Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Fault in Our Bias


c'est ne pas un lapin brun avec une pipe


Sometimes, I get really fired up about things.  Symbolism is one of those things.  An inappropriately handled medical emergency situation is another.  But, this week, what got me most fired up was a misappreciation of The Fault in Our Stars.

Let me be clear about something.  You do not have to like a book in order to appreciate its value.  You do not have to like reading all 7 billion pages of Les Miserables to realize that it is one of the most tragic yet triumphant stories ever penned by a human being.  You do not have to like reading through all of Mark Twain's impractical descriptions of a 17 year old girl, saint or no, in order to appreciate what a literary masterpiece his Joan of Arc is.  You do not have to like the grammar choices of John Boyne to appreciate the haunting similarities between our own times and the time of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  And you do not have to like the existential self-indulgence and Last Good Day Before the Last Good Day of Amsterdam in order to realize that The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most important things that has happened to twenty-first century literature.

One of the emerging themes in my conversations with Emily (as we make our way through teenagey angst, school drama, and minor/major family crises) is that perspective is everything. Perspective is literally everything. In preschool, wetting your pants feels pretty much like the end of the world and, when your mom comes in with a back-up stash of pull-ups, your three-year old pride sardonically laughs to itself that you will never speak to your mother again. Whereas, twenty year old you doesn't even remember who your fellow preschoolers were let alone the days they inevitably wet their pants during story time, and thank goodness you still speak to your mother because how would you have survived middle school without her. Wetting your pants in preschool is not the end of the world. In fact, wetting your pants when you're forty-five isn't the end of the world either. Because when you're on your deathbed, you and everyone else will be thinking and talking about a lot of other things relating to you. Dying, not an embarrassing self control mishap, is the end of the world. The end of the world for you. In a sense. So, yeah. Perspective.

The Fault in Our Stars is many things, and it has many things to offer. A perspective on life is one of the things it offers. There are other things which TFiOS doesn't offer, such as answers--or, I should say, truly substantial answers (in my humble opinion) to the deep questions that it asks. Uh, I prefer not to think that my life is completely and irrevocably run by the stars, the fates, the weird sisters, like I'm some side character in an ancient Greek epic and that all I can do is #yolo before I inevitably #yodo at the fates' discretion. (This is just me.)  But TFiOS does ask incredibly poignant questions and it offers perspective and it gives us a lot to think about.  As far as I'm concerned, those are three things that make up a very good book and three things that our century could definitely use more of.

Now, it is my belief that every book, just like the man or woman who penned it, has some fault or weakness. It's kind of inevitable. I mean, none of us is perfect, so none of us can write a book that is perfect.  And because of personal, professional, emotional, educational, maturational biases or the lack thereof, some people are going to be better than others at spotting the faults in any given book. But just because you see the fault in a book doesn't mean that that book isn't extremely important to read.  And it doesn't give you any excuse to walk away from that book without considering (albeit, possibly disagreeing with) the message that it's sending. It doesn't give you any authority to discredit the book's value in literary history.  It would be a lonely world out there, and a very uneducated one, if we were all perfectionists in our choices of friends and books.

So, please, before you dis The Fault in Our Stars because it is somewhat faulty, popular, obsessively swooned over by teenage girls, or not your cup of tea, just remember to take a step back and look at it through the big round glasses of perspective.  Because when your grandkids are reading it for English class fifty years in the future (and you know they will be), you can pat yourself on the back that it's not the first time you considered the literary significance of a book that will go down in history as a symbol of our era and that will continue to influence the way people contemplate their own experience of the human condition for generations after you're six feet under.

GAH symbolic perspective! Alright, I'm done.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An English Nerd Sedated Is Still an English Nerd

[Darn it, is there a way to strap this bag of frozen peas to my face so I can see the computer screen and type with both hands while also continuing to ice my chipmunk cheeks? Oh, there we go. Shoulders. I knew we had shoulders for a reason.]


d'aw. i can guarantee i don't look this happy.

Yesterday at 7:30am...
[Nurse comes into operating room and places the white heart rate monitor clip on Ally's finger. Ally listens to the infernal beeping noise that now echoes throughout the room.]
Ally [to herself, trying not to look at the scary dentist tools on the wall]: Hey, I wonder what would happen to the beeping noise if I stopped breathing... heeeeeey, if I stop breathing for seven seconds, the heart rate monitor freaks out. Lol, listen to it panic. Wait, now let me try breathing really fast.  Oooh, there it goes again! 'Panic! Sound the alarm! Abnormal heart rate!' Hhhmmhmhmhehehe...

Yesterday at 8:00am...
Oral Surgeon: So here are all the bad things that could happen to you during and after wisdom tooth extraction.  Let's see.  Jaw bone could crack, sinus cavity problems, dry sockets, nerve damage, uncontrollable bleeding, nausea and vomiting, serious infections from the IV needles, and you could die. Oh, and chapped lips. Apply chap stick as needed.
Me [looking at all the scary dentist tools on the wall]: Ok, great.
Oral Surgeon: Initial here. Sign at the x.
[As Ally signs, she reveals that she is nervous by chattering more than is normal. Oral Surgeon tries to distract Ally.]
Oral Surgeon: So do you know what's in that bag? [points to IV bag]
Ally: Um, I should, because I was in nursing school, but I forget.
[Nurses titter.]
Oral Surgeon: I'll give you a hint. Starts with a 'b.' Does that help? [at least, Ally thinks he said "b"]
Ally: O_O
Ally: Uh, no, not really. [Ally becomes conscious of the tingly feeling of IV fluid going into her veins. Or maybe it is anesthesia.]
Oral Surgeon: It's B--- [name of stuff in IV bag doesn't register with Ally]. So what's your major now?
Ally [slowly slipping]: English ...

Yesterday at 9:15am...
[Ally's mother hands Ally the sheet of post-op instructions and guides her out of the clinic to the car. Ally climbs into the car and stars blankly at the post-op instructions. After five minutes of staring blankly at the paper, Ally lifts up her head.]
Ally [points to a sentence on the paper and holds it up to her mother]: Mmmfft, shhooo beeebeaffffttt.
Ally's Mother: O_O
Ally's Mother: Um, what?
Ally [points to paper again]: Iz gwammaw. Izz wong.
Ally's Mother [glances more closely at the paper]: Oh, uh, you're right. That should be "breath," not "breathe." Yeah, that is a mistake.
[Ally nods and smiles stupidly to herself {since real smiling is impossible}, happy in the knowledge that she is not so out of it as to not notice a grammar mistake.] 


Ah, Ally.  Always the editor.  Even on a sedative.


even if chipmunk cheeks aren't
{this shirt and more grammar buff stuff of the same caliber right here}


Now that I'm confident that grammar buffiness is inherently a part of me, I can sit back on the couch and nurse myself back to health with no qualms.  Until the next time I make my personal most common grammar mistake: you're vs. your.  It's my greatest downfall.  Ask Marlene.

Honestly, though, one of the best parts about being sick and/or confined to the couch because of oral surgery is that it is one more experience of the human condition that you can write about.  And I don't mean just reenact it on your blog. :} I mean that suffering makes you a more empathetic writer.  Suffering and paineven pain as common place today as that of wisdom tooth surgeryclues you in to yet another part of the human experience. Your exposure to suffering forms you and opens your eyes a little wider to what life is. Inevitably, this will be incorporated into your writing. There's really nothing like experiencing something yourself in order to tell other people what it's like.  No, heh, really.  There isn't.  That's sort of the whole point of writing.

So, basically, what I'm saying is embrace whatever suffering comes your way.  You may not have the immediate reward of catching a grammar mistake while partially sedated, but your heroics will be rewarded in the end.  Alright, switching peas to other shoulder.  Ally out.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I Wish Summer Didn't End in Three Weeks

Why is it that when I finally have the time to work on the several writing projects I have had planned for months, I get a ginormous mental block that makes me restart and restart and restart?  I have had too much quality time with the backspace button on my key board.  Technically, Camp NaNo was supposed to have helped with this. And it did, I guess.  Except for the fact that I didn't get past 11,188 words on my story because I spent a week of Camp NaNo at actual camp and then when I came back I was like: Meh, I'll start again in November!




So, yeah.  A summer of start-ups.  What a consolation for my perfectionist self.

In all truthfulness, this has been the craziest summer of my life.  I can't believe I even had the time to do the reading and writing that I did.  I read some incredible books.  And even though I don't have much concrete evidence to show for it, I can tell that I've grown as a writer.  Anticlimbing to better writing through reading is definitely something I'm doing again.  (And it makes me feel less guilty about reading for fun because I can tell myself that it's like feeding vegetables to my inner writer.  That's the sort of weird anxiety I deal with; I feel guilty reading for fun. O_o I think it's because reading is a slow productivity.  It's incredibly rewarding, but the rewards aren't always immediate.  Hence, anticlimbing.)


the pathetically small in number but incredibly great in title and content list of books I've read so far this summer

I only have a few weeks left before I head back to Academia.  While I am so excited for school and for seeing my roommate every day and for being with all my other friends and for work (because I got a job in the Writing Center helping students with their papers--HUZZAH!!!), I really wish this summer could extend itself.  Just a little.  Please, summer?  You're one of my favorite seasons and I just want to enjoy you a little longer.  Is that too much to ask?

watching the sun rise over the lake with a fellow camp counselor
(kayak rides before 100 little campers wake up = perks of being a counselor)

I know that the rhythm of time and the cycle of the seasons is important, but it would hypothetically be very nice to have a few extra lazy weeks of summer.  Well, lazy as in a few extra weeks that are lazy in and of themselves so I can create my own schedule of crazy to fill them up.  And so I can read more books!  I want to read A Wrinkle in Time and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and ...

Well, I'm pretty sure Summer won't listen to me.  She's been obeying the laws of Time and Nature since the beginning of both, so I'm not really one to ask any favors.  But as established in previous blogposts, I really do love deadlines.  So since Summer won't alter the day she steps down for Autumn, I'm going to prioritize my writing projects and FINISH at least one before she goes.  I will keep y'all in the know about any finish line crossing.

Oh, and speaking of the importance of rhythm and time and how it begets order and coolness, singing together synchronizes heartbeats.  How fairy-tale-esque is THAT?  I may work synchronized heart-beating into the NaNoWriMo 2014 version of my Camp NaNo fairy tale.

Oh, and here's a really really fascinating little video about Shakespeare, the rad playwright who permanently changed and continues to change the world with his brilliantly accurate depictions of human nature, his satirical commentary, and his truthfulness.




See?  WHY CAN'T SUMMER BE LONGER.  I have too many things to read and study and write OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL.

*headdesk*

(Oh--and not speaking of ironic things, I forgot to mention the head-on collision I had with someone who attacked the novel as a medium of literature and how that coincided with my second reading of Northanger Abbey and how I lost the argument. Ah, well, another post for another day.)

Ally signing off.  I have the rest of a summer to live.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Why I Have A Renewed Hope in Humanity

I think the world can be a pretty depressing place.  Especially English classrooms.  English classrooms can be very depressing.  I love English and I love classrooms, but so often those two things combined do not maximize their full potential.  At library summer program last week, I was talking to some girls about books and The Fault in Our Stars and I was like, "Hey, have you studied that in school yet?"  And they were like, "Um no we're in middle school we don't read books for school yet are you dumb."  I realize now that reading TFiOS in middle school might be arguably inappropriate content-wise coming from the government curriculum (even though middle schoolers read it anyway), but the point is NO REQUIRED READING UNTIL HIGH SCHOOL??! Thank you, middle schoolers from library summer program, for properly scaring me out of my wits.

But I'd just like to say that, despite the decline of English classrooms in our time, we aren't too far gone yet. I have seen a glimmer of hope.

Watch out, world: Reading Rainbow is making a comeback.



That's right, kids.  105,857 people have raised over 5 million dollars on Reading Rainbow's Kickstarter project (which ended earlier this month) to bring Reading Rainbow to new audiences.  With addition of a 1 million dollar celebrity donation from Seth MacFarlane, the grand total was over 6 million.  OVER SIX MILLION DOLLARS.  Did I mention that the Kickstarter goal was only 1 million? Did I mention that in the first three days of the Kickstarter, they raised a million each day? Did I further mention that this is CRAZY AWESOME and that it spells hope for future generations?




This is huge because we actually do have a reading problem in our country/educational system, in case you've been living under a rock. (I was. Until library summer program.) And Reading Rainbow (the show, the app, and now other cool stuff) does more to instill in kids a love of reading and the magic of a story than you might think. It's changing lives by changing the way and how much kids read both in and out of the classroom.  

The Reading Rainbow "revival" project is called a literacy fundraiser because, according to the Reading Rainbow stats, kids are growing up illterate.


this is what Reading Rainbow says

But illiteracy aside, reading is crazy important.  You can be literate without maximizing your full potential. And I guarantee that reading helps you maximize your full potential. Reading other people's stories helps you realize what you want out of your own. 

So what is Reading Rainbow doing with all that money?  In this digital age, they're adapting Reading Rainbow to screens of all sorts.  They're formatting books and their "video field trips" for not only personal use but also for full fledged classroom use. They have three specific goals (which they can now meet thanks to SIX MILLION DOLLARS): 



This is super duper awesome.  Free books? In English classrooms that are otherwise dying from a lack of BOOKS? I'm a fan.


{nostalgia}


The Kickstarter is now closed, but click here if you still want to support the project.  And follow Reading Rainbow on Twitter for more cool book news.