Malcolm in the Middle

We all grew up with those shows that our mothers disapproved of, especially those of us who grew up in conservative, Christian homes. For a lot of my friends, it was SpongeBob. Their mothers thought the show was stupid, that it would make their kids stupid, and anyone who watched it was stupid. My mother watched a few episodes of the show and came to the conclusion that it was harmless. The topics and themes being discussed in each episode were innocent and silly enough that she was confident they wouldn’t mentally handicap us in the future. (Now, I have some friends who point out all the sexual innuendo that was underlying each episode and I’m horrified. Still, I stubbornly believe that if you watch SpongeBob with the innocence of a child, it’s a decent show about friendship and adorable sea creatures. At least, the first few seasons are. I stopped watching after season 6, I think…) What SpongeBob was for most mothers, Malcolm in the Middle was for mine.

Francis, Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey were always getting themselves into trouble, hurting each other, hurting the people around them, or financially crippling their parents in one way, shape, or form. They were disrespectful to pretty much everyone; they couldn’t seem to behave even in front of complete strangers. My mother was convinced their terrible behavior would somehow rub off on us kids. It also bothered my mother how much Hal and Lois had sex on the show. She admitted that it was important for a married couple to continue being intimate throughout their married years, especially after they had children. She just didn’t like the fact that they showed us the passionate make outs and the half naked clips.

Despite her reservations, Malcolm in the Middle always seemed to air before SpongeBob did, right after we came home from school. So when we turned on the TV to watch SpongeBob, we usually caught the last few minutes of an episode of Malcolm. I ended up seeing enough of the show to realize that it had its moments of hilarity but was, essentially, ridiculous. I’d never known a family that was as disruptive as theirs. I didn’t think it possible in the real world. Plus, if we caught a scene with the parents making out, we could always change the channel and check back later to see if SpongeBob had started. In reality, it was not as big a deal as my mother made it out to be. But she is our mother. She is always going to try to protect her kids from the big bad world, and I’m thankful for that even if it does make me roll my eyes or think her a little silly at the time.

Now, as an adult, I’m watching Malcolm in the Middle with my husband.

It all started after we finished the latest season of Dr. Who. It was rumored that a tenth season would be coming out, but there wasn’t anything posted on our favorite streaming site. We were caught up with Hawaii 5O, had already finished Sherlock, weren’t really in the mood for Supernatural or Burn Notice, so we started brainstorming. What shows were readily available? What shows were we curious about? What were we in the mood for? Somehow Malcolm came up. I think it was thrown out there as a joke but, after thinking about it for a bit, we thought: “Why not? We’re adults now. We can watch whatever we want.” (Always a surprising realization for me.) “Plus, if we don’t like it, we can always stop watching,” we reasoned. So we started the show.

It turns out, we really like it. (Sorry, Mom.)

My husband grew up in a house full of boys. They weren’t nearly as devious as Malcolm and his brothers, but my husband can relate to and appreciate a lot of the shenanigans the boys get into in the show. I mostly laugh and shake my head, and murmur, “We’re not going to do that when we have kids” or “We’re not going to let our kids get away with that” or “If my son does anything like that…” or “I hope we have girls.” It’s both nostalgic and educational…now that we’re adults.

I don’t think I could really appreciate this show as a kid. I couldn’t relate to the boys because my siblings and I were “good kids.” I couldn’t relate to Hal and Lois because I had no idea what it was like to be a parent. (I don’t have kids so, technically, I still don’t know what it’s like to be a parent but after many a late night conversation with my mother, mother-in-law, and other relatives with young children, I’m starting to get a better picture of what parenting is going to be like.) The things the parents go through on the show (being bullied by a car salesman, freaking out because they misplaced their paycheck, wanting to get away and do something nice for themselves only to have the event ruined for one reason or another) are things I can relate to now because of my life experiences. Now, I can watch these kids get into trouble and wonder how my parents would have handled a similar situation with me. Now, I can watch these kids plot against their mother and wonder how I can avoid having that kind of relationship with my future kids. Now, I can wonder at the things little boys think about and look forward to the random thoughts or actions or ideas of my future sons. Now, the things happening on this show are relevant to me.

Isn’t that funny? This show is supposed to be for kids and preteens, but here we are, enjoying it as adults. It’s still pretty ridiculous how much trouble Malcolm and his brothers get into, and I sometimes wish we had less information about the parents’ sex lives. But I can handle it now because I’m an adult. It’s kind of cool how a show that’s been over for almost ten years is still teaching and making people laugh today.

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Communication

I usually do the dishes in our house.

Despite the fact that both my husband and I make dirty dishes, the kitchen is my domain and he “wouldn’t know where to put the dishes anyway” if/when he ever got the overwhelming desire to clean. (Insert an eye roll from the wife right here.) But every once in a while, I’ll come home to find that the once large pile of dirty dishes is now gone, there are clean dishes in the dishwasher, and there are random plastics lined up neatly in the drying rack. I always make a big deal when I notice this in the hopes that my big hug, kiss, and a thousand thank-yous will encourage him to surprise me with a clean sink more often. Well, Monday after work was no different. He only got around to loading the dishwasher and left the plastic Tupperware containers for me to wash, but I was still thankful because most of the work was done.

Too lazy to actually take the dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away in their proper locations, I resorted to taking out the silverware I needed right from the washer. (We always run out of silverware before we run out of plates, cups, or bowls for some reason. At times, I think we just need to buy another 48 piece set of silverware, but I’m not so sure that would really fix the problem…) Anyway, it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I ran out of clean bowls and reached into the dishwasher for one. There was still chocolate syrup in the supposedly clean bowl I held, quite a bit of it. Which lead me to the dreadful conclusion that, if this bowl was still dirty, every other dish in the washer was too. (Insert gag reflex here.)

Whenever I load the dishwasher, I always run it whether it’s a full load or just half of one. I do this so that we can at least have some clean dishes at the end of the day. So, when I noticed my husband had loaded the dishwasher on Monday, I assumed he had run the washer as well. I was mistaken. As I washed the chocolate syrup from the bowl, I experienced a series of emotions ranging from anger to exasperation to self-pity to resignation. I know what people say about assuming. I concluded we were both at fault in this situation.

When I got back from work and found my husband gaming on the Playstation yesterday, I told him what happened as graciously as I could manage. His expression of horror and disgust was further proof that he had not done this terrible deed maliciously and, after he apologized profusely for the eighteenth time, I reassured him that it was all right. He explained that he was in the habit of leaving half-loads unwashed in the dishwasher with the hope that more dirty dishes would come later and he would be able to run it with a full load, thus saving water and soap. I asked him to please just run the dishwasher every time for peace of mind and he promised he would. We had a laugh about it later and I said the same thing I always say when something like this happens.

“We need to work on our communication.”(For those of you who don’t know, this is a quote from Independence Day, when Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are flying the alien aircraft.)

It’s funny to both of us whenever I say this because, when we were dating, we were so sure we had that communication thing down. We talked about everything. Literally. He found out about my problems with dairy and constipation the first month into our relationship. He texted me while he was on the toilet numerous times and wasn’t embarrassed to inform me when he had a surprisingly large bowel movement. We thoroughly discussed the pros and cons of home birth versus hospital birth and the possibility of aliens. We talked about what we would do if we won the lottery or were stranded on an island. We shared about our dreams (the ones we had while we were sleeping and the ones we wanted to accomplish in the future) and voiced every random question that flitted through our minds. When I did or said something that bothered him, he’d let me know in the nicest possible way and vice versa. We just had that kind of relationship.

Still, certain bits of information seem to fall through the cracks now and then. It can be frustrating, but mostly it’s humbling.

Our friends and family have commented on the ease of our relationship. I can count the “big arguments” we’ve had in our three and a half years of knowing each other on one hand, and even those can’t be considered big when compared to the fights other people have. I mean, we’ve never raised our voices at each other or thrown things at each other or spent a night apart to “cool off.” In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever gone to bed angry at each other. It was a struggle to admit he was right and his ways were best at the beginning of the marriage (I’m not just saying that; 99% of my husband’s methods have proven to be smarter/more efficient than mine.) But I was able to overcome my pride and get over that after a few months. There are things he does that bother me, but he’s made an effort not to snap his fingers to get my attention or whistle for the dog when I’m standing right next to him (he whistles through his teeth and it’s the LOUDEST sound I’ve heard to this day) or turn the water ice cold and jump out of the way while we’re showering together.

These trivial things we “suffer” through might sound small to other couples, but they mean a lot to me. These little things are what keep me from getting a swollen head and thinking I have a perfect relationship. They help me relate and be compassionate to other wives. They are the funny stories I can share with my single friends much, much later, when neither my husband nor I harbor negative feelings toward the matter/event. They are what makes my husband and I human. So, when you look at it that way, you can say that miscommunication and mistakes are things to be thankful for. (Insert cheesy thumbs up here.)

On the subject of erotica

There is a possibility that I’m overreacting, but I have to get this off my chest. Are my manuscripts not going to get as much attention as some other books because I don’t write explicit sex scenes?

I’ve read some pretty incredible books that didn’t include sex. Their plots, characters, and sweet love story arcs were spectacular without graphic love-making scenes. I don’t know, maybe I’m generalizing but, nowadays, it seems like that’s all I see on promotional book websites and social media accounts.

“Read my book. There’s a naked man on the cover who’s super ripped.” “Read my book. It takes place at a whorehouse.” “Read my book. It’s a coming of age story about a girl who loses her virginity.” “Read my book. It’s about a passionate threesome this girl had one night.” “Read my book. It’s about a man who saw a woman on the street, their eyes met, and they just had to have each other.”

Oh. My. Goodness.

People complain about cliches, unoriginal plot lines, unrealistic characters, boring villains, and lack-luster hooks in the writers’ forums I’ve been involved with, but doesn’t the overwhelming amount of sex in today’s literature bother them? With so many wives complaining about their husbands who have “too much” of a sex drive, I find the sex-crazed women in some of these advertised books to be a little unrealistic. There can only be so many ways to describe the act of making love without things becoming repetitive or unoriginal. But no, I don’t hear anyone complaining about this other than myself and the rest of the conservatives.

I know humans are sexual beings. We were created to crave intimacy with our significant others. It’s one of the greatest things about being alive. I’m a newly wed. I get it. But it’s already in our movies, in our TV shows, screaming at us through our music, staring at us through our magazines, dancing across our computer screens, and being published in trashy adult books. New writers shouldn’t have to include it in their work to get the attention of an agent. There shouldn’t have to be sex in a book in order for it to be considered good by the general populace.

Sex isn’t the only thing that sells. What about artful story-telling? What about incredible world-building or the creation of intriguing places no one’s ever heard about? What about the brave heroes and heroines we all want to grow up to be like and those unshakable friendships they had? What about presenting the constant struggle between good and evil in new and exciting ways? What about those fun controversial topics, characters going through real-life problems, people uniting despite their differences to fight a common enemy? Shouldn’t all those things be more important than how well your pillow talk looks on paper or how many sexual positions you know?

All right, I’m getting off my soapbox now.

I know that not all authors write erotica. I know not every book ever written has a sex scene in it. It’s just frustrating, not to mention discouraging, when I continue to encounter books with adult content on the websites of agents and new authors. They outnumber every other book genre ten to one. I’ve set some boundaries for myself and established parameters when it comes to my writing that will help keep my conscious clear without staying too close to the “prude” or “tween” or “spiritual” line. I strive to appeal to multiple groups of people without compromising my morals. It’s hard sometimes but I believe it’s worth it. There has to be a group of people somewhere out there who looks for books like mine. That’s who I’ll write for. I just have to keep looking for agents who will like and champion my sex-free manuscripts.

 

P.S.

If you like reading or writing erotica, that’s your deal. I’m not judging or looking down on you. I’m just venting about my frustrations as an undiscovered writer.

BBC’s Sherlock

All right, now that the series is over, I’ve been able to go back to Season One and watch it all the way through. I’ve had time to grieve and ponder the wonders of the show. And I have a few things to say about Sherlock.

  • I tip my hat to Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. It was a fun ride of interesting cases, with four unforgettable villains, plenty of sweet bro moments, nail-biting incidents, and plenty of laughs. The cast was well thought out; the actors and actresses did an amazing job. I loved the development of the characters, Sherlock, Mycroft, and Molly especially. Sherlock went from an antisocial, arrogant, selfish genius who couldn’t tell the different between being honest and being a jerk to an extremely observant man with a heart. Mycroft, similarity, grew in his relationship with his brother. Although, we didn’t see them hugging toward the end or developing inside jokes like normal brothers, they started showing more affection toward each other in ways only a few socially challenged intellectuals could. By the end of the series, I think it’s safe to say there isn’t anything they wouldn’t do for each other. Molly Hooper was still a little awkward and shy, but she gained some respect for herself and developed a boldness with Sherlock toward the end that made me respect her more. Of course, John and Mary Watson were always adorable together. It was heartbreaking that she had to die, but the growth that it produced in John’s character almost made it worth it.

 

  • I’m SUPER bummed that it had to end. With so many mediocre shows going on to their tenth seasons when they shouldn’t have lasted two, it seems a real shame that a great show should end after only four seasons. Of course, I understand that the actors have gotten busy working for Hollywood and becoming a part of the Marvel Universe. I can understand wanting to quit while one is ahead. But still they could have left us with some hope that the story of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson would continue if/when the actors had the available time. There was so much left undiscovered with Irene Adler and her complicated relationship with Sherlock. It was revealed that she still texted and flirted with him from time to time, and that he texted her back against his better judgement. She was definitely not good for him, but he would have totally been good for her if they had ever tried to make it work. But, of course, it could have never worked because Molly was so perfect for him. The last episode had her finally confess her love for Sherlock through a test Euros was forcing her brother to go through, and Sherlock destroyed a coffin with his bear hands afterward because he realized how much he hurt his friend the mortician. I would have LOVED to see how they made up after that incident. I might just create two characters in a story who are similar to Molly and Sherlock, just so that I can give them a proper ending.

 

  • Now I want to read the books. I know that the creators of BBC’s Sherlock modernized the show to appeal to this new generation and the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are set in…what, the 1800s? But I would love to compare the characters, the cases, and the villains to see just how accurate they were. Although, I think I can guess at the changes they made to Mary Watson’s character.

 

  • Euros was a stroke of genius. I’m sure everyone expected the Holmes family to have a third brother. Everyone was wondering about Redbeard and how it related to anything in the third season. Well, it didn’t relate to anything in the third season. The creators were just setting us up for the fourth season. I love it when people do that! It takes such planning, such foresight, to integrate clues like that into earlier works of literature or film. To the day, I’m still amazed at J.K. Rowling’s ability to take something small that she mentioned in the second book (Dobby, for example) and make it relevant right up until the last book. I find it hard to leave clues throughout a single book, much less seven! I still have much to learn about plot twists and important reveals it seems.

 

  • Despite the fact that all the secrets have been revealed, I’m pretty sure I could continue watching this show until the end of time. There are some shows that you can only watch all the way through, like, once or twice because there are certain eye-rolling parts or frustrating character choices or actor/actress changing or whatever. But there was nothing about this show that I would change, nothing that I wished would have happened differently, nothing truly cringe-worthy that could have gone more smoothly. That is so rare nowadays and for that, I repeat, I tip my hat to the creators of BBC’s Sherlock.

Adulting

The baby shower was going to start in twenty minutes and I didn’t have anything to wrap my present with. I had some tape, a bow, a lot of colored tissue paper, and a plethora of “Merry Christmas” gift bags, and that was pretty much it. I’d just been to the grocery store that morning and had remembered to snatch a card, but somehow I’d forgotten to get a gift bag. Fortunately, my sister-in-law (who was driving us both to this event) graciously offered to stop by the 99 cent store on the corner. I hopped out of the car, ran in, snatched the biggest baby gift bag I could find, and zipped into the check out line. Once outside, I stood at the curb and waited for my sister-in-law to come around the parking lot. I hurried up to her car when she was near enough, tucking a stray curl behind my ear.

That’s when I caught my reflection in the passenger’s side window.

I don’t see myself as an adult. I may be twenty-two years old but, physically, I’ve looked exactly the same since I was fifteen. I’ve had my own car, my own apartment, my own bills, and my own job ever since I was nineteen. I’ll be celebrating two years of marriage this May. I live in a four bedroom, two bathroom rental house with a husband, a very old, very fat tabby cat, and a hyperactive miniature Australian shepherd who can’t produce tears. (We still don’t know why. She was very sick with an unknown illness for the first six months of her life and we’re thinking all the different medications we had to give her might have damaged her tear-ducts somehow, but we can’t prove that. We should really get her to a dog eye specialist but we don’t have that kind of money, so we have to resort to giving her eye drops three to four times a day. Yes, we love this dog.) I plan meals and manage finances while balancing 30 hours a week at the office and 9 credit hours per semester.

I have goals for the future which involve finishing school, becoming a published, well-known author, and helping my husband the police officer raise our four kids. It all sounds very adultly, right? And yet, I still see myself as that fifteen-year-old girl who thought Twilight was the greatest love story ever told and didn’t know anything about the real world.

So when I looked into that car window and saw a young lady, all dolled up and ready to attend a baby shower, I blinked in surprise. Because, for a second there, I actually looked like an adult.

My husband believes we never really grow up. We might physically change and become more responsible as life demands, but that little kid lives on inside of us. Sometimes its voice is loud and its influence is strong, while at other times we can suppress it more successfully. With all the “adulting” memes out there, I think he might be right. I find that I feel the youngest when I’m geeking out about Star Wars or when I’m daydreaming about The Magical World of Harry Potter theme park or when I’m listening to the kind of emo music I used to listen to as a teenager or when I visit my old haunts in Mexico. That little kid inside me sure loves to throw a fit when the alarm goes off at 7 a.m. But then there’s the voice of reason, the voice of the Adult, reminding me of all the things I have to get done and how much work will pile up if I listen to the Kid and simply pull the covers over my head.

If I take a good look at the choices I’ve made throughout my life, I can honestly say that I’ve listened to the Adult more often than I’ve listened to the Kid. My husband often has to tell me when it’s time to relax or take a break or set the schedule aside and just hang out. Indulge the Kid. So why don’t I feel like an Adult more often?

Good question…

I think it’s because of the conviction that I don’t know anything. All right, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been in college for three years and have worked for three different establishments, and have read more books than I can count. After all that, I should know something, but every day I encounter new things. Every day it seems I come across an article, a person, a conversation heard in passing, or an event that reminds me of just how much I still have to learn about life, love, politics, insurance, government, taxes, credit, education, literature, creative writing, finance, morality, the Bible, my family members and friends, even my husband. There are still topics I don’t understand. There’s still stuff in this world that I haven’t discovered yet. It leaves me feeling like a child who’s still figuring it all out.

Sometimes I have to wonder: will I ever feel like an adult? Will I ever feel like I’ve got this life thing figured out? A part of me would like to have the answers to everything. It might make life simpler. But another part of me hopes that I won’t ever reach that point. Because what is someone supposed to do after they’ve discovered everything there is to know? Maybe that’s why it’s so important the keep that little kid around. After all, without it’s sense of wonder, humility, and discovery, how are we supposed to grow?

On the subject of fame

My dreams as an author evolved over time.

When I was young and barely discovering my talents, I was very private about my writings. I only ever shared them with my sister because I trusted her opinion and I knew she shared my interest in fantasy. I knew I wanted to get better, though. I soaked up every piece of young adult fiction that engaged me, wishing to learn from successful authors. Of course, being published doesn’t make an author great or successful, and this I discovered from the mediocre books I stumbled upon in my search for knowledge. My teachers were J.K. Rowling, Sarah Dessen, Christopher Paolini, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins, Patrick Ness, Brandon Sanderson, Kelley Armstrong, Rick Riordan, Kristen Cashore, and Marissa Rice. These were the authors who made me laugh and cry, made me fall in love with their characters, made me want to live in the worlds they created, made me believe that good always triumphed over evil in the end, made me anticipate long journeys and challenges because I knew I would be a better person after enduring them.

Without these authors and their stories, my writing wouldn’t be what it is today. And I realized something; I wanted to inspire and teach others too. I wanted to make other young people or young writers feel and believe what all these authors made me feel and believe. I wanted to reach as many people as I could and be able to live off of my writing if possible. In order to do that, I had to have a certain level of popularity. That scared me (still scares me if I think about it too much, to be honest.)

I’ve never been popular, not even a little. I had a small group of friends in elementary school, but those relationships didn’t last past my transfer to private school. My sister and her friends became my crowd throughout Jr. High. I couldn’t stand the drama, the gossip, and the incessant boy-talk of the other girls my age. I had acquaintances in high school, but nobody I would want to spend my weekends with. My older brother and sister let me tag along with them to a young adults Bible group in the next town over. The people in that group were my true friends, people I looked forward to seeing and hanging out with. But with time they all began to get married or move away or get jobs with taxing schedules that kept them away from our weekly meetings. And then I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, having developed none of the social skills necessary to make friends with ease. It took me a few years to fall in with the crowd I hang out with today, and even that crowd is small.

So I shied away from writing for others, and went with the more “practical” career choice. Still, the need for improvement has never dwindled. I’ve continued to work on my stories through the years, to the point where I live and breathe their words. And now I’m back to pursuing that full-time-inspiring-author goal. I’m facing this giant word again: popularity. AKA fame.

Uuuugh.

To me, to be famous means people follow you on social media and comment on everything you say. It means people know your opinions on life and love and politics and the Holy Ghost. It means reporters want to buy off your friends to find out juicy facts about you. It means strangers know where you’re going to spend Christmas, what stores you like to shop at, what you wore to that date with your husband last Friday, whether your kid is good in school or not. It means nothing is secret anymore, nothing is sacred. Maybe I’m exaggerating. I mean, there have been examples of famous people who managed to keep their personal lives personal. I never see Daniel Day-Lewis or Brandon Sanderson or Relient K on the front cover of a gossip magazine, but I have to wonder how much work it takes to be anonymous in a world where information is as important as air.

Just the thought of balancing being known with keeping certain things private is making me want to crawl under the covers and never come out. But I need people to read my work if I want to inspire them. I need people to buy my books if I want to be a full-time author and still help my husband provide for our family. I need to be known if people are going to support me. So I’ll be needing to call Daniel Day-Lewis sometime and ask him how he keeps the media away. I’ll be needing to find some coping mechanism if/when fans start knocking on my door. I’ll rehearse what I’m going to say before every interview so that my words won’t be used against me or my family. I’ll have to be willing to do whatever it takes if I’m to continue. And I must continue. I don’t think I would be able to live with myself if I gave up on my dream again.