[personal profile] floorpigeon
Things:
- I suck at time management, to the point where my biggest fantasy right this second isn't that I wake up in faerie, but that I wake up being good at time-management. Is that how you know you've grown up? Um, I hope not.
- Washington State legalized same-sex marriage! YEAH! I am suddenly proud of 'my' state. In fact I've never thought of it as 'mine' before, but NYS sure as hell ain't mine. I disown it, anyway. More importantly, we rock.
- I'm getting used to going to HS to intern/practice sitting quietly/etc, wtf. I'm so not cut out for hardcore urban schools, though. Even my nice, tiny, alternative HS makes me nervous till I relax. Seriously. Hardcore urban? Not my bag.
- We're reading a fantasy YA novel about historical African-American gods/characters/folklore in my class, and some of my group are like, 'fantasy is what turned me off literature in middle school'. O___o for realz! They are having flash-backs, and are like, really struggling to relate to black people's mythology, etc. Even the ones who've got fantasy-reading experience. People comfortable with this book make up a huge minority in our 10-or-so person group. Meh.

...I dunno. I feel let down but unsurprised. I just feel sad, maybe? I dunno. I just have to repeat to myself 'I am different, I am weird, I am different', 'cause like, I forget sometimes. Ok, so all the dialogue being in Ebonics kind of annoyed me (but I got used to it), and the plot was a little boring (but it got better), but they just had this huge resistance, and it was all because of this social/racial gap, and it's just depressing, man. I mean, really? REALLY???

And I can't blame them 'cause it's a visceral response, not an incorrect belief or misguided feeling. Fundamentally, the way I use literature and the way most people (probably) use literature are not the same, and the way I relate to new worlds and cultures is also fundamentally not the same. I mean, like I said, I wasn't thrilled about the Ebonics, but neither was I alienated. I was annoyed, a little bored, but not alienated. Black? Chinese? Rich? Poor? American? Japanese? Realistic? Fantastical? Gay? Straight? God? Human? Other? I don't care. Most people do, apparently. Is that okay? I guess it's neither ok nor 'not ok'...??

Depressing. These are supposed to be future teachers, interested in YA lit. I dunno, I don't blame them. I don't. The need to connect viscerally with literature is a real thing, and it's why these super-personal 'niche' books get written-- because black teenagers don't see themselves reflected in the literature. But I like to think that's not a majority feeling, across the board. I like to think literature can reach you regardless of your culture, and that universal meaning isn't a stupid pipe-dream, but maybe I just have to believe this book isn't good enough, and that's it.

Date: 2012-02-09 08:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com
You are nicer than me. I totally blame and judge them as lacking basic empathy skills. Also worried how they'll deal when they have to teach kids that aren't just like them.

Date: 2012-02-10 03:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] floorpigeon.livejournal.com
The funny thing (to me) is that when we *discuss* empathy stuff in more abstract psychological terms in class, everyone pipes up positively, sounds on-board and so on. I mean, these are liberal Evergreen kids, etc. It's difficult for me because, I mean, this book was *written* in part due to the feeling that black culture should be written about by black people for a black YA audience. So this is the flip-side of that. Like, if you explicitly intend to validate a specific alienated group with your literature, do you also alienate another group, and is that to be expected?

I also don't know if I'm a pure example of presence of empathy as opposed to absence, since I'm familiar with some voodoo background, some American (which includes black) folklore, and I'm fluent in fantasy and fluent in world literature (manga helps, being an immigrant who initially read in another language helps too, etc). I'm pretty cosmopolitan, and these are well-intentioned but sheltered white kids from white towns in middle-class America. Even so, I was annoyed at the Ebonics and it took me time to get into it-- it's really a difference of degree. I didn't get *angry* at the book. I didn't tell myself 'I can't read stuff like this', or 'this isn't my culture so I don't get it'. At the same time, I did get some of it. While it's not my culture, I'm highly proficient in the overall symbology of world folkloristics, somewhat familiar with American folklore, and just plain used to non-white characters after years of manga (in fact, all-white characters in comics may bore me).

So that's why I try to be understanding. I don't know if my literary skills would translate to being good with minorities or people who're not like me, though in truth it feels like most people aren't very much like me, so it's not like I haven't got practice with that. I don't know if I'm *good* with people (like or not like me) though, so they may very well be better at interaction than I am. It's sort of like the question my tutoring center director raised, about how she doesn't think being a good *writer* makes you a good tutor, 'cause empathy & communication's more important. For me-- while I'm empathic, I'm more easily and fully empathic with literature than in real life, where I have to translate it into action/reaction, though I'm still a good tutor (so they say). Plus, I keep thinking my boss is wrong, and it really does make me a better tutor that I'm a good writer, 'cause I know how to fix things from experience, and have a much broader technical knowledge than some of our other tutors. And while our tutoring philosophy is to 'hold a space' to discuss the writer's process, I think technical knowledge shouldn't be overlooked. Blah blah... :>.

Date: 2012-02-10 03:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com
Yeah, but as fandom fails (and RL) has shown me, "liberal" doesn't always translate into rl. And there's the thing ppl have pointed out where sometimes thinking of yourself as liberal can even make you even more resistant to admitting you have some probs. I'm not saying I'm above it (I can think of 2 instances off the top of my head where I was a moron in the last year, besides being judge-y as hell, and I don't think anyone has perfect empathy), but... yeah. "Liberal"

Like, if you explicitly intend to validate a specific alienated group with your literature, do you also alienate another group, and is that to be expected?

I'm actually not sure about this. But let's say that it does alienate--what does that mean that life is like for the alienated group when they deal with the majority of media? I mean if this were just a social reading group I'd be more with you in giving a pass. Or even a lit course.

But these are people who want to *teach.* And kids. (And people wanting to teach YA who can't connect with fantasy? With all the history of YA fantasy? Please tell me these are like, idk future chem teachers or something.) Unless they can fake it like anything...? And idk, it's hard for me to imagine people who can't connect with a book being a+ at connecting with a similar thing in RL. This is me and my relation to books, though, so I suppose it's possible. But the idea of people who can't connect with books wanting to be *teachers* just makes me go "bwah?" I mean, I'm sure they can be awesome and cool at many things, but it seems like they lack a crucial skill for the job they want to do.

I mean, I think it's fine to be uncomfortable, or even not like a story. I'm with you there. Especially if it's making you realize how sheltered you've been, or about people with a mindset you just don't like or aren't comfortable with or familiar with. That's like, the growing learning process, which can hurt. But if you want to be a teacher, I think you should try extra hard to step outside yourself and find some connections.

Or possibly it's just not a good book. lol.

But the way you put it, it made it seem like ppl are just rejecting it out of hand because it's different and hard. And not even really trying to see how it could be a book that speaks to some people and why.

But hm. This is a brilliant argument for literature not existing in a vacuum. Which is my total hobbyhorse so :) Everything is context. Maybe these people need more context? It seems like you definitely think your prev knowledge helped you out. idk

And yeah, I have no idea if connecting with certain stories means anything for real life. Just the way they reacted seems like a red flag for me. More about tendencies I guess?

As for tutoring, I can see being a good writer as only helping. I mean, maybe it's not the most important thing, but all things being equal. Also (tendencies again), a good writer is likely to have other skills that will help tutoring. Like tech knowledge as you say. Writing is also very often a very concentrated way of thinking, and being thoughtful is handy and likely to have given you other skills. But yeah, there are also all types of writing (sonnets vs instruction manuals) and all diff types of subjects... and then all different types of students who need different things to learn. And I'm sure many good writers aren't empathetic at all. Or good teachers.

lol I've lost the thread of my thoughts a bit

Date: 2012-02-10 05:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] floorpigeon.livejournal.com
Haha are there good *fiction* writers who're not empathetic?? I wonder. Well, I get bored by super-plotted-out epics with cardboard characters, but yeah I guess ok. I forget not everyone writes character studies about ~~~feelings. :> Anyway, the whole conversation we had at the Writing Center about 'writing quality' wasn't really satisfying to me 'cause it was so much from the tutor's perspective, even though the director is a poet. I can never turn off my 'writer self', who thinks of writing as sucky or not-as-sucky-but-still-sucky (the only way I'm not super-critical is if I'm either having my buttons pushed or am tutoring). So people thinking they're bad writers due to insecurity alone, or people being super-impressed by others who seem to 'have it easy'-- while I do understand both, I have to snort at it. What? Everyone sucks. The only people who don't suck know that they also suck. That is my line & I'm stickin' to it. I guess the true disappointment in that discussion was how people used the idea of 'good writing' non-critically; that is to say, they dismissed it as unimportant rather than deconstructing it. This is why people run away from workshops. Chickens. :> Yeah yeah, I'm a sensitive and loving tutor. :D


Anyway, I'm curious as to your opinion (even of just a few paragraphs) now, so here (http://www.amazon.com/Magical-Adventures-Pretty-Harper-Trophy/dp/0064401782). I agree with you that being a teacher implies a responsibility to push past discomfort, and some did try (well, at least most of them kept reading, anyway-- I just threw Harry Potter across the room and stopped reading at my first try). It was funny, 'cause one girl said she *didn't* look things up to empathize better with the common experience of disadvantaged readers. I think she's well-intentioned but confused about how best to help. Like you said, trying to educate yourself is always the #1 best idea.

I dunno if they all wanna teach YA per se, maybe they just liked this project option better than the others for the class. Certainly, I wonder about the teaching chops of people who just can't use their imagination very well (I mean, err, well, you can *not like* it as a genre, but when you just don't get it, it seems that's the issue). I do think being familiar with background & context helps, and one girl (interestingly, the one minority in our group) said she'd have benefited from an intro session on the ideas before she read it. That said, as a college student, doing research on what you read by yourself should be second nature. :/ Well, it was second nature to me when I was 12, but still.

There definitely was some rejection going on, and that did concern me. There was some entitlement, too-- like, 'why should I have to read this stuff?' or 'why should I have to push myself when I don't choose to?'. It's funny, 'cause these are some of the same girls who feel good about themselves reading stories set in Afghanistan or going to teach abroad 'cause it's such an 'experience'. I really think that fetishizing alienness and avoiding it are flip-sides of the same coin.

And yeah, it's hard to imagine being great with the reality of a book's subject if you can't identify with the fictional aspect. I guess this is where 'tolerance' and bullshit stuff like 'color-blindness' and 'we're all just people' comes in. Not that we're not just people, but all the privilege on display definitely made me uncomfortable. But what made me more uncomfortable is how they didn't realize it at all. And it's not like it's a great book, but I mean, I'm pretty sure if the characters were white, they wouldn't feel this intensely negative. It still sort of boggles my mind that reading about a different world can be that traumatic-- there was actually a white student last quarter who declared she had to stop reading Stendhal's 'Charterhouse of Parma' 'cause she didn't know anything about 19th century France or Italy. I mean, I didn't finish that book either ('cause I get distracted easily), but it's just so amazing to me that not feeling one can relate *personally* to a culture has this traumatic effect on people.

Date: 2012-02-10 09:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com
Haha are there good *fiction* writers who're not empathetic??

lol isn't there a cliche of the brilliant male asshole writer? And I guess it's a human mental divide where an author can sympathize wonderfully with fictional characters, but be a dick irl. Though, hm, I also think prejudices will almost always shine through. If only because authors usually are blind to them and don't realize what they're letting slip.

Ok my opinion on this book... Is that a Dillon cover? :DD 1. I love their art. Some of it is v famous so you'd prob recognize it. 2. The Dillons are interesting because they are husband and wife team (like they do the art *together*, which I'm trying to imagine the trust that takes and how it works), and *also* they met in art school in like the 1950s and she's white and he's black.

Ok that had not much to do with anything, but does show that maybe some care went into the design. Also the Dillons are talented and I encourage you to google them for more cool art. :D

The colloquial speech/language is really distracting and distancing to me, I admit. Some things work fine in speech but read oddly. And I'm always distracted by accents written out so much ("de" for "the"). I wonder if this would be easier for me as a book on tape? I can probably get into the groove, but yeah, tough for me to get into, and the sample pages skip around, so there's not enough plot to grab me. And then I'm wondering why the non-American god-child speaks this way. Maybe this is my prejudice? Associating more flowery speech and standard grammar w power? Maybe that's the point--that you can talk like this and it's normal and you can be a god? idk Or maybe I should imagine this story being told by someone who talks this way? lol many thoughts on "correct" language and class and race and my assumptions and I've only read like 3 pages. So it accomplished something. Then again, in the end, I'm not the target audience, so maybe this speaks really well to the people it's trying to reach.

It was funny, 'cause one girl said she *didn't* look things up to empathize better with the common experience of disadvantaged readers.

Um. But I assume, if this book was written with the idea it would reach certain people, it would speak to their experiences. So if you don't have those experiences, don't know the stories they have, and you want to get all the refs, you'd need to do research... I feel like this girl not looking things up basically had the idea that the target audience wouldn't know anything or have any stories. It feels like she didn't even think that they'd know things and have experiences she might not know. idk. I don't really know what the target audience would know or what the author assumed, but it seems dismissive to assume that I already know more than them. I mean, if nothing else, I don't know what it's like to be black in America. I mean, I read and talk to friends, but there are certain things I still don't know, or just miss because it's not my lived experience.

If nothing else, I feel women should be able to get this, since men often have the same problems writing and reading about women.

Plus we have google now! Research takes like 3 secs. I mean, I think a good book doesn't usually need outside research, but this isn't reading for pure fun, but for cultural broadening as a teacher.

Eh, you know that was prob just bs and she was making an excuse to not look things up though.

Certainly, I wonder about the teaching chops of people who just can't use their imagination very well (I mean, err, well, you can *not like* it as a genre, but when you just don't get it, it seems that's the issue).

ia ia Plus imagination will help deal with kids who learn in different ways, which many ppl do even from similar backgrounds, so they can present the same info in different ways.
Edited Date: 2012-02-10 09:49 am (UTC)

Date: 2012-02-10 09:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com


I really think that fetishizing alienness and avoiding it are flip-sides of the same coin.

Totes agree. Though fetishizing does present the possibility of leading to actual knowledge. (*looks uncomfortably at a childhood obsession with anime/manga*)


Oh and the entitlement. Man, I'm a little nerd, but college students (espec ones who want to be teachers) should have passed the "will this be on the test" stage by that age. Because learning makes you a better person and since you want to devote your life to teaching you better hope that learning for learning itself is important... because I hope they didn't pick that career for the money or respect or cushy hours (aw, the teacher situation in the US).

there was actually a white student last quarter who declared she had to stop reading Stendhal's 'Charterhouse of Parma' 'cause she didn't know anything about 19th century France or Italy.

wait. what. I mean, the logical thing to do there is to learn about ~exotic 19th century France or Italy, not declare anything having to do with it off limits forever. How does one ever get new knowledge under this model? (Though tbh, I would probably keep reading and just wonder if I was getting real or made-up history, and just hope I wouldn't confuse fiction with history the next time I needed to know something about 19th century France/Italy.)


I've been reading more political and news blogs and basically, in the final analysis, I think most people are happily anti-intellectual. It often boils down to stupid, but in kind of a really sad way.
Edited Date: 2012-02-10 09:52 am (UTC)

Date: 2012-02-10 09:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com
Sorry about all the edits... I miss the preview function :(

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