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March 25, 2012

Adolescent boys are easily entertained

I mentioned on Twitter today that my favorite Japanese monster was Gamera, the giant flying turtle with the inexplicable rocket engines for flying.


Unable to remember the story of Gamera, I went online to refresh my memory.

I wish I hadn’t.

I cannot remember reading a more idiotic plotline in all my life.

It’s a sad reminder of how easily an adolescent boy can be entertained by an ill-conceived monster, a few well timed explosions and the destruction of a city. 

The film opens with Gamera's awakening from the accidental detonation of an atomic bomb as a result of an aerial assault by American fighters on Soviet bombers caught crossing into North American airspace. Gamera wastes no time in causing a rampage of destruction, first destroying a Japanese research ship, then making its way to Japan to wreak havoc.

In an attempt to stop the giant turtle, Gamera is sedated with a freezing agent on a precipice, and powerful explosives are placed at the base. The explosion knocks the monster on its back, and while it seems as though mankind has scored a victory, this is not the case: Gamera reveals its ability to fly. The monster arrives in Haneda airport and destroys most of Tokyo.

The military attempts to lure it to an island with fire, which it eats, and kill it, but the creature is distracted when a volcano erupts. Gamera goes to eat the lava instead. A new strategy, Plan Z, is devised to stop the monster, this time by baiting it into a space rocket bound for Mars. The plan is successful and the Earth is safe from Gamera.

I finally read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Sort of.

Having grown up with almost no children’s books in the home, it has been an unexpected joy to read these classics for the first time with my daughter. I would not recommend depriving your child of books, but as a father, it has made for more interesting bedtime reading.

One of the books that I had yet to read was Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. I watched the film adaptation of the book last year but had yet to read the actual book.

At the time, I postulated that I might be one of the only people in the world to have seen the film version without having ever read the book.

The book is actually sitting on my daughter’s bookshelf, just waiting to be brought into circulation. My hope was that I could experience this classic for the first time with Clara, but I’m afraid I cheated this morning.

I discovered this video of Christopher Walken reading the book and couldn’t resist.

I do not regret my decision. It’s fantastic.  

March 24, 2012

Gratitude journal: The almost perfect game

Yesterday I was grateful for poker, which I described as the perfect game.

Tonight I am grateful for golf, the almost perfect game. I played today thanks to a spat of unseasonably balmy temperatures, my first time on the links this year. I played well at times, poorly at others and finished with a score of 56, which stinks.

But still, it was golf. In March.

Like poker, golf is competition wrapped in a social milieu. Despite the ongoing battle for first place (or the more important battle to avoid last place), it is also time well spent with friends. It does not place nearly as many intellectual demands upon a player as poker does but adds a layer of physicality that poker does not possess. 

It’s a magnificent game, and I would play everyday if I could.

Here’s the thing that keeps golf from being as perfect as poker:

At the poker table, anyone can win. An inexperienced, stupid player can make a series of good decisions, become uncharacteristically aggressive, or pick up on a tell and win the game. At the poker table, every player, regardless of skill or experience, is a legitimate and persistent threat to the best player at the table.

Golf is very different. I play golf with guys who are in many ways playing an entirely different game than me. They are hitting the ball so much farther and higher and with such greater precision that beating them is a near-impossibility.

While poker provides a relatively level playing field for all players, golf does not. Experience plays an enormous role.

And some guys are just better.

Still, I love the game, despite its imperfection. Thankfully, winning and losing does not matter as much in golf because it lacks the head-to-head combat of poker.

Simply put, you cannot play poker without an opponent.

This is not the case for golf. Opponents are not required to enjoy the game. In many ways, you play every round of golf by yourself while in the midst of three other people and then compare your scores at the end of the round to see who played alone best.

If given the choice, I prefer the cut-throat, head-to-head battles that poker provides, but golf is a close second.


In the wake of Jodi Picoult’s exceptionally generous blurb comes this one from Carol Kranowitz, a teacher, a leader in the autism community and the bestselling author of THE OUT-OF-SYNC CHILD and THE GOODENOUGHS GET IN SYNC:

“Here is a perfectly crafted treasure! While it is shaped around autism, it deals with much more—courage, loss, love, human development and relationships—the very stuff of real life."

I didn’t write the book with the intent of specifically appealing to the autism community, but this endorsement means a lot to me, particularly in terms of the portrayal of Max, the character who is on the autistic spectrum.

It’s good to know I got him at least a little right.

Cutest astronaut ever


March 23, 2012

Gratitude journal: The perfect game

Tonight I am grateful for poker.  It is a perfect game. It creates an environment in which a group of players attempt to extract money from one another by utilizing intelligence, observation, intimidation, daring, creativity, histrionics, experience, bravery and coercion.

Yet the game is played in a social setting amongst people who genuinely like one another. It creates a unique context in which I can spend time with friends, chatting and laughing, even as I take their money.

There really is no better game.

The fact that I made about $60 last night increases my level of gratitude considerably.   

Insightful and hilarious confirmation that my publisher and I are a perfect match

In a recent meeting with the sales, publicity and marketing team of my publisher, St. Martin’s Press, I was asked about the decision to publish in the UK under the name Matthew Green.

I explained that my British publisher, Little Brown UK, felt that my last name might serve as a hindrance to book sales and a new, less potentially offensive last name might serve me well.

Thus Matthew Green (Green is my wife’s maiden name) was born.

I was not so sure about the need to change my name, but in most things related to publishing, I am keenly aware that my expertise does not extend beyond the ability to write clear sentences, so I tend to defer to the professionals on all other things.

The St. Martin’s team found this situation amusing, and this morning a member of the sales team sent me this list of authors who have all published books with St. Martins at some point in the past.

He indicated that this list was clear evidence that I had found the right publisher for me, and while I knew this well before seeing this list, the confirmation was both validating and hilarious. 


Bun Head’s lesson to a bad boy/future teacher.

I recently told a story onstage as part of a joint venture between The Story Collider and the New York Academy of Sciences.

It’s a story about my high school biology teacher, Mrs. Murphy, and her John Wayne style of classroom management.

This was the story I told on the night when my brother returned from the dead.

That story has been released in podcast form and can be listened to or downloaded here.

It can also be downloaded for free from the iTunes store by searching for the Science and the City podcast.


March 22, 2012

Gratitude journal: I didn’t marry that woman.

Tonight I am grateful that my wife is not the woman who was sitting behind me during last night’s Second City performance, failing to hear about a third of the punch lines and then asking her husband what they were after the fact.

I wanted to turn around and say:

  1. When you ask him to repeat a punch line, it is never as funny as it was a moment ago. Actually, it’s never funny at all because comedy hinges on timing and your husband is clearly not a funny man.
  2. When you ask him to repeat a punch line, you and your husband are now more likely to miss the next one.
  3. When you ask him to repeat a punch line, the half dozen people surrounding you are now required to listen to your husband repeat the punch line as well.
  4. The half dozen people surrounding you all hate you and hope your husband divorces you and marries someone much younger and smarter than you.

The evolving sadness of my mother’s death

St. Patrick’s Day would have been my mother’s 62nd birthday. She passed away in 2007.

Losing a mother is never easy, and losing one so early in life is especially hard. I have found that the loss of a parent never gets easier regardless of how much time passes, but I have also discovered that the ways in which the loss impact me changes over time.

When Mom died, I was consumed with my own personal grief. I did not have a mother anymore, and in some ways, I felt more alone in this world than I had ever felt before. The person who brought me into this world and raised me was no more, and it felt as if I had lost a piece of myself in the process.

It’s a feeling that never goes away, but as time passes, new emotions get layered atop this original sadness, complicated things and adding weight to the loss.

First came the realization that the loss of my mother also meant the loss of my past. The person with the most intimate knowledge of my childhood was gone. The untold stories, forgotten memories and the most complete knowledge of my personal history and the history of our family was gone forever. The computer that was my mother’s brain was no longer operating, and all of the precious data that it possessed could never be recovered.

When my wife gave birth to our daughter, this sense of loss became even more profound. As my daughter rolled over for the first time, started sucking her thumb and took her first steps, I wondered about my own infancy and toddlerhood.

Did I also reject the pacifier in favor of my thumb at an early age?

What kind of sleeper was I as an infant?

Was I as enamored with other babies as my daughter is?

Where did I take my first steps?

What was my favorite toy?

These are things I never thought to ask before I had a child of my own, and now I will never know the answers to these questions.

This realization led me to begin writing to my child everyday, and ever since we learned that Elysha was pregnant, I have not missed a day. I was and remain determined to preserve the memories of my daughter’s childhood forever.

The birth of my daughter also brought about a new sense of loss: One for my daughter. As I watch Clara play with my wife’s parents, I am constantly aware of the time that she never had with my mother. For Clara, my mother will always be one of those people who died before she was born. Mom will be little more than an intangible assortment of stories that Clara will learn but never truly  know.  My mother would have loved Clara with all of her heart, but that love is something my daughter will never have the chance to experience.

Recently, an even deep sense of loss has consumed me. It is the keen and persistent awareness of all that my mother has missed out on since her death. While my personal sense of loss remains, this newfound sadness over all that my mother will never see or hear or touch has become almost overwhelming. It towers over my personal grief, casting an ever-growing shadow in my life.  

My mother never met my daughter. She did not have the opportunity to sit nervously in a hospital waiting room, anxiously awaiting the news of the delivery. My mother-in-law says that the moment I emerged in that hospital corridor and announced that it was a girl was one of the most unforgettable moments of her life. My mother never had the chance to experience that joy. She has missed out on all the joy that Clara has brought us over the last three years, and soon, she will miss out on our newest bundle of joy as well. 

Nor did my mother ever have the chance to read any of my novels. She never knew that her son would one day become a published author. In just five short years, she has missed out on so much, and every day that list grows longer. There is so much more to come that my mother will never know.

They say that death is hardest on the living, but I do not agree. The living remain behind. The living possess the promise of future happiness. They have the opportunity to learn more of the story.

The living get to see how things turn out. 

No, death is hardest on the dead.

Not a day goes by when I am not saddened over the loss of my mother, but this sadness now pales in comparison to the loss that my mother experienced on the day that she died. The memories of the last five years pile atop her grave, forever lost to her, and this awareness breaks my heart more than I could have ever imagined.

The death of my mother was a sad and terrible moment in my life, and that sadness will remain with me forever, but my mother’s loss is endless and tragic.

It’s immense. It’s heartbreaking.