Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Special for A Generation: Nostalgic Thoughts on Elmo Saves Christmas

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone! We may not have chestnuts roasting on a fire here in Miami, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special has already aired, but the date is upon us. People are happier despite the crowded stores, and the radio has started to play classic carols. Thus it feels fitting to dive into some nostalgia into what I think about the holiday, regarding a classic PBS show that has been on the air for more than forty years.

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A lot of changes have come to Sesame Street over the past few years. The original puppeteer for the Count, Jerry Nelson, passed away, and the actress Sonia Manzano, who plays FixIt repair-woman Maria, has decided to leave the show, and HBO has recently purchased the Sesame Street franchise, slashing the episode times from 60 minutes to 30 minutes. These changes may be for the best, but at the moment they feel murky and stab at my heart. I didn't lear n everything I knew from Sesame Street, but I learned quite a bit. I remember learning a sobering lesson about Christmas from the show, via a rather unusual holiday special.

Elmo Saves Christmas was a special that aired for a few years during the late 1990s, when Christmas in Miami means the sun shining on the green grass for a couple of days before blasting cold would come in. Kevin Clash was still performing for Elmo, and gave the character's voice an endearing scratchiness that sounded monster-like. Another special has since replaced it, so that you can only find several of the songs online. It featured Maya Angelou narrating how Elmo, after rescuing Santa from a stuck chimney, received a snowglobe that can grant three wishes. Elmo decides to wish that it were Christmas every day, so that everyone will be happy all the time.

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At the time, such a wish didn't sound like a bad idea. Christmas to me simply meant one day of the year when one could receive presents, enjoy good weather, and bask in a warm glow of holiday cheer. Santa during the special then sends Elmo out with a time-traveling reindeer, to show him what happens if Christmas happens every day, keeping people out of school, out of work, unable to send mail, and obligated to buy presents. Elmo's friends seem fine in the spring, slowly start to stress during the summer, and completely crack by winter. Having a holiday everyday nibbles away at the novelty, until what's left is a hollow shell of a celebration.

The special did a good job in not hammering in the message that "Christmas every day is bad" and instead reflecting the childlike naivety. In fact, several characters, like Santa's elves, point out that Santa shares part of the blame in giving a childlike Muppet such power, and imply that similar disasters have emerged from other users of the wish-granting snow globe. Santa seems to admit this in part, especially when his morose song "Everyday Can't Be Christmas" doesn't convince Elmo at first, and he has a rather alarmed expression when Elmo uses his first wish to request a glass of water. He also takes the time to come to Sesame Street, warn Elmo, and give him a way to see what will happen. When Elmo gets a second chance to choose either the snow-globe or an ordinary toy at the special's conclusion, he chooses the ordinary toy but Santa offers him something far more extraordinary that won't cause temporal anomalies. Many questions arise from the fact that despite having given the snow-globe before, he hasn't thought to take it out of production, and one wonders what the previous gift recipients did with their wishes.

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The other important thing about this special was that it showed rather than told the consequences, and used concrete imagery to convey these devastating actions. As mentioned in my previous Christmas post, it irked me in Mickey's Christmas Carol how it hammered so much at Scrooge being a miser would condemn him, so that you couldn't sit back and enjoy thirty minutes of animation. In contrast, Sesame Street knew how children thought, that is with visuals instead of words. Elmo can't comprehend consequences in the long term that emerge from too much of a good thing, especially when everyone appears happy on hearing the news. Neither could the viewers at the time, including myself, who came along for the ride. I was quite shocked to see Sesame Street as deserted, and not even Grover trying to sell Christmas trees could add enough humor to quell the blow.

The third thing was that this special showed one Muppet making a series of mistakes, and despite the increasing consequences manages to amend for them. Elmo wishing for Christmas every day is somewhat forgivable, again because he is a child with a childlike mentality. He makes the mistake of not taking Santa's concern seriously, which is again understandable since he cannot visualize the consequences that the man in the red suit brings. The farther Elmo travels into the future, however, the more he realizes that people aren't happy, especially his friends and loved one, but he keeps going forward, hoping that "real Christmas" will recapture the joy that he meant to spread across the year. His final mistake in what happens when he realizes that he has a way to undo Christmas everyday-- with his last wish-- and takes too long to do so, instead of fixing the problem straightaway.  Despite those mistakes, Elmo finds a way to undo his wish, and save everyone from constant holidays.

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 For those reasons, I do hope that Sesame Street starts airing Elmo Saves Christmas again, with its memorable songs that can make one laugh and also sober up instantly. It isn't often that we have a Christmas special with such mood swings and strong plot to show the consequences of our actions, It's A Wonderful Life notwithstanding, and makes us feel like little kids again. For the moment, as we all do with Christmas, I'll keep the hour-long special with me through the year, with my memories of childhood Sesame Street.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Undertale's Moral Dilemma: Love and Experience

 During finals,  while writing two take-homes, I came across a playthrough of the game Undertale. The game made for some interesting white noise as I typed discussions on topics on international business and marketing. The game stirred a lot of feelings in me -- anxiety, anticipation, heartbreak, and disbelief. What stirred the biggest disbelief is that people would consider being cruel in it.

Undertale follows the adventures of a child that falls into an underground world full of monsters and human remains. Monsters tend to hunt down humans out of fear, and the player character has to decide if they want to fight back or attempt to spare their attackers. One can either be a pacifist, a self-defending neutral character, or a serial murderer. A heartbreaking past haunts your playthrough, and all your past actions come into play if you decide to reset.

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I had previously seen Undertale fanart of Sans, Papyrus and Frisk on my Tumblr, mainly involving bad puns and shipping with the game's goat-mom, Toriel. Aside from some character designs, I had no idea what the game was about. I started watching Markiplier's playthrough, got scared by Flowey, and started reading up on the details, including who the characters were. Then I started editing the Undertale page on TVTropes. The game gripped me, to the point where I wished that our class case studies involved the game since I could justify my disorganized thoughts. Obsession with the game's potential for violence grabbed me, especially as I watched the true pacifist run and dramatic boss fights.

Unlike most games, Undertale asks how much responsibility a player character has for taking another life. In a traditional game like Super Mario Bros., you have to kill the tortoises and Goombas because otherwise they will kill you, and in an RPG, as Flowey callously puts it, "It's kill or be killed". You have a choice to spare the monsters, and to even hear them out. On a Pacifist Run one can bond with all the characters, the way Aang from Avatar the Last Airbender or Wander from Wander Over Yonder does. You get to make them happy, to cheer up sad ghosts and imbue shy scientists with confidence about their crushes. You get to comfort those who believe they're beyond comforting. Markiplier during his run asks, "Why would anyone want to kill these monsters? They're cute!"

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That question makes me agonize over the more violent runs of the game. The genocide run is the run where you, the player character, decide to kill all the monsters, regardless of their threat level, and its existence freaks me out. Cuteness of the monsters aside, by logic you get a happier ending if you don't fight.

Why does it scare me? First, the fact that the game assumes that a player would be that callous. As mentioned before, one could technically do a similar run in Pokemon, counter-intuitive as it would be to make every wild Pokemon faint and not capture any, but the game wouldn't call you out for it, any more than Minecraft would call you out for hunting down digital spiders and octopi. Jacksepticeye as of now is doing a genocide run, undoing the happy ending he's provided for his characters, since his viewers have requested such a thing. I cannot believe that so many people would ask that, to disassociate from these three-dimensional characters that have to fight tooth and nail for their happiness.

The ghost on the right is always sad but you can cheer him up.
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Second, the acknowledgement that players can be so violent calls too much to the real world. I prefer to play games and read stories that have an escapist sense, where we can be someone else and while we might learn something like history, mathematics, character development or logic -- I grew up on edutainment gaming like Jump Start and Carmen Sandiego-- we don't get severe wake up calls or tragic endings. Oftentimes the player has to resort to violence out of necessity, say in Minecraft if archers shoot and zombies walk, but in edutainment games the worst that one could do was blow up an asteroid aimed at a satellite, or feed a hungry plant monster a chemical sedative. When I read the news, actions have consequences. Our hateful words echo across the Internet and television far more strongly than our positive words do, and our more extreme sentiments can lead to massive tragedies. Children often suffer in the crossfire, and people often reduce victims to statements, or to blemishes on a seemingly perfect landscape. Seeing these attitudes reflected in a fantasy world, where we have more free agency to act as a human being, for better or for worse, hits too close to home.

Third, the varying endings that resort from the player characters' choices unsettle me, in their degree of happiness or tragedy. Most of the edutainment games that I played, unless they were for kindergarten for first grade, had a very linear progression, in that one has to complete a set of activities to get the rest of the story and cannot deviate from the set path. When you have critical choices in a game, as you do in life, choices become paralyzing, more so when one sees the consequences of bad ones. Undertale's player character if he or she wants to progress cannot stay with goat-mom Toriel and eat butterscotch pie with her, any more than one can stay in Mettaton's hotel or in the Temmie village. Yet to go forward comes with its risks, of defying Toriel to leave her, of finding yourself with monster blood on your hands, or dust as it were. You can either break a lot of hearts, or kill a lot of monsters.

When you want a scene to break your heart . . .
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Undertale is phenomenal  and yet devastating in how it asks gamers, atypical or not, to shed typical gaming behavior. A game had to ask those questions at some point, at what a person would do if they have the option to play without fighting. I hope that if I do play a game, however, that watching a Pacifist run will not hinder me from diving into a new world, to gain  more experience.

Monday, November 30, 2015

"But I Don't Want to Say Goodbye to Gravity Falls"

I have to confess something: I'm a huge Gravity Falls fan. Gravity Falls is a traditionally animated show on the Disney Channel about two twins, Dipper and Mabel, who spend the summer with their charlatan great-uncle and discover strange creatures in his tourist trap town. At first starting with slice of life episodes, in which the twins encounter ghosts, gnomes, mermaids, and even a cherub, the series has taken a darker turn with new characters in the second season. Currently the season two finale has been taking place over second episodes, in which the show's world has turned upside down.

Several weeks ago the show creator, Alex Hirsch has announced that after the season two finale, Gravity Falls will end. Within the show, summer will come to an end, and Dipper and Mabel Pines will have grown up. This came as a shock, as the season finale has pretty much destroyed the world so far and pushed the main characters to their limits, raising the physical and emotional stakes. We have a vast amount of questions that require answers, as well as multiple unresolved plot-lines. Hirsch has three episodes to handle a vast amount of material, while not telling us how the world will change from a near apocalypse.

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Before Gravity Falls, the best Disney show on the air was Phineas and Ferb. While the show is brilliant with the references and storytelling, it relies on a rather straightforward and almost predictable formula. In addition, it operates on strange logic at times, has animation that at one point is lampooned as MC Escher-derived and romanticizes the notion that one can do so much during summer and winter vacation. The format feels very limited, and the best characters were the ones who didn't speak. It takes one a long while to get used to that show, and to its zany sense of adventure.

When it comes to animated shows, Disney's Golden Age from the 1990s spoiled me; the humor and fluid animation from shows like Chip 'N Dale, DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, Bonkers, and others had me accept high standards for their successors. A new show would have to wow me with an awesome opening or preview. I caught one or two episodes of Gravity Falls, and they seemed to be heavy-handed in telling morals: don't change an aspect of yourself just because others are making fun of it, and don't cheat at mini-golf even if your opponent is nasty.

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Then I saw the season one finale; it won me over with an epic fight scene and important character development. Tumblr also screen-capped some of the show's best moments, including a deconstruction of the "friend zone". I started to watch more season two episodes, including one that hit very close to home for someone with an introverted personality, and I started watching episodes on the days that they premiered. Slowly, with each standalone story-line, I got into the show, and started working out to it. A few fanfiction pieces are even saved on my digital clouds.

When the first big hiatus ended in the spring, Gravity Falls no longer became a weird slice of life series with a big mystery; it became a large tragedy. The episode that changed this dynamic, "A Tale of Two Stans," introduced a character who understands how the weird Gravity Falls logic works, and has even found possible explanations for it. We also see a family torn apart, a sobering reality in this day and age, and fears of the past repeating itself with future generations. This character has made the world of Gravity Falls bigger, more complicated, more fascinating, and more dangerous. He talks about the future, or the lack of one.

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With all of that material, that emotional investment, that fanbase that can be delightfully divisive when debating over the main characters' selfishness or morality, just how can we say goodbye? It feels like we've only gotten started. A lot of Chekhov's Guns have gone unused, and the characters have to figure out how they've changed now that the world has ended.  Yet we have to accept that the story ends with summer, and with quite a few ramifications. 

Good shows do have endings; Avatar's two series had wonderful finales. The fact that Alex Hirsch announced this right as season two is ending, however, feels like a shot to the heart. It would have been one thing if he had told us at the season premiere, so that we could brace ourselves to say goodbye, the way we prepare to say goodbye when a dear friend or family member moves away. Instead we have gotten the announcement that a friend has to leave on an emergency red eye, and we can't even see him off at the airport.

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With that said, I cannot thank Alex Hirsch enough for the ride. He restored my faith in the Disney animation block, so that I've discovered other shows like Wander Over Yonder and Star Vs. the Forces of Evil. He wrote a good story, and one that has been rewarding thus far. Thank you for your imagination, brains, and willingness to relive childhood.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Brief Thanksgiving Post

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Happy Thanksgiving! Just wanted to make a quick list of all the things I'm grateful for:

1) My family coming into town and cooking for the holiday. Looking forward to a Indian-style version of a Thanskgiving meal!

2) The lovely November weather. We got a cold front in on Sunday.

3) Having the week off to relax, catch up on schoolwork and job work.

4) Having one of the best summer internships ever, working for a corporation with high values. 

5) All my beta readers, those who read the rough drafts in progress and gently guide me towards revisions.

6) All the editors who allow me to revise, and who believe a story can be bigger.

7) Silvia Moreno-Garcia for publishing "The Opera Singer" this year.

8) Everyone who has purchased a copy of Carousel, my first novella.

9) Soundtrack playlists that help me write.

10) Having a stack of library books to read, and the card renewed.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Nanowrimo Start (Or Lack Thereof) and The Loose Threads Peeve

I hope that everyone had a good start to November, which started with All Saints Day or Dia de los Muertos for those who have Mexican roots or have seen The Book of Life. It’s Nanowrimo season, but I’m taking a long story break due to having worked on a ten thousand word short story for an anthology. I’ll be plotting out works this month and writing on themes, so that when winter break rolls around I can hit the ground running by writing.

Last year, in August,  I saw an article about the Rock A Fire Animatronics, a robot band that used to perform in Chuck E Cheese franchises but had moved on to perform as a solo act in Orlando. Then I confused the article with some posts I had seen on a place called “Freddy's Pizzeria”, and googled Five Nights at Freddy's. That was stupid.

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Five Nights At Freddy’s is a game that features a fictional pizzeria, though a lot of people have claimed that it reminds them of Chuck E. Cheese. It's also a horror game where you play a security guard trapped in a room, having to keep the doors closed against walking, haunted animatronics, but you probably know all this, since it’s become quite the online phenomenon. I made the mistake of watching the trailer at night, and reading up on the gameplay. I was scared of the dark for several months, up until I saw Markiplier playing the game and was able to laugh at his frustration.

Five Nights has since become a multi-game franchise that has sparked a rather controversial and excited fanbase, with the creator Scott Cawthon having released four in total plus a Halloween edition of the fourth game, and even some talk about it becoming a movie. Each succeeding game seemed to add a bit more to the story, making the animatronics seem more tragic than monstrous while showing the utmost cruelty and kindness of human beings. Then Game Four came out, which undid the satisfaction that the viewers got from the third game, and left us with a few ambiguous situations and even more unanswered questions, turning what had seemed like an ostensible “happy” ending into a tragic beginning.

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This past Fall 2015, Scott has revealed that he knows all the answers to the questions he has kept under wraps, that he plans to make no more games in that original storyline, and that his latest game will be a different story entirely. In addition, he showed a locked box that supposedly held the answers to the game, and told us he wasn’t going to open it. This felt like a huge middle finger to the fans, and to the people like me who weren’t diehard fans but were nonetheless lured in like innocent insects to a sticky mosquito trap.

A Five Nights at Freddy’s clone ended, or rather disappeared, in a similar fashion. Five Nights at Treasure Island took the same game mechanic setup and transplanted it to the Bahamas, at the abandoned Disney World resort “Treasure Island”, complete with haunted Mickey, Donald, and Goofy “suits” plus several unknown figures. After two demos, one of which merged several Disney Creepypastas, the game creator and his successors decided to pull the plug on the project. Five Nights at Treasure Island is on indefinite hiatus, with none of their questions answered either.

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Why do I find these actions frustrating? Because the games triggered in me a fear of the dark, but their story helped to alleviate it; I was able to focus on the backstory that fueled the tragedies that had occurred before and during the games. We got the Purple Man, a monstrous human whose true features we never saw, and we saw the fate that befell him when karma caught up to him. Then we see another heinous crime occur, without his involvement on screen, and the viewer becomes unsatisfied. We never see what happens to that perpetrator, and we can’t even place the event on a definitive timeline. Five Nights at Treasure Island is just as bad because while we may have some opinions on how Disney’s business executives skirt across lines and ethical boundaries, the supernatural mystery is quite alluring, more so that if you know that Treasure Island is real, albeit not haunted.

I would call these endings “cliffhangers” precisely because they leave the sensation of what the original cliffhanger, as Charles Dickens put it, must have felt like to the readers either listening to an epic saga, but at least cliffhangers are typically resolved. Instead we have loose threads to two different stories that provoke obsessions, with the creators deliberately withholding the answers. It’s one thing if the creators plan to create a huge reveal in the story, the way Alex Hirsch has done with multiple plotlines in his show Gravity Falls or J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter, but it’s quite another if he or she plans to never tell that tale. The reader deserves some common courtesy when the creator promises to add more to the story with each installment.

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If you’re going to write a story with multiple parts, with each succeeding part building on the previous one, you have to promise to answer most of the questions that you set out in a long work. Not answering these questions will lead to frustrated readers, and they will let you know if you missed a spot. Deliberately and openly withholding the stories will provoke anger from the fans, since they have devoted their time to reading. Speaking as a reader and a writer who has been on both sides of the equation, with stories that have made people ask questions and I’ve frustrated them by not answering them, I understand that answering the big questions is the important part. Writers and readers exchange words, and those words must have a current of common courtesy. I know that if I make that mistake, my lovely beta readers will let me know and express their frustration openly.

On that note, I am going to resume my storytelling break and return to detailing themes for the month, and story plotting. For those doing Nanowrimo, good luck and I hope that you meet your 50,000 word goal!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween: Looking Back

Happy Halloween everyone! Hope that you've picked out your costume, and that you've had fun. This year, sad to say, is the first year my family didn't go trick-or-treating. It was more of a tradition than an actual candy grab, but I was hoping that we would get a chance to celebrate. In any case I got to wear my costume to a Toastmasters seminar, and show it off my Other Mother button eye mask. 

To commemorate the loss of tradition, and to move forward, I'm pasting an essay I wrote in 2008 for college applications, with the prompt "The Road". Enjoy seeing my writing from seven years ago:

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Halloween dominates other holidays with its spooky atmosphere; aside from the cute ghoul, people want scary thrills that allow them to sleep safely at night with mountains of candy pushing against the cupboard doors. 
 On my street, each October evening captures that same spooky atmosphere. As my mother and I walk, sometimes with a flashlight, we see orange streetlamps dot the concrete, illuminating a feral cat or the occasional pedestrian, ourselves exempted. The fence that protects a half-constructed house creaks in the cool breeze. Only a few days ago as I was biking, a cat shot out black as an opal towards the canal, right under a full moon. I don’t believe in superstitions, as I’ve had fairly good luck for the past few days. 
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Yet this street, thrilling and safe as it appears, can only be reached by one practical means: a car. No bike paths line the front lawns, let alone the roads outside of my neighborhood. Since few cars clutter the road, not many find this a problem. I love to drive to school during the autumn because the sun dawns, allowing light to shed on the green mangrove bushes and brightly painted houses. Many have personal gardeners tending the impatiens and begonias and whatever vine they can grow on a doorway. In one front yard they replaced a monstrous hedge with a turquoise leafy fence that partially hides a trampoline.
Sometimes I wonder why the neighbors only appear for the annual block party, and perhaps the neighborhood meeting. Some move in, and quickly try to sell us their house. My mother laughed at one offer; before the metal fences barred us, we had explored the home in question while it slowly converted from a dirt mound to a wondrous mansion.  

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Our road and its neighbors don’t know what to make of us. We never socialize, except with a lovely lady who brings us avocados, never try to show off our house because then it would be a parlor, not a home, and we never plan to move. Yet we have privacy and security thanks to our road, two elements that most neighborhoods lack. I can bike without fear under a full moon in the evening.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sleeping Upside Down: A Few Thoughts

Last night I was trying out a new app, one that would track my sleeping habits. For it to work, however, I had to keep my phone next to my head on the mattress so that it could pick up the sleeping cycle; this is a problem since I'm a restless sleeper, and everything tosses and turns on the bed. In addition, the app recommended that the phone be charged. The nearest outlet to my bed is nowhere near the headboard and instead closer to the footboard. Thus I moved my pillow to the bed's other end, wedged my phone in a place where it wouldn't get lost.

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To try something new like an app terrified me. I worried about what would happen if it failed, what my disappointment would be. At the same time, I wanted to see if it could help with my issues of getting to bed and tracking my sleep health, especially with three terms to go. I want to be as energetic as possible each day.

I learned several things: one is that the part of a mattress that your tiny legs don't reach end up being quite stiff; second is that it takes a while to adjust to the new space, although it's not that far away from your headboard in terms of feet, and that it can mess up your waking up time; third is that apparently reversing the arrangement of your pillows is called "sleeping upside down," according to my beta reader, and some people place the pillow under their feet. By trying out a new device, I had exited my comfort zone in more ways than one.

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The literary character Pippi Longstocking sleeps "upside down," with her feet on the pillow and her head resting on her mattress in her Swedish villa. Pippi turns many other things upside down, including notions about what was right and proper for girls and kids her age, and knowing her absent father wasn't dead. As a kid I thought that she always bit off more than she could chew, but as an adult I can appreciate her courage and refusal to accept adults' perspectives on her life. Although some of the values she preaches wouldn't carry nowadays, such as claiming her father became king of an island in the South Pacific over the natives -- values that jar with the campaign to acknowledge conquerors like Christopher Columbus brought harm and genocide with them-- she was braver than I was, and still is.

Tonight I'm going to try again, this time moving my pillow back to its original spot and not plugging in my phone this time since I'm not going anywhere tomorrow. Comfort zones are one thing, but I like that space at the headboard, where the mattress knows me and I know it. I certainly have a new perspective on things, but I think that perspective will do for now. Sleep well, everyone!

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Banned Books Week: The Awkward Questions

"But who is wurs shod, than the shoemakers wyfe, With shops full of newe shapen shoes all hir lyfe?"
[1546 J. Heywood Dialogue of Proverbs i. xi. E1V]"

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Before I turned thirteen, I thought that book censorship happened to other kids in other places, and that it wouldn't be tolerated in this day and age-- the early 2000s. Harry Potter book burnings seemed absurd, to think that witchcraft in this day and age posed a threat, not to mention anonymous callers harassing Judy Blume for writing a middle grade book about the existence of God and how a preteen could choose a religion.

My family is highly educated, and I inherited my brother's taste in books, from Harry Potter to Artemis Fowl to Ender's Game.He in fact had to push books on me because as a kid I didn't realize that books could be fun. I was a reluctant reader, until I discovered the joy that Redwall and Harry Potter brought, and more so when I learned that you could take multiple computer tests on the books that you read in school. It seemed all fun when I won an award for reading the most books in the school, and for discovering the power of Bruce Coville when it came to unicorns and dragons.

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Then I hit middle school, and discovered Harry Potter fanfiction without ratings, Neil Gaiman through Sandman trade paperbacks, and adult renditions of fairy tales. The latter anthologies that made me do double takes at the violence, and some interpretations of the fairy tales that I read with bright illustrations. Some of the phrases that evaded me made me doubt that such acts existed, that it could not possibly be what I was asking.

I asked my sister an awkward question while we were uniform shopping. She explained to me the answer, with some patience, and told me to not ask so loudly. I expressed some disgust when she told me the definition of the term, and later on she and my brother started to screen the books I read, not allowing me to read volume 6 of Sandman due to the graphic violence portrayed during the French Revolution. My mother freaked when I mentioned some ridiculous notions about Wonder Woman that psychologist Frederick Wertham had made about a female superhero that has a lot of female sidekicks, and confiscated my Internet privileges. This confiscation felt very insulting and violated the education that I had learned about censorship.

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A painful transition over several years followed, where I started to believe that certain books can spark dangerous and unhealthy ideas, and that dark fiction inspired terrible thoughts to high school students under a lot of stress. I stopped reading fanfiction because at the time downloaded a lot of viruses to the family desktop I was using, and the actual Harry Potter books coming out nullified my need for more wizard lore. In time, I asked about more mundane things like how to survive high school and broken friendships. My reading diverged into more traditional fantasy and science fiction, from Isaac Asimov to Scott Westerfeld, and to this day I find it hard to read traditional romance novels or gore fests, unless Shakespeare or Stephen King write the gore or Meg Cabot writes the romance.

As an adult, I now understand the position in which I put my sister. Having to answer a young teenager's awkward questions in a public place or in a conservative household makes for an unpleasant experience. Often censored books make people ask questions, and too many questions makes one reluctant to confront them, especially when the answer seems to absurd to be believed. As a kid I had no filter, so I was curious about everything.

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With that said, questioning the world and its fictional representations allows our minds to grow. Harry Potter's detractors in the 1990s claim that the book promotes witchcraft, completely missing the point that despite the wizards and witches having magic to solve the energy crisis and problems of our world, and they cannot overcome the human errors of prejudice and tolerance for cruelty. Parent Melanie MacDonald calling a young adult novel "smut" for addressing the serious issues of bullying among girls shows a lack of perception that such issues occur, often under an unwilling public's nose.

Education starts in the home, and I imagine biases and handling awkwardness comes into play when trying to nurture a child's mind. While my family screened the books I read, they didn't impose that screening on other children or parents, or by complaining to libraries. They knew their comfort zone, and mine, but comfort zones vary with each family. For that I am grateful, and I am grateful for having the ability to question my world, and its absurdities.

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Weekend Trip to Disney

Hi all! I’m back from a two-day trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando. We drove out Friday afternoon and arrived in Miami yesterday evening. The two days in between were quite adventurous.  
We haven’t been to Disney World since 2011, when we stayed in Bay Lake Tower and learned how Disney is accommodating to special allergies and dietary needs for my younger brother. This was going to be fun, short, and sweet. And it all was. On top of that, I smuggled in my Hiccup doll for comfort from the packing stress and the road, and to indulge in the subversive nature of bringing a Dreamworks character to a Disney franchise.  

Hiccup enjoyed himself, I can tell you that. So did we. So much has changed in Disney over the past five years. A few rides, like Snow White’s Scary Adventures, have vanished and been replaced by a Princess Fairytale Hall where you can meet and greet the ladies of Disney. We didn’t go on the new Snow White ride, Mine Train, because the waiting times were between 40 and 60 minutes, but it certainly looked interesting. Fare thee well, Snow White; I wished I had ridden you more often before your 2012 closure. 
On the first day, we went to Epcot, which remained mostly the same as it was in 2011. Spaceship Earth is still the most soothing ride, and my mom’s favorite experience was going on Soarin’. The large globe is soothing to see at night, though the walking between rides and Via Napoli wore us out. I actually fell asleep on my brother after we boarded the Monorail back to our hotel room.

On Saturday and Sunday, we went to the Magic Kingdom. The park is decorated in full for Halloween, even with a month to go before Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. It certainly gives a delicious air to the fall atmosphere. The people dancing around trolleys and singing about hayrides also helped.

The new ride that I loved the most was The Little Mermaid ride. I saw a 3D blueprint of the ride on my Little Mermaid DVD, and was excited to get a chance to go on it. The animatronics were very sophisticated, with the audio matched closely to the lip synching, and there was an extended sequence depicting “Under the Sea” with Sebastian the crab conducting.
With that said, they do cut out the Lovecraftian climax towards the end where Ursula gets angry and takes over the oceans, but I figured that’s a small allowance to make in favor of an actual Little Mermaid dark ride. This took twenty years into the making. The queue was also entertaining, with an animatronic Scuttle providing commentary and a sea-like backdrop.

We also went on Splash and Thunder Mountain; I was terrified of going on the rides as a kid, when we used to go to Disney more often, but I managed to swallow my fear and go on the drops. After all the stress of the past three years, an amusement park ride that relies on our fear of falling felt like a walk in the park. Plus, I can make up for the times as a kid that I freaked out and refused to get on, requiring my mom to wait with me outside the ride.
 On the second day, I took Hiccup with me to the Magic Kingdom. He got a glimpse of Cinderella’s castle, which is undergoing renovations. I found it wicked to sneak in my favorite Dreamworks character into the Happiest Place on Earth (fanfiction material). He sat with me on Space Mountain, and no one noticed. It was hard to take a photo of him in the dark, but I managed. Space Mountain was pure darkness, so I was relieved to have a comforting character with me.

We also went on the Carousel of Progress (which will remain a classic), Small World (ditto), and the Haunted Mansion. I love the ghost host outfits that the cast members wear and asked where I could get one. A cast member told me that the nearby shops sold a t-shirt, but I want to go for the full Victorian dress. I also got flashbacks when a frightened child said he didn’t want to go on; I was the same way about Pirates of the Caribbean. Jay and Mom remember that, and how I would always say, “NO yo-ho!” On the bright side, the ride was as fun as I remember, with a few updates; Leota’s head does more floating, I actually saw the Black Widow bride, and the tombstones were hilarious as always.
Overall it was a fun trip. I enjoyed myself, as did the family. Hiccup also got a chance to see my childhood and enter a place forbidden to him; the security guard that checked my bag didn’t even recognize him. I got to be a proper kid again, with some cynicism about progress and yet less adult worries on hand. In the Magic Kingdom, you can shut most of the real world out, and get lost in the atmosphere.