Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are Love Triangles All that Bad?


In the middle of finals week, I bought the third book in a series I like. I couldn’t remember how many books were in the series as a whole, so I looked up the fourth one on goodreads. That was a mistake. The very first sentence of the fourth book description said the villains of the third book killed “the girl he loved”. Well, there goes the entire story. In the first two books, the hero only had one love interest, so it had to be her who died at the end of the third book. 
Then I actually started reading the book. To my surprise, the hero got a new girlfriend in this book. That simultaneously gave me hope and made me nervous. I already knew “the girl he loved” would die by the end of this story. But who was she? Did using the phrase “the girl he loved” instead of “both his girlfriends” imply that one of them would live?
I had to know. Even though I was in the exam trenches, I devoured that book. I have five chapters left. Girl B just died and Girl A is heading the same way-but Hero still has a chance to save her. Is she going to make it?
Love triangles have received a lot of negative criticism in YA over the last several years. I've seen positive reviews praise a book for simply not having one. I once came across a "Love Triangle Free Zone" web badge on a review blog. Recently I saw an Internet Person claim that love triangles are unrealistic because “I’ve never been in one and I don’t know anyone who has.” I can only see that being true for the self centered version of the love triangle, where one person has two lovers at the same time, and even then it's a stretch.

If you date somebody and they formally break up with you for someone else, that’s a love triangle.
If you date somebody and they cheat on you, that’s a love triangle.
If you suffer from unrequited love for someone who's in a relationship, that's a love triangle.
In other words, your three sided shape is still a triangle even if you are not the hypotenuse. I can't go a week without hearing about one of my friends crushing on a boy, "But he has a girlfriend." The most basic and obvious reason for divorce (though not the most common today) is spousal infidelity. The only way to get through life not knowing somebody who's in a love triangle is to not know anybody at all. 
I’ve kept a tally of every novel, memoir, biography, play, graphic novel, and manga I’ve read this past year. At the time of this writing, I've read 55, 52 of them being fiction. 29 of the 52 have romance. 16 out of 29 have love triangles under my expanded definition. It’s an equal split between adult and YA. Of the 8 adult titles, 6 are classics, because I’m a student and that’s mostly what I read. Here are the descriptions of all the love triangles I’ve encountered over the past year. Titles are included in the cases of classics because I have no qualms about spoiling something that's been around for centuries.

Adult:
-A woman leaves her abusive husband for a better man, but that man is also flawed. When he dies she marries her third husband who is the love of her life. Their Eyes Were Watching God
-A woman loves a man but she marries someone richer. He runs away, gets even richer than the married couple, and returns to marry her sister in law. Wuthering Heights
-A woman’s husband comes back from war with a concubine. She kills them both. Agamemnon
-A woman's husband divorces her in order to marry a princess. She kills the princess, the king, and, for good measure, her own two children from her husband. She flies off in a magic chariot with their corpses in tow, leaving her husband with absolutely nothing. Medea
-A woman loves a man who loves her back, but they’re both too stubborn to admit it. She bonds with a different guy over their mutual dislike for the first man. Then the second man runs off with her little sister and the first man pays for their wedding in order to protect the family’s reputation. His kindness for her sister softens the woman’s heart. Pride and Prejudice
-Guy brings a coworker home to meet his antisocial sister. The coworker turns out to be an old classmate the sister had a crush on. She finds out he’s engaged. The Glass Menagerie
-Wedding planner offers to do her ex-boyfriend’s wedding in hopes of stealing him away from his fiancee in the process. Falls for the best man instead and decides to let the happy couple be.
-Woman crushes on man. He likes her too, so they date. Creepy stalker dude follows her around until he takes care of him.

YA:
-Boy dates the same girl for most of his high school life. In the last week of their senior year and the first chapter of the book, she breaks up with him. He finds someone new.
-Girl grows up in a dystopian society and has a boy she likes. She gets shipwrecked on an island away from the society, and, presuming the boy is dead, moves on. Turns out he’s not, but she’s happier with the new boy.
-Boy likes girl. Girl breaks up with boy. Boy finds new girl. New girl is killed by a demon who goes for his ex-girlfriend next.
-Actress girl is scripted to play a boy’s love interest. She had a celebrity crush on him before, but quickly realizes he’s a Hollywood jerk. He develops a crush on her, she does not reciprocate, because she now likes a different costar.
-Girl has a human boyfriend at the beginning of the book. Aliens visit earth. She falls for alien boy instead and leaves her human ex-boyfriend on earth.
-Girl grows up in a very small ragtag band of refugees. She falls in love with the only boy her age in camp. After she gets out and sees the world, another boy falls for her. She does not reach a decision by the end of the book.
-Girl disguises herself as a boy to be a soldier. Two boys are aware of this but don’t tell her. For one of the boys, also a soldier, she’s the only girl he interacts with regularly. When she reveals her gender they both reveal having feelings for her. She does not reach a decision by the end of the book.
-Girl's coworker and friend start seeing her as a love interest. She's involved briefly with one of them while continuing to see the second as a friend. She and the coworker lose interest in each other and he goes off to live his life, leaving her to fall for the friend.

After crunching the numbers, only 3 (or 5.45%) of the books I’ve read this year have a love triangle with the most whined about definition. Love triangles appear in classic and contemporary literature because they reflect common life situations. People cheat, leave their lovers, and go on rebound. Relationships are messy.
Really, there’s not a whole lot you can do with romance. It's the most formulaic of genres. They meet, they kiss, they live happily ever after. Two person romances are predictable. We find comfort in that, which is why we read them. The most obvious benefit of including a love triangle is
1. They add suspense.
Let's go on, shall we?
2. They reflect realistic situations.
3. It gives the main character something to do over the course of a series. If everything works out great with her one love in the first book, what's the conflict in the second? Either you get a petty breakup or you have to send in a band of pirates to kidnap one of the lovers. Nobody likes that.
4. It can be entirely appropriate for the situation. In some of the examples I've listed, the main character lives in an environment where they meet very few people of the opposite gender. Their only option is to fall for the only guy or girl around, even if that person happens to have feelings for someone else. 
5. Follow the leader. Two of my adult examples, Agamemnon and Medea, come from ancient Greek theater, and they're only adaptations of older myths. Love triangles have always been around, why stop?
6. Let readers dream a little! Maybe the ugly bookish girl holed up in a corner of the library won't ever find herself faced with two equally devoted loves. That's why she's reading about it instead of going outside to face her pathetic dating life.

I am a teenager. Sometime in the next decade of my life, I expect to find and marry someone I love. I don't expect the road to be easy. I would love it if every boy I crushed on turned out to be single. I would love it if no boy ever cheated on me. And yes, I'd love it if I never had to pick between two guys I loved equally. Some people do meet their true love at sixteen, date exclusively, and marry out of high school. But most love is messy. 

Of course, I am basing my statistics and conclusions off my own reading. It might not be yours, but that's actually a good thing. Half of my love triangle list (AKA everything on the adult side) are titles I read for school or my internship with a publishing company. For the YA, I picked what I read. In other words, I managed to read only three books in the past year with self centered love triangles. They're easy to avoid. 



I've long suspected that the reason love triangles are unpopular is they give you a chance to lose. Readers fall in love along with the characters, and when the protagonist makes they opposite choice, we feel betrayed. Chuck that book across the room! I believe it's a sign of shallow readership to only tolerate characters who behave and decide exactly as we would. We have our own love lives to make those decisions. Fictional characters stay in their spheres. And should I one day wake up in a world where my favorite fictional characters are living and breathing, I'll be thrilled that my love interest of choice was rejected by the heroine.
Because that leaves more of him for me. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: *****
Pages: 152
Original French Title: Un Flouard Pour Djelila (A Scarf for Djelila)

There's nobody Sohane loves or hates more than her little sister Djelila. While Sohane's praying in the mosque, Djelila's out partying. She's pretty, and she knows it. But so do the boys-both the ones Djelila flirts with at school and the religious extremist dropouts who roam the projects. Sohane keeps
wishing someone would teach Djelila a lesson. Until the dropout gang decides to do just that.
In the wake of the Parisian terrorist attacks, I've been looking for some way to understand the issues at play. My preferred method of education is reading and fiction packs power that naked facts don't. I'd heard about this book before, but forgot about it until I searched my library for Muslim YA reads and found one set in France.
I read this hoping for an understanding of life in France, but I didn't get it. I realized while reading this that the only France-set books I've read before were by American authors and written for an American audience. This one was not. The French setting is assumed, not built. I did, however, gain a greater understanding of Muslim life.
This is a beautiful little book. I'm Christian, not Muslim, but there were so many little details that were relevant to me as a person of faith, and I believe they'll be fascinating to many readers regardless of religious affiliation. When Sohane talks about going to the mosque, it's not an actual mosque, but a room in a local man's apartment that he's set aside for worship. This is the best they have because they don't live in a community with a high Muslim population.
The issue of wearing a hijab is explored in depth. Sohane gets kicked out of school for choosing to cover her hair while Djelila is attacked for not wearing one. Every non-Muslim character she talks to incorrectly refers to her hijab as a veil, even though she's standing in front of them and they can see her face is completely bare. The day Sohane decides to wear her hair in a scarf, she and Djelila go to visit her grandmother, who has several friends over. All of these elderly women give her reasons to stop wearing it. When she goes to a community meeting about Djelila's murder, the women organizing it, who don't know she's her sister, immediately kick her out.
"You don't belong here. Our group fights for the liberty of women, for the defense of their free will, and for the abolition of a chauvinist society. You disavow these values by accepting to wear the veil."
"I feel like shouting, not out of pain this time, but out of amusement at the irony. Of course, how did I forget? I can't participate in a debate that uses my sister as a symbol! I probably can't even be Djelila Chebli's siter, not the Djelila Chebli these women have chosen as the mascot for their own convictions!"
This book may be short, but it tackles complex issues of identity, religion, sisterhood, violence, sexism, and grief. Even though it has a violent murder scene, it brought me peace in wake of the terrorism that took the Western world by storm. It gave me the greater understanding of Islam I was looking for and it's a beautiful, tender portrayal of sisterhood and loss. Pick this up. It won't take you long to read and it's well worth your time.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tricolors and Pink Ribbons: The Power of an Empty Symbol

My brothers play pee wee football. At least once a season they have a breast cancer awareness game and all the players wear pink socks. The first time they did this, one of their teammates put on his pink socks, ran around the football field wearing them, and came up to the coach after the game to ask, "What's a breast?" 
It is possible that his pink socks had some impact on the adults on the sidelines. Adults who are already aware of breast cancer because they know people who've fought it or at least read articles about Susan G. Komen for the Cure. But they have a knowledge base about breast cancer. They don't need pink socks.
Some time after that, my brother asked a question over the dinner table. "Mom, why is pink the cancer color?" He'd worn pink socks on the field and seen the pink ribbon icon on everything from key chains to soup cans. He had the vague idea that it was somehow related to cancer, but he didn't make the ties between pink and femininity, femininity and the female body, the female body and a disease that affects (mostly) females. Of course he couldn't, he was a little boy.
But he was given the responsibility of promoting awareness among all the parents watching him play.

Breast Cancer Action refers to this practice as pinkwashing. Customers will choose a can of soup with the pink ribbon over a can of soup without one, believing they're somehow benefiting the cancer afflicted, but any company can appropriate the breast cancer symbol. They are under no obligation to donate money to cure research in return. Never mind that patients are still suffering and dying just like they were before the logo was added to the product. Now customers are aware! That's the point, right? Not curing the cancer itself?
Cancer survivor and blogger Leisha Davison-Yasol scorned "National No Bra Day", a campaign purported to raise awareness for her disease, as diverting attention away from breast cancer itself. Surprisingly, flaunting your nipples in front of someone who's had hers surgically removed does very little to cheer her up. 
There are companies and individuals in the world who are legitimately concerned for breast cancer patients. They'll donate money to see it cured. But there are plenty of others who just want to pat themselves on the back for being aware of a disease. Good deed for the day, check! 
Last summer, I participated in the ice bucket challenge because a friend tagged me. But thinking back to it just now I couldn't remember what it was supposed to raise awareness for. A disease, yes, but which one? Not breast cancer, something else. I needed google to remind myself it was for ALS. And an additional search to figure out what part of the body ALS actually affected. I sloshed ice cold water down my back because all my friends were doing it. Beyond, "Good job, Erica! You did a good deed today. Go ALS patients!" it had no personal impact.
Diseases aren't the only horrors with empty symbols. As I've scrolled through my Facebook feed this weekend, I've watched a similar thing happen with the French flag. I have two Canadian Facebook friends. I have one Nepali Facebook friend. I have one Kiwi Facebook friend. Every other person on my feed is American. And with very few exceptions, all of their friends are American as well. Not French. But in the aftermath of the horrors in Paris, everyone is adding the tricolor to their profile pictures. To "show support". Exactly who are they showing?

When you light up a world famous building, the people of Paris hear about it. That's showing support. But tricoloring a picture that will only be seen by a hundred or so non-French Facebook users is no more effective than hanging a French flag in your closet. 
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I understand that many people are doing this for personal comfort. Bloodshed abroad brings down the morale of people far removed from the action. I've traveled to Paris before and I've been looking into Paris as a study abroad destination. But even if I didn't have these (miniscule) ties to the city I'd be horrified by the bombings. I'll #PRAYFORPARIS every night until the storm settles, but I'm pretty sure God will hear Parisians' prayers before mine. I'll keep up on news and join in conversations with people who know more or have thought more deeply about the tragedy than me. But I'm not going to pretend I'm benefiting Parisians. It's for my own peace. 
All cause awareness symbols have impact. That's what they're constructed to do. Even when they're used in an empty way, they can do some roundabout sort of good. That pee wee football player learned what a breast was that day. That conversation wouldn't have happened without his pink socks. Some of my American friends will leave comments on posts from accounts that are followed by French Facebook users, making their profile pics visible for a few seconds of scrolling. Raindrops are a feeble force but a flood of French flags is convincing evidence that people outside of France's borders care. 
Cause awareness symbols have a tendency to spread the symbols themselves while the actual cause gets left behind. If you're going to use one, educate yourself on what it represents. Don't jump on the bandwagon for the praise of your peers, or worse, your own praises. Don't reduce someone else's pain and anguish to a trendy decoration. You do no good by wearing, buying, or posting an empty vessel, so go fill it up. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Refraining from Judgement: Dispatches from a School with an Out of State Majority

I am currently attending Brigham Young University (Go Cougars!) in the lovely Provo, Utah. We have a student population of over 30,000 and native Utahns are outnumbered 2 to 1. Most of them have never been to Utah beyond brief visits and haven't set foot of campus more than a few times since they got here. A lot of them are prone to snap judgments.
One day early on in the term, I was walking across campus with a Washington-raised friend. We passed the motorcycle and scooter section of the parking lot. She said it was a "Utah thing" because "No one rides scooters in Washington." I thought about it and realized that outside of BYU campus, I see about one scooter for every several hundred cars.
It's not a Utah thing. It's a college thing. Cars cost money and college students rarely need to go farther than the grocery store, so why buy one?
Recently I was eating dinner with a Texan friend and various other out of staters, They were talking about how Utahns have such weird and bizarre names.
According to the Social Security Administration, these were the most popular Utah baby names in our birth year, 1996:

1. Madison, Jacob
2. Jessica, Austin
3. Emily, Joshua
4. Megan, Tyler
5. Ashley, Michael
6. Sarah, Zachary
7. Rachel, Matthew
8. Alexis, Andrew
9. Samantha, Nathan
10. Hannah, Jordan

I know one Rachyl. For the other names, I never see variants beyond Hanna, Ashlee, and Meagan, the latter of which happens to be the names of my Wisconsin born roommate.
When I attempted to correct my Texan friend, she said I'd been rendered ignorant by growing up in Utah and couldn't recognize the oddities that surrounded me. So I politely rattled off a list of my friends names and sat back to smirk to myself. Was I really having this conversation with a Southerner?
When I was thirteen, I met a woman named Ann Parks. I asked if that was her full name, and she said no, it was her first. She was from the South. I could jump to the conclusion that Texas, being a Southern state, is full of nothing but Sue Ann and Mary Lou. I know this because I've actually met Southerners throughout my life. I have relatives who've been there. I know they're more than stereotypes. There were so many comebacks I could've used, but I refrained.
Two weeks ago I had to carpool with a boy from Colorado. He complained about Utah drivers the whole way there, but he knew so little about the Utah road system that when his friend in the backseat mentioned the wall (meaning the freeway divider) he looked around wildly, expecting to see what he termed a "Great Wall of Utah".
I'm starting to wonder if this toxic combination of ignorance and confidence is something unique to college students. But I've only been to one college. So I'll pass.
See what I did there?
I'm surrounded by people experiencing college and Utah for the first time. That's more likely the case.
When you're entering an unfamiliar place, you have an obligation to be humble and inquisitive, not self-assured and declarative. If you see something different from the way things are done back home, ask, "Is that a local thing?" before declaring it such on absolutely no evidence.
You have this obligation because everybody else is silently accommodating you. For the past few months I've patiently ignored people who mispronounce Utah place names, listened to complaints that scones here are closer to flatbread than real scones, and done math in my head to figure out where they want me to drive them when they ask for "One thousand four hundred south". "You mean hundred and fourteenth street? Sure, I know where that is."
Learn to think geographically. The world will thank you for it. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Space Turtles and Hiding Your Sources

"Creativity is the art of hiding your sources."
-I have no freaking idea

Someone said that. Here are three different versions, pick your favorite.

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

– Albert Einstein


Creativity is the art of concealing your sources.

-Nolan Bushnell


And most fittingly:

Appropriate remarks are meant to be appropriated; and originality is little more than skill in concealing origins.

—C. E. M. Joad


According to this article, C.E.M. Joad actually got there first, which makes the quote chain that much better. But none of these quite fits what I want to say, so I'll make my own.

"Creativity is the art of hiding your sources."
-Erica Smith

Terry Pratchett's long running Discworld series takes place on a flat planet carried by four elephants balanced on the back of a giant turtle swimming across space. I've never seen anything like it before or since. But in the introduction to the paperback reprint of The Color of Magic, Discworld's first installment, Pratchett claims our world is full of elephant-speckled space turtles.


If I had a penny for every time someone asked me where I got the idea of the Discworld, I’d have—hang on a moment—£4.67.
Anyway, the answer is that it was lying around and didn’t look as though it belonged to anyone.
The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. It’s one of the great ancient myths, found wherever men and turtles were gathered together; the four elephants were an Indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber rooms of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off.

Indeed, there are such turtles in mythologies around the world, though India has the best case for the first claim. But if you search for these creatures on google images, most results are Discworld art. If you know your Indian cosmology, maybe you get an extra smile every time the turtle is mentioned, but there's not a huge amount of Indian influence in the books. It's purely a bonus. 
I regularly read query letters (letters that wannabe authors write to literary agents) for fun and education. After about three years I thought I knew all the basic pitfalls, but I've just discovered a new one.
Yesterday I came across a query that called its novel:
1. A dark retelling of one fairytale
2. A genderbent retelling of a completely separate fairytale
3, 4, 5. And inspired by the folklore of three different peoples on two continents. 
I read back through the query, wondering if I'd somehow missed something, but I found no fairytale references and only a single folklore nod. The story could stand on its own.
I don't know how Terry Pratchett described Discworld before he got published, but I bet it wasn't, "So I'm writing this series based an the idea from Indian cosmology." The turtles and elephants are only significant in the first two books. After that, they're simply facts of life, and does it really matter which culture they came from?
In a modern world that worries about plagiarism and appropriation, that walks in dread of not citing our sources correctly, a lot of people feel this obligation to tell everybody where their inspiration came from. But inspiration is just that-inspiration. Just because you were inspired to write a switching places story after reading The Prince and the Pauper doesn't make it a retelling. And sometimes your story is flat out disqualified from  retelling status. I found a romance novel recently that the author and reviewers described as a retelling of the Book of Esther. But Esther isn't just a story. She lived and died. Here's her tomb. 
Queen Esther's tomb in West Iran
Yes, you should acknowledge your sources if you're taking large, recognizable elements from someone else's story, but if they only served as a springboard to propel you towards a story of your own, there's no need. Answer when people ask, but if they don't, just let them be bonuses. Your descriptions will be less cluttered that way.
Besides, you'll be mistaken for creative. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Stupidity with Sheila

I've had some dim lightbulb moments myself. All through my childhood, I heard people refer to lunchtime as "afternoon", but in first grade we ate lunch in midmorning. So until my upper elementary years I thought afternoon referred to eleven o' clock. In seventh grade I realized Ms. was a separate title than Miss, not an abbreviation, like Mr. for Mister. And I was seventeen before I figured out "Happy Holidays" is the all encompassing term for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and other sundry celebrations, not just Christmas and New Years.
But luckily for me, I came to these realizations quietly, so nobody had to correct me. Or worse, try and fail to correct me.
I've been in that position a few times.
Here are the top three stupid conversations I've had with another human being. These all involved separate girls, but to avoid naming names, I'll call every last one of them Sheila.
Here goes.

1. The French-American Civil War
Sheila sat in front of me in an eighth grade class called U.S. History. Our textbooks said "American" on the front covers. There was a large map of America on one wall. Everybody in the class, including our teacher, was American.
At the beginning of our Civil War unit, he told us, "Take out a piece of paper and write down the two sides that fought in the Civil War and which one won. You can use the textbooks. You have five minutes."
Like the rest of the class, I ignored the textbook and spent all of five seconds on the assignment
1. North
2. South
3. North
For the next five minutes, I watched Sheila flip through the book. I figured she had finished and was looking through the coming chapter. The moment our time was up, she turned around to me.
"My French teacher told me France fought in the Civil War. But what was the other one?"

2. Goooooo Cancer!
Sheila's purse had a Susan G. Komen pink ribbon key chain on the zipper pull, One day, she and the boy next to her were fighting over the purse when he accidentally snapped it off.
"Look what you did! How am I supposed to support breast cancer now?"
"Um, Sheila?" I said, "You don't support breast cancer."
She turned to me in shock. "Of course I do! I have a key chain!"
"You support breast cancer research or the Susan G. Komen foundation or the race for the cure. Not the cancer itself."
"Yeah! That's what 'support breast cancer' means."
"Uh....no. It's not. I don't support breast cancer."
She was horrified. "You don't?"
"Yeah. I also don't support car crashes, suicide, heart attacks-"
"Guys! She doesn't support breast cancer!"
Sheila and the boy asked me the same question as I walked into class for the rest of the week. My answer never changed.



3. White Family Insurance

One day Sheila walked into my dance class, sat down on the floor, and then turned to me with a question that had been weighing heavily on her mind. "Does Dunkin' Donuts sell donuts?"
I was fairly sure they did. "They're in the name, Sheila."
"Yes, but lots of companies are named after things they don't sell."
"Well..." I said the first company that came to mind. "Does American Family Insurance sell insurance to American families?"
Sheila had a good long think about this too. "I don't know. They sell it to black people."
"Sheila. Black people can be American. That's why we called African American."
At this point a girl sitting near us took pity and jumped into the conversation. "Yeah! There's also Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, European Americans-"
"I know that!" Sheila snapped. "What I want to know is, does Dunkin' Donuts sell donuts?"

4. No Culture For You
Just this Sunday, one of my guy friends left to serve as a Spanish speaking missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Texas. One of the girls (who is not the Sheila here) is heading out to the Philipines on her own mission soon. After the guy gave a farewell talk to his congregation, everyone who came to see him stood in the hallway to chat. We talked about the language and culture barriers they'd have to work with.
Hearing them talk about Spanish things and Filipino things reminded me of how Spain colonized the Philipines. I' said, "Doesn't the Philipines have a lot of Spanish influence."
"No." Sheila One looked me dead in the eyes. "They don't speak Spanish."
"Not the language. The culture. They were colonized by Spain."
"They don't have culture," Sheila Two said. "Just poor culture."
That's right, poor people. You're not allowed to have culture.
No songs.
No dances.
No recipes.
No fashion.
No folktales.
No holidays.
You have to be exactly the same as all other poor people everywhere.
Sheila said so.

And this, my friends, is why we send children to school. Although these Sheilas ranged in age from fourteen to eighteen. By that point, there's not a lot of fixing to be done. Some people are just stupid. Not uneducated, not misinformed, and not out of the loop. Stupid.
Stupid isn't what you don't know. It's refusing to believe that what you do know is wrong.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reasons Riley Isn't Gay

I've seen it before and it's happening again now. With Pixar's Inside Out being released within a week of the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling, conspiracy theorists and couch critics will emerge from the shadows to pass their verdict on protagonist Riley's sexuality. Watch. It happened with Elsa.
Elsa and Riley aren't the first Disney/Pixar characters to be scrutinized in this way. Flamboyant llama emperor Kuzco, who has a girlfriend in the spin off TV series, is often criticized the same way.




Ursula is said to be inspired by drag queen Divine and Timon and Pumbaa have raised a few eyebrows because for more or less adopting Simba. Never mind that Ursula's romantic preferences are NEVER a plot point and meerkats and warthogs can't mate.When Internet hearsayers start calling out Riley as gay, here's some of the evidence they'll use.

She lives in San Francisco. Gasp! Straight people can't live in San Francisco!
She owns a shirt with stripes in more than one colors. Gasp! Straight people can't wear rainbows!

Two of her five emotions (Fear and Anger) are male. When we get a glimpse inside her mom's head, they're all female. Inside her dad's mind, everyone has mustaches. Gasp! Straight people who haven't hit puberty yet can't have an emotional council with members of both genders. Also this interview segment displayed on Pixar's wikia page means absolutely nothing.

Regarding how the genders of the emotions were chosen, the process was intuitive, according to (Pete) Docter; he felt Anger was more masculine, while Sadness was more feminine. Casting was also an influence, notably for Disgust with Mindy Kaling. The main characters were made female also to reflect their location inside a girl's mind. Regarding the emotions of Riley's parents, he said: "We skewed them all male and all female for a quick read, because you have to understand where we are, which is a little phony but hopefully people don't mind!"

She plays hockey. Gasp! Straight girls can't play sports for fun and exercise!




 Haven't heard that one before.


Some things to keep in mind before then:
1. Riley is eleven years old her sexuality is in no way a pertinent part of this story.
2. She has an imaginary boyfriend factory inside her brain.
3. She shows a connection with a boy at the end of the movie.
4. If Pixar did want to create a gay feature character, you can bet they'd advertise it, and they haven't.
5. Riley is eleven years old her sexuality is in no way a pertinent part of this story.


















Thursday, June 18, 2015

You Can't Blame the Yankees


Sometime ago I was listening to the radio on the way to school as people called in to share their experiences with "hatred by association." One woman hated the Yankees. The team had never done anything to harm her. But her ex-boyfriend was a fan, and whenever she saw the logo, she thought of him. So she lumped the Yankees in with the memory of him and hated the whole package.
Nearly everyone who called in had the same story. A friend, a family member, a lover-someone important to them had betrayed them or left their lives, and they hater everything their memory clung to. 
That was the first time I ever heard someone bring up secondhand hate in my hearing. But the more I think about it, the more I see it.
A toddle is attacked by a pit bull. He grows into a man who hates pit bulls, cocker spaniels, Dalmatians, chihuahuas, and anything else with four legs and a dog collar.
A girl is bullied by a girl named Sheila. Twenty years later, her husband wants to name their first born daughter after Great Aunt Sheila, and she won't hear of it.
A white kid, age nine, is bullied by a Hispanic kid. He hates that kid and projects that hatred onto an entire race. If he grows up racist, it's not because he was bullied as a child, but because he chose to hold onto that hate.
A woman falls in love with a man. They're engaged only for him to break it off three days before the wedding. She turns her back in love for the rest of her life.
Sometimes it's less secondhand hate than secondhand fear or pain. But if you find yourself clinging to something that never hurt you, it's unnecessary. Pain isn't the only option.
My friend Hannah had a near drowning incident in third grade. It left her with mental and physical limitations. She used a wheelchair for part of elementary school, but now she's fine walking and standing for short periods. We were chatting about the coming summer in class one day when she told me she was looking forward to swimming.
"You're not afraid of water?" I asked.
"No. My mom is, but I'm fine."
She's the one who nearly drowned. But she has no memories of the accident, so even though she lives with the consequences every time she stands or walks, she hasn't chosen to hold onto secondhand fear.
At age ten I was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome. I disagreed with the diagnosis and didn't accept it until years after the symptoms had vanished. So when I told people I had Tourette's, it brought on guilt. Once, after checking me out for a doctor's appointment, my mom took me shopping. I got five shirts. I wore those shirts for the next three years. Each time I did, I remembered where I got it and why. 
But I didn't stop wearing those shirts just because.
We went to a Christmas party with other Tourette's kids. I got a Polly Pocket from the gift exchange. She cost her buyer less than five dollars, but every time I looked at her, she was a present I didn't deserve. I barely played with her. But if I didn't have her on display with my other dolls, I felt I was hiding my shame. So I kept her out in the open. 
Now she's shut away in a box under a pile of papers in my bottom dresser drawer. I come across her maybe once a year when I reorganize my drawer. And each time I'm guilty again. But you know what? There's no reason this little lump of plastic should be a guilt vessel. I didn't steal it. The guilt isn't about the doll, it's about the memories I've shut inside it. Secondhand guilt isn't worth holding onto either.
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You can't blame the Yankees for a breakup. If you breakup with the Yankees along with the boy, you're not protecting yourself. You're losing both your boyfriend and your favorite team. What else goes out with the bathwater? Your special song? The whole album? The singer? An entire music genre?  I read a post from a woman whose last three breakups occurred while Taylor Swift songs were playing. Now she gets nervous whenever her music comes on while she's in the car with her boyfriend. 
There is a place for hate.You can't let hate drive you, consume you. The same goes for fear, worry, anger, and guilt. Most negative emotions that take their toll on you are secondhand.
So why let them consume you?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee


Genre: Contemporary
Rating: *****
Pages: 266
Should I Be Concerned? Frequent and harsh swearing but no sex.

Prom king. Debate captain. Harvard early admission. Higgs Boson Bing is a high school success-until his girlfriend asks, hypothetically, if he'd donate a kidney to save her life. When he says no, she takes it as a personal betrayal. The next day, the entire school's turned against him. He can't take a step down the hall without passing a "Higgs Bing is a Dinky Dick" poster. His best friend's stopped speaking to him. And that Society for Animal Protection he listed on his application? Yeah, someone tipped off Harvard that it had two members and never actually saved an animal.
The entire faculty, from the janitor to the principal, is more than happy to watch his life of privilege crumble around him. At home, his mom's too busy grieving for his perfect older brother to help. Meahwhile, his dad's obsession with having a second Harvard bound son blocks him from seeing Higgs' real needs.
He needs an ally-and he finds her in a beaten up trailer by the river.
Monarch couldn't be farther from the Ivy League crowd Higgs once called friends. She has dark eyeshadow, a butterfly tattoo, and a reckless sense of adventure. Whether they're launching a pet store raid to make Higgs a true animal defender or just handing out in her trailer doesn't matter. She makes him feel more alive than his two-kidneyed girlfriend ever did.
Hanging out with Monarch may get him arrested, but with seven days to graduation, it's time he started living.
This book was perfect for me. I don't know if it will hit the spot for anyone else, but it did for me. Usually when I read a book, it's an errand months in the making. I mark the release date on my calendar, take my sweet time finding a copy, and then put it in my monstrous To Be Read.
Kidney Hypothetical wasn't like that. I picked it up on a whim, read the jacket flap, and ended up taking it home. The fact that I went to the library seven days before graduation might've had something to do with it. In the world of fiction, breakups and betrayals are fueled by some dramatic incident. In real life, they fall apart because of petty pride and escalating arguments. I've never seen a work of fiction ground that particular piece of reality into a story. At least, not a non-comedy.
It's grittier than what I usually read, and Higgs' trainwrecked life hits some pretty low points, but his wacky escapades and the sheer absurdity of his situation provides comic relief. Kidney Hypothetical is more applicable to my life than any book I've read in the last year. I would've stayed up all night to finish it, but I wanted to drag it out and savor the taste.



Monday, May 18, 2015

Cry Me A River



This is my river. The Jordan. No, not the biblical Jordan. Just one of its four American namesakes. It's a third of the length of the original and doesn't carry a tenth of the prestige when all the rivers get together to care themselves. But it's similar enough to merit the name Jordan. They both flow from a freshwater body to a Dead Sea, never mind that theirs is both deeper and saltier. We merit the other half of the name, too. River. Yes, the stretch of it I can see from my kitchen window is only ten feet across in parts. Yes, there are bigger ditches and flooded roads across the world. But it's a river, and it's mine, so don't let me here you talking bad about it.
Awhile back I took my dog for a walk along my river. As he stopped to measure the algae levels with his tongue, I sat on the bank and thought about my life. My problems and the ones I see my friends going through. My problems and the wars and rumors of wars around the world. There are places in the world where kids have to cross rickety rope bridges to get an education on the other side of their rivers. There are rivers that run dry. There are rivers that flood. My river and my problems seem small by comparison.
So is my dribbly ditch still worthy of riverhood? I'll say yes. Everyone needs rivers, and in desert Utah we can't afford to be picky. 
I threw a rock across the water. It was so shallow, I watched it sink to the scummy bottom, and I got to thinking about the greatest river I've ever been on, the Colorado.

The Colorado is one of the largest rivers in the US. It flows through seven states, five American and two Mexican. It's the Colorado that chiseled away patiently for thousands of years to carve the Grand Canyon. For the last few millennia there have been humans living alongside it. 40 million humans depend on it today. In addition to people, it feeds everything from sheep ranches to hydroelectric dams. So even if you only see rivers for what they give YOU, you're still dependent on it for fleece and power. 

Give said the little stream
Give oh give
Give oh give
Give said the little stream
As it hurried down the hill 
I'm small I know
But wherever I go
The grass grows greener still
Singing, singing all the day
Give away, oh give away
Singing, singing all the day
Give oh give away

Those are the words of a song I learned in church as a girl. It's my song as much as it's my river. We're taught to be selfless, like that little stream, and like the mighty Colorado. But what toll does all this giving take on the poor river?
One thousand four hundred and fifty miles of water. It stretches from the Colorado Rockies to world's largest ocean. Sometimes. After all that damming and drinking and sheeping, the Colorado River runs dry. By the time it reaches the Pacific it can barely lick at the sand. In the last fifty years it's only reached the sea a handful of times. Each year when I visit Lake Powell, one of the many pockets of water sucking moisture from the Colorado, I see this great white bathtub ring around the edges, a reminder of what it's lost.
Maybe the Colorado's happy to give. All those drinkers and dammers and ranchers, what would they do without it? And the Pacific certainly doesn't miss it. There are plenty of other rivers to feed it. But maybe, just maybe, the Colorado would like to kiss the sea again. 

Last week I was driving home in the rain when I saw a guy I knew walking the road alone. It was a vertical river, and a light one at that, but I don't like watching people drown. So I drove a few more seconds and pulled over, too far ahead to put a puddle in his path. 
"No one walks alone in the rain," I told him, and he got in my car. 
Turns out, his course wasn't a long one. I pulled into his driveway and watched him shoot off his mouth as the sun dried the concrete around us. 
He talked about people, and his problems, and his problems with people. How depressed people need to suck it up and realize everyone has problems. How cutters need to put down their dripping blades and start acting healthy. How they shouldn't cry out for help as they drowned because if they had air to scream they weren't drowning in the first place. 
He had so many problems, but what he didn't seem to realize was that he'd become one of mine. I let him out and went home to my river.
There are two great lessons we can learn from rivers. One is that we all have problems. There are Poor Starving Children in Africa who don't have rivers. And on the other side of Africa a village just got flooded.
The second is that we can't keep give-oh-giving all the live long day. There comes a time when you don't want to be the constant faucet to a constant drain.
We all have rivers. Maybe yours is deep, and his is long. Maybe his is long, and hers is rapid. Maybe hers is rapid, and mine is salty. Every river has its problems, is its problems-but don't you dare thing you're the only one out there with a river.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

She Will Be Victorious


They say that behind every powerful man is an even stronger woman. Well, behind every strong woman is a man who tried to beat her down. For Queen Victoria that man was John Conroy.You know Vicky. You've never heard of John. Well, have you? That's because Victoria was a resilient girl who never let Conroy become her puppet master.

Victoria's father died when she was young and her mother soon went broke. It takes cash to raise the queen of England and she turned to her husband's old friend. That's our Johnny boy. There's no record of their conversation, but I believe it went something like this.Mama: I'm broke and my daughter is supposed to become the most powerful woman in Britain. A little help here?Conroy: Oh, you want me to move in with you and control your finances and break your daughter emotionally so she's too weak to rule and I get to control the money foreeeeever?Mama: Wait, what?Conroy: Yeah, I'll help.Mama: Yippee!


For the duration of Victoria's childhood, Conroy called the shots. He fired staff who were too kind to her. Whenever she disobeyed, she had to stand on a dark landing all alone with her hands tied behind her back. Years passed. She grew from a scared child to a teenager who dared rebel in tiny ways, like glaring at him when he came into the room and writing gushing diary entries about people Conroy hated. Of course he read her diary, what responsible guardian wouldn't? He also never told her she was going to be queen of  England. Her governess, who he never could manage to fire, slipped a royal family tree into a book of hers one day and she figured it out. He did his best to keep her from becoming a queen the world would want to have.
Victoria's old, fat uncle-king got older and fatter but he stubbornly refused to die before Victoria came of age. That put Conroy's panties in a twist, so when Victoria came down with typhoid fever, he struck.Here she is, barely lucid, hair falling out, the governess Conroy hasn't managed to fire yet hovering at her bedside, when Conroy barges in flapping a paper. Just sign it, and I'll be your financial secretary forever and ever. She later wrote of this time, "I was extremely crushed and kept under and hardly dared saw a word." Yet somehow, Victoria found the strength in her to resist, even when her mother (who historians speculate might have been Conroy's lover) got in on the bullying.
The night Victoria gets the news, she walks up to Conroy and tells him, "I'm the Queen of England. Sucks to suck. Get out of my palace and die alone."
Something like that, anyway.
You know the rest of the story. She brings about the Victorian era and has landmarks on every continent named after her. The sun never sets on her empire. One of the strongest rulers in history, but what stands out to me is her weakness.
She knew she was destined to be the queen of England. Well, eventually. She knew didn't have to bow down to Conroy. But he took away any power she might have had as a child and cut her off from the people and things that would have lent her strength.
We all have a John Conroy in our lives. Someone who decides to play puppet master and succeeds only because we stand limp and let him jiggle our limbs. Someone who thinks any slight expression of free will is an intolerable act of rebellion. Someone who can't be pleased, or reasoned with, or satisfied by anything other than a bowed head and a hushed tongue. Someone who wants you to be their constant faucet to their constant drain. 
Unless you plan on becoming Queen of England sometime soon, there's only one way to deal with a Conroy: Stand up for yourself. Stand up for yourself and be victorious. 


Victoria recovers, turns eighteen, and outlives her uncle-king.