Friday, September 3, 2010

I want to stay here.

My downstairs neighbor just told my wife that she should get another job.
She said that having a teenager live rent-free in our apartment with us, in exchange for taking care of our children while we are off at our full-time jobs, is a luxury, and that we should be paying for child care like everyone else does, so if we can't afford to do that now then she should just go out there and get, you know, another job.

The person who takes care of my two beautiful children is in danger of being pushed out of our lives, the pawn in some pathetic little condo association flare-up. Our landlords are backing us up 100%, and we will now,
oh it feels sweet (and awful) to be saying this,
be staying there out of spite.

You know, for the kids.

For the kids. If you are a thinking person in America today, you probably have either a lot of ideas, or else absolutely none, about what is right for the kids. No lie, kids are in a tough spot. Our expectations for our children are at the same time astronomical and in the gutter. Directives concerning the emotional, mental, and physical health of children are ricocheting pinballs, and parents are stranded out there under the observation glass waiting, and by now needing, to get whacked with it over and over by the Parental Panic Industry whose various hands are tapping out a diabolical rhythm with the paddles.

With all of that on my mind, there's one more problem with which I'm wrestling today, and it's right here in this store. Nobody has bought a copy of a certain young Irishman's novel. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray is an honest, compassionate look at the world kids find themselves in today, and how they make sense of it. So there's a lot of unnecessary medication, prescription drug abuse, an ocean of pornography, startlingly casual sex acts, eating disorders, bullying, and celebrity fetishes. Behind that there's parents trying to buy off or coerce their kids into growing up into what they consider to be the right sort of person, the sort who will make them feel like they themselves haven't turned out to be the wrong sort of person. There's the fear - and actuality - of sex abuse by the teachers (the setting is an Irish Catholic boys' school), and the blind greed of the administration, willing to risk the education of a generation of young minds for the cause of maintaining the brand image of the institution. There are disturbing World War I historical revelations, and deep thought about the topography of the universe, and illicit schoolboy science experiments that attempt to reach parallel universes and beyond the grave, and for much of the book you're bouncing around inside the head of: a sociopath, a sex symbol, a geek, a cynic, a sweet naive boy, a tortured genius, and a young teacher whose stunted maturation and inability to take risks have brought him back to the site of his own troubled schoolboy years, and will introduce him to worlds of hurt. They will all have opportunity to change everything, but only some will find the way.

The narrator is supremely confident in his rendering of these characters, and the questions he puts to them via the unfolding of his plot are the questions that we are all asking all the time.
How can children comprehend the world and themselves when we are relentlessly surrounding them with ways to wall themselves off from everything? And now that we're worried that they're each capable of going off at any second and shooting the place up, how can, or should, teachers really connect with them? And is love, which floats in the margins of every page in this book, a force that can puncture the bubble of unreality we each construct around ourselves?
Or is it, as one kid puts it:
", if it exists at all, does so primarily as an 'organizing myth', of a similar nature to God. Or: love is analogous to gravity, as postulated in recent theories, that is to say, what we experience faintly, sporadically, as love is in actuality the distant emanation of another world, the faraway glow of a love-universe that by the time it gets to us has almost no warmth left."

It's a marvelously good book to read. It will make the final cut if I can only take five books with me to a desert isle,
or to a new home.

I want to stay reading this book forever.

Skippy Dies
by Paul Murray

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