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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