[guest post] Childhood Programming (a not terribly sneaky way to look at themes) by Michael R. Fletcher

I'm very happy to bring you the most amazing blog post that you almost didn't see, which is another blog post for another day.

TODAY is what is important, and Michael R. Fletcher is dropping by to entertain you while I hit the deadlines. Michael is a science fiction and fantasy author, whose novel, Beyond Redemption, just blew me away. You can read my review, or just take my word for it and buy his book.

Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn’t an axiom, it’s a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken—men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.

But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates—The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left—have their own nefarious plans for the young god.

As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. When one’s delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is: Who will rule there?

According to Michael, the next two Manifest Delusions novels, The Mirror's Truth, and The All Consuming, are currently in various stages of editing while Michael tries to be the best husband and dad he can be.

Beyond Redemption is Michael's second novel. His début novel, 88, is a cyberpunk tale about harvesting children for their brains.

Children, brains, and delusions. I hope you see where this is going ...

CHILDHOOD PROGRAMMING

(a not terribly sneaky way to look at themes)

This will ramble because that's the way I roll. I can't plan breakfast, never mind a blog post or a novel.

I have come to realize that I spend a lot more time thinking about themes than I do plot. I know what my next book's themes are long before I know what horrendous shit happens to the characters. Take Beyond Redemption for example. I had the title before I'd written the first word.

I wanted to write a book where no one learned anything. The novel starts with a host of shitty human beings and at the end of the book I wanted the few survivors to remain shitty. It didn't quite turn out that way, but I stayed true to that vision. This grew out of a suspicion that people are basically too stupid to learn or change. What can I say, I was in a bit of a dark place. If I wrote the book today it would be different. For one thing, I've managed to learn a few things myself—who I am and how I interact with people has changed in the last year.

And if I can change, anyone can.

There was a theme there I wanted to explore, a thorn in my side I wanted to worry at like a starved wombat. Can we escape the bonds of our childhood programming? Can we get beyond who we think we are? You'll see it in Beyond Redemption; virtually every character is haunted by something in their past. They are defined by their choices and actions.

As are we.

My father was brought up by uptight stiff-upper-lip parents in the UK. Religion was pushed on him from a young age. All the proper social mores were programmed into him from birth. He knew who the right kind of people were. He knew what kind of people to avoid. He knew how a proper boy acted. He knew which fork to use when, and how to eat without making a mess. He was told his father was perfect, without flaws of any kind. They tried to make my father perfect too, whatever the fuck perfect is.

They failed. And that's probably for the best.

At some point my father made a conscious decision to toss most of his childhood programming. He screwed around at school and got funky with as many women would let him. He was and is an unrepentant letch of the first degree. He had no interest in pursuing that upper-crust school and instead drove a truck around England's southern coast, drinking and playing rugby. Much to his parent's disgust he regularly consorted with exactly the wrong kind of people. In short, he had great fun.

I remember a friend once saying, it's better to be one of those people your parents warned you about than to be afraid of them.

Skip ahead some years and this is the person who was, at least in part, responsible for raising me. He tended to be somewhat distant—he's admitted he has little interest in small children and that I only became interesting in my late teens—but he was there and he definitely had an influence. Come to think of it, I think he first really noticed me when I came home drunk during high-school and threw up all over the house. My mother told me to clean it up and I, still extremely inebriated, used the vacuum cleaner.

I grew up hearing (over and over and over) how difficult it had been for him to overcome his childhood programming and how it would be different for me.

And it was. No one pushed religion on me and to this day I don't understand the fuss. I bring the same logic and reasoning to religion that I bring to everything else.

And it wasn't. But I didn't see it until I had a child of my own.

I found myself getting angry at my daughter in the same way—and over the same things—my father used to get angry at me about. I found myself reacting in the same ways and threatening the same punishments that I was threatened with. At some point I caught my wife staring at me like I was some kind of alien who'd replaced her calm and loving husband. When I finally managed to step back and question what was going on, I realized I didn't actually care about many of the things I was reacting to. I was, in fact, reacting because I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

The first step to overcoming one's childhood programming is recognizing it. And that is more difficult that one might think.

Childhood programming. It's insidious and just as we don't realize we have it, we tend to be blind to the fact we're perpetuating it with our own children. How are you reacting to your child's forays into individuality? When they test boundaries, do you react the same way your parents did? When you play games with them do you ever let them win? Do you always let them win? Are you willing to give your child a task you know they'll fail at and still stay out of their way as they try? Do you really believe in god, or are you just going through the motions? If you haven't questioned your own faith, are you sure you want to put that on your children without at least giving it some thought? How about your relationship with your partner, how much does that mirror the relationship you saw between your own parents?

All this is a lead up to another—though definitely related—theme in Beyond Redemption: Taking responsibility for one's own choices and actions. We are all victim to childhood programming of some kind, and it's not all bad. Ideas like sharing and helping and being kind could all be considered programming. But sometimes it's a little more difficult to see.

Take anger, for example. We've all heard (and said) things like, that made me angry. But is that the truth? Are you sure you didn't decide to become angry, were you truly helpless in the angry/not angry equation? Is it possible you've merely been taught to shirk responsibility for your emotions?

Our inability to accept responsibility for our choices goes deeper than how we react to stimuli. Are you overweight, an alcoholic, depressed, having trouble sleeping? Perhaps your first response shouldn't be to seek something to blame or to reach for a chemical cure. Maybe you can accept responsibility and change whatever needs changing to rectify the situation. Responsibility is scary, but what most people miss is that it's also power. If it's my responsibility, I can change it. And before you get too angry with me, I have been and sometimes still am all of those things.

We are the result of our choices and actions. The lives we live—barring tragedies beyond our control—are the lives we deserve. Getting over the events of your childhood, be they large or small, is a choice. Perhaps it's not an easy choice, but it is within your power. Or you can be a character in my next book. 

The first step is making a decision.

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Want to know more about Michael and his delusions? Check out his website, or give him a follow on Facebook, or Twitter.