September 18, 2009

A little more traction this week, though not by much. I have managed 1600 more words on my new story, a werewolf tale called "Father Patrice Hears Confession." That title's subject to change, of course. It's what I'm calling it now, anyway.

What else has happened...let's see. I went to the Friends of the Lafayette Parish Public Library semi-annual book sale and picked up my usual sack or so of books. Didn't find as much as I normally do, unfortunately. It wasn't that there weren't a lot of books available, just not as much in the categories I'm interested in. Science Fiction and Fantasy take up one tiny table in the corner. Other speculative genres and horror are kind of spread around here and there. It's fun, a giant garage sale of books twice a year (and what bibliophile wouldn't love that) but I wish I could have found more in my favorite genres.

Yesterday I read "Brokeback Mountain", by Annie Proulx, from her collection Wyoming Stories. I wanted to read it for two reasons - one, because Annie Proulx is a master of beautiful prose and I wanted to study her style, and two, because I'm interested in including more GLBT characters in my own writing (my recent story "Becoming" being my first attempt). It was wonderful, of course, heart-achingly beautiful and poignant. It evoked a level of emotion in me that I hope to one day achieve in my own writing. The movie was wonderful, I loved it, but maybe because I'm a reader and a writer the short story - condensed, tightly written and powerful - had a much stronger impact on me. I think it's one I'll come back to.

Facebook continues to be interesting. Despite privacy concerns, it's been wonderful for connecting with people I thought were lost to me forever. Old friends, connections broken by life and circumstance, have been popping up everywhere. Makes me nostalgic for my old hometown, and for at least some parts of my childhood.

My son and I are working on growing some little pumpkins for Halloween, though I fear we may have planted the seeds too late. Today I found a female flower, little green baby pumpkin attached, so I hand-pollinated it. We'll see what happens. If push comes to shove, I'll buy a little pumpkin from the store and shove it among the leaves sometime in October. Hopefully he won't catch on that it's a big fake-o.

If you're of the liberal mindset and interested in politics, check out my friend Diane's website, The Wild, Wild Left. I've posted some essays there before, and hope to again eventually, but there are lots of good writers hanging out ranting about this or that. Caution, though - if you're conservative and looking for a scrap, you'll get one - they're pretty devoted over there.

In any case, off to write for a bit. The book sale is ongoing through Saturday, so I may sneak back over there in a little while. Shhh....don't tell anyone, ok?

Image © 2009, Lynette Mejia, all rights reserved

18 September 2009

Is District 9 Racist Against Nigerians?

I loved District 9. I'll admit, however, that I kept wondering throughout the whole thing why the gangster-types were all Nigerians. I figured there must be some kind of cultural reference I was missing. It bothered me somewhat, even though I still loved the movie. I think it had some important things to say about the nature of the "Other" and what it means to be human. We use that term as a synonym for kindness and mercy, but by and large I don't think humans tend to act in accordance with how we like to view ourselves.

In any case, I've been following some of the reactions to the same questions I had. One author who's blog I follow, Nnedi Okorafor, was very offended, and the whole Nigerian thing ruined the movie completely for her. Here is her post. And she's not the only one. There's been a lot of backlash on the internet by people who resent Nigerians being portrayed in such an unflattering light by the filmmakers. Some are calling for an apology by the film's director, Neill Blomkamp.

From Tola Onanuga at The Guardian UK, however, comes another perspective: Why District 9 Isn't Racist Against Nigerians. In it the author makes a case that the director portrayed the white corporate types and "MMU" employees as much more evil, that the film is intended to be a reflection of the inhumanity of all the humans in the story, and the evolution of the aliens from the ultimate "Other" to creatures who have more in common with us than we'd like to think.

Both of the above authors, by the way, are of Nigerian descent.

So what's the opinion here? Is District 9 racist? Are some humans deliberately set apart as "worse" than others?

I tend to think the originality of the story, the relevance to issues the whole world faces relating to race, and the superb film-making that went into the movie ultimately override any concerns I have about which human group is depicted as the most evil.

Still, though, it nags me...did it have to be Nigerians?

11 September 2009

The Point Game

Found this article today, published in the New York Times a few weeks back. It's about the Accelerated Reader Program, and I think it makes some good points. Both of my children go to schools that use Accelerated Reader, and, I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about it myself.

On the one hand, I think anything that promotes kids' interest in books is a good thing. AR, through its point system, gives kids reading goals to work toward, and at both my kids' schools, meeting those goals is rewarded at the end of the year. It's a big deal to get an AR award, and, after growing up in a school system in which only athletic achievements garnered attention, I think that's a wonderful thing.

On the other hand, however, I remember as a kid having a stack of my favorite books, and reading them over and over until they were dog-eared and falling apart. They were dear to me, priceless even. Some of them I still have, all these years later, and every time I look at them on the book shelf I'm 7 years old again, reading on a drowsy summer afternoon.

My kids have the same habits, but with AR in the picture, I can't allow them to follow their natural reading instincts. In order to get the points, they have to stay on reading level, constantly read new things, and rush through books in order to get the required points by the end of the grading period. There is no lingering over a beloved book. There is no rereading. There is only the numbers, and what the numbers can get you. In some ways it turns reading into a chore, something else to be checked off on the homework page. Reading isn't an escape for them - it's becoming part of the grind. We can't even have a break in the summer, as both schools now have a "Summer AR" program.

I'm still of a dual-mind about the whole thing. As I said, I think anything that encourages kids to read, to discover new authors and to broaden their horizons has merit. But to turn it into something quantitative, something to be measured and compared and reduced to a data set for the gratification of schools...that just seems fundamentally flawed.

10 September 2009

September 3, 2009

I keep nearly all of my fiction books in my bedroom. Since they number somewhere around 600-700 volumes, you can imagine what that looks like. The walls are lined with bookshelves, which are themselves crammed to overflowing. I designed it that way for a reason, however. Books are my talismans. They make up the fortress that surround me when I sleep. I find it comforting to wake up and see them all there, quietly waiting, sentinels whose magic and knowledge keep whatever lurks in the darkness at bay.

I write in there too. Though most of my business is done in my office, the meat and bones of what I do take place in that room, where I can curl up on my soft bed with my laptop, surrounded by all those voices, some of them still speaking after hundreds of years. Shakespeare keeps me company. So does Dostoevsky, and Milton, and Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Jane Austen keeps my time. Isaac Asimov types furiously along beside me. Hemmingway and Poe drink in the corner.

They're good company, if a little daunting. My prose wilts like a weed in a forgotten parking lot when I really stop to think about how it compares to what surrounds me on the walls. Most of the time, I try not to think about it, but occasionally it gets to me. I look at those words on the screen, and I wonder, who am I kidding? This is horrible, a monumental waste of time.

But then I stop, and I look around, and I remember that at least some (if not all) of them went through the same thing, or at least something close to it, at one point or another. Everyone has self-doubts. And truthfully, when it comes down to it, I don't write because I think I'll make money at it, or because I think I'll have some sort of fame or illustrious career down the line. I write because I have to, because, for as long as I can remember, it's been my vocation, whether or not I wanted to admit that. I write because, well, what else would I do? In the end, though we all look outside occasionally for validation, the only real opinion that matters is mine. Who gives a shit if anyone else ever reads what I write?

I look up, and they're nodding and smiling. I smile back, and look down again, down at the terrible prose on the screen, the stuff I write, the stuff that makes me happy. I put my fingers on the keys, and I continue.

03 September 2009

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