Stumbling Forward

The podcast of my book “Pushing Back,” the first in the Boone series, released Chapter 12 this morning. That’s about a third of the way through the book, and reading each chapter aloud and hearing the voices of Boone, Nancy, Mr. Everett, Deputy Anderson, Boone’s parents, his sister Hannah, and all the rest of the inhabitants of the book has given me a chance to reflect on what “Pushing Back” is about. I knew that Boone was one of those kids out on the fringes, invisible to most people, who is just trying to get by. There’s more to it than that, of course, as there are in most stories.

At its core, “Pushing Back” (and the rest of the Boone series) is about the aftermath of an abusive relationship between a son and his father. Boone is trying to make the transition from childhood to adulthood with very little knowledge of how the world works and few skills to draw upon when new situations present themselves. In addition, what he has learned from his father (and, to some extent, his mother) does not serve him well in the adult world he is entering. Paradoxically, the fact that he is determined not to turn out like his daddy makes things harder for him, since he is trying as hard as he can to reject the few strategies his father taught him.

I have said that I think of Boone as kind of an Everyman. None of the young people I worked with in my career had his exact history, but the themes of anger and distrust were common, as was the struggle to try to get it right, to figure things out. Most of them, like Boone, wanted to be successful adults; most of them, like Boone, had almost no idea how to accomplish that.

The struggle not to make the mistakes our parents made is a common one; there are, however, a stunningly large variety of mistakes that can be made, and, while we are sometimes successful at avoiding the imperfections of our parents, we usually present our children with a whole new set of mistakes for them to avoid. No one is a perfect parent, but most are good ones; there are a lot of different ways to be a good parent. Boone’s father, barely able to manage his own life, certainly couldn’t function as a good example to his son.

Boone is fighting the same fight that all of us have at one time or another; he’s starting from a worse position than most of us, and is facing long odds as he tries to figure out this whole adult thing. His progress is slow as he stumbles forward, but he’s a good kid and occasionally learns something useful. He is fortunate in that he has a few people who are willing to walk with him for a while and help him regain his footing after his frequent missteps. We’ve all got people like that, I think, and would do well to remember it, and appreciate it.

For those of you interested in following Boone’s story, the podcast is available on my website under the “LISTEN . . .” tab.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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