Thursday, April 30, 2009

Speaking for the other gender...

How well do male authors do at writing female characters? And vice-versa? And if you know the author's gender, how does that affect your perception of the characters in the story?

I was wondering about this because of some of the comments I got on my recently-posted novella Orem High. Particularly interesting were the comments of the form "A guy wouldn't say/do that." I'm not complaining, BTW, the comments were very helpful. The thing that struck me, though, was the fact that I didn't get equivalent comments for the earlier segments that were narrated by female characters.

The response is obvious (you may be thinking): as a female, I naturally can write from a female perspective better than I can write from a male perspective. That's undoubtedly part of it. But I think that April, Lynn, and Jill all did/said/thought things that aren't necessarily typical for a girl, and I wonder if people would have reacted to those stories differently if I'd pretended the author was male...

I've done my share of criticizing male authors for their portrayals of women (see here and the comments here). I feel like those particular criticisms were justified, but maybe I'm biased.

Trying to see your (fictional) universe from the perspective of someone who is unlike yourself is a fun challenge. I'm not interested in writing Autobiography of My Years as a Hermit or Me and My Clones -- I want my universe to be inhabited by a variety of interesting people!

Any thoughts on squeezing into unfamiliar perspectives?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Have I ever mentioned how much I love trains?

And to think I was impressed by a silly little thing like free Internet on the train from Paris to Belgium. On my way back from my trip to Italy, they had something I never expected to see in a train: A playground!

Yep, a slide -- and if you look to the left, you can see the head of the dinosaur-shaped jungle-gym

And built-in dinosaur 'Memory'! Who'd've guessed?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My first-ever trip to Italy!!!

There are so friggin' many amazing things to see in Italy -- I imagine not too many foreign tourists select a week on Lago Maggiore as their first choice. But, of course, I didn't choose this trip, It chose me.

By that, I mean that my husband was invited to a conference that happened to coincide with a school vacation for the kids. So I didn't have much choice but to take a week off and take care of the kids. Yet if I'd had a choice, I don't think I could have chosen better -- it was really perfect!

See if you can find Nico in this picture!

Riding around on the public boats all over the lake was just about the right level of adventure for a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. We could ride the boat until we felt like getting off, and wherever we got off we'd see something interesting!

Find Nico at Santa Caterina del Sasso!

My little boys learned to take photos like the tourist pros!

Of course, they preferred to just find a playground whenever possible.

Nico and Léo hopping on the scenic trampoline of Locarno.

That worked well since most of the town waterfronts seemed to have a playground. So we'd get off the boat, go to the playground so they could run and jump around for a while, and then when they were tired, we'd hop on the next boat and rest as the beautiful scenery floated by. (The kids also liked to watch the boatmen lassoing the dock to tie the boat on each time we came to a port.)

I loved the boating too, and not just for all of the obvious reasons.

You know how some people can read a page of baseball statistics, and normal people wonder how it could possibly be interesting to read all of those lists of names and numbers? Well, I'm kind of like that, only with the train schedule. (Hey, I just like to know where you can go! And when!) And the Lago Maggiore boat schedule was even better!!! It's just a little more complex than the Zürich commuter train schedule (since it doesn't repeat every hour), so it was kind of a fun challenge to figure out possible itineraries.

One person I met at the conference was actually fooled into thinking that I'm highly organized and efficient! LOL, just because I always knew when to catch the next boat! But it has nothing to do with organization, just a strange fondness for public transportation. ;^)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Buongiorno dal Lago Maggiore!

I thought that the colors of a landscape in real life are supposed to be surprisingly vivid. But here, with the morning mist in the mountains against the pale blue of the lake, I've been surprised instead by how muted the colors are. More than anything, it reminds me of a travel poster sun-faded over the years in a shop window...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dream House

The most bizarre recurring dream I've ever had was about my old house in Bordeaux.

In real life I loved that house. It was an old stone townhouse that was right in town. It was on a quiet residential street, but the whole walkable downtown area was just a few blocks away. It was relatively large -- not by American standards, but it was two stories, plus a partially-finished attic for guests. And it was "healthy" in the sense that the basement was dry and the wooden framework holding up the floors was solid. But...

Superficially, everything was in poor condition. The house was more than 100 years old, and looked it. When we first moved in, we had to replace all of the electrical wiring, all of the plumbing (the pipes were lead), and the roof. We had no money left over to fix up the rest.

Everything was old and a little bit broken, like the drafty windows from the pre-saftey glass, pre-standardized-window-sizes era and the hardwood floors that gave us splinters. It would have been the ideal house for someone with a passion for "DIY" (or at least someone not already overburdened by toddlers + working full-time), but we had neither the time nor the abilities to fix it up. So my beloved house was a constant source of stress.

And that's how it entered my dreams.

In dream world, the house was in poorer condition, with holes in the roof that let in weather and weak spots in the floor for people to fall through. But it was also a lot bigger, and full of strange secret passages. It had whole apartments (that we didn't use) hidden beyond secret panels.

But the weird part was the house in the back yard. Our real-life city yard was about the same size as the footprint of the house itself. But in dream world, the house had a huge back yard, and in the back yard was an even bigger and older house.

The backyard house was five stories tall and practically in ruins. Since it hadn't been officially used in decades, who knows what had unofficially taken up residence? Some of the rooms had dead bodies hidden away in them. I wouldn't dream of trying to fix up the backyard house -- I was terrified to go in it. Yet, that's not what was weird about it.

What was weird was that the backyard house was always there, even though it didn't exist in real life. It was a regular fixture of my dream universe, as though dream world were a consistent, warped universe, not just a random walk through making-it-up-as-you-go-along.

Is your dream universe like that?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Of Mormons and Jews...

E. L. Fay recently wrote an interesting post on cross-religion parallels -- referencing a guest post I wrote for the secular-Jewish blog "Lubab No More." Unfortunately, she discovered that Lubab No More has gone private, so (for reference) I've re-posted my earlier guest-post on Main Street Plaza: My Tribe.

And, while I'm in a redirecting-you-to-other-sites kinda mood, don't miss the 35th Humanist Symposium!! There were two LDS-interest posts featured this time, a satire on the Mormons' love for their gay members, and a post on Mormon Funerals (remembering to proselytize rather than remembering the deceased) from Living With Mormons, one of the newest additions to Outer Blogness!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

A story I never tell anyone

In the morning, I wanted to go talk to Rex again. Fortunately he was available for a chat just as he had been the day before.

"Well, it's official," I said. "Lynn was right. The girl I like, Andrea, she isn't interested in me. She's Joe's girlfriend now." Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

I hope everyone is having a lovely day! We're relaxing and sleeping in this morning. I'd hoped to get in a little laundry, but someone else beat me to the machine this fine Easter morning. (Darn that sleeping in! If I don't claim the machine by seven on a Sunday morning, somebody else gets it...)

We already did our Easter-egg-and-candy hunt at a friend's house the other day. Actually, it was a lovely lunch party that included an Easter hunt for our kids and our hosts'. In keeping with my previous post, our hosts were an eclectic mix: The wife was French-Canadian-American-Haitian and the husband was Mexican, and the other two couples they invited were kind of international as well (a couple of Germans, and then a Swiss guy with a guy from New Zealand).

Now, I like Easter as much as the next western-culture-atheist, because I love tradition! But it turns out that I have only so much to say about this holiday, thus I will refer you to cute pictures from previous years.

Last year Easter was all about science, doing experiments with egg-coloring

...and in discovering what our chocolate dinosaurs had eaten...

The previous year we also did an Easter egg hunt by crazy coincidence,

and, for fun, here are a couple of never-before-seen-on-the-Internet shots of the great Easter-egg hunt of 2004!

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My fellow weirdos...

When I was living in France -- for seven years -- I felt like I fit in. I would walk down the street, look around me, and feel like I "get" this place, and I'm a part of it. After a year and a half in Zürich, Switzerland is starting to become homey and familiar, but it's still foreign and strange, and so am I. Perversely, I find that I've made more friends here than I had in Bordeaux. And it's not in spite of my strangeness, it's because of it.

Back in Bordeaux, I didn't have much reason to pursue a friendship with one person instead of another. I joined a club for anglophone expat women in France, but I only attended once -- I didn't feel like I had much in common with them. But here, I naturally fall right in with my fellow weirdos. American, French, Canadian, Brit, and people from even more exotic locales, we all make up one motley band.

The people of the expat and blended-poly-cultural community have a lot of common experiences, regardless of which country they started out in and which culture they moved or married into. (Actually, I was already a part of it in France and earlier, as the Mathematical community is very international.)

"Am I cool with fitting in nowhere? Am I okay with being in a limbo?" asks Andrew, this time talking about that other part of my identity: being an atheist "cultural Mormon."

Well, I am what I am. Like it or not, I have only so much choice in the matter. And I'm happy living in limbo, why not? Being a perpetual outsider, straddling multiple communities -- without fitting entirely in any one -- isn't the absence of real identity. It's an identity that's a little bit different.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Forget about her, Jared

"I'll take it in here," I said, and I closed my door. I picked up the phone and said hello. I heard the click of Joy hanging up.

"Hello, Jared," said a voice. It was Tanya. No luck.

"Hi Tanya, what's up?" I asked.

"What do you mean 'what's up'? You say that as if nothing had happened."

"Well, what do you want me to say?" I asked. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Adventures in discipline and parenting advice

When you have a toddler, child-proofing becomes a reflex. Upon entering a room -- without even consciously thinking about it -- you immediately notice anything fragile or sharp or poisonous or marble-sized (choking hazard!) anywhere within three or four feet of the floor. It becomes difficult to visit childless people because you can't just say, "Look, these crystal goblets and ceramic knick-knacks on your coffee table have got to go somewhere else" -- instead you get to spend your entire visit following your toddler around, vigilantly focused on protecting him and the deadly decorative items from one another. And then your friends wonder why you're no fun anymore.

When my little Léo was a year-and-a-half old, our family decided to spend New Year's visiting friends in a distant city. The family we planned to stay with also had a toddler around the same age, so I was looking forward to a relaxing visit, chatting with adults who understand, in a child-proofed house where my toddler (and my three-year-old, who wasn't much better) could safely roam free. But as I stepped into their house, my heart sank and my jaw dropped. Right in the middle of their main room -- with no protective barrier of any kind -- stood a large Christmas tree, covered with sparkling glass ornaments all the way to the lowest branches.

After the first hour or so of guarding that tree from little Léo's curiously naughty hands, I asked our hosts the obvious question: "How do you keep your daughter from playing with the ornaments?"

"We just tell her 'no' and she doesn't touch them," was the reply.

Thus, I got a crash course in parenting, or rather, in parenting inadequacy. These folks didn't have toys perpetually strewn all over their living room floor the way we did. (Still do, actually...) They put their toys away after playing with them.

To give you an idea of what my living room looked like at the time, here's a shot of my two adventurers having just conquered Mt. Daddy

And then there was the more damning measure: my little year-and-a-half old Léo barely knew how to say any words at all, while their daughter (just a couple months older) was speaking in whole sentences, even witty ones! And, sure, I can make excuses (boys develop language later! As do kids from bilingual families!), but the devil on my shoulder wouldn't stop whispering, "Clearly you're not raising a li'l genius, are you?"

By the second vacation day of following Léo around to protect him from the deadly combination (of the Christmas tree and his own foolishness), my nerves were starting to get a little frayed. I was dancing with my two boys -- anything to keep them occupied and out of trouble -- when the lady of the house decided to give a discourse on "the right way to discipline a child" for the two childless single ladies with whom she was having tea.

"You just have to be firm and forceful from the first 'no'," she said. "It's okay to even get a little angry at that point. It's better than having a discipline problem later." The single ladies nodded and told her how right she was. How could she not be? What with Exhibit A (as well as Exhibits D and F...) right there in the room as evidence to prove her right.

And what could I do? I grabbed Léo and a few of his toys and took him upstairs and put him in the bathtub to play. At least that way he was corralled so I could sit down and rest while watching him.

Now, I know there are multiple possible interpretations to this story, and here you've only got my side of it. Maybe I'm totally wrong. After all Mathmom reports that some parents advise that you should "house-proof the baby, don't baby-proof the house" (as impossible or insane as that advice would seem for people of mere-mortal-level parenting skills, like me).

Parenting advice is so deadly. All the world's problems can be attributed to "other people's kids," and it's impossible to do it entirely "right," whatever that would mean. So one the one hand, it's hard not to want to show off the things you did well, and on the other hand, it's hard to avoid feeling defensive about stuff that you might have done better. Or differently. Or more like the Jonses did it.

More recently I took Léo (now 5) grocery shopping with me. He decided that he wanted a flashlight, and I decided that we didn't need any more electric junk around the house that will ultimately end up in a landfill, so I told him no. Now, I've been trying to train him not to ask for things whenever we go out (I won't go into the specifics of my technique because it's not important), and I've had some moderate success. So, as I was putting the food on the conveyor belt, Léo tried to put the flashlight on, I turned to him and sternly said, "We are not buying that, so will you be a good boy and put it back?"

And he did. All by himself. He fussed a little, but he put it back where he found it. And the Swiss-German cashier gave me a smile, which I interpreted as approval. And I thought to myself, "This is the day of my greatest parenting triumph."

lol. Pathetic, but true...