Dr. Thomas Millar, born in 1923, was a West Vancouver child psychiatrist. His self-published titles include a child-rearing book, The Omnipotent Child, a comic novel, Who's Afraid of Sigmund Freud (shortlisted for the Leacock Medal for Humour) and several collections of comic plays including Don't Shoot, I'm Your Mother and Graduation Suite. Born in Edmonton in 1923 and later a student in Vancouver, Millar was an RCAF pilot from 1941 to 1945, and was wounded twice. His collection of short stories, Le Chapeau Bleu (1989), is partly concerned with wartime experiences. His other novel was called Jessie in the Sky with Diamonds and his collection of miscellaneous writing was entitled On Laughter-Silvered Wings (1998). His other psychiatric titles were Rearing the Pre-School Child and Myth of Attention Deficit Disorder. He adapted four novels into screenplays in the last three months of his life. He died on July 12, 2002 in Vancouver. His daughter Laura Millar took over the management of his titles under his Palmer Press imprint.
[BCBW 2003] "Medicine"
On Laughter Silvered Wings (Palmer Press, $24.95, 604-732-9584)
Directed at the foibles of the medical profession, Dr. Thomas P. Millar’s collection of ‘nervy’ humor, On Laughter Silvered Wings (Palmer Press, $24.95, 604-732-9584), gathers 25 of the child rearing expert’s satirical pieces over a 30-year period. As the highly opinionated self-publisher of two novels, two collections of stories, three plays and four books on parenting, Millar quotes Harry Truman when asked why he was always giving people hell. “I don’t give anybody hell. I tell them the truth and they think I am giving them hell.” With preambles about the principles of humour, a one-act play and short poems, On Laughter also comes with a manufacturer’s claim. “Though it probably can’t make a humorist of an anal retentive bureaucrat, it will broaden the horizons of the most reasonably spontaneous carriers of the creative virus.” 0-9681423-0-3
[BCBW SUMMER 1999]
The Omnipotent Child
Since 1983, when Canada's best seller on rearing children in troubled times Was first issued, the omnipotent child, Dr Millar's infamous Dewey, has surfaced in Japan where they call him ochi benki and China where he is known as Little Emperor. The syndrome, has become epidemic. Of course children are not omnipotent, 'unlimited in power, ability and authority,' but the omnipotent child sounds and acts as though he were. He is a feisty, 'you're not the boss of me' kid. Though he is ten, he thinks the sun gets up when he does, follows him around all day, and goes to bed when he does. When he tells his mother now', he does not mean three minutes from now. This second edition of The Omnipotent Child has been expanded beyond remediating rampant Deweys. It seeks also to tutor Parents to deal fairly and firmly with their pre-school child and prevent the omnipotent outcome.
Don’t Shoot I’m Your Mother
Ten year old Dewey, his mother Lydia and his father Frank first appeared in The Omnipotent Child where they served to illustrate the parenting problems that book went on to solve. Don't Shoot, I'm Your Mother tells the rest of that story as the mother, Lydia, struggles to do right by her Dewey, save her sanity, and hopefully her marriage. Don't Shoot is three hilarious acts of the joys and pains of Parenthood. Every parent will find something in it that is wryly familiar. And when the matenal worm finally turns, even though reading the play in bed, mothers wi1I stand up and cheer; thereby waking the baby, who wi1I then exercise his omnipotence and away we go again.
Who’s Afraid of Sigmund Freud?
Poor Sigmund! Robespierre won't allow him to proceed from Limbo to Heaven until he recognizes the harm his Psychoanalytic theory has done to the world. Except he redeem himself! All he has to do is seduce one fully trained psychoanalyst from his from his Oedipal faith and lucrative practice. Visiting earth encased in busts of himself, Freud finds a young practitioner who seems vulnerable, not only to that intellectual seduction, but also to a more concrete Variety if his breathlessly appealing patient can ever get him to join her on the couch. Who's Afraid of Sigmund Freud? has been applauded by the literary community and roundly condemned by the psychoanalytic community. Then to complicate matters, it was nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal for humor. Some say the jury on WASF is still out. The thing to do is read it and make up your own mind.
Life is a series of graduations, some reluctantly coped with, some eagerly embraced. Each graduation requires us to leave an old way of being and embrace a new. Each is an opportunity for growth, or a chance for failure. Graduation Suite consists of three one act plays, each of which deals with such a 1ife' graduation. The first of these, The Contract, concerns a UBC, live-together couple about to go through a 'common law divorce'. Maybe! If they can get their act together! The Contract, won the Jacksonville University Playwriting Prize and was toured in Florida, where it won another prize and played ,to constant laughter. Shifting Gears, the second play; tells the story of a fiftyish lady graduating from a dutiful marriage to a life of computer crime. Highland Reprise, the third play; tells it like it was being a Seaforth Cadet graduating from Kitsilano High School in that Dieppe summer of 1942. The plays have yet to be produced in Canada. Given the Present theatre scene in this true north strong and free, they probably Won't ever be.
[BCBW Autumn 1989]
Samuel Johnson Revisted
Once an aphorism has been quoted enough times, people assume it contains a germ of truth. For example, Samuel Johnson once said, “No one but a blockhead ever writes, except for money.” There is not even a germ of truth in that declaration. Let me offer proof.
It is generally conceded that the finest form of writing is poetry. Have you ever read anything to touch Dover Beach? Or The Blessed Damozel. How much do you suppose these compositions netted for their poor blockhead authors?
The fact is, if a poet wrote in anticipation of getting rich from his writings he would indeed be a blockhead. But he doesn’t. The poet writes because he is driven by an insatiable need to speak his heart to the world.
These days, writing for hire, has become increasingly common. Every magazine likes to have a stable of tame writers they can call upon to cook up a piece on whatever their market research tells them is likely to sell future issues of their magazine.
Writers learn to fall in with this. They do their own market research and write proposals, not because they are particularly interested in the subject, but because they believe they can sell the piece. This is hardly speaking one’s heart to the world is it? There is no place where the absence of heart is more obvious than in the prose of such writers produce.
The same dynamic operates in book publishing. The trick with non-fiction, is to pick a newsworthy topic and get in fast. You have to be fast, because the publisher reads the news too, and chances are he is already talking to one of his gelded scribes about exactly that topic.
The situation with novels is really quite ludicrous. Publishers look upon novels as cans of beans to be hyped and marketed for six weeks, fingers crossed that this, their latest ticket in the best-seller lottery, with prove a winner. Most books don’t, but you only need the occasional winner to get in the black.
Novel publisher maintain stables of writers too. “How I would like a stall in that stable,” young writers exclaim. By the time they discover the cost involves checking their cojones with the top stable hand, it’s too late.
A new young writer has a much better chance getting into the stable than a new one regardless of the quality of product they have to sell. Why? Again it’s marketing.
Suppose you are publisher. You get a young, reasonably competent writer, publish his first book to moderate sales, and option his next two. Now, you redirect your marketing strategy to sell the writer, not his books. You teach him how to behave on TV so that he gives an amusing interview, call in a few of your markers from the magazine buddies, and voila, instead of an author you have a personality. In time almost anything your writer puts into his next can of beans will get you into the black. And, if you do a little market research and steer him a little, you can increase your odds even more.
Hire an old writer and he’s going to die before you have his persona properly fashioned.
Back to our young writer. What happens to him? It is in the nature of life to become what you do. Lie often enough and you become a liar. So the young writer becomes what he does. He stops being a person and becomes a personality. Persons write books, not personalities. If that had happened to Van Gogh he might well have become the most successful illustrator of his era. He would never have painted his Irises, of his Sunflower.
But don’t worry about literature. It never dies, it just finds another way. Right now, the mechanics of publishing has become so much simpler than they used to be, small presses are springing up everywhere. Very few of them, you’ll notice, are interested in publishing cans of beans.
No! Samuel Johnson was dead wrong. What he should have said was, “Writers who write only for money eventually become literary blockheads.” Now there’s a piece of truth worth quoting.