“You Put Your Left Hand In . . .”

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What song/dance did you think of immediately when you read the title of the post? It’s considered a novelty/fad dance because of its popularity for a time at wedding receptions and large gatherings of kids. (If you still aren’t sure what that song is, I’ll whisper it to you in the comments if you ask.) I didn’t notice anyone suggesting it at any wedding reception I’ve attended in the last few years. The “Chicken Dance” is still hanging in there as a wedding reception staple.

img_4151Connie Willis’s 1996 science fiction novel, Bellwether, is all about fads and trends. Dr. Sandra Foster, the main character, is a sociologist who studies them. Like this one:

dance marathon (1923—33) Endurance fad in which the object was to dance the longest to earn money. Couples pinched and kicked each other to stay awake, and when that failed, took turns sleeping on their partner’s shoulder for as long as 150 days. (Willis 105)

And yes, Barbie herself (pictured above) has endured past her early fad-dom. (If that’s even a word, which I suspect it isn’t.)

This is not a review of Bellwether, by the way, though I loved the book. (Which I guess is kind of a mini-review.) I’m more interested in the central concept of the book: the bellwether. (Maybe now you’re thinking of the Bellwether character in Zootopia.)

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Assistant Mayor Bellwether

According to Merriam-Webster.com, a bellwether is

one that takes the lead or initiative : leader; also : an indicator of trends

States can be bellwethers too. You can check out Wikipedia (click here) for more information on the bellwether’s antecedents. Willis’s book addresses the notion of the bellwether in a very creative way.

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I’ll be bahhh-ck. (A sheep’s impression of Ah-nold Schwarzenegger)

We can’t always predict what will become a fad, thanks to the fickle nature of humans. Even if we’re contemptuous of the fads others follow (especially if they seem dangerous or dumb), if we’re being honest, we’ll probably admit to having followed a few fads at some point in our lives.

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Blue hair on a dude is not uncommon nowadays.
Is this a passing trend? Who knows?

Bellwethers set the trends, sometimes inadvertently. Think of the artists who are simply being true to themselves, but who wind up starting fads, thanks to the adoration of fans.

Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as trendsetting bellwethers. But sometimes, for good or ill, we are bellwethers in the lives of someone impressionable. I can’t help thinking of some children I’ve babysat, who use some of the same exclamations I’ve used. “Oh good grief!” a three-year-old said in frustration, using the same inflection I used. This taught me to keep a careful watch on what I say around him.

What fads or trends have you noticed lately that you like or wish would go away? Do you know who started them? Have you ever started a fad? What was the result?

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Willis, Connie. Bellwether. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

Assistant Mayor Bellwether image from thefandomnet.tumblr. Bellwether sheep found at Goodreads.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Barbie and Kris dolls by Mattel for the movie Barbie Video Game Hero.

A Night at the Opera

Have you ever had one of those days when you looked in your closet and picked out several things to wear, all the while thinking of each, Nah this won’t do? That’s how I’ve been the last several days with blog posts. I started one on writing tips from Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon (yes, really; it’s almost finished) and one on the great outdoors (less finished). But this post you’re reading is neither of those (Perhaps you’re thinking, Whew, I dodged that bullet), nor any of the other ideas I had swirling around in my head.

Last week, a friend of mine and I attended a student production of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (which also is playing at the Civic Opera House in Chicago). Though I have attended several operas over the years, and enjoyed them, I can’t say I’m an opera aficionado. But I have friends who love the opera, and one friend who is an opera soprano (and a faculty member at the University of Illinois). So, that’s how I found myself at the opera several times.

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I didn’t know the storyline of The Magic Flute beforehand (click storyline in the first part of the sentence for the synopsis), though I’d heard one of its most well-known arias elsewhere. That aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) is sung by the Queen of the Night, a character who does what is needful to regain her kidnapped daughter, Pamina. You can listen to that aria here if you like.

You probably already know this (if you do, you know way more than I did last week), but I’ll tell you anyway. The Magic Flute is a fairy tale that follows the hero’s journey model. We meet the hero, a prince named Tamino, whose call to action from the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night is to rescue Pamina from Sarastro—her kidnapper. Along the way, he gains a sidekick—Papageno, who is forced to accompany him on this mission. In Act I of the opera, you start off with one idea about who is good and who is evil, then find that notion overturned in Act II.

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At left in black is Abi Beerwart, who played Pamina; in yellow, is Bethany Crosby, one of the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night

I love the hero’s journey story model and fairy tales. Having grown up on a steady diet of fairy tales and musicals, thanks to parents who took my brothers and me to musical performances, this opera was right up my alley. I love that my assumptions were overturned, but not in a frustrating, this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way.

Several small children in the audience were very vocal in their commentary. Some burst into tears, wanting to leave halfway through the production. Others, knowing cast members, cheered when their favorites appeared. Still others just wondered what was going on. Early in the performance, I had the same question. But at least the children were there, soaking in the rich tapestry that was The Magic Flute.

I’m reminded of a recent post at Jennie’s blog, A Teacher’s Reflections.

Major pieces of art? Masterpieces? Introducing this to preschoolers? It is not easy to explain to people how and why art can make a difference with young children.

You have to read the post (click recent post above to do so) to understand why I thought of it as I wrote this post. Jennie ends the post with, “Art makes a difference.” Perhaps watching The Magic Flute will be life changing for the children who attended it as well.

What kinds of art (musical performance, movies, books, animation, dance, painting or other forms of visual art) were you exposed to as a young child? What difference did it make in your life?

P.S. Extra bonus points if you can guess where I got the title, “A Night at the Opera,” from. Though I had one specific source in mind, there is another possible answer.

Photos by L. Marie.

The Year in Review—2016

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For some years, there are no words.

Perhaps you can relate. Twenty-sixteen definitely has had its ups and downs with project losses and gains, illness in the family, graduations, etc. And at the end of the year, I find myself striving to write anything. This wordless state is a bit scary for me. I’d love to be in a fulsome state of writing right now. But some things can’t be forced, I guess.

One Christmas gift that inspires me is this (click on Christmas gift to find out more about this book):

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And this tea is insanely good!

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Early in the new year, I’ll do a giveaway of Christmas gift inspirations like the ones above. In the meantime, I hope 2017 is good to you. What are your hopes for the coming year?

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My new Jane Austen quote journal. We will spend lots of time together in the new year.

Barbie Made to Move™ photos and other photos by L. Marie.

The View in the Darkness

img_3709I haven’t wanted to write this post, so rather than talk myself out of it, here goes.

I’ve had the kind of season people describe with idioms like “the bottom dropping out” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop—whoops, there it goes.” In the last few months, my electricity was switched off due to nonpayment. Internet also. The landlord sent polite notices asking for the rent. I often wondered where my next meal was coming from. When you lack money or a job that pays regularly, you can expect this sort of thing to happen.

You can also expect to field a lot of advice from well-meaning people, who assume you’ve lost control of your life and need them to step in to fix it. “You should apply for this job,” I’ve been told so often, that if I had a dollar for every time I heard it, I could buy real estate.

Oh, I have applied for many jobs. Case in point, I applied for an office manager job at a nearby college a couple of months ago. I had to take four tests for that. I think I broke a record for how low I scored on the Windows Excel test. (The last version of Excel I had was the 2003 version.) Needless to say, I did not get that job.

Anyway, not long after that, a friend and I were headed into a grocery store (a store known for their gelato section, where you can buy a small cup for $1.25) for our bimonthly chat when we spotted a guy who is a friend to both of us.

“What’ve you been up to?” I asked.

“I just got a new job,” he said.

“Oh, where?” I asked.

And then he named the college and the department. Yep. The job I did not get. But I was happy for him. He needed work too.

So yes, I have applied for jobs while using the library’s wifi. (And yes, I applied for a job at that library three times. Didn’t get those jobs.) I networked. I auditioned for writing projects (mentioned in this post here), only to have to wait and wait and wait.

When your lights are off, candles become very precious. Now, I’m not into candles like some of my friends who love the mood they create. So I’ve tended to shove into cabinets the ones I’ve been given. Well, they came in handy this time.

I thought about how the pioneers in the days before electricity were able to do so much without it. I also thought about scenes I’d written in novels where the people had only firelight and a few precious candles to use for light. I totally had the lighting all wrong in my twenty-first century-used-to-electricity mindset.

One thing about being in the dark—you can’t help noticing the shapes of things in shadow. You also tend to appreciate any sliver of light you can find.

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I couldn’t read for long in the dark, even with candles, so I had to turn to my imagination. I told myself stories—something I used to do every night. When had I gotten out of the habit? I’m not sure. This was a nice habit to reclaim.

Anyway, my time in the dark didn’t last long. I received a check for something I can’t really discuss in public, but could tell you a little about in private. The check enabled me to have the lights turned on. And just last week, one of the projects for which I auditioned was finally approved with me as the sole author. And it pays well. 🙂 My landlord will be happy. I have a tight deadline on that one though. But I’m grateful for the work. Want to know something funny? It involves writing stories—a lot of them in fact. One hundred to be precise for kids ages 4-7.

It seems my time in the dark was helpful after all.

Dance, Dance, Dance

Whenever I feel down, stressed, or uncertain (thanks to having to wait for news or for something else), nothing lifts my mood quicker than watching a dance-themed movie or binge-watching the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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So recently I watched Dance with Me, the 1998 dance movie directed by Randa Haines, and starring Vanessa Williams and Chayanne—a movie I’ve seen countless times. The dance movie of choice used to be Strictly Ballroom until I gave that DVD to a friend who also needed a dance movie to perk her up. Perhaps I will get around to seeing Step Up one day. 🙂

What is it about watching two or more people dancing that is such a reminder of how great life can be—that joie de vivre? And of course it doesn’t hurt that Chayanne is hotness incarnate. Muy atractivo!

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Dance with Me features the requisite dance competition and romance. Hey, they’ve gotta do something after demonstrating how to rumba. And of course dance is the perfect metaphor for bringing two people together as we observe their first faltering steps toward love and dance proficiency.

Here’s a dance scene from that movie. It’s about four minutes long. This comes toward the end, so SPOILER ALERT.

I love how people in the movie work out their frustrations via salsa dancing. I usually work out my frustrations via salsa and chips, so their method seems better. But wouldn’t it be great if all of life’s problems could be solved just by busting a move on the dance floor?

Sometimes, however, a dance is almost an act of war. I can’t help thinking about Pride and Prejudice now (either the Keira Knightley version or the 1995 A&E version), when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy dance together for the first time. I love the tension of that scene, with them on opposite sides, having to maintain the correct social boundaries though they want to scream at each other. Lizzy fires off the first salvo, with Darcy returning fire in a polite way, as they wend their way through the dance. Good stuff.

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Have you seen Dance with Me or that scene I mentioned in Pride and Prejudice? Do you have a favorite movie or show that you binge watch when you need a pick me up? While you think of that, here are some random photos I took while on a walk. I love how the daisy clings to life.

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Chayanne photo from somewhere on Pinterest. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) photo from janeaustenfilmclub.blogspot.com. All other photos by L. Marie.

A Sticky Situation

Ever try gluing something that seemed to resist the glue? Though the package tells you the item you’re gluing is definitely one of the items the glue works on, it stubbornly refuses to stick to the other item. I mean you’re just gluing one piece of paper to another piece of paper, for crying out loud! A glue stick should work!

And then you turn to other glues that supposedly work—Tacky Glue, Elmer’s School Glue, and—the last resort—hot glue. Nope. It’s like one piece of paper has set its will against sticking to the other.

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So then you consider stapling the two together. But a big staple will mess up the effect you’re going for. You really need Item A glued to Item B. So you ask someone for advice. But that person points to the glue stick, because it has worked for him every time. You growl at the person, telling him, “The. Glue. Stick. Does. Not. Work!” He insists you’re doing it wrong then. Seven buddies of his used a glue stick every time, and it worked for them. You hang up the phone, vowing never to speak to the dude again, though he’s your own brother.

Sounds extreme, right? But the glue situation happened to me with paper recently and with fabric. However, I did not vow to stop speaking to my brother. But let’s change the situation from gluing two items together to finding a job; getting a book published; finding an agent; getting a date; finding success—whatever you currently need. Maybe you can relate to the frustration I felt then. As for the items on the above list, been there done that too.

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When we’re looking for any of the above, people give us all sorts of advice they think should work, because the method they chose worked to achieve the same goal for them. The assumption is that Method A (applying online/at a dating website/whatever) will net Goal A at least most of the time. If Method A doesn’t work, then surely Method B (networking), C (blindly sending out resumes/hanging around places where lots of people frequent/whatever), or D (cold calling) will work. If these four don’t work, well surely we must be doing something wrong.

Not necessarily. After all, can you think of anyone who has been offered every job for which he or she has applied? (Okay, there are some people who get everything they want.) Sometimes, we get none of the jobs for which we apply.(Been there, done that.)

Time for Plan B!

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The fact is that sometimes things don’t work out the way we or others planned. I know. You didn’t have to read this blog post to figure that out. Just living life teaches you that. But we also don’t have to start doubting ourselves just because someone else’s advice didn’t work for us.

What, if anything, have you had trouble doing, even after taking the advice of others? Did you eventually succeed? (By the way, eventually, I managed to get the two pieces of paper glued together. Hooray for me.)

Plan B image from teenology101.seattlechildrens.org. Find a job image from vizfact.com.

Where the (Super)Girls Are

Happy Labor Day! Here in the U.S., we have the day off. Sounds ironic, huh? For more information on the holiday, click here.

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The other day, I listened to a TED Talk by a media studies scholar: Dr. Christopher Bell. Though the talk was given in 2015, it caught my attention, because I’ve discussed on the blog before an aspect of what Bell talked about. Click below for that video. Warning! It’s about fifteen minutes long.

After talking about his athletic young daughter who likes to dress up as her favorite characters, Bell said

Why is it that when my daughter dresses up . . . why is every character she dresses up as a boy? . . . [W]here is all the female superhero stuff? Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

It’s not that Bell wanted to diss male heroes. On the contrary, his daughter had several favorites among the male heroes. Bell went on a hunt for female superhero costumes and toys, because his daughter also loved characters like Princess Leia, Black Widow from the Avengers, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. But after searching the stores for costumes, he came up empty. He also discovered that these characters were missing in the toy aisles as well.

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I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of female heroes. You can also find female villains who do heroic things. After Bell’s talk, Wonder Woman appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will have her own movie next year. Harley Quinn and Katana were in Suicide Squad. Supergirl has a show, now on the CW. Jessica Jones has a show on Netflix. There also is an animated show for kids that has become a favorite of mine—Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, which features a Parisian teen named Marinette Dupain-Cheng, who turns into a superhero called Ladybug. She works with a crime fighting partner—a dude named Cat Noir—to foil the nefarious plans of Hawk Moth, a supervillain.

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And Raven (below right) and Starfire (below left) are on Teen Titans Go.

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But, as Bell pointed out, if you look at the lineup of superhero movies in the upcoming years, only two females—Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel—will have a starring role. (If you have heard of others, please comment below.) Kinda sad, but some progress at least. And Gamora and Black Widow will costar in some movies.

As for costumes, after Bell’s talk was given, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted and provided inspiration for costumes. Like Rey. A little girl I know plans to dress as Rey for Halloween. Online, I saw a Princess Leia costume—the iconic white dress with the bun hairdo—at Target, which also has an adorable Captain Phasma costume. (The one below is from Halloween Costumes.com.) Since Felicity Jones will star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, perhaps her character will be popular enough to have a costume in stores.

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Also, Mattel developed a line of DC female superhero dolls (see below)—a fact also mentioned by Bell, who cautioned against only marketing these to girls. Boys too could benefit from learning about female heroes. As Bell mentioned,

It’s important that boys play with and as female superheroes just as my daughter plays with and as male superheroes.

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Interestingly, though an actress played Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the costume shown above is marketed for kids, rather than girls only.

Bell’s point is not without its supporters and detractors. I mentioned in a previous post how a little boy I know was criticized for liking the color purple, because, he was told, it was a “girl” color. In his talk, Bell brought up the tragic results after a boy who loved the My Little Pony show was ridiculed for loving it.

Some people are of the mindset that it’s okay for a girl to want to emulate a male hero, but not okay for a boy to emulate a female hero. Note that I said some people, rather than all, so please don’t yell at me if this is not your viewpoint. I think it’s sad that we live in a world where a kid is bullied for any reason.

So to wrap up, I found Bell’s talk interesting. I’m working to produce the kinds of stories that a kid—male or female—will want to read, and characters with whom they can identify. Other authors are too. But I hope we get to the point where no one has to ask where the female superheroes are.

What would you say to a kid who greatly admires a show heavily marketed to the opposite gender?

Labor Day image from wallpaperspoints.com. Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop.com and sidereel.com. Teen Titans Go image from the Teen Titans Go wiki. Rey costume from costumeexpress.com. DC superheroes from TechTimes.