Saturday, November 20, 2010

Still

I had felt the anticipation,
the hopeful onward motion of awaiting a baby before.
I felt that with you.
I was looking forward, making plans.

Then came the jarring reversal,
the time-stand-still shock when we learned
you would not live long.

All things that mattered so much that morning
were insignificant, heavily secondary.
There was only this sorrow, stasis,
Stillness.

You should have been moving more,
but you started to move less.
You should have been growing,
my stomach rounding out into that third trimester,
but it didn't.
Eventually, all movement ceased.

I wept when you were born.
Stillborn.
Here was this little person before me,
my own baby daughter,
gone.

I held you,
dressed in white, softly wrapped.
I held your hand.
I kissed your head.
You were quiet.
You were still.

I would like to stand here,
stuck in the dark mud of my sorrow and loss,
never leaving my house.
But, whoever said, "time stood still,"
lied.

Days have passed.
The sun has set, and risen.
The weather is turning colder.
The boys are asking about Christmas.
They climb up beside me where I lay,
still, on the bed.
They crawl on me
and ask me questions
and say things that make me laugh.
They are ever moving forward.

We will bury you next week.
I will watch them lower your tiny bed
into the earth.
Tears will move down my face.
Your body will rest, but it will not stay the same.
You are moving on.

I feel, somehow and somewhere
your lively, joyful spirit.
I feel the sorrow, and the stillness,
but I also feel peace,
and God,
and you.

I will move on,
but I will take you with me.
Always,
Annie Grace.
You are mine,
and I will love you
still.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shocked into Feeling

I had a conversation with an acquaintance a while ago about film we had both seen. This particular movie was trying to convey a political message, a well-intentioned message about how the greedy desires of tyrants and politicians have ruined a people and a country. This point was illustrated, however, by a disturbing act of cruelty against a child. I found it to be terribly shocking and disturbing.

I told this acquaintance that I understood that terrible things happen, and that there was value in being aware of these as a responsible world citizen, but that I wasn't sure I needed to see them so brutally depicted. She said that they did need to be seen and read, but I did, I find I still do, disagree.

There are many books and movies that fall into this category. I believe they are created with good goals of getting people outside themselves, getting them to see the world and want to make it better. They often come up in conversations as "a book/film everyone must see." I find however, that their tactic is to shock viewers/readers into feeling something. In doing so they discount the subtleties of human emotion. I don't think it takes quite so much to get us to want to feel something and live better. I also think that the more we have to be shocked into feeling something, the less shocking some of those horrors will become in the long run.

I felt the devastating horror of the holocaust when I learned about it as a child in school. I didn't need to see the people marched to the incinerators and burned gruesomely before my eyes to understand what happened there. I cried when I read the newspaper account of what happened to a girl who was abducted in my home state. I don't need to watch the TV movie with all the gruesome details displayed to feel sorrow about what happened to that little girl.

I understand that people want to see reality depicted in media. I don't suggest that we gloss over the dark parts of history, or only read pretty fluffy stories with happy endings. But at the same time I would suggest that we take care not to dull our human sensibilities by repeatedly forcing ourselves to read and watch brutal and gruesome acts, until slowly, someday, they don't seem quite so brutal anymore.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fantasy: The Redheaded-Step-Child Genre

When it comes up with someone that I have written a novel, the first question is always, "what kind of novel?" I then try not to feel self conscious when I say that it's young adult fantasy. Part of my embarrassment stems back to junior high when I told a friend of mine that I liked to read fantasy and he said "oooo," and then made fun of me about it for the next five years. I'm pretty sure he thought fantasy was something akin to one of those grocery store romances.

Recent response to my fantasy writing is not quite so marked. I usually get one of three responses. Some actually express excitement. These are the fantasy readers. There are more of them than you might think.

The other response is basic ignorance: "what is that?" I tell them that fantasy is basically fiction that includes magic or the supernatural. It is not science-based like science fiction and not as dark as horror.

The final response is polite disinterest leaning toward veiled disdain: "Oh, how nice." This comes from those who see fantasy as second rate fiction, or (to use a phrase my husband is fond of) the "redheaded-step-child" genre. It may be popular, but many, especially in academia, feel that it is childish or not worthy of serious study or praise.

As an avid fantasy reader and writer I would like to give my support of this poor neglected genre and offer three reasons why I think that good fantasy is worth reading, especially for young adults.

Elementary-aged children are allowed and encouraged to be imaginative. However by the time those same children enter that wonderful world of the middle school or junior high, "dream big," and "think outside the box," is often replaced with "grow up," and "get real." As a young teen who did not make that transition easily, I found fantasy a safe and age-appropriate outlet for my still-imaginative mind. As an adult, I continue to enjoy thinking about things that get me out of my usual thought process and ways of viewing the world. It takes a great deal of skill and dedication for a historical or contemporary fiction author to do the research required to put on paper the actual world, but I think it takes a comparable skill to come up with something or somewhere altogether new.

Fantasy is also great for young adults because they are in a time of life when the gray area of morality is large and puzzling. The need to make good choices is less urgent, perhaps, than in childhood, and fantasy is a place where good and evil is usually well-defined and where characters have to pick a side and fight. I think some of the strongest female heroines I have ever read were fantasy characters. Good fantasy often deals with and fights harmful gender and even race roles better than other genres because it can create a world where they can be seen in a different light and location.

Finally, Fantasy, when written well, is essentially about people. It does not matter whether or not the characters of a book live in a suburb or in a castle under the water, if they are real characters dealing with real conflict in believable ways than we can relate to and learn from them as easily as any characters in the most gritty realistic fiction.

Terry Brooks, a well-known fantasy author, said to critics of the genre, "People who view fantasy as second rate or childish are usually people who don't read or understand it. I like to tell them that good fantasy is social commentary combined with good storytelling - Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, the Oz stories and so many others. Sure, the stories take place in an imaginary world. But those worlds mirror our own and tell us things about ourselves that need to be said and understood. I also like to tell them how often other forms of literature use fantasy as the bedrock of their own stories. Fantasy transcends its own form in wider scope than any other type of writing."

I never studied Harry Potter in a literature class, and I'm sure my kids won't either. However, there is a reason why those books are so well-loved internationally. They are well-written and literary, and the magic is compelling to read about. However, in essentials those books are not about spells and brooms. They are about friendship, love, sacrifice, and fighting for what is right. Rowling wrote about those great things and many others, and she did it by creating characters with whom people all over the world could identify. She also did it with dragons, castles, wands, and ancient magic. She did it with fantasy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Calling all Sports Fans

So tonight, rather than express my supposed expertise on some subject I deem to be terribly important, I would like to take this opportunity to rather demonstrate my ignorance on a subject that has long confused me: the wide world of sports. I beg the greater expertise of the sports fans out there to enlighten me where my knowledge is lacking.

I should initially make it clear that I grew up in a family where we almost never attended local sporting events or even watched televised sports (except the Super Bowl a couple of times to catch the commercials). While I have always enjoyed playing sports, especially basketball, I was never tall, skilled, or dedicated enough to play competitively except on local leagues here and there. My favorite games were those endless ones with friends in college where we played until 2 am, and no one kept score. So, I am definitely outside the competitive sports fan loop.

I attended a decent-sized state university with great English program, a fairly competitive basketball team and a lousy football team. Students got into all sporting events free of charge. Imagine the change for me, then, when I arrived at Notre Dame and discovered a breed of people who literally live for the game.

I went tailgating for the first time in September. My husband and I packed up the kids and walked down to campus with some friends. I don't know what I had expected. Maybe a few rowdy undergrads and some hot dogs. I definitely was unprepared for the masses of high-price-paying, school-colors-wearing Sportsfans. These weren't just face-painted freshman (although there were those) but Alumni and life-time followers of The Team. I was feeling a little out of place in my regular t-shirt, to say the least.

The amount of time, money, and yes, alcohol that people put into the support of a sports team was a shocker to a novice like me. I think my mother nearly suffered a heart attack when I later told her on the phone how people line up at the grotto to light a candle for the team. I suppose I felt like taking the distinguished looking elderly gentleman I passed in the bookstore, who was about to drop a ridiculous amount of money on a bronze Notre Dame football paperweight, and shaking him by his shoulders while shouting, "It's just a game!"

These feelings were increased a few months ago when I heard of the huge amounts of money alumni were giving to the school to fire the football coach, Charlie Weis, based on his poor win record over the past five seasons. I suppose I am a bit unclear on how some California big wig Notre Dame Alum just must shell out the millions, during a recession, to make sure his favorite football team wins.

So, like I said, I'm a novice. However, I am admittedly a novice who went to almost every tailgate this past season, and not just for the great free food at the business college's alumni lunch. I like the excitement, and the people, and the sunshine. I am impressed by the long standing traditions like the Irish Guard, and the bagpipes, and the Player's Walk to the stadium. My kids love watching the leprechaun, and the band march(and are marching around the house and the playground for weeks afterward). It is true that at the band's concert outside of Bond Hall before Notre Dame's last home game, I was choked up more than once with unexplained emotion.

So, I watch the games, and I cheer for the Irish. I enjoy that. I might even try to ruin my day if they lose. However, when it comes right down to it, something will distract me or make me laugh and ten minutes after the dismal end to the long fight I will have forgotten all about the defeat.

After all, it is just a game, right?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Starved for Books

I have a few select family members and friends with whom I talk books on a regular basis. We often ask, "So, what have you read lately?" When asked this myself, I find my initial and most common response is inevitably "nothing."

Of course, this response does not really mean "nothing." It usually means I have read a couple of novels this week and some articles, but that they weren't interesting, or well-written, or noteworthy enough for me to recommend, mention, or even finish.

My response is not dissimilar to the sentiment of former students who used to tell me, "I hate reading." I would go along with this until I caught them reading some juicy (and forbidden) note from a peer while they should have been anxiously engaged in the study of a Nathaniel Hawthorne text (unfathomable, I know). I liked to point out that everyone likes reading if they know how, they just have to have the right material in front of them.

So, I go to the library once a week and stand in front of endless shelves of varied prose, looking for "the right material," and sigh like those snobbish rich girls in teen movies who look at their well-stocked closets and say they have nothing to wear.

A couple of months ago, a member of my book club was talking about the two years she spent living in Egypt, and how she was "starved for books." She then proceeded to talk about how libraries were non-existent or depleted, and how the mail system made buying books online impossible. She said that there was a certain guide book she read and re-read just to be reading.

The thought of not actually having access to books is a jarring blow to my perspective. It calls to mind the fact that there were/are times where books were not available to regular people like me. It makes me think of my shelves and boxes full of books, and how the only books I ever re-read are the ones I love.

I would like to say that after hearing about this woman's experience I have developed a whole new approach to books. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I cannot honestly say that I still don't go to the library and turn my nose up at my choices. I have not picked up Great Expectations for the fourth time and actually finished it. Nor have I pulled one of my husband's economics books off the shelf on a slow evening and delved in.

However, I do feel a greater appreciation for the options on those many library shelves. I do understand a little better my own spoiled blessedness in my many choices. I also feel even more triumphant when in my picking and choosing books I actually happen upon something brilliant, funny, or inspired and realize there is likely, somewhere, more where that came from.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shakespeare on Love?

I am an admitted and sincere fan of The Bard. I delight to decipher and enjoy his well-crafted verse, admire his ability to create a flawless plot line rife with literary devices and foreshadowing, and awe at his grasp and illustration of human nature in its many forms. I am, however, convinced that he just isn't great at romance.

Shakespeare's lovers are seldom well acquainted, falling "in love" after only meeting briefly and rarely developing greater knowledge and respect. They are often distant or disguised; admirers from afar.

My least favorite Shakespeare play has been Romeo and Juliet ever since It was required curriculum in the ninth grade. Someone thought they could get teenagers to like Shakespeare by spoon-feeding them Romeo. I suppose they generalized (as people often do about teenagers) that we would have liked hasty and tragic romance stories. I remember being disappointed about a story of two pubescent and lovesick adversaries who rush into marriage on extremely short acquaintance only to take their own lives on the strength of misunderstandings a few days later. Not so romantic.

Hence, when Notre Dame Theatre started advertising their production of said play, I decided I would forgo and catch their next Shakespeare in the Spring. Last Wednesday, however, I got the reminder email and noticed that it was being put on by Actors from the London Stage, who I have seen previously and admire for their minimalist approach (only five actors playing all the roles with barely anything in the way of scenery/costumes). I decided that I might be able to see some value in the play in my old age :). So I bought my ticket, got my husband to be on childcare duty, and braved Romeo and Juliet the next night.

The play was well-done. Bare bones and honest. I watched closely for value in the old tragedy and found it. What I decided is this: Romeo and Juliet is not a romance. I don't know if it was ever meant to be. It is a tragedy. It a testament to the great ills of revenge and prolonged rivalry, it is a story about the loss of innocence in two young people, and it is a lesson.

The play begins with the families Capulet and Montague in full feud. We see their hatred and view them as mob against mob. We are then drawn aside to see two individuals in the families with whom we can relate: the heartbroken Romeo-just on the outs from first love, and Juliet who willingly admits to her matchmaking parents that she has never really thought of marriage before. Both are going to the masque, primed to fall in love. Mercutio tells Romeo that he is sure to find someone who makes him forget Rosalinde and Juliet is to meet her future spouse there and begin to think about matrimony. It is not surprising that they find that opportunity in each other.

They kiss. They part, only then to learn names and discover they are "in love" with the enemy. They then continue on their tragically hasty path toward marriage, misunderstanding, and eventually death. Others die in the course of the tale, all casualties of the feud; yet each have their own tragic flaw. Mercutio will not take life seriously, and loses it. Tybalt is overconfident. Even Paris is at fault for being blind and unaware of what is really going on around him.

But Romeo and Juliet are merely hasty, in spite of warnings from the Priest to go slowly, and innocent. They are lambs sacrificed to show their fighting families the price of their hatred. The heroes could not have been lambs had they not begun their journey in youthful innocence.

Their innocence, however, is also a casualty of the tragic feud. Juliet begins the play hopeful and optimistic. She is entirely trusting of her childhood nurse to care for her every need. She obeys her parents, and comes when she is called. By the end of the play, however, she has lost her that childhood dependency as she casts of the advice of nurse and parents--who admonish her to marry Paris--and fakes her own death to escape their grasp.

Romeo innocently believes in love and reconciliation so much that he lays down his sword rather than fight his new kinsman, Tybalt, who is anxious for his life, only to see Mercutio slain in his defense. He then rushes to kill that same kinsman, an act which he later asserts has "stain'd the childhood of our joy."At the end of the play he does not think twice before slaying Paris merely to get to Juliet's tomb, all quips about killing now laid aside as he's willing to assume the worst and take action.

Yes, the play is a tragedy, and the heroes lose their innocence and their lives. But Shakespeare did not merely write about two youths dying in vain. Romeo and Juliet show that even in those we hate most there is something we might love. There is some middle ground, and opportunity in each other we might take. The play's final image is not that of the prostrate lovers on the ground, but of the golden statues raised in their honor by the parents who finally found, sadly, that they were not so different after all.