Promoting Kindness

I feel inadequate to talk about this, but I’m going to, because even if I don’t cover it well or completely, at least I may help others think about it.

The world is in turmoil. I think everyone knows that. And from what I see, everyone wants to place blame somewhere. I’m very afraid of the mentality I’m seeing: “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

I can understand the attraction of this idea, but I think it’s problematic on a number of levels. The most important one being: You don’t eradicate hate by promoting hate and divisiveness.

An Eye For An Eye Leave The Whole World Blind

Meeting hate with public shaming and more hatred isn’t likely to tame it; that’s like pouring gas on a fire. When you shame someone, most people don’t respond with, “Sorry; I was wrong.” They respond with anger and defensiveness, trying to explain their side. It reinforces their own idea that they’re right, because you’re treating them like the enemy. No matter how wrong thinking people are, almost no one is a villain in their own mind, and if you really want to bring people together, you won’t treat them as one.

That doesn’t mean that certain behaviors are acceptable; they aren’t. But you can hate the behavior and still show love and kindness toward the person.

People Can Change When Shown Compassion & Understanding

Daryl Davis is a black man who gets to know KKK members. As of December 2016, thirteen of them befriended him and turned in their hoods. Would he have been justified in hating these people who hated him for nothing more than the color of his skin? Yep, absolutely. Would it have changed anything? Unlikely.

Balpreet Kaur was the focus of ridicule online when a man snapped a picture of her. She’s a woman with facial hair. Instead of responding defensively (which would have been understandable), she explained that she’s a Sikh, and that looking different from most people does not interfere with her ability to be of service. As a result of her kind, lovely response, the original poster apologized to her, and she got lots of support. I first read this story in 2012, and I’m still thinking about it. My hope is that everyone who read her story thought twice about cyberbullying from that point forward.

Christian Piccolini became a white supremacist at 16, looking for a place to belong. After he opened up a music store and had contact with people of different races and religions, he said, “I received compassion and empathy from the people I least deserved it from.” That changed his thinking, and he’s now a member of Life After Hate, an organization that helps people leave violent extremist groups.

Understanding Matters

I don’t know what the solution to everything is. But people who seek to tear others down aren’t usually people who feel good about themselves. It’s not a good excuse, but it is something to think about. Making already insecure and angry people feel worse isn’t the way to change the world. People gravitate toward hate groups in order to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.

People make changes when they feel understood, and more importantly, when they understand others. It’s easy to hate what you don’t know and understand. (This goes for both sides.) But it’s not as easy to hate something known. It’s like Ender said in Ender’s Game:

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.

Don’t Hate The Person

Hate the behavior. Hate the violence. Hate the rhetoric. But when possible, show compassion for the person. Because most people who join these groups aren’t evil; they’re just seeking belonging, understanding, acting out of fear, etc.

Is there a way to promote love and compassion without implicitly condoning bad behavior? I’m not sure. I’m afraid that showing love and compassion to everyone who needs it will be misconstrued as trying to stay in the middle and “not take sides.” I don’t want to do that, but I really believe that hating and shaming anyone creates a bigger problem. I want to be part of the solution.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. But please, no politics.

Metaphors and Mad Science

Today’s blog is a guest post, presented by a friend from my critique group. 

Guest blog by Jeff Shaevel

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Writers are constantly working with metaphors. Sometimes they’re direct, as in the phrase ”a tsunami of information.” Sometimes they’re indirect, as in Harry Potter, when J. K. Rowling uses the character Buckbeak as a metaphor for another character (Sirius Black) because both were persecuted for crimes they didn’t commit. Metaphors are powerful tools for improving readers’ experience by comparing to the known (the force of a tidal wave) or to something easier to relate to (the mistreatment of a beloved animal).

There’s another place where metaphors are important: game design. There are many abstract games—such as checkers, Go or most card games—that have no metaphor. The pieces are pieces. The rules are actions to be performed. No effort is made to relate the activity to anything in our world.

Many games, however, are enhanced with metaphors that give context, and sometimes they help make better sense of arbitrary rules. Chess, for example, has a military metaphor, the battle between two armies tearing each other apart and attacking the enemy king. Furthermore, the knight is usually represented by a horse (or figure on horseback) to help remind the players that, like the animal from which the metaphor is drawn, the piece can jump over other pieces.

In designing a game, picking the right metaphors can make all the difference in how much fun players have or how engaged they are in the action. “Chutes and Ladders”—a Milton Bradly game adapted from an ancient Indian game of “Snakes and Ladders”—depicts images of children performing good deeds, which result in a reward of climbing a ladder to further progress, and images of bad deeds, which result in falling down a chute to lose progress. A trivial exercise in shifting tokens becomes a series of stories about the consequences of good and bad actions, and much more fun.

My other half recently created a dice game and it took some effort to find the right metaphors to make the game both entertaining and educational. The game is “Mad Science!” and uses dice with scientific symbols (like atoms, beakers, and test tubes). The objective is to roll the dice to make sets of matching symbols. The more items that match, the higher the score. You can keep rolling, but dice that don’t match go into a “waste pile” and if, over time, more symbols end up matching there than you’ve scored, your lab explodes and you lose points paying to clean it up!

The game could have been about regular numbered dice and matching numbers, but the metaphor of the “waste pile” both makes it easier to remember the rules and gives people the opportunity to talk about science, experiments and the risks of explosions.

There is a campaign to get the game published, by the way. Please check it out on Kickstarter and let us know what you think.

What metaphors have increased your reading (or gaming) enjoyment?

Not Good Enough To Enjoy, Not Bad Enough To Abandon

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I seem to be on a run of books lately that I’m not enjoying, but that aren’t so bad I abandon them.

I always thought I was quick to abandon books. If I’m not into it, I put it away and assure it, “It’s not you; it’s me.” Not every book is for everyone, and I know that. If I find myself making excuses to put the book down, if I’m not looking forward to reading it, then unless I have a good reason to continue, I just put it down.

But recently, I’ve read a few books where I’m in a gray area. The writing’s bad or the action is slow or the characters make lousy decisions. (I want to shout at them, “Are you stupid? Who would even do that?”) But at the same time, I want to find out what happens. I have hope that it might get better. I’ve enjoyed some badly written books, so maybe it’s just taking time to find its stride?

I should know better. It’s not going to get better, and I know it. They never do.

I guess it’s like a bad relationship. There’s enough chemistry to keep going, but the whole time, you’re thinking, “I really shouldn’t be wasting my time. There are better books out there, and I want to read them all.”

*sigh*

I’ve read some magical books this year, books that suck me in and make me fall in love. Books that leave me with such a hangover afterward that I want to sleep with the book under my pillow, just to keep it close by. Books that I want to start again the moment I close the last page.

I’m always chasing that, and I know that not every book can be that way. Maybe not every book should be that way. It wouldn’t be magic then, would it? I couldn’t have that depth of love and connection to every single book.

So maybe that’s why I keep going with those gray area books. I know that the book is going into the donation box when I’m done (or back to the library), and that we’ll never hang out again. I’m just passing time until the next amazing read.

Do you ever have this experience?

Why I Don’t Care for Character Descriptions

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Chihuly Glass, Photo Credit RJS Photos

It’s 2017, and inclusion is in.

To be clear, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.  By all means, movies, TV, and books should include a more diverse cast, one that looks more like real life.

But books… should authors include diverse characters? To me, that’s an interesting question with no one right answer.

The way I’ve resolved it is to only describe those parts of characters where physical description is important. For instance, in my manuscript, Acheron Crossing (which I’m trying to get an agent for!), I describe the main character only as fat. It’s important, because she’s bullied for being fat. But does her race or height or hair color matter?

Not at all.

In my mind, the problem is that when you start identifying some characters as white, and then don’t identify the race of other characters, in most cases, they’re assumed to be white. JK Rowling got a lot of crap for not having a diverse enough cast of characters, and she said that they were there, but she wasn’t going to describe them all. Lots of people don’t buy that though.

Another article I read by a young black woman talked about how, when a black woman was cast as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, she didn’t see what the big deal was. She had always seen Hermione as black before Emma Watson was cast. She said that because of all the prejudice Hermione faced, and her only descriptors were “bushy brown hair” and “big teeth,” it seemed perfect to her. There are a million articles out there that describe this better than I do. Here’s one.

That article blew me away, and completely changed my thinking. It made me realize that if I don’t describe my characters, maybe the reader can better identify with them. The character can be anything the reader wants them to be.

In my mind, a book is a magical doorway, and the reader gets to be part of that magic. If a reader identifies with a character, that’s the best kind of magic.

In a personal example, I think Nicola Yoon is one of the best authors out there right now. In The Sun Is Also A Star, Natasha is Jamaican American, and Daniel is Korean American, and it was important to the narrative. Culture was all over the book. I had previously read Everything, Everything, and when I was looking up more about The Sun Is Also A Star, I read a reference that the main character, Maddy, in Everything, Everything was partly African-American.

I didn’t remember that.

In fact, I didn’t remember anything about what she looked like.

It didn’t matter to me what race Maddy was, nor did it matter to me what her love interest looked like. If it was relevant to the book, I don’t remember that either.

I remember that it was an amazing plot and a beautiful love story. I remember that it had a breathtaking finale, that I was reading it in Vegas. I was laying by the pool with a friend, and she kept trying to talk to me.

And I wasn’t interested.

Because I had to finish this wonderful book.

Now, I don’t mean to say that the main character in Everything, Everything shouldn’t have been African-American. Honestly, there are tons of books with blonde haired, blue eyed main characters. If I want a MC who looks like me, I have a bookshelf full.

But from what I understand, POC don’t find nearly enough books where people look like they do. So it doesn’t matter if I read past the part where Maddie was African-American. For someone who doesn’t have enough book characters who look like her, that could have been an important connection.

I remember the first time I read a book where the main character was fat (Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner). I was in my 20s, and Cannie looked like me. She was a real person, not a fat person caricature who just ate cakes and candy all day and watched TV. She was a writer and had boyfriends and did all the things that normal people do. But she was fat, and it was okay.

Not every book needs a main character who looks a specific way. But in my opinion, if there’s going to be a description in the book, it should serve a purpose. Not just be there because the author is a blue-eyed blonde.

What do you think?

 

The Emperor of Any Place, A Review

IMG_8958The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones was a book chosen by my Facebook YA book club. Most of the people in the group said that they had a hard time getting into it. I had put it on hold at the library, but by the time I picked it up, I’d almost decided not to bother reading it. After all, I have about a thousand other books on my TBR.

I read the jacket copy, and the premise intrigued me, so I started reading, fulling intending to abandon it at the first sign of boredom.

That never happened.

It’s not a typical book. It starts off with 16-year-old Evan’s father dying. While Evan is overwhelmed with grief, he allows someone to call his estranged grandfather, Griff.

Evan has never met Griff, but Evan’s father had nothing but negative things to say about him. In the meantime, Evan finds a handwritten book his father was reading before he died, about an American and Japanese soldier stranded on a ghost-infested island during WWII. Somehow, it has something to do with Evan’s grandfather, but no one will give any answers.

The story shifts in point of view between Evan, the Japanese soldier, and the American soldier. It’s a strange story, but I had no trouble suspending disbelief throughout.

I sped through this book, couldn’t put it down. I wanted to solve the mystery and find out the truth about Griff. I wanted Evan and Griff to work through their anger and listen to one another.

I take book recommendations from other people, but this is why I don’t allow other people’s opinions to stop me from at least trying a book. If I’d assumed that because it was hard for others to get into, it would also be hard for me to connect, I would have missed a fantastic book. Allowing myself the option to abandon a book means that I never have to finish something I hate. It’s liberating, and means I can try books I’m just not sure I’ll like.

What books have you read (and enjoyed) that others didn’t like?

Our Dark Duet- A Review

Our Dark Duet is the sequel to This Savage Song. The first part of the review will be spoiler-free. I’ll warn you before you get to the spoilers.

I read This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab, last November, and I fell in love. I may have screamed in frustration when I found out there was going to be a sequel that wasn’t due out for 11 months! It had a fresh premise, interesting and flawed characters. And monsters. (I like monsters.) It also had moral dilemmas and was a thoroughly discussable book. I partially reviewed it here.

Our Dark Duet came out on June 13th, and I bought a Kindle copy immediately. The story picks up six months later, letting us know what August and Kate have been doing since This Savage Song ended. Kate’s been fighting monsters in another town, and August has been trying to save South City.

For me, Our Dark Duet is a solidly good book, though I didn’t love it as much as the first one. But apparently I’m in the minority there. Folks on Goodreads and Amazon have rated the second higher than the first.

The Spoiler Free Good

Our Dark Duet has all the things I loved about the first one, plus a new and fascinating monster. We get to see more from insight the Flynn compound, and wrap up with all the characters who were in the first book.

The Spoiler Free Bad

Part of what I loved in the first book was the relationship between August and Kate. It wasn’t just about chemistry and shipping them (though that was an element for me). It was also about how they grew to depend on one another. They’re separated for most of the second book.

*Spoiler alert below the picture, including discussion of the ending. You’ve been warned.*

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The Good, With Spoilers

I love that they finally try to kiss, and that it brings Kate’s soul to the surface. I loved that they explore moral complexity more. Kate’s soul is “stained” because she shot someone in self-defense. She admits that maybe she could have done something different, but she didn’t because she assumed the person was a monster. Previously, when August has been reaping a soul, the confession clearly shows that the person is a bad guy. But they reveal that other people have done bad things with good intentions, or that they did bad things previously, changed. I appreciated that acknowledgement, because ignoring that always bothered me in the first one.

The Bad, With Spoilers

I don’t love it that Kate and Ilsa die. I’ve been thinking about it (which is why this review is written almost 2 weeks after I finished the book), and it’s probably the right ending. But it feels so hopeless. Kate and Ilsa helped August keep himself sane and in check. They remind him of the best parts of himself. Having them die and then it just end makes me worry about what August will do going forward. Not that he’ll go dark or lose his way again. But just that we all need to connect with someone, or what’s the point? And I know August loves his parents (even though Henry is dying too… ugh), but it’s not the same. Ilsa and Kate were the people August connected to the most.

I guess the implication was that August and Soro are going to form more of a connection, but… I neither liked nor disliked Soro, so that’s not comforting to me.

It almost feels like a loose end to me, and I want to know what happens to August next. Even though, honestly, I probably wouldn’t like if the author tried to stretch the premise into another book. It’s over… but it doesn’t feel that way.

I don’t mind that Kate and Ilsa died; it kind of feels right to me. And it’s life, isn’t it, that sometimes we don’t get what we want, and endings hurt? I just… I guess I wanted more for Kate and August; a chance for them to see who they could be together when they were a team.

What did you think of this book or this series? Have there ever been books where you both loved and hated the ending?

Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

IMG_2703I was in elementary school when I got my first C on a test. It was probably math, because back then I thought I hated math. I got home from school, and sobbed because a C was clearly the end of the world. And my mom sat me down and explained that I didn’t have to be perfect.

I can’t count the number of times she told me that, but it never quite sank in.

I used to be a poor sport, throwing a quiet temper tantrum if I lost a game. Oh, I thought I was holding in my temper quite well, but everyone else knew I was being a big baby. (This was in my 20s.) Still, I’m generally good at everything, so people kept playing with me because I didn’t lose all that often.

Any criticism, even the mild kind, could make me fume for weeks. Because if someone criticized me, clearly they hated me and everything about me, right? The flip side of that is that if I said or did something I perceived as “wrong,” I could obsess over it for weeks as well.

One day, I was getting ready to go play games with my friends, and I thought back to the last time we played. I remembered eating and drinking, making silly jokes and laughing a lot. I remembered who was there and what we played. But no matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t remember who won.

And that was eye-opening for me.

I didn’t get over myself overnight, but that realization started the slow process. Whenever I started to take something too seriously or get upset about it, I’d just ask myself, “Will I even remember this in a month?” If the answer was no, I made myself move on.

Then I started participating in online critiques of my writing, and the old feelings resurfaced. I made myself put the critiques aside for a day or two before responding. And I found that as long as I didn’t respond right away, I could get over my hurt and see that much of the critique was helpful. Not all of it, of course. Sometimes criticism is just a difference of opinion, and I didn’t have to go with it. But if I assumed that everyone who criticized me was coming from a place of genuinely wanting to help me, it made the criticism easier to take.

I know that not everyone wants to help, and that criticism can be malicious. But it’s not my job to sort out other people’s emotions. I just assume everyone has my best interests at heart, and move on. Other people’s negativity doesn’t have to affect me, unless I let it.

It wasn’t until I was in grad school to be a counselor that I realized how much progress I’d made. We all had to tape ourselves doing “counseling sessions” with other students, and then get feedback from our professor in front of the whole class. I really respected this professor, and desperately wanted her praise. But when she saw my video, she picked out all the areas where I could improve.

I felt myself turning red, and those old feelings of having to be perfect wanted to come to the surface. But I told myself to pay attention to what she was saying, really listen, and think about it later when I had time to decide how to feel, and if it was helpful.

When she was done ripping my counseling session to shreds (that’s how it felt, though it probably wasn’t reality because she is a genuinely good human being), one of the other students said, “Wow, that was really amazing. How could you just sit there and take all that criticism? I’d be in tears.”

I took a deep breath and said, “Well, this is where we’re supposed to mess up, right? I’ll learn more from my mistakes than my successes. This way, when I get into the real world, I won’t hurt anyone, and I’ll do it right.” And that tight ball of tension inside me dissolved, because I realized that I meant it.

Criticism is still hard to handle sometimes. And of course, I love praise for a job well done. But regularly attending a writer’s group and having consistent critiques has been a wonderful asset to working on this aspect of myself.  That criticism doesn’t hurt, most of the time. Sure, once in awhile, if I’m having a bad day and feeling emotional, those old feelings try to struggle to the surface.

But I mostly tell them to shut up.

If I’m really having a bad day, I know who I can text to rescue me from negative thoughts. And I also try to write compliments and positive feedback into my journal, so if I’m struggling with negative thoughts, I read over the things people said to me that made me feel good.

And I remind myself not to take it all so seriously. It’s just life, right?

How do you handle criticism?