I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

listen to my words

Archive for the ‘Lit’ Category

Next to writing, one of my favorite pursuits is reading. I read every article and tidbit in my National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines (which may be why I have to periodically drop my subscriptions so I can catch up). I studied comparative literature in college (call it “English” and I will ensure your death will be slow, painful, and inevitable). I own hundreds of books that I haven’t even gotten to.

Maire’s first story

Elizabeth, my oldest, is in a creative writing class in seventh grade. They are given prompts to write on. Elizabeth adapts these into segments of an ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan fiction. Lately it’s started crossing over with Transformers and Dragon Slippers too. It’s a complex world.

She frequently shares the story with us at dinner. And her writing has inspired the other girls as well. Sarah and Rachael both started TMNT fan fiction too.

Maire has finally joined the craze. What’s really awesome about Marie’s though, is not just that she’s 5, but that she isn’t dictating this story or stealing anyone else’s. She’s writing new material and she’s writing them herself on different colors of construction paper with a black marker. She does occasionally ask for how to spell a word, but for the most part, she’s just using her one quarter of kindergarten education to make her best guess.

This is awesome because it’s the best way for her to really learn how to do it, and it tethers her less to needing any help.

So without further ado, here are scans of Maire’s hand-written story I have provided a translation, trying to match up the proper English with the letters she wrote to represent them — I think you’ll find she does a good job at figuring it out. I’ve added punctuation, and corrected some spelling, but not corrected grammar.

One day I was in a airplane. Then I saw a hole. I tried to walk around it. But instead I fell into it. Then I saw some turtles. Well, 4, actually. Then I fell unconscious! Leo said, uh guys I think we should tell Splinter

click to mutant-size

"Ah, Leo I think you should not have said that." "Me" said Leo. Then I didn't know what to do. Then a rat walked out of a tunnel. "Master Splinter, look who found us."

click to Maire-size.

The rat's eyes widened. The turtles went to the side, to let me to follow Splinter into a room. Then Splinter gave me some robes. When I walked out I found myself in a room that Splinter told me out. Then I started to realize

Click to giant-rat size.

that I was practicing with turtles. Then I had a dream. well, day dream. "Hi Maire," said Leo. "Hi," said Raph. "Hi Maire," said Mikey. "Hi Maire," said Don. Then Pippin jumped in the hole. "Pippin where are you going?"

Click to fan-fiction size.

Maire would like to point out the awesome turtle illustration in part 4.
I just want to clarify that Pippin is our cat.

Nerdy Intellectual Exercise

spaces... everywhere

click to embiggen

This is intended to be a representation of a hierarchy of literary genres.

Big concerns? Are the Supernatural/horror and Supers genres seem valid?

So I would like some feedback on this because I’d like to do soem stuff with it. Things I missed? Disagreements? Smart remarks?

note, the final product will have interactive notes to explain things.


In The Android’s Dream There is a minor but important character, named Sam, who’s gender is never identified. There are several readers, myself included, who were under the impression that there is a single passage where the masculine pronoun is used to refer to Sam. Since Sam is in a relationship with a less minor character named Harry McClellan (who is clearly identified as male), Sam’s gender could mean something about Harry. Is Harry gay?

In the end it doesn’t matter. Dream‘s author, John Scalzi, realized this and after writing an entire scene without once identifying Sam’s gender, he stopped and thought, “‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, I wonder what sex Sam is,’ and then I thought ‘Hey, I wonder if I can pull off not saying what sex Sam is all the way through the book’.” (This is all according to Scalzi’s blog, I’m not making his reactions up).

I bring this up because of the last thing Scalzi writes in that blog entry: “And then, when you’ve settled the question of ‘What Sex is Sam Berlant?’ to your personal satisfaction, you can ask yourself another question about The Android’s Dream: What color is its hero, Harry Creek?”

Good question. He never describes it. Yet no one even talks about it until Scalzi points it out to you.

Because his skin color is irrelevant.

There’s not issues of racism within the human species. There’s no cultural information important to character or plot or setting. It’s a non-issue.

So we come to what’s brought this up. There’s a lot of complaints going around the Internet (and by “around the Internet” i mean “my friends on Twitter” — I’m too insular to look further than that) about the “white-washing” (ie, the portrayal of characters of varying ethnicities with white actors) of The Last Airbender.

I’ve never watched Avatar, cartoon or movie. So I don’t know how egregious a crime this is.

I will say this. I assume, most of the time, that a character in an anime is Japanese until I’m given reason otherwise. They aren’t big on accurate portrayal of racial characteristics. Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach has orange hair. It’s not just a visual convention, they refer to the color in dialog in the anime. But he’s clearly Japanese. So when someone wants to make a character with big eyes and blue hair, and someone adapts it for the screen and chooses a white actor. Are they really doing much to change the work?

I argue no, with certain obvious exceptions. If the ethnicity of the character comes into play, as a character driving factor, or an element of the plot, or a flavor for the setting. You are making changes to the main work just by changing the skin color of the actor you use, whether you are doing it on purpose or not.

But such is not the case every time it happens. Shakespeare is performed constantly with different colored actors in various roles. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. If you get a white guy to play Othello, on the other hand, you’ve got a play that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

My favorite case in point is Ursula LeGuin. She complained noisily when Sci-Fi made a movie of Wizard of Earthsea using a white actor in the lead role. In the Earthsea books, it’s a stated fact that most of the characters have dark skin. LeGuin takes umbrage and claims they make thematic changes to the story by this decision.

But she’s wrong.

Yes, she describes her characters with dark skin. But that’s where it ends. It’s a standard fantasy setting, plus islands. It has no overtones of Polynesian culture or plot. It has no themes of any other race either. In fact, they build castles, which is not something islanders I’ve heard of have ever done. Sure, there were fortresses built in the Caribbean, but they were built by white Europeans.

So what, exactly, is the damage done if a producer chooses a white actor to play Ged?

None, really.

So let me break it down. Am I claiming that “white washing” is a non issue? No. Far from it. The term itself bothers me on many levels for the implications it has. White Washing is especially bad when it is used to eliminate cultural information to make it more marketable. If you’re saying that about a producer, you should be careful. Accusing someone of intentional racism is a serious charge.

But is every time they change a skin color a case of rewriting a work and participating in the suppression of minorities? I don’t think so.

Why it’s possible that some of what I like may be utter crap

So today I got pointed over to Philip Athans’s blog and his brand new willingness to try a romance novel because he recently had the (mis)fortune to accidentally listen to an Andy Gibb song.

On the surface, one would assume that Mr. Athans either suffered a head injury or else the hearing of the succulent voice of Andy Gibb either traumatized his mind or turned him gay. Or possibly both.

But I appreciate Philip’s position (did you see that unprofessional way I switched to his first name? It’s as if I decided, most suddenly, that I wanted to use it instead of something more formal… because that is The Way. I. Roll.)

Now, I should clarify. I don’t know any Andy Gibb songs and I have no desire to learn them. I also still hate Abba and the Bee Gees (“it’s those blasted Bee Gees!”). My wife doesn’t share my opinion. Neither does her family. I have to hide in solitary when we go to family gatherings for fear of being forced into a “Dancing Queen” sing along.

But let me back up. Since Philip used music to introduce it, I’ll use music too.

In seventh grade.. ish… I listened to Top 40 music. I really hadn’t been introduced to anything. Kiss 98 was what played at the swimming pool in the summers when I lived in Nebraska, so I knew Sting singing “Free, Free, set them free” and Tears for Fears singing “Everybody wants to rule the world.” So when we moved I naturally found the top 40 stations. By 9th grade my favorite albums (on tape) were Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla, Heart (the one with “These Dreams”, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts Up Your Alley, and Cutting Crew’s Broadcast. Though close follow ups were Huey Lewis and the News Sports and the soundtrack for Ghostbusters. Thing is I knew I liked guitar, but, I had no idea what real guitar sounded like. I had an inkling of good bands, but with the possible exception of Joan Jett, none of those are close to the artists’ finest moments (well, maybe Huey is an exception too, but that’s a completely different story). And really, there were better bands out there. Especially with Starship. I mean, technically it was almost the same band that had played at Woodstock. WOODSTOCK. Grace Slick had once told us to “go ask Alice,” a song that resonates through all kinds of different layers socially and musically, and in the one I liked, the lyrics went

Knee deep in the hoopla
Sinking in your face

I mean… what?

(Not that I hate that song, but let’s move on before we talk about why I wasn’t wrong here).

I happened to be a loser. Not quite a nerd, then I would have had science club or AV club friends or something. but more of a Dork. I had… one (ONE. 1. Uno. Einz. 01.) friend in seventh grade. Aaron had been heavily influenced by his almost pothead brothers. He liked metal. Led Zeppelin was the best any music could ever aspire too. Randy Rhodes was brilliant.

I never got fully into his music, though now I’d dig on it a lot more. But he opened my world. By the time I was in tenth grade, I was listening to classic rock and everything else SUCKED.

I have a debt to Aaron for opening the door to music. I never would have found the best of hte best of the best, 99% of the music I adore now, if it hadn’t been for him. Of course, he also stunted me. The classic rock or die thing was his fault too. So I really missed out on some awesome music while it was on the air waves. But still.

Gradually, I learned a bit of other stuff. I made fun of people who like Morrissey, and even though I went through a metal phase (I bought the soundtrack to Shocker… which was a disservice, featuring as it did a lame cover of an Alice Cooper song), I was peer pressured into destroying my tape of Run DMC’s Raisin’ Hell (though I have managed to recover that on LP, a treasured possession now), I disavowed several other things I loved, and I alienated people that could have helped.

In 1990, however, the world fell in love again. We were marching hand in hand (though we didn’t know why), and a brand new record came out. They Might Be Giants brand new album Flood. This album is a work of pure genius. I heard that The Band’s (The Band, not the band They Might Be Giants) Music from Big Pink changed lives. Well, Flood changed mine.

Suddenly, music didn’t have to be 20 years old to be any good. (In truth, I had adapted that rule. I couldn’t like Clapton’s Journeyman otherwise. But it was something like, 20 years old, or by someone who was recording 20 years ago — still lame. It took me years before I finally bought my own copy of Kill Uncle, an album I still adore.

Over the years, my taste has only expanded. I still don’t like country or most gangsta rap (but it most assuredly is all about the Benjamins). But Johnny Cash and the Fat Boys are in my regular rotation. There probably isn’t a genre of western music that isn’t on my iPod. There are some eastern music too, but I have less exposure to that, so I don’t have as much. I can consider a song on its own terms now, instead of assuming that I know what it’s about just because of what radio station it’s on.

A lot of people think they’re open minded because they listen to both country and Top 40. That’s not what I’m talking about. Let me emphasize to you. I will listen to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” followed by P.O.D. doing “Lights Out,” which will then transition to Dynamite Hack’s hilarious early-20th century-esque cover of “Boyz in the Hood.” Followed by MC 900 Foot Jesus doing “The City Sleeps,” Bela Fleck doing “How Can you Face Me Now,” a performance of Holst’s planets, and finish the short burst out with The Ramones. (Oh yes, Joey, I do remember rock’n’roll radio). And yes, I put kids songs in the playlist too.

Thing is… I’m still a snob about it. There is music I hear and then simply Will. Not. Touch. of my own accord ever. And people who like those songs are often as not morons in my head. But I have, at least stopped telling people that. To their faces. Very often.

A similar thing happened to me with movies.

I was into movies, but I was very careful about my reasons for watching a movie. Story was highest on my list. Solid story, then well-acted performances. If I couldn’t justify it, it was kind of a shameful viewing.

Then I realized… it’s OK to watch a movie because it was eye candy. Great special effects, beautiful cinematography, or even just great explosions. Then there came other reasons – Jackie Chan flipping around was suddenly appealing.

These days I enjoy what I call “bad cinema.” A Godzilla movie holds a lot of appeal for me. Not any movie will work, though. A movie has to be trying, at least. Or at least have one great idea. A lot of dumb comedies try to hard to be in your face and absurd. Juvenile. But I like 80s teen movies — John Hughes never talked down to me; he always seemed to know what he was talking about. His characters, even if they could only be properly described as losers, never seemed like a waste of space.

So that brings us back to music. I will listen to Lady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper. I can put them on a playlist with Bob Dylan and Joe Satriani. Because I listen to each of those for a different reason. Not every song hits me, but if it does, I’ll listen to it more than once.

It’s the same with books, really. Comics, for example. Sturgeon’s law applies. Most of it is horrible, but even a lot of that is still fun to read. And what’s wrong with reading for fun? I have a guilty pleasure I like to indulge — reading Shoujo Manga (Japanese made comics targeted toward a female audience). I love Azamanga Daioh and Gina Biggs is a wonderful writer.

So, yeah, I’m not ready to seriously investigate the romance genre at this time (which, going back to the begining, was Philip’s reason for mentioning Andy Gibb). I reckon, however, it has something it could teach me about writing. There’s a reason romance is so successful. And it’s not because it’s horrible. Horrible it may be, but there’s something there that appeals to people.

The Writer and Reader Response

It seems to me that it behooves a writer to understand literary theory. much in the way an artists needs to understand the rules of composition and form and so forth, the more a writer understands how text is understood, the better he can forumulate that text to evoke the message and response he desires. Thus, I will indulge myself in a little bit of criticism about literary criticism. Specifically, reader response.

The problem with the reader response theory is communicating the theory itself. (This gets pretty metaphysical, so watch out) You see, the reader response theory states that a text is nothing except for how a reader, well, responds to it. In other words, it is the reading of a text that creates the work of art, not the writing it, unless you want to go deeper and acknowledge that the writer is experiencing those words as he writes them, but that amounts to the same thing, and in any case, the writer’s experience it essentially different than the reader’s; if not simply because generating the text is essentially different than having it given to you, but also because each reader, and in fact, during each reading, the experience is different, which is the crux of the idea behind reader response theory, and also the main thrust of the paradox involved.

It’s easy enough to agree that no text is anything if it is not read. The extent to which we agree to it may differ, but we can agree it doesn’t function if it simply sits on the shelf. It may have done something at the writing, but if it is never read again, there never is an aesthetic experience. It only generates that experience when read. Each reader, and, as I said, each reading, of a text is a different aesthetic and communicative experience because each reader brings a different consciousness to the reading. He has a different background and knowledge that helps interpret and colors each new thing that he experience or reads in the future. Everyone reading a text understands it differently.

But that’s the problem. How do I know that what you read just now was understood anything at all like I understood it or meant it? I don’t. Especially if we assume the validity of reader response theory. You may simply be giving it a meaning that makes sense to you in your background. There is not guarantee that your understanding was anything like mine. So what’s the point of the theory? The only possibility is intellectual relativism, but that’s a dangerous theory that’s a story for another time.

On Religion and Fantasy

With the release of a new Harry Potter movie comes a new string of antichrists… er… anti-free speech, anti-freedom of religion, and anti-intelligent preachers who think that the self-purporting fictional account of an imaginary boy in an imaginary place is going to damn the entire world to hell. In my mind, the one type of person equates to the other. It is fundamentally antichristian to burn books in this way. I mean, Christ didn’t deny access to other ways of thinking. He merely encouraged all to listen to the truth. As far as I can tell, my reading of the New Testament shows Christ trying to teach wholesome truths and helping people live positively. I really only recall one time (twice, depending on how you concordinate the gospels) when Christ actually attacked people. It was not on the grounds of religious differences. It was about the desecration of the holy temple.

The popular opposition to the Harry Potter books mystifies me. It does a tremendous amount of damage: it teaches hate and intolerance to children, and tells them that reading is bad. In many ways, it tells children they are bad. Most children do not have the sophistication to separate an evaluation of themselves from an evaluation of the things they like. Heck, many adults don’t have that level of sophistication (see book-burning preachers).

It also confounds me that Harry Potter in particular gets singled out. Tolkien doesn’t. Jordan doesn’t. Feist, Brooks, Zimmerman, and LeGuin don’t. Much of this is particularly odd. Tolkien was Catholic, and therefore anathema to start with for much of the non-Catholic Christian world, but at least his themes are very “biblical” in nature. Jordan deals with non-Christian deities, even as protagonists. Zimmerman was a pagan in every Christian use of the word (and it shows clearly in her work). Most of these authors sell at least at a comparable level to Rowling.

Granted, Rowling is the only one on my list here that writes for a child audience, but if that’s their reasoning, then I have to go back to my other question of whether the book or the book burners are doing more damage to the young ones.

Now, it is not unknown to anyone who reads my material that I am a fan of the fantasy genre. Works like Legend and Krull annoy me not because they’re bad but because they’re bad fantasy (see also the animated movies based on Tolkien’s works). So perhaps I take the whole thing personally. I don’t really see myself as a Potter fan, though. I have enjoyed the one movie and two books I’ve gotten through, but they’re a little low level. I suppose 15-20 years ago I would have loved them though.

But that’s not the point. The point is that these people who claim to be spreading the love of Christ are spreading intolerance and closed-mindedness. I find that repugnant both as a student of literature and as a Christian.

Look, the Bible talks about dragons. It also talks about “familiar spirits” and sorcerers and witches and wizards. Now personally, I find most of that to be somewhat metaphorical. After all, if God is in all ways perfect, then he is surely a perfect artist and writer, and therefore will employ some literary devices, such as figures and symbols and such. However, many of these preachers seem to have a problem understanding non-literal language (which leads me to wonder exactly how they think they can understand scripture) – which is clearly shown by their inability to see Harry Potter as anything other than a text book on how to perform evil magic rites (do the terms “fiction” or “narrative” mean anything to you?). This being the case, I suppose I should come up with a reasoning to justify the reading of fantasy even to you literalists.

Hypothetically, if the Bible accepts these figures as real (remember again, this is not my position, but the position the literalists to whom I speak), then you should accept them as real. This means that you shouldn’t be burning a frickin’ book just because it differs from your religious point of view!

Sorry, I got ahead of myself there. So, we’re accepting them as real, which in turn means that there will be books about the material, just as there are many books on subjects you don’t (and for that matter, aren’t asked to) agree with. This means that you shouldn’t be burning a frickin’ book just because it differs from your religious point of view!

Sorry, that just popped out of my mouth again. So there are subjects that you don’t have to agree with, but out of tolerance for other people’s way of life, as well as convincing them that you actually love them instead of just saying you do once a week while showing them difference, you really shouldn’t be burning a frickin’ book just because it differs from your religious point of view.