I’ve written another guest post for Dad Gone Wild, a local education blog. This one is about teacher retention, family policies, and low wages in this female-dominated profession. Here’s a permanent link. Enjoy!
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
This book fits into a subgenre of memoir that I call, “Why I Am the Way I Am.” In these books the authors explain their various quirks in charming and endearing and self-deprecating ways. They spend a lot of time listing their various likes and dislikes and tracing these preferences back to childhood experiences. In this example, Felicia Day connects her homeschooled upbringing to her adoption of unusual hobbies and her ability to throw herself single-mindedly into them. As a fellow recovering valedictorian, I related hard to Day’s perfectionism, her craving for external validation, and her people-pleasing teacher’s pet behaviors. When she described her honest-to-God addiction to World of Warcraft, I had to pause a moment and cross myself because I have played some MMORPGs in my day, and “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I was surprised that Day didn’t talk more about her time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long. (It would have been natural, Joss Whedon did the foreword!) Instead, the narrative concentrated on her childhood, her introduction to video gaming, and her creation of the web series The Guild. All of the stories she told were interesting and funny, but I wondered about those other stories that didn’t make it into this book. All that is to say, “Psst, Felicia, I think you have another book in you!”
Day’s story is an example for me of how sometimes success comes from the luck of being an early adopter. She got in on the ground floor of video game fandom and web videos. I don’t think it’s so much that she was prescient, predicting that these passions of hers would gain a huge following, as that she was just doing what made her happy, and the zeitgeist happened to align with her. She was lucky enough to have a weekly group meeting with a woman who had made one of the first viral youtube videos, and got her help to create The Guild. Day did crowdfunding before Kickstartr existed. The story also shows in excruciating detail how hard she worked, but luck plays a role in any success as big as Day’s.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
This YA story is about a pair of artistic teenage twins dealing with loss and their first loves. The point of view alternates between the two, one in the present, and the other 2 years earlier. It was pretty engrossing, as the structure leaves so many unanswered questions. I found the language impressive and whimsical. Noah is always imagining paintings, while Jude follows strange superstitions. One character, a Colombian sculptor, made me think of Marquez. The family’s alliances twist, as the son and daughter shift loyalties between the mother and father, and the teens trade identities from artist to athlete and back again. Some of the things the parents say to the kids about their gender identities are clearly messed up, but very common. The love stories were both intense and passionate, fun to read about. I’m glad to see inclusive novels like this one, in which two boys fall in love with each other, becoming more and more common.
So today I turned 33. Because good food is really all you need to have a happy day, I had sushi for lunch, and fajitas and margaritas for dinner, with ice cream cake for desert. And of course, sharing that food with family. I had tuna rolls with the guy who first introduced me to sushi, and my four-year-old had his first tortilla, and my one-year-old made a funny face when he tasted the lime from my margarita and then got super excited about taking tiny bites of ice cream.
I’m a little sad I didn’t get to see my mom today. Since having my kids I’ve realized that birthdays are celebrations for mothers too. Every time one of my boys has a birthday, I want to get a picture of just me with him, the two of us together as a unit like we were the day he was born. My boy’s birthday is a chance to congratulate myself on keeping him alive for another year, to celebrate his growth and the care I’ve put into it. I don’t think I’ll feel differently in 30 years. My mom is the person I miss the most since moving away from the family, and I especially wish my sons could see her more often because they love each other so much. And I also remember how she baked Barbie cakes and threw pool parties for me and my sister and took us to Johnny’s Toy Store to use our keys to the castle. She made our birthdays special, and since mine is in June, it was always in the middle of a summer that we spent at the pool and the library. So I miss my mom on my birthday.
I’m getting to be old enough where birthdays make me have existential thoughts and wonder about the direction of my life. 33 is in my head as a key year for some reason–I’ve heard it called the “Jesus year” because that’s how old He was when He died. It seems like a pivotal number, even though it’s not really any official milestone. So I’m asking myself, Am I on track? Is my life going the way I want it to? Will I have regrets someday because of the things I didn’t do this year?
Looking at my life like this, I think one thing I can say for sure is that I’m proud of my children and my family life. I’ve made some choices to prioritize that aspect of my life, and though I wish I could have everything and not have to choose, I would make the same decisions again. I do regret not writing more, or more ambitiously, and I’ve resolved to change that. It’s a matter of habits and scheduling and confidence.
As a teacher with a summer birthday, I get a day to myself that’s a vacation day, just as I did when I was a kid. The years of my life overlap with the school year, and the academic calendar, not the Gregorian, dominates my life, so that birthdays seem like a more natural time for me to make resolutions than January 1. The free time I get in the summer is time I like to use to kick off good new habits, try new things, and rejuvenate myself in lots of ways. I’ve been doing a good bit of that work this year, but I’ve been keeping quiet about it so far. I’m hoping these efforts will come to fruition in the next month, so that I can have good habits established when the school year starts again. I hope I can make 33 live up to the hype I’ve been giving it.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip
This short fantasy novel enchanted me thoroughly with its gorgeous formal language, imagery, scenery, and magical animals. The female protagonist, Sybel, cares for mythical creatures alone on a mountain, until she is given a baby prince to care for. When he grows up, she is thrown into the middle of the rivalry between the king and a competing court. She tries to keep herself out of the drama, until she is brought in against her will. It’s so cool and rare to find a strong woman character who knows who she is, who has power without the need to prove anything by wielding it. Watching Sybel almost lose that quality in a search for revenge was tragic; seeing her finally save herself and prevent a war, with the help of her loved ones, was triumphant. Except for the villain, who mostly acted in fear and desire, the characters all treated each other with such love and acceptance and forgiveness. The final twist was perfect and beautiful. If you like immersive fantasy and pretty sentences, this book is worth a try.
Here are 3 quick reviews of some fantasy novels I wasn’t very impressed with. The last two of these books are very long, and may have been worth the time investment if it weren’t for that factor.
Fever by Lauren DeStefano
I enjoyed the first book in this series, Wither, because it seemed like a YA version of The Handmaid’s Tale, with drastically shortened lifespans to add extra stress. But Rhine, the protagonist, seemed to lose much of her spark and will to fight in this sequel. She spent much of the narrative ill or in a drugged stupor, and then got captured again at the end.
City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
This book concludes The Passage Trilogy. It examines the series’ villain at length. I often found it needlessly violent and maudlin. I had a hard time buying into the ending, in which 700 people on an isolated Pacific island are all that’s left of humanity, then 1000 years later things are back to normal, almost exactly the same as they used to be before the virus, with technology and culture comparable to today’s. I found that absurd.
The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley
I remember loving The Mists of Avalon years ago, but Bradley’s version of the Trojan War is not as good as her version of the Arthurian legends. She chose Kassandra, the future-predicting daughter of Priam, as her protagonist. One perhaps understandable flaw, which may be inherent in the source material, is the idea of predestination and the will of the Gods, which makes the choices of the characters seem pointless.