Happy Birthday, Doctor Seuss…Some Thoughts On Lessons Of Childhood

Well, it’s Theodore Geisel’s birthday again and with the movie release pending for The Lorax, it has me thinking once again about my childhood. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat is one of the first books I ever remembering owning. I got it for my birthday as a young child. (I can’t remember which one my twin sister, Lara, got). I read that book ’til the cover fell off, over and over. I loved Seuss’ magic with words.

“The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play,” possibly the most well known opening line in twentieth century children’s publishing. Who could forget those words and what child couldn’t grasp the emotion behind them? Many a child had their days ruined by weather. No sand castle? No playing outside? No swingset? No bike? Sigh.

But as much as I loved The Cat In The Hat, I still remember The Lorax as my favorite. What I loved about The Lorax was the mystery of the hand reaching from that perilous tower, and the young boy wanting to know more, as so many young boys do, who gets a tale of a lifetime. I was one of those kids: frustrating adults with all my questions. In many ways, I still tend to be. I’m always questioning “What if?” “Why?” etc. That’s probably why I went into writing science fiction and fantasy.

But for me, The Lorax‘s message was so important. Despite being raised Conservative in a Christian and Republican home, the environment was something I always had a special relationship with. The Earth and nature resonate with me in a unique way. They inspire me, move me, touch me, and fill me with emotions at the experience of their beauty, aliveness, scents, smells, etc. I grew up in the farmlands of Kansas, far from the logging country of the Pacific Northwest, where that industry is such a part of the culture and economy that it’s iconic. I don’t think I saw my first logging truck into my teens or twenties. And it was on a trip somewhere, not around Salina where we lived. But one of my favorite singers, John Denver, sung a lot out the environment and I always found myself wondering why humans are so careless with the planet and land God gave us to live on. For me, it’s a no brainer. We need the Earth, the Earth doesn’t need us. We need the planets and animals and other ingredients in our food chain. We need the various products which give us quality of life. While they might not forage well, the cows and sheep and pigs probably wouldn’t mind if the slaughter houses shut down. And they probably wouldn’t get emotionally distraught at the disappearance of their farmer-owners. Just saying.

Seuss’ The Lorax taught a great lesson about how much our drive for more and more, whether it’s money or wood or anything else, leads humanity down dark and troublesome paths, with end results we should carefully consider. It taught lessons about respect for nature and the appreciation of the unknown. It reenforced my dad’s lessons about not being wasteful and about making full use of things as much as possible. From water to food, we were conservation minded at home. My dad installed Naval shower heads to cut our water waste from long showers. So much so that it was a huge adjustment switching back to regular shower heads when I moved out on my own. He taught us to turn the water off after we got wet, apply soap and shampoo, then turn it on to rinse, then get out of the shower. No dilly dallying or long shower concerts for me, his wannabe rock star son. That stuff had to occur elsewhere. He taught us about composting everything from orange rinds to grass clippings, using toilet paper conservatively, and minimizing trash. To this day, my parents are lucky to fill a 15 gallon bag of trash in two months at their house. I have several trashcans, with specific ones devoted to aluminum, milk cartoons, hardboard, etc. And I make an extra run to the recycling center monthly, since the city offers no street pick up.

The Lorax reenforced these lessons and did it in a non-preachy, fun way. Like so much of Dr. Seuss’ work, it was simple, with basic vocabulary and stunning rhyme, yet at its heart lay an important lesson for us all. It saddens me a bit to see the Hollywoodization of The Lorax now which seems to contrary to the message. I haven’t even seen the movie yet but there are wasteful tie-ins of paper, plastic, etc. everywhere. How many of those will wind up enlarging our nation’s landfills or landfills around the world? Is that really what Dr. Seuss would have wanted? I doubt it.

But The Lorax is still in print and so we can do our part. We can buy the book for a child we know, and help them get a start. We can teach them of its wonders, of the lessons that it holds, and watch their eyes light up with magic at the beauty of its prose. We can share it with a stranger or a neighbor or a friend. We can share it with our grandkids or our children once again. For me, it’s really simple, and a thing I mustn’t dodge. For the lessons of The Lorax still are needed quite a lot.

Ok, I’m no Dr. Seuss, but I hope you get my point. For what it’s worth…

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss. May we honor you well. And thank you!

Grandma’s Scrapbook: Downsizing NASA & The Expiration Of Wonder

My Grandma was an amazing woman–great cook, great teacher, great friend, and great storyteller. And oh how she loved for us to sit with her and look at pictures or books so she could tell stories. Grandma loved to compile scrapbooks just for the occasion. She’d tell stories of our parents as kids, of her grandparents immigrating from Sweden, of her parents, whom we barely knew. She loved history. We loved watching “The Waltons” or “Little House On The Prairie” with her. She wasn’t much into Science Fiction. I’m pretty sure she never made it to see “Star Wars.” (Yes, we neglected her I know). But Grandma still got it. Grandma understood how cool space travel was. All it takes is one glance at the legacy she left behind: two handmade scrapbooks from brown grocery bags, strung into a book with yarn, filled with newspaper clippings and pictures of every space mission from Alan B. Shephard’s Freedom 7 through the first Space Shuttle launches.

How I treasure those scrapbooks now–filled with memories of the awesomeness that was NASA’s early days. I was born February 13, 1969, which means I was about six months old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. But as far as my memory’s concerned, Americans have been going into space my whole lifetime…Until now.

I remember the thrill of watching the launches on TV, listening to the old flimsy 45 rpm recording from FORD of the Apollo 11 landing (I still have this 45 rpm but no player). I remember talking with Grandma as we looked at the scrapbooks and thrilling at the images, the discoveries, the awesomeness of every detail. I remember seeing “Moonraker,” the James Bond with shuttles, and dreaming of the day I could go into space. Oh how I longed to go. I knew I wasn’t scientifically smart or a pilot or athletic. But still, it was and is my dream.

The Space Shuttle changed so much. And I remember when astronaut Steve Hawley, our hometown hero, husband of first American woman in space Sally Ride, came to our high school and I shook his hand. A brush with greatness, it seemed. Even mundane chat with Hawley thrilled me so much, such was my admiration and awe for a man who’d slipped the surly bonds of Earth.

But now it’s over. I don’t have kids of my own yet. But I have to wonder what people teach their kids these days about space. When did the awe change to ordinary? When did we lose the sense of wonder and magic at the accomplishment? Space Shuttle missions rose in numbers, for sure. But how did it become normal rather than extraordinary? Why did we allow it to happen? America lost interest in space exploration and the government defunded it. And now we’re dependent on the very people we once raced to beat–the Russians. It’s either them or untested private companies. Do we really want our country’s scientific future in their hands?

I think Grandma would be surprised at any trust in the Russians. Oh Grandma was very accepting and generous to foreigners. She helped many exchange students in her lifetime. She had nothing against the Russians except she remembered Sputnik and the  nuclear threat. She remembered the Red scare. And Communists could never be trusted beyond a certain point. Despite the changes in Russia, I tend to think that way today about any foreign government. After all, they have their own interests to protect. Oh I love travelling to foreign countries and learning their culture and meeting their people. I respect their arts and languages and accomplishments and history. But it’s nonetheless theirs, not ours. We are responsible for our own legacy. So what are we doing placing our space legacy in someone else’s hands?

Looking at Grandma’s scrapbooks today, I know I will do what I can to preserve them. It may be scanning them into a computer or making books of them somehow. Whatever the result, those books must be preserved, not just for their priceless collection of clippings but the priceless memories of wonder shared in reading them. I think we all ought to give a little thought these days to preserving wonder. It’s something we could pay a heavy cost for losing. Not just losing the space race, mind you, but the drive to explore. What will happen if future generations don’t ask the very questions which compelled us to try space travel in the first place? What will happen if future generations lose the ambition of wonder and the desire to explore? Does anyone really want to risk that?

For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Memories of My Wife Bianca

Last Tuesday, 1 month before our 4th anniversary, I had to put my wife in the mental hospital against her will for the second time. Bianca is a highly intelligent, gentle, sweet, giving, joyful person. But when her bipolar II flares up she’s angry, mean, arrogant, and mischievous. I woke up at 5 a.m. and found her cutting phone chords and cables for the internet with a scissor because “I don’t like that stuff there.” This was after I’d already tried once to get police to take her in. They refused because she looked normal to them. They don’t know her. How would they know normal for her? In any case, I worried she’d cut an electrical chord and start a fire or electrocute herself. So it was time.

This is the second time in two years I’ve had to commit her. Having to put someone you love in the hospital against their will, while they beg you not to, is the most painful experience ever. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I’ve done it three times, twice the first incident, once now. It took four of us to literally carry her to the car while she fought and screamed, then me to drive us 30 minutes to the hospital, again while she screamed and insulted us. It’s weird to look in the face of the woman you love and see a stranger looking back at you. A stranger who looks just like her, has the same voice, but says things which sound nothing like her.

I try very hard to block those memories. Most of the time I can. I don’t want to remember her this way. I prefer to remember her as the woman who blessed my life, the one I fell in love with. I’m pained by the memory of how much I took her for granted in the months preceding this relapse. I should have been her biggest cheerleader when she finally got to live her dream and go back to school to finish her degree. She was doing so well, making awesome grades, and she was working 30 hours and going to school 18. I was so wrapped up in my worries, I was lackluster in my enthusiasm, and I feel like such a jackass now. The times she wanted to cuddle and I was so busy with writing, I put it off and never got back to it. The times I didn’t listen when she was so excited to tell me something mid-draft. I feel like such a loser. Here’s the woman who chose me. After years of failed romances, after 37 years alone thinking I’d never find anyone, she chose me, and I was so unappreciative so much of the time.

When I went away to Rainforest Writers, my thought was that it would be good to have time away to refresh our relationship. The moment I arrived, I missed her and wished she was there. Little did I know that when I got home, I’d still be missing her, because I haven’t seen the real Bianca since before I left.

The real Bianca is such a delight to be with. She is so enthusiastic, often seeing the world through a child’s eyes. She’s fascinated by people, places, language — so many things I easily write off as ordinary. And through her observations, she helps me look at the world in new ways. It’s a real help to me as a writer. And it’s something about her I have always treasured. She’s a great cook and a good housewife. She’s thoughtful even when I’m not. Oh she has her faults, of course, but I have more. And the fact that she’s always loved me and thinks I’m cute, handsome, wonderful always blows my mind.

I so wish it could be me and not her. I wish I was the one in the hospital. I wish it was me losing my job, dropping out mid-semester of my school, etc. If I could take her place in a moment, I so would, because I suffer so much for her. It breaks my heart every time I think about it. I am crying as I type this because I feel such despair, such hopelessness, and such fear that I will lose her, that this is it, that she’ll never get through this. It’s so hard to not get much information from the hospital due to privacy laws. Biance is in no condition to sign a waiver, so the hospital has to protect itself from lawsuits, even though I’m the husband. It’s so difficult to see her struggling and not be able to protect her; to be made the bad guy in manic Bianca’s eyes, when all I did I did to protect her and get her the help she so desperately needs. I wouldn’t wish this situation on my worst enemy. And it makes me determined to do all I can to build awareness and find support for developing a cure to all mental illness.

What a horrible thing it is to see someone with such skill and potential robbed of their life by such a horrible disease. To see them so destructive when they don’t even know what they’re doing. To see them resist the help they need when it’s right there in front of them. I curse Satan and beg God to please help my wife. Give me back my lover, my best friend. I wish it was so easy. Every moment is agony as I’m forced to wait and see if things will ever be the same again. I have small hope in the fact that our marriage came back better than ever from the last time. I can only hope she’ll feel that way and be ready to try again.

It’s hard to know that this kind of thing will likely happen again–it’s cyclical, so probably every two years. On the other hand, I’ve heard stories of people who take their meds and are stable the rest of their lives, so I hope that for her. And yet I fear days to come. If I get her back I intend to treasure every moment, and I hope I don’t forget. I must never allow myself to be too busy to appreciate her. I must let her know how much she means to me, and I must remind her daily of that. Maybe the strength of my love will help her. I hope so. I know the strength of her love has helped me. And I know I feel so lost at the idea of going on without her. Sometimes you don’t realize what you have in the throes of everydaydom. How sad and pathetic a trait is that in human beings? Why does it take a crisis like this to remind us how lucky we are?

I don’t know the answer but I know I need to do better at fighting off that complacency and being appreciative. If only I get another chance. If only I get my Bianca back.

For what it’s worth…