If You’re Going to Live Outside the Law…

You Have to Live Honest~ Bob Dylan

So I had a long conversation with my dad today–he was on his second Mike’s Hard Lemonade (or was it third) and was a little mellow and a little nostalgic, and he remembered some of his best moments as a nurse–and as a would-be patient–and I was reminded again of my roots and how I got to be me.

See, it all comes back to Dean and John Winchester.

We’ve talked about this before– the American Romantic Archetype, right?  For those of you who weren’t here for that, or forgot, because I talk an awful damn lot, I’m going to give a recap.

There are different heroic archetypes– epic, romantic, Gothic, satiric, tragic–to name the basic ones.  The American Romantic archetype has some ver specific traits:

* a solid belief in the individual
* flaws that make it difficult to deal with (or often just one flaw: stubbornness or hubris)
* a bad romantic track record (see that first and second quality)
* a tendency to live very self-sufficiently
* a definite distrust of much of society’s infrastructure– law, corporate, educational, health services–all bureaucracies have the building blocks of evil built into their very cornerstones
* a firm, uncompromising moral code that has little to do with society’s structure but that is still based on an idea of fairness and justice
* a familiar geography– whether it’s rural America, a really tall building, or wilderness
* uncompromising emotional attachments–a sort of sentimental approach to human interaction that’s often surprising.

You all know the American Romantic archetype– he’s in our favorite movies and television: Dean and JohnWinchester (but not Sam), John McClane, Arrow, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Hawkeye (all three of them, actually– Hawkeye Pierce, Nathaniel from Last of the Mohicans, and Jeremy Renner’s deliciously ripped archer superhero) , the entire crew from The Italian Job and even The Expendables— they are our American Romantic heroes.

We worship them.

People like my dad have spent their lives being them.

Some stories about my father:

*  He makes Deacon Winters and Dean Winchester look like whiners:

  He once got his foot stepped on by a horse–popped his little toe open like a grape, you could look at the squished sides of it and see bone.  He hobbled into the house, my mom gave him a vicodin, and he took a shower.  Yes, you heard me right.  He was like, “I’m not feeling pain, and I don’t smell good.  Shower first, doctor’s second.”  He walked into the hospital, reluctantly accepted a wheelchair, and when three different doctors and two nurses looked at his foot, said, “Oh shit!” and then wrapped it up again, he simply nodded and said, “Yup, it’s bad.”  When the nurse’s aid came in to clean it, she started out by gently immersing it in a saline bath.  He said, “You know, I’m pretty stoned right now–how about you scrub the holy fuck out of that thing so I’m not back in a week because of infection.”  He made her get a brush and put her back into it.  They week after they told him he may want to put a shoe back on, he was in motorcycle boots and on the back of a motorcycle.

There’s a scene in Forever Promised when Deacon has the skin of his shin taken off by a horse and he doesn’t tell Crick until later.  That scene right there?  Has my dad and American Romantic Hero written all over it.  Did I mention self-sufficiency?


*  His best hospital stories are like my favorite teaching stories– he had a tendency to look at the kids that were easily written off and finding something wonderful about them.  Today he told me about being in the float pool (a common thing for nurses to do before they retire) and giving report to a woman who seemed vaguely familiar.  She said, “You don’t remember me–but I remember you.  Thank you.”

On his way home, it hit him.  The last time he’d seen her, she’d been an eighteen year old mother of two, and he’d been a pediatric nurse.  Her son had been deathly ill, and he’d told her she was smart, was asking the right questions, was going to do just fine.  Now I know a lot of people who would writer her off as a teenaged mother, but this woman asked my dad if she could be a nurse when her kids got older.  He said of course–she already had potential.

And because of that, she did.

See?  Looking at the individual.

Another example?  The 50 year old heroin addict who came in with an abscess on his ass because that’s where he’d been injecting.  Instead of judging the guy, my dad just said, “Man, isn’t this uncomfortable?  Aren’t you getting too old for this shit?”  And the guy said, “Yeah.  Yeah I am.”

Six months later, he came in to show my dad that he’d been clean since that moment.

Again, the individual, not the crime.

*  Uhm, run-ins with the law?

Let’s see… which stories, which stories, which stories…

Well, there was the time I was asleep in the back of Brother Bus as a kid.  I was about five, my dad had long hair and was going on no sleep and too much coffee, and the dog was deaf–but not stupid.  The plainclothesmen who pulled him over didn’t like the green peace flags he used as curtains to separate the front seat from the back seat.  (This was the seventies– no seatbelts, no child seats, no airbags?  Not a problem.  The peace flags hanging behind the driver?  Those were a problem.)  Anyway, one guy questioned my dad while the other guy shined a light in the back of the car.  The light hit the floor, no problem.  It hit the dog, no problem.  It hit me, and the dog lunged for the tiny back window of the VW bus, jaws wide open, teeth ready to eat the fucker on the other side.

The guy jumped fifteen feet back, and told my dad to go his merry way.  Either A. they liked him (not likely) or B. the thought of dealing with that scary dog and the now-screaming little girl was a bad thing (more likely) but either way?  My dad really did just invite trouble by being, didn’t he?

There’s the time my mom had to bail him out of jail because you didn’t leave a friend behind even if he started it and was mostly an asshole in the first place.

There’s the time he eluded the cop that had been chasing him for speeding over five miles down hwy 80 by diving into our driveway after turning off his lights.  (The, uhm, statute of limitations has run out of this one, by the way.)

There’s the twenty-five–odd speeding tickets he accrued over thirty years while my mom wept none-too-silently over their insurance bills.

There’s the time the ball joint on his buddy’s trailer broke while he was driving up the hill on ’80, drifted across three lanes of traffic, flipped over, and ended up on the divider, and his first notion was to run. HIs buddy talked him out of it, thank God, but by this point in his life, he was pretty sure the cops would string up his intestines on a flag pole just to laugh at them.  It was not his fault– no charges were pressed, but seriously– that’s my dad.

The list goes on.  The truth is, people who go out into the world and try to push at the edges of it end up breaking boundaries.  In our case, those boundaries are mostly legal.  And since our intentions are never bad, well, then, the legal boundaries are mostly just guidelines, right?  Not really rules.

*  And the work thing.

I’ve told this story before, because I’m proud of it.  After twenty-years working at a place where they really hated him, he went to a place where they didn’t.  The boss who interviewed him said, “So, I’m going to have to ask your old employer for your personnel file.  What am I going to find?”

His reply?

“My personnel file has it’s own zip code.  It’s got wheels to enable it’s easy transportation.  They keep it in a separate room.”

His boss nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll keep that in mind.”

He (to his immense surprise) got a call back.  The interviewer said, “You must be the best nurse I’ve ever met.”

My dad said, “What do you mean?”

“They hated you.  I mean, they hated you.  But they couldn’t fire you.  Anyone who was hated that much but is still employed must be incredibly good at his job.”

Now see– that’s my dad.  He’s a rebel, but by now he’s a rebel within the system.

I on the other hand, have never understood the system at all.

There’s a couple of reasons I bring this up.

One is the response I got to Racing in the Sun.  A lot of you loved it.  Loved loved loved it.  And a lot of you got to the end and went, “No no no no no no no no!!!  Who would do that?  Do we want to encourage that action?  Would we want someone who could do that walking and talking around us?”

It’s an interesting question, and, in fact, the question I wanted people to ask and discuss when they read it.  Because the more I write, and the more I look for different stories and (in some cases) have different stories find me, the more I realize that the core of the American Romantic hero runs solidly through my work.  Yeah, those of you who haven’t been paying attention are going to say, “Duh!  They’re romances, dumbass!”  But those of you who have been with me for the last few hundred words– and who have read some of my stuff–may have a lightbulb moment.

“Oh my God!”  You might say.  “This totally explains why Dex and Kane wouldn’t call the police on Scott!”


“Oh!!!  I get it– that’s why Shane couldn’t stay a cop!  He thought outside the box!”


“Okay– that whole benevolent anarchic oligarchy/patriarchy thing at Green’s Hill, where the family runs the show by necessity, but they do it under the social radar?  I get that.  That’s an American Romantic hero sort of political structure.  As in, no political structure– no democracy–the leaders act on behalf of the people because that’s what American Romantic heroes do.”  (For the record, King Arthur sort of functioned like this too.  So does the hunting community in Supernatural, and, very often, pack dynamics in most of the shape shifting societies we imagine up as a whole.)

Because I tend to write blue collar people.

Now, part of this is because I was brought up a nurse’s kid in a community of doctor’s kids.

Part of this is because when Mate and I moved out– and pretty much ever since– the education/income dynamic has been exactly reversed of that.  Mate and I have been the most educated people in our neighborhood.  Now I take walks.  I get to know my neighbors.  My neighbors are, very usually, not educated at all–sometimes, not even with a GED.  But I like people in general.  I strive really hard to find the dignity in the people I’m talking to.  I’ve said this before–I think hard work, honest work, is a sacrament, and belittling someone else’s work demeans all of humanity.

So when I write, I’m finding the dignity in the people I’ve known, and, very often the people I’ve taught.

And when I write–and when I live–I tend to believe that the authority structure is often less qualified to solve our problems than the individual.  So, well, that’s what my characters do.

It’s not always a popular belief system.  It has often gotten me into trouble.

It, in the end, is the thing that resulted in losing my teaching job.

It wasn’t just that I let the students read the books–the fact was (and this point was made several times by two different lawyers) that my students could have gotten those books in the nearby library without even an ID check. The thing I did wrong–really did wrong–was break a rule.  It didn’t matter that if rule was moral or not, and it didn’t matter that my students didn’t suffer a negative impact.  What mattered was that there was a rule and it was broken.  

For those of you who are reading this and humoring me, (Yeah, Amy, but it was really about the books, right?  We know it.  It was the sex.  You knew it was bad that there was sex in the books, and that’s why the slap on the wrist and the witch hunt!)  I will leave you with this.

I just got the verdict on my teaching credential.  After a 120 day suspension, I am free to teach again–and I take solace in that.  Someday in the future, I will have the option of searching for another low-paying abusive job that will break my heart.  It’s more tempting than I’m making it sound–you’ll have to take my word on that.

But on the paperwork–and, in fact, on all of the paperwork– that has followed me through this mess (it’s got it’s own bookshelf, I shit you not) one of the things that stands out the most is something that I didn’t do to be defiant, or even think was going to be a problem at all.

When I was told that I wasn’t going to be teaching the next day, I left a note to my students.  I made it light–I said I was in the doghouse, and that I didn’t know when I was coming back, but that they needed to respect the sub, and trust that their grades would count.  I felt like this was important to do– two years before, we’d had a rash of teachers quitting mid semester, and leaving their grades in disarray.  I’d taught a number of kids who had to take a class completely over again for no fault of their own.  That promise was important, I felt.  I knew who their sub was going to be, I knew she wouldn’t let them down, but I knew they needed some reassurance or they’d be unmanageable.

Of all the things involved in this case, that note caused me the most trouble.  I could admit that letting the students have the books broke a rule that I understood.  I didn’t see the need for the rule, but I understood the rule.

I didn’t understand this rule.

The committee was disturbed by the message–and by the “us vs. them” quality of the message.  The idea that it was my students and I vs. the administration.

Well, my peers made their disrespect of me pretty clear.  If I’m getting phone calls from fellow teachers to send kids back because they’re not following dress code, my peers are not on my side.  With a very few exceptions (my principal when I left, being one of them) my administration was not on my side.  Upper level administration was never on my side, even before the guy who’d never met me, but who called me a pornographer to the press.

But the kids–the blue collar workers of the school system–they were on my side.  They were the population I was serving.

And so I guess that was my flaw.  That I never saw it any other way.

So, I’m not going to save hostages from terrorists.  I’m not going to save the world from the apocalypse.  I’m not going to rescue my love interest from a hostile army.

I’ve resigned myself to these failings.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t tell who my heroes are, and why they’re important to who I am.  And who the people in my head are.

And who the people in my life are.

And to the way I think the world should work in general.

And why I think literature is important.

And everything I believe, ever.

So, well, yeah.

Those talks with Dad.  They’re sort of intense.  There’s probably a reason he’s drinking the Hard Lemonade and not me, ya think?

0 thoughts on “If You’re Going to Live Outside the Law…”

  1. Juliana says:

    I'm glad to read more about your dad. He sounds a little like my dad, but he's a pastor so the LGBT stuff is still 'perversion'. My dad was always about community outreach, using church funds to minister to low income, single parent, uneducated people instead of buying a new organ. Turns out church people only want a new organ not high-school-drop-out-single-mom-with-three-kids-by-three-men in their chuch. The establishment, be it the Methodist conference or the California school board, hates when people don't fit in their bubble. You are an outside the box thinker and that is not what they appreciate. But your students did & readers do.

  2. Galad says:

    Standing and cheering in my living room (the cats think I'm weird).

    Great stories about your dad! He's definitely lived and isn't that we are here for?

  3. Liz says:

    I must preface this by saying I hate blog posts that are followed by tons of comments congratulating the author on what a fantastic human being they are for writing, or deigning to communicate, or brushing their teeth, etc. etc.

    This is the first post I've ever read that I think deserves such a response. Your dad sounds strong and brave and imperfect, and pretty damn awesome, and so do you. He must be incredibly proud of you.

    Congratulations, and I hope you do resume teaching. We need far more people like you.

  4. roxie says:

    I finally got it. You have trouble with authority because you don't SEE the invisible boxes! You don't use the pigeonholes or the unspoken sorting system. You can't "Toe the line," because you a fish – no toes. And you were raised by fish -tough, wonderful successful fish. So the whole, "toeing the line" concept is inconceivable.

    I love your folks, and I love you so very much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *