Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Runs with Chainsaws

Saturday I was enjoying a bit of peace and quiet when I noticed that things were too quiet. I did a mental checklist.

Husband? Check. At the YMCA.

Baby daughter? Check. Snoozing in bed.

Seven-year-old son? Che….

I could hear him. He was in the next room. He was in the next room sitting at the communal desk clacking away at the family computer. He was being quiet. But so quiet.

I got up and walked behind his chair. He was wearing earphones and did not hear me approach. I looked over his shoulder. I could see the screen. Oh, look. He’s playing a new game on the computer, I thought. I wonder if he got it off that new site he’d said the kids were jazzed about: mostfungames.com.

I bent forward, looking more closely at the screen. Odd. One character — what looked to be small child with a skeleton for a head — was shaking another character, an adult male in a business suit.

I cocked my head. It looked as if their bodies were melded together and trembling. My mouth opened. This was thrusting. What the flip! Is this…is it…time for Pedobear?

"Wha…wha…what is going on here?" I asked, leaning still more forward, trying to comprehend this gyrating congress between skull-boy and suited man.

My cherubic seven-year-old son — the one who it seemed just days ago was peacefully playing with Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer — pulled back on the mouse and turned to gaze sweetly up at me.

His movement of the mouse retracted the child-with-skull character away from the adult-in-suit character.

As skull-boy moved back, a great bloody chainsaw retracted from the suit-man's abdomen. Blood spouted uncontrollably out of the adult's body and the psychotic skull-child bounced up and down in anticipation, bloody chainsaw at the ready for more ghastly carnage.

"Noooooooooooo! No, no, no, no, no, no, no!" was all I could manage. “Noooooooo! The Buddha! The Buddha would NOT like this!" I tried again, my voice rising an octave.

My son’s face contorted and crumbled. Tears began streaming down his cheeks. "I…I…I didn't,” he began, but he couldn't finish his sentence. “I…I…I didn’t know!" he finally blurted, wide-eyed and self-aware enough to begin the damage control.

"We do NOT play those kind of games in this house," I said my voice quivering. "NOT okay. NO violence. NO bleeding. NO hurting people. EVER!” I then shook a wire hanger at him and rolled my eyes back in my head.

Just kidding.

“Where did you get this game?" I continued.

"My friends told me about it. I didn't know it was bad!" the kid said, crying harder. I pulled him to me and hugged him.

"It's okay. I am not mad at you. I'm just shocked. I didn't expect to see blood. I didn't expect to see guys killing each other.”

You do know why this is wrong, right?" I pulled him away from me so I could look him in the eyes.

He nodded. "Because we don't hurt people."

"No. Because we're Buddhists and Buddhists try not to hurt people. The very first rule, the most important rule that the Buddha gave us, is 'Do no harm.' Do you know what 'harm' means?"

"Hurting people," he wailed, hugged me harder, the tears flowing. I hugged him harder.

"I promise I'm not mad at you. But I need you to know why I'm telling you not to do this. I want you to understand that it's not because I'm mean."

I felt his little head nodding up and down on my stomach.

"Do you think it's okay for a game to teach little kids to chainsaw people, to saw them in half and make them bleed? Does that sound right to you?"

"No! I don't know why they would teach me that!" He cast a wide-eyed look at the evil Apple, a desktop killing machine. He was most eager to pounce, to deflect all blame away from himself.

"I need you to promise that you won't play any games with killing or blood, okay?"

"Okay. I will never play a game with blood or killing in it. I will not kill people any more!"

"Thank you,” I said, hugging him tighter.

Good lord Buddha, did I learn a lesson.

He's only seven and I need to watch what he's doing on the computer like a mother hawk. Watching every 15 minutes is wholly insufficient. I need to be up in his business while he’s on that thing, checking constantly.

I mean, seriously.

Who made this game? Who would want to train our young to gleefully chainsaw the grown-ups in half?

Clearly, the terrorists have won.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Dental Makeover: Step 1

I had a mouthful of metal.

Until this morning, that is. As a child I had every one of my molars pumped full of metal. The tops of the molars were coated in silver, the sides of my molars were dotted with metal. If I laughed heartily (and I usually do) you'd get an eyeful of the dark gray landscape that was my mouth. I think every possible surface had been pillaged and draped in silver.

Personally, I think my childhood dentist was drill happy.

This morning all of those gray hunks were drilled out of my head. I believe all of them were at least 30 years old.

Unlike those childhood experiences of groaning and thrashing in the dentist's chair while he softly murmured, "Just a few more minutes," this morning's dental spelunking was not painful in the least.

My new, wonderful dentist pumped me full of so much Novocaine I never felt a thing. And he administered the Novocaine in such a way that I wasn't digging my nails into the arms of the chair. Unlike thirty years ago, they now have this nifty topical anesthetic they can put on your gums before they prick it with the needle.

So I didn't move.

I didn't flinch.

I didn't groan or moan or even clench my fingers ever-so-delicately into the armrest.

"That was amazing!" my dentist remarked. "It's very difficult for people not to flinch while they're getting Novocaine."

Which gave me pause. Was my new dentist amazing, was he kissing my ass, or have I simply acquired the most amazing capacity for pain tolerance ever? I think it might be a little bit of all of the above.

I think the combination of Buddhist practice and a shit ton of therapy have enabled me to tolerate pain. Both psychic pain and physical pain. The old me would have been ratcheting up the dental appointment long before it began.

As my husband often says, "A coward dies a million deaths, a hero dies but one." I used to die a million deaths a thousand times a day. I'd die in anticipation of events. I'd freak myself out over the prospect of getting a Novocaine shot and get myself all worked up before I even got in the chair. I'd break out into hives the night before a surgery.

But now I bring into play the Buddhist practice of redirecting my mind. If I find my mind wondering to thoughts of "HOLY SHIT HE'S GOING TO JAB MY GUMS MULTIPLE TIMES WITH A BIG MEDIEVAL NEEDLE" I redirect.

I've been practicing redirection for so long that it's nearly instantaneous. It's probably more along the lines of, "HOLY SHI..." and then I redirect to, "Hm. I wonder what we should have for dinner?"

And then, "HOLY..." and then redirect to, "I can't wait 'til the kids go to bed so I can lay like a zombie on the couch and watch The Shawshank Redemption for the 112th time."

And finally, "HO..." redirect to "God I love this movie."

This is how I deal with fears and anxieties about physical pain, medical visits, social engagements, public speaking, making phone calls to strangers, etc.

But what of my teeth? I know you're wondering about my new teeth.

Phase 1? It almost looks like Phase Done to these eyes. I can't believe my own teeth.

I'm ready to throw open my mouth and laugh open-throated with abandon. If you hear me braying like a mule you'll know why. It's because I've got a mouth full of virgin pearly-whites. They are as pure as the driven snow. They are babies' teeth. They are the teeth of a lady who never got her teeth stuck on a Bit O'Honey.

I keep going to the ladies room to open my mouth in the mirror. I stare at all that white surface. It's like all my sins have been erased.

It's dental absolution.

And it's only Step 1, baby.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Truth in Advertising

I found a journal entry that my son wrote upon the eve of his seventh birthday:

"I can't wate for my party at Chuk E. Chese where a kid can be a kid."

He is one to spout advertising taglines regularly. For a while when those Cymbalta commercials were running, he would ask me, "Mama, are you sad? Cymbalta can help." And then he'd make these big, concerned moon eyes at me.

It was disturbing. But also oddly satisfying. I'm a copywriter so I can't help but admire when words get caught in a consumer's brain and repeated to others. I know it's wrong, because we're talking about my innocent child, but really, all you consumers are my innocent children and I want you swallowing up my copy whole and without censure. And I wouldn't mind if you walked around repeating it as gospel.

Some people say advertisers are liars. They say the same thing about lawyers and I happen to be married to a lawyer. Neither one of us is a liar. I believe what I write. And my husband would be the first to tell you that if you've hired a lawyer who lies, you're going down. If you lie in court and the judge finds out, it's over. And chances are the judge is going to find out, because the lawyer on the other side is doing everything he can to prove you wrong.

I don't know how a copywriter can be a liar and be any good. Some people say fiction is a lie, but I say fiction is a lie you believe. You believe the story while you're writing it. You are so caught up in the dream of it that it is real, it is truth while you're in it. If it weren't, the story wouldn't be any good.

The same goes for copywriting. I have to believe in my product in order to write about it. I get caught up in whatever I'm working on and immerse myself in it. I become its biggest fan. I believe my own hype. I have to.

Now have I ever been asked to write about something I didn't believe in?


Did I write about it?


Because I knew it wouldn't be any good. Most copywriters don't have the luxury of choosing what they write about, true. But so long as it doesn't go against your religious beliefs or core values, chances are you can find something positive and truthful to say. I couldn't sign up for the Pro Death Penalty cause or the Buddhism Is Evil campaign. But I have sold cars and some people might think cars are evil. They consume fossil fuels and people do die in accidents. I'm from Detroit though, and loving cars is in my blood. My geography has made me look longingly at wheels and steel. What can I say? I think consuming some fossil fuel is necessary and people die sitting in chairs.

I've written about grocery stores and golf balls, and I've sold coffee. I've sold chocolate. I've sold sex toys. And I believed in each one as I wrote about it. I believed it was the best damn grocery store, the most athletic golf ball, the most delicious coffee, the smoothest chocolate. I'll leave the sex toys to your imagination.

The point is, I believed. If the person behind the tagline believes it, chances are it'll ring true to you. And if you happen to be seven, it'll be oft-repeated gospel.