the planet of the apes

When I was growing up I loved The Planet of the Apes movies. I spent many a weekend during my extra-chubby adolescence watching ape movie marathons on one of the now defunct upper channels which could only be accessed through a precariously balanced antenna. I was obsessed, planning my non-existent social life around this dystopian world dominated by talking apes and ruggedly handsome men in loincloths.

There was Charlton Heston in the original film, collapsing at the base of the Statue of Liberty under the horrifying realization that “it was earth all along”. Later in the quintology there was Escape from the Planet of the Apes, an ode to the swinging 70s complete with time-traveling apes, feminist undertones, and a carnival barking Ricardo Montalban. For the fourth film the series went dark as Conquest of the Planet of the Apes offered us a totalitarian view of the future and an endless backdrop of bad concrete architecture.  The franchise ran out of steam by its mostly unwatchable last film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, an all but forgettable entry save for a cameo by the late great John Houston, an Academy award winning actor who was clearly slumming it for the paycheck.

But the movie that stuck (and sticks) with me most was the second entry in the series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. A cautionary tale of a post-nuclear war civilization, it featured an underground city populated by mutated humans with psychic powers. The mutants worship a nuclear warhead and, in the best scene in the film franchise, they peel away their seemingly normal faces to reveal the hideous radiation scarred skin beneath. As the music swells, the mutants turn to the bomb and, in what can only be described as an unbridled display of orgiastic religious fervor, they begin to chant, “I reveal my innermost self”.

(I promise I’m going somewhere with this.)

I love that scene. I have probably watched it fifty times, maybe more. Even at eleven years old I like to think that I understood what the filmmakers were really trying to say: blind obedience is bad and, if I ever decide to join a post-apocalyptic cult in an ape dominated world first make sure the other members aren’t hideously scarred mutants who worship a nuclear warhead.

Actually what I remember most – and what resonates now three decades later more than it ever did in 1986 – was the line, “I reveal my innermost self,” because in this age of technological isolation I realize that we have become those hideously scarred mutants hiding out in our underground cities, communicating through psychic messages, hiding behind a mask so no one can see our truth.

We don’t leave our houses. We communicate through the tap of a phone screen. We are the sum total of our social media profiles.

We don’t let people see the warts. We hide. We reveal nothing.

I dread social obligations. I just want to hole up in my house eating doughnuts and watching Call the Midwife. The real world is too much work, too much effort. I do not talk on the phone. All calls go to voicemail. All communication is done through text or instant messaging. My phone rings and I think, Why are you calling me? Did someone die? …and if someone did die then why don’t you just text me the bad news so we can avoid a scene?

(Texting is like having psychic powers and if it worked for movie mutants then it should work for us.)

I feel bad.  I feel guilty. I think I must be the only person who feels this way, but then I log on to social media and I see the whole goddamn world has gone Planet of the Apes. 

Facebook is nothing but the latex mask we wear over our hideous radiation scarred faces.

(Okay, I know I’m being a bit much here and really this is just an excuse to talk about those ape movies, but also everything I’m saying is kinda true.)

I honestly have no idea what anyone’s innermost self looks like because all I see is perfection. Perfect families. Perfect marriages. Perfect pictures of perfect dinners.

We all do it.

Life is a fucking postcard and you had better keep up because if you can’t compete with my fake life then something must be lacking in your fake life.

Just once I would like to see someone (not me, of course!) say: My life is a mess. My children hate me. I haven’t spoken to my spouse in three days and that’s okay because the truth is I’m hoping for a fourth day of silence. Also, I ate three gallons of ice cream last night and I just deep fried a pie for my second lunch.

Imagine how freeing life would be if we all walked around showing our hideous scars to one another. I’m not talking about complaining, please don’t do that because no one wants to hear you whine. I mean just some good old fashioned truth tellin’ and if that seems like too much, if you can’t handle the truth, then don’t try and sell the latex mask lie.

Embrace the mess. Cherish the silence. Eat the second lunch.

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too blessed to be stressed and other stupid things people say

Yesterday I stayed home from work. I didn’t have a fever or a stomach ache or even a hangover. The truth is I was exhausted and I was exhausted because all I do is worry. I’ve been a worrier all my life. In high school, so chronic was my worry that I kept a bottle of aspirin in my locker to help combat the daily headaches brought on by my excessive worrying.

As an adult I like to tell myself that I have learned how to manage my condition, but the truth is I’ve just become better at compartmentalizing it. Now when something bothers me I imagine a box high up on a shelf and I stuff all my worry into that box – out of sight, out of mind (not really!) I cram that box full of every petty annoyance, every concern, every case of “what-if” until finally it gets so full it explodes and I have to stay home from work.

I had not been feeling well for a few weeks—stomach aches, headaches, indigestion, trouble sleeping. The internet told me I had everything from an ulcer to Lupus to Lyme’s Disease to cancer. I looked in the mirror: how could I be falling apart when I was still so young and beautiful? What would everyone I had ever met do without me? Who would play me in the TV movie of my life, there was no question that Judith Light would play my husband, but what about me?

It was Judith Light my husband who suggested that I was perhaps/maybe/most likely not dying and that maybe I was just stressed out. I hate the phrase stressed out. It’s up there with depression, another overused self-diagnosis from which everyone claims to be suffering. Still, I considered his suggestion and, as much as I hated to admit it, I realized he might be on to something.

I made a mental list of all the things which had been causing me worry: my weight, my student loans, the “check engine” light that came on while driving home from work, my children, my children walking unsupervised for three blocks from the bus stop to home, the mother of the boy in my oldest son’s class who didn’t want her son to be friends with my son because he has two dads, what it must be like for my sons to have two dads, my youngest son’s refusal to eat anything without large amounts of ranch dressing, my oldest son’s piano lessons and play rehearsals, my youngest son’s soccer practice, the phone interview we had with the caseworker from Washington about adopting an eight year old boy, the fact that it’s been nine days since the interview and nothing, if we have enough money, how we spend our money, the lack of one-on-one time I have with my husband, the realization that silently watching TV for three hours a night does not constitute one-on-one time with my husband, Donald Trump winning the election, people who support Donald Trump speaking to and/or influencing my children, how I’ll react if Maggie dies on The Walking Dead…

The list goes on and on and, yes, I realize that 80% of what I worry about is ridiculous and the other 20% is stuff that everyone worries about all the time. My problem is not that I worry, my problem is I don’t process my worry. I stuff it all in that box high up on the shelf and the next thing I know Maggie is lying in a pool of blood and I’m sobbing on the living room floor next to a pile of dog vomit because my dog always vomits at the worst possible moments.

I have to learn to let go and let God (another stupid thing people say) which is about as hollow as #prayers, but if I peel away the very thick shell of cynicism that envelopes me, I get it. I can’t control everything, or really anything for that matter. Life happens and the best I can do is control how I react to it.

I may want to destroy the mother of the boy at my oldest son’s school who won’t let her son be friends with my son because he has two dads, but what would that accomplish? Sure I might feel great, but I’d probably end up in jail. And so what if my youngest son needs ranch dressing to eat his broccoli? In the end, he’s eating his broccoli.

Ultimately the world keeps on spinning and if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States…no, that’s a legitimate concern. We cannot let that happen, people. There isn’t a box large enough or a shelf high enough to contain that disaster.

Worry, worry, worry….


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

advanced topics in parenting

Last Tuesday Chris stayed home from school sick with the flu. He and I spent the day on the couch under a mountain of blankets eating leftover Easter candy and watching cartoons. Shortly after eleven I switched over the station from Nickelodeon to ABC because Hillary Clinton was scheduled to be a guest on The View.

Chris had recently began expressing an interest in the upcoming presidential election and I thought this would be a good opportunity for him to hear a candidate speak…and also because I want him to grow up to be a socially liberal Democrat and if other parents have no problem bringing their ten year old to a Trump rally than I see nothing wrong with me allowing my ten year old to watch Hillary Clinton, who is, after all, fabulous and not a dangerous lunatic.

La Clinton was flawless. And I’m not just talking about her tailored pants suit. She nailed every question, charming even that bastion of religious conservatism Candace Cameron-Bure. God, I love that woman – HRC, not CCB.

So what if I’m as biased as a Bernie Bro? I mean does it really matter if I spent a majority of the interview explaining to Chris how perfectly on-point the former First Lady’s hair was and why that detail alone was reason enough to vote for her? No, because the point is we were bonding and my son was learning an important civics lesson.

It was magical…until someone on the panel asked a question about abortion.

“What’s abortion?” Chris asked.

Look, I don’t care if you’re pro-life or pro-choice or pro-sports explaining abortion to a child is difficult. I did my best to answer the question in as unbiased, direct and medical a way as possible, but still it was uncomfortable.

Of course so much of being a parent is about dealing with things which are uncomfortable.

This morning over breakfast I had to explain the finer points of Stranger Danger which led to a lengthy discussion on the difference between a good touch and a bad touch and this coming on the heels of yesterday’s car ride home where I had to explain to Chris the reasons why siblings couldn’t marry each other, but in as non-graphic a way as possible because simply saying “Because they can’t!” proved to be an unacceptable answer.

Perhaps I’m too honest with the kids. Maybe “Because they can’t!” should be the last word. I don’t know. I do know the world is difficult and sometimes it can be unpleasant and we do our children no favors if we try and shield them from those realities.

Still, when Elijah asks me where babies come from I’m going to learn from my mistakes and rather than try and explain the birthing process I’ll simply direct him to watch an especially graphic episode of Call the Midwife and rest comfortable in the knowledge that my work is done here.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here.

 

 

 

thirty day chip

Thirty days ago I posted my last status on Facebook.

I then drove my family three hours from our home in the city to a remote cabin in south central Pennsylvania for an off-the-grid weekend in the wilderness. For seventy-two hours I lived in complete ignorance of the world beyond our tiny house in the woods. There was no cell service, no internet, no social media, no functioning toilets. As someone who enjoys the conveniences of the modern world, to say nothing of proper indoor plumbing, this was roughing it.

But I survived.

Actually I did more than just survive, I thrived. For the first time in a very long time I was not distracted by phone calls or texts or the siren call of social media. With nothing left to steal my focus I was forced to live in the moment. I participated. I was engaged. I listened to my children play and rather than dismiss their exuberance as “just noise” I heard their words and I understood their language. I celebrated their creativity. I laughed and I smiled and I saw my kids again for the first time.

I’m not saying three days without Wi-Fi and suddenly I was Father of the Year, but in the days and weeks since that weekend I believe I’ve morphed into a solid second runner-up. The truth is even without the distractions of the modern world I struggle to be fully engaged every minute of every day. Sometimes I phone it in. I want to be Super Dad, but by the time the end of the day or the weekend rolls around I’m so exhausted and done with it all that I’ll settle for being the out-of-shape lazy-ass beer-drinking sidekick to Super Dad.

But then even being the fat drunk Robin is easier once you make the decision to unplug.

The world is a strange place without Facebook. I have no idea what people are doing or feeling. I don’t know what they ate for dinner last night or what movie they watched on Netflix last weekend or how they plan to vote in some distant primary. I don’t know what issue to hashtag or if black lives still matter or if that clerk from Kentucky is still a thing.

Even worse, since I can no longer use memes and shared links from Reddit as a barometer for one’s level of mental illness I’m forced to trust that every person I meet on the street is perfectly normal even though I know deep down they’re all fucking crazy.

I’m a stranger in a strange land.

I’m not complaining. Life is simpler without social media. I’m less concerned with things that have nothing to do with me. I spend more time enjoying all of the amazing things I have in my life and less time telling people about all the amazing things I have in my life. I’m not concerned with reliving the moment five minutes from now because I’m living the moment now. And while choosing to disconnect in a connected world can make you feel isolated I find that I enjoy living in a bubble.

It’s very quiet.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.