On Writing Fantasy and the Fiction of Superiority

One lucky (and talented) blogger wrote about the writing community yesterday in “Talking Shop,” or “I’m a writer, too!” and became Freshly Pressed. She was overwhelmed by the positive responses that appeared in her mailbox. Congratulations! Enjoy them.

One cord really struck home with me in the blog; the derisive snort of a fellow writer upon the discovery that this person writes science fiction and fantasy. Why do people do that?  How can people dismiss fantasy  and science fiction as somehow “lesser than” when we have examples of amazing writing in both genres? People who write these forms, and write them well, are creating worlds and sometimes even universes peopled with living, breathing creatures with complex personalities and needs. They explore life just as deeply as any “realistic” writer might. If you don’t believe me, maybe it is time for you to revisit Tolkien.

I am one of those people who seems to embrace the underdog. In my theater work, I more often prefer plays for young audiences over plays for adults. Children’s theater is the bastard stepchild of any theater programming–valued as long as it doesn’t interfere with the needs of the main stage. Yet, I chose to pursue Theater for Youth for my doctorate, rather than many of the more “respectable” choices that I could have made (and I am well-rounded in most areas of theater). Why? Because directing a play for young audiences is sometimes more challenging than for adults. Children are honest audiences, and you know when you have failed. A play for young audiences requires someone to delve in with as much imagination as possible, in order to bring the audience along the magical ride. Plays for adults can do this as well, but they tend to be more rooted in the psychology of the characters or the issue being explored. I value working with both forms, and I don’t believe either one is lesser than the other.  Both provide challenges in different ways.

When I decided to take more steps towards become a writer, I chose to take a course in Writing for Young People. While I still write things for adults as well, I started there. Why? Because when you write for young people, words matter even more. You have less time to create pictures in their heads. You have fewer words to be able to tell the complete story of a character, a situation, a problem. Learning to write for young people makes you craft your words more carefully, then those skills can be brought to more mature material. Writing for young people is not an easy thing to do.

My first completed (although as yet unpublished) novel for young adults has  elements of fantasy in it.  One of the projects I am currently working on is full-fledged fantasy (for young adults). I have wanted to write fantasy forever. I am not as interested in writing science fiction (although I read it occasionally) because of the science element which feels out of my reach. So, for me, fantasy is the ideal. Here’s the thing, the full-fledged fantasy has become both my dream and my nightmare. Why? Because writing an entire world is not an easy thing to do.

Think about it. For a fantasy world to work it has to feel real:

  • peopled by creatures or beings that are honest and believable
  • filled with places and locations that characters can travel to realistically, and readers can travel to imaginatively
  • enlivened by a complex interweaving of stories that provide both background and challenges to the protagonist, and must be believable
  • and filled with honest emotion and interactions between the characters.

Those of you who dismiss the writing of fantasy as something unworthy,then go ahead and try it. I want a story by the end of the week. No? You can’t do that? Well, then let’s be a little less critical folks.

Being creative and putting words on paper is challenging and worthy, no matter what form it takes.


The Soundtrack to Life

The Show Must Go On...

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An icy cold night in Southern Vermont. The pangs that started earlier in the evening grew into an excruciating groan that led to the decision it was time to go.

Step into the freezing cold car. Turn the key. The first blast of music from the radio “This is it! Make no mistake where you are!”

Hysterical laughing ensues, followed by, “You need to calm down, I can’t drive.”

This is one of the most memorable moments of my life, marked even more vividly with song.

How often has this happened to you.  A song comes on that exactly matches the mood you are in, or gives you the message you need to hear. I don’t know if the mood calls forth the song, or if we simply look for connections that make a deeper meaning in life. Whichever it is, it happens to me all the time. Or, songs simply pop into my head as background music to whatever is going on at a given moment.

At one point in my life I would sing spontaneously, whatever I was feeling at the moment. Sometimes real songs, sometimes made up ones. It didn’t matter. My daughter does that now, and I envy her the spontaneity.

I always joke that I want a soundtrack to my life, or that I’ve always wanted my life to be like a musical with show-stopping song and dance numbers whenever appropriate.

This morning, with me stuck in my head perusing the purpose of my existence, the first song when we got into the car was “The Show Must Go On” by Queen:

Empty spaces – what are we living for?
Abandoned places – I guess we know the score..
On and on!
Does anybody know what we are looking for?

Another hero – another mindless crime.
Behind the curtain, in the pantomime.
Hold the line!
Does anybody want to take it anymore?
The Show must go on!
The Show must go on!Yeah!
Inside my heart is breaking,
My make-up may be flaking,
But my smile, still, stays on!

“This is perfect,” I said with a giggle. And then I realized, it really was. I have a soundtrack to my life, just like I’ve always wanted. That soundtrack does wonders; it heals, it hurts, it makes me laugh, it makes me cry, sometimes it makes me want to sing, and sometimes it makes me want to dance. The music defines me in so many ways, and that is a great thing.

Keep the music coming!

Footprints in the Sand

footprint in the sand

Image by crabchick via Flickr

A woman I’ve never met helps another woman have a special Thanksgiving Turksgiving with a side of Karma . . .

A man who is becoming a good friend blames himself for the failure of his students . . .

My partner in life wonders if he made a difference after hearing of the disastrous (and in my opinion karmic) results of his being replaced . . .

I sit here questioning everything.

I’ve written about this before in Leaving a Mark, questioning what it means to leave a mark in this world. I think I know the answer, at least for myself.

My footprint is the web of interconnectedness between me and all the people and other living creatures I have met along the way. Some relationships have been good, some relationships have been bad, some continue, some have ended, but in each one I hope that I have done my best and maybe even helped a little

That is the best I can do. I hope it is enough.

I hope my footprints don’t blow away too quickly.

The Ideal Vacation

Island of Lower Saranac Lake, Adirondack Mount...

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Go ahead, call me selfish. I admit it. I’m also human.

On Thanksgiving we played this game where you were given a question to write about, then everyone had to try to guess who gave which answer. The question: something like “what would you do for the ideal vacation?” My answer “anything that didn’t have to do with family.”

Nobody wanted to guess that I had written that. My family (Nathan and Sarah) were in the room. I could never write that.

But I did.

Here’s the thing. When we get to actually go someplace for a vacation, the destination usually includes the extended family. I often need vacations after those vacations. And yes I would love to take a fabulous vacation with Nathan and Sarah. But I can’t deny it, I would also love to have a vacation on my own, or with a friend. I want a few days where the only living creature I have to worry about is myself. Not my daughter. Not my husband. Not my dogs. Not my students who think I’m on duty 24-7. Just myself.

That would me my ideal vacation.

So I admit it. I am selfish. But everyone needs time alone once in a while, don’t they?

Feeling Foreign Abroad and Feeling Foreign At “Home”

On and interesting post at Broadside called Feeling Foreign Caitlin asked at the end:

“Have you ever lived outside your native land? Did you enjoy it?

How has it changed you?”

I’ve thought about those questions a lot lately, because of my search for a place that I can call home. I cannot really call this new location home. I’ve found people here that fit my idea of home, but I still feel like a foreigner in this place.

Now, you may ask, how can you feel like a foreigner? It’s America, you are American.

Well, here’s the thing. I’ve had many wonderful experiences in my life, including the opportunity to live in a variety of places. My first big move was to Okayama, Japan, where I ended up living for three years. I was a gaijin but I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t easy; sometimes it was difficult. And, when I chose to leave, it was time to leave. But, whenever I think about what place I want to call home, images of Japan pop into my head. I don’t think I want to live there, but there was something about my experience there that made it feel more like home to me than any place. Perhaps it was simply that I became a true, individual adult in that complicated country. I lived alone, I supported myself, and I learned to survive despite language and cultural barriers. I am not saying that every moment was perfect. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes it was challenging. Sometimes the cultural differences seemed impossible to overcome. But somehow that country and that experience felt like finding home.

From Japan, I moved to Hawaii for graduate school. There I was haole and I have to say being haole was a lot more difficult than being gaijin. Perhaps it was because Hawaii is part of the United States, so I expected to feel like I belonged, but I didn’t. Sometimes I made more glaring errors there than I did in Japan. Sometimes I felt more alone. Even now, when we go back to visit Nathan’s family, I don’t feel completely comfortable. I love it there, but it never felt quite like home. Maybe if we actually moved there that would change, but I don’t know.

Between then and now I’ve lived in several other states. Some felt more home-like than others, but I still haven’t found home. And now, after moving to Kansas, I again feel more foreign than I should. Why? Well, I am a liberal person in a sea of conservatives. I am a Jew in an ocean of Christians. I am “different” in ways that I can’t quite explain.

Now don’t get me wrong, the people here are warm and wonderful, it is all the way I feel. I feel foreign. For some reason, I feel more foreign than I have before, and I don’t know how to guide myself through it. When I was in Japan, my errors were often seen as “cute”, because they were made by someone making an honest effort to be respectful of the culture. Somehow that doesn’t work here. Of course I respect the differences between me and other people, but I can’t just pass off disagreements as my not understanding the culture. Because the culture is not that foreign, but in some ways it is.

Is it possible then, that “feeling foreign” is a state of mind?

A Glee-full Discussion of Bullying

I just finished watching yesterday’s Glee and my initial reaction was “Best Glee ever!” Sometimes, I admit, I only pay attention to the show long enough to catch the songs and productions as the storyline loses me about 50% of the time. Yesterday’s show, however, had the delightful combination of meaningful story combined with great music, a fabulous guest (Carol Burnett), fun production numbers, and Sue Sylvester.

Through the entire show, I reflected on its messages about bullying, and about the inability of the school to protect this young man in any substantive way. That little dose of reality lent some gravitas to the show, and is sadly, too true. I applauded, in my own mind, Sue’s stance at the end, that she would rather resign the principal-ship in protest and serve as protective eyes in the hallways. But then, the end came, and Kurt announced he was leaving the school. He announced that he was escaping the bullying he was facing in the only way he could, by going to a school that has a zero tolerance policy.  And my heart broke. And my anger was raised.

After that, I read one of my blog subscriptions, a woman who writes eloquently about Schooling Inequality, and has focused recently on the rash of gay suicides. Today she wrote about Queer Youth and Cultural Products, reflecting on the “It Gets Better Campaign”. Reading this entry made me think about Kurt as a Cultural Product. In many ways I think he is representing the struggle faced by GLBT youth daily in our country. But, for that reason, it makes me angrier that he has to run away; that his only hope for safety is to escape to a private boy’s school. This is probably a sad truth in many of the public schools that face bullying, but it is a disgusting truth. Schools can not, or maybe simply do not, do enough to protect these children. That is simply wrong! I hope, in the fictional world of television, that an alternative solution is found.  At the same time, though, Glee tries in some ways to be true to the world as it exists, so I don’t know what that solution will be.

In Schooling Inequality, she also included this video, which could be such a powerful part of the solution.

Sadly, though, I see the fight to get this kind of programming into public schools as a long drawn out one.

I need to find a way to be part of the change that schools need. Lives are at stake.

Vanity or Loss of Nostalgia?

There is something wrong with a world that does not embrace the charm of a messy childhood.

According to this New York Times article  NYT: No Boo-boos or Cowlicks? Only parents are requesting class pictures be touched up.

I picture these parents standing there exuding propriety and some kind of charm and saying: “Remove the boo-boo, the self-styled hair, the gap in the teeth. Remove them! My child must not have to live with the reality of his or her childhood. My child was perfect at all times. Never made a mess. Never went to school with mismatched socks. She never left the house dressed in a lurid combination of bright plaids, stripes and swirls. My child never went out with hair decorated by every barrette known to mankind. My boy never fell on his face or skinned his knee~ My child was perfect! That is the memory I want him to have. That is the only picture I want to find in her yearbook.”

That, my friends is unrealistic. We all go through awkward stages. We all make mistakes, and wear things that we would rather forget. There are plenty of pictures of me in the plaids of yesteryear, that  make me cringe and laugh simultaneously. There are more recent pictures where all I can see is fat or the blotch on my face. But here’s the thing, they are pictures of a true life, truly lived. There are beautiful pictures as well as ugly. There are happy pictures, as well as sad. There are pictures that I remember, and there are pictures that I would rather forget. But, no matter what, they are pictures of truth. So, don’t touch up my daughter’s school photos. I want to remember her the way she is, and I want her to remember the way she was.

Perfection isn’t perfect.

An Intellectual Dilemma

An abstract view on the importance of knowledg...

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I read.

I learn.

I absorb knowledge like it is air or food.

I question and challenge. I recognize flaws and lies. I even can recognize truth, especially truths that resonate inside me.

I, like many others, see the problems that exist in the world. Whether it is war or hunger, the destruction of the environment, prejudice, loss of wildlife, or any other of the multiple challenges that the world faces. I see them. I understand them. I want to help solve them But . . . that leads to my dilemma.

The Dilemma: knowledge and understanding are not enough. Understanding and desire to make change often push me into a tailspin of despair, because I don’t have the gumption or the commitment or the energy or the something to actually make the change. Maybe this is an excuse, but it is my reality. It is my tragic flaw.

I share my knowledge. I ask others to challenge the status quo. I encourage people to think differently or to question assumptions. But that is not enough.

I am trapped in the world of the “Takers”, to borrow from Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, and I do not know how to break free.

This is my true intellectual dilemma. This is my challenge, and it may be too great to achieve.

Words of Thanks, Thanks for the Words

Give thanks!

Image by kevindooley via Flickr

An old school friend has been starting each of his Facebook status updates with TDOT day# followed by something that makes him thankful. I missed what this meant and found that he is doing Thirty Days of  Thankfulness.

This strikes me as something truly wonderful, and something we don’t do enough.  The simple concept is related to the idea of daily affirmations, something I always intend to do, but never follow through.

So, today, I will write about thankfulness.  I will try, in one post, to write 30 things that I am thankful for. That really shouldn’t be too difficult, should it? It might be a little long-winded, so I’ll forgive you if you don’t get through them all. It is related to a post I wrote way back, “Things that Make me Lucky” and I know I can do it. So here goes:

1. As you can see by the title of this post, I am thankful that I have the words to be able to do this.

2. I am thankful for David, who decided to write TDOTs publicly on Facebook. I haven’t seen him in over 20 years, but I am impressed by the way he lives his life. From what I can tell, he embraces life with passion and joy, and I truly admire that.

3. I am thankful for the scale that just told me I gained weight. Crazy, huh? But now, I feel motivated. I feel like I can make the change I need to make now. If I hadn’t been inspired to step on the scale this morning, I would have continued to fool myself into believing that I’ve actually lost weight recently. (To my defense, my weight has shifted and my clothes are looser). So, after I finish writing this, or perhaps in the middle when the writing becomes more challenging, I am going to exercise and begin Day 1 of my new regime. So thanks again scale, I’ll do you proud.

4. I am thankful for my partner, Nathan. while life has not always been easy for us, he always does so much for me. I don’t know that I say thanks enough, but every day I am grateful for what he does. I only hope that I do enough in return.

5. I am thankful for my daughter, Sarah. Through her I have learned so much, both good and bad. When she faces every minute with a song, it reminds me of all the possibilities that were and could be. She is a wonderful person inside and out, and I am thankful she is part of my life.

6. I am thankful for Facebook. Yes, it can be a major time suck. Yes, it is dangerous in some ways. But, through Facebook I have reconnected with many wonderful people. Through Facebook, I have reevaluated my priorities. Through Facebook, I have discovered interesting ideas and new ways of expressing myself. I know the dangers of living too much in technology, but I think we also have to be thankful fo some of the good that it does.

7. I am thankful for my family. I’m not always close with them. Sometimes we drive each other crazy. Often we lose touch or avoid the conversations that are too difficult. But, at the same time, I realize I would not be who I am today without them. In the end, it is the support you get from people who love you that makes the world a better place.

8. I’m thankful for my dogs, Lizzy and Jasper. They are messy and annoying. They beg at the most inconvenient times. They bark, and fart, and all those wonderful things. BUT, they can look at you with love beyond any that you have felt. Love that has no requirements (except the occasional treat or pat). True. unconditional, love. How can you beat that?

9. I am thankful for those of you willing to read my words on a regular basis. It means so much to me.

10. I am thankful for friends, past, present, and future. I know that I haven’t found the place that I can call home, but I have been so blessed to have friends in my life that I call HOME. Thank you all.

11. I am thankful for chocolate. I may have to spend a little less time indulging (see my thanks to my scale), but I still am grateful for the joy you provide.

12. I am thankful for my teachers, formal and informal. I have been so lucky to have people in my life that guide me in so many ways. Those teachers are too numerous to count, but I hope that sending this thought out to the universe warms their day in a special way.

13. I am thankful for my body. Now that one surprises me, as I cannot stand looking in the mirror. My body has given me lots of trouble lately, too. But, I’m living, I’m breathing, and this body has taken me on adventures beyond compare. Maybe I need to treat it a little better, and respect it for the beauty it does carry. So thank you body. I promise, I’ll try harder.

14. I am thankful for books. In case you haven’t noticed, I live in the land of language. Without books, my life would be much emptier.

15. I am thankful for WordPress.  I needed this place to help me focus. I know that I have a long way to go to achieve my goals as a writer, but just knowing that occasionally someone reads what I have to say makes writing even more meaningful and joy-filled than ever.

Halfway there  . . .  time for a banana break.

16. I am thankful for bananas. Sweet, healthy goodness in its own wrapping.

17. I am thankful for music. I don’t know artists, I don’t know songs, but I do know when music can carry me away and heal me to my very core.

18. I am thankful to whoever gave me the tickets to see WICKED last week. It fulfilled me in so many different ways.

19. I am thankful for Japan. I miss Japan. The years I spent living there were some of the best, as well as the hardest, of my life. I grew there more than anywhere else. It is a beautiful, complicated country and I am so grateful for that experience.

20. I am thankful for my ability to learn languages. I know that I have forgotten a lot, but I love the power of words whether they are spoken in English, French, Japanese, Hebrew or any other language. Language makes life rich.

21. I am thankful for my past mistakes. They are, of course, too many to list here, but with each error I learn. I grow. And hopefully, I become a better person.

22. I am thankful for time. I know I complain a lot about my lack of job security and stuff, but truly I am thankful that I have the freedom to do different things. I have the time, when I don’t waste it, to write, to explore, to create, to dream. I don’t necessarily have the money to do everything I’d like, but I do have the time. I just need to learn how to use it better.

23. I am thankful for sleep. When I can get a good one, life is spectacular.

24. I am thankful for sunrises and sunsets. I struggle with where I live now, but I am so appreciative of the beauty of sunrise and sunset in the Kansas sky.

25. I am thankful for opportunities. I am my harshest critic, and am often down on myself for my perceived failures in becoming whatever obscure image I am supposed to have achieved by now. But, at the same time, I have had so many wonderful experiences and opportunities in my life, that it is astonishing. I am thankful for each one, as well as for the people who gave them to me.

26. I am thankful for candles. They are warm little spots of scent and color that make me feel at peace.

27. I am thankful for my education. I may not know what to do with it anymore, but it sure has taken me on an adventure into the unknown.

28. I am thankful for friends who have recently come back into my life. There is nothing like old friends to make you feel like you have a solid base in the world.

29. I am thankful for my students. So many of them have taught me more than I have taught them. So many of them have touched me in ways that they will never know. I only hope that I have left a mark with them as well.

30. Last but not least, I am thankful to have the opportunity to say thanks. Thank you, kind reader, for going on this little journey with me.

Life Misremembered


Image by cirox via Flickr

How does one truly document a life?

I am trying to get a compact collection of my  past accomplishments together in a form that shows who I am, and who i can become. But, I have not documented my life very well.

A world of technology dictates that ample evidence needs to be provided, in the form of videos, pictures, documents, and anything else that proves we’ve done what we say we have done. Our word isn’t enough, we need to show our successes in living color.

But, as I said before, I have not documented my life very well.

I don’t think I ever expected to be reinventing myself so many times. So, while I am basically organized and keep mementos and journals, somehow my everything has gotten scattered and I cannot create a true supporting portfolio of everything I have done. where are the pictures of puppets I have made? Where is the evidence of classes I have taught? Where are the documents showing projects finished, and proposals written? Where is the mask that I designed for an opera? Where are the smiles of children and the notes of thanks?

I look on what I have gathered and question if it is enough. Back to being hard on myself, again, never believing that I am good enough. But, deep down inside, I know that I am talented, creative, and have accomplished many amazing things.  When I tell the story of my life, it is filled with variety and challenges, creativity and joy, conflict and success, smiles and tears.

But, without the images stored in a concrete way, it is possible to imagine that my life is a memory created in my dreams, rather than reality.

I know who I am and what I can. I wish that could be proven with a simple conversation rather than material evidence.

Too bad the world doesn’t work that way.

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