The Lie We Tell Ourselves

I grew up near Vandenberg Air Force Base, and in fifth grade, I got to go on the coolest field trip there. We got to see massive satellite dishes, bigger than any building in our small town. A real Air Force guy (as I called him–I have no idea who he was or what rank he held) took us around and explained how their rocket launches worked, and we got to have lunch at a park overlooking the launch site. I won a model rocket by answering the most questions right, and when my mom came to pick me up that day, I was bursting with pride, shoving my rocket in her face.

My little brother crawled in the car behind me. “She doesn’t know,” he said simply.

As we drove out of the parking lot, my brothers staring blankly out of their respective windows, I stared in open-mouth shock at my mother in the driver’s seat ahead of me as she broke the news that my Grandpa had died earlier that day. My brothers had heard earlier as they were at school and my Dad came by to tell them.

I wanted to feel sad, but I didn’t. I went to baseball practice after school, glove dangling off my left hand, and just stood staring off into the distance, waiting for the flood of tears that should be coming. When are they coming? Didn’t I love my Grandpa?

Oh my God, am I horrible because I’m not sad about this?

I didn’t cry at the funeral. I didn’t cry a couple of weeks later when my beloved kitten was hit by a car.

My parents told me much later that they were worried about me. They thought I might be suppressing my feelings on purpose, and maybe I was.

They were sure shocked when, months later, I accidentally stepped on my favorite pink cup, my diminutive weight enough to decimate the fragile plastic. Though my parents told me they would buy me a new one, I cried for days. Literally, days. All the tragedy that had hit 10 year old me in the last 3 months caught up with me in the realization that I’d never get to drink my Gatorade out of that plastic pink cup anymore.

Denial is a weird thing. Sometimes, we opt to stay in denial to save ourselves from the pain that comes with the rest of the cycle of grief. We lie to ourselves and cling to the idea that we’re fine. It even works for a while.

But that lie, and it definitely is a lie, eventually catches up to us. Something will happen, and all the willpower that had been holding reality at bay just crumples around us, leaving us with a backlog of unavoidable emotion to sift through.

One of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met is a recovering heroin addict. He called me today, and, as I like to do, I bounced my ideas off of him. Winona, as he asked me to call him for anonymity’s sake, is brilliant, and taking his suggestions has only improved my life.

I’m going to paraphrase what Winona said. His ideas come so fast he can’t get one out before the next one starts, so his ideas often come in fragments and shards. His insights about denial, for instance, mixed jarringly in with his awe of the laws of physics and the mysteries that time and space hold within them. I’ll use the first person and try to capture Winona’s voice while also trying to keep it on topic and as profanity-free as possible.

“It’s crazy, you know, because I knew I was a drug addict the first time I did drugs. I remember that, the first time. I knew right away.

But I didn’t really know. There was this break between my logical brain and my emotions, like my deep, psychological self. I knew I was addicted, so I wasn’t in denial, but there was always that thought in the back of my mind that I could stop being addicted any time I want. That it wasn’t really a problem. But it was. It was a huge problem. So I was in denial even though I wasn’t. Does that make sense?

It’s like my grandma, who chainsmoked her whole life, and who had emphysema and had to wear an oxygen mask all the time, and who still chainsmoked with it on. I thought she was going to blow herself up with that. But she always said she liked smoking and that she could quit if she wanted to. No way she could. She was near death, and still holding on to that denial because quitting would be damn near impossible.

But heroin and other drugs, they’re different from smoking because you get high. You don’t think the same way. At first it’s just while you’re high, but then it’s all the time. You do things that your old self would never do because all that matters is getting high again. Everything is ok, and nothing seems like the wrong thing to do because your brain starts only rewarding you for getting high. You wake up one day and realize you feel good about yourself for, like, ripping off your mom because it means you got to get high again.

That’s the worst thing, really. One of the main reasons it’s hard getting sober. Your brain starts to change back, and you realize all the crap you did. You want to stay addicted so you don’t have to deal with this enormous guilt. You hurt everybody you love. You did it a lot. Getting sober means you can’t stay in denial about that stuff. You have to break through so many levels of denial to get sober. That’s hard, man. I still feel guilty all the time. ”

Denial. That stupid psychological adaptation that helps us get away from dangerous situations before we feel the crushing pain of loss or guilt. That demon who forces you further down your road to hell because redemption hurts.

Denial.

Round One, Me!

Kevin stepped through the door on the first day of seventh grade exactly three seconds after the bell. I looked at him, and he smirked at me. He was letting me know exactly what I was in for for the rest of the year. Try as I might, he was saying, I would never be able to turn him into a good student, a good kid.

Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, Kevin, I naively said with my smile back to him. I know you’re a good kid, and I’ll prove it to you. “You must be Kevin. I thought you were absent. Have a seat right here,” I said, pointing to a desk in the front of the room.

He sauntered over, his untied shoelaces pinging softly against the metal legs of all the desks he walked past. His fingers trailed on everybody’s new binders and pencils, and more than one scowl bounced right off the back of Kevin’s head.

As students got to work on an art project designed for me to learn all of their names, Kevin just stared at me, a lonely, pubescent Mona Lisa, moving only his eyes, following me around the room as I met each student individually. A single, dirty, yellow-blond tangle dropped over his eye.

“Good morning, Kevin.”

“Hi!” he exclaimed with a cheerfulness that didn’t meet his face.

“What are you going to draw?”

“Nothing!” he exclaimed, his smirk deepening. “I just feel, you know, that nothing would be a more accurate illustration of me than Charlie’s stick figure. There’s nothing here,” he remarked, tapping his greasy head.

Are you sure you’re 12? I thought. “Well, that’s the beauty of English class. As long as you can explain it, there are, often, no right or wrong answers.”

Round 1, me! I thought as I walked away.


 

“There are only two weeks left in the school year!” I begged, leaning over the Assistant Principal’s desk.

“There’s no way he can even pass a single class. What does it matter?” he asked, exasperated. “You gave him half of his detentions, anyway. He reached his limit. Kevin is suspended for the rest of the year.”

Walking back to my classroom, I reached into my pocket for the stack of colorful labels that have lived there for the last month. I looked at the first one. “Dear Madison, you grew up so much this year! I can’t believe how confident you are now. You’ve come so far from the girl too shy to talk to her partner on the first day of school. Have a great summer! -Ms. Lohman”

I flipped through the unfinished stack of 150, one yearbook note for each student. Finally, I found the one I was looking for, the one I’d never be able to deliver. “Dear Kevin, I’m sad to hear you’ll be moving away next year! I know this year was hard for you, but I’m so happy I got to know you. You’re so smart and funny. I know you’ll make something great of yourself someday. -Ms. Lohman”

Round 87, Kevin. You win, little man. 

Greatness, At What Cost?

Devin

Thwack! Devin heard the glove smack him on the side of the head before he felt it.

“Let’s go,” David commanded.

Devin looked up at his older brother, enormous muscles bulging out of his fifteen-year-old shoulders, his baggy Billabong t-shirt tight around the biceps. David was ferocious. He was bound and determined to go pro in baseball, and Devin was his training partner, like it or not.

Devin knew arguing with David was pointless, so he put on his battle face and walked out the door, vaguely noticing his sister Lorelle’s wide eyes staring at him as he walked out the back door with dignity and stature beyond his twelve years.

The game, as always, was wiffle ball.

wiffle ball

Like other baseball-obsessed families, there were complex rules in place specifically for the arrangement of their back yard. What would normally be foul, for instance, would be a double if you hit the bushes, but a home run if you got it over the bushes. What seems like fair play might be out automatically or it might be a single. Only David and Devin knew the rules, and even they couldn’t agree on them.

Rock-paper-scissors, that sacred contract more binding, to a kid, than any legal document, decided that Devin would bat first.

The game started with an explosion. The tiny bat pinged right and left as wiffle balls flew all over the back yard. “Triple! 2 runs scored. I’m at 8!” shouted Devin triumphantly.

“No, out. That’s 3–I’m up,” stated David, matter-of-factly, as he walked confidently over to the plate, reaching out his hand for the bat that Devin still held.

“When you hit it there yesterday, it was a triple!” Devin shouted, his head coming up no higher than David’s armpit, though his voice was strong and unwavering.

“That was when I hit it over the hot tub. You hit it to the side of the hot tub. Shut up and go get the ball!” David shouted back, exasperated.

Devin, hands still tight on the bat, looked David square in the eye. Not today, he thought. “You cheat like this every day! You’re a liar and you’re not fair!” Devin said, hurling his bat at David, who was now no more than a yard away from Devin.

David had quick reflexes, but he couldn’t avoid the bat completely. It hit him with a thud, and he winced.

David grabbed the closest thing to him, a patio chair, and hurled it back at Devin. The much smaller boy ducked, and the chair crashed over his back. It hurt, but that didn’t stop Devin.

David was bigger, older, and extremely talented at everything. Why does he always do this to me? Why can’t he just leave me alone? He sprang from his crouch and was instantly at David’s side, slamming his fist into David’s arm.

David

School was rough today; nobody understands dedication. They call him obsessed, they laugh at his single-minded passion for the one thing that makes him happy: baseball. If only he had a game today, things would be better. But, alas, he was currently between travel-ball seasons. Another would start up soon, but he needed to play today.

He walked into the living room, and there was his little brother, watching cartoons like a child. Tiny, but solid muscle, that little brat was. Playing against him, after all the training David had invested in him, was nearly as good as playing with his own teammates. In fact, Devin was already better than a few of them. Why couldn’t that little dork see that the two of them could make it, could go pro, could maybe play on the Dodgers together?

He slapped Devin with his glove, noticing Lorelle shaking her head at him from the kitchen table where she was reading again. Always reading, that girl was. She’s good enough to maybe play softball in college or something. Too bad there’s no pro baseball for girls. But she doesn’t care. She just wants to read.

“Let’s go,” he said, not waiting for Devin. He knew Devin would follow. If he didn’t, David could taunt him about being a chicken. That went both ways; David couldn’t turn down challenges from Devin, either.

The game began like any other. Devin started at bat and quickly dominated, racking up runs. It wasn’t going to be easy today. It never was–David only won maybe 60% of the daily wiffle ball games.

With every point Devin seemingly effortlessly smacked over David’s head, David’s frustration grew. Though he was excellent at baseball, he had to work so damn hard for it. Here’s this little punk kid who doesn’t even like the sport all that much, and he’s naturally amazing. He doesn’t know how lucky he is, David thought for the millionth time, anger slowly brewing.

David finally got that third out, but Devin was having none of it. Come on, little bro, he thought. You whiny little turd, just let it go! “That was when I hit it over the hot tub. You hit it to the side of the hot tub. Shut up and go get the ball!”

Devin threw the bat, David threw the chair, and suddenly Devin’s fist collided with David’s arm.

It hurt. Devin had never actually hurt David with a punch before.

David looked down at Devin, red-faced, mouth contorted into the scream of the oppressed, finally revolting against his tormentor. The punch wasn’t actually enough to make David lose the fight, but it was enough to make him think twice about picking a fight next time.

Lorelle

“Sit down, take out your bluebooks and put your phones away!” the professor announced as she walked into the classroom. It was day 2 of fall quarter’s finals week.

“What, really?” Lorelle shouted into her phone.

“Phones away!” the professor shouted.

Lorelle looked at the teacher, eyes pleading, holding up a finger and mouthing “One second, please!”

“What round? Third! No way!” she jumped up and down in a circle, squaling. “Okay, I have to go take my final now. I’ll come over as soon as I finish!” she said, hanging up. “Sorry, Dr. Lynch, my little brother just got drafted to play baseball for the Cincinnati Reds!”

The professor looked taken aback. She’d obviously never heard that excuse for a phone call in class before. “Okay, um… just sit down. We need to get started.”

Lorelle could barely concentrate on the essay she had to write. Yeah, I probably failed that class, she thought as she sprinted out of the classroom. She just had to get to her Dad’s house, where the whole family had gathered, along with Devin’s agent, waiting in agony during the draft, now celebrating the success.

When she finally got there, it was David who answered the door, pitching arm in a sling, beaming from ear to ear. Lorelle hugged him carefully, trying to do as little damage to the career-ending injury as possible.

Devin was sitting at the table with the older generation of the family. His agent had already left, and the party was over, but the family stayed around, waiting for Lorelle. Devin turned, a completely foreign expression on his face. He was smiling, yes, but not really. Everybody else seemed as excited as Lorelle had been earlier, but she suddenly felt cold.

“It’s time!” their Dad said, pulling a bottle of champagne out of the freezer. The rest of the family talked all at once, while Devin sat, bouncing his massively muscled leg fast enough to vibrate the whole house.

“Remember that day we played wiffle ball and you threw a chair at me?” Devin suddenly asked David, silencing the rest of the conversation in the room.

The whole family groaned. “You thew a bat at me first!” David replied, defensively.

“Not this argument again!” Lorelle said, accepting a flute of champagne from her mom.

“No,” said Devin. “I just mean that David never went easy on me, and that’s why I’m so good at baseball. This was his dream, but I’ve got it. If David had been my little brother, he’d probably be the one here right now.”

Devin

“Do you think you’ll teach again next year?” Devin said into his cell phone, looking around the office to make sure his boss didn’t catch him making a personal phone call.

“Devin, teaching destroyed me. Tore me apart from the inside until I couldn’t even recognize myself in the scraps of humanity I had left. I’m still trying to put myself back together. I’ll never teach again,” came Lorelle’s voice into Devin’s ear.

Devin sat down at his desk that was slightly too small for him. “Kind of like me and baseball,” he said quietly. “Did you know that David was actually relieved that he got hurt? That he didn’t have to sacrifice every other part of his life to the false god that baseball had become?”

“Yeah,” said Lorelle. “He told me that. He seems to be doing really well at his new job. Going pro would eventually have destroyed him, too.”

“It was all I knew. Since I was 10, I never got to do anything else. Now I’m an adult with my first real job. I never even wanted it. I liked basketball!” Devin picked up a pen and twirled it between his fingers.

“That’s how we were raised. Work hard, be the best. Dad wanted us all to be champions.”

“But champions only ever get to do one thing. I want to do lots of things,” Devin stabbed the pen into his stack of blue post-its. “At least you got to travel the world.”

“At least you have a job.”

Devin grunted, looking at the indentation his pen had made in the post-its.

Champion

 

Reading Confessional: 10 Books I’ve Never Read

J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye and speaker of the deepest truths to angsty teens since 1951, labeled my English major (along with many, many other things) phony. Holden Caulfield mentions it, and Franny Glass from Franny and Zooey obsesses about it. They say that English majors are basically becoming highly educated in pretending you know everything. Or, as I like to put it, getting your BA in BS.

He wasn’t entirely wrong. While I do see multitudes of merit in the knowledge and skills I learned as an English major, we did do a lot of pretending. Specifically, we pretended to have read every book, poem, and play ever written. If we didn’t, people would stare at us incredulously and shriek with a voice like a thousand harpies, “You haven’t read that?!?!?!” Consequently, we’d lose all credibility in every conversation henceforth.

So, we lied.

Today, I’m going to reveal to you the top 10 books that I pretended to read in college. Revealing this secret hurts my soul a little bit. Salinger would be so proud, though! Look at me, being all honest about who I am. No phonies to be found here!*

*Salinger, I love you. Sorry for the teasing.

  1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
    belljar
    Anything by Sylvia Plath, for that matter. I haven’t read a word of hers. I know she’s super depressing, and that’s why I’ve avoided reading her.
  2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    brothers karamazov
    I’ve actually really tried to read this book several times. Some of my favorite authors of all time fall on opposite ends of the critical spectrum. Some think it’s the best book of all time, some think the worst. I had trouble keeping track of all the names. It’s like a Russian Game of Thrones in that regard (and that regard only!)
  3. Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov
    foundation trilogy
    How can I claim to be a SciFi nerd if I haven’t read this yet? There goes literally all of my nerd cred.
  4. Ulysses by James Joyce
    ulysses
    TL;DR: It was too long, so I didn’t read it. That stream-of-consciousness style makes it really difficult.
  5. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
    To the lighthouse
    I actually have been meaning to read this since college, but I was too busy reading the assigned books to read anything for fun. One of my favorite professors said that this is his favorite book, so it’s definitely on my list!
  6. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
    heart of darkness
    I tried to read this novella that inspired the movie Apocalypse Now!, but I just could not get through this mess. It was so slow. I actually ended up dropping a class because I couldn’t write an essay about it.
  7. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
    Invisible Man
    Sorry, Mrs. May, I know you assigned this book, but I was in high school. I just asked my friends every day what happened in the book. The only thing I remember about it was yams. Am I right? Is this book about yams?
  8. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    lord of the flies
    Everybody was supposed to read this in elementary or middle school, but I never did. I was too busy immersing myself in the awesomeness that was A Wrinkle in Time.
  9. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
    waiting for godot
    This… play? yeah, play. Whenever this play was brought up, I would just nod and say, “Oh yeah… interesting,” or “Mmmmm…” or “Oh, good point!” Nobody ever caught on! I still have no idea what it’s about. Are those microwaves?
  10. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
    hamlet
    This one pains me the most to admit. I love Shakespeare. I went and saw The Tempest at the Globe Theatre in London, and I’ve read maybe 12 of his other plays. I also know the plot of Hamlet backwards and forwards. I’ve seen it live twice. I’ve just never read it, and it’s my deepest shame.

In making this list, I put a couple of books on my reading list. What are some books that you haven’t read? Leave a comment and let me know!

Why Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong

I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. That is, I love the books and the BBC TV adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterpieces. I really don’t like Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal, but that’s beside the point.

Me at Baker Street
When I got the opportunity to spend a week in London, I had to go visit 221B Baker Street.

Sherlock Holmes is amazing! He can analyze mud samples on a stranger’s boot to be able to identify which part of England he recently visited. He can sniff tobacco ash to tell you not only the brand, but also where the smoker most likely bought it. With anything that involves seemingly insignificant evidence to a case, Sherlock Holmes can be counted on to be the world’s consummate expert.

Sherlock’s work is his life. Nothing else matters. The man doesn’t even know if the world revolves around the sun or vice versa.

I know, I know. The “Earth is flat” theory has recently re-reared its ugly head in this anti-Enlightenment movement that the world is, unfortunately, undergoing. Sherlock, however, actively chooses to remain ignorant on such “insignificant” topics.

In A Study in Scarlet, he famously says, “What the deuce is it to me?… You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

When I read that excerpt in my favorite Sherlock story, I obviously disagreed with my literary friend. Sherlock is clearly wrong. Right?

Although that passage gave me a memorable, “Oh, Sherlock…” moment, my recent career switch revealed to me just how much like Sherlock I’d become.

For the last five years, I taught middle and high school English. I thought I had an extremely broad scope of knowledge that I brought to the table; it turns out I didn’t.

Apparently, obsessing over the esoteric jargon and processes of a particular field develops a Holmesian mindset in even the most inquisitive of individuals.

Teachers tend to incessantly analyze life as it’s happening around them in terms of how they would teach it to their students. We can’t help it. We just want those precious little brats to have the best future prospects we can offer them. I haven’t escaped this mindset just yet. Consequently, while studying up on the processes of conducting business in other careers, I’ve been kicking myself for not learning about these things while I was teaching.

My students would have benefited far more from learning actual project management techniques used in business than from the prescribed processes of “Project Based Learning.” If I had taught them real UX/UI principles, I can only imagine the amazing things they could have produced. The conflict management skills taught in management training would be so useful for teachers to know!

Sherlock’s mistake and my own go further than skills that may have helped my teaching. The UX principles and the management skills also apply to each other, and to other elements of design, and in the broader scope of life as well! This epiphany has me looking into as many careers as I can in hopes of becoming the most well-rounded person, employee, innovator to ever exist. I’m excited to see just how much my “brain attic,” as Sherlock calls it, can hold, and how all that information can change me.

Take a moment to reflect on your skillset and what you bring to your job, your hobbies, your relationships. Are you relying on too few sources of information and inspiration? Branch out! You might just have an epiphany while you’re at it.

-As posted previously on my LinkedIn account

Prudent vs. Pluck

My mom didn’t always play it safe. Her tales of partying and drug use back in college are wild enough to scare… well, her mom. Okay, my mom has played it pretty close to safe her whole life.

For someone so similar to her in looks, interests, and hobbies, I couldn’t be more different. Hi, I’m Pluck, and my mother is Prudent.

I do things that terrify my mother. When I was little, it was my love of heights and complete disregard for my own safety. As a teenager, I decided my sport of choice was going to be pole vaulting, and my mother’s risk of heart attack grew.

pole vault freeze frame
(All this with spiky shoes)

College was crazy. Can anybody really look back at college and remember it as anything but? After college, though, my mom thought she could finally stop worrying about me when I got my teaching credential. I’d have steady employment, I’d be happy, I’d be doing exactly the same things every day that she had been doing literally my entire life.

My mom went to college, and then between having three babies, of which I am number two, she got her teaching credential, got a job at the same place she did her student teaching, and is still teaching there 28 years later. She’s rocking it. She’s the department head, she mentors new teachers, she’s well loved by all her students. She also teaches college classes at night because she’s just that good.

My first teaching job, however, was at an international school in Malaysia. Between being offered the job and landing in Asia, I had exactly 10 days. 10 days for my mom to process the idea that my life was going to be far from stable and predictable. That she’d be worried indefinitely.

After Malaysia came Boy Scout camp, and after that came Morocco. It wasn’t until after my teaching career crashed and burned in Morocco and I came home with my tail between my legs that my Mother and I started to understand each other.

I’m not calm. I’m not content. She is. You know all the things that they tell you you’re supposed to do to learn how to be happy? My mother does all those things naturally. She’s optimistic, she appreciates small things, she’s grateful, she takes moments to breathe and calm herself, she’s basically a far-Eastern guru without the yoga.

I, however, run from idea to idea trying to make the most of this one life I get to live… or have to live, depending on my state of mind. She understands this about me now. She told me recently that she spent my entire childhood trying to get me to calm down because she was trying to give me the best life possible. And if I would just take a breath, look around, and see that everything is good here, I’d be fine. I’d be happy. I just couldn’t do that, though. I still can’t, though, believe me, I try. All the time. My mom said that she wishes she would have helped me channel all my energy rather than try to suppress it. “I should have helped you be the best Lorelle you can be,” she told me recently.

Turns out, neither of us is exactly right. That stable life that my mom was trying to offer me just doesn’t exist any more. The job market is so volatile, and the structure of the working world changes so rapidly that once stable careers are now obsolete, and who knows how long the new job titles will stay relevant? I quit teaching, and am now trying to change careers. Nothing makes you crave prudence like unemployment. But, I’m still me. I’ve got pluck. I’m going to need both to survive another day.

 

 

Prudent

Tim Allen: Today’s Jane Austen?

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen: using witty female protagonists to describe and critique the social norms of late 18th century.

Tim Allen: using witless male protagonists to describe and critique the social norms of the late 20th century and early 21st.

17670429_10212133609433300_1775191560_o
Social commentators Jane Austen and Tim Allen

Every five years or so, I go on an Austen binge. I love Sense and Sensibility (my car is named Colonel Brandon) and Persuasion most of all, but who can forget the charismatic, titular Emma or the provocative, prideful and prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet? Jane Austen’s novels have the magical ability to place you into all the different social classes of England of yore and give you a more realistic Cinderella story with fancy balls and handsome rich guys. When reading these books, you can almost feel the corsets smothering you and the enormous, beautiful dresses weighing you down as you demonstrate your feminine accomplishments on the pianoforte. Total immersion into that world.

The best thing about these novels, however, is how hard those women fight to make their living circumstances better than their time period actually allowed them to be. Emma chooses the guy who encourages her to be the best version of herself she can be instead of becoming sleazy Elton’s arm candy. Elizabeth Bennet forces Darcy to change everything about his worldview to treat her, a woman in every respect his inferior, as his equal. That’s what makes these stories better than Cinderella. Being the rich prince doesn’t automatically make a man worthy of the lower-class heroine.

Jane Austen is one of my heroes. Tim Allen… isn’t. Maybe he should be, though.

Like Austen, Tim Allen’s TV shows accurately mirror and shrewdly critique their current societies.  As a working couple with three young boys in the early 90’s, Tim Taylor in Home Improvement was the epitome of the working-class Everyman. Currently, Mike Baxter is the Last Man Standing, or at least that’s what it feels like to be that Everyman hero of yesteryear today. 20 years of change between Allen’s two big sitcoms show a similar character in vastly different cultural climates.

Tim Allen’s two shows reveal as much about the world in which I grew up as Jane Austen’s six novels do for the world in which she grew up. This time, though, instead of focusing on the burgeoning idea of women as complex individuals, the focus is on masculinity and its changes as feminism blossoms in America.

In the 90’s, there was still a middle class. I was in it! Just about everybody I knew was in it. Tim Taylor was in it. Being in the middle class with a successful working wife made the Taylor family just like every other family I knew–that is, if every other family had JTT in it. Tim learns lessons in each episode about how to be a more supportive husband and father while everybody gets to laugh at his simple-minded, best-of-intentions mistakes.

Add a bit of intelligence and twenty years of accumulated money, and you get Mike Baxter’s world. Now, he’s existing in the remnants of the middle class, swimming in a sea of women at home, and trying to be the man that he grew up to be while everybody’s telling him all those lessons he learned in the previous show were either wrong or entirely incomplete. He struggles with wanting to teach his grandson how to be a boy from his generation, when the boy’s own father wants him to be a modern, organic, peaceful, hipster baby. Although he appreciates that the world is now allowing his three daughters the same opportunities afforded to the likes of his 90’s sons, he still clashes with the liberality of modern child-rearing.

Overall, these two shows portray a normal guy who loves his family, trying to understand this crazy world and his place in it. In one show, he clashes with the world due to his own stupidity, and in the second, he struggles with the way the world is changing. The first show offers us a mirror to society, and the second offers a mirror with critique, as if the mirror had Siri’s voice telling you everything you should be doing better. The brilliance of Last Man Standing, in my opinion, is how both sides–Mike Baxter’s and the brave new world’s–are equally thrown into question. Both sides are obviously satirized, and they make audiences examine society as much as Jane Austen’s novels did.

America is split into two very angry camps–the conservatives and the liberals. Wait, no it isn’t! America is full of people trying to work together to make things work. The news is only showing those two angry camps, but we’re mostly a bunch of Mike Baxters and Tim Taylors, regular people who get things wrong and listen to each other and learn. We compromise and love people who think differently than we do. Yes, those angry people do exist. Ignore them. They are not the majority of America. Tim Allen taught me that much.