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6527212 February 24, 2010

The Second Coming: David H. Burton

David Burton's new novel is called The Second Coming, and it's also his second coming--to Aberration Nation, that is. During his first visit, David shared his thoughts about raising three sons with his partner as well as overcoming life's aberrations. His thought-provoking interview caused quite a stir on my Facebook page, and the topic of his new novel has the same potential. Take a look at the book trailer:



If creativity is all about thinking outside the box, expansion, and opening doors to new possibilities, David seems to be fearless.

In his book, Maps and Legends, Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, Micheal Chabon says, "... I find myself writing about disturbing or socially questionable acts and states of mind that have no real basis in my life at all, but which, I am afraid, people will quite naturally attribute to me when they read what I have written." Sure, to some extent, everything we create comes from within, but does it have to completely define us? That's a bit limiting and narrow-minded.

If David writes an apocalyptic novel, inventing unimaginable outcomes involving God, does that make him some sort of scary sacrilegious weirdo or devil worshiper?

No.

It makes him entertaining and thought provoking. Creative folks aren't trying to tell you how or what to think. That would be counterproductive to the general creative mantra of individuality. What we can do is provide content, ideas, different scenarios, and visual or auditory stimulation that help those around us--readers, art and music lovers, movie watchers--expand their thinking. Sometimes it takes what may be deemed as "over the top" to do the trick.

A few years ago, I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a nonfiction work by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. Apparently Dan Brown based much of his novel, The Da Vinci Code, on its premise and research. It was one of the most interesting books I've ever read. I learned a tremendous amount. I carefully considered the historical information presented and the sources, and sorted out what I felt might be accurate and what might be a stretch. Then I balanced that against what I was taught growing up, in both church and school.

Later I decided that my mother, who is a devout Christian, might find it interesting. I thought the history provided might give her interesting insight into her own vast historical knowledge about the Bible and Biblical times. I wasn't asking her to believe any of it; I just felt that it was thought provoking and highly interesting content to add to the mix.

My suggestion didn't go over so well. I got an instant "NO," followed by an passionate lecture about what's wrong with the world, evil influences, lies, persecution of Christians, etc. While she went on and on, I kept thinking ... I should have known better.

What was she so afraid of?

David's novel apparently pushes some boundaries that may put a few folks up in arms. My opinion is: it's fiction! It's supposed to be entertaining, and perhaps thought provoking.

Let's not instantly run from a new creative idea, whether strictly fictional or filled with real life. Look what The Da Vinci Code, Brokeback Mountain, Look Whose Coming to Dinner, and Harry Potter gave us. Sure, maybe there were those who said, "It's creative works such as these that tear rips in the fabric of our society!" However, on a positive note, one might consider that these projects spurred millions to:
  • contemplate and reaffirm their religious beliefs (Da Vince Code)
  • learn more about art (Da Vince Code)
  • look into the soul of a gay man and feel compassion (Brokeback Mountain)
  • think about inter-racial marriage in a new way (Look Whose Coming to Dinner)
  • fall madly in love with reading (Harry Potter)
The ability to create great works often requires bravery.

I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

I can't say that I always wanted to be a writer. That didn't strike me until much later in life, well after I'd graduated from university. It was a strange moment when it happened. I tend to read fantasy, and on one particular day I was reading what was supposed to be a critically acclaimed trilogy from a well known author. I struggled to get through the series. I forced myself to read the first two books thinking that I must be missing something. Then half-way through the last book of the trilogy I threw it on the bed and said, "Oh my god, I can do better." A little light went off that day when I realized that I could take a shot at writing.

I never finished reading the book. It was a little smarmy of me to think I could immediately write better than that particular author. It took years of working on this craft to get where I am now. And what's great is that I continue to grow as a writer. I've really enjoyed the journey.

I've been digressing a little with this question, so I want to bring it back to when you asked, "Was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?" The other day I came across an old report card from Grade Three. I've always been an avid reader, and back then I received an award for having read something like 200 books. But what was really interesting in the report card was that my teacher had indicated that I had a talent for writing and story-telling. I had a really good laugh when I read it. Maybe it was meant to be. :)

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

I'm not sure that I can call it a creative interest, but in the early years of the Internet I was designing web sites and doing graphic work to help pay my way through university. I love beautiful web design/graphics/video. I only dabble in it since writing is my greatest vice. What's interesting is that you have to be pretty Internet-savvy as an author now, so it's a great marriage of two of my creative interests.

There is a stereotype that creative people are "different," which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

Oh, I LOVE different.

Even though I tend to be pretty vanilla on the quirkiness scale, I love quirky people and I see different as a completely positive trait. Who wants to conform? Also, I live in Canada, where we tend to celebrate our differences (cultural and otherwise). Also, I’m openly gay so I guess I fall into that “different” category.

As for creative people being different, I don't know. If you meet me in person, I'm pretty "ordinary" (whatever that means nowadays), so I can't say that creative people are all that different. Or maybe I'm not creative enough! LOL!

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? Has being creative caused them?

No. Being openly gay? Yes. And during times of greatest difficulty I often turned to writing to help me through. So I guess that being creative has helped me to cope with what life has chosen to throw my way. But even more so, my sense of humour has made the difference. Laughter has helped me get through a lot of things in life. Without being able to laugh at oneself, I think we'd all go crazy.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I've been very fortunate. My partner has been with me throughout my writing journey and he has been unbelievably supportive. He's made it possible for me to write when I need to. That being said, we have children (three boys) and I have a full-time job, so obviously there has to be a balance between being creative and life. There are days when I would just love to immerse myself in writing and forget everything else, but I have to schedule that around life. :)

I often wonder, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they're creative, how have you been able to distinguish yourself and your talent, despite any doubts along the way?

From a creative standpoint, I've never really given it any thought. I just do what I do because I love it. Now, have I ever wondered if my writing was good enough to be published? Yes, I used to. But not so much any more. I was in a writing workshop for a couple of years and I spent a lot of time working on the craft of writing. It was a very humbling experience, but like with anything else, it got better with practice. And for the longest time I doubted if I would ever be good enough. As for “distinguishing myself,” I'm releasing my first novel as an e-book. I designed the cover and made the book trailer myself. So I'm certainly curious as to how the marriage of my various creative outlets will be received.

Will I distinguish myself, let's see what happens. :)

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How did (or do) you cope with disappointments? What motivated you to keep going, to not give up?

Rejection can be hard but over the years I've managed to get some perspective. When it comes to the creative arts, it's a very subjective world. I've had wonderful rejections from editors that said they loved the writing and would have acquired a book like mine a few years ago, but they're looking for something different right now. I've had editors not identify with any of the characters, yet others love them. So when it comes to success in the creative world, I think it's a lot about timing--having the right project land in the right person's lap at the right time. And until that happens, you continue doing what you do and enjoy it.

I write because I love it, not because I have to. And fortunately I don't rely on my creative outlets to pay the bills, so that takes a lot of stress out of it. As for motivation, there have been some very supportive people in my life and I have the most wonderful agent who has stood behind me all the way. Her confidence in me and my writing has been a significant boost.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of though processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

Good question. In the beginning, I don't plan my projects. I just sit in front of the keyboard and see where my fingers take me. I've started projects that I've abandoned and others that I've completed. I've often thought of my fingers as channeling some unseen muse because I'm always surprised at what appears on the screen. Characters will introduce themselves or they'll do things that are completely unexpected, and what's exciting for me is that it's like I'm reading someone else's novel for the first time. It's great.

Later comes the hard part, and that's taking what I've started and molding it into a more coherent story. Sometimes I have to kill off characters that I've come to really like, but it needs to be done for the sake of the story. Despite how hard that may be, I really enjoy it. I love the editing process.

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

First, I suppose you must love what you're doing. When it becomes work, it's not creative anymore.

Second, I guess would be sacrifice. You must be willing to sacrifice some things in life in order to follow your creative pursuit, but I don't think it needs to be significant. We need to live our lives and quite honestly, life offers so much inspiration for the creative process. There's so much to draw upon around us in the things we do and the people we interact with.

So that brings me to the third characteristic: the desire to live life to the fullest. Without that, what's it all for?

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I'm not sure if it's because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

I know a lot of people that start one thing, move to the next, and so on, and never see anything finished. I'm not exactly sure why they don't see it through. A lot of people start writing and sometimes that sacrifice element isn't strong enough and they abandon it. It takes a lot to see the creative process through to the end. Or maybe some people are so creative they move to the next thing without needing to see it finished. Maybe those of us that see it through to completion aren't the creative ones at all. Maybe we're too focused on the ends versus the means. :)

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6527212 May 29, 2009

Two Dad Deal: An Aberration Story

Moral hypocrisy also plays a heavy part in this particular dilemma.

One of the key goals of Aberration Nation is to evoke plain ole' thinking. It turns out that thinking is a much harder and scarier activity than I ever imagined. It must be because a disturbing amount of people form opinions based on what someone else told them to think once upon a time. Perhaps it was their parents, teachers, friends, or the broader culture squeezing in around them. Busting out of preconceived notions and small ideas can be overwhelming. For some, living like a programmed robot turns out to be a much more convenient option.

This inability to think for oneself has become a major thorn in my creative and intellectual side. I grew up being told exactly how to think and what opinions were the right ones to have. The consequences of questioning those directives created a dense barbed wire fence caked in misconception, guilt, and grief that I eventually had to fight my way through step by step. Now that I'm safe on the other side, I feel compelled to think through issues on an individual level, and I hope you will as well.

Going against the grain isn't easy, particularly in cultures where thinking in and of itself seems to be a crime. I still struggle to muster the courage after all these years. In fact, a sign in my laundry room has the word Courage written across it. Each day I take a moment to read it and remember why I hung it on the wall. There are many issues that I'll be contemplating for a long time; my decisions don't come quickly or easily.

What better topic to evoke down and dirty, gut-wrenching (and downright sinful by some standards) thinking than gay civil rights? My guess is that reader opinions are mixed on the issue. Today's post is about a gay rights topic that pulls at my heartstrings: adoption. You see, once upon a time, I got myself into a jam. Miss foot-loose-fancy-free-deep-thinking-Louisiana-college-senior found herself with a huge pregnant belly and the heart-wrenching option of giving up a child for adoption. Smart, determined, and full of spunk, I knew I could make it work. So I decided to parent the kid myself rather than risk handing it over to parents who might somehow love it less, mistreat it, or abuse it. I gladly sacrificed what I had left of my own youthful independence and late-sleeping M.O. to prevent that scenario.

Even then I knew that all parents are not equal. I came to the conclusion that one good parent is better than two bad ones, and that no matter what anyone (in my 1980's southern Bible-belt Junior League culture) thought or said about me and my situation, we would survive. I married my husband a few years later, and over the years, have come to realize that absolutely nothing but love truly makes a family.

If heterosexual parents are not equally capable of great parenting, why can't there be some good gay and lesbian ones out there? If I'd been forced to give up my child for some reason, I would have preferred that someone like my guest today, author David H. Burton, and his partner raise her rather than some of the heterosexual parents I've come across through the years. The bottom line is that every child deserves to be truly and honestly loved, protected, and cared for.

Perhaps reading about David and his partner's love for their three adopted sons will perpetuate additional thought on this critical cultural topic. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I read his touching responses to my interview questions. Does this thoughtful, creative man and the one person he loves most in the world deserve to be fathers? The Children's Aid Society and the Canadian government think so.

Forget what anyone has ever told you. Make your own decision and let us know your thoughts (leave a comment).

You are one of two fathers for three adopted sons. Why did you and your partner decide to adopt? Do you believe the motivation differed from traditional adoptive parents?

My partner and I have been together for 12 years. In the very early stages of our relationship we both knew that we wanted children and talked about it openly. After we had bought a house and settled into a quiet, suburban neighborhood (where there seemed to be a rather abnormally large percentage of gay/lesbian couples) we decided to begin the journey, as it were. We attended a course called Daddies and Poppas that explored the various options for gay men that want to adopt. Of the options that were available (i.e., surrogacy, co-parenting, international adoption, private adoption, adoption through the Children's Aid Society, etc) we decided to go the adoption route through The Children's Aid Society (CAS). As for the motivation, I think it differs for a lot of people. We both grew up with siblings and knew that we wanted children and I don't think it was any more complex than that, really. I know that factors like sterility/infertility are often a factor for heterosexual couples that adopt, but that obviously wasn't the case for us. :)

What was the process like? Did you and your partner encounter any barriers? If so, how did you handle them?

We live in Canada, so the actual process for adoption with CAS is the same as any married or common-law couple. I should mention, though, that as a result of being a same-sex couple we were barred from international adoption since only Canada and the U.S. allow same-sex couples to adopt. That limited our options obviously, but I'm glad that we went through CAS. There are a lot of children that need love and a good home, especially older children. I wrote about this particular topic on my blog. There's a special place in my heart for older child adoption. :) Back to the point. The process is lengthy, as once you submit your application to CAS you wait until they slot you into their orientation course. The wait can be upwards of 1.5 years. The course is about 9-10 weeks of classes and a simultaneous home study with an adoption worker. You basically have to divulge your entire life (relationships with family members, your spouse, financial status, etc.) as part of the home study. You have to be honest about everything, because it's not just about being upfront about your lifestyle, but also about what you are willing to accept in an adopted child. You have to be brutally honest since CAS's focus is to find the right home for each child. As for barriers other than international adoption, there are none in this country that I can think of when it comes to adoption for same-sex couples. I suppose that same-sex couples might be concerned around adoption where a birth mother gives up her child and wants to choose the adoptive couple. In this case, I'm sure there are worries that they might not be chosen, but quite honestly we know a same-sex couple that the birth mother chose over other couples. She wanted her child growing up in a progressive home!

Can you describe your family for us? What make it the same and what makes it different from traditional families?

Our family is as follows: we have 3 boys and they are birth siblings. They were between the ages of 6-9 when we adopted them. My partner and I are both in our 30's and we have a Basset Hound that the boys adore. Really, the only significant things that differentiates us from other families is that there are two dads. In the beginning, the boys called us by our first names, but after a couple of months they were quite ready to call us something more appropriate. Considering their ages, we let them decide and they came up with Dad and Daddy. The boys do tend to get a few questions around having two dads, but they are quite proud of the fact now. The other day, our middle son had a friend over at the house and he turned to his friend and said, "See, I have two dads!", as if the friend hadn’t believed him. The other parents and the school have been nothing but supportive, offering books and other resources to help if we needed it. We do have to correct some people when they mention having a mother, but we take it all in stride. People make a lot of heterosexist assumptions in general and you learn to correct people politely. I make a specific point of doing it in front of the boys since I want them to be proud of their dads and not to feel ashamed of it. I refuse to be ashamed of who I am. And they think it's great! I think the best statement they came up with was "I have two dads because they chose me." Enough said, I guess!

Can you describe a typical day?

Chaos! LOL! Just kidding. Although I do have to say that the change from just the two of us to house full of boys was significant. The biggest thing is routine. It starts with making lunches, breakfast, feeding the dog, getting ready for school, etc. We both work and I get home early to pick up the boys. From there, it’s homework, dinner, etc. We try to have dinner as a family and sit together and talk about the day. We also like to spend time with each of them at bedtime, reading to them, etc. We're big on having family time and individual time and the boys thrive on it. I think it helps to develop a stronger and faster bond with them. And laughter is huge in our house. A lot of it! We also try to set up routines on the weekend with special treats that the boys look forward to. We love our weekends!

Do your sons understand the nature of the love between their two fathers? How do you explain to this to them in a way that they can understand at an early age?

I think in the beginning it was a little foreign to them, but they adjusted very quickly. They completely understand that we are a couple and we emphasized that from the get-go. What's interesting is that it has re-shaped their own conceptions about having a partner. Our middle guy wants to marry Mario at the moment! (from the Mario & Luigi video games)

Have your children experienced any social issues due to having two fathers? If so, how have you helped them cope?

Not at this point other than questions around having two dads. We've prepped them ahead of time by having very straight-forward dialogue about the potential for issues to arise (i.e., name-calling, etc). We used a number of books that show diversity in families to show that there are all kinds of families and that having two dads is simply one variation. From what we have seen so far, they seem quite well grounded on this matter.

We all have concerns for our children as they grow up. What are your main concerns? What are the top three messages you hope to instill in them on their way to manhood?

We're really big on respect for women and ensuring that they see women as equals. We hope that our boys will grow up treating all people with respect, and not just tolerating difference, but celebrating it. We've also tried to teach them about non-violence and finding mutually acceptable means to settle differences rather than resorting to violence. We don't want them growing up glorifying guns. I think with some of these qualities instilled in them, they will grow to become wonderful partners and well-respected men in society.

There are always folks ready and willing to tell us how to live our lives—how did you find the courage to move beyond those barriers and create a rewarding life for yourself?

I grew up as the son of a Jehovah Witness, and then, when my father was ex-communicated, a born-again Christian. The church I attended was non-denominational, but filled with hypocrisy and judgment. I never felt right there and the messages of intolerance I received as a child and a teenager were anathema to me. At around the age of 16 I stopped going to church and never returned. My father continues to be a born-again Christian and has had to, himself, deal with the fact that I'm gay. He's actually been extremely supportive of me and my partner over the years, but I think it has been difficult for him. As for my own growth, I came out at the age of 20 while away at university. I've never looked back.

What do you feel are the most damaging misconceptions about same-sex adoption? Has this improved over the last five or ten years?

The biggest misconception about same-sex adoption is around the "influence" that we, as same-sex parents, might have over our children. I've never bought into it. My parents are straight, yet I turned out gay. That said, I've heard that children of same-sex parents grow up to be more accepting of differences in people, which is always good. As for improving over the last decade, I think that society's views, in general, have become more tolerant towards LGBT people, in addition to same-sex adoption, but I think there is still some ways to go.

Love is love is love. I get so frustrated by some of the push-back same sex couples get about adoption when I know how many crappy parents there are out there, and how many children just need someone to love them. Why is it that people fail to support providing that love to these children?

Fear - plain and simple. We fear the unknown. And what we fear we try to control. Moral hypocrisy also plays a heavy part in this particular dilemma. People pick and choose from their religion to try to force others to live their lives a certain way. And that goes for a number of issues throughout history - slavery, the subjugation of women, etc. There is a really good article posted by Libba Bray over at livejournal. Her father was gay. And as she says, "They are scared. And fear breeds mistrust and intolerance. Often, when people feel that the times are uncertain and they are uncertain of their place in that shaky world, when they feel powerless over the economy or random violence or gender roles or their children, their spouses, etc.—what I call the Talking Heads moment: “And you may say to yourself, Where is that beautiful house? And you may say to yourself, My God, what have I done?”—they feel genuinely threatened in the way that a child who feels threatened will dig in his/her heels and refuse to cede ground because it feels, in that moment, like ceding the self. It is their fear of themselves, really, of their tenuous grasp on an unpredictable world, that is writ large in such legislation. “Well,” they might argue. “At least I can control this.” They need an enemy to fight. A dragon to slay so that the world will be put right again. A sacrifice to offer the gods that they might be spared."

For those of us who may have same sex couples or families living in our communities, what’s the best way to explain what can be quite confusing to our kids? I have my own methods but would love to hear your thought on this?

Explain that there are different kinds of families. Right from the start. There are children that are raised by: one mom and one dad, a single parent, a grandmother or grandfather, two grandparents, two moms, two dads, an uncle or an aunt, etc. Get books from the library on different families and on ones that show gay and lesbian parents. One of my favorites is AND TANGO MAKES THREE by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. It's the true story about two male penguins that raised a chick in New York's Central Park Zoo. For a lot of kids, if an animal can have two dads, then it's okay. And if you hear your children using terms like gay or fag, correct them. It's no different than using a racial slur.

If you could say anything to the world about your family and the love you have for your children, what would that be?

Wow. Well, nothing can take the place of the love I have for my children or for my partner. As each day goes by I love them more. Their antics make me smile, their jokes make me laugh, when they say "I love you, Dad" it brings joy to my heart, when they come home from school and see me at the door and yell out, "DAD!" my heart leaps, when they ask me to keep reading to them at bedtime I love to indulge them, and when they give me a hug and kiss goodnight my day is complete. I live for my family. They are my life. What else is there, really?

What do you think?

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