Childlike or Childish?

015The gang’s all here on my desk.
I spy with my little eye, Gandalf!

I have a lot of YouTube subscriptions. 😀 Two of my favorite channels are The Toy Genie and CookieSwirlC. These YouTubers talk about the latest toy sets and gadgets, and often demonstrate how to assemble these items.

Toy Genie    CookieSwirlC

In the comment section of one of Toy Genie’s recent videos, one commenter stated (and I’m going by memory here, so I’ll have to paraphrase), “I wish she’d stop being so childish.” That comment is the basis for this post.

Several of Toy Genie’s loyal subscribers immediately chastised the commenter. By the way, many of her loyal subscribers are kids and parents. She has over 860,000 subscribers (as of the writing of this post)—a group larger than the population of the state of Vermont. CookieSwirlC has over two million.

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Childish? Childish like a fox!

The Toy Genie video comment reflects feedback I’ve heard before in regard to adults who read and/or write books for children and teens. I can’t help recalling an article a couple of years back in which the writer took adults to task for reading young adult novels. Perhaps you read it. (Click here for a Washington Post article that boldly refutes that article.)

I have to wonder what the goal is for anyone who utters such negative feedback. To shame someone who doesn’t live up to a certain standard of adult behavior? I don’t know about you, but shame has never motivated me to do anything worthwhile.

Shame

All of the people I know who write books for children and young adults read books for children and young adults. They’re aware of what kids like and the activities in which kids are involved. If they didn’t know anything about what kids care about or were too concerned about looking “childish” in the eyes of someone who didn’t believe that writing books for kids is a worthwhile enterprise, they could never convincingly create the characters who populate their stories.

242144Brain Pickings, a great newsletter to which I subscribe, featured an article by Maria Popova on C. S. Lewis and his approach to writing for children. (You can read the article by clicking here.) Here’s a quote from that article, which is from an essay written by Lewis that can be found in the book, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories.

We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children: differing from our child readers not by any less, or less serious, interest in the things we handle, but by the fact that we have other interests which children would not share with us. The matter of our story should be a part of the habitual furniture of our minds.

A commenter for the Washington Post article used another quote from Lewis’s essay:

Critics who treat “adult” as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. . . . When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

That’s one reason why I enjoy the channels of YouTubers like Toy Genie and CookieSwirlC. They embrace a childlike sensibility, and have a blast making their videos. Their enjoyment inspires me.

Has someone ever tried to shame you about something you enjoyed? How did you respond?

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Toy Genie image from youtube.com. CookieSwirlC logo from dailymotion.com. Woman ashamed from alisonbreen.com. Nick Wilde of the movie Zootopia was found at slashfilm.com.

Artistically Sincere

Do you get Brain Pickings? I had to pause after typing that question, since it conjures up differing images, some grosser than others. By Brain Pickings, I mean this newsletter produced by Maria Popova.

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An article on André Gide, a French author, inspired this post. I can’t say I’m familiar with Gide’s work, though he won the Nobel Prize in 1947. I learned through the article that was an avid journaler. What struck a chord with me was Gide’s study of “the paradox of sincerity, the difference between being and appearing, and the monumental question of what it really means to be oneself.”

André Gide

I immediately thought of the word authenticity—keeping it real. Here’s the definition that pops up when you Google sincere.

sin•cere
sinˈsir/
adjective
free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings.
“they offer their sincere thanks to Paul” . . .
• (of a person) saying what they genuinely feel or believe; not dishonest or hypocritical.

I can’t help thinking of reality TV shows that purport to show life as it really happens for some. Sorry. I’m skeptical of the sincerity of many of those shows, since “real life” can be edited to fit a time frame. But how much of “myself” do I present to the public? At home, I might leave dirty socks on the floor. In public I often present the “self” that’s all part of putting my best foot forward. In other words, the “edited” me that tries to fit in to society. Sometimes that means I don’t say what I genuinely feel if hurting someone will result. (Like, “Wow, that tie your wife gave you is hideous.”)

184698To aid in the discussion of sincerity, Popova used quotes from Gide’s book, The Journals of André Gide. A quote that really stuck out to me was this:

When one has begun to write, the hardest thing is to be sincere. Essential to mull over that idea and to define artistic sincerity.

I mulled that over in regard to my current WIP—a middle grade contemporary fantasy novel. How much of my writing, I wondered, is really sincere or a sincere desire to cater to the ever-shifting market? Is it possible to be both?

I’m reminded of the Twilight craze some years ago and how in 2010 or so I thought to jump on the bandwagon by writing a vampire novel. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of that story or where it is. Maybe it’s just as well. I couldn’t get past four pages of that manuscript. The main character was a college student watching a vampire movie on television with her best friend whom she secretly liked, but who liked some other girl. Aside from that boring beginning, I had no clue what she wanted (besides that guy) or how I would bring something new to the table in regard to vampires. So I quickly abandoned that story.

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Three years ago, one of my grad school advisors suggested that I write a middle grade story. Many authors were turning out middle grade manuscripts and agents were taking notice. I tried to take her advice, but couldn’t come up with a manuscript beyond one involving a character I barely knew and a vague idea I’ve since abandoned. The two pages I wrote felt too much like the Twilight-esque story—me trying to write a story without having a sincere passion for it. I couldn’t go on with it. Instead, I completed the two young adult novels and sent both out on querying rounds to agents. Couldn’t get a nibble on one. The jury’s still out on the second.

While working on a sequel to my second young adult novel, an idea for a middle grade novel came to me that felt sincere. How do I know it is? Because when the main character and her conflict came to mind, I sat down and quickly wrote the first scene without a struggle. I wanted to know more about her and how she would react to conflict. I also had a sense of her family dynamic, which enabled me to write the next scene and the next. Before I knew it, I had written two chapters and enjoyed the process.

I recently searched my computer and found three other attempts at a middle grade novel that went nowhere. I didn’t even remember one of them.

Artistic sincerity means feeling the story bone deep—having a sense of the characters and their quirks—something I lacked with my other attempts. What does sincerity mean for you and your writing? How do you know when you’re being artistically sincere?

Popova, Maria. “André Gide on Sincerity, Being vs. Appearing, and What It Really Means to Be Yourself.” Brain Pickings RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

André Gide photo from blogdejoaquinrabassa.blogspot.com. Brain Pickings logo from traveler.es.

Depression: Should I Post About That?

cloudDepression—when hope shrivels from grape to raisin size. (I wanted to use a watermelon for the size factor. But a watermelon doesn’t work for the analogy. Anyway, you get the idea.) Yes, I struggle with it from time to time. Like now. Not only that, I struggle with admitting that I struggle with depression. As I considered a subject for this post, depression was not my top choice. But it was the honest choice. You can thank Mishka Jenkins for that, because this post on her blog (A Writer’s Life for Me), prompted me toward honesty.

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Sometimes life is like this (left photo), rather than this.

As I consider my state of mind, for some reason “Duel of the Fates” by John Williams is playing in my head. Star Wars fans will remember hearing that music during the battle Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi fought against Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (episode 1). Depression, however, doesn’t seem as epic as that choreographed fight. But it is a battle, nevertheless.

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Obi-Wan Kenobi (left), Qui-Gon Jinn (center), Darth Maul

When dust piles up in corners and you stop noticing, except in bursts of clarity when you realize you have not dust bunnies but dust warrens, that’s when you know the gray cloud overhead isn’t a raincloud.

GollumBut who wants to hear that? We want to hear stories of triumph not tragedy, don’t we? Don’t we? Hmmm. . . . So, as I debated over this post, I had a running conversation with myself like Gollum had with himself in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King—only mine was less psychotic.
Me: Depression? Nobody wants to hear that.
Me Too: But maybe if I admit I struggle with it, someone else will have the courage to admit that he or she does too.
Me: Still, I should write something cheerful or encouraging, shouldn’t I?
Me Too: But if I don’t admit to where I am and write about something else instead, it will look as if I’m having a party on the page that I’m not having in real life.
Me: Yes, but won’t the post seem like a downer?
Me Too: Life isn’t just a series of stairs going up. Some stairs go down too.
Me: I don’t really know what that means. . . . I want potato chips.
Me Too: Well, it means . . . Oh never mind. I want some too.

So that’s where I am. For some “fixers,” this admission might present a problem. Some might want to rush in with advice for how to get over this. “Why don’t you try . . .?” “Do this . . .” “Well, if you would only . . .” But you have to get through certain experiences. One of the best things you can do for someone going through depression is to listen without judgment before rushing in with advice, even if you can only listen for a short while.

E_B_WhiteWant to know something interesting? As I began this post, the latest Brain Pickings newsletter came through the email. In it was an article by Maria Popova concerning a letter author E. B. White wrote to a despondent man. Here is a quote from that letter.

Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

The entire letter is here. You can find the letter in this book. In the article on White’s letter, Popova included a link to an article on White’s belief in the “writer’s duty to uplift people.” That article is here, and contains this quote from White:

I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

So you see why I debated about whether or not to admit to depression, especially if a writer’s duty is to be “lively” and “lift people up.” But White mentioned the need for truth also. Sometimes, you have to admit where you are in order to begin to move on.

By now you probably have “Duel of the Fates” going through your mind also. If you’re not familiar with that piece, check it out:

Weed photo from outsidepride.com. Gollum from wallconvert.com. Raincloud from stevecotler.com. E. B. White from Wikipedia. Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul photo from cwcgoodlife.blogspot.com.