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How Engaging

18 Jun

It’s official, I am the most remiss blogger in the whole universe. Those of you who actually know me will not be surprised by this announcement, but on the off chance that there’s someone out there who hasn’t heard, I’m engaged. Yes, it’s true, there’s a man in this world brave enough to propose to me. The sad part is that I’ve been engaged for about three months now, and I’m only just now getting around to blogging about it. I would blame my school work, my job, or the fact that I have to figure out how to plan a wedding for this postponed announcement, but clearly my Batgirl post happened without delay, so I have no excuse.

But in truth, this sort of laps fits in with the rest of my planning issues. I was not the little girl who planned out all the details of her wedding by the age of ten and simply tweaked them to fit my most current color and style choices. No, the first time I really thought about weddings was my senior year of high school. My sister got married a month before I graduated, and I spent the whole week beforehand helping the florist, my aunt, pull together all the decorations. It was a lot of fun, but I was so oblivious to all the planning that was going on. I forgot about weddings again until my third year of college when one of my closest friends began planning her wedding. It was a frenzy of flower ideas and locations. What about this dress for bridesmaids? And what colors are best for a winter wedding?

I started making fun of people’s destination weddings. Like at Disney in a castle. A great idea in theory, but who wants to take pictures with Mickey, Goofy, and Donald on your wedding day? If I was going to have a Disney wedding, I said, I’d do it right. Instead of having silver Mickey Mouse heads decorating the fondant on my cake, I’d have my bridesmaids dressed up in elaborate Disney princess costumes. The grooms would be the matching prince. My friends started claiming the princess they’d want to be. There was much debate over who got the first choice and whether the Sleeping Beauty bridesmaid would get the pink or the blue dress. It was a fun joke at the time, but it’s actually a little worrying how many of my bridesmaids have sent me requests to be their preferred princess.

After my junior year of college, couples started marrying off all over the place. It was pretty surprising how many weddings I was asked to attend and also be in. I was never a great bridesmaid. I showed up with my dress and makeup, I ate food, I flirted with the unmarried groomsmen, I made jokes, and I watched as each bride made the wedding unique. In the last year, I attended 6 different weddings. So far this year I’ve attended 4. After so many, I started telling my sister that I’d seen it all: candle lighting, sand pouring, carriage riding, song singing, foot washing, ribbon tying, etc. We joked that the only unique ceremony left was the obstacle course wedding. After a hand fasting ceremony, my groom and I would have to crush a glass underfoot while lighting candles and simultaneously pouring sand into a jar. He’d sing a song while we jumped through a hoop of fire and various members of the wedding party would lift us up in chairs while we tried to wash each other’s feet and recited vows we wrote on the spot.

Now that I’m actually planning this shindig, things are harder to joke about. There are so many decisions about the catering, photography, officiants, guest lists, and venues. I was overwhelmed within the first 24 hours of putting this ring on my finger. So many people are happy for us: younger friends who, like us, have no idea what marriage is all about, married family and friends who we admire, and friends and relatives who have been married and divorced and married again (these ones are the most intimidating because I see the ghosts of those first nuptials in their eyes). It’s strange being engaged in a culture where marriage is commonly, closely, followed by divorce. Somewhat like being the one person who is buying a beachfront house despite the category five hurricane.

Well, no hurricane is stopping me. Just this past weekend (while we were in Florida for my dad’s wedding) we signed the catering and venue contract, we talked with the cake baker about decorations and flavors, we found great gifts for our wedding party, and had our engagement party. We recently found the wedding photographer we want to use. I bought my dress and picked out my bridesmaids clothes. It’s all coming together.

So that’s my official update. Hey world, I’m engaged. Hey world, I’m getting married. Hey world, I expect a million wedding present to flood through my mailbox.

 
 

Think Thesis

04 Jun

Those of you who have been diligently reading every piece posted on this blog know that it started as a school assignment and thus far hasn’t strayed too far off course. The people paying the most attention have noticed most of my school related posts have a decided sway towards speculative fictions. This post won’t be much different. Next semester I look forward to writing a thesis paper for graduate school, which means two things. 1. I have to remember how to write rather extensive research papers and 2. I am halfway through graduate school. Close to this time next year I will be graduating. Crazy!

This being said, I’ve been reading different things that I hope will prove useful to my paper. Many of my previous posts were written from a sort of defensive standpoint of fantasy fiction, and I want to take a look at where fantasy came from and what part it has in literature now. It’s interesting, because in so many ways I feel like fantasy fiction has origins in mythology, folktale, and fairytale. But these are distinctly different from fantasy.

One of the things I find most interesting is the effect that the oral tradition and literacy had on books. For centuries the common populace relied on oral stories to give them what knowledge they needed. Books were kept primarily for religion, philosophy and maybe poetry, because there were not enough people willing to sit around and transcribe anything else word for word. When printed words became accessible, people learned how to read, and the novel was born shortly after. If I remember correctly, one of the first novels was an educational book about written correspondence. People became so interested in the fictitious happenings of these two pen pals that the novel was born. (This is all recollected from other papers I’ve written and might not as accurate as I now remember it).

According to Paul Zweig in The Adventurer: The Fate of Adventure in the Western World, the first novels took on an unusual subject matter. “The novel, in the hands of Richardson, Jane Austen, and Flaubert, explored the newly discovered landscape of domesticity—the subtle variety of life in the ‘garden’ of society” (170). For the first time, people were able to explore the life of other people just like themselves. When people learned how to read, they didn’t need to depend on stories told to them. “Thus, as the spread of literacy made ever larger numbers of people into potential readers, it created the need for a literature which could appeal more realistically to the imagination of the new public” (Zweig 12).

Beside the novels about domestic life, grew the Gothic novel, where the wonders of domesticity was view with loathing (Zweig 170). These stories did not revolve around the budding Elizabeth and Darcy romance that somewhat recently experienced a revival, but instead dealt with villainous men in medieval castles. Instead of appreciating what life has to offer, the Gothic novel took the opposite stance “The world itself was viewed as a prison to be probed relentlessly until a way out was found” (171). In many ways, fantasy could be viewed as the coveted “way out.”

In conjunction with Zweig, I’ve been reading James Hillman’s Blue Fire. This book is not so much about literature as it is psychology. He talks about fantasy mirroring the soul’s own needs, hurts, and desires. “The hero myth tells the tale of conquest and destruction, the tale of psychology’s “strong ego,” its fire and sword as well as the career of its civilization, but tells little of its consciousness… Consciousness arising from anima would therefore look to myth, as it manifests in the mythologems of dreams and fantasies and the pattern of lives” (32-33). Instead of analyzing fantasies, we can analyze life through the fantasies that arise. “Translating reality into fantasy-images would better define becoming conscious than would the former notion given by ego of translating fantasies into realities….” (33).

These two books don’t really coincide with ease. And I haven’t gotten as much chance to dig into Blue Fire as deeply as I would like to. Psychology fascinates me, but I haven’t taken the time to learn much about it. I’m excited about looking into it more.

 
 

Bat Girl!

27 May

I recently moved from a part time to a full time position at my office, YAY. I often compare it to Viridian Dynamics (the fictional office of Better Off Ted) in my head, but let’s face it, this office is nothing like viridian dynamics. It is business casual all around. The director of our division visits us in jeans and a polo, and we had a cocktail hour with beer, wine, and hors d’oeuvres during work hours. Last week, over lunch, the managers set up “Office Space” in the lounge and popped popcorn so that anyone with free time on their hands could sit back, relax, and watch movies with their coworkers. There’s a wii in our unused warehouse space, in case you feel the need for an impromptu Mario cart. It’s completely different from the last office I worked at where if you got caught checking your personal email all hell broke loose.

Sometimes I wish it were a little less casual though. My affinity for pencil skirts and pumps has not yet found an outlet. Not that I don’t wear them, but it’s a little weird to show up knowing you’re probably dressier than the company’s CEO at the moment. More often you’ll see people walking around in t-shirts and jeans, cargo pants or shorts, with the occasional heel or button up. I always feel conspicuous with the sound of my shoes clicking my every step into other people’s awareness.

That being said today was different. I looked through my piles of clothes, because they are in a pile, and pulled out the batgirl t-shirt my sister got me last Christmas. It is awesome. Black with yellow bat signal and utility belt painted on it. I pulled on my work slacks and put on my bat girl shirt, and knew it was gonna be a good day. The thought struck me, would batgirl head into work with work slacks and a t-shirt? No, she’d be too worried about her secret identity. I pulled out a white button up and threw it on over the shirt, leaving the buttons undone enough that my secret identity could still be easily spotted by the casual observer.

Me as Bat Girl

My Secret Identity

Sadly, no observer was observant enough to notice. I always thought the Clark Kent disguise was malarkey. I can believe a humanoid alien coming to earth and having super powers, but one who always wears a blue and red spandex suit that no one notices? HA! Today, however, I believe it. Oh fellow humans, when will we open our eyes.

 
 

On Becoming

07 May

One of my favorite things to research is myself. I used to look up my first name and family name in every sort of book I could find to see if the meaning changed or the character with my name was anything like myseld. I had the meanings framed and hung on the walls of my bedroom. I took all the online IQ tests I could during middle school to see how smart I was, and then read lists of jobs and hobbies that correlated to my supposed intelligence. Dozens of personality tests have told me a variety of traits that I have or am supposed to have. And every time I see a horoscope in the back of a magazine, I scan the blurbs until I see what mine says. I don’t believe in astrological signs, but it’s interesting anyway.

More recently, I’m interested in the things that I want to become. In On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner makes out a list of the common traits found in novelists:

Wit (a tendency to make irreverent connections); obstinacy and a tendency toward churlishness (a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true); childishness (an apparent lack of mental focus and serious life purpose, a fondness for daydreaming and telling pointless lies, a lack of proper respect, mischievousness, an unseemly propensity for crying over nothing); a marked tendency toward oral or anal fixation or both (the oral manifested by excessive eating, drinking, smoking, and chattering; the anal by nervous cleanliness and neatness coupled with a weird fascination with dirty jokes); remarkable powers of eidetic recall, or visual memory (a usual feature of early adolescence and mental retardation); a strange admixture of shameless playfulness and embarrassing earnestness, the latter often heightened by irrationally intense feelings for or against religion; patience like a cat’s; a criminal streak of cunning; psychological instability; recklessness, impulsiveness, and improvidence; and finally, an inexplicable and incurable addiction to stories, written or oral, bad or good. 34

This is probably one of the most widely read lists of traits about authors available. My first reaction was to check off each trait I knew I had. Wit, obviously check. Obstinate, check. Childishness, check. Oral fixation? Sure I’ll go with that too. Visual memory, check. On and on until I got to the end, gladly accepting each as they came if it made me more likely to fit the bill of the “writer” I want to be.

Sadly having these traits aren’t enough to actually make me a good writer. Those are just common personality quirks involved. Gardner, who wrote the book towards aspiring novelists, discusses other things also. The same things that most of my teachers have mentioned before, such as observation is essential to writing. “The novelist develops an accurate eye, sometimes bordering on the psychic, for human feelings and behaviors, tastes and habits, pleasures, sufferings” (37). And authors have a certain ear for language used interestingly or perhaps etymologically (4). Also, revision is essential to a well written story (136). Most people I talk to seem to think it’s the first draft that makes writing hard. They don’t understand that writing and rewriting the same story is more work than simply spitting out the initial words. All these are things that my teachers have been telling me for years. But each time I read or hear about them I am reminded how much more work there is ahead of me.

He talks about publication, workshops, and academia, emphasizing the importance of perseverance and the strange trance like quality that happens while writing out a world that exists only in your head. The strange “daemonic compulsiveness” that inspires and compels a writer to see their work through to completion: “No novelist is hurt (at least as an artist) by a natural inclination to go to extremes, driving himself too hard, dissatisfied with himself and the world around him and driven to improve on both if he can” (62). He talks about method and delving into your plot, writing out treatments and working through them so that you have a clear understanding of how every chapter will play out (not something I did, by the way). Then when everything is on paper you go back through it all and refine it, changing things until there is no way you could make it better on your own. “We need only to figure out exactly what it is that we’re trying to say—partly by saying it, then by looking it over to see if it says what we really mean—and to keep fiddling with the language until whatever objections we may consider raising seem to fall away” (15). Really there are too many good quotes in this book to elaborate on all of them.

One of his most interesting suggestions is to copy out a work that you admire. “I said earlier, one can learn a good deal by typing out, word for word, a great writer’s  story: the activity helps the beginning writer to pay close attention”(26). I think I really will try this. Never in my life have I scored highly in reading comprehension. I’m not a careful reader. The story usually takes hold of my imagination, and the fine craft that the writer made of his work is lost on me. Retyping an entire book specifically to focus on structure, diction, syntax, word and sentence variation as well as the point of view, character development, and other plot elements will teach me a lot that I unwittingly overlooked in my own reading.

I’ll suffice it to say that this book showed me areas where I’m sufficiently working towards being a good writer and areas where I should put in more effort (not a surprise, I am, at best, a work in progress). But I recommend it to all those would be novelists, like me, out there.

 
 

The Narrator

09 Apr

I read a lot of different works this month, namely Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Travels with the Snow Queen by Kelly Link, and Bird Cage by Kate Wilhelm. I don’t think I could have found a more diverse group of narratives if I’d tried. Since this month’s focus is point of view, let me talk about that.

Ender’s game is an interesting study. The story begins with dialogue. Two unknown people talking to a third equally unknown character. These people are attached to his brain, listening to his thoughts and senses. Then, without warning, the narrative becomes omniscient and the gap between the third character and the reader closes. “Ender nodded. It was a lie, of course, that it wouldn’t hurt a bit. But since adults always said that when it was going to hurt, he could count on that statement as an accurate prediction of the future. Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth” (2). We meet the character, and in the next sentence, Card draws the reader into his thoughts and reactions. In the next few paragraphs, Card closes this distance even more: “The monitor gone. Ender tried to imagine the little device missing from the back of his neck. I’ll roll over on my back in bed and it won’t be pressing there. I won’t feel it tingling and taking up the heat when I shower” (2). The reader hears what happens in the room, then learns what’s going on in Ender’s head, and then experiences Ender’s thoughts. The distance is officially closed. The reader is no longer the observer, instead the reader becomes the nameless voices (their identities only realized when Ender meets them in person) from the beginning of the chapter. They hear what he hears, feel what he feels.

Link’s work was really interesting because it was told from the second person. For those of you who don’t know, second person is a difficult narrative to write, and finding a story written in it is rather rare. The second person is a story told using “you” as the main person. In spanish the verbs would all be in the “tu” form. “Your destination is North. The map that you are using is a mirror. You are always pulling the bits out of your bare feet, the pieces of the map that broke off and fell on the ground as the Snow Queen flew overhead in her sleigh” (2). I would say that the second person is the least distance that any reader and character could have, after all it is a story about “you”. But it’s not. This is really just making you reconsider the character. You hear this story about what “you” did, and you learn her motives. You empathize with her. She tells you about the people she meets, the man who doesn’t love her, the way she hates talking animals, and you understand why she does what she does because of the way she talks to “you.” It’s interesting because the thoughts come fast in this story. Like they would in your own head, but they are edited, like they aren’t in your head. She gives you the raw and uncomfortable truths that I keep to myself. I think really, this is just another way to bring you into the character’s head without making you as close as you could be. She wants you to have the same knowledge she does, but without the same intimacy that Card gives us. It’s much harder to be close to a character when they know you are hearing their every thought.

Finally, Wilhelm. I found this story in the Jan/Feb issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I think… I don’t quite know what to say about it. It’s an interesting concept. The story revolves around people connected through one sleeping man. Often when you attend creative writing courses, a teacher will tell you to maintain a consistent point of view. Like all rules, this should be followed until you are careful and skillful enough to break it. Wilhelm switched points of view constant, which worked well in her plot, but created more distance than there should have been for me, the reader. Her character’s suffered from sudden debilitating memories that took the reader by surprise also. Unfortunately the characters and time periods changed so often that I found it difficult to maintain awareness of whose story I was reading. I won’t give away too many details, but I certainly have a better understanding about why teachers are so adamant about this one thing. The narrator is the one confident the reader has in the story. If he/she/it continues to change then it’s hard to maintain emotional interest. I think it’s interesting enough to be a worthwhile read, but I don’t the best possible narrative choices were made.

For so long, I thought point of view was all about making sure that all the gender appropriate pronouns referred to the main character. Now I realize I’ve been thinking about it completely wrong. It’s not the pronouns that are necessary, it’s the distance, emotional, physical, and intellectual between the reader and the character.
 

 

Point of View

07 Apr

I heard a story once about a man who wanted to know whether greatness depended on talent or practice. He found an artist, famous and well respected, and asked him how he became great. The man said that he started painting as a child, continued on through his teenage years, and into adulthood. Throughout his life he devoted something like 100,000 hours solely to painting. The man went to a famous conductor one who traveled around the world to conduct his music. The conductor said he didn’t learn how to conduct until later on in life, but he studied very hard and learned how to conduct better than anyone in the word. He too spent 100,000 hours learning how to conduct. The man went to a baseball player and asked him. The baseball player said he had no talent. He tried playing baseball all his life, working through the awkwardness until he trained himself to play well. The baseball player kept working at it and eventual signed with a professional team. It took him about 100,000 hours of work to get to that point. No matter how much natural ability you have, it will only get you so far.

It’s true with all things, writing, dancing, engineering, the more work your willing to put into it the more reward you can get from it. It astonished me when I started taking ballet (9th grade) to learn how many different positions there were and how many different names they had. Three years later, I was still learning those same positions, learning how to control my muscles correctly and angle my feet perfectly.

Writing is just the same. There’s so much control that I have to learn. More recently I see that I have issues with point of view. It’s a fairly simple concept. The point of view of a story is the angle from which the story is told. It’s “the degree of emotional, intellectual, and moral distance between a character and a reader” (Alone with all that Could Happen, David Jauss 26). In movies the point of view is the focus of the camera’s lens. We see the main character and follow her around, occasionally hear their voice narrating, and we know whose story we’re listening too.

I feel a little dense, trying to work this out. I spend so many hours of my day making everything that happens within a 5 mile radius be somehow about me. You’d think by now I’d be great at writing my stories from the character’s point of view. But I am learning. Instead of writing my story like i’d watch it in a movie, I think of my character and what she touches, hears, smells, and thinks. Instead of using a purely omniscient narrator who “assumes maximum distance from the characters” (38), I see the other characters when they interact with mine. I don’t see what happens when her back is turned, but what she thinks happens. What she feels around her.

I think, maybe, I’m working towards an “Indirect Interior Monologue”, which would be a form of limited omniscience where the character adds his/her/its voice or phrasing to the narrative on occasion (47). But as I work through this book I’m writing (and read through essays about writing), I have to remember to keep control. No words can be aimlessly tossed in the mix. No sentence can be directionless. I have to make every chapter full of conflict and tension. Especially, I have to remember to be aware of the distance between the reader and the story. Keep the reader drawn into the character’s story. It should be much easier to use the control I have instead of trying to force control on the events around me.

 

Hand in Hand with Family Ties

31 Mar

I was at a friend’s house the other night, and she asked about poetry I’d written. For those who don’t know, I wrote a lot of poetry in college, and it turned into my final writing project.  In case there are other souls out there who are curious about my feeble attempts at rhyme and meter, you get the treat of reading some here and now.

Hand in Hand

Walking down the street
with my hand in my father’s larger
rougher grasp, I cannot help forgetting
that I am twenty-two instead of eleven
or eight. His confident stride I match
with my smaller skipping gait,
and I use his shoulder as a shield
when the path becomes crowded.
There’s something reassuring in knowing
that I don’t have to watch where I’m going
and instead can look around, actually
see my surroundings; reassuring
in placing my foot a half step behind his
when we cross the street, like I’m
acknowledging: if I get hit by a car
I won’t be the only one.

Family Ties
Do you remember
those nights, driving
after dinner until we found
a dock or pier, piling out
to walk in the sand? I do.

The chilly ocean breezes
sang in my ears; songs
sirens crooned enticing
sailors to an early death.
Enamored with wind

and drunk on salt-encrusted
air, sailors yielded their
sensibility and let ocean
speak to them. That’s what
we did—Hope, Robby,

and I—crashing into waves
with arms spread to catch
the spray. You and mom
followed, slowly, like we
were someone else’s

to watch. Eventually
we stopped running
and turned to constructing
sand castles and tunnels
and deep holes.

You two kept walking,
water and foam skimming into
the hollow of your foot prints.
You walked until the night
swallowed you whole.

Those are just two of the many poems in my senior project (entitled Petition of Disillusion). Not terribly impressive, but interesting, I hope, nonetheless.

 
 

Hypochondria

23 Mar

Somedays, today included, I feel like I’m coming down with a terrible case of hypochondria. My head, neck, shoulders, and chest all start itching. My back aches in every chair, couch, or stance. Clothes pull on my skin in uncomfortable ways. Food tastes weird. I keep sniffing as if stuffed up, but I’m not. My eyes react to all light as if it’s blinding. My knees hurt, my feet hurt, my ears feel waterlogged. My gums ache. My knuckles are stiff and worn down. It’s almost worse, I think, than actually being a hypochondriac. I know that I’m not sick. I know it’s all in my head, but the minute I think “my leg itches” all my skin erupts in that prickly sensation.

Truth be told, I’m always a little leery of writing things off as psychosomatic. We did that for months before my parents realized that I was allergic to metals (by then my earrings had practically become a permanent part of my body). It took a ridiculous amount of head scratching to notice that I wasn’t just a twitchy thinker, I really am allergic to shampoo. Same with perfume, band-aid glue, some face washes, face paint, and etc. Turns out my skin wants to win an award for sensitivity.

I always have to do something completely engrossing to shake it off this feeling. Today, no luck. Things aren’t holding my attention the way I wish they would. I think it might all be linked to my paranoia. I’m not really that paranoid. I just saw a bug in the sink this morning and thought, all day long, that a bug had crawled onto my foot. I’m also wearing a necklace I haven’t worn in a while, and I idly wondered if it was one of the many that will give me a rash (it’s not, but now that my neck thinks it should itch, it will). That’s not really paranoia, that’s just an overactive imagination or some malarkey.

Really, this only become a problem when people start to notice how twitchy I get. I don’t really mind being itchy all over until I feel the need to explain myself, and then usually it comes out as something like this:

My brain

All in all I think I’d be perfectly fine if I could just shut my brain off for a bit. Or Log off, let my brain run on idle. It would all be easier if my brain was a computer, I’d just have to keep someone nearby to start me up in the mornings and shut me down each night.

 
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Failing Eyesight

11 Mar

During middle school I was obsessed with impressionist paintings. I wrote reports on them, bought books on them, and everything I painted had blurred edges. There are lots of great reasons that a person could come to adore the impressionists, but mine was not. I was convinced they needed glasses. Everyone of them in dire need of an optometrist. I know people unwittingly go through life with marginally bad eyesight which never gets corrected. It only makes sense that some group of people with bad vision painted the world as they saw it, and became famous as a result.

I understand how it can happen, no one knew that little third grade me needed glasses until my mom pointed at a blinking red sign across the room and all I could see was a blank wall. They didn’t believe me (I couldn’t blame them, I used to pretend I was double jointed, deaf, and narcoleptic, vision is only a natural progression). But I kept reading signs wrong, missing the notes my teacher wrote on the chalk board, and not seeing obvious things. When they took me to the doctor, it became more than clear that my vision was failing.

The first time I put on glasses, the world changed. Everything became detailed, trees had individual leaves, doors had visible trim, walls gained texture, and things on the horizon didn’t seem as mysterious and aloof. I nearly threw up. There is something completely disorienting, nauseating, about having the world unapologetically come into focus. This isn’t just true for vision, although it is the most relatable instance of this occurrence. Anytime something new happens that realigns the way I relate to the world, I get disoriented, frustrated, and sometimes nauseated.

This is all to say, I got new glasses today. Once again, I put them on and came to understand how far my eyes have degenerated. How truly beautiful the world is. Once again, I felt like losing my lunch. There’s a study that says continually changing your corrective lenses when your eyesight changes will only make your eyes deteriorate faster. They will feel the need to stabilize, and, with the new lenses, they will overcompensate to make your vision they way it was before. My eyes are beyond all hope of getting better. Right now, I’ll just enjoy adjusting to what I see.

 
 

Meaning

04 Mar

“If fairy-story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults. They will, of course, put more in and get more out than children can…[Children’s] books like their clothes should be allow for growth, and their books at any rate should encourage it” (Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, 67).

It took me years to realize that not everybody reads a book the same way I do. The words snatch me away from the world and put me into the story. I see the scenery, characters, and action happening before me. This was a problem in grade school, when reading time ended and some other study began. I didn’t hear the teacher tell us to put down our book. I didn’t see my classmates pulling out their classwork and sharpening their pencils. I didn’t even hear it when the Spanish teacher came into the room and led everyone in a recital of whatever song we learned that week. I was stuck in the story.

This reading trance has caused me problems all of my life. I missed the end of school bell and stayed 10-30 minutes late because the chapter hadn’t ended. I didn’t hear important things people said to me (such as your flight is now boarding). And, perhaps worst of all, I never understood what people wanted to know when they asked me to explain what a story meant, for example Hamlet. The details were so vivid in my head that I didn’t know how to express an entire plot into a meaning. And then when someone spouted out, “Hamlet is about death, revenge, and mental instability.” That just seemed too obvious to say. Of course Hamlet is about death and revenge.

That’s the kicker though. You can’t summarize everything meaningful in a work of art.

Fantasy fiction, I feel, is approached in the same way a prospector sifts for gold. This person comes out of no where and dips into a river to sift away the mud and find his chunk of gold. He doesn’t think about where the river got the gold or why the river takes the gold from place to place. Classes do this to all sorts of literature, but often, with fantasy fiction, people (not people who like fantasy fiction anyway, and not just a literature class) feel they need a reason to read it. They need the assurance of gold to give it worth. But the point of literature isn’t really to have a moral or a meaning that makes the whole endeavor worthwhile. In Cheek By Jowl, Ursula Le Guin writes “To explain or understand a fantasy as disguised ethics or politics is to fall into the reductionist trap…in general the “psychological” approach to fantasy, explaining each element of the story in terms of it’s archetype or unconscious source or educative use, is deeply regressive; it perceives literature as magic, it is a verbomancy” (35). Tolkien agreed with her claiming that to dig at a story until you’ve pulled out the themes and the meaning is “using the stories not as they were meant to be used” and this “ignorance or forgetfulness of the nature of a story (as a thing told in its entirety) has often led such inquirers into strange judgments” (On Fairy-Stories, Tolkein Reader 45).

And once you remove that nugget of gold from the river, you’re left with mud. No wonder people don’t think fantasy is for adults. Other literature can be related to on a level of reality, but fantasy is not real. It is very much not reality. Once you pull out the interesting parts that have more meaning, there’s nothing but fantastical creatures and people in costumes left.

I meant for this installment to be about how fantasy wasn’t thought of as childish until very recently. “The modernists extended this misconception by declaring fantastic narrative to be intrinsically childish. Though we have left modernism behind us and may already be done with postmodernism, still many critics and reviewers approach fantasy determined to keep Caliban permanently confined in the cage of kiddilit” (Le Guin 21), and I meant to quote Tolkien when he writes, “Actually, the association of children and fairy-stories is an accident of our domestic history. Fairy-stories have in the modern lettered world been relegated to the ‘nursery,’ as shabby or old fashioned furniture is relegated to the play room, primarily because the adults do not want it, and do not mind if it is misused” (58). But that’s not what this blog is about.

In Language of the Night, Ursula Le Guin writes,“It is a fantasy because fantasy is the natural, the appropriate language for recounting the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul” (64). I wonder if what holds people back from believing in fantasy fiction’s worth is the way we study literature. We look at it for the meaning and vivid images, and we listen when people tell us which one thing is better than another. We don’t wait to see if it resonates in our souls. Everyone has their preferences, the things they truly do or do not enjoy. Fantasy has the same meaning and the same images as other fiction, but they’re buried in a world that people have to struggle to understand. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings can be admired as a story of good verses evil. But it’s also about looking beyond yourself to see what is worthwhile and meaningful. It’s about people overcoming the worst part of themselves to accomplish something. It’s about beauty, bravery, terror, evil, and all the ambiguous words we’re told to avoid in our writing classes. We give our concrete details an extra smack of reality just to make sure no one has to work to understand them.

Maybe we don’t think of fantasy as literature because it’s not as easy to bring into a class room and explain the details universally. It doesn’t say on the cover “This book is about getting divorced and then working through the emotions, frustrations, and joys that come thereafter.” It is about more than making meaning out of everyday life. It’s about making everyday life meaningful. Bringing a new perspective to life.