Today’s reading

Do you ever have one of those days where you read two articles in a row that inadvertently seem to play off each other? Today I read “Why Do Americans Love to Blame Teachers?” and then “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” and I’ve enjoyed the feel of them bouncing around together in my brain.

Teachers are – or are supposed to be – the quintessential grown-ups. They’re second only to our parents in training us, disciplining us, and being figures of awe. I have long wondered whether the vilification of teachers (something I think of as a recent phenomenon, but that first article demonstrates is not) isn’t a knee-jerk “you’re not my boss any more” kind of reaction. People remember chafing against restrictions more than they appreciate the patience that was shown them.

The “Death of Adulthood” article is a bit of a slog if you’re not a dude, but he does eventually get around to the female side of things. What interested me most is that while he argues (effectively, I think) that American adult literature is pretty puerile, he doesn’t bother to analyse actual YA literature – the books that are so popular – at all. He as much as says he doesn’t read it, which is why he probably doesn’t realize that while adult literature may be pining for a return to lost youth, YA literature (in my opinion) is a road-map toward growing up.

Maybe people do feel unmoored without the old order and the patriarchs to enforce it, but I think YA literature addresses that. It’s hopeful literature, to my mind. Here are the things that really matter; here is the way we overcome our limitations, work together, and build a future worth having. The world is full of possibility and potential. I don’t think you’re ever too old to need a reminder of these things.


Snark vs. Smarm

There is nothing quite as wonderful as an essay that pinpoints something you hadn’t quite been able to put a name to previously, something that has been deeply bothering you in ways you couldn’t articulate. In this case, it hasn’t just been bothering me; it’s been obstructing my airways. This article, “On Smarm,” was like an intellectual Heimlich maneuvre. It’s long, but very worth reading for anyone who’s ever felt paralyzed by the demand to say something “nice” or say nothing at all.

Faced with that choice, I go silent very quickly. And I’m not a mean person, friends. I’m not. But it’s so easy to step on toes that you don’t even know are there – toes where there shouldn’t be toes! Most people have invisible toes, in absurdly huge quantities! If I am charged with the burden of never hurting anyone’s feelings EVER, I can’t do it except by staying silent. Indeed, no one can. Everything hurts somebody. People are amazingly woundable.

Before I posted that bit of mockery yesterday, oh the anxiety I felt! I was riddled with it. I almost didn’t publish, and even then I had to put that disclaimer at the beginning. Nothing but silliness to see here, folks. God forbid I should assert an opinion about something.

My anxiety isn’t all bad. It led me to make sure I focused my mockery at an idea – an idea abundantly deserving to be mocked, I must add – rather than a person. There were lines that bordered on meanness; I blunted those, or omitted them entirely. I think the results were good.

But maybe I don’t have to fret so much. When did I become so gun-shy? Eh, I know when, and I don’t really want to talk about it. But here’s the point: it has always been my rigorous belief that if I write honestly, I have nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes my honest reaction is mockery, or criticism, or anger. I never wish to hurt anyone, and when I do, I will face it and deal with it. But I don’t have to be stymied by fear.

Tip o’ the hat to Alyssa Rosenberg for pointing me toward that essay. She also thinks Seraphina would make a good movie, so you know she’s a person discerning intellect and excellent tastes.


Dogs Are People, Too

So sayeth an interesting NYT article about MRI scans of dogs’ brains. Of course, I suspect anyone who loves dogs could have told you dogs have emotions. I witnessed a display of unbridled canine joy just yesterday morning, when my husband returned from a week in Japan. It’s hard to doubt it once you’ve seen our whippet bounding around, running in circles, and frantically snuggling up to him the moment he sits down.

What’s more interesting to me in this article is the argument that emotions comprise personhood. In our household, we do believe Una is a person, but we would claim it’s because she has a “personality”. Emotional reactions are part of her personality, but not all of it by any means. The article, however, implies that emotion should make the difference between our treating animals as “things” and our treating them as “people”.

But should it? Are emotions the most important measure of personhood? I don’t mean to imply that I have the answer. This is something I think about a lot, however, and play with in my writing. I’ve created a species of dragon who do not experience emotions in their natural form, but are subject to emotions in human form, and find them profoundly disconcerting.

Are dragons in dragon form not “people”? I think they are. Is having emotions somehow superior? Some of my characters believe that, but I don’t. On the flip side, dragons sometimes don’t consider humans “people” – they’re too irrational!

The challenge and the goal, I think, is to accord respect – and a recognition of personhood – to minds that are different than our own. Even just among humans, there’s a lot of variation. Recognizing animal personhood may not be feasible until we can genuinely value all the different flavours of our own.


The real St. Gobnait

The St. Gobnait in Seraphina was inspired by a real Irish saint, whose church and sacred spring we visited years ago. Today (Feb. 11) is her holy day in Baile Bhuirne (Ballyvourney). Here’s an article mentioning Gobnait and some other ancient holy wells in Ireland. The Diocese of Kerry page has fewer pictures but is more informative. The last several paragraphs are in Irish, and are (according to my husband, my resident translator) a description of how to do the devotional tour. I will just bring your attention to a bit of Irish I understood, however:

If you do drink water at the well you take responsibility for your own well being!….. tá creideamh agus creideamh ann!

That is to say: there’s belief, and there’s belief! The well, as I recall, is at the bottom of a hillside full of cows. It was pouring rain when we were there. We didn’t sample it ourselves.

Beannachtaí Lá Gobnatan daoibh!


Happy Birthday Robert Burns!

In honour of the great Scottish poet, we’re having haggis tonight. My husband, always keen to try new foods, located a source of haggis, I bought one, and this afternoon I shall steam it.

I’m trying to decide whether to post pictures, or whether that would just disgust everyone. It is in an actual sheep’s paunch, yes.

My favourite part so far is the cooking instructions. It’s made by a company out in Maple Ridge, and it says right on the label: “Roanes cannot be responsible for the misuse of haggis.” So of course, I can’t stop thinking of ways to misuse it.

In any case, a good excuse for a little party, and for reading some good poetry. Here’s “To a Mouse“, which incidentally is said to have inspired Jethro Tull’s song “One Brown Mouse“. I love them both.


Don’t ask how I got here

Because I’m sure I don’t know. I think I was looking for spinet videos, as one does. I ended up at this, however: Handel and Scarlatti in a harpsichord duel to the death.

I assume the cheeky fellow with the moustache is supposed to be Handel, but I wouldn’t swear to it. I’ve never seen a picture of either of these gents with a moustache. The wigs, though. One wonders why those ever went out of fashion.

All right, one doesn’t wonder very hard.


I’m off to Calgary

Goin’ to Alberta soon,
Gonna be a dental floss tycoon!

Ok, maybe not precisely that, but I will be attending Calgary WordFest, giving exciting talks on the 10th and 11th. If you’re in town, come see me!

If you’re nowhere near Calgary, never fear. I will leave you with interesting things to read and think about.

First, at Lady Business, an informative post on Gender Balance and YA Award Winners Since 2000. I notice they did not include the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award, so I include the stats here (with the caveat that some of the books may be middle grade and at least one looks like nonfiction) — 7 male, 5 female.

Zoe Marriot has some interesting things to say in response: Women Dominate? In What Universe?

Also buzzing through the YA blogosphere yesterday, an article from Read Now, Sleep Later about perceived stigma around the very label “Young Adult” – YA Shame and Stigma.

I come from comics and from SF/F, so I’m not entirely convinced YA has much of a stigma, or at least not universally. Sales don’t reflect that. Rapid expansion of the genre doesn’t reflect that. And honestly, are there books with NO stigma from anyone? Don’t we all turn up our noses at genres we dislike (or haven’t tried)? We are creatures of habit, and we prejudge things readily on little evidence. My personal stigmatized genres include “books where doggies die” and “adult literature that takes itself way too seriously”. I’m almost certainly missing a lot of great books because of these irrational biases, but what to do? I’m also missing a lot of great books by virtue of not having time to read them.

All right, darlings, take care. Be excellent to each other until I return.


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