YA Fiction

To prepare for teaching high school students, I’ve been forced to read a pile of Young Adult Fiction. For the most part, I’m not impressed by YA Fiction. I find it loaded with social and political ideology, and it often takes a moralizing tone. I’m not speaking of the Harry Potter books, by any means. These have focussed entirely on building great, likeable characters, intriguing plot and terrifying adventures. Rather, I’m speaking of books like The Chrysalids, The Giver, Among the Hidden, Farenheit 451, The Outsiders, The Maestro, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, etc…

Many of these books are dystopias which are political by nature. What if the government had complete control?>>> blah blah blah. Can I say that if this is all we give kids to read, I can see why video games are so popular! Still, there is always a good point or two to make about any and all of these books. But why is it that good YA fiction is so hard to find?


Road or River?

Picture taken by Shuana at Pipestone Creek, AB Canada

The Road not Taken By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I love this poem, and I think it really expresses my own sighs at not being able to choose all the roads that come my way. The necessity of choosing a path, by excluding other paths, is a hardship that we all must endure. The path we choose determines the experiences that will come our way. There is, of course, a universal journey of birth, love, loss, and death which we all experience, but the individual paths we choose to follow will lead us to unique experiences that form who we are.
In Children of the River, Linda Crew’s Cambodian characters adopt the metaphor of a river to express life’s journey. This is a fictitious story based on the stories of Cambodian refugees who were swept out of Cambodia into America by some barely negotiable rapids–war! The struggle of these refugees is to gain some sense of their own ability to navigate the river of life.

The metaphor of the river gives the feeling that our journey is less about our choosing, and more about the currents that drive us. Is life a river or a road? I guess it is both. If you have been raised in the West as part of dominant society,the privileges you take for granted will effect a belief that life is a series of choices, a simple matter of choosing your direction when you come to a fork in the road.What is it that we can’t control? The weather sometimes shakes our illusions of power. There are those born into poverty or who are physically or mentally challenged in some way, who realize that the metaphor of the road only works for a few privileged people in the world.

The river, with its currents, sharp rocks, rapids and waterfalls more accurately depicts life for most of the world. Famine, hunger, disease, poverty, disability, war, crime, and exploitation are the daily realities of most of the world’s population. These are the realities through which people must navigate, all the while seeking to become whole, to meet their responsibilities, to take care of those they love.

I realized when taking my Ed Psych course that the “locus of control” theory, seems a very Western theory. Too, our aversion to passive sentences in the English Languages expresses an insistence that we are the subjects of our own sentences, not the objects. Perhaps we in the West like to delude ourselves with the idea that we choose our paths. There are so many invisible forces that drive our choices, like the competitive nature of capitalism, the pressures to achieve academically, the psychological wounds of growing up


Why No Genderless Personal Pronoun?

Why is it that the English Language can reflect the changing environment, knowledge and technology by developing and changing, yet our language is still without a personal pronoun that can be used to refer to a genderless or bi-gendered God? Is it so difficult to come up with a word other than “he” or “she” to speak of God? “It” just doesn’t capture God. Yet, despite all of the inclusive language movements, and recognition that ” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” we still have not developed a personal pronoun that has caught on. Many use “She” but that is just reverse discrimination. What is wrong with something like “Ghe” or “Yhe?” Why can’t we just make one up and have it catch on? I don’t get it!

Identity: Definition by Association

The question of “who am I” plagues many of us well past our adolescent developmental stages. This is especially so if you are a “P.” (Check out myers-briggs temperment analysis.) A “P” doesn’t like to close the box on anything. They like to keep it open, and are thus revising and revisiting ideas and withholding judgment on them.

I’ve been thinking about metaphor and simile and their relationship to identity formation. An excerpt from Walt Whitman’s poem: There was a child went forth points to this relationship.

There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of
the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there–and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads–all became part of him.
The natural world around us becomes a means of expressing who we are.

The natural world around us becomes a means of expressing who we are. For example, a child picks up a hard, cold, stone. He feels its strength; it seems unbreakable. He throws the stone, it bounces. The thing seems immutable. Later, during a fight with his older brother or sister, he imagines himself, a stone. He exclaims, “I am a rock! You can’t hurt me!” The rock has become a metaphor to express who he is. At the same time, it expresses who he is not. He is not like the fragile rose petal that so easily tears. His elder sibling yells, “You are a pansy!” The child wonders, “Am I a rock, or a flower?”

As time and new contexts reveal new aspects of nature and self to the child, he realizes that sometimes he is a fragile flower. His parents’ harsh words, spoken in a moment of weakness, tear him apart. “I am weak and fragile!” he decides. But, he also finds that when opposition comes his way, he stands strong in his truth. His task, then, becomes to find beauty and truth in both the rock and the flower.

We use our relationships to objects of nature to define who we are. But, we also use icons from common culture. Are you a Starbucks coffee or a Tim Horton’s coffee? Are you a Nike or an Addidas? Are you a Chekhovian realist or a Borgesian phantasmagorist? Are you an Elizabeth Bennet or an Anna Karenina? (Or a Colette?) Can we analyze who Litlove is by the guests at her ideal dinner party? What can we say of this Blogger by the books she has chosen to identify with? What about Dorothy W and her association with books and bikes, and how does bringing biking and reading into relationship add to or understanding of her?
(I’m new to blogging as a community so forgive me if I’ve broken with convention here, by linking to your blogs.)

We seem to be constantly searching out ways to express ourselves. Why? Is it to be understood by others, or by ourselves, or both? Do the associations form us, or do we form our associations by knowledge of who we are? (The old “chicken or egg” question!)

Mud on my shoes

mud-1332495_1280I’ve recently returned from a trip to Northern Alberta where I said good-bye to my uncle, at his graveside. My grandparents from both sides of my family are also laid to rest in this quiet cemetery. Each time I attend a funeral and bid a family member “bon voyage,” I find my shoes caked with mud. This mud is rather precious. I carefully preserve the mud on my shoes, bringing it home to Southern Saskatchewan and spreading it on my own flower beds. Doing this gives me the feeling that I am bringing part of who I am, my identity, to my home in Regina. Not only is the land part of who I am, but it is composed of my ancestors, relatives and friends. May 2006

Public vs Private: For Everything there is a time and a place

Lately the issue of public versus private has been on my mind. Many bloggers are describing their feelings of unease over the mixing of the public and the private through the blogging medium. I certainly feel this tension. I have a couple of blogs that I keep up: a personal blog that relays information to family and close friends, and this public one that I use to document general information about my life and thoughts.

I have long thought that blurring private with public is a mistake. The feminist movement had difficulty with these boundaries because the notion of "feminine" was associated with the private life, and "masculine" was associated with public life. Many women thought that in order to bring themselves to the public life, they had to mix private with public. They didn’t consider their capability to take on a masculine, public role. (Nor was it socially acceptable for them to do so.)

Honor of the Queen by David Weber is a sci-fi novel that explores this theme of feminine and masculine roles in society. Honor is a woman, and the captain of the starship, Fearless. She is tall, strong, brave, smart and objective—everything one can hope for in a good captain. In fact, if I replaced “she” with “he” in the story, there are only a few moments where I would feel that the “he” doesn’t fit. At one point, after work in her private quarters, the story briefly describes Honor’s personal enjoyment of hot chocolate and cats. Another point is when Honor empathizes with one of her officers and he becomes embarassed. Here the reader realizes that Honor, to be successful, must keep feminine characteristics at bay. Honor’s mother is another character that highlights how Honor is unusual, and therefore successful. Honor’s mother teases her about men, and love, but Honor is embarrassed by her mother’s comments and gives them very little time, thinking only how unattractive she would be to the opposite sex, due to her size and strength, and position.

I think this story is really talking about public and private roles in society, not only masculinity and femininity. Codes of masculinity are rules of public, war-like, competitive behaviour, and codes of femininity are codes of private, peace-loving, domestic behaviour. When alone Honor is free to think in terms of love and relationships, comforts, beauty, and emotion. When in her professional role, Honor must be objective, strategic, strong, and brave. Still, Honor is confused about her public and private roles, and does not develop a strong personal life. (This may reflect the author's own confusion about roles and code-switching in different contexts.)

Throughout time the blurring of public and private has caused problems. Men, who were raised to be knights, warriors, protectors, and hunters, found domestic life difficult because it felt like they were being feminized at home. Some responded to this by leaving, or engaging in risk-taking activities whenever possible to prove they are still men (think of Deliverance) and some responded by acting like aggressive warriors in their own home, abusing and battering their family members when the security of the family seemed threatened. (There are of course many responses but these are generalizations) Women, bringing their private, domestic code into the public life made things very complicated, and they were responsible for creating destabilizing effects in the workplace. Even now there is a real conflict between top levels of government, who must be responsible for protecting the business, organization, or nation, by competitive behavior, or engaging in war (masculine/public roles) and those who are against any type of aggression, muscle-showing, or competitive roles in society.

My opinion is that there is a time and a place for everything. Code-switching is an important skill in all areas of life. We don’t go into a high-class restaurant and act like we would at McDonalds. We code-switch. We try not to use jargon when we go for a job interview. We code-switch. I think, too, that in public life, we need to code-switch. I don’t think that domesticating the public world is any more beneficial to the public, than publicizing the private is to the private life. I also find I’m very uncomfortable in a world that blindly accepts Foucault’s idea that anything private or hidden is shameful and must be brought out into the public eye. There is nothing shameful about the private life remaining private. But that is another topic…

Convocate: to cause to assemble in a meeting;

I have been pondering the value of attending my convocation ceremony. This coming together isn’t terribly exciting. It will entail long hours of standing in hot sticky flowing garments, and fear that either my shoe will fall off, or I’ll trip, or something awful will happen when I walk across the platform. Further, I am 20 years older than the rest of my colleagues. This gives me a feeling of being displaced, odd, OLD! The only real positive is the refreshments at the reception after the ceremony. So, why is it that I am going to attend?

I am going because people say it is important closure…for me, this is only one step towards where I want to go…so, perhaps I’m resisting closure.

I am going because I want to support those who have spent time organizing the event. But, if everyone stopped going, wouldn’t they stop holding such events?

What is it about assembling together that is important to society? Isn’t it really part of the narrative about who we are, now that we are graduates, and what our role and responsibility is towards society? We don’t leave the university as individuals, we leave as an assembly–a society, a new community.

That is why I am going to assemble together with colleagues (albeit 20 years younger).