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Archive for January, 2013

Dangit, Kij Johnson! I really was not expecting the short story “Ponies,” which took up so few pages in the Nebula Awards Showcase 2012 collection, to do me so much damage.  When I was done with it, I pretty much sat there in the bed, every now and again running my eyes back over the last few paragraphs.  Then I read the story again all the way through, decided I’d had enough, and turned out the lights.  I haven’t forgotten the story since.

A lot of readers might not have the same reaction to “Ponies.” I suppose it’s possible that some might even find it slight (a thought that strikes me as heresy, but still…).  I have a daughter, a socially awkward one, who’s on the cusp of leaving pre-school and entering first grade.  The very thought fills me with new and exhausting forms of dread.  What if she doesn’t like it?  What if the other kids pick on her?  Worse, what if the other girls, as a group, turn on her?

That kind of fear is at the heart of “Ponies,” a story Johnson says she wrote as an examination of the damages that girls inflict on one another.  At first, the premise seems so simple and nonthreatening.  A girl named Barbara receives an invitation to a party.  Sunny reads over her shoulder and says, “I can’t wait to have friends!”  Thing is, Sunny is Barbara’s pony, and in this world, ponies have wings, a horn, and can talk.

The birthday parties in this world are also horrible, ritualistic affairs where the ponies must give up one of the things that makes them special.  The party at TopGirl’s house, where TheOtherGirls and their ponies form a tight group, is already a political minefield for Barbara, who wants friends so badly that she molds herself on the fly to be acceptable.

To say that it goes horribly wrong, for Barbara and for Sunny, is something of an understatement.  Again, part of my reaction probably lies in my fears about my own daughter, in my fears that her need for acceptance will lead her to change the oddball, left-of-center things that make her so unique.  I’ll do my best as a father to tell her that it doesn’t matter in the long run.  The people she knows in grade school will fall away as she gets to middle school. Those people in turn will disappear behind her as she navigates high school. In the end, she’ll be lucky if there’s more than a handful of people from those days she’ll even stay in contact with.  So who cares what those shallow nitwits have to say?

There’s probably a little transference going on there.  Sounds pretty much like my youth.  I wasn’t terribly social, and had my own bully issues to contend with.

At any rate, when my daughter’s day comes, little that I say will seem like it contains much wisdom, or salve the kinds of wounds that other kids can cause with the flick of a wicked tongue.  I’m only a dad, and it seems that very few ponies stay whole.  But I’ll do my best, that’s for sure.  “Ponies” scares the hell out of me, and I’d like to say it will make me more vigilant.  It will, but there’s only so much that vigilance can do when the bulk of my daughters’ days will find her on her own, learning lessons hard and fast, making mistakes, making friends, and making choices that might not bear fruit for years down the line.

You can read Ponies online here.

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My son has lived and breathed Star Wars for months now, ever since he first encountered the Lego Star Wars game for the Wii.  He’d never seen the movies. (A situation we’ve since rectified by letting him view the first three.  The original three. The holy trinity of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi that God and Nature intended.)

So for months it’s been Darth Vader, the “Robot that Freezes People” (R2D2), and the “Guy that Walks Slow” (C3PO).  Then my son went to Disney World and met Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers in the flesh. It scared the wits out of him and seemed to scare him straight of any aspirations to become a Sith Lord.

The severity of this might have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t happened right before Christmas.  Suddenly, our son who’d spent months asking for everything Star Wars was opening his presents from Santa and complaining that he didn’t like Star Wars anymore.  We had a quick talk, about graciousness when you’re receiving presents and that he might as well steel himself for more Star Wars presents from his grandparents.

It turned out OK in the end. Most of the presents he got were more cartoonish depictions of the Star Wars universe, and after a little hesitation, my son took to them.  It turned out that he was traumatized only by realistic depictions of Darth Vader.  That’s understandable.  It’s hard to look the devil in the eye.

During my talks with my son, though, I found myself saying things like “Darth Vader was good in the end, so why don’t you just decide that it’s the good Darth Vader. You can like the good Darth Vader and not the bad one” or “Boba Fett’s a mercenary.  Mercenaries can hunt bad guys just like they hunt good guys.”  Essentially, I was telling him that he could create his own Star Wars universe, that he could make it into what he wanted.

It made me think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.”  In that essay, Tolkien laid out a set of conditions by which he thought stories did or didn’t qualify as fairy stories in the classic sense. One of the more interesting ideas in the essay, if I remember correctly, was the idea of Creation: that you could create something that was a fairy story as long as it had consistent rules and logic that the reader could use to suspend disbelief.

So here I was basically telling my son to create his own Star Wars if it kept him liking the game and the movies and the toys.  I gave some thought later as to why it meant so much to me, when I might have just shrugged if he decided he suddenly didn’t like other things. As both of my children have proven, interests can be fickle and fleeting things.

It was Star Wars, though, that helped set me down the path to geekdom (buying a paperback copy of the The Hobbit at a yard sale when I was 12 would seal the deal), and despite all of the affronts that George Lucas has inflicted on the franchise, the Star Wars universe means a lot to me.  And it means a lot to me that my kids at least get the chance to experience imaginary worlds and creations like Middle Earth, Earthsea, the Federation, the Tardis, and so on.  After that, they can certainly make up their minds to roll their eyes everytime their parents start gushing about Firefly or the latest Neil Gaiman book.  But I won’t let a chance encounter at Disney World snuff out my son’s interest before it gets a chance to catch fire on its own.

I suppose, in the end, that my makeshift tactic for talking my son down would be Lucas-approved. He was very much in the Joseph Campbell school when he filmed Star Wars, and Campbell was always a big proponent of myths and legends adapting and evolving and being repurposed to fit new times and cultures.

So crisis averted this time.  My son has a much more relaxed attitude about the whole thing now.  I don’t have any idea what I’ll do, though, if we go to Dragon Con or something and he gets spooked by someone dressed as Gandalf.

Note: I currently have two WordPress blogs that don’t typically overlap, but in this case they do, so I’m posting this entry on both. I don’t know if there’s blog etiquette or standard operating procedure for that sort of thing. I’m just happy to be posting. 🙂

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