I have come to the realization that I don't want to be a fiction
writer. I have long entertained this notion of being suddenly inspired to write this magnificent novel, getting published and being able to retire to look over the sea while the royalties roll in. Quite aside from the obvious misconception that all good authors make retiring kind of money with their first book, most people who are going to create something great (novelists, songwriters, artists) usually start doing so fairly early on in their lives. Something burns inside them that compels them to write, compose or draw in every moment of spare time they have and they realize that is what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I look at someone like Chris Martin (of my beloved Coldplay) and marvel at his talent, am moved by his music, but have no sense of what compels him to write it. By contrast, he has probably been writing snippets of lyric and melody since he was a child.

I have written precisely two works of fiction in my life. The first, "The Industrial Mother Pig", was a short story written as a six year-old on a record card from my father's study. It was received well enough by its rather limited audience, but was destined never to be a best-seller. The second was my entry, a few years later, into a play-writing contest in the magazine of the Puffin Club, a reading club for children run by the Penguin Press, who published their children's titles under the Puffin Books label. It was good enough to win me a copy of the play adaptation of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and publication in the magazine, but the phone stayed strangely silent.

I took Economics and Geography at university, and in my Junior Sophister year chose "The Geography of the United States of America" as one of my electives. Given by a wonderfully enthusiastic lecturer, Dr. James Killen, this course, and particularly, its year-end assignment, was to instill in me a fascination with and love for US history and geography that continues to this day.

The assignment was to write a 5,000-word paper on topic given to us by Dr. Killen. Mine was to be the political and religious geography of the US. I was to explain how the distribution of religious and political affiliation that we see in today's America came to pass. Why, for example, the southern states are predominantly Baptist, or why northern inner cities have a large proportion of Democratic voters.

I don't know about you, but much of my assignment writing in university was pretty much an exercise in getting enough of what the lecturer wanted to see onto the page in order to get a reasonably decent grade. Not so in this case. The topic piqued my interest from the start and is an onion of many, many layers. Each book I delved into in search of answers as part of my research peeled away one layer of the onion only to reveal another. A stranger to the US system of government and to many of its major religious denominations, I had to learn about them, and then to trace the history and settlement of the United States back to the Pilgrim Fathers, to read the Constitution and the sermons of John Wesley in order to piece the story together.

For two solid weeks, it was all I did, rising early in the morning so as to be at the library as it opened, there to continue my research into the evening, surrounded by a horseshoe of stacked books, each open to the page that had caused me to get the next one from the shelves. And I loved every minute of it.

I think the resulting paper is probably the best thing I have yet written. The mark it got means less to me than the all-consuming pleasure I got from researching and writing it.

In recent weeks, as I have rekindled my desire to write, I have been wondering what sort of writer I want to be, and why I feel I want to write at all. I love to write, but without that creative fire burning within, compelling me to create that Great Novel, what would I actually write about? I thought about the way that creators spend their waking hours jotting down story ideas, or melodies, or sketches and, sitting at my computer recently, I asked myself if I did anything that emulated that. What is it that I am compelled to do whenever I have a spare moment?

As I contemplated this, my attention drifted to my web browser, groaning under the weight of the numerous tabs I had opened in response to reading an article someone had posted to Twitter an hour before.

Like those those stacked books in the university library two decades ago, the series of open tabs were the result of what I compulsively do whenever I have time on my hands. As a child, I was an avid reader of fiction, but rarely encountered something new in a story without having to go learn about it in a reference book, often having novel in one hand, and the reference book in the other.

Regrettably, my masterpiece term paper is lost to posterity, the victim of an era when a 20MB hard drive was an optional extra, but the the memory of those happy hours researching and writing it lives on. And now I know what compels me to write, I will watch for signs that a subject or story is piquing my interest just as the topic of that paper did all those years ago.

Retirement may have to wait, though.
In his book "Tug of War: A Judge's Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and the Bitter Realities of Family Court", Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone offers the following advice:

"Parents must love their children more than they dislike each other. Children need peace more than their parents need to win."

I bought this book shortly after Justice Brownstone's TV show, "Family Matters", debuted on CHEK-TV this Fall after a popular online series last year. What makes his show unique is that it is the first time that an active sitting Family Court judge has appeared on television to explain in very candid terms how the family justice system works, how it doesn't, and how it differs from what is depicted on Court TV. No Judge Judy, he. I read the book from cover to cover, resolved to follow the sage advice contained in it, and then, like so many other good books stuffed with great advice, put it back on the shelf and carried on much as before.

Until last week. Thing One has always been a highly intelligent, sensitive and emotional child, prone to outbursts of temper, and has developed traits of oppositional defiance in the last year or two. He has struggled with the differing parenting styles of myself and his mother, often playing us off against each other as we battled over how to deal with his behavior and parenting in general. This has been particularly true since the separation, and his anger and frustration began to manifest itself both on and off the ice at his hockey games, culminating in my deciding to sit him for the last five minutes of not the first game in which his behavior was causing problems. My ex and I, in a rare moment of agreement, decided that he needed a break from his beloved hockey to regroup and so we could figure out what we could do about it.

Then came the Christmas break, when both The Things spent a week with each of us, first with their mother and then with me. When the Things came to stay with me, I was able to have a really good conversation with Thing One in the calm that comes after one of his rages, when he said a couple of things that showed that he was gaining some insight into his emotions, their causes and effects. He said he wanted to go back to hockey, so I set out two conditions under which I thought that could happen: that he participate in some form of anger management therapy and that, if there was a repeat of the behavior that led to his break from playing, he would be done for the rest of the season. He thought about that for a moment and then came the first moment of insight. He said, "Dad, I don't think I can get through the season without another outburst right now." We talked about it some more, and he agreed that it would be better to focus on learning to deal with managing his emotions with a view to being able to return to the ice, with a concerted effort from him, before the end of the season.

We talked some more about his anger and where it might come from and then came the second insightful comment from him. He told me that one of the things that made him angry was coming to the apartment. It reminds him in very real terms that things are no longer the way they were, and he finds the constant packing to move back and forth causes anxiety. He said that he would like a break from it, so I said I would speak to his Mom and we would see what we wanted to do about it.

That evening, I emailed my ex about this conversation. The next day, Thing One told me that he had been told not to worry about my conditions and that he could go back to playing hockey right away. Worse still, he later told me that my message about the break from visits had been relayed to him by his mother as if I had said I didn't want to have them at the apartment any more.

I struggled with what to say about this to the kids. How can you explain it, maintain the integrity of your opinion, without committing the dual sins of speaking negatively about your ex to the children, and openly contradicting her to them? And then I remembered Justice Brownstone's advice, "Children need peace more than their parents need to win." I realized that in order for my children to experience some peace, I needed to allow them to hear only one voice instead of one in each ear, even if that voice wasn't the one I wanted it to be. What has been causing anxiety for the kids is not necessarily what either my ex or I have been saying to them, but the dichotomy that is created when we are both attempting to do what we think is best for them, but when that is hardly ever the same thing.

And so, I will drop my end of the rope in our tug of war. I will allow our children to experience the peace of hearing one voice when it comes to decisions that affect their lives. Does this mean they will not hear my voice at all? Of course not, but it will be the voice that asks how their day went, that tells them I love them, that reads them bedtime stories. 

I need this, they need this, more than I need to win.

    About Me

    Recently separated, forty-something father of two. Navy, Green Bay Packers and Jeopardy! fan. Motorcycle rider and Information Technology refugee.

    People always ask, so here is the answer.

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