General

12 Things I’ve Learned From My Students

One of my day jobs involves taking care of kids after school… tutoring, crafts, and a lot of improvisation.

Two sixth-grade girls said I should do a blog-post about each kid. I don’t think that’s a good idea, but a more general blog about working at the school is doable. More specifically, I’ll go into what I’ve learned working with kids. And yes, all of these have happened since January.

  1. Big boobs are something of a liability on the job. (I’m constantly telling kindergartners “personal space, honey!”)
  2. Construction paper robots have to have perfect weddings, with all the trimmings.
  3. Knot-tying is best taught with animal metaphors (“the little eel swims into the cave”).
  4. Not being able to spell “turkey” is a 12-story crisis.
  5. Five AM at Freddy’s is fun, but Home Alone is terrifying. (Who knew?)
  6. Hair clips are surprisingly sharp, and they can cause quite a lot of blood.
  7. They remember and forget bodily autonomy with no set pattern.
  8. Wet paper towels make everything better.
  9. Dolphins and tigers are the most fascinating animals on earth.
  10. I constantly have to drop subtle messages like “moving chairs isn’t just for boys” and “being a girl doesn’t make you a scaredy-cat.” (Thanks, co-worker.)
  11. Asking them if they follow what I just said (like the bad guy in The Sting) gets amazing results.
  12. Most importantly, they know how adults are supposed to behave and remember when the adults in their lives (or the President) don’t live up to that standard. (Just for the record… they volunteered their disdain for the creature sitting in the Oval Office. I guess that means there’s hope for the future.)
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General

Cinderalla, a Story About a Pumpkin

Pumpkin CoachThe summer I turned three, I was miserable.  My mom was on bed-rest with my brother-to-be, and my dad was in graduate school in Moscow. So I was obsessed with Disney’s Cinderella, a story about an orphan (which I felt like).  I watched the damn movie every day and did things like scrub the kitchen floor and carport floor while singing “Sing Sweet Nightingale.”  That’s a lot of days off my life I’m not getting back.

And I haven’t really watched the movie since then.  I had no intention of seeing the live-action remake.  The only reason I saw it was because my boss was playing it in the video store where I work.  I didn’t like it, but it made me curious enough that a few days later when I was minding the store on my own, I put on the cartoon.

I remembered why I liked it as a kid, and why I don’t like it so much now.  But also why it’s better than the remake (sorry, Dad).  Let’s look at the checks against the original.  Cinderella isn’t very bright.  The mice are in nearly every scene.  It’s sexist.  The Prince doesn’t have much personality.

Now let’s deconstruct.  Cinderella isn’t very bright, but she still behaves like a person.  She gets angry when she’s mistreated, and she fights to get out of her tower when she’s locked in. Basically, she’s been a victim of abuse for years (she looks like she was about 10 when her father died), so that probably has messed with her head some, but she also still has an inkling that she doesn’t really deserve for the stepmother and stepsisters to treat her like garbage.  And she does stand up for herself from time to time.

The mice might be too much.  I don’t know.  I just liked them better than the stuff with the Prince and his father in the remake.  And now for a defense that isn’t my opinion… in the original movie, it’s mentioned hurriedly that Cinderella and the Prince are in love.  But what’s more emphasized is that the King has basically told his son that he was to get married and start producing heirs pronto.  The old King is as much if not more of a driving force behind the search for the maiden with the slipper because of his desire for a dynasty.  It offsets the “they can’t be in love after two hours” argument somewhat.  As well as the Prince not having much personality.  With his father having him under the gun to get married, what Cinderella sees in him isn’t as important.

Finally, the sexism.  I’m not going to defend it per se.  All I’ll do is give the movie a certain amount of credit for being upfront about it (sewing is women’s work, the king sees his future daughter-in-law as a walking uterus, beauty or the lack thereof is a personality trait).  The remake is still sexist, but a ton of its publicity was taken up with assuring the public that it wasn’t, and that this Cinderella was no victim, and all that.  Then they bungled it (and my disappointment comes at a price).  At least with a fairy tale made in the 1950s I know what I’m getting into.

In the end, though, it’s still a familiar story about a girl and a pumpkin.  Or a girl and the holy family.  Or a skeleton.  Or a dog.  Or whatever version you please.  I didn’t like the Disney remake of its classic, but I don’t care enough to rail against it.  Or even the first one.  I have a long history with Cinderella, and even though it’s a little embarrassing now, it was all pretty harmless.  And I’d be interested to see somebody else give the story a try.

Bippity boppity boo.

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Left-Leaning Barbies

I didn't mean literally leaning left, but close enough.

I didn’t mean literally leaning left, but close enough.

My fiance visited me this past weekend for my birthday, and a discussion of politics came up.  So, we wound up talking about how I turned up as the family leftist.  And really there’s no logical explanation for that.  I honestly think I was born that way.

Here’s my proof.

Like many young girls, I played with Barbie dolls, but as my mother noted, they didn’t just get new clothes and marry Ken.  They lived under a complex political system and went on adventures.  I called the country in which they lived Hazel (lame, I know), and were ruled by a queen (usually Rapunzel Barbie). However, they also had a legislative body and a President.  The queen was unmarried and had no children, so there was talk of dissolving the monarchy after her death, but the Barbies could go either way on that.

The queen had political power.  For instance, she decided that too many of the Barbies under her rule lived in poverty (all the dolls I couldn’t fit into the dollhouse my mother made, for instance), so she decreed that they would all be given small sums of money with which to start businesses and better their lives.  This game turned out to be very involved, so I only played it out with two families of dolls.  One started a crayon-making business, and the other one operated a flower-stall in the market.  I was six or seven.  It wasn’t until later, when I was nearly finished with high-school that I realized this practice had a name– micro-credit.  For more information look at Kiva.org.

It doesn’t make sense.  My parents are a liberal Republican and a conservative Democrat.  I ignored NPR reports because they were boring, and at school we hadn’t even covered the three branches of government yet.  Maybe politics are like handedness… or maybe I just never had a chance to be a normal kid.  That may be more possible than the former option.  Either way, I had fond memories and healthier games than people tend to associate with Barbie dolls.  All the better not to dismiss them out of hand!

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Lists

Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes #7B Son of Dracula (Fire)

He sets the coffin on fire... take my word for it.

He sets the coffin on fire… take my word for it.

Directed by Robert Siodmak in 1943, released by Universal Studios, Son of Dracula is a very strange movie.  It is equal parts head-shaker and brilliant.  Lon Chaney Jr. (most famous as the Wolf Man) is badly miscast as a Transylvanian vampire, but the scene where he floats across the swamp, standing atop his coffin is breathtaking.  The hero is repulsive to the point that one wonders what the heroine/villain protagonist saw in him, but it can be argued quite strongly that she is just leading him on, which makes them both more interesting and complex.  And so on.  And I should mention that this film is very misogynistic, despite the director going on to make the arguably feminist film The Spiral Staircase, followed by sexist film noir in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Anyway, Son of Dracula takes place on a plantation in the south… I want to say Florida because of the swamps, but that is never really established.  Kay, the daughter of an old Colonel, has invited Count Alucard to be a guest at their plantation, the Dark Oaks, much against the wishes of her fiance Frank.  Count Alucard arrives, and as a bat, kills the Colonel.  Kay inherits the plantation, and goes out to meet Alucard who floats across the swamp towards her on his coffin.  They marry and return to Dark Oaks.  Their “honeymoon” is interrupted by Frank, who tries to kidnap Kay, insisting that she will have the marriage annulled first thing in the morning.  He tries to shoot the Count, but the bullets pass through him and mortally wound Kay instead.  Frank flees and turns himself into the police, except when the town doctor comes to investigate, Kay is up and walking around (a vampire).

Nevertheless, Frank is arrested and put in jail.  Kay comes to him, and lets him out on the condition that he destroy Alucard by burning the coffin.  Then they can be together, just as she had always planned.  She promises to turn him into a vampire, too.  However, he burns both coffins, rather than just Alucard’s.  By the time the doctor and police catch up to him, he looks ready for the institution (see the picture for details).

It’s a very desolate ending.  The scene with Alucard isn’t great, but the scene with Kay really packs an emotional punch, even as much as I dislike Frank.  In fact, it’s completely silent.  He sits and watches the flames engulf the old nursery, and would probably have stayed there, had the doctor not led him out.  The vampirism here is entirely without romance– just a spiral of death and betrayal.  The devastating noir ending tacked onto horror: the menace is taken care of, but no happy ever after.  And it’s entirely satisfying.

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Eulogizing Tanith Lee

Tanith-LeeFantasy, science-fiction, feminist author Tanith Lee died recently from breast cancer.  She was 67.

No one in my family knew her personally, although through her writings she was an integral part of the household.  My dad read her fiction since her first novel, The Birthgrave, and introduced my brother and me to the novels, which we in turn loved, read very often, and still sometimes quote to each other.

The first Tanith Lee novel I read was Wolf Tower— I read it while waiting to have my broken wrist set… 24 hours after I had broken the bone.  I was in pain, I was nauseous, and I was hungry because I was afraid to eat due to the nausea… and I was totally enraptured by the book.  The other three novels in the series were eagerly devoured, too.

The next year I found Red Unicorn at a book fair.  I bought it, only to be told by my dad that it was the third in a trilogy.  So I hunted up Black Unicorn and Gold Unicorn to read first.  Red Unicorn was a providential purchase.  The Unicorn series became one of my favorites… something my brother and I still quote.

When Dad announced Tanith Lee’s death the other night, my brother asked, “Who?”  I said, “Got a bone?” (A line from Black Unicorn).  Brother said, “Motherfucker.”

Indeed. He had performed her reworking of Snow White– Red as Blood— for a forensics competition a few years ago.  The same fairy tale collection inspired my (in-progress) collection of revised fairy tales, Ashes, and it’s damn good horror besides.  Speaking of horror, one of the best episodes of The Hunger was based on a Tanith Lee story, “Nunc Dimittis.”

And there were lots of other novels and short stories along the way.  It would take too long to go into them all and explain what they meant, but it comes down to this… books have always been friends to me, and Tanith Lee’s books offered me friendship, escape, lessons, companionship, adventure, fun new words that upset my mother (tronking okk’s grulps!), and a way for my brother and I to amuse ourselves that no one else understood.

We really have lost an old friend (and role model), and we are truly sorry for it.  Fantasy, science fiction, and horror are much poorer without Tanith Lee.

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“Nothing” is Worse

Well, same to you!

Well, same to you!

I’ve been thinking about insults.  The wherefores and the whys don’t belong on the Internet.

There’s so many unflattering things to call people: a liar, poison, a moron, an asshole, a prick… but nothing comes even close to calling someone a vagina, be the insult pussy or cunt.  Nothing.  Or “no-thing” in Shakespearean English.

The implication of such an insult is that the person it’s directed at is weak, powerless, doesn’t know their place….  They’re all ridiculous.  Think for a minute about what a vagina is capable of, and tell me it’s weak.  Then think of how fragile a penis is.  (I’m just saying.)

Also, how many women check to make sure their vagina is still there?  I didn’t realize it was a thing for guys to make sure their junk was still attached in the morning, or after a coma, or an accident, but I’ve come across enough popular culture references to assume it must be a thing.  Anyway, maybe that’s because the vagina, despite the “wandering womb” nonsense from the ancient Greeks, is not something women usually get hysterical (hah) over the fear of losing.

Anyway, I could go on in greater detail about why “vagina” is a stupid, sexist insult, but in theory most of us know that already.  Yet the insult remains.

When we’re angry with someone, we tend to go for any weaponry available (the time that thing ten years ago happened, etc.) and not necessarily analyze the impact of the weapon chosen.  (Gee, that sounds vaguely like history.)  For those who know not to use vagina as an insult, but aren’t sure what else packs the sting of calling someone the vilest word in the English language (cunt)… I don’t know what to do, either.  My goal is to find something else equally pleasing to the tongue that’s still insulting.  Qualities are good (like poisonous), though, of course, insults are in and of themselves undesirable.

But if we get away from ugly, senseless insults, we might edge more towards intelligent arguments.

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An MGM Musical Tragedy

They don't even look happy on the poster.

They don’t even look happy on the poster.

Recently Everyday Feminism posted a comic entitled “Your Cinematic Crush Is a Stalker (Um, and That’s a Problem).”  It’s a good read, and it made me think about the first movie I saw that raised some of the red-flags discussed there (http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/unhealthy-movie-romances/).

That movie was called Cover Girl.  It was made in 1944, starred Rita Hayworth and made Gene Kelly a star.  But it’s incredibly disturbing.

Hayworth plays “Rusty” Parker, a dancer who enters a contest to model a wedding dress for a big magazine, against the wishes of her boyfriend and boss Danny (Kelly).  She wins because the head of the magazine, a man named Coudair, can’t get over the fact that her grandmother dumped him 40 years ago.  Coudair wants to relive his youth (and win this time), so he encourages his young pal Noel Wheaton to court Rusty.  Wheaton takes it up to 11 by stalking her– sending roses to Danny’s club every fifteen minutes and laying siege to the door so she never has a chance to say no to his advances– particularly when he’s clearly spending so much money.  Danny and the other dancers blame Rusty for the chaos Wheaton created, and finally she caves to the pressure and agrees to marry him.  Danny closes his theatre, and all the unemployed staff blame Rusty, who starts drinking.  Finally, Coudair’s conscience gets to him and he tells her about her grandmother, so she leaves Wheaton and goes back to Danny.

Happy ending.  But is it really?  Look at how Danny behaves.  He victim-blames her when she’s stalked.  Then when Rusty leaves him he closes his business and puts a large number of people out of work on the eve of the post World War II recession.  How do you think he’ll respond to the disagreements that arise in even the happiest of relationships?

The only characters who see the problems in this are Coudair’s secretary and the bartender.  Everyone else gangs up on Rusty.  And I guess the audience is supposed to as well.  There’s a Fred and Ginger movie, The Berkleys of Broadway, that has a very similar plot.

So why am I talking about the 1940s?  Well, for one thing, to dispel the stupid rumor that all movies were perfect until the 1960s.  Unhealthy movie relationships weren’t created by John Hughes or whoever’s directing James Bond movies now.  Come to that, Ian Fleming first started writing those in the 1950s.

And by looking at this problem (which goes back even further than 1944), we highlight just how much of a problem it is and how ingrained it is in popular culture.  We’ve got our work cut out for us, so it’s a good thing that we’re talking about it, raising awareness and trying to find ways to address the problem.

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