top half, and asked you to draw/describe your ideal house or bedroom. If you are like me, you drew a castle. With robots inside. And lots of guns and swords and bows and arrows. And maybe a water slide snaking in and out of the windows, and a system of tunnels allowing for easy entry and escape underneath the moat filled with sharks and alligators. The adult did not tell you you could never achieve this dream. He/she did not say, "Um, Ben, that's a dumb idea. The water slide looks structurally unsound. Alligators and sharks probably wouldn't live together like that. I'm a little disturbed by all the weapons. This is a childish fantasy, and you should really get over it as soon as possible." If the adult had said that, we would all think that adult is a jerk.

But the world does say that, and we all accept it. Or most of us do, anyway.

Not me. I say the world is a big fat jerk.

My family just bought a new house. It's nothing too grand, just a cookie-cutter house that's virtually indistinguishable from the other houses on the street. Seriously, we've discussed what kind of tasteful lawn ornamentation we can buy that will help us identify our own house without making the new neighbors think we're too weird.

Inside, I get to be weird. I now have my own study/writer's retreat/super villain lair, and it is a childhood dream come true.

Warning: Some of you may find the images that follow to be childish. That's because you have been given advice from somebody who accepted some variation of the Apostle Paul's decision to become a man and "put aside such childish things." Sucker! The joke is on you! Do you know Paul's life story? He spend his adult life first helping the Pharisees and the Romans persecute and kill Christians. Then he went blind for a while. Then he spent the rest of his life building Christian congregations, getting shipwrecked, heckled, tossed in jail, and writing letters until his previous employers had him executed. But you know what he did to support himself financially while he was building those congregations? He built tents. Do you know what a three-year-old calls it when he tosses a blanket over the couch and a chair? A fort. Now, Paul was a true believer, so I'll bet he didn't look back over his adult life and wish he could trade in all the letter-writing and shipwreck-surviving for more time building forts. I'm sure he was happy with his choices. Personally, I'm a skeptic, so the whole executing people and then being executed thing does not sound glorious to me. It sounds unpleasant. Building forts? Cool.

The purpose of this epistle is not to evangelize for extended childhood. It's to show off the room that makes my wife shake her head and wonder how she could end up stuck with a man who has gone bald and grown a gut but somehow managed to get less mature during their fifteen years of marriage.

I started with a room. It looked like this, but slightly bigger and in three dimensions:

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Then I painted some lines on the walls. 20150226_015034 (800x450)


And more lines. Then I added color to some of the spaces.

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Then I did some sponge painting.

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Yep. I made a castle.

Then some friends helped my bring in my bookshelves and boxes of books. (Thanks to my moving buddies!)

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I populated the shelves.

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My college friends will like this one.

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Here's my book with statues of a couple of the characters (the Egyptian gods Sobek and Khepri).

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Here's a couple of my favs. Yoda. And Shakespeare. And Star Wars in Shakespeare's style.

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I like turtles.

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I think Virginia Wolf described this project succinctly.

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Not pictured but included in the room: swords, bows and arrows, guns, and lots of toys.

And yes, I do have a robot.



Is this room ridiculous and childish? Yep. And awesome. Should I put aside such childish things so I can be a normal soon-to-be-40 dad with a mini-van and a fantasy football team drowning his dead dreams in ironic Pabst? Nope. Should I get shipwrecked and tossed in jail and executed by Romans? Hell no! Adulthood blows. Build yourself a castle with a robot. Or whatever you wanted when you were 6. Because it's probably a whole lot more fun than what the world tells you to want now.

Now I'm going to go ask my wife if we can distinguish our cookie-cutter house by digging a trench, flooding it, and populating it with alligators and sharks. Just little ones. Classy, like a koi pond, but capable of repelling very small Visigoths. Wish me luck!



Short Story: "Painless Separation"

[This story was the Featured Friday Fiction on With Johanna Harness' permission, I thought I'd put it up here, too. Thanks to @johannaharness for giving me this chance!]

Painless Separation

A few weeks ago, our relationship started to get rocky. No, not rocky. It got wiggly. Anyway, I knew a break-up was inevitable.

Noah and I had been together for over six years. I wasn’t his first (I was his third), but we were both so young when we got together, we basically grew up at the same time.

I remember when Noah introduced me to his parents. They loved me immediately. They coo-ed over me. “So cute!” they told him. That felt good. I’ll miss them, too.

Mostly, our relationship was… well, you know how, when people ask about a how things are going and you say, “Great,” but you don’t really mean exceptional? You just mean that there’s nothing wrong. Noah was very stable; considerate but not particularly affectionate, dependable but not passionate.

I mean, I had my little issues. His diet, for one thing. Noah loves candy. That always bothered me. He wasn’t heavy. In fact, Noah’s a skinny guy. But he was always looking for the next gummy bear the way a less moral man might keep an eye out for floozies. It irritated me. It wasn’t a serious threat to the health of the relationship or anything. But it was the one way Noah was inconsiderate, and because his sensitivity was my favorite of his qualities, that unwillingness to think about my needs bothered me just a bit.

Still, over-all, Noah was great to me. He was protective, but not in some annoying, macho way. And tender. I liked that a lot. I guess I’d always known we wouldn’t go the distance. Relationships that start when you’re so young almost never do. But I fell into a rhythm, I got comfortable, and I guess I let myself be lulled into a false sense of security.

Then, a few weeks ago, I could tell he was just not holding on to me quite so tightly. I thought about it a lot, of course. I suspected there was someone else. I wondered if I was being pushed out. But there didn’t seem to be any evidence. I just started feeling like I was …I don’t know, dangling there, somehow.

And the more I thought about it, the worse it got. Pretty soon I was hanging by a thread. His parents, who’d been so supportive at first, turned on me so quickly it shocked me.

“I think it’s time,” they’d tell him. I was right there!

His dad was the worst. Noah’s mom would just leave the room whenever the topic of our relationship came up. Like she wanted to wash her hands of the whole thing. That stung. But his dad was really in his face, actively trying to pull us apart. I don’t think I’ll ever fully forgive his dad. And the way Noah just let his dad talk to him like that, and never stood up for me… I thought I’d never be able to forgive him, either. But then…

See, it all came to a head the earlier tonight when his dad was getting in his face again.

“But it hurts!” Noah said. See? That was the kind of sensitivity I depended on. But now it had all turned to selfishness. No concern for me whatsoever.

“We won’t do it if it hurts. It can wait a little while. Maybe tomorrow night.” His dad said this in a completely calm voice. Like postponing a breakup for a single day was some great mercy.

“Okay,” Noah said. I was in agony. He was just accepting this one day delay without a word of protest? I couldn’t believe it!

I should have been outraged. Such an obvious attack on my pride should have motivated me to break it off first. I know that now. But it just made me more desperate, more clingy. Pathetic, I know.

Then his dad said, “Oh, I have an idea!”

My hopes fell. Brainstorming about our break-up and he’d had a eureka moment. How could it get any worse?

“What?” Noah asked his dad. And there was an eagerness in his voice that shook me to the core.

“Hold on,” his dad said, and ran out of the room.

He came back a moment later holding an ice cube. Both of us were confused.

“Lean your head back,” his dad told him. Then he used the ice to numb Noah.

It’s strange, because the cold didn’t just prepare him for the breakup. It calmed me down, too. This was happening, I told myself, happening right now, but somehow it didn’t bother me as much anymore.

Then his dad took a piece of string and looped it next to me, then around behind me, and then back around to the front. He gently moved the string back and forth until it slid up above me. Maybe it was just because of the ice, but this reminded me of the tenderness his dad had shown back when I first appeared on the scene. Despite all his calls for our separation, his dad was acting like he cared again. I couldn’t feel much, but it felt good, in its own strange way. In fact, it almost tickled.
Then his dad twisted the string in front of Noah’s face and pulled the ends in opposite directions, first very gently to get his hands a few inches apart, then one quick tug.

And, just like that, we were through. There may have been a sound, but I was so surprised I honestly can’t remember if it was a pop or a bam or a squelching or just silence.

Next thing you know, I was in free fall. There’s always that moment, right after a breakup, when you’re just untethered, spinning and bewildered. For me, it was very brief.

I hit bottom fast. But, to my surprise, I felt whole. I was different, but the same. Complete, but separate. We had ended. I persisted. Frankly, I still can’t wrap my mind around it. Maybe I’m still grieving. I don’t know. But that wasn’t the end of the breakup.

His dad picked me up and set me down on the bathroom counter, right in front of Noah. It gave me a whole new perspective on him. Noah wasn’t sad, and that should have hurt me. A lot. But he looked shocked, and I could identify with that.

Then Noah smiled and examined the new gap between his teeth where I’d been just seconds before. His smile grew a little, and his eyes, already wide from the speed of the breakup, warmed up as though someone had stuck needles in them and injected them with pure joy.

“Oh my gosh!” he shouted, his voice cracking on the “oh,” with the “gosh” bursting out like an untied balloon filled with awe.

And he was so happy, so overjoyed, so beautiful that I couldn’t hold a grudge. I forgave him. I forgive him and I love him.

When the tooth fairy slips me out from under Noah’s pillow and flies me off to whatever’s next, I’ll go away happy.