The Wisdom of Frank Herbert

I read to find myself — to understand my deepest emotions — and to establish direction within my own chaos.

In the multiverse, there are infinite choices and outcomes of those choices. The me in this reality is unlike any other me. I wonder if I could love myself in one of those other worlds or if any me is even worthy of being loved.

“If certainty is knowing absolutely an absolute future, then that’s only death disguised.” – The Preacher

The Preacher in Children of Dune is one of the only likeable zealots I’ve encountered (in fiction or life), perhaps because he appears to be destabilizing the most powerful religion in the history of the universe. At the halfway point in the book, I can’t know his end game. He could just be employing a Bene Gesserit trick — “a feint within a feint within a feint” — yet even if I learn that his true motive was to strengthen the Maud’dib faith, I’ll still admire him for his methods; in order to reestablish truth, truth must first be destroyed.

Frank Herbert wrote an incredible series. I say that because I’m reading it now, at the time in my life when I needed to experience it. I am not shaped by what I read; what I read evolves through me.

The Preacher of Dune has two purposes: to either mold a pliant mind or reaffirm one’s own principles. Here are some of his words that mirror my way of thinking:

“…I realize that humans cannot bear very much reality […] Most lives are a flight from selfhood. Most prefer the truths of the stable. You stick your heads into the stanchions and munch contentedly until you die. Others use you for their purposes. Not once do you live outside the stable to lift your head and be your own creature…”

“Is your religion real when it costs you nothing and carries no risk? Is your religion real when you fatten upon it? Is your religion real when you commit atrocities in its name?”

“Irony often masks the inability to think beyond one’s own assumptions.”

Oh Captain, My Captain!

My final year of college, I took a course on Charles Dickens. The class quickly became one of my all time favorites, and the professor became one of my favorite people, as well as a good friend. As an experiment about halfway through the semester, she started dropping hints about her military career. She had everyone in the class convinced she was retired Army. She eventually admitted to me that it was a joke, but I never told any of my classmates.

My class consisted of about twenty-five women and one man. They were mostly English Education majors who were sitting for the required Authors credit. I became increasingly afraid for the future of high school English every day that I had to listen to their stories about the local bar scene and various dating dramas. Some of the things they contributed to the class were also incredibly ignorant, and I’m fairly sure my son, who was three at the time, could have corrected their grammar. (I did name him after a fictional linguist.)

Dickens was not an easy course. The Captain (as I called my professor) was a tough grader. If papers were not well thought out — if they did not present a new idea and defend that idea to the point of convincing her — then you were lucky to get a C. I only managed one A for the entire semester, and I was her best student. There was no curve. It was the greatest challenge I had in college, and also one of the most enjoyable experiences I had while earning my degree. I still have that A paper — a Biblical reading of Great Expectations — and look at it sometimes when I need to smile.

My favorite book from that class was Bleak House, but I’ve read a few since graduating: Dombey and Son, Martin Chuzzlewit, and David Copperfield. I have the complete works of Charles Dickens on my phone, yet I can’t read him that often; I need to be in the right mood. I’ve tried to read The Old Curiosity Shop three times and have failed. Perhaps I’ll try again in 2015, or maybe in December. I’m not worried about reaching my goal anymore; my son and I finished Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident last night: that was book number sixty for me.

With all the love I have for Mr. Dickens, there is one book I cannot enjoy. I first read A Christmas Carol in sixth grade. It was interesting back then; I was ten and familiar with The Muppets version. However, I read it again just a few years ago (also since graduating), and it made me angry.

My upset is not that commercialism continues to alter and abuse the story every holiday season (although that irritates me too); it’s because of Scrooge. I love Ebenezer Scrooge right up until the end; Dickens destroys his character. There is nothing wrong with disliking Christmas; Ebenezer has every right to be bitter and to be left alone with that bitterness. Yes, he is an ass hole, but at least he’s honest and true to himself. Then a few spirits scare him, and he’s suddenly drenched in love and kindness.

Excuse me while I vomit…

This year is bothering me. I can’t get into the spirit of Christmas. That’s a big problem where I work; it’s a month-long celebration: every department decorates a tree, has Secret Santa, and encourages everyone to dress like elves. Right now, it looks like Rudolph took a magical glowing shit around my desk, and, with all the grunting I’m hearing, I’m sure he’s not done yet. The cubicle walls aren’t high enough; my eyes are being assaulted by festivity. It’s depressing.

I’m not trying to be a “fun sucker,” I just don’t like holidays. The more flamboyant my surroundings, the less cheerful I feel. The bright lights hurt my eyes. The jingle bells hurt my ears. And why are there so many snowmen? There’s a reason I moved to a place where it doesn’t snow. Why does everyone thinks it’s okay to put those creepy things everywhere!

Winter is a nightmare land.

We also have a company Christmas party. We all get to leave for a couple of hours in the middle of the day on the condition that we go to the party, eat free food, and listen to spiritual music. This year, I’m boycotting. Every song praises Jesus, and the big event is prayer.

Sometimes, I want to scream I don’t believe what you believe! But that wouldn’t be wise: the owners are Christian, the executives are Christian, and my boss views me as a project — someone to convert to his denomination. Just mentioning that I don’t go to church nearly lost me a good friend.

I’m not an Atheist, but my friends and coworkers wouldn’t understand that. If I told them my reasons for staying away from religion, they would try to convince me that those are the very reasons I should believe. I prefer to be like Ebenezer before he conformed to society’s holiday cheer.

Outburst

There are things you should never say to your child:

  1. I should just let them take you to prison; that’s where you’re headed if things don’t change.
  2. I should have let grandma keep you because I’m obviously failing as your mom.
  3. There’s a reason you don’t have a father, but you’re turning into him anyway.
  4. After what you did, I’m ashamed to claim you as my son.

A few days ago, I said all of those and more. Perhaps it would have been better to whip him – everyone keeps telling me that’s what he needs, and it is acceptable, and often encouraged, where we live – but I have never been able to physically hurt anyone. The few times I’ve gone the corporal punishment route, I’ve burst into tears and had to stop to hug him and apologize. The only lesson he learned from that was how to manipulate mom with tears. Great parenting, Jane.

There’s something going on with him (has been going on with him for five years) that is causing him to get angry and have violent outbursts. There’s no excuse for the things I said to him; I’m to the point of giving up because nothing ever truly changes. It doesn’t get better: that adage is mere propaganda. Just when things start to seem ok – his medicine appears to be working, he brings his grades back up, or he has a great weekend – everything falls apart, and I end up in front of the school board.

Most of my friends are Christians. They tell me I need to trust God, to pray, to go to church, to ask for help, etc. None of that is going to happen. Church is a band aid that hides the festering wound; it does not heal the soul: that is more useless propaganda. My son believes, and he is no better off for it. If anything, his belief has created a rift in our relationship; he stopped confiding in me after he went to church camp this summer, and his behavior is worse than ever. Whatever respect he had for me has disappeared. So, while my words were inappropriate, they are, to an extent, justifiable.

I never wanted to be a mom: that’s the one awful thing I didn’t say.

He was perfect when he was younger. I thought I had somehow hit the baby jackpot. He was beautiful, smart, sweet, and well-behaved. I fell in love, which is incredible because I don’t love anybody.

Then, everything changed. I started getting calls from preschool. He was expelled. Calls from kindergarten. Suspension. Isolation for the rest of K-5 and 1st grade. Appointments with doctors and psychiatrists who all said that it was too soon to know anything. Behavior plans for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. More suspensions. Doctors. Five failed medications. Treatment for an attention disorder he doesn’t have. Counsellors addressing the problems but failing to address the cause of those problems.

Something is going on. Everyone has an opinion, but no one is listening to me. He is dealing with major depression and severe anxiety, exactly what I have been dealing with my whole life. But no one wants to give an 8-year-old antidepressants – no one wants to believe that a young child can have panic attacks. Doctors prescribe harmful stimulants to control negative behavior, yet they won’t prescribe something that might actually treat the root of that behavior?

I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m physically ill from stress. I’m making bad choices because of how lost and alone I feel.

But more importantly: my son is hurting, and I don’t know how to help him. My son is afraid, and I can’t comfort him. All I seem to be able to do is make us both cry.