Tag Archives: The Children’s War

A Cup of Kindness

Why, hello! I haven’t blogged since August!

This semester has truly been the most exhausting and hectic academic term of my life. I started off with back-to-back illnesses (food poisoning followed immediately by an interminable chest cold), then had a perfect storm of time consuming coursework and travel (a really fun Monday night Camden/Tuesday morning New Brunswick/Tuesday night Camden schedule), two conferences (one international), lots of grading, and quite a few brand new (to me) theories that took just my whole entire brain to understand. Plus, you know, the annual energy-sapping effects of the ol’ seasonal affective nonsense. I feel like I’ve been sprinting flat out since Labor Day.

I’m still really glad I’m in this program. So that’s a nice sign.

One oft-repeated truth about grad school is that it’s isolating, and that’s been especially true this term, just because I haven’t had time to do anything. This has been frustrating, because I think I’m actually becoming less of an introvert as I get older? I definitely couldn’t do Hermit Life again. But luckily the combined circumstances of next term look like they won’t be QUITE as intense as this one (please let me not have just jinxed that), so I’m looking forward to communicating with other human beings on a more regular basis. Part of that mission includes reviving this ever-neglected blog, at least throughout winter break. I’m excited to talk about some of the highs of this past term (guest lecturing! Monsters conference in Prague!), as well as more media, writing, children/childhood, and current event thoughts. I sometimes joke (“joke”) that I am 100% Strong Opinions By Volume, and I’ve accumulated a lot of pent-up opinions to share over the past few busy, somewhat lonely months. (Shout out to any of my fellow Childhood Studies colleagues reading this, especially my astonishingly wonderful cohort, for being there and keeping me functional since September. Literally don’t think I could do this if I didn’t enjoy being around you all so much.)

But first, as is traditional, for my last post of the year (and decade!), I wanted to do a little round up of media that I was grateful for over the past year, plus a little bit of my own writing. The first part of this post will be very easy; despite the dearth of posts on this blog over the last year, I did manage to review three of my favorite viewing experiences of 2019 (Schitt’s Creek, Rocketman, Hadestown). Another movie favorite from the beginning of this year was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which I went to see as a 30th birthday present to myself. All of these stories make me fall further in love with our messy human condition, which is all I really want a story to do; as I mentioned in my Rocketman review, I’m always after Big Emotions in fiction.

Two of my guiding principles as a writer and a person are that a) fondness may seem quiet and soft but is actually deeply profound and sustaining and b) despair is the death of creativity. Therefore, while a story can have moments where it is as dark as dark can be (see: Hadestown and also most of what I write), ultimately cynicism will never a good story make, so you always need to give characters and audiences something to care about and keep caring about. To reiterate my Hadestown review, the things and people we care about don’t necessarily fix or save our world, but that’s never what made them matter in the first place. Human connection, art, storytelling, celebration, love — they matter in their own right. To continue that thought, I think we need all those things to sustain us if we’re going to engage in the work of fixing and saving. I know I do. So I guess that’s what I was after in this last year of the decade, and what I’ll be taking into the new one: stories that remind me of the things that matter most, so I can happily continue to care, create, and contribute to the world’s well-being in whatever small ways that I can.

A small extra note about Schitt’s Creek, just because it’s the story that fully dominated my 2019: I’ve been joking (again, “joking”) that that show is responsible for a good 70% of my mental stability as a graduate student, and goddamn am I grateful for it. Anyone who hasn’t watched it yet and is dealing with literally any form of stress in your lives, do yourselves a favor and indulge in this Absolute Delight of a show. I’m so pumped for the sixth season, and yet I’ll be ridiculously distraught when it ends, even though I respect the hell out of Dan Levy for giving his story a proper ending. (I respect the hell out of all of Dan Levy’s storytelling decisions. I can only humbly pay fealty to the undisputed king of slow-burn showing-not-telling character development.) I entitled my review of that show “Disasters Learning To Love,” and I can only hope to find more stories with that most evergreen of meaningful plots in 2020.

Sadly, I don’t have much in the way of book recommendations from this year — which is not to say that I didn’t read novels that I enjoyed, but I didn’t happen on any Big New Favorites. (I did get quite a few books for Christmas, though, so watch this space.) (Also, Anna, if you’re reading this, I am going to read Gideon The Ninth over break, you don’t need to yell at me again.) I did get to write about plenty of books that I care about this year, though. The highlight was definitely talking about monstrous doubling in Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona, Patrick Ness’s Release, and Eden Robinson’s Trickster series, all of which I could not recommend highly enough. That paper, which is the one I presented in Prague, was entitled “With Love from Self to Self: Monstrous Doubling and an Ethics of Care in Adolescent Literature.” I talked about this pattern I’ve been noticing in stories with sympathetic monsters in which the trope of the monstrous body splitting, duplicating, fragmenting, or containing multiple disparate aspects is used as a means of exploring a sort of desperate (and sometimes defiant) self-care in the face of a hostile society.

It’s no accident that this concept appeals to me so much, since I’ve actually written it myself, in MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES. It was exciting to realize that multiple authors whom I really admire are playing with similar ideas and to analyze what these narratives have the potential to communicate about the needs of marginalized young people. I closed that talk out by saying, “Monstrous care from self to self is not sufficient on its own; instead, it is the beginning of the story. It is the first acknowledgement, extended from within, that marginalized, scapegoated, and unstable selves are worth caring for and caring with.” So that’s another guiding thought I’m taking with me into the new year.

Finally, re: my own writing, since this is ostensibly a writing blog: I’ve officially been Writing Seriously (i.e., trying to write novels worthy of publication in a methodical manner) for a little over a decade. If you’d told 20-year-old me that I still wouldn’t actually be published at this time, she’d have been, uhhh … really sad. A lot of things haven’t exactly gone right in my writing career, and I’ve been dealing with the frustration, jealousy, and disappointment of that for a while now. But if things had gone differently, who knows if I’d be getting my PhD right now? I might have just kept on with a day job I liked less, instead of pursuing this additional path. In that case, who knows if I’d be living in a place I really like, so close to my sister and my NEPHEW, who is the most perfect thing to happen in 2019? I can’t take a peek into those alternate universes, but I do know that I’m doing work that I really like, and I’ve learned so much in the last three semesters, and all of it’s going to make my future writing better. Plus, I want the ’20s to be a decade of prioritizing relationships, and so I’m glad to be near my family. So I’ll continue to Write Seriously and embrace all the other opportunities and connections that crop up along the way.

Meanwhile, to everyone who’s read any of my writing (creative, academic, or sporadically blogged) and enjoyed it over the past 10 years, thank you so much. It means the absolute world to me when I find out I’ve written something that’s made another person happy. And you know what? I’m good at it. I’ve worked hard enough in the 2010s to have earned the right to say that. So, beneath the cut, please enjoy a selection of some of my favorite scenes from stories I’ve written this decade. Happy New Year to all!

Continue reading A Cup of Kindness

Notebooks

So it’s … not August. There goes that particular New Year’s resolution. Most of them took less time for me to break, though, so I still choose to be impressed with myself. (So there.) Also, I was studying for the GRE, so there was that.

(For those of you who may be wondering, yes, I have already gone to grad school, but I never had to take the GRE, so I had to take it to go on back. Which made me feel some kind of way, as I’m sure you can imagine. But the multiple choice part went well, and hopefully the essays did, too!)

Anyway, while I was camped out at my parents’ house studying, my parents were going through old stuff in their basement. Though my apartment is pleasantly airy, I have approximately two centimeters of storage space here, so a lot of my old stuff is still living there. They asked me to go through some of it to see if anything could be donated to the upcoming VNA sale. (Hometown shout out — I remember when people used to cut class to go to opening day of the VNA sale. Honestly, some of the teachers didn’t even mind. Even more of the teachers didn’t mind if students cut class for the soccer team’s empanada sales, as long as they brought some back to share.) Whether or not any VNA customers will want a bunch of DVD box sets for TV shows I don’t care about anymore or the entire CD collection of a teenager circa 2004 is an entirely different question, but they’re there now if anyone does.

What I didn’t get rid of were my boxes of first draft notebooks. Pretty much the entirety of THE CHILDREN WAR’s first draft was written longhand, and that first draft was long. It was also remarkably bad. I’d like to say that’s because I’d never written a novel before, but honestly I’m not sure if my first drafts have actually gotten any better since then. So I have no intention of actually reading these notebooks, but I also don’t want to throw them out. How delightful was it to flip through and spot bygone characters (some of whom I’d completely forgotten existed) and old spellings? How great was it to see my old writing exercises exploring my characters’ pasts? I will never probably never again write anything at such a leisurely pace and with such a tolerance for pure self-indulgence. That’s not to say that I didn’t take it seriously; I definitely did. But I knew that I was traveling without a map, and the best way to do that is to investigate every walkway, no matter how seemingly unimportant.

Much of the first draft of MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES was represented in the notebooks, as well. I didn’t write all of that longhand, mostly because I had actual grad school deadlines to meet with it. But I remember taking a notebook down to the Charles River and glaring at the geese as I tried to figure out how to make that story work. (I didn’t figure that out for a few more years.) The margins are crowded with notes to myself that seemed important at the time but generally weren’t. Some more beloved cut characters live in those pages. Maybe they’ll find new life in a future project, or maybe they only existed to teach me things about the characters who did make the final cut.

To my mom’s delight, I found some ancient Judas story pages (EVENTUALLY, MOM). There was even some old work on middle-grade story; I sometimes forget that this is by no means a new project. In fact, I workshopped my first outing with my main character in undergrad. I spent a semester working with the story in grad school, but then werewolf story came along and took over for the next couple years. I was actually annoyed about it at the time. I wanted to keep working on middle-grade story, but the requirements of the program wouldn’t allow it. Obviously, I’m happy with the way things worked out now. Werewolf story was a book that I needed to write at the time in my life when I wrote it, and I’m very proud of the way it turned out.

I’m glad I saw those old notebooks again, because they reminded me of a few things. First of all, they reminded me to write longhand when I get stuck. Why on earth have I not been doing this with middle-grade story lately?? I focus better writing longhand, partially because I don’t have to use the old distraction box (a.k.a. my laptop) to do it, and possibly also because my thoughts and my writing are more evenly paced than my thoughts and my typing. (That was a humblebrag about how fast I type, or possibly how slow I think? I’m not sure I humblebragged right.) Also, seeing words and worlds spilling across a page in my own handwriting pleases me.

That was another thing that the notebooks reminded me to do: enjoy the ride. Every word of those notebooks was written with love, even when I felt like throwing said notebooks into the river with the geese. Having a physical reminder of the joy of writing was something I needed right now. It’s been a weird … three years … personally and professionally, not to mention politically. Honestly, it’s been getting to me. I’ve spent most of this summer exhausted, castigating myself for self-perceived laziness that I know I don’t actually possess. I’ve had a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. Not always a great combination.

But I’m doing it. Slowly and without a lot of tangible outcomes, but still. I’m constantly engaged in labors of love, just as I have been since the first time I touched pen to paper. I’m not saying those notebooks completely cured me of every envy or frustration or anxious negativity of 2017, but they were a balm to my striving soul. Hey, you make up people and places and turn them into language, they said to me. That’s cool and weird. Keep doing it. Have fun.

So that’s what I’m doing.

We’ll Meet It

Well. It’s been quite the year, hasn’t it?

Listen, I’m not going to write a thinkpiece about the state of the country/world/human race here. I’m sure you’ve all read as many of those as I have lately, and I’m not really in the mood to read, let alone write, one more. Instead, what I’ve got at the end of this bizarre year is a list, some quotes, and some writing.

Because I’ve been a terrible blogger this year (again) (look, it’s on the New Year’s resolution list) (…again), here’s a list of some things that happened in my life this year:

  • I completed an AmeriCorps term, having spent 10 months helping families whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy finally come home.
  • I wrote two separate Strongly Worded Emails in a professional setting (one to a potential employer, one to an actual employer) about how they were Doing It Wrong (the former about mental illness, the latter about racism in children’s literature).
  • I got fired for the first time, from the actual employer in the above bullet point. I genuinely don’t know if these two things are related. Either way, no regrets.
  • I’ve spent about six months of this year getting paid to teach in some capacity, which is a major step down the life goals path.
  • I was the maid of honor at my beautiful twin’s wedding and now I have a brother-in-law! This is the best bullet point on this list.
  • I wrote the first draft of middle-grade story, several drafts of werewolf story (Misbegotten Creatures), and two academic papers.
  • I presented one of those papers at a conference.
  • I’ve dedicated at least two hours every week to political action since November 8th )(and will continue to do so from now on). I’ve also pretty much held on to my mental health since then, which given the specific nature of my intrusive thoughts is something to be damn proud of.

Which leads us to the quotes. I’ve written on this blog before about my two tattoos, which both involve flora and words. The words are “Watch me” (and though context-less on my ribs, the intended context is from Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go) and “with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah” from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” (Clearly, this was one of the many deaths of 2016 that got to me, but at least he was actually fairly old, unlike some of the others.) I’ve been thinking a lot about both of those lines lately, about how I’ve etched determination despite all odds into my body. After all, the lines leading up to the end of the last verse of “Hallelujah” include “and even though it all went wrong,” and anyone who’s read Chaos Walking knows that like 2 of 10,000 of the things that happen in those books are actually good things. The plants, too, are about this: a branch from a willow tree, fragile yet abundant, and a Christmas cactus blossom, which blooms only in the darkest part of the year.

So all of that is who I am and who I will continue to be. I’m glad I already know that about myself. I’m glad I know I’m not one to give up.

Another quote that’s been on my mind is from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” Not much to add to that, other than this line has been a helpful mantra to me in the past, and also we should all try to be more like Hagrid in our daily lives. (I mean, within reason.)

Last quote, also from J.K. Rowling, but this time from an interview. She once said “sometimes I know what I believe because of what I have written.” This has definitely always been the case for me. I have figured out so many things that I think are important (as well as a lot of things about myself) through writing fiction. Sometimes I’ve found it’s a good idea to lean into that and allow writing to help me define my own state of mind. So I wrote a scene that takes place in between story (The Children’s War) and its as-yet-mostly-unwritten sequel that’s about all of the above quotes, as well as waiting, as well as loved ones. And some architectural theology, because why shouldn’t I have some fun with it, too? I’ve been waffling about whether I should put it on this blog, but I wanted the few of you who know these characters to be able to read it if you want. So click through if you’d like, and happy New Year to everyone. I’m glad I get to meet whatever’s coming with all of you.

Continue reading We’ll Meet It