A long Week

At the end of my post from January 11, I mentioned that in the following week I’d post my version of an annotated bibliography of my favorite Neil Gaiman books. It has therefor been a long week, because right after that posting, I stepped into a space/time vortex and have only just emerged. I am alive, well, and relatively unscathed, sheepish for ignoring my blogging time, and happy to return to posting.

What have I been doing while not posting, you might wonder. The quick answer is that I haven’t been doing anything in particular – or at least, not anything different. At work, I experimented with fresh perspectives on educational relevance and switched up my lesson plans to allow for more kinesthetic learning opportunities. I tried and failed fantastically at letting my students use bottle flipping, one of their favorite pastimes, in a classwork activity. For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided this, I will describe: Take an un-full water bottle and flip it. If it lands upright, or even on its bottle top, then you win – nothing. Just joy, I guess. You will want to try at least five billion times to achieve this balancing act of purposeless awesomeness. Think back to a drinking game you may have played in college of cup flipping, but with no relay race and no adult beverages involved. Lots of noise, big screechy fun – it makes teachers miss the days of pen clicking.

I allowed my students to flip bottles for sentence work. If the bottle landed on its side, they were to write a declarative statement. If it landed upright, they could choose a complex or compound sentence, and if it landed on the bottle top, they wrote a compound-complex sentence. My purpose for this little activity of pain and suffering (for me) was to increase sentence fluency. At the end of each period, students volunteered (and by volunteered, I mean assigned) to clean up the spills, toss out the bottles, and reminded to never speak of this activity again. The kids said it was their favorite lesson from that week – and their quizzes reflected this. For me, two acetaminophen tablets and a 15 minute lie-down took care of the pain. Suffering for one’s art is not always a metaphor, I reminded myself. Plus, we now have those fun fidget spinners to contend with. Do I think they’re useful? Yes, if used appropriately. Do I think they bother the living snot out of fellow students and the occasional auditorially impacted teacher? Most definitely.

In the land of Alwaysliz, I paid taxes as further evidence that I am a breathing adult-like person. I read a whole truck-ton of books as I continue on my quest to read All The Things. I measured out my life in coffee spoons (thanks T.S. Eliot), though not sadly; contentedly grateful for the smaller rituals that make my life all mine.

Back to present day: I am relaxing at home while on my school’s May break. One of the many advantages of a year-round educational calendar is the interspersed week off while still maintaining instructional momentum. Less regression, more concept consolidation. Count me in. Additionally, I can get caught up on projects. Not cleaning-the-garage projects, a week isn’t long enough for that; nope, contentment-building projects like this, reading All The Things, and fresh air.

However, the original “next week’s” posting was supposed to be about Neil Gaiman, and I keep my commitments to myself, however long it takes to do so. I won’t annotate a bibliography of books by Gaiman; there are plenty already written by and about his work. I will simply relay why his work matters to me: he believes in words. Using words matters, and reading them matters, and working with them matters. What matters is that we remember that we can change infinities with words, create and devastate worlds with words, change political systems with words. I’m paraphrasing him poorly, but everything he has written, whether I’ve liked it personally or not, resonates with an appreciation of words. His word choice is no different than the words you and I use; he is just uniquely talented at presenting them. I am grateful for this every time I read something he’s written.  While I don’t know him personally, he appears to be unsnobbish, humble even, in his approach to language, reading, and writing. He writes with the same affection about ghost stories and romance novels as he does about fairy tales and journalism. I respect that. In fact, I celebrate the living daylights out of that.

Gaiman stated, “Prose fiction is something you build up from twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes” (Why Our Future Depends on Libraries Reading and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013). Yep, twenty six letters and some odd punctuation marks and you too can change the world, or at least how you think about it. Woahhh.

Give yourself the gift of some Gaiman time if you haven’t already. Any of his works are wonderful. American Gods has premiered on the Starz network; read the dang book so you can compare and contrast in your noggin rather than let someone else’s vision inform you. Read Smoke and Mirrors or Trigger Warning if you prefer short stories and poetry interspersed with your regularly scheduled novel reading. Read Good Omens if you want a fresh perspective on the struggle between good and evil and why the line between both is a little vague. Read the Sandman series if you prefer graphic novels or comic books. Gaiman lives his literary life in the shadows between myth and reality, of ghost stories and real-life horror. Just read his work. Your brain and heart will thank you.

There you have it: from bottle flipping to taxes to a celebration of all that is Neil Gaiman. it’s been a long week (ahem), but a good one. Hope yours has been a celebration of the things that bring you joy as well.

Book Diva Time: Books about the Fae

 

Since I’ve rededicated myself to spreading joy where I can, what better place to start than sharing books? I read book lists and recommendations the way others follow their favorite websites, blogs, or book club picks. The challenge for people who are like me — neither exclusively high-brow, nor low-brow, nor middle-brow, but rather some capricious version of uni-brow I guess – we like All The Books. We don’t care if a book is for teens, or for kids, or for people with advanced degrees in physics. Bring it. If it’s well-written, I will read it. If not, I will give it to someone else to read. This is what I like to call a win/win scenario.

I’ve been rotating the books on my shelves for ease of access and reconfigured one to include books about the Fae. I love the struggle between the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts and who’s good and bad — and actually why good and bad don’t really matter in the land of the Fae. The books lend their own rhythm to the mythology of alternate-universe type characters whose morals are inhuman. A couple of my favorites:

Holly Black, the Tithe series. Written as young adult novels, these books are anything but youthful and exuberant. There’s no joie de vivre amongst these pages. In fact, Black captures ambivalence brilliantly. Her characters are compelled toward each other even as they try to tear each other apart. Of course there’s love, but it’s the kind that demolishes universes. For those who like their stories badass and complicated, check these out.

Karen Marie Moning, the Fever series. This is a series of stories in which the main character, MacKayla, finds out she has Fae powers as she’s trying to discover who murdered her sister. The pages are loaded with charisma, cheating, double-crossing, and conniving. If you’re looking for an easy-breezy novel set, this isn’t it. Sure, there’s love and betrayal and reconciliation and more betrayal (because, remember, Fae), but it’s rendered with Seelie and Unseelie flesh. Sounds gross; believe me, it isn’t.

A frothy bit of floof you can read while waiting for an appointment:

Skylar Dorset, The Girl Who Never Was. Our main character, Selkie, discovers why no one wants her to know her birthday: she’s half faerie and there’s a bit of a problem with that. She is also in high school and likes a guy who may or may not be human. In other words, this is like the Fever series because our gal discovers she’s part Fae, and like the Tithe series because the main character is in high school. That’s where the similarities end. Where Tithe and Fever are both immersive and loaded with innuendo, out-uendo, and all the endos, this is simple. Kind of sweet. Probably boring to people who want their literature ponderous and complicated. However, don’t hate: some books exist to entertain and pass time. It did for me: I really did finish it while I was waiting at the doctor’s office.

This is not a list of read these books during 2017 or your life will lose meaning. Nope, I’m quite sure your life has meaning already. These are just some fun books you might like to read if you like stories about the Fae, or if you have some bit of free time while you wait in line and/or don’t really need to concentrate. Next week: Legends, myths, and why Neil Gaiman is amazing.

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I’m back from hiding, metaphorically peeking out from under my blanket just in time to vote for the next President of the United States. I enjoyed an odd summer away from writing and spent it doing nebulous, whimsical, forgotten yet cherished activities which I didn’t even bother to post on my social media. I think that might mean they never happened. However, I am now looking to see whether it’s safe for me to come outside of my little self-protective cocoon.

I have been doing my day-to-day adulting of course: do the job, love the job, worry about the job, obsess about the job, switch topics and fret about my children, go back to obsessing about the job. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Oh yes, now I can obsess about my sparkly and prematurely grey hair, which while I like it, I’m on the worry train and it hasn’t switched tracks yet, so I’m just riding this to its ambiguous destination. Kind of like my writing.

I have become dizzied by the political whirligigs and maelstroms slinging around 2016. I consider myself to be a fairly reasonable person who believes that information is generally good and that research goes a long way toward understanding, but I am stuck. I can’t process the information as it concerns the American presidential candidates. Do we really lack anyone better? I’m reminded of a novel by Isaac Asimov in which the current global president is someone who doesn’t want the job, but who would accept it as his/her duty for six years before giving it to the next person. I like that idea a whole lot. I liked it enough to check on my Googles for the title of this novel, but the Googles linked me to a listing of books that offer alternative (obviously dystopian) versions of political life in the future. The Handmaid’s Tale and Wall-ee (yes, really) jumped into my short term memory. Yep, there you go: Wall-ee for president. I’ve oversimplified the reason for that list, but my Googles at least made me feel slightly better. No more informed, but better.

That’s the whole point, though. I think. I may have forgotten what my point actually is because I’ve been assaulted with ignorance and character assassination masquerading as information for way too long. I am not going to feel good about exercising my democratic right in November. I didn’t feel good about it during the primaries either. Although I am vaguely aware that there are two other party ticket runners, I am only aware about them in the sense that I am aware that eating right and exercising are good for me. In other words, I am not aware of them. Does this make me horrifyingly under-informed? Yep. Guilty as charged and now please pass me the green beans while you measure my pulse. I think I still have one.

I’m overexposed and also blighted for information at a time when I most need it. As a good American would, then, I will look for sparkly diversions. I hear there’s line dancing at the Ignorance is Bliss Bar and Grille. They have free chips and salsa on Tuesdays. This rant has been brought to you from our sponsors. Who are they? I don’t even know that. Looks like it’s back to the blanket for me until I can sort this out.

Video Games Hate Me

My daughter loves video games. She’ll play anything from little critters flitting over sweet little carnival lands, hopping into pipes and running away from little mushrooms (the Mario series) to mercenaries losing their arms and still fighting (Metal Gear). I sit beside her, occasionally commenting on her manual dexterity and focus as things explode and little angels hover about the screens. My challenge: video games hate me. I can’t manipulate the controller the way I am supposed to. I move my head sideways instead of the A or B button (or is it #1 or #2?) and my fingers don’t work correctly when I’m trying to jump and punch/kick/toss/eat/whatever.

The first time I played a Mario game, I kept dying in a pit of molten lava. Not only did I not advance beyond level 1, I doubt very much I made it past the first frame. I was laughing at my daughter’s good-natured remonstrations. I love it that she thought I’d learn from practicing. Nope, kept dying. Then I realized she had accidentally let me borrow her controller so I wasn’t killing Mario on my name. I quietly passed the controller back to her and left the room. She eventually made up for my mistakes.

We tried again, this time with MarioKart. I loved choosing my racing vehicle and the scenes as they unfolded. The problem: the game went too fast for me. Just as I was rounding the first curve, all the other drivers had passed the finish line. In fact, my daughter’s character lapped me twice. Rather than being upset by this, it was a great achievement when I finished in second to last place. I was told to hold the remote just so and not turn it. In other words, I finished in second to last place because I didn’t do anything but press the “go” button.

One of her greatest attributes is that my daughter is patient. We tried again, this time with Shovel Knight. I love this game: the knight has to shovel its way through terrain, leap on top of dragons, gather bags of money and more. Does this game accept me any more than anything else I’ve ever played? Nope. Not a bit. Player 1 kept losing life points because instead of hopping over the bubbles, I thought I should shovel my way through them. That was incorrect. Player 1 wanted to whack me over the head with her shovel, but she refrained. Oddly enough, the game started becoming interesting much more quickly when I wasn’t a player.

I’m happy enough to observe. Video game graphics and story lines are multilayered, complex interfacing systems that entice and then assimilate the player into an alternate experience. I admire the daylights out of people who can actually play – and win – a video game. It takes an incredible amount of strategy and skill to unlock a level, achieve a goal, raid the castle and save the (dragon, princess, insert character here). Or in all fairness, an equal amount of skill to strategically blow things up. I just wish I could play one and not kill my character within the first five minutes.

A short story in 200 words*

I’m at ground zero warming up before I roll the rock up the hill yet again. Many of you have heard of my curse, facing an eternity of hopeless labor. The Gods may have been mistaken, it turns out, in meting out this particular punishment. Far from being pointless, my perpetual chore keeps me focused on the moment, the breath. My daily burden, if you want to call it that, allows me to eavesdrop on the tourists, something else the Gods didn’t plan for.

Maybe the Gods couldn’t have predicted the vastness of reproducing humans, but people of all sizes are littered about, the hum of their prattle a gentle cadence while I toil. They’ve built a gift shop and hotel nearby; the Sisyphus Springs they call it. As they watch me, I watch them. I heave the boulder yet again as I begin to wonder what the Gods were thinking. The tourists take their selfies to prove they were here. Some even thank me before leaving. I am as immutable as stone, but my heart still beats and I still remember. If they wanted to punish me, they should have taken that.

 

*I got this idea from a coffee cup at a fast food chain. I thought it sounded like fun