Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. December 1st. National Novel Writing Month is over. I completed the first draft of my second novel. Thanksgiving and the blackness of the first shopping rush has passed. I have avoided stores all weekend. Today, Advent starts. Today is World AIDS Day. During this time of expectant waiting, what are you waiting for?
Friends of mine who are HIV activists have a goal, Getting to Zero. Zero new infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths. Some think it would take a miracle to achieve this. Others think that by people working together we can get there. Advent is a time of waiting and preparing for miracles.
How much divine intervention is necessary to get to zero? How much human participation? We can argue about the mix of the two, it seems like that is what theologians have done for ages. To me, it seems like a mix of the two. We can pray for divine intervention. We can organize human participation. We should do both.
So as we enter Advent, let’s pray and organize for something much more important than the latest electronics picked up in a Black Friday Frenzy. Let’s pray and organize around getting to zero, Zero new infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.
It’s been a little over a year since my mother died. Last year, I was mostly in shock and hadn’t really processed all that went on, but this year, I’m finding more opportunities to reflect on what I learned.
This spring, my daughter Miranda published her book, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something.
Now, we are being bombarded by Black Friday ads, or even worse, Black Friday Eve. It all made me think, here I am in my mid fifties. My mother is dead, and I’m pouring over my childhood memories in my heart. What do I remember?
I remember getting those knitted socks that she didn’t have time to finish. They were in a shoebox with the knitting needles still in them. They were a couple different shades of red which almost matched. She had run out of yarn, and bought some more in a color as close as she could get to the original.
I remember the days leading up to the holidays, helping my mother bake. I remember one year, getting a broken alarm clock and a set of screwdrivers. I often talk about that is one of the best gifts I ever received. I remember the construction paper silhouette of my face pasted to a larger piece of white paper cut in the shape of a heart which I scrawled my name on. I must have given that to here as a gift when I was six or seven, and nearly half a century later, I took it down from my mother’s linen closet and brought it to my house.
It was a different time back then. We didn’t have a lot of money, there was probably a lot less plastic crap on the market and we certainly didn’t go to any Black Friday Eve sales. Yet the commercialization of the holidays had already started long before my childhood and I’m sure I got my share of plastic crap that made me happy for a day and a half before it broke.
So as you sit down at the Thanksgiving Day table, think about how you want to be remembered. Do you want to make a brief impression with the latest gadget bought on sale on Thursday evening, or do you want to be remembered for what you made, an incomplete set of socks or some other lasting memory made by warm hands held during grace over the dinner table.
Don’t let fears of your own inadequacies at making stuff stop you. That’s the message of Miranda’s book. By making something, anything, you are making important memories.
Don’t Buy Crap, Just Make Memories.
This evening I went to a digital safety presentation by a youth resource police officer sponsored by our local PTO. Most of what he said was fairly valid, but the way he said it was questionable in my mind.
First, it was very much of a digital immigrant telling other digital immigrants how their digital native children should act online. He admitted that he just didn't get why people talk about food or share their location online. In my mind, this made him less credible.
More importantly, his talk sounded like he was asking the parents to limit or curtail their children's online activity. To a certain extent this makes sense. We don't want kids to do things online that could end up hurting them. He spoke about making sure that kids didn't grow up with negative digital footprint.
I suggested that he might want to look at things from the other side. How do we encourage our digital native kids to have a positive digital footprint? How do we help these digital natives develop a good digital portfolio and a strong personal digital brand?
These are the questions we should be grappling with.
From the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook, I found the following comment:
Here's an interesting steaming pile of anti-NaNoWriMo dreck from Salon.com.
Yes, like other's my attention gets drawn to train wrecks, accidents along side the highway and other disasters, so I slowed down and took a look. The author admits that she doesn't write novels, and goes on to say,
NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.
As I read this, I pondered, what would make a person write such a screed? Is it insecurity in her own writing? Is it some haughtiness about being a 'real' writer, instead of just some inspiring hack? Are they two sides of the same coin?
'The narcissistic commerce of writing…' She, as, I presume, a paid writer, seems to be in an odd position criticizing the commerce of writing. Perhaps the narcissism she is complaining about is her own. Perhaps she is concern that she will be eclipsed by some great writer that emerges out of NaNoWriMo, moves through writers conferences, and writes the next great American novel.
So who is Laura Miller? Her bio says
In 1995, Laura Miller helped to co-found Salon.com, where she is currently a staff writer. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the Last Word column for two years. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the
Wall Street Journal and many other publications. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" (Little, Brown, 2008) and the editor of "The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors" (Penguin, 2000). She lives in New York.
Oh yes, there s that nasty little bit of the commerce of writing slipping in. Be sure to buy her books, not. Her articles are mostly reviews, which based on her screed against NaNoWriMo I didn't see any reason to read.
Her article has received many great comments. Perhaps the best starts off like this:
Well aren't you just the Queen of Everything
Good gods, Miller, what crawled up your ass and died? What do you care if people take a whack at writing a novel or not? Who are you to tell them what is and isn't a "waste of time"? It's their time and effort, and if they want to spend it trying to write, let them. How exactly is it hurting you?
While you're at it, why don't you write a column on what a huge waste of time it is to collect stamps? Or crochet doilies? Or bone up on football stats? How about making birdhouses; THERE'S a fucking waste of time for you. And let's not forget scrapbooking. Damn, think of the millions of man hours (or woman hours) wasted on pasting ribbons and gewgaws and pictures in cutesty books. It's disgusting!
If this were just another self-righteous narcissistic professional writer sneering at all the people who still write for the joy of it, I would be tempted to glance at it and move on. However, I believe this reflections a much bigger issue in the world of writing, the idea of authority.
It is a topic that has been explored at many great conferences on the future of media, so I'l just give a quick summary. Here in the twenty-first century, where anyone can write a blog, and now, for that matter, anyone can self-publish, how do we determine what is of value? How do we find the authors that write with true authority.
It used to be that the publishers and the book reviewers were the gatekeepers, the guardians of authority. Yet now social media and crowd sourcing take the change in authorship one step further. An author can write a great book, self-publish it, and get enough critical praise from the hoi polloi to make the book a commercial success. Wither authority?
Ms. Miller also wrote a couple articles recently about Goodreads changing their moderation policy. She talks in these articles about the role of bullies at Goodreads. As we think about the changing nature of authority in the internet age, I have to wonder how much the apparent rise in bullying is a result of people trying to find their way in this new media landscape and acting inappropriately out of fear of their own loss of status.
Perhaps this provides a better insight into why Ms. Miller has chosen to publish an inflammatory attack on a wonderful hobby of people seeking to improve their ability to communicate in the twenty-first century.
Can a writer effectively compose a first person narrative story but from voice of their opposite gender?
There are a lot of interesting questions people struggle with in the NaNoWriMo Facebook group, and this is just one of them. Most of the responses are fairly predictable. "Yes… I can…I'm told they're accurate, too, from my male readers….There is more difference within genders than between…."
The discussion drifts off to sexuality.
I added my two cents with
Wow! I came at this from a very different perspective than most of the other people on this thread. My first thought was, "It all depends on whether you are cis or trans".
This, of course, led me to thinking about gender being socially constructed. If we are creating new worlds, we can also create gender constructs as we please.
I wonder how many of the forum participants get the reference to "cis or trans" or "gender as a social construct".
On Wednesdays, I speak with my eldest daughter who is teaching in Japan these days. Recently, she went to a conference on gender equality there. During our discussion of her experiences, I mentioned an interview I had recently listened to where the speaker identified herself as being in a third gender. She was a western woman in a strongly patriarchal Muslim country. In the country, there were acceptable roles for men and for women. Yet, she, as a western woman, could participate in activities traditionally reserved for men as well as in activities traditionally reserved for women.
My daughters and I often speak about social constructionism and I've been planning to weave the idea into my novel for NaNoWriMo. As my mind wanders along this path, I bump into the Constructivism philosophy of education, and I start thinking about social constructivism. Writing a novel is a great opportunity to experiment with challenging social constructs. How do writers create or reinforce social constructs? What role does the fourth estate play in shaping the third gender?
I must admit I've always had problems getting past Orlando "slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters". Yet the idea of Virginia Woolf's Orlando has alway intrigued me. At this point, I don't expect to have an Orlando like character in my novel, but we shall see.