We’ve all heard of them, most of us have read them – many of us enjoyed them. What were they? Romance novels from decades ago, dime-store books, mass-market paperbacks we eagerly devoured, shared and discussed, where the hero swept the heroine off her feet – often quite literally – and she fell hopelessly in love with him.
The bad-boy hero was the norm. He was aggressive, arrogant, aloof. Alpha. On some level, we might have cringed at his heavy-handed ways. Held our breath. Cowered even. But we also laughed at him, on some level, because we knew – we KNEW – for all his bluster and brawn, he would eventually be putty in the hands of a heroine who slowly comes into her own.
Those alpha heroes were pirates, sheiks, ship captains, leaders of their clan, lords, earls… entitled men with power and, often, no sense of compassion. Or common decency. They were the romantic lead who did not deserve to be so.
One such hero, created by one of my otherwise-favorite historical romance authors, declares his undying love for his mistress – ON HIS WEDDING DAY – as his new wife looks on. When said wife confronts him, he accuses her of spying, backhands her across the face and watches as she falls to the ground from the force of the blow. As if that were not enough to make this man unworthy of his ‘hero’ or leading man title, we see his fury with his new wife build further. He thinks to himself:
A husband was a woman’s god, and the sooner this one learned that the better.
Lest you think his interior monologue ended the horror, note what happened next:
[He] grabbed a handful of [her] hair and jerked her to him. “I will take whatever I want whenever I want, and if I take it from you, you will be grateful.” He released her and pushed her back to the ground. “Now get up and prepare yourself to become my wife.”
Oh, yeah. Sexy, right?
Naturally, this hero rapes the heroine in their marriage bed. But let’s get over that, because she did. Like…immediately, because during round two, he was gentle, affectionate. Contrite. And, since there are three more books in the series (all of which I happen to love), with these two showing up in all of them, together, we understand they somehow overcame their…differences?…and lived happily ever after.
I talked about alpha heroes of yesteryear in an earlier post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense. We expect them to get angry, to possess the strength – physical and intellectual – to outwit and out maneuver any villain. But what helps to make today’s hero actually heroic, is his ability to restrain himself – his anger, his physicality, his sexual urges.
That’s how it is for my hero in Surrender at Canyon Road.
Blake, as everyone calls him, helped raise his baby sister. She’s a woman now, with a child of her own. And they’re in trouble, their lives threatened.
When all seems lost, Blake becomes desperate. And determined. He makes mistakes, of course, and he’s no angel. He’s aggressive and focused, and he’ll do whatever it takes to save his family.
From the back cover blurb:
Ransom in hand, Johnny “Blake” races to the drop point to rescue his sister and nephew only to wind up blindsided by a terrible double-cross. Now he’s stranded in the Colorado Rockies in the dead of night with no car and no options. Then the kidnappers call with new demands and Blake is forced to do the unthinkable.
Without the heroine’s help, he doesn’t stand a chance. She knows it. But she also needs him. And he knows it. How he convinces her of that, how he works toward forming a truce rather than take what he wants simply because he can, is what makes him a hero…worthy of a heroine’s love.
Have you read stories where a hero behaves – unapologetically – less than heroic? Where his actions – especially toward the heroine – are cringe-worthy? Were those books wall-bangers for you or did you find yourself reading on, silently hoping hero and heroine would find their way back toward the center and live happily ever after? Let me know – find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
For this Teaser Tuesday, here’s a little taste of the terror my heroine is forced to endure in Surrender at Canyon Road (available May 2020!).
With nowhere to go, she shoved the car in reverse, waiting for her chance to escape, a chance that had to come.
Men. Three of them. Two from the SUV at her door, one from the other car at the passenger’s. Why? Damn them! What did they want from her? She stomped on the gas, rammed back into the grill of the SUV, bounced forward. Trapped.
They shattered the driver’s window, shards flew everywhere. She covered her face, clenched her eyes. Screamed and fought as hands clutched her and dragged her from the car. She made herself limp and heavy so she couldn’t be lifted.
Then her feet left the ground. “No!”
A hand slapped over her mouth. Another grabbed her wrists, bound them.
Don’t let them take you! Don’t let them take you!
It meant certain death. She wouldn’t let them. Couldn’t. She bucked and kicked but hands were on her everywhere. She couldn’t fight them off. Couldn’t feel the ground.
She was hoisted higher, saw only the sky, then nothing but black as she was shoved into the SUV, face down on leather.
The door slammed. She tried to right herself. Was held in place by a heavy hand at her back.
They were driving. Fast. She heard bits of road kick up beneath them.
No! No, no, no!
The heroine in my romantic suspense novel, Surrender at Canyon Road, (available May 2020!) survived trauma as a child through sheer wit, determination and courage. As a young girl, she was forced to adapt to the fluctuating moods of a severely ill parent who self-medicated rather than medicate properly. She had to endure the unpredictable rages of a parent who tried to drink his pain away. This left her fearful and perpetually on edge, always trying to appease, to hide, and to escape. She, as most children in unstable situations, carried the scars of that chaotic and frightening upbringing into adulthood.
As a survivor of a toxic prior relationship myself, I realize victims of abuse or other continuing trauma, whether child or adult, are often more focused on surviving each day than on anything else. They’re hopeful help is out there, but they’re often closed off from it, whether by their own fear or from the perilousness of their situation.
Once they’ve escaped, it’s often easier to pretend, on some level, that it never happened. Seeking help means looking back and facing the trauma, when in fact, the instinct is to keep going forward; taking with you all the survival techniques you had previously been forced to employ.
In a recent post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense, I discussed the heroines of the past and present. It seems to me, a heroine abused or traumatized as a child or young adult in an old dime-story novel would see that abuse continue at the hands of the “hero”. Those heroes were all “alpha”, they commanded the world around them and gave pittance in return for loyalty and dedication. It wasn’t until the heroine soothed him, that we’d glimpse his more tender side. Yet, in the end, her past demons were never excised. Rather, she suddenly overcame the trauma once her bad boy was tamed. And they lived happily ever after. The pain of what brought that heroine to this point, of what created the person she now was in that story, forgotten, rather than addressed.
When things get hairy again, she immediately calls on the tried and true techniques that helped her endure the past
As Surrender at Canyon Road opens, Dani is about to taste freedom and opportunity for the first time. She embraces the newness of it all with cautious glee. But she is fully aware of why she’s running; her wounds are still fresh. Despite that, she believes she’s distanced herself from it all enough to move forward. Naturally, she hasn’t.
Her past has colored the way she sees the world now. And when things get hairy again, she immediately calls on the tried and true techniques that helped her endure the past, hoping, once modified and applied to fit new and escalating peril –not just for herself but for others in need of her help—she, and they, will somehow survive.
Have there been moments in your life so difficult you’re unsure how you came out of them whole? Do you try to ignore that they ever occurred, or have you dealt with the trauma of them in time? Perhaps you’ve gone through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. My hope is whatever the trauma from your past, in the present you’ve found inner peace, stability, and…one step beyond acceptance…happiness. Find me on Facebook or Twitter to add to the discussion.
In my new romantic suspense, Surrender at Canyon Road, (available May 2020!), my heroine is faced with a harrowing choice. She must save herself or save her meager possessions.
Logically, we’d scream for her—for anyone—to save themselves. But in Dani’s case, giving up her possessions meant giving up everything she hoped to be, to achieve, and to escape. To her, those possessions were her life. They were the vehicle, literally and figuratively, to steer her away from her painful past and on to her hopeful future.
Given time to reassess, of course, Dani understands her possessions would be of no use to her if she were killed.
However, a few lines from the story’s back cover blurb offers the tiniest hint of Dani’s emotional battle, and some insight to her initial, instinctual reaction – to save her stuff, and risk her life.
Dani Moyer is only a few good photographs and some winding mountain roads away from winning a contest that will change her life–until a stranger kidnaps her. She doesn’t believe his story about a kidnapped sister and her child. And she’s not giving up her dreams without a fight.
To Dani, it’s not just a contest. It’s a new life – her life. Her dreams. Her way to avoid tumbling back into the life she’d endured. Of course, she doesn’t realize driving away from that life won’t erase it from her mind, from her past or from reality. But escape is her initial plan, and she’d risk all to achieve it.
It makes sense to me that my heroine, given her circumstances, would behave as she did. But I then wonder where the line is for the rest of us. What determines when you should defend your possessions and when you should abandon them to save yourself?
My last post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense, touched on the way romance heroes and heroines were once portrayed versus how they’re portrayed now. I believe a heroine from past works would enter the story naïve, and cause us to shake our heads at her decision to remain with her belongings. But today’s heroine has a different mindset. A different attitude and expectation for life. She’s unafraid to fight for herself. But, would she still be considered TSTL (too stupid to live) for standing her ground, for instinctually defending her possessions? Or would she be considered brave? Or…would that depend on whether she survives? Would perception change if she were a he; hero not heroine? Have you ever done something that seemed irrational to others—or even to yourself looking back—but felt perfectly logical and necessary to you at the time? Find me on Facebook or Twitter to add to the discussion.
When I think of the Romantic Suspense genre from days gone by, the kind I once loved to read, I think of the innocent heroine, oblivious to the ways of the world, coddled and naïve, unaware of her own body and certainly oblivious about sex. Her role in the story wasn’t as much to follow her own dreams as to become the hero’s lover—by choice or by force. Of course, she’d eventually fall madly in love with the rogue, tame him then happily settle into her duties as wife and lady of the house. Naturally, some of the heroines did hold their own. As they tamed their hero, they absorbed some of his cunning, thus assuring us, the readers, things would be interesting for this couple beyond the confines of their book.
These men saved the day seemingly with ease, while stealing the heroine’s heart. And virginity.
The heroes who populated those works were strong silent alpha-males. Big and burly, they answered to no one but themselves. Everyone jumped or cowered at their barked commands. They were mysterious, angsty, and full of envious manly muscles. Everywhere. These men saved the day seemingly with ease, while stealing the heroine’s heart. And virginity. No matter the mess in which our heroine found herself, we always knew the hero would come to her rescue. It wouldn’t surprise us if the hero resented having to do so, nor would it surprise us if the heroine spent a good part of the following chapters ‘thanking’ him.
The villains of that period were rarely as dimensional, as cunning or powerful – or handsome – as the hero. As if all evil was flat, a prop that came out of a mist wrapped in a black cloak, face either hidden or hideous, with bad breath, bad intent, and no clear motivation beyond lust for power, revenge, or destruction.
I’d be surprised to find those kinds of characters in today’s romantic suspense novels. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to find layered, even sympathetic villains, heroes who are extraordinarily ordinary men who learn as they go, who show fear and tenderness along with wit and determination, and heroines who not only outsmart, out maneuver, and out sex, but also kick ass.
Yesteryear’s romantic suspense still holds a special place in my heart. I devoured those books. I adored the adventure, the possibility of an innocent heroine being loved by a worldly man who’d never given his heart to another – or who had, and since vowed never to do so again.
Today’s hero and heroine are worthy adversaries and even more worthy allies.
But today’s romantic suspense, the kind I now love to read and write, thrills me with a kind of intrigue of mind. A hero and heroine on equal footing is exciting to me. Their mental duels, and how they’re an integral part of the budding romance, are delicious.
Mostly, I enjoy discovering who the characters were prior to their being perilously thrust together. I especially love unraveling the intricacies of their pasts and seeing how those pasts stop them from forging ahead or spur them on; equally, because now, the heroine’s backstory is as rich and vital as the hero’s, with flaws, strengths and challenges.
The wounded sullen hero of today, whether alpha, beta or somewhere in between, is as layered as any man might be. He has his own flaws and strengths. He also has compassion. Today’s hero and heroine are worthy adversaries and even more worthy allies.
Do you look for a specific type of hero or heroine to populate your romantic suspense? Do you prefer heroes who appear on the page ready to take on the world or would you rather watch them come into their own as their story progresses? And your heroine…do you prefer her to be kickass, passive or somewhere in between? I’d love to know your thoughts. Share them with me on twitter, or Facebook.
Twenty-seven years ago today, on November 24, 1991, the world lost an enigmatic, bombastic, shy, beloved, lonely and multi-talented man whose musical ability still awes old fans while drawing in new.
Freddie Mercury wasn’t just the lead singer of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Freddie Mercury was – is – a legend, which is precisely what he said he would be. That explains why his music is still enjoyed by people around the world…and why a film about his life, by the people we believe knew him best, would be a box office draw.
I admit I was hesitant about whether to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the “Freddie Mercury Biopic”. As a life-long QUEEN fan, I, like other QUEEN fans, have read a bit over the years about the group and about Freddie. I was certain there would be some liberties taken with Freddie’s storyline and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see them. I was also certain the empty feeling of loss would return once the film ended and “Freddie” was again gone. Both were true.
But first things first.
Rumor had it that Johnny Depp had once been considered to play the part of Freddie. As a long-time Depp fan, I was definitely on board with that. However, those plans fell through (or never were) and Sacha Barron Cohen was contracted for the role. Those plans fell through as well, due to creative differences. Thus, Rami Malek was given the role. Now that I’ve seen the film, I have to say I cannot imagine another actor embodying Freddie as well as Rami did – aside from Freddie himself. His energy, his gestures, his subtle insecurities and even his flares of anger, were so reminiscent of Freddie they would likely make the man himself laugh in appreciation and recognition. Except for the eyes…which were hazel(?) instead of a dreamy dark brown.
I haven’t seen a lot of movies this year, but I would even suggest Rami’s portrayal of Freddie was Oscar-worthy.
Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee and Joseph Mazzello were Roger, Brian and John, respectively. For much of the time, I felt like I was watching the actual band members. I felt Gwilym Lee, as Brian, was particularly spot on in both appearance and, with some minor exceptions, personality.
Joseph Mazzello, whom I last saw on screen limping around after being fried by an electric fence in Jurassic Park, made me laugh aloud with his perfect impressions of John’s facial expressions. In one scene, he is lounging, legs crossed, on a couch. He’s somewhat blurred in the background of the shot, but just from the way he’s sitting there, it was as if John himself was in the scene.
Although Ben Hardy’s performance was enjoyable as well, his likeness to Roger was less pronounced, particularly in the moments he shared with Freddie (in other words, most of them), which leads to my next point.
We were told repeatedly throughout the film, how these four men were ‘like family’. We saw them create, quibble, and go on to make beautiful music together. But we never actually saw the family-side of their relationship. The connection history tells us these men had was nowhere to be found. If anything, the relationship between Freddie and Roger appeared frosty, grating and antagonistic, and yet those two men were good, close friends.
John and Freddie were close as well, with a genuine bond that is barely, if at all, present in the film. John even played bass on one of Freddie’s solo albums, Barcelona, which was a collaboration between Freddie and opera soprano, Montserrat Caballe.
Instead, the relationship between these four amazingly talented men is shown as stilted and fair-weathered – even as we, the audience, are *told* by multiple characters that they were a family.
QUEEN was not an overnight success. They were not performing in a club one night and ‘discovered’ the next. They were not all in agreement, all the time, with the style or direction of their music. Artistic differences among all four members, not only Freddie, caused friction between them as in any relationship with strong personalities. While the film portrayed them butting heads personally, it rarely portrayed moments of conflict during the recording process. In fact, with the exception of one particularly famous outburst from Roger (an amusing nod to the audience), the creative process came across as deceptively smooth.
Another One Bites the Dust, for example, wasn’t written and recorded in one session as implied in the film. While that might be a minor overlooked Hollywood detail, it’s not minor to the history of QUEEN.
Freddie had even said t took months for them to record an album.
All four men butted creative heads consistently. All four men toiled over their music, dealt with ‘adjustments’ from the others regularly, and all four, together, were better for it. To present Freddie as the sole, constant, hysterical queen – with the single exception from Roger – was inaccurate because Freddie was a hysterical queen only slightly more than the others.
It seemed to me that, throughout the film, Freddie was not only a hysterical queen, but constantly so. From real-life interviews, we know Freddie was definitely cheeky. He could also be charming, coy, abrupt and vulgar – all the things any one of us could be. He was a private person, wanting to present his art – his music, his bombast – to the world, then retire to a true home life with loving family and friends. Did he party? Did he drink and get high? Yes. He never denied any of that – and yes, for a while, he was a regular on the 80’s club scene.
But the film makes it seem as though the others were somehow untainted by that scene, as though they thought Freddie, singularly among them, needed to ‘grow up’.
The film also makes it seem that, since they didn’t have time for such childish behavior, Roger, John, and Brian frequently abandoned Freddie, passing on his invitations to spend time together, even for something as laid-back as a shared meal.
Although his loneliness was genuine in real life, Freddie did have true friends – a house-full of them who he counted on, loved, and trusted. He had his bandmates, his family, his cats, and, of course, he had Mary.
While some have suggested the film white-washed Freddie’s sexuality, I disagree. During most of the film, I felt his sexuality was either on obvious display or appropriately subtle, including the scene where he meets Mary after exchanging a wink and a nod with another man in a public hallway. But there were also moments when his sexuality was on display as something much deeper, more emotional. I felt the complexity of it. the confusion. I felt his passion and drive, his need for affection and his desire to maintain his privacy about it. Even scenes with Mary directly addressed his sexuality, including a scene adapted from the true-to-life moment when he told her he thought he was bisexual and she said she thought he was gay.
He loved Mary until the end, and she loved him. Freddie even once referred to Mary as his “common-law wife”, and the portrayal of their connection – the pain and completeness of it – was palpable to me. In fact, I wanted more of that – more of their love affair, their oddly close yet distant relationship. The angst and pleasure of it. The ‘it’ that bound them together. The part of Freddie who Mary saw and loved. I wanted more of that because I believe it was that intimate part of Freddie that made him so appealing to men and women alike. On stage and off.
Real life is not always as compelling as fiction, so artistic liberty is expected in a biopic such as Bohemian Rhapsody. However, I think it’s fair to say some liberties should be avoided – such as turning the lead character into a villain, especially when he’s not here to defend himself or otherwise set the story straight.
In Bohemian Rhapsody, the biggest (and most upsetting to me) scramble of history was Freddie’s apparent betrayal of the group, where he supposedly abandoned them for a $4 million solo contract. After months of isolation and no contact with Jim Beach, any of the band members, or even Mary, the film shows Freddie begging to be ‘allowed’ to rejoin the band. Freddie, for once in the film, is shown to be on time for a meeting where he’ll make this request, only to be kept waiting by his suddenly passive-aggressive bandmates who deliberately stroll in some time later. Freddie is shown to be contrite and near pleading, and is then sent from the room by Brian, like a scolded child whose punishment was to be decided.
Meanwhile, in real life, the first among the band members to record a solo album was not Freddie but Roger, who did so in 1981 and then again in 1984. Freddie’s first solo album, “Mr. Bad Guy”, was released in 1985.
The same year as Live Aid.
Jim Hutton and Freddie were in a relationship well before Live Aid – which was well before Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS. Freddie did not suddenly look up a love interest after being diagnosed. Rather, it was after they had been together for a while that Freddie told Jim he had “full-blown AIDS”. According to Jim himself, in his book MERCURY AND ME, Freddie told Jim he would understand if Jim left him, to which Jim replied that he loved Freddie and wasn’t going anywhere.
It’s a fact that Freddie’s voice was indeed weakened by AIDS…it is also a fact that Freddie downed vodka to lessen the pain of singing during studio sessions…but that was not during Live Aid, as portrayed in the film. It was several years later.
As stated before, Freddie was not yet diagnosed with AIDS at that point and, as history shows, Freddie, along with QUEEN, were in top form for their LIVE AID performance.
If we look at this film as a Hollywood production, we will love it. In classic style, it shows the ugly duckling becoming the swan. It shows passion, love, conflict and heartache. It shows pain, hope and pride. It shows success, determination. And personal failure.
Obviously, it shows a condensed and modified version of QUEEN and of Freddie Mercury, and I do believe Freddie, the man who once referred to his music as “disposable pop”, would be appalled by the very idea of it.
Having said that, Bohemian Rhapsody also teased a side of Freddie that we, as an admiring or scoffing public only glimpsed: a confident though shy man whose charisma, talent and sexual prowess oozed from him as he stood upon the stage of life soaking in much deserved adulation. A man who had it all yet found himself, at times, home alone and lonely.
A “musical prostitute”. An inspiration. A flamboyant, energetic, crowd-rousing frontman. An unmatched vocal talent. A man whose star still shines bright and whose music, mastery, and mystique live on.
“I’m not going to be one of those old hams that keeps going on and on. I’d rather leave it at the top.” – Freddie Mercury
Lord Voldemort is no Gellert Grindelwald.
Why? Because as a villain, a dark lord, Lord Voldemort was so extreme, so vile and hateful and cruel, that he was easier to see as fictional than the insidious Gellert Grindelwald who easily wins people over to the dark side with soft words, a gentle touch and a deceptively calm demeanor.
Anyone who has stopped by here knows my love for the Harry Potter stories, and how much I admire the way they shaped the reading habits of an entire generation. My own daughter grew up with the books – reading them numerous times in English and in Russian.
Naturally when Fantastic Beasts came out, we were eager to dig into that adventure as well. Though not as spellbinding as Harry’s story had been – with the newness of it all: Hogwarts, Hedwig’s Theme, wands, cloaks, magical spells and good against evil – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as well as The Crimes of Grindelwald, do have their own magic. Their own newness. Their own sense of foreboding.
As a charismatic and cunning villain, Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald confidently stood in the center of a crowded arena and told the people who had come to hear him speak of the evil that we, the ‘others’ – the muggles/no-majes – would inflict upon the world. He did not lie to them. He had no need to. Instead, in a blinding and vivid vision, Grindelwald showed them the coming horrors and destruction.
Horrors and destruction described in our own history books. Horrors and destruction we cannot ignore, forget or deny.
Yet Grindelwald’s plan to prevent it all – a plan willfully applauded by many in attendance – was darker, more horrific and destructive than what already seemed fated to come.
Sadly, he offered only one of two nightmare scenarios. And each was tainted by the lust for total dominion of one people over another ‘lesser’ kind.
The pitting of one people against another, the vilifying of whole groups, of blaming them for all the world’s ails…is as old as time. That’s why I find Johnny Depp’s spellblindingly understated portrayal of Gellert Grindelwald so terrifying. He’s refined. Beautiful. Charming. Yet beneath that compelling mystique are hints of a bubbling cauldron’s worth of power and emotion.
Warnings signs are all around us, in plain sight. They have always been. Yet while generation after generation adopts the slogan: “Never Again”, that same frightening and divisive call to arms is too often repeated. In film as in real life.
Once the true horror of the attacks of September 11, 2001 became clear, once the magnitude of the attack, of the hate, of the vengeance against the West, had awakened us all, a true and gripping sense of community poured out. We saw it in the American flags so many in the States wore on their lapels, hung from poles, or secured magnetically to their bumpers. We saw it in the silence that followed, in the acceptance and warmth of neighbor to neighbor. In the support for our first responders, who had so much to lose and lost even more.
Sadly, what brought out the best in us, also brought out the worst. The acceptance and warmth of neighbors turned to suspicion and violence for some. For too many. Rather than truly pull together, some among us chose to wage their own attacks on people they deemed responsible. That suspicion and rage lingers still, all these years later, most noticeably from the people who are supposed to lead us, to assure us, but who have, of late, chosen to divide us.
Of course we can never assume 9/11 was an anomaly, a catastrophe the likes of which will never happen again. But neither was that sense of community, of a shared experience. That’s part of what America is about–an awareness and appreciation of our diversity, commonality in our unique experiences. That’s what has always been the secret to America’s “greatness”.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum displays, in rich profound detail, the many faces of NYC and her neighbors. People who worked here, lived here, protected here, came here to help in any way possible. During a recent tour of the museum, I was struck by the varied accents heard on recordings captured that day–of voice messages left for loved ones, of first responders calling out to their units, of reporters and witnesses.
I live here in NYC. I hear a wide variety of languages and accents daily, so much so that I no longer notice them. But while there, in the museum, listening to one account after another in full-throated and brusque New York-ese, in broken English, in Spanish, in a New England drawl and other accents not so easily identifiable, I felt at home. One among many. Sharing the same memories, the same pain, the same hope for a better future.
Every year, on the anniversary of this heartbreaking day, we come together to remember those who perished. We remember their lives, their sacrifices and their humanity. In doing so, in standing together in remembrance, we’re reminded of the bond we have as citizens of this world. How I wish that understanding, that bond, held during our every-day existence and not just in times of tumult and pain.
It’s the first day of school here in NYC. I can’t help feel sad for all the kids returning to the constant grind of early rising and carrying bookbags as big as themselves as they’re sent away from home and forced to work on command by strangers all day, only to then hurry home and have to work some more.
Perhaps it’s a true dislike of school or perhaps it’s PTSD, I’m not sure, but something about this time of year, the end of summer and beginning of an annual ten-month sentence, deeply saddens me.
I feel a sense of loss and grief as if the sunny days of playtime and dreaming – of childhood innocence and wonder – are cruelly snuffed out then forgotten as the rigorous months ahead take form and distract.
Summer memories fade no matter how we wish they would linger. And every year at this time, I feel the same sense of despair.
I’m always surprised when I speak to other people about their childhood experiences with school. Many loved going, enjoyed the social aspect of it, the newness of it all, the discovery. That forces me to dig deeper to understand what it is that bothered me so – then as now. It wasn’t studying or learning as my wonder and thirst for knowledge was as keen as everyone else’s – then as now. Rather, for me, it was the feeling of being ripped away from home, of being sent somewhere that I didn’t want to be without having any say in the matter.
I’m a free spirit at heart and school felt like prison to me – so much that I doubled up on classes in my senior year so I could graduate early and never look back. I didn’t even attend graduation. Once I was out, I was out and glad to be rid of it.
And now, as I look out my window and see a small army of children trudging along with their weighty bookbags on their backs, I feel sad for them, too. I don’t share the ‘joy’ we see on TV commercials where parents are celebrating their children’s back-to-school days.
When my own child turned school age, I dreaded sending her. I feared she might feel as I did – that she was being shipped off, sent away from home, forced to be someplace she didn’t want to be. I made sure to prepare her, to let her know it would be as happy a place as she made it and that I’d be waiting for her when she came home. We, my husband and I, became actively involved in her school, letting her know she was not alone while still giving her room to roam, and grow, and learn.
But as elementary school ended for her, so did the excitement of it all, the newness, the discovery. The friendships formed remained; however, the drudgery became burdensome and overwhelming.
Middle school teachers in our district treated the kids in their care like tyrants, insisting that the pre-teen years were the worst, that kids needed to know who was boss. That they needed to be kept busy lest they find themselves with free time and get into trouble.
It was then that we decided enough was enough.
As a child, I felt like school was a punishment for some unknown slight. As a parent, I refused to allow anyone to treat my child that way.
My daughter was one month into middle school when we began our homeschool adventure. With thousands of NYC children being homeschooled, finding programs, activities and social outings was easier than I could have hoped or imagined.
We formed additional friendships with other homeschooling families while discovering a new and exciting way of learning.
We discovered learning through play, adventure and exploration, which incorporated the wonder of a child’s imagination and the freedom to just ‘be’.
I do miss the homeschooling days. They were a magical time that not only fed my child’s hunger for knowledge but also soothed the confused and angry child that lingered within me.
Now, as always, the summer has come to another close and children head back to school. And I feel the old familiar twinges of sadness for them as I did for myself all those years ago.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about your own school days or those of your children. Were they happy and exciting or burdensome and frustrating?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a fan of creepy critters. Of course, I realize if they’re not in my home but rather somewhere outside, then they’re where they’re supposed to be, and I will, mostly, leave them alone.
However, about a week ago, I happened to look out my dining room window and noticed a nest of some sort in the city tree at the curb in front of my house. It was quite large – and quite active, with what I thought were bees or yellow jackets busily flying in and out of it non-stop.
Turns out, they weren’t bees or yellow jackets. They were hornets.
I would assume this would frighten most people. However, for someone like me, with allergic reactions to simple mosquito bites, this was an absolutely terrifying discovery.
I calmed myself, though, after realizing, again, that this nest was in a city tree. Naturally, I ASSumed, the city would be responsible for it. I figured they’d want to know about it right away so they could take care of the situation before someone got hurt.
NYC – and other cities, I’m sure – has a policy that hornets fall into the category of “beneficial pests”, which I find both oxymoronic and ridiculous. Yes, I get it. Hornets, as predators, rid us of other pesky flying insects. In fact, hornets are so adept at reducing the number of destructive garden pests that the agricultural industry voluntarily uses them as a natural weapon to protect crops.
Yes. You read that right; they voluntarily deploy hornets into their gardens/fields as a natural pesticide.
That’s all well and fine, I suppose, and I do feel a certain respect for them now that I’ve learned that they are, indeed, ‘beneficial pests’. But they can also kill someone like me –yes, KILL – if provoked, agitated or otherwise disturbed. And hornets attack as a group, each releasing a chemical to alert the others of a rumble, and the others will swarm with a ‘one-for-all-all-for-one’ focus. They will die for the hive. As if that isn’t enough to fuel nightmares for weeks to come, each one of those things can sting repeatedly so…
Not my idea of beneficial…not when they’re as close as this colony is to my front door, and not when their nest is sitting above a very busy street/walkway where kids ride their bikes and neighbors walk their dogs.
So back to my efforts to make some headway with City Hall…
I spent this past week on the phone hoping to find a way to get rid of this nest. While I now realize killing the colony isn’t the way to go, my first thought was just that. Destroy the damn thing. I truly believed the city would feel the same way and send someone to spray the nest with something that would completely destroy it and everything inside.
Upon calling the city, I was informed that to do anything with this nest, I would first need to apply for a “tree-work permit”. That permit would come from the city, and it would be free. However, I would then have to find someone, on my own, who would not destroy the nest but *relocate* it. And…all costs related to that would fall on me. Once I found someone who would indeed relocate the nest, I’d have to provide their name to the city…and hope for their approval. If they did approve, then I would have to wait for the permit to arrive before any work could be started.
Knowing how speedy the city can be, I figured all that might happen somewhere around the winter holidays. If I were lucky.
Well, after three days and several more phone calls to 311, I finally received the application for the permit that was supposed to have arrived in my inbox within 24 hours of my first call.
Step one – done.
Step two – ha. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find someone to relocate a hornet’s nest?
For me, it was impossible.
I called various city offices with no luck, and then I called the state. The state was surprisingly easy and pleasant to deal with, and they showed concern and interest regarding my plight. A lovely gentleman I managed to reach by phone even provided me with an email for a beekeepers association. Additionally, through the state’s website, I found emails for a local arborist and for the city’s Parks Department.
Unfortunately, after contacting each of these groups, showing pictures and explaining to them how large and active this (to-me) terrifying nest was, and how close it was to my house, they all said that it was too high for them to reach. It seems 25-30 feet – which is about the height of this nest – is the natural height for a hornet’s nest and, as such, is unlikely to be dangerous to passersby. Or so I was told. My personal jury is not buying that fact. I was also told, repeatedly, that I should realize – and be comforted by – how beneficial these insects are.
I do realize. I’m not comforted.
And yet, it seems, I will need to wait until November, by which time the colony should die out, leaving only the queen to hibernate through the winter. Come spring, she’ll go to a new nest somewhere far from my tree.
And that is the only plus I see in this whole frightening scenario – that a hornet’s nest is built for single use. Once the colony abandons this one, no hornet will ever come back to it.
Until they leave, however, everyone will know where to find me – cowering behind the curtains in my dining room, counting off the days until those killer stinging machines have gone.
By the way – while the sight of this nest has me breaking into a fear-filled sweat, it seems these nests are often seen as works of art. It’s true, I suppose, they are magnificent structures – the one in front of my home is the size of a football and the external layers are indeed compelling to gaze upon.
But, apparently, once abandoned, there are some people who have actually taken hornets’ nests down from their trees – or eaves or wherever they happen to be hanging – slice them in half and display them as wall art.
FYI – I will not be doing that.