Climbing Out: Becoming Someone You Can Love

I’m excited to announce the publication of my first non-fiction book, Climbing Out: Becoming Someone You Can Love.

If you’ve ever felt like other people deserve help – that other people deserve love and forgiveness – but not you, then Climbing Out can give you the insights and support you need to move past your mistakes, find your own value, and leave behind the pit of despair and self-loathing where so many of us trap ourselves.

Find Climbing Out in paperback and on Kindle (you can click the “follow me: Amazon” link to the right).

Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve been, you don’t have to stay in the pit.

The Thing I Like About …

Matilda: she loves her parents.

Matilda is a very bright girl with a strong moral character, whose parents are … um … very different from her. They do not have moral characters. They are not concerned with their fellow man. They are more concerned that their children reflect their life choices than they are with providing a nurturing environment for said children. What intellect they have is spent in shallow pursuits and nefarious activities that, if they aren’t careful, are going to get them in trouble with the police.

Matilda does not like spending time with her parents. She doesn’t have anything in common with them. They’re threatened by her intelligence and by her scholarly interests. They are neglectful, and arbitrary, and have a tendency toward violent outbursts. Matilda works very hard through the whole film to find a way to be anywhere but home, because she doesn’t like “home” and she doesn’t like her parents.

But she doesn’t hate them either.

She tries to arrange things so that her father doesn’t get arrested for the stupid things he does. She tries to explain to him the difference between right and wrong, so that he can avoid the pitfalls of his own behaviour. When she finally makes a move to leave her parents behind, it’s with no rancour whatsoever.

It is her parents’ fault for creating such a wretched environment, and for being such wretched parents. But Matilda figures out – from a very early age – the thing that so many of us spend our whole lives trying to learn: you can dislike an environment, or an event, or a person, but you don’t have to hate people to separate from them. You don’t have to punish them for being less than you needed. You don’t have to dishonour the things they did that were good, or for which you are grateful (for giving you life, for instance). You don’t even have to be angry. You can just walk away to something new.

Depending on the situation and the people involved, you might try your darnedest to help them see a different path … but if they don’t get it, or don’t want it, or don’t hear you, that’s okay. You don’t have to feel discouraged, or like a failure. And you don’t have to stick around.

Matilda figures out that loving your parents doesn’t make them good for you. She figures out that “goodness” isn’t measured by how much bad stuff we put up with. And she figures out that, at the end of the day, no one is hurt by her moving toward a happier life.

In fact, everybody wins.

The Thing I Like About …

28 Weeks Later: the message of hopelessness.

The sequel to 28 Days Later has good acting, a reasonable premise, and excellent special effects. It is a fine entry into the zombie-apocalypse genre. I can find nothing to dislike about it; in fact, the scene in the pitch darkness, when the audience can hear Rage moving from one side of the crowd to the other, is extremely effective.  The film is … just fine.

But I didn’t really like it.

I didn’t like that they broke the quarantine and spread Rage to Europe. I didn’t like that the child was a target. I didn’t like how Cillian Murphy wasn’t in it, but that’s probably just me. I didn’t like the hopelessness that they snatched out of the jaws of triumph.

Until I considered that maybe that was the point.

Jim, Selene and Hannah have to face extraordinary loss, hardship, and heartache to survive the first film. They have to carve love and family out of a decimated world … and they do that. They do that. They allow themselves to feel love and joy again, and they are rescued, going to a new life in (based on the accents of the pilots who find them) the U.S. or Canada. They have to let go of everything – literally everything – that they ever had or knew or cared about, in order to survive and thrive in a new reality.

In 28 Weeks Later, everyone decides that you can go back again. They decide that you can ignore reality and linger in a nostalgic past; you can have everything be the same as it was, even after it changes. They decide that all that stuff we learned in the first film is basically poo. And the consequences?

Death, despair, hopelessness, chaos, and outbreak.

The entire second film revolves around blowing up London (which looked totally amazing!) and reminding us why we were happy with the ending of the first one: Jim and Selena and Hannah move forward. They let go of things that are, well, already gone. They allow change, and movement, and newness. They live now. The people in the second film … do not. They’re trying to recapture a past that died six months ago when that girl let the monkey out of the cage. They’re living in that past, and they become as dead as it is.

After seeing 28 Weeks Later, I imagined Selena and Jim and Hannah sitting in Toronto or Texas or somewhere, watching the news about the destruction of London and the outbreak in France … and shaking their heads, and saying, “F’ing morons.”

“You can’t go back again.”

The Thing I Like About …

Transformers III: Dark of the Moon:  the part where Dutch goes all ninja.

Sam, Simmons, and Dutch have entered an unsavory situation, filled with several (probably armed) people who don’t like them.  Just when it seems that the good guys are about to get in serious trouble, Dutch starts breaking arms and taking guns, quickly placing himself in charge and glaring at everyone with cold calm.  When Simmons speaks to him in German – admonishing him, clearly – Dutch’s expression changes to one of contrition, and he drops his guns and apologizes to the bad guys:  “I’m so sorry!  That was the old me!”  He instantly transforms back to the easy-going, placid man he had been during the rest of the movie.

We all spend way too much time rehashing our pasts to ourselves – not just the hurts that others have caused us, but also (or even more so) the hurts we have caused others.  We question our right to let things go, because what if we haven’t been “punished” enough for our transgressions?  We question our current worth based on the mistakes of the past – mistakes we made years ago, maybe even mistakes from our childhoods.  But one of the reasons we can’t let these things go is that we can’t go back and un-do it.  We don’t have the ability to go back in time and change what we did, and so we do the next best thing:  we live in the past in our heads, and we feel bad for our crimes forever.

What if we went “Dutch” instead?  What if we committed to changing our ways, and simply moved forward while our mistakes stayed behind us?  What if, when we found ourselves repeating old habits or attitudes or actions, we just accepted that it happened, and apologized, and recommitted to the “new” us?  What if we accepted that it really is okay to do that? – no punishment, just improvement.  No rehashing, just making amends and moving on.  No baggage, just a one-way ticket to the person we wanted to be in the first place.

Practice with me, now:  “That was the old me!” – and then let the old-me go.

… Unless at some point you need to go ninja.

The Thing I Like About …

Clear and Present Danger:  the part where Jack Ryan takes the blame.

Clear and Present Danger describes a probably-all-too-common occurrence, in government and in our regular lives – there’s a clearly delineated “bad guy” who obviously needs to be eliminated, and a “good guy” who may not be a saint but whose heart is most decidedly in the right place.  He makes a decision that leads to outcomes, that lead to other decisions that lead to other outcomes – and somewhere in there is the ego, the part of people that doesn’t want to admit any culpability or acknowledge any embarrassment.  This well-meaning man and his cohorts make the actual situation completely horrible in an effort to seem like they made everything okay.  You know, the road to hell and good intentions and all that….

But Jack Ryan is one of those actual good guys – the ones who put others ahead of themselves, who would rather be honest than rich or famous, who would rather fix problems than hide them.  When he discovers the multi-layered cover-up – one that has resulted in a military team being left behind in the Columbian jungle with no resources, no support, and no escape route – Jack immediately goes to Columbia to rescue the soldiers and to do what he can to stop the bad guys.  He puts himself in harm’s way without complaint; he performs every action based on both what is efficient and what is right – no ego-decisions here.

Of course, the surviving soldier doesn’t know anything about Jack Ryan.  All he knows is that things went terribly wrong, and that his comrades died unnecessarily.  All he knows is that John Clark – the man who sent the team in and the man who’s escorting Jack now – did not answer when the soldiers called for help.  The surviving soldier runs out of his hiding place and attacks Clark, accusing him of leaving the men to die.  He’s bigger than Clark, and he’s very, very angry and stressed out, and he’s got Clark pinned down, but then Jack intervenes.  “It’s not his fault!” he yells in defense of Clark.

The soldier turns on Jack.  “Well, whose fault is it, then?”

“It’s mine!” Jack tells him.  “It’s my fault.”

Jack feels it’s his fault because he appropriated the funds for the mission without understanding clearly what the president intended to do with the money.  He feels it’s his fault because he thinks he should have pinned the president down, but I’m not entirely sure how a person would do that.  He thinks it’s his fault because he sees a wrong has been done right under his nose and – unlike almost everyone he works for and with – he finds it unacceptable for wrong to be done.

He takes the blame, and the soldier stands there and stares at him, not knowing what to make of this … no one takes the blame.  Blame is for giving, not accepting.  Blame is something people don’t want to admit to, and the need to avoid blame is what got his fellow soldiers killed in the first place.  The fear of taking the blame is what makes governments, corporations, and even schoolyards go round.  No one takes the blame.

Ignoring for the moment that I don’t think it’s really Jack’s fault at all, when he accepts “blame” he’s really accepting responsibility – a whole other thing – and through that he’s able to do something none of the cover-up specialists even entertain as a possibility – he solves the problem.   He solves it, gets credit for solving it, and becomes the most heroic, honest “boy scout” in Washington, while the men who worked so hard to avoid blame end up covered in poo.

Of course, Jack can’t go back in time.  He can’t un-make the decisions that led to these disastrous events.  He can’t bring the dead back to life.  And the soldier sees that too, in that moment when he doesn’t know what to make of Jack’s words – he sees that finding the person who’s at fault doesn’t really actually fix anything.  It may make it possible to seek the justice of punishment or the safety of removing “bad guys” from society, but it doesn’t un-ring the bell.  This thing that people spend their lives running from – it doesn’t really change one little thing at all.  Embracing it, though, allows Jack to move forward, to see what needs to be done and what can be repaired.  It allows for healing.  And it makes Jack one of the most honourable people in film.

Here’s to hoping people like that start popping up in the real world.