Thursday, November 24, 2011

Go make some art even if it's bad

A while back, one of my Facebook friends posted a really inspiring quote about the need for humans to make art with abandon, even (and sometimes especially) if it's not great art.  So many people are afraid of making bad art that they stop making any art at all, and that seems sad to me.  (Of course I didn't copy it down.)  The act of creating has value even if every attempt doesn't lead to a masterpiece.

Then Patrick Rothfuss came along and wrote this version of the same idea.

Q. As an aspiring writer, how do I overcome my gripping fear of failure?

A. You come to grips with the fact that writing something that sucks is better than writing nothing at all. 

There's more at the link, but that concise summary made me laugh.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Which authors would you thank?

Patrick Rothfuss was not posting on his blog for a while.  Honestly, I have been too busy working two jobs to really even notice.  We both have good excuses not to be writing as much as we might want to, but I think his is better.  As much as we want the writers we love to spend all their time writing their next book so we can read it sooner, it's important that we realize they may have very good reasons not to be meeting our demands. 

Most authors aren't as forthcoming about it as Rothfuss is.  Rothfuss' honesty is one of the reasons why he's one of my favorite authors.  His skill is one of the reasons why publishers and readers are willing to cut him slack as we slaver impatiently for his next book, which will be a million pages long.  I am always willing to wait a bit longer if the result is something worth the wait.  Whether the reason is writer's block or the illness of a family member, cut your favorite author some slack.  Maybe write to thank him or her without asking, "More, please?"

Speaking of which, I need to write that thank you letter to Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my other favorite authors).  It is Thanksgiving this week, after all . . .

Which authors would you write thank you letters to if you had the time and the address?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

a problem with writing a certain kind of poetry

A problem with writing poetry
is that quite often the people
you are writing to aren't
people who read poetry.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Permission and Influence, a haphazard meditation on something, Part 5 of 5

Last time I talked a bit about strategies parents have regarding their kids' reading.  I advocated parental involvement to teach discernment, which seems to me like the best choice, especially for religious parents.  It puzzles me, then, that many religious parents are loudly anti-book.

I've always wondered why so many evangelicals are so hysterical about certain books.  I mean, I can see why they might get a bit bent out of shape about Philip Pullman's obvious God-hating in the His Dark Materials Trilogy (amazing books though they are) because it's hard for any parents to try to explain hatred to their kids in a way that's not stupid and trite. 

I never really understood the backlash against Harry Potter, though.  It was especially embarrassing to have friends at my decently-academically-ranked Christian liberal arts college forwarding around an Onion article (about Harry Potter making kids into real-life witches) as proof that HP was really a conspiracy of the devil.  (Pardon me while I relive the shame and try to move on again.  It hurts.)  Maybe if their parents or teachers had taught them about critical reading, they, too, would have been able to tell that the "arguments" in said article were a steaming pile of crap from a logic standpoint even if they didn't know what The Onion is (hint: not a credible source).

I never had a difficult time separating fiction from reality.  Well, on behalf of my mother, let me rephrase:  I never had a hard time separating fiction books from reality.  Apparently, many children do.  At least, they are accused of having a hard time with this by adults.  Lots of adults.  So it must be true, right?  So we need to keep them firmly grounded in the real world by preventing them from getting all these fanciful notions in their heads in the first place.  Burn the books!  Or ban them!  Or hide them away in the far tower of the castle where Aurora will never, ever go and get a paper cut and curse us all.

Some argue that fiction books don't influence people; books don't change minds and opinions.  They might make you re-examine or re-think, but they don't really have anything to do with changing your mind.  I've heard this argument from hard-core bibliophiles, often when they are arguing against anything they call censorship (including wacky things like not wanting your 8-year-old to read a Playboy magazine or a novel for young adults that deals with lust and sex).  Books are harmless, they seem to be arguing.  Books don't kill people; people kill people.  That sort of thing.

These same people likely have a list of books that changed their lives.  I certainly do.

Ideas can change people's minds, and books are full of ideas: that's why people think books are dangerous.  Is this something evangelicals acknowledge as true that many non-evangelical readers don't want to acknowledge?  What's wrong with just admitting it?  Does acknowledging the power mean acknowledging some sort of adult responsibility about it? 

Some think that if ideas are dangerous, then we need to protect our kids from the wrong ideas (the ones we disagree with).  Some folks take that to extremes and try to isolate their kids from those wrong ideas, leaving them ill-prepared to deal with the ideas that are all over the place in the real world they will have to live in more or less when they become adults themselves.  Unprepared, these idea-starved people can tend to rebel because they feel they've been deceived their whole lives (possibly starting with Santa Claus).  Others tend to isolate themselves further in the cloud of not-knowing because if they don't acknowledge something, that means it doesn't really exist and they don't have to take it seriously, right? 

From observational evidence alone, I don't think isolation is the solution to controlling dangerous ideas.  I think helping kids develop sharp minds that can engage with ideas and test what is good sounds like a better idea.  But it's a lot of work.  I know discernment is a lot of work for me; teaching it to children as they grow up seems genuinely daunting. 

Just because it's insanely difficult doesn't mean we should avoid it.  We're the grown-ups here.  We should lead by example.  Maybe the world would be a better place if we encouraged each other to read widely including books from viewpoints we don't agree with or haven't encountered before because ideas start conversations inside and outside of us.  Critically engaging with ideas can lead us to new insights that change us and help us love others more because no longer are we complete strangers.

I'm not sure how I got here from a little blog post about a book that possibly got rejected for questionable reasons, but thank you for starting me down this path, people who posted the original bit (even if it arose from a misperception on your part).  I appreciate the paths you've lead me down, even if they were completely unintended.  Words have that kind of meandering power.  Thank God.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who's Giving Your Kid Permission, Part 4 of 5 of a haphazard meditation on something

Last time, I talked a bit about the kinds of permission that books can give.  But what about parental involvement in reading?

There have been many YA books I've read as an adult that I've wished I could have read when I was younger because they would have given me options I wished I'd known I had.  I mean, I was a creative kid, but there are so many ideas out there that people have already had!  There's no need to reinvent the wheel all the time.  I'm no genius, so a lot of wheels never got reinvented.

It's not like when I read a book, I become a slave to its worldview and adopt it unthinkingly.  I test and challenge and work out what the idea implies, what it could mean and means.  I consider the possibilities.  I do this all mostly unconsciously at this point.  It's part of reading.  I can't really say my parents had anything to do with it, though.  They read to us and taught us to love reading as kids, and then they were mostly hands-off as we mowed down stacks of books way above our reading levels. 

When I started reading adult paperbacks (I won't even tell you how sad the library's YA section was because the tears will mess up the keyboard), my mom got a little concerned and forbade me from reading a couple of books based on the titles.  I still haven't read them, though I should have by now because by all reports, they're kind of incredibly amazingly good.  I asked her once about this one book I wasn't sure if I should read, but she was busy and uninterested and didn't read it, so eventually I did, and I was right to think I shouldn't read it, and that gave me the confidence to know that my discernment was quite functional.

Some argue for a totally hands-off approach to what their kids read.  The kids are reading, the theory seems to say.  Just leave them alone and do a secret happy dance in the kitchen that they're reading something voluntarily instead of "setting forest fires out of boredom."

Some argue for strict censorship.  Since this policy ends up being burdensome to parents, they just say no to reading outside of a very narrow list of cannon books approved by people of like minds.  To me, it seems like this approach likely leads to kids who won't be readers or will forever attach guilt to reading, and that seems sad.

I argue for teaching discernment, no matter what your religion or lack thereof.  Teaching kids to think critically and meaningfully engage what they read just seems like a good idea.  I mean, kids are people, and they won't be under parental control forever.  Isn't it better to give them the tools they need to engage the world on their own rather than try to control them, set them loose on an unfamiliar world, and then get angry when they can't navigate its unfamiliar waters?  If you suddenly toss your kid overboard after 18 years of tight-fisted land-dwelling, you can't blame the kid for not being able to tread water or swim to shore. 

There but for the grace of God go I.

Next time, I'll get into the murky territory of what it is the permission in books really means in the real world.  It will be long.  See you then.