Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Light In The Dark - Episode 8.

- Episode 8 -

The rest of the day went by fairly quick for Jack, he even managed to keep from getting into any more trouble from Mr. Graves. Although, Mr. Graves did make sure he kept his eye on Jack at several times in class - just in case. At the end of the day he handed everyone a paper that described they're homework as they walked past his desk. He even made sure to smile as he reminded Jack that he couldn't wait to see his work in the morning.

As Jack walked out of school he was still really worried about what to do. How could he do his homework tonight if he had to go outside after dark? It was all just too scary to even think about.

Waiting for him just outside was Dad, smiling as usual and doing his best not to be too goofy. "So how was your first day?" he asked while they started to head for the sidewalk together. At first Jack thought about just being quiet but before he knew it the words just slipped out. "Dad," he said as quietly as he could so none of the other kids would hear. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure you can buddy," his Dad replied before stopping to chuckle. "Just as long as it isn't a hard one like, well, anything involving math." Jack couldn't help but grin at his Dad, he knew he could do lots of math and stuff but liked to joke about how math had to be the hardest thing ever. "No, Dad," Jack continued, "it isn't math." His Dad made a funny face and said 'whew' like he had been worried it might of in fact been about math.

"I have some homework to do, but to do it I have to go outside," Jack had to pause for a second before he could finish, "after dark." Immediately his Dad didn't look nearly as silly as he tried to make a joke. "Isn't it illegal to give out homework on the first day?" After taking a deep breath he paused and stopped to bend down and look Jack right in the eyes.

This time when he spoke his voice was different, it was like thunder declaring lightning had just struck. "Son, everyone is afraid of something," he began to explain. "Being afraid of the dark is something normal but the trick is to remember one simple thing." If there was a secret, then Jack had to know it. "What is that?" he asked his Dad. "The dark is kind of like a bully," his Dad answered. "And how do we deal with a bully?"

Jack already knew that answer, it was an easy one. "We stand up to it!" he said full of certainty. "Exactly," his Dad said with a quick nod. "The only way a bully has any power is by making you scared. Secretly every bully is afraid of people they can't scare. So when we stand up to them they learn that we aren't afraid of them and they lose that power."

Jack was really trying to understand how this would help him with being afraid of the dark. His Dad must of been able to tell because he tried to explain it some more. "The dark is just like a bully, it can't do anything to us unless we allow it. If you are afraid of it then it can make you imagine all kinds of scary things." He was really right on that one Jack thought to himself. "But, if we're brave we can stand up to it just like we do a bully. Then, if it can see just how brave we are in our heart it will know it can't touch us."

His Dad took a moment to stand back up before he looked back down at Jack. "Don't worry son," he whispered. "You have one of the brightest and bravest hearts I have ever seen." Was Dad right about him, Jack wondered as they finished walking home. Could he really stand up to the dark by not being afraid of it? He was sure going to try, but not until after dinner.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Light In The Dark - Episode 7.

- Episode 7 -

Normally lunchtime was one of Jack's favorite parts of school cause he got to pick his own lunch. The lunch ladies were always nice to him and sometimes they would even let him get a little extra on his tray. He could always look forward to lunch, especially when they were serving one of his favorite things - hamburgers. Jack loved hamburgers, he could even eat the big ones like his Dad liked to have.

"Something the matter?" asked one of the lunch ladies. Her name tag said Kelly in squiggly letters and had a little rainbow flower drawn around it. "Normally you jump at the chance for one of my burgers, even ask for seconds," Kelly explained. Jack hadn't even realized he was already in the line for food, everything had just been so blurry after the bell rang. He had even almost picked up something that dangerously resembled spinach - yuck.

"I'm not having a very good day," Jack whispered as he reached for a burger, careful to avoid the mysterious green stuff. Kelly smiled at him and her face seemed to brighten. "Well, don't you worry none, it'll get better," she promised as he moved on down the line. Maybe she was right, I mean at least he had managed to get his burger.

As usual Ben had saved him a seat at they're favorite table and even though Kim was already setting there too Jack didn't mind. It seemed Kim was the least of his worries today, he just hoped they weren't going to turn the lights off anymore today. "You okay Jack?" Kim asked while making the same face his Mom did. It was the face girls must all be born knowing, you know the one where they already know what is wrong but they want you to say it anyways. Jack was sure they must practice it or something.

Ben leaned over the table and whispered, "it's cause Mr. Graves turned the lights out in class isn't it?" Jack couldn't bring himself to say it so he just nodded. Sometimes, even big kids don't like having to admit their still scared of something - even if it is the dark.

"Well," Kim interrupted, "you still are going to have do the homework tonight." Jack didn't need her to remind him, instead he wished she'd offer some brilliant way to get out of having to do it. "So what you going to do," she added. "I don't know," he managed in between mouthfuls of hamburger. Maybe he could ask Dad.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Light In The Dark - Episode 6.

- Episode 6 -

The only sound Jack could hear was the faint click of the light switch as the classroom became dark. A wave of panic hit him in the belly hard, it kind of felt like it did when Walter flopped on his belly while they were playing in the floor. Jack couldn't seem to breath or even move, the only thing on his mind was light. He was desperate, the dark had always terrified him and now it wasn't just outside his bedroom at night. It was here at school too.

His heart was pounding in his chest so loud it was like a drum. Mr. Graves was pointing to something on the wall, they looked like little dots. But Jack couldn't hear what he was saying, the pounding was just too loud. He had even gripped his desk so hard his knuckles were turning white.

A single strand of stray light peeked from under the window and Jack's eyes seized on it. It was like an explosion of hope, the small wisp of light was all he could focus on. He just kept wishing the rest of the light would come back and then he wouldn't have to be afraid again. If the lights could just turn back on the dark would go away.

Jack was so scared he never heard another click as the lights came back on. It took a moment before he even realized Mr. Graves was talking again, but who was he talking to? "Young man, I suggest you seriously decide to change your behavior, immediately," he said while pointing his finger directly at Jack.

"Me," Jack thought, "why is he pointing at me?" The finger still hung in the air as Mr. Graves started talking again. "Your on thin ice young man, I will not tolerate being ignored in class." Not even Kim was whispering from behind Jack now, nobody was even making a sound. "We shall start class tomorrow with your homework, and let's hope it's amazing or you will be seeing the principal."

The school bell rang and then everybody was up and moving.

Time for lunch.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Light In The Dark - Episode 5.

- Episode 5 -

"Today we are going to talk a little about stars," Mr. Graves told the class while writing the word stars in big letters on the board. "Can anyone tell me why stars were important to early travelers?" Without even having to look Jack could already feel the air moving behind him as Kim's hand shot up like a rocket to eagerly offer the answer.

Mr. Graves made a face as he looked around the class, it was the same face his Mom made when something was smelly but didn't want to say anything. He just rolled his eyes and turned back to the chalk board. "No, young lady, it was not because they were pretty or because they were like little night lights." Jack was sure that wasn't what Kim was going to say, she may have been a girl but she always knew the answer. Mr. Graves hadn't even given her the chance to tell him the answer.

As annoying as Kim could be, Jack did sort of feel bad for her. He was sure if it had been him that it would have hurt his feelings for sure. Now Mr. Graves was writing again and this time it was the words; north star. Jack could tell that it was exactly what Kim had been about to answer. His first clue was the fact that she had kicked her foot just enough that it had smacked his seat. Kim hated to not be allowed to answer a question almost as much as being told she was wrong. It was probably because she was never wrong.

"A long time ago," Mr. Graves declared as he started walking back and forth in front of the class. "People started to notice that some of the stars didn't move around." Jack had always thought stars were neat and all but he had always had a little problem with stars. Mainly that they could only be seen at night and night time wasn't exactly something he enjoyed. Specifically, he couldn't stand the idea of having to go outside in the dark. It was way too scary.

Suddenly Mr. Graves had stopped moving, he had even stopped talking - he was just starring at the class. "We're going to practice naming some of the stars today in class." A grin started to creep up on Mr. Graves face. "Your homework tonight will be to name as many as you can find in the sky and draw them. We will all check how you did during class tomorrow. Now, if you don't mind, Rick - isn't it? Yes, Rick would you kindly turn off the lights for me."

Rick was already up and moving straight for the light switch and Mr. Graves was now smiling ear to ear. "You can't see any stars with the lights on children," Mr. Graves reminded them.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Light In The Dark - Episode 4.

So, now one of my daughters has decided she has to hear the bedtime story too. I must admit I am doubly curious if my kids will cheer for me or ask there mother for any rotten produce to throw. At least so far they all seem rather entertained.

- Episode 4 -

Jack knew right away that he shouldn't have yelled in class. He could already tell he was in even more trouble now. It was kind of like that feeling you get when you have your hand in the cookie jar and you're parents were standing right behind you. Only this time, it was more like he had just broke the cookie jar too. And boy it was one of those old fancy ones!

But he couldn't help it, I mean it was his best-est friend Ben. Ben had been his number one buddy since, well, forever. They had done loads of super fun stuff together and had almost never been in the same class before. There was that one year but Jack was pretty sure preschool didn't count.

Ben had earned the nickname Turbo on his first day of school. The meanest boy in class, Rick, had tried to take Ben's lunch money that day. The funny thing was though, that before he could even threaten Ben, well Ben was just gone. He could run so fast everybody said he must have one of those fancy turbo race car motors or something.

Ever the scaredy-cat Ben was already ducking down in his seat as Mr. Graves had already turned his attention squarely on Jack. As usual Kim took the opportunity to point out that Jack was most likely in trouble, although she did make sure to do so quietly. Jack couldn't help but wonder if he had a big red target on his face or something.

"Are you always this rude young man," Mr. Graves asked. "Or is it that somehow you feel you don't need me to teach you? If so then I would love to see how you do with the homework." Jack started to think maybe Ben had the right idea and wished he could just duck down out of sight. But somehow he was sure Mr. Graves eyes would follow him no matter if he hid or not.

"Wait a minute," Jack thought, "did he say homework?" Homework on the first night! Wasn't that illegal or something?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Light In The Dark - Episode 3.

 Alrighty, well we started with Episode 1 last night and so far my son seems to really like it. But only time will tell how it goes so I'll just have to take it one night at a time. He has already told me that there has to be at least 20 episodes. I told him I'd do my best but couldn't promise anything. We'll just have to wait and see how things play out for Jack. That, and to be fair if he continues to enjoy the story as it unfolds. If it is enjoyed by anyone then I am happy, and it is an added bonus being able to enjoy reading it to him at night.

- Episode 3 -

Of all the girls in the world, Kim had to be the most annoying one ever. And to make it worse her favorite thing in the whole universe seemed to be beating Jack at everything. If he raised his hand to answer a question she always managed to answer before him. When they had races in P.E., Kim always beat him. She was like some kind of super robot girl, Jack was sure she had to be an alien or something.

The worst part of it all though, was that she was always explaining to Jack that he was her boyfriend. It always made his face red. "Your a boy and you're my friend," she would say. "That makes you my boyfriend." Kim always sounded like a teacher when she said it too, like it was a fact he couldn't argue.

And here she was sitting right behind him. This had to be the worst Monday ever thought Jack. Maybe it was even some kind of record among bad Mondays. Desperate not to get into any more trouble from Mr. Graves Jack tried to make sure he got his pencil and paper out to be ready for class.

Mr. Graves was already writing his name on the board with a piece of chalk. Most of the other teachers were already using the shiny marker boards but he guessed Mr. Graves still used this old chalk one for some reason. Jack didn't much like the sound it made really but at least it wasn't stinky like the marker ones. He was sure they must make some of the markers extra smelly, you know kind of like extra chunky chocolate chip cookies. Only maybe not tasty, just stinky.

As Jack was opening his brand new notebook, a really cool red colored one he picked out, Kim started poking him in the shoulder. "Gonna be quiet as usual, huh Ben?" she whispered. "Not even a hi for my boyfriend?" Jack immediately spun around in his chair excited and yelled, "Turbo!"

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Light In The Dark - Episode 2.

- Episode 2 -

Jack had heard all the stories about the one teacher every student agreed was the worst - Mr. Graves. Even his older brother Walter had made sure to tell him all about 'Grim Graves' every night before bed. But then Walter loved to try and scare Jack, older brothers are like that you know. According to Walter the only time Mr. Graves ever even smiled was when the kids in his class weren't.

He couldn't really be that mean, could he? The thought worried Jack and made him remember the one story about Mr. Graves that truly frightened him. It was his brother's favorite, and most kids still whispered about it.

According to Walter there was a kid in Mr. Graves class a long time ago, his name was Billy. Well Billy had a lot of trouble in class, and he always forgot his homework. One day Mr. Graves decided to make Billy stand in front of the class to answer a question and Billy got so nervous he couldn't even talk. He just froze like a statue.

Mr. Graves told Billy he would have to stay after class that day because he was in trouble. Nobody knows for sure what happened but that afternoon the janitor found Billy curled up in the classroom closet. The light bulb had been taken out and poor Billy had even had an accident. His parents had to be called and he even switched schools.

Jack had never been able to believe any teacher could do something like that to a kid. At least until he turned around and looked up at Mr. Graves. His eyes were like frozen ice behind his black rimed glasses and his nose reminded Jack of birds beak. Jack felt like a tiny mouse starring up at a very hungry owl who planned to eat him. His arms even got all bumpy.

"Sorry, Mr. Graves," he said quietly. "Very well then," Mr. Graves began without taking his eyes off Jack. "Take your seat, third row second from the back," he instructed. "Yes, sir," Jack nodded before heading to set down.

A quiet giggle greeted him from behind his chair as he sat down. It could only mean one thing; Kim was in his class - again.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Light In The Dark - Episode 1.

A work in progress to be sure but here is the first episode of my previously mentioned experiment. I hope to have the next episode ready soon before I start reading it to my own son. Don't wanna get him started and not have some ready for the next night if he enjoys it. Feel free to share this with your own children if you like and let me know what you think.

- Prelude -
This is the story of a very special little boy. A boy named Jack, who it just so happens might be the bravest boy every born. Because Jack has within him the ability to do something wonderful. And no matter how scary things get, or how hard the dark tries - Jack knows there is always light.


- Episode 1 -
Of all the days of the week there are just two that are always special days; Friday and Monday. Now, Friday is always a fun day because it means the start of the weekend. But it is Monday that is pure magic. Because every Monday is the start of a new week and that means you never know what the week will bring until Monday. And so it was on a Monday that our story begins.

"Time for school," said Jack's father as he passed down the hall. Jack smiled as he hopped out of bed to get ready. It was going to be his first day of class this year and that meant a new teacher and everything. He couldn't wait to see his friends again, so he hurried to get his shoes on.

"Ready dad!" Jack declared as he stood next to the front door. A head stuck out from his parents room and blinked back at him. "Hey, why didn't you tell me we were racing this morning buddy" his dad said with a grin. "I guess you win this time, just give me a minute and we'll be off."

Jack couldn't help but giggle at his dad, he was just so silly. Sometimes he even wondered if his dad was even really a real grown up or just one of those really big kids who sometimes pretended to be a grown up. He could ask mom but she'd probably just think it was another one of dad's joke's. She liked to tell them that dad really wasn't funny but then would always giggle when he wasn't looking. Yeah, Jack was sure his parents had to be the silliest parents ever.

"How about we walk this morning friend," his dad asked. "It looks like a really nice morning." Jack loved it when they got to walk to school, it made him feel like the big kids. "I guess so," he told his dad while trying not to grin. "If you want to, I don't mind," Jack added. But as they opened the door Jack remembered the one thing he had forgotten - his backpack.

"My backpack!" he screamed as he ran back to his room. He couldn't believe he had almost left without it, it was brand new and everything. He had begged for a whole week to get it for school because it was the most awesome backpack - a Force Guardians backpack. It was the best show ever, they protected the world from all kinds of crazy monsters and used super cool powers. Jack knew they weren't real but he still liked to pretend that one day he could grow up and become one of the Force Guardians.

It took a few minutes to find but he did find his shiny new backpack. It was under his stuffed bear at the end of his bed. He was ready now, and couldn't wait another minute to get to school. In fact, Jack was so distracted as they walked to school he almost forgot to tell his dad goodbye before he headed for his classroom.

But just as he walked through the door to class the school bell rang. "You, are late," said a voice from behind him. Not a very good way to start off a Monday Jack thought to himself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Some Serial Sleepy-Time Story Speculation.

Alright, forgive the alliteration, but I couldn't resist considering the subject matter. For the last few weeks I have been reading to my son every night from a e-book I had inadvertently stumbled upon. The book is The Superhero Chronicles: Birth of Moonlight by Josh Kilen, a serial bedtime story book that attempts to engage a child's imagination while allowing for quality time that only requires a few minutes of the parents'. All in all it proved to be enjoyable for both my son and me, especially with adding in an ad libed 'tune in next time' ending each night.

But, as fun as it all was I couldn't help but see little aspects that nagged at me. Mr. Kilen has apparently produced a good 4 such books geared for reading to the little ones pre-sandman visit. However as we started on our second I have to say that not all of them really seem to work as they could. They are good works, to be fair, but part of what rubs me is their vocabulary. Some of the wording alone just doesn't quite fit in an easy to understand and enjoy way for children. Couple that with some elements that could easily be out of place and you have a fun story for your children that you might see them lose interest at times.

The whole thing has been playfully taunting me in the ol' noodle. Now, it would be easy to proclaim loudly to the wind: "I can do better than this, easily!" But, well, in short unlike some I lack the bravado for such. Honestly I think a recent family tragedy has been affecting me and as I struggle to deal with it myself and I see an opportunity to attempt to invest in some high-quality quality time with my children. So I suppose instead this is going to be an experiment of sorts.

What I am considering is a tentative foray into a serialized short story for kids. With any luck it will be in similar brief episodes that attempt to leave the intended audience looking for what will come next. Considering my son seemed immediately taken with the idea of a superhero kid story I thought I might start there. But what kind of superpower would work, what kind of ability might appeal to a child? And then this hit me: Consider powers that are easy to identify with a child, perhaps that even resonate with some fear or need. One possibility is that of light manipulation. Say for example a super-kid could create bright light, even focus it into beams and such to blast things. Most kids could identify with the idea of a super-kid who could blast the shadows away and easily accept such an ability as that of a hero/good guy. In contrast though a perfect villain would be that of someone who could counter by sucking away light. Lets say they could create shadows, hide etc. We could then cause understandable conflict in the form of our hero being afraid of the dark and struggling to combat the very living incarnation of that fear in the hopes of safeguarding others.

Couple that with some funny, a dash of some serious moments a kid could understand and plenty of pauses for the parent to emphasize/savor a turn of phrase and I think you could come up with a bedtime buffet. What do you think? Well in any event I think I will give this a go and see what happens. I am sure my son won't mind being a guinea pig for this little experiment and I'll try to post the episodes as I go.

At the very least it should give me something to try and focus my mind on.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Word On Being Socially Anti-Social.

Yeah, Socially Anti-Social.

Let that compile for a minute.

Ok, now your probably either thinking I'm A.) some kind of lunatic, B.) ignorant beyond belief or C.) probably babbling nonsense. And honestly, all three could be right.

Be that as it may my point is a valid one. A good deal of our culture has taken a great leap into making more things take on more of a social element. Where once many of us anti-social hermit destined nerds used to while away the hours playing solo video games on our computers now we're doing them and being social. See, we may not be too keen on talking to random people in public but you put us on a general chat channel while we slay undead or let us bump into you in our dwarven capital by the forge and we just might.

The idea is a solid one, in theory. But here is the issue - sometimes you find some of these socially awkward people playing a game and actually being social. Only they are greeted by little less than a wall of antisocial behavior. For example; you ask someone for help and get blasted by elitist rhetoric or meet constant criticism over how you play.

Now I don't know about anyone else but I play a game for fun. And if I'm having fun then I think the game is being played right, at least to me. Take League of Legends for instance, I have been playing the game for a few years now and am anything but the most 'effective' player. I do enjoy playing the game and yes it is technically a team game which means you are in theory expected to play it with a group of others. They can be friends or just random folks thrown together for a quick match but either way it's accepted that you'll not be playing the game solo.

Wanna know how I play the game? Shhhh.... You can't tell anyone.

I play it all by myself.

Yes, I play a socially oriented game one where everyone expects the point to be you playing on a team - by myself. How does that work you may be pondering - well, oddly enough it just does. You see, I can create a custom match and assign AI bot champs to my team and the opposing team. Now I may not get as many points that way but I get to practice with how different champs work and generally just have fun. I don't play to compete professionally or anything, and I really don't play the game to try to prove I have a more impressive genitalia than some other player. It's just a fun way to spend the time in the morning or before bed. Playing solo I don't have to worry about letting someone else down or ruining their idea of fun if my kids need me to walk away from the game.

Too many other players take something fun and turn it into a personal affront to their character. They turn into anti-social tendril lashing titans of maddening rage. They push people away from a game they claim is for people to enjoy together. All the while those anti-social folks who might have otherwise opened up and tried to find some social outlet are stamped back inside their own little mental lair.

I have seen such behavior go on for years. And it's a shame too cause some games like League of Legends are fun and enjoyable games. Weather you wanna play it with others or on your own. The same could be said of a lot of MMO's too, nobody should feel required to play a game solo or only with others. The cardinal rule of any game is this: if it's fun - then play it. Let me repeat that for those in the back:

The cardinal rule of any game is this: if it's fun - then play it.

And, as always remember Wheaton's Law: "Don't be a dick." Because, let's face it - there is always a bigger one waiting around the corner to slap you in the face. Even if others have been one to you, nobody needs to turn the corner to big ol' billy - it just isn't worth it. Put the fun back into your games and take the anti-social behavior out. Because, hey, games are fun and fun is good.