Meeting

Children can get tired of being told what to do pretty quickly. The novelty of being human wears off, and while there’s still a lot they don’t know about the world that all of the adults around them know, they’d rather learn about it in their own time and by the route of their own curiosity. This is why a parent’s jokes can often fall flat. It is easy as a parent to become so preoccupied with your child’s well being that even jokes become a form of care-taking, delivered like chicken soup to raise their poor little spirits.

I am happy to report that my boys laugh at a lot (though by no means all) of my jokes, and I believe this is because I never try to make them laugh. Instead, I make myself laugh and look for crossover. It’s an important distinction. I know my boys are fierce about wanting to make up their own minds, which means they must be given full permission not to laugh. The only way to give that permission is to not care whether they find it funny, only whether I find it funny.

Of course I do want them to laugh, and so this is why I look for crossover. I notice the type of humor we both find funny and aim for it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way I’m still laughing, sometimes to their annoyance. I married my wife because there was so much crossover. That crossover is where we really meet, usually in love, sometimes in frustration.

I’m looking for this same meeting with my readers, but I do not have the luxury of observing their reactions. Moreover, I do not want to. The page must be as open to my full curiosity as my own mind. It is the only way to meet myself, without any requirements or expectations, and when that meeting occurs I believe I have given my readers the best opportunity to find themselves.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Problem Free

In preparation for his GED, my son and I have been going through a number of math problems, most of which involve rules and formulas with which he is unfamiliar or has forgotten. He is very clear how he feels about this activity. “I hate this,” he said at the end of a particularly complex problem. “I hate math. I’ll never use it.”

I understood his point of view. I doubted there would be many times in his life where he’d have to find the median and the mean of the volumes of three cylinders. But I’d also seen him find a little pleasure in solving math problems he did understand. With these problems, he could go inside himself to find the solution. With the other problems, he had to turn to me, he had to look outside of himself, and there was very little pleasure for him in that experience. That was what he really hated: not being able to go inside himself for what he needed.

It is odd to me that we call these math questions problems. A problem is something that must be corrected or fixed. A math equation does not need to be fixed; it only needs to be understood. It is already correct. The mathematician is merely learning to perceive what is missing. That is only a problem if the mathematician believes there is something wrong with him, that he is not perceiving quickly enough, or that he might never perceive, and that a better mathematician would.

Writing can be seen as a problem, too, if we let it. A blank page becomes a problem the moment I forget that I need only look within myself to answer the question, “What comes next?” The moment I forget this, writing holds no pleasure for me whatsoever. Now writing is a problem, an incomplete puzzle that must be finished so that I am allowed to enjoy life again. How I hate this puzzle that stands between happiness and me. How quickly I can find myself in prison simply because I am looking in the wrong place for the freedom I already possess.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Passwords

My sixteen year-old son recently built a computer. This was the first time he’d ever done this, by which I mean not just built a computer (gathered a CPU and a graphics card and a motherboard and a hard drive and some RAM and the cooling fans and assembled them inside a case and attached all the wires from the power supply and downloaded all the drivers), but actually began a significant project and saw it successfully all the way through to its end.

It was a proud moment when I poked my head into his bedroom and saw him playing a game on the new computer and asked, “It’s actually working?” and he said, “Of course it’s working!” But that moment did not come so easily. Only a few hours earlier he had declared the project a failure. This was about the fourth time since he began building it that he’d done so. But this time he really meant it. The thing was all put together, and he’d just installed Windows and restarted the computer but he couldn’t log back in. Whenever he entered the password he’d just created Windows told him his password was incorrect.

His password, he believed, was “danknewspookypc.”** He’d even written it down. But Windows didn’t like it. “I just want to use my new computer,” he cried. “I just want to be happy. But I’m locked out!” I suggested he had somehow entered differently. Try different combinations, I said. So he did. It was like watching the queen trying to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name. Nothing worked. I left his room and retreated to the relative quiet of the living room. He followed me.

“I’m locked out!” he repeated.

“No, you’re not. There’s a way in. There has to be.”

“I’m locked out. It’s just logic, Dad.” He marched back into his room.

“Then quit!” I spat. “If it’s so logical, just quit.”

That was the frustrated writer in me talking. He follows me around even when I’m trying to be a helpful father. He is never helpful. But it’s only because he finds his job so confounding sometimes. The writer must believe in and communicate what lives within his imagination, a dreamlike realm beyond the reach of shared senses. Some days that seems like an impossible task. How can I show my readers what only I can see? Their imaginations are as impenetrable as mine. No thought or story is allowed in without my holy permission. And yet I require entry into my readers’ imaginations to do this job. It is easy on some days to feel quite locked out, barred from happiness by the laws that separate us all.

Meanwhile, my son tried to find other ways in. None worked. So I took him out for lunch, and I told him how awesome he was and reminded him how he’d never tried this sort of thing before. This did not mean much to him. But then we ate pizza and drank soda and talked about stuff besides computers and by the time we got home he thought maybe he’d call Microsoft and ask for help. But then he didn’t. He wanted to try one other thing.

I was in my own room Googling reinstalling Windows when a triumphant cry rang out from across the hall. I jumped up from my desk and ran to his room.

“I left out new,” he said. “The password was just ‘dankspookypc.’ I just got the password wrong.”

A couple hours of downloading drivers later he had a working computer.

Oh, the sweet relief of what we’ve named success. It is an experience from which the dream of writing grows. I’ve thought from time to time of quitting, but it felt too much like quitting life. Whether I call it writing or not, or remembering passwords or not, I will always have to believe in what cannot be seen, but is known instead, as my dreams are known.

**(Author’s note: No real passwords were shared in the writing of this essay).

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Meeting

Children can get tired of being told what to do pretty quickly. The novelty of being human wears off, and while there’s still a lot they don’t know about the world that all of the adults around them know, they’d rather learn about it in their own time and by the route of their own curiosity. This is why a parent’s jokes can often fall flat. It is easy as a parent to become so preoccupied with your child’s wellbeing that even jokes become a form of caretaking, delivered like chicken soup to raise their poor little spirits.

I am happy to report that my boys laugh at a lot (though by no means all) of my jokes, and I believe this is because I never try to make them laugh. Instead, I make myself laugh and look for crossover. It’s an important distinction. I know my boys are fierce about wanting to make up their own minds, which means they must be given full permission not to laugh. The only way to give that permission is to not care whether they find it funny, only whether I find it funny.

Of course I do want them to laugh, and so this is why I look for crossover. I notice the type of humor we both find funny and aim for it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way I’m still laughing, sometimes to their annoyance. I married my wife because there was so much crossover. That crossover is where we really meet, usually in love, sometimes in frustration.

I’m looking for this same meeting with my readers, but I do not have the luxury of observing their reactions. Moreover, I do not want to. The page must be as open to my full curiosity as my own mind. It is the only way to meet myself, without any requirements or expectations, and when that meeting occurs I believe I have given my readers the best opportunity to find themselves.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

In Front of Us

I recently launched a new website, nooneisbroken.com, in support of my forthcoming memoir No One Is Broken: What a Father Learned when He Tried to Fix His Son. The memoir is my story, but I knew there was more I could say about raising a child on the spectrum and learning to see a world without broken people. Yet how exactly would that be shared I wasn’t sure.

For months I delayed going live with the site because I didn’t really know what it was, nor what it would say other than that no one is broken. Then my wife and I began talking about it, and talking about it, and talking about it until she pointed out that I should, essentially, do what I always do.

Meaning, for the last six years I have been writing about writing in this space. Yet any regular reader has no doubt noticed that I rarely write about how to write, only why we write, why it is a journey worth taking, and why we must never be afraid to write what we love. Like Write Within Yourself, this space is in fact an author’s companion, not an author’s guide.

So too with nooneisbroken.com. As Author is a site for writers, No One Is Broken is a site for parents of children on the spectrum, but not a site to teach them how to parent, to tell them whether or not to use omega three oils or vitamins, whether to use drugs or meditation, but rather to help answer those persistent questions that caring for a child on the spectrum raises about the parents themselves. Questions like: Am I failure if they never talk? Have I done enough? Am I a bad person if I periodically hate them? On and on.

That I can do, I thought, because it’s all I ever do. It’s like finally finding the ending to your story. When you find it, you feel as if the ending had been sitting on your desk all along, the thing you kept pushing out of the way so you could see the screen better, until you stopped looking and finally saw.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Little Napoleon

My mother was a devoted practitioner of a Zen style of minimalist parenting, a style that suited me and my general desire not to be meddled with perfectly. Never was this style more expertly employed than when I was nine and first learning to play the flute.

The problem was the slurs. To slur, a flutist does not tongue each individual note but exhales one continuous breath so that the notes appear to run together as if they were poured out of a jug, rather than dropped one by one from your instrument. I couldn’t get it. Somehow by not pausing to articulate each note the whole business came out rushed and muddied. How disappointing: only three months into my musical expedition, and I’d reached my Waterloo.

After a particularly fruitless practice session, I marched to my mom’s bedroom where she may have been seeking refuge from the life of a single mother, and broke the news. “I can’t get the slurs,” I told her. “I’m going to quit.”

To which she replied: “Okay.”

I was caught completely off guard. I had prepared a passionate defense of my fluting ineptitude and the pain it was causing me. Did she want me to suffer through failure after failure? But the fight for which I had readied myself never came, and I turned around knowing I was not going to quit.

There is nothing failure loves more than opposition. It feeds off it. After all, if something is being opposed, then that something must exist. When your punches come back empty, you can only ask yourself what you were swinging at. I certainly did that day. This little Napoleon marched back to his music stand, victorious in his surrender.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Little Napolean

My mother was a devoted practitioner of a Zen style of minimalist parenting, a style that suited me and my general desire not to be meddled with perfectly. Never was this style more expertly employed than when I was nine and first learning to play the flute.

The problem was the slurs. To slur, a flutist does not tongue each individual note but exhales one continuous breath so that the notes appear to run together as if they were poured out of a jug, rather than dropped one by one from your instrument. I couldn’t get it. Somehow by not pausing to articulate each note the whole business came out rushed and muddied. How disappointing: only three months into my musical expedition, and I’d reached my Waterloo.

After a particularly fruitless practice session, I marched to my mom’s bedroom where she may have been seeking refuge from the life of a single mother, and broke the news. “I can’t get the slurs,” I told her. “I’m going to quit.”

To which she replied: “Okay.”

I was caught completely off guard. I had prepared a passionate defense of my fluting ineptitude and the pain it was causing me. Did she want me to suffer through failure after failure? But the fight for which I had readied myself never came, and I turned around knowing I was not going to quit.

There is nothing failure loves more than opposition. It feeds off it. After all, if something is being opposed, then that something must exist. When your punches come back empty, you can only ask yourself what you were swinging at. I certainly did that day. This little Napoleon marched back to his music stand, victorious in his surrender.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Clever Monsters

When I was a young parent and would get the 2:00 a.m. Monster Under The Bed call, I would do the obvious and ultimately useless thing of bravely checking under the bed to reassure my son that he had nothing to worry about: nothing lived there but dust bunnies and forgotten toys.

But monsters are clever, and so the second time I am called into the bedroom at 2:00 a.m. and bravely look beneath the bed, I am told that the monster snuck out and into the closet when I had my back turned. And so I pull the closet doors open, and Lo! No monsters.

Except monsters are cleverer still. By the third 2:00 a.m. trip I am told that the monsters have a special power: they are invisible to grownups. It is about this time that my young parenting patience runs out and I growl, “There are no monsters anywhere in your bedroom, all right? I’m very tired. Go to sleep.”

I am older now, but the monsters are still around. Clever as always, they have changed their shape to suit the child. Last night my thirteen year-old son’s cry pulled me from a very pleasant dream. I staggered into his room and found him sitting up in bed.

“Dad, I heard a burglar in the house.”

The troubles of the world are not yet relevant to the half-dreaming mind, and so I had the wisdom on this night not to even listen for the burglar I knew did not exist. “Sawyer,” said the part of me that knew what it could not see, “answer me honestly now. Ready? Are you ready?”

“I’m ready.”

“Okay. Quickly now: are you safe?”

He blinked at me in the darkness. “Yes.”

“Good.” I eased him back onto his pillow. “That’s the only answer you’ll ever really get, you know.”

Out in the hall my mind was waking up. How unfortunate. Now, it might resist returning to sleep. Now, it might even find itself listening for burglars.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Nothing Lost

I am told that in near-death experiences one relives not so much one’s entire life but all the relationships we have had in that life. In this way the fortunate nearly-dead understands the importance and poignancy of every single living soul with whom they’ve come into contact.

This seems true, but is also very easy to overlook. We meet so many people after all, and most of them very casually. There are cashiers and waiters, airplane neighbors, schoolmates, workmates, strangers on the street. Most of these souls are just a part of the busy flow of life, as distant and muted in our lives as the scenery.

Then there are your children. I have heard parents say, “My children are everything to me.” I don’t believe this. I certainly hope it isn’t true, because what exactly was this parent before the children were born and what will they be once these children – hopefully – leave the nest? But I understand the sentiment behind the statement. There is something about raising a child that casts a spotlight on life and teaches us what survivors of lightning strikes and botched surgeries often learn with or without children.

At some point in your parenting life you will probably realize that you must become conscious of your words and actions. It has never been clearer to me than with my children that my own impatience gets repaid with impatience, my anger gets repaid with anger, my love gets repaid with love. Everything I do and say matters.

For many years I considered this heightened experience to be unique to parenting. The rest of the world was durable enough to withstand my anger and indifferent enough to ignore my love. I cannot remember exactly when this changed. One afternoon, however, I left a drugstore noting that I had taken as much care thanking the cashier for my change as I had talking to my son about college.

“But I’ll never see that cashier again,” I thought. “Why bother?” But it was as silly question, wasn’t it? As if kindness is something you can lose when you offer it to someone else.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Knowing

When my son Sawyer was four my wife and I decided to enroll him in a summer day camp. He was significantly delayed in his language development at that time, but he knew enough to tell us, “I don’t want to go.”

But children say these sorts of things all the time, and his older brother had said the same thing, and summers were long. He would learn to like it there. Sometimes, however, I would drop him off at the community center and he would seem so lost toddling into that crush of children that I couldn’t actually imagine how he would fit there. I pushed these thoughts out of my mind because summers were long and he would learn to like it.

Soon bruises began appearing on his arms. Children get bruises all the time, but these were always on his arm. We asked him if he had been grabbed or fallen down? No, he said, but again, it was hard to tell in those days what he understood and what he did not. One night he got up to use the bathroom. There was a bruise on his arm that hadn’t been there when we’d put him to bed. It was decided I would take him to the emergency room.

Despair crept over me as I sat in the Children’s Hospital examination room with Sawyer. I didn’t think anything was wrong with him. I didn’t know why these bruises kept appearing, but I didn’t think there was anything wrong with him. But how could I know this? I’d heard mysterious bruises were a sign of leukemia. Did I want to take that chance?

The doctors came and drew his blood and told us to wait some more. Now I began to hate the hospital. I did not think that there was anything wrong with him but I hated that someone could poke him with a needle and tell me whether or not I actually knew what I was certain I knew. I felt like I knew he wasn’t sick the same way I knew if something I had written worked or did not—but this was silly. This was not the way you think about your child’s health.

The tests came back inconclusive but the doctors felt he should return for more tests. My wife brought him back for the test but still nothing. Our pediatrician was not satisfied. She felt more tests were the safest idea.

But one night before the next set of tests we heard Sawyer playing in his room when he should have been sleeping. When Jen went to check on him, she saw a new bruise. I don’t know why she finally thought to ask this, but she did:

“Sawyer?  Did you give yourself this bruise?”

Sawyer looked down at the bruise and nodded.

“How?”

He demonstrated sucking on his arm.  He has been giving himself hickeys.

Our pediatrician wanted to continue testing him.  She wasn’t entirely convinced the bruises were all self-inflicted.  We had a different solution.  We quit sending him to the day camp.

The bruises never returned.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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