Monday, July 4, 2016

Fourth Cleaning: Photos and Thoughts (Art of Connection Part Two)

Happy Fourth to everyone! Hope you're all enjoying a nice dose of history, celebration, and the nation's colors.

Weekend was the Florida Supercon, which was loads of fun. I got a photo with Tara Strong, one of the best voice actresses ever, as well as a signed print from Jim Cummings. In addition I sold a book, connected with fellow Undertale fans, and basked in a safe space for people that enjoy fandoms. One reader who bought a book last year came to talk with me, and gave me his card so I could email him. It was a good Sunday, with all of these great events happening.

My first thought was how sweet Tara Strong was to her fans. She complimented one family's Incredibles cosplay and during an hourlong Q & A was a good sport about answering questions as the characters she's played: Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony, Raven from Teen Titans, and Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls. Two girls in the cutest outfits asked the same question during a time-pressured event, but she gave the same answer in two different ways. It's important to be nice to fans who are children, and there were plenty of them in costume and not, because they are innocent and new to the world of lovely animation and books. Several kids asked to take photos with me, and I always obliged. It was quite flattering.

 Today was a cleanup day, so I've filled one garbage bag with various items, and noticing how dusty my room becomes when books and papers gather in one place. I've also used up some scrap paper for sketching, started charging a digital camera that can record video since my iPhone can't record sound, skimmed magazines to toss them, and went for a bike ride to clear my head in the hopes of writing for Camp Nanowrimo.

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There was one photo I was considering whether or not to toss, one of the pictures that was taken when I was in preschool. I don't have many memories of being that young, but I remember having that photo taken multiple times because I wasn't smiling right. Apparently I was showing too much teeth and grimacing. Given the photo was sitting on my windowsill, not in a protective frame, it had become faded and dusty. Before I could make a decision, my mother made the benevolent decision to take it and store with our baby photos.

It's amazing how much photography has changed in twenty years. When I was a kid, I wanted a camera on my own and had several disposable ones that were one-time use and relied on film paper that would burn up if exposed to light. Now I have a digital camera that works quite well when charged, and probably needs its memory cleared with all the photos I took during university.

This is a photo from my digital camera, showing some parrots that are renting our palm tree.

I greatly enjoyed connecting with people at the Florida Supercon. My sales skills still need some practice, but seeing so many happy people in one space offered hope in light of the tragic news that hit us in June with the Orlando shooting. Next year I'll certainly remember to take more photos. My goal this summer is to take more videos and photos with my digital camera instead of my phone, and to behave like an actual writer. I've signed up for a Camp Nanowrimo month, as well as a July Flash Fiction challenge. With luck by the end of this month I might have a short novel, or at least some good stories.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day

Thanks to my sister for this video

My dad played tennis. He planted palm trees, mango trees, and banana trees in our yard. He recorded hours of us playing with his camcorder, on various tapes that we would later play back on television. Kasi Sridhar, MD, was also an oncologist, and he saved many lives. A few of his patients have kept in contact with us. They express their gratitude by offering to help in various ways.

It's 2016, 15 years since my father died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. My mother raised five of us alone, and we spent this Father's Day sitting out in our backyard, eating watermelon, and then picking mangoes from the trees that my father planted. We were testing out a new fruit picker that could reach high into the tree tops, and a mango fell on my head as we tried to catch it. The fruit picker worked like a charm.

The trees have grown into large canopies, with several rogue mango saplings having taken root in odd places. The key lime that my dad planted got chopped down after Hurricane Katrina, despite being perfectly healthy, but the curry leaf trees have blossomed. The bananas give fruit every several months.

I don't know what my dad would have thought of how I turned out. On one hand, I graduated with a Bachelor's and a Master's Degree, and have become a published author. On the other, I wasn't exactly the saint or the straight A student that my siblings were. He believed in the value of education, and of knowing what you wanted to do. He also supported my arts and crafts as a kid, and would have liked to see my reading habits. I'd like to think he was proud of me.

Happy Father's Day, to everyone who doesn't have a father this year. We made it this far. I hope your dads loved you as much as mine did.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Considering the Source: Handling Book Recs from Former Friends

 Hi, all! It's been too long. I graduated from University of Miami with my MBA and started a meaningful job where I can make a difference.

Right now I'm reading Red Queen, a Young Adult fantasy romp. It talks about a world where magical people oppress normal people, the way benders do in the series Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and a girl who instead of being shipped off to war ends up in the royal courts as a spy. Despite the good writing, the intriguing plot and the promise of moral ambiguity, I'm not enjoying this book. This is not the book's fault and I know it. The fault lies in who recommended the book.

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A few months ago, tragedy struck the How to Train Your Dragon fandom, and some anonymous trolls are trying to ride on the resulting shockwaves. In the meantime, a not-so anonymous user has been suffering problems, and he recommended Red Queen while I reached out to comfort him. Shortly after recommending it, he became verbally abusive, and I had to cut communication with him to not lose my temper. That was a couple of months ago; I only finished Red Queen today, but I'm associating each prose with the frustration and disgust.

This isn't the first time I've experienced such an association. My first beta reader and I had a fallout several years back when he recommend A Game of Thrones -- the book, not the show-- and The Gospel According to Christ, and I took issue with the fact that both of the books kill characters with glee and don't really relax the reader. As a result, though I occasionally check Game of Thrones updates I hold irrational resentment towards the franchise. I've also gone softer on my fictional characters, more reluctant to make them suffer.

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There are two explanations for this frustration: one is that the book recommendation shows the person's state of mind when they vouch for you to read it, or that you can't believe that the bad conversations will surge in full force, as well as the bilious emotions. 

The first explanation holds a grain of merit. Both Game of Thrones and Red Queen are similar in showing complicated politics and the villain gaining a massive victory, with infatuated characters getting screwed over in a bad way. While a person's taste doesn't necessarily reveal their personality, since author Hannah Moskowitz is a bubbly, cheerful person while writing about teen angst and pain, it might provide a few red flags. The red flags come from when someone defends the author's choices with verbal abuse and with assuming that another person with a different opinion is in the wrong. Red Queen takes a Hunger Games-like approach to a new fantasy world, without the hope that Hunger Games has for a better world and for people to survive their own mistakes and capacity to cause violence. It also incorporates a lot of political games that aren't really my cup of tea. Thus while I know other people who are fans of the show and the book, I make sure we can discuss other works appropriately.

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As for the second explanation, science would support that. Obviously the psychological associations need to be taken into account, in that we create connections with items based on experience. The other is that I read these books in the hopes of becoming better friends with these individuals. I like reading fiction in general, especially that which helps me escape to another world. When I don't enjoy a book, it hits me hard since I try my best to finish it despite any clunky prose or unwanted emotions. Sometimes when a book is too well written, it will strike nerves that are not meant to be struck and I react rather poorly. That is what happened with Game of Thrones, and why I didn't like the story at all. Instead of talking through why it's an upsetting book, my beta reader yelled at me for reading it too fast and for believing that all fiction needs to be escapist. Following a similar argument over The Gospel According to Christ, our friendship didn't survive past that summer. For that reason I associate what happened to Ned Stark and Joseph with those arguments. 

With all of this said, it seems the easiest solution lies in not accepting book recommendations from people that feel strongly rooted in their opinions. If someone else won't create a safe space to disagree, then a reader may as well not participate in intellectual exploration.  Even that solution is not so simple on the surface; sometimes people are fine with others having different tastes, and sometimes people are far from reasonable. Word of mouth is also the strongest means of spreading books to people, and I like to find new authors to read.

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I'm not going to reread A Game of Thrones, Red Queen, or The Gospel According to Christ due to the associations and the source material. When it comes to rereading, I choose the books that fill me with joy and contentment. Despite that, I won't disregard a book or give it a two-star review because of circumstances unrelated to the prose or the choice of narrative style. That would be unkind, and as an author I don't want to be unkind in that way. Someday I hope that my stories don't cause schisms, and instead bring people together.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Thinking of the Children

A few months ago, before Alex Hirsch made an important announcement, I caught a video of people reacting to an altered opening of Gravity Falls, a fantastic animated show on Disney that is worth more than several blog posts. People these days on YouTube sometimes post their to watching episodes blind, so that they can provide entertainment and connection with the viewers. It gives me an incentive to work out and do yoga while watching, at the least.

In this case, the reactions varied because the opening featured an antagonist distorting the traditional opening credits and theme song. Three kids reacted; so did about eight adults. While the adults' reactions varied from open-mouthed gaping to wide grins, the two kids at the end laughed at seeing what the antagonist had done.

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"Where did these kids get their courage?" I wondered. "How come they're enjoying themselves when this is terrifying the older viewers?"

As a kid, everything scared me. I watched a lot of PBS since we didn't have cable, and mainly I preferred the cutesy or hilarious stuff on YouTube. My favorite shows included The Magic Schoolbus, Sailor Moon (the watered down dub that had synthesizer music), Arthur, The Jewel Riders, Batman: The Animated Series and Superman confused me, while Johnny Quest seemed too dark. A few late night commercials that featured people drowning gave me a fear of going on boats for a long time. Thus I wasn't a kid who would laugh at a hostile show takeover.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a dark version of “The Three Little Pigs” were probably the only books I read that I laughed at while other people found terrifying, in part because the characters in both stories seemed to not realize they were in a morbid fairy tale. In fairy tales, characters receive rules like to stay on the path, be kind to strangers and offer your food, and use your brains to outwit evil. Within Willy Wonka’s factory, the children ignore direct instructions to not drink from a chocolate river or chew untested gum or attempt to snatch a squirrel, and the results are morbidly hilarious. Quick recap: the book, films and theater adaptations feature five kids and their parents going into a factory with sweets that defy traditional convention but also are made quite dangerously, and four of the kids end up suffering terrible fates because they try to mess with the factory's mechanisms.

As for the "Three Little Pigs," the version that we read in preschool involved the three pigs surviving and boiling the wolf for stew. The picture book illustration featured the pigs setting the dinner table, and preparing to dine on wolf meat and bread. It felt hilarious, and other versions didn't quite meet the same amount of karma with either the wolf simply getting boiled alive and two of the pigs eaten,

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Fear is a conditioned response, that children learn from their environments. People may develop arachnophobia, for example, by witnessing their parents reacting to spiders with fear as the Eyewitness documentaries mention, or being trapped in the car with one as a child. Television taught me to fear drowning. The older we get, the stronger or weaker these fears become, depending on our experiences; learning to drive, for example, got rid of most of that fear of drowning, though watching Titanic still makes me anxious. I also become more scared when characters I like get hurt, because my empathy for them has increased with time.

Does this mean that kids who aren't scared of Gravity Falls do not perceive the same fears that adults do when watching the same material? It's possible, but it may also be possible that children can see a story as just a story, while adults know that people can and will get hurt in real life and see their fears reflected in an animated medium. An antagonist taking over the introductory credits implies that he can enter our world and change our reality, which can be nightmarish and a mind-screw. Having that in a "kid's show" adds to the fear, because it slips past the censors.

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In either case, I believe that we should nurture courage in children, because learning to be afraid of irrational things is just as bad as being afraid of reasonable dangers. It's better to laugh at the things than cannot happen, than to recall the things that can.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Allowances for Idiotic Decisions:

On TVTropes, I found myself at first disliking the "What An Idiot" page because it seemed to be highly nitpicky. Then I started creating pages of them for animated shows, like Gravity Falls and Miraculous Ladybug, to point out the character moments of weakness that lead to the plot occurring.  When I moved on to Undertale, however, the response was quite different. One troper deleted two of the entries, without talking to me directly. When I asked why, a moderator gave me the gist of this response:

"Contrived stupidity is not okay. Human nature and reactions to stress are okay in fiction."

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I am mildly curious as to how to pursue this discussion. Eventually the entire page got deleted, to my chagrin, and once more I wasn't contacted about why. There were discussions about the page, but again I wasn't consulted or easily able to find them. I let it go, though I'm still astonished that the person simply didn't talk to me about why my entries were wrong. Below I've copy-pasted the page because I do want to spark a discussion around the idea if human (or monster) nature is enough to allow for cases of idiocy, as well as plot holes in the backstory.

If you haven't played Undertale, or plan do, do note these entries have spoilers. The game is about a human child that falls into an underground realm of monsters, with the player deciding whether or not to be a pacifist, a serial murderer, or something in between. They also have to contend with nearly every monster trying to kill them, and the power of resets.  Spoilers are unmarked, so BEWARE!

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There was a war between monsters and humans. It's implied that the war started because most
monsters are not aware that their bullet patterns can hurt humans, even when they are trying to be helpful or friendly, while a human with enough murderous intent can kill a monster with ease.

You'd Expect: For some monsters and humans to try and find a way around this problem, like protective Temmie Armor for the humans or some sort of hazard suit. Having these precautions might have prevented a war, even if one assumes that humans imprisoned the monsters in a case of prejudice. Surely a little bit of kindness would go a long way.
Instead: This never happens. You can acquire Temmie Armor in the game with enough farming for gold, but humans above-ground know nothing about how to defend against monsters.

This is kind of important, given that monsters can easily kill a human if they're not careful, while humans have to deliberately want to hurt a monster to kill them. Hazard suits or armor would do well in preventing a great war, or at least allowing monsters and humans to mingle.

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The humans won, forcing the monsters underground into Mount Ebott and sealing them in with a barrier. There happens to be a giant hole in this mountain that doesn't block humans from coming in, and quite a few do.
You'd Expect: For the humans to either cover the hole with something sturdy like a wooden cover, or a net, so that no one falls. What's more, someone ought to add a lot of caution tape about the hole or figure out why children keep going there.
You'd Also Expect: For humans to remember the monsters, the good and the bad. They may come back one day, if they get enough souls to break the barrier.
Instead: The humans do none of this. The hole is a literal tourist trap for at least seven children, and these children have no idea how to handle monsters. Most of these children die as a result.

I actually am scratching my head about this because in the game's prologue one can see the size of the hole relative to that of a human child. It is a rather large hole somewhere on Mount Ebbott, and at least seven children have found it. The big question is why, and how this was allowed.


The first Child that fell, whom the player names at the beginning of the game, becomes Asgore and Toriel's adopted child, along with their son Asriel. The Fallen Child and Asriel become best friends, and with the best of intentions they make their dad a pie with buttercups instead of cups of butter. This makes Asgore very ill, but while Asriel and Toriel fret, the Fallen laughs.
You'd Expect: That after this incident Toriel would have an antidote for buttercups on hand, and take note of the Child's behavior. It's especially troubling in that Asriel feels weak in that he wasn't able to laugh like the Fallen.
Instead: For some reason, despite her fire magic and healing abilities, Toriel does not have an antidote for buttercup poisoning, so that when the Fallen dies by deliberately eating buttercups, she does not realize and can't do anything about it. Asgore has an excuse in that he's not a healer, as far as gameplay reveals.

This I felt was an oversight on Toriel's part, given she heals you quite easily in the game. Why would buttercup poisoning end up beyond her powers? What part of the story did we miss here?

The Fallen Child, coated in monster dust.
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On that note, the Fallen ate the buttercups to enact a deadly plan, ostensibly to break the barrier. They would die, allowing Asriel to merge with their soul, cross the barrier, and retrieve the souls needed for the procedure.
You'd think: Asriel would point out all the flaws in this plan, namely that if the Fallen dies, Asgore and Toriel will be heartbroken, and humans can kill monsters quite easily. Also if the Fallen isn't convinced, then tell Toriel and Asgore to put a stop to this nonsense.
Instead: Despite his reservations, Asriel goes along with the plan and doesn't tell Asgore or Toriel about it. Somewhat justified in that he's an eight-year old child and his parents would have not allowed this plan to happen, but still.

Are children allowed to make these sort of mistakes? It is hard to say. Seven human souls in total are needed to cross the barrier, and a monster can only obtain them Underground from the children that fall.

Asriel and the Fallen are merged with the goat-boy's body, and the Fallen compels Asriel to carry their human body to their village to rest on a field of golden flowers. It's there that, when Asriel is seen by the villagers, that Asriel realizes that his adoptive sibling is homicidal and wants to kill all the humans.  
You'd Expect: For Asriel to at least put up some self-defense, run for his life, or that if he and the Fallen have gone this far to at least obtain the souls. In that way, at least this journey won't be fruitless. Likewise, you'd expect that the Fallen would stop wrestling for control and allow Asriel to flee, or at least have them form a temporary alliance.
Instead: Asriel doesn't allow the Fallen to fight back against the angry humans and returns to the Underground mortally wounded. Asgore and Toriel are devastated when they see their son dissolve into dust on their throne room, and don't even know of the plan.

The trope is called "Do Wrong Right" since morality is relative, and sometimes it may be better to do the wrong thing for the right reasons instead of dying due to humans being righteously furious.
Asgore when he fights you. He can't even meet your eyes.

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Another entry not here is that Asgore in a fit of grief declared that any human who entered the Underground would die, and their souls used to crush the barrier. This I feel was a stupid move on his part since it costs him his marriage with Toriel, Asgore doesn't actually want to kill anyone, and the monsters are invigorated with hope. People who disagreed with me pointed out that Asgore had just lost two children in one night; I feel that as the king he ought to have made a more responsible decision and not been rash.  
After Toriel has left, and faced with the prospect of killing seven humans, Asgore hires Royal Scientist Alphys to see if artificial souls can be made to break the barrier instead, and if the comatose monsters that lose hope can be revived. The artificial souls are a disaster, and injecting determination into the monsters ends up causing their bodies to melt and turn into the Amalgamates. Most cannot even remember who they are and are potentially dangerous.
You'd expect: Alphys to realize that it's not her fault that the Amalgamates formed. Scientific experiments go wrong all the time, and the test subjects' families knew the risks. In addition, it's dangerous for her to handle it alone.
Instead: Alphys internalizes the guilt, nearly commits suicide, and refuses to answer any calls. She believes herself no better than trash for failing with the experiments.

As someone who studied biology in undergrad, I believe that you have to be prepared for experiments to go wrong. Alphys did the best that she could under the circumstances.

This was the only one that I agreed on deleting due to the ambiguity of the situation. Alphys during her experiments creates Flowey by taking the largest golden flower from Asgore's throne room. Flowey in the Genocide Run recounts that he woke up and called for his parents.
'You'd Expect: For Alphys to have communicated with Flowey as soon as the flower woke up, and to monitor it. Once she realized that Flowey was a reincarnation of a soulless Asriel, she'd notify Asgore immediately.
Instead: For some reason, Alphys wasn't there, and though Flowey called, "nobody came". Flowey left, as the journal entries in the True Lab note, tried to adapt his SAVE file and rescue everyone, and soon realized that he lacked empathy and was unable to return to his true form without a soul. This turned him into the game's main villain, and becomes even more heartbreaking since Asgore during his fight with you says he wants to see his son again.

Some sort of plot hole happened here. Why didn't Alphys and Flowey team up? Why couldn't Alphys help?

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Flowey introduces you to the game play. He was also hoping to obtain the six souls from Asgore, but couldn't because he's not strong enough.
You'd Expect: That he would form an alliance with the player character, or deceive you into bypassing Toriel, getting out of the ruins and going to Asgore. This would be much more efficient having you alive rather than dead.
Instead: He succumbs to his murderous nature, tries to kill you with "friendliness pellets" due to wanting your soul for himself, and Toriel knocks him away with a fireball.

This is egregious on Flowey's part, since he immediately tries to go for your soul and Toriel saves you without breaking a sweat. He's not stupid due to the number of resets he's done; thus he ought to know that she's patrolling the Ruins. In AU fics and fan-comics where Flowey is good, he does help the player character bypass Toriel to the best of his ability.

Toriel after rescuing you wants to keep you in the Ruins, for your safety. If you express a desire to go home, and the game cannot progress unless you do, she plans to destroy the one-way exit and warns you three times to not stop her.
You'd think: That the player character would explain that much as they would like to stay if they so desire, that if you try to go back to bed after her final warning that a strange voice tells you to wake up and calls you by the Fallen Child's Name. Then at least Toriel would realize that you are haunted by her dead child and will switch her tactics since someone is obviously manipulating you into leaving and breaking her heart.
Instead: The player character doesn't have that option, even when talking to Toriel in battle. As a matter of fact, "You cannot think of anything to say." This leads to tragedy whether or not Toriel lives or dies.

Gameplay demands that you have to defy Toriel and leave the Ruins. You cannot bypass this, unless you decide to stop the game at staying with her and watch her read about snails. Yet you cannot tell her why you have to leave, especially that you have a bit of the Fallen haunting you. Being able to communicate would save a lot of pain.

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During the game itself, at least two monsters, Papyrus and Undyne, want to capture the player or take their soul. Papyrus wants to be a member of the Royal Guard,
You'd Expect: That Papyrus and Undyne would immediately capture you and escort you, either willingly or forcibly, to the king and reap your soul in front of the barrier.
Instead: Papyrus due to his ego wastes his time making you do puzzles, and only locks you up in his garage three times if you lose to him. Undyne does hunt you down multiple times in Waterfall and the Dump, but she forces you to fight and doesn't think to simply sling you over her shoulder and carry you to New Home.

This refers to a Pacifist Run, where you as the player character pose no threat to the monsters and thus are vulnerable in most of the fights. In other runs like Genocide where you kill everyone, Papyrus spares you immediately, trusting in inherent goodness, and Undyne fights you to save the humans.
With that said, in any run Papyrus and Undyne are strong enough to sling you over their shoulders to encounter the king. Their fatal flaws undermine their attempts, however; Undyne likes to fight and wants to kill you in a Pacifist Run to give the monsters Freedom, and Papyrus wants to be your friend and join the Royal Guard at the same time.

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Sans tells the player on certain runs that Papyrus, if you spare the latter, has been talking to a flower. He believes that someone is playing a prank on Papyrus since you can record messages with an echo flower. The player immediately realizes that Papyrus has been talking to Flowey

You'd Expect: That Sans would realize that something is up with the flower, and if someone is pranking him, say that only he can pick on Papyrus, and put a stop to the nonsense. If not, then he'd find Flowey and tell him to stop. You'd also think that the player character would tell Sans since Flowey is a murderer and dangerous, since Sans is the older brother and protective of Papyrus.
Instead: Sans, due to his despondence at life and being aware of resets, does not put in the effort. The player character also cannot tell Sans about the flower, which would save a giant sneak attack at the end of the Pacifist Run.

Yeah. Sans's main priority is to make sure that you don't condemn all of the Underground with your actions, if you decide to fight or spare Monsters. He doesn't consider that a tiny flower could pose a threat, despite hinting that he remembers the resets.

So for those who play Undertale or know of the game, what are your thoughts? Are these reasonable moments of idiocy or a case of nitpicking?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Disliking Vs. Hating Stephenie Meyer's Work: Power of the Written Word

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Happy Valentine's Day! Monday will be the Gravity Falls series finale. I'll probably post my thoughts on the latter at another time. For now, though, in light of one of the most romantic and commercial holidays, I will talk about one pop culture phenomenon with books: Twilight. Four years ago, author Shannon Hale wrote a blog post about Twilight, namely about how people have made it acceptable to mock the work and to belittle it, despite Twilight being a success. This paragraph from Shannon's blog has stayed with me, all through the years:

"I recently heard a writer speaking at a conference (a writer I respect, like, and who has had objectively admirable success). When asked by the audience to name a favorite book, he answered, "I'll tell you one I wish had never been written: Twilight." It was an unnecessary and petty comment, I thought, but what really troubled me was the audience's reaction: they applauded and cheered. I've encountered similar scenes dozens of times. By all means, don't like Twilight. Don't read it. Or read it and have intelligent conversations about why you don't like it. But I question why it's become okay to hate, mock, demean, ridicule this writer woman and her series that's loved by so many women."

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Several thoughts always come to mind when I think of this quote. The first is that I admire Shannon's work so much, as well as her kindness to everyone. She's given me hugs at book signings and before she received too many emails would respond to mine frequently. The second is that I wonder how often I've mocked a work that someone worked hard on, or critiqued it on this blog while expressing my opinion. The third is that I wonder if I would defend my writing friends if they ended up in a similar scenario, though probably they never would because their writing is fantastic.

The first Twilight book deceived me, but not for the reasons that one may think. I knew going into it that Edward was a vampire, and Bella was going to fall in love with him, and develop an obsession. That became clear on the back cover, and from the newspaper article that talked about how book two started. To be honest, I've read only Twilight, not the rest of the trilogy, precisely because the first book changed the plot in the last hundred pages and shifted gears, all to create drama. I felt tricked. I do not like books that deceive me in such a way. Who cared about Edward or Jacob when the writer pulled the rug under our feet unfairly?

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Despite this dislike, and my having done a speech about "What to Do When Your Friends Like Twilight,"I try to make it clear that my opinions on books are not the end-all, be-all, unless I'm in a verbal or digital argument in real time. Two of my writer friends are huge Twilight fans, and I don't wish to spoil their enjoyment. In addition, as a writer whose short stories are still in the process of constant submission, rejection and revision, I know what it's like to have hurt feelings when someone I care about doesn't like a particular tale or reacts viscerally to it.

Words have power. They can be the words exchanged over a family dinner, the email sent with a rejection letter of a short story, or the kind message that you send on Tumblr to someone when they're feeling down. More often the crueler words stay with you, for months or years at a time, and they crop up in your memories like burrs catching on shirts. Cyberbullying has become a serious issue online, with anonymous harassment and tackling bullies' Facebook posts. Just this past week what ought to have been a civil disagreement in the How to Train Your Dragon fandom led to fans, including myself, taking sides and to a lot of hurt feelings. We don't want to censor our words, but we also want to be kind about people's life work and opinions.

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Is there a way to critique and gently mock a problematic story with love, so as not to hurt the author or readers' feelings? Probably, but some argue whether or not we even need to make the effort to soften the blows, especially when a story can be genuinely problematic. Words in this day and age stay around for a lot longer thanks to computers and social media, so we need to decide what words we want to put into the world. More importantly, we have to figure out our levels o kindness.

This Valentine's, pass on kindness to someone in need of it. Praise an author posting their work ona  website for critique if they deserve it. And for Shannon Hale and Stephenie Meyer, maybe refrain from mocking Twilight for the day. All in all, think about what impact you want your words to have.

Friday, February 5, 2016

No Dark Ages: Surprise Power Outage

This was a picture I took of lighting a brand new candle in the dark, one I had planned to use for meditation. I took another photo of the candle in the light, when the power came back on. It brought me to mind of all the children's shows that claim that one can entertain in the dark, and find things to do when there is no power. Those shows emphasized the value of one's imagination.

Our neighbors next door have been building a new house, ideally to sell on the real estate market. They asked my mom in December if they could build a wall instead of a fence, and if they could take down our fence. She thought it was just going to be a small matter and agreed. If we had known what would ensue, she would have stood her ground and refused. As it turns out, they not only took down the fence without batting an eye, but also cut off our yard water, our Internet and phone for a couple of hours, and a few square feet off our property. Each time these incidents happened, my mom filed a report with the neighborhood committee, since they were quite a nuisance. The foreman seemed genuinely apologetic, but one incident after another occurred despite the apologies and our dwindling patience. We hoped the Internet would be an indicator that we wouldn't accept such nuisances.

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A few weeks ago, while I was driving to a job interview in the morning, I got a phone call form my mom. It was nine in the morning, and the power was out in our house. She couldn't make coffee, or my younger brother's breakfast. Fortunately we had extra coffee in the fridge, and we had a propane stove for hurricane emergencies. She was able to make him breakfast, and heat up his lunch.

Thinking it was a power outage caused by the recent cold front, I called an FPL repairman, who came about six hours later, two hours after I arrived home. FPL is Florida Power and Light. The repairman had to call four more trucks, and they worked for about two hours to get a temporary cable up. That's right: temporary. No power outage had occurred. The construction workers next door had cut through our power lines while digging a trench for a wall. Such repairs would take at least two weeks, and in the meantime we have a long cable snaking around one side of the yard that covers our power. The foreman next door apologized, again, and he promised that the repair costs would be covered by them, but my mom and I don't trust him. This was the fourth time that such an incident had happened, all because my mom gave permission for them to build a wall on the property line.

This was the other photo I took, of when the lights came back on

Not having power for a day is awful in this day and age, not just because we lose the "entertainment" that comes from television and video games, but also because you lose the electricity needed for cooking, maintaining the house, and running the schedule. My younger brother has severe allergies, so my mom has to cook all of his food from scratch; cooking on a propane stove was more laborious for her given it's smaller than our electric stove and could have burned her. I wouldn't be able to send our my stories to magazines, share them with friends, or email my resume to potential recruiters. We had to cancel a cleaning service that was supposed to come and put off evening activities such as running laps around the driveway. Because of the cable, we cannot mow our lawn and have to take care not to step on it or drove on it. A power outage from a storm is one thing; that sort of event has a risk of happening. A neighbor cutting off your power and not realizing until you leave a voicemail detailing the situation could have taken more care.

I am certainly more appreciate of power in my life after every outage, because it's a necessity for our household. Certainly I have learned from this that when someone tries to make a cagey deal and starts creating disturbances to face them head on and refuse to accept their nonsense. My mom deserved better than this.

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