Why Being Weird Can Sometimes Work

When I was in third grade, I was told that girls were scared of bugs. At least the boys at school who ran up to me with grasshoppers in hand believed that. But I wasn’t, which put a damper on their enthusiastic decision to chase me with said grasshoppers.

I watched the boys visibly deflate as I calmly looked upon the terrified grasshoppers clutched in their fists, instead of screaming and running. Some of them thought I was weird because I was not afraid. Others wanted my friendship, because I was not afraid.

What they hadn’t reckoned on was me having an older brother who inspired me to collect grasshoppers. Between us, we filled a jelly jar with them. (Mom was not thrilled.)

You probably realize by now that I was a weird kid, driven by curiosity. For example, I wondered why grasshoppers hopped. Why did they spit a brown liquid that looked like the tobacco juice my elderly tobacco-chewing relatives spit? (I know. TMI.)

(Apparently, others called this liquid “tobacco juice” too. Look here.)

Years later, after I had been an adult for a while, a publisher specializing in educational resources needed someone to write curriculum for elementary school-aged kids about insects, amphibians, and other animals. Guess who was asked to write it. Yep. Weird me.

Sometimes weirdness has unexpected benefits.

Lately, I’ve been viewed as weird for not having cable or even a working TV. Nowadays, books are my TV. Well, books and YouTube videos about Pokémon, movies, or new toys.

   

This is what’s on TV these days.

Being without a TV has helped me to better understand the characters in a book I’m slowly working on. I have more time to think about the questions I have concerning their lives and motivations.

Being without a TV also has enabled me to work on my paper crafting. For example, I’ve decided to do the same scene in different seasons. Winter (below right) is mostly done. I’m working on autumn now. I’m taking liberties with the colors, however. Instead of having a gray bench with a snowflake throughout the seasons, I decided to change the bench for each season. I need to draw and cut out hundreds of leaves to scatter on the autumn scene. After that, I will tackle spring and summer.

Some might view this activity as weird. But who knows where this weirdness might take me in the days to come.

In what way(s) have you been designated as “weird”? How has being weird worked for you?

Grasshopper from freeimages.com. Grasshopper in a jar from commons.wikimedia.org. Other photos by L. Marie.

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A Shocking Revelation

With Mother’s Day having passed, I considered writing a post about moms. I’m not a mom, so I can only write about them. But rather than wax eloquent here about the joys of having a great mom, I called my mom on Mother’s Day to experience the joy, rather than write about it. (We live far away from each other and could only communicate by phone.) So, you won’t get the eloquent waxing on that subject. Sorry to disappoint.

But this brings up something I’ve struggled with lately: how much to reveal about myself on this blog. As I’ve mentioned before, L. Marie is a pen name. That’s why I avoid posting photos of myself. Photos would defeat the purpose of a pen name. (There is a reason for the need for a pen name, which will be revealed at some point.)

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We live in a culture where revealing the day-to-day minutiae of one’s life to strangers online is the norm. But I struggle with that, not just because of the pen name. I’m a shy person. I have trouble introducing myself to people in person, let alone online. So I’m always amazed at how much people reveal about themselves, especially on social media outlets like YouTube. I’ve seen vlogs about the contents of YouTubers’ bedrooms, refrigerators, purses, iPads, and TV screens.

I’m also amazed at what’s done for the sake of entertainment on YouTube—another way to reveal information about oneself. The other day, I clicked on one of my YouTube subscriptions to find a video of two guys playing a Russian Roulette-type game involving electric shocks. You can buy this game on Amazon, I later discovered. But I clicked away from the YouTube video before the game began. The thought of watching someone take an electric shock quite frankly horrified me.

Now, I’m not debating anyone’s right to buy this game or show it on a YouTube channel or even to watch someone else play the game. But this video brought up something I need to reconcile.

I’ve read the Hunger Games books and watched three of the movies. Now, the premise of the books and movies involves more than people using a party game to administer electric shocks. Young people in this world are expected to kill other young people in gladiator-style games. So if I can watch that, then why am I so horrified by two guys doing something that will cause one or the other pain?

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Probably because they’re not actors who are paid to pretend they’re some else, while being supported by a huge special effects budget. So while my mind tells me the movie scenes aren’t “real” (thus cushioning the effect), there is no cushion for real life.

Still, you might argue, how much of YouTube is “real life”? Some vlogs, like reality TV, have a “scripted” feel to them, since the participants know that the camera stands before them, and they can edit out mistakes.

I’m not here to debate that issue. I’m here because the video I clicked off caused me to think deeply about what I watch. (See? You and I both learned something about me.) While I know they were playing a game, the experience reminded me that real life can be messy and scary at times, and beautiful and sacred at others. Some images stay with you for life.

That’s why I’d rather not watch two people waiting to see who gets an electric shock. I want to see or read something that makes me feel good about life. Like this blog post from Penny over at Life on the Cutoff or this post from Andy over at City Jackdaw.

How about you? Has something caught your breath in a good way lately? Please share it!

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The lone red tulip in the yard

Woman with bag from svtrainingconnect.com. Hunger Games movie logo from pop-break.com.

What Do Girls Want? I’m Not Sure

Before I get into the post, I wanted to announce that I’m still reaching out to authors as I mentioned in my last post. Expect the interviews at some point.

Back in the day when I had a Barbie (or four), I tied a cape around her and made her a superhero. This was before Supergirl action figures existed. (More on that later.) A napkin made an excellent cape. And a parachute. My Barbie also was a spy who parachuted out of trees. She knew karate and had super strength. (Interestingly enough, the latest Barbie movie is Barbie: Spy Squad.)

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My BFF and I wanted our Barbies to be empowered before we even knew the meaning of the word empowered. Now, before I go any further, this is not a Barbie-bashing post. This doll has had enough controversy in her over 50 years of existence. (By the way, a really good book about Barbie is The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone.)

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Last week, I went to Toys “R” Us with a friend and her little son, and saw a huge display case full of Barbies in various professions. She’s a doctor, a spy, a businesswoman, a pet groomer—you name it. She’s even a pizza chef.

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Barbie’s handlers want her to be a role model. Female superheroes are getting their day too. Recently I read an article about a line of DC action figures for girls (including Supergirl)—something I would have wanted when I was a kid. You can read that article here.

Getting back to Barbie-like dolls, the Elsa doll pulls in more sales than Barbie. With her ice powers and staunch determination to be herself in Frozen, Elsa seems the picture of empowerment. (You’re probably thinking of the “Let It Go” song now, aren’t you? And after months of finally getting it out of your head. Sorry.)

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Her sister Anna, however, didn’t have ice power, but was heroic in a very moving way. (Which makes her my favorite from that movie.) Awhile ago, Time and Fortune featured articles on the empowering influence of Elsa and Anna. You can read them here and here.

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Now, many channels on YouTube feature discussions about toys, and include dolls in various fanfiction scenarios. (For example, Elsa marries Jack Frost; Baby Alive becomes a superhero.) So imagine my surprise when I saw not one but several fanfiction depictions of Elsa being kidnapped and having to be rescued. And those are just the YouTube videos. You have only to Google elsa kidnapped fanfiction to find a host of stories—some rawer than others. (There are several Anna-as-the-damsel-in distress scenarios too.) So much for empowerment!

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “Anna had to save Elsa in the film.” True. And what a beautiful moment of sacrifice. But Elsa was not hand-wringing helpless. So many girls had mentioned how much they love Elsa’s ice powers and let-it-go attitude. And since many of the YouTube videos are fan-driven (many YouTubers asked fans, “What do you want to see?”), fans obviously desired to see the helpless-Elsa scenario. (I saw one of those videos just today in fact.) Many of these fans are girls.

You might think, Who cares? But as an author who is trying to provide strong heroines in books, I care. Yet I’m confused by the mixed messages. Last year, many people complained about Black Widow’s damsel-in-distress scene in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. (I was not one of the complainers.) Which leads me to believe that people want to see strong heroines ala Wonder Woman, Supergirl, etc.

The audience for Frozen, the YouTube toy videos, the non-YouTube Elsa fanfiction, and Age of Ultron differs to a degree. After all, Frozen had a very high preschool fan base (girls and boys) who probably did not see Ultron. I wrote probably, because I saw small children in the audience at the theater I attended. But there is some overlap, obviously, since Frozen grossed over a billion dollars. Many teens and adults loved Frozen, and were inspired enough to write fanfiction or request it on YouTube. But many younger kids also watch YouTube, sometimes with their parents. They make their desires known too. Based on what I’ve seen online, not only do I wonder what they want but also whether they have a different definition of empowerment.

What say you?

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I asked these girls how they defined empowerment, but they remained mum on the subject. I guess I’ll let it go.

Barbie images from ricardodemelo.blogspot.com, shoppingsquare.com.au, and pixmania.fr. Black Widow action figure from tvandfilmtoys.com. Barbie Spy Squad poster and Elsa doll from fanpop.com. Elsa and Anna dolls from disneytimes.com. Elsa with ice powers from blogs.disney.com. Photo of Popette (Moose Toys), Donatina (Moose Toys), Hello Kitty (Sanrio), and Strawberry Shortcake (Hasbro) by L. Marie.

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.

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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.

Stay Tuned

When I was a kid, I spent hours in front of the TV. There were certain days I especially loved for various blocks of shows (like Thursday, Friday, or Saturday). I knew every popular show and avidly quoted from them. So when I broke a rule, a method my parents used to nudge me back toward obedience was to ground me from watching TV. Two weeks—no TV. I was practically climbing the walls at the end of those two weeks, determined never to disobey again. Ha ha. You know I eventually failed that vow.

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In my undergraduate years, I met people who grew up without a voracious TV habit. I thought they were from Mars! How could you not watch TV???

Flash forward 150 years. I have a TV. But I turn it on maybe a couple of times a week—if that much. Scandal? Haven’t seen a minute of it. Game of Thrones? Nope. My increasingly limited viewing time goes to (drumroll please)

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YouTube, Netflix, and other online sites.

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Thanks to the internet, I see shows that either are being tested on the audience—like the Vixen animated series at CW Seed (love it)—or programs like the ones produced by Pemberley Digital, Epic Robot TV, and others. Shows I can watch whenever I get ready. I’m particularly partial to modern adaptations of classic books. Like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Project Dashwood, The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy, Frankenstein, MD, and Emma Approved. Episodes range from three to seven minutes in length—great for days when I’m pressed for time, but still need a quick break now and then.

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Vixen at CW Seed

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The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

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Project Dashwood

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Emma Approved

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The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy

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Frankenstein, MD

This is not an attempt at proselytizing. These quirky shows might not be your cup of tea. And believe it or not I have nothing against the shows I mentioned in the first paragraph. But my commitments away from home usually mean that I miss regularly broadcast shows and either have to catch up online or binge through Netflix. I could DVR, sure. Or I could keeping doing what I’ve done in the past: forget to DVR. You see now why I usually skip the show altogether and instead go off to meet a friend at a nearby tea shop. Another alternate activity, one I choose more often, is reading a book. I love fertilizing my imagination through the written word.

That reminds me, Fauquetmichel, you just won yourself a copy of The Merchant of Nevra Coil by Charles Yallowitz. (Click here for last week’s book release announcement if you need more context.) Please comment below to confirm. Thanks for commenting!

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What about you? How have your entertainment choices changed over the years?

In case you’re wondering, a couple of shows tempt me toward TV this fall: Agents of Shield (one of two shows I watched last season) and Heroes Reborn. I also am very tempted to binge on The Flash through Netflix. We’ll see if I wind up doing that.

Vixen image from blastr.com. Pemberley Digital image, The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy, and cast of Emma Approved from pinterest. YouTube logo from handy-tests.net. Netflix logo from businessinsider.com. Daniel Vincent Gordh as Darcy and Ashley Clements as Lizzie of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries from literarytraveler.com. Anna Lore of Frankenstein, MD from Facebook.com. Television from clker.com.

Wanna Be Relevant? Be Yourself

Basically, the moral of this story is in the title of the post. But allow me to elaborate if you have a little more time.

Yesterday, my younger brother asked me, “What are you doing to make yourself relevant?” (This is the same brother who convinced me to start a blog.) He didn’t elaborate on what he meant, however, so I didn’t answer. But I thought about his question today as the spring snow flurries gently wafted to the ground. (Yes. Snow flurries.) I knew he meant relevant to my audience, which covers kids elementary age through high school.

My thoughts on the subject ran thusly: If I really wanted to be relevant I would have a YouTube Channel like John and Hank Green. Yeah, I wish. (If you’re not sure who the Greens are, click here for one of their channels or here for a bio.)

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Hank and John Green

Or, I thought, I’d have one like the crew at How It Should Have Ended (HISHE) have. At this channel, they produce videos of alternate ways popular movies, movie trailers, and videogames could have ended.

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I LOOOOOOVE this channel. Of the videos they produce, this is one of my favorites:

To show the relevance of this channel to the audience, another YouTube channel, this one by the Fine Bros, catalogued the reactions of teens to HISHE. That’s here if you want to see that video. They have other videos that show kids reacting to other aspects of pop culture.

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The Fine Brothers

Or, I considered, instead of a YouTube channel, perhaps I could do like my good friend Lyn Miller-Lachmann does and collaborate on Instagram with other storytellers. Lyn set up a Lego village in her home called Little Brick Township and has come up with stories based on it. Check out this post or this one at her blog. (Or better still, check out one of her young adult books, like Rogue.)

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I took a quick inventory of my assets.

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(First photo) A Dancing Oh from a McDonald’s Happy Meal (based on a character from the DreamWorks movie Home), Kitty, and Gandalf. (Second photo) Jordie, Frodo, and assorted sheep who strayed from the bookcase herd.

Okay, so Instagram storytelling was probably not the way to go with this motley crew. I needed another angle. . . .

Once I drank a few cups of coffee, I realized the answer to the question was staring me in the face all along. A comment Tina Alexander made in an interview at About Entertainment (an article written by Nancy Basile) helped. When asked, “How did HISHE come about?” Alexander replied, “Truly just from a love of movies and discussing them.” So, Lyn, the Fine Brothers, the Greens, and the folks at HISHE (Daniel Baxter, Tina Alexander, Tommy Watson, Otis Frampton, and many others) were all doing what they love to do. That’s how they keep relevant.

That’s when I realized: I’m already doing what I love to do: talking to kids and teens about the books, movies, YouTube channels, and videogames they love and I love. Best of all, I’m writing stories I love in order to share those stories with them.

So, the best thing I can do to be relevant is to be myself. It really is true: everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten.

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How would you answer my brother’s question for yourself?

The Fine Brothers from Wikipedia. The Greens from pinterest.com. How It Should Have Ended logo from tardesocio.blogspot.com.