Sunday, October 28, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fairy Tales and Dragons

"What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon," G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1909).
A variation of the above quote closed "Seven Seconds," the most recent episode of Criminal Minds (the one about the 6-year-old girl who was abducted at a mall): " Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."

It caught my attention because 1) I work with kids and want them to expand their imaginations; 2) I was a kid who loved fairy tales (still do); and 3) I write stories about kids, dragons, and heroes, and characters who are sometimes all three.

Oh, and 4) G.K. Chesterton is cool.

He's the guy who wrote things like this:

The truth is that Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad. Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic. ...The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem. --Tolstoy (1903)

and this:

If you'd take your head home and boil it for a turnip it might be useful. I can't say. But it might. --The Man Who was Thursday (1908)

Deep and funny.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

There is a power in fairy tales that goes beyond mere entertainment. A child will listen to a story when he will not listen to a lecture or a lesson plan. I "heard" the truth more clearly in a book than I ever could from my parents. And then life, of course, with all its realities and hard edges, taught me even more. Those experiences sent me deeper into the escape of fiction.

Borrowing once more from Chesterton, "Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity."

I am not saying teachers and parents and other adults are not necessary. By all means, we are necessary! We shape character, spur dreams, spawn heroes--and we can do so more effectively, if we will but learn to tell stories.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just My Editorial Snobbery?

Okay, so I'm re-reading The Turn of the Screw (see previous post) for the first time in several years. The introduction was as I remembered it; Chapter One was a revelation.

Dare I say it? It is, after all, Henry James.

Yes, I shall say it.

The man needed a good editor.


The governess narrating the main body of the story has so rambling a way of communicating that the reader can rapidly lose the thread of her thoughts. It's as if James made sure she was as incomprehensible as possible so he could have a good joke on the audience.

There has been much debate and wasted wind about whether or not "Miss" was a reliable narrator, or whether the unnamed narrator in the introduction was entirely truthful, but since they are both products of the mind of Mr. James, one wonders about him.

The Turn of the Screw

I don't celebrate Halloween--personal preference--but I enjoy my share of ghost stories and tales of terror. I've tried writing those kinds of stories, but, well, they mainly turn out to be comedies.

In my reading, I'm revisiting a classic from Henry James. If you prefer psychological scares over gory ones, here's the complete e-text of his The Turn of the Screw, courtesy of's Literature: Classic newsletter.

You can also find out more about the short novel here, here, here, and here. (I feel a little like the Genii in Disney's Aladdin, when he is pointing out all the available seats on the magic carpet.)


Monday, October 22, 2007

Stories on Film

The last few entries haven't been about writing, but they have been about stories; on film or between the pages of a book, I love stories.

I enjoy the television series Bones and The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, both current, but lately I've been scouting old series that are finally being put out on DVD:

Robin of Sherwood (despite its strong New Age-y overtones; 1980s)
Lonesome Dove (the original TV series and its follow-up, The Outlaw Years)
To the Manor Born
(late70s-early 80s)

Thanks to my brother and his wife, who upgraded their library with newer editions, I now own the entire Farscape series, along with the miniseries sequel, The Peacekeeper Wars.

Firefly is also a favorite, but I have to view one DVD (the second one, I think) in my computer's DVD drive rather than on the player. If you watch Firefly, you have to see the film Serenity, too. (I hear there's a rumor that there might even be a second follow-up film to the Firefly franchise, which would be more than awesome.)

Being able to view episodes back-to-back, I get a feel for the story arc, the journeys of the characters, and it helps me write my own stories.

Probably because I love fat novels, I'm a fan of miniseries, too: the longer, the more involved, the more I can wallow in it. (Have no fear! I won't list either fat novels or miniseries!)

I will mention one: a miniseries that I wish hadn't been edited down from its original television run is Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King (2006). I didn't get to see it in its entirety, so I purchased a used copy, and was disappointed to find that scenes I remembered from television were missing from the DVD. Anybody know why the series was chopped?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two Film Reviews by a Tardy Critic

I'm probably the last person to watch Pan's Labyrinth, but at long last I rented the DVD and watched it Saturday night.

Talk about harsh beauty -- I turned my head away a couple times, something I never did even in the bloodiest, most wrenching moments of The Passion of the Christ, which is more violent than Pan's Labyrinth, but with redemption always in view as a result of the violence. The redemption in PL isn't visible until the very end; up until then, the sadistic captain's nonchalant, out-right murders, and his emotional brutality toward his wife and stepdaughter, present such a bleak picture that I wondered how the woman could ever have been induced to marry him, or how his men could display any loyalty other than that motivated by fear.

On the other hand, the subterranean "fairy land," though as dark in its own way as the world above, is mysterious and intriguing. I was an imaginative child, always creating my own universes, some of them scary, some of them comforting, almost all of them full of advenutre. Like Ofelia and her brother, as children I and my brother stood in the presence of those who wanted to kill us. I viewed this story with no expectations, and ended up identifying with it more than I could have anticipated.

In the end, Ofelia's sacrifice -- and it is a true sacrifice, because she makes a conscious decision to give up something for the good of another -- lifts the story from darkness. However, though it centers around a child, this film is not for children.

* * *

Another movie I'm behind the times in viewing is The Number 23.

I could have waited a little longer.

I won't bother with too much reportage of my opinion. Suffice to say that the film itself, as well as the comments (in the special features) by the actors, producer, and director are saddening, because they reveal people searching for structure and meaning in superstition and numerology, while in the movie prayer and belief in God are called "magical thinking," the resorts of humans too weak to find strength in themselves and in common sense.

How ironic.

It's the weak who feel compelled to talk big, act more confident than they are, never ask for help, exert power or control over others.

It's only the strong who can admit they are weak.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Tale of Dental Woes

Ah, the dentist.

The drills, the metal poky thingies, the little hooks, the gauze, the x-rays, the blood, the questions he asks that I can't answer because his hands are in my mouth...

Last month or the month before, while he was drilling to insert a filling, my tooth exploded.

Yep. Exploded. Into little bitty bits.

"First time in 24 years of practice," he declared.

Now there's a not-so-lovely gap that he thought should be bridged rather than filled by building up the tooth. Yesterday, he decided, "There looks like enough tooth left below the gum for us to work with," and so he re-drilled what had already begun to heal over, and completed a root canal. (I will not describe the gorier details.)

At 3 a.m. Tuesday, the temporary filling fell out.

Well, it was temporary, after all.

Immediate throbbing pain all the way down, and along my jawline to the ear. Very little sleep.

This morning, in the process of the dentist's examination of the cavernous hole, I just about slithered off the chair, I was in so much pain.

In addition to all this joyousness, there was another dental procedure done yesterday before the excavation of my jaw: the removal of a wisdom tooth that didn't belong. I seem to have an extra set of teeth that arrive on occasion when they are not wanted. This wisdom tooth grew between two others, and was sideways. The tooth poked out instead of down. It was infected, which is a whole other gory tale I will not describe.

So, I have eaten a little bit of mashed potatoes or yogurt, and have drunk only room-temperature liquids (doctor's orders), but even those things are painful to consume. I went work this morning then came home, due to little sleep, a lot of pain, some medication, low blood sugar, and some queasiness from the drainage of all the infection goop. Other people are having to fill in for me, and I have thanked them for stepping into the gap (no pun intended).

Who knew a little filling could leave a gaping hole?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Calmer Now - and Even Amused

If you read the previous post, you will know how angry and confused I was after a phone conversation with my boss yesterday.

I'm calmer now, but only after much ranting and imaginary conversations with him on my drive home from work, and continued sporadic imaginary conversations while at home both last night and this morning. And there were three short phone conversations with Mom, the first one involving prayer for wisdom and calm. (Yep. We grown-ups still need our parents.)

There is something about me that challenges people -- usually those who are in authority over me -- and makes them feel they have to push against me when I've never had a quarrel with them. I don't know what this mysterious force is, but it exists.

One director, who only lasted maybe six months, even sat down in my office and told me, "This Club isn't big enough for both of us."

I laughed. What else could I do? I felt like I'd fallen down the rabbit hole, but instead of joining Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I was in a Western gone bad.

There have been five directors in the same span of time that I have been the assistant director, and each time, I have never been offered the opportunity to rise above the position for which I was hired. Now, understand, I enjoy the work I already do; however, to not even be offered the chance to refuse the job?

I think that's one of the signs that it's time to find other employment.

If only I could finish my epic (tongue firmly planted in cheek) and make my mark on the publishing world....

Monday, October 8, 2007


I admit to having issues. We all do, even the most adjusted, balanced, mellow people among us have buttons someone, somewhere, somehow, can push and get a reaction from us. I am not the most mellow person in the world. I am intense. I can be mellow. I can be reasonable and occasionally even wise. However, there are some times when something rises up in me, and I just want to reach out and smack someone.

Today, the executive director at my job called to 1) ask a favor, then 2) deliver two complaints about me. In both cases, something small was overblown and/or misrepresented. When I attempted to give my version of events, he replied, "I don't want to get involved in he said/she said."


Then he had the audacity to tell me I was yelling and screaming at him, and that "you will not raise your voice to me, especially over the phone!"

(Uhmmm, who's raising their voice, boss?)

Contradiction, it would seem, even when presented in a reasoned and controlled tone of voice, is tantamount to screaming.

Everything was my fault, and I just needed to calm down, be quiet, and work on my communication skills.

(Uh, okay.)

I've stayed here because I like working with the kids and getting to do creative projects. However, I've often wondered where I would have ended up if I had acted on something that occurred during my first interview with the exec. About halfway through, I realized that he had no intention of recommending me for the job, that he hadn't liked me from the moment he set eyes on me, and that I could save both of us time if I just stood up, shook his hand, and walked out the door.

But I stayed for the entire interview -- I like to see things through to the end -- and the person who became my main supervisor eventually hired me anyway.

So here I am. A decade into this job, and I still don't know what it is that sets the exec's teeth on edge.

Whatever it is, it's sure to be my fault.