Friday, January 18, 2002

And the latest viral quiz:

1. What was your favourite toy, as a child? (Pick an age. Or ages.)
Um, the current book? Otherwise, probably Francie. She was Barbie's younger sister (cousin?), and had a much less aggressively "Hello, Sailor" figure.

2. What's your favorite toy now? (Define 'toy' any way you'd like.)
My laptop. With the wireless Ethernet card. Geekgasm, man.

3. What toy did you always want, as a child, but never got?
A really serious doll's house.

4. Is it still available now? If so, why the hell haven't you bought it?
Hey, I have a real house. (Wanna buy it?)

5. What toy do you most want *now*, that you can't really afford? (Hey, maybe your friends will chip in and buy you one...)
Now that I've got the wireless Ethernet hub (did I say geekgasm already?) hmm... A big 16:9 flat-panel TV.

6. What toy do you regret ever having taken out of the package/played with/let your dog chew on, because man, if you still had it in pristine condition, you'd be raking in the bucks on E-Bay?
Probably my Barbie-sized Princess Leia. Except that I believe toys are toys, and for playing with. As Spike, Willow, and Buffy can attest. My daughter agrees; I came into my office the other day to find Spike on his knees, taking a big musical-comedy bow.

7. What toy are you ashamed to admit having played with -- and liked -- as a child?
Oh, God. "The Bride Game". Where you moved your counter around the board, gathering the necessities for your wedding: dress, bouquet, honeymoon tickets, and, oh, yes, a Groom. Collect the whole set!

8. What toy (modern or childhood) would you never buy for a child, or want bought for yours?
Anything electronic that beeps, bloops, or bops. Our children were the first grandchildren and niece/nephew on both sides. People bought us So. Damned. Many. beep-toys. I wanted to give our nieces and nephews drum sets, or possibly ferrets, but my husband overruled me.

9. What toy are (or were) you most neurotic about protecting? ("Do what I say, or Mr. Fett here gets it...")
The laptop. The sprogs have always had access to the personal computers. The laptop is mine. Okay, technically it's my husband's, too. But I know whom it really loves.

10. Do you still have any of your childhood toys? What's your best beloved? In a box somewhere, I think so. I cheerfully threw away a lot of stuffed animals this year when I was packing. My parents say Eeto was terribly important when I was a year old, but I don't remember her at all. Into the trash with her! Off with her... whooops, I seem to have already managed that bit.

Doing It Right

Michaelangelo once said, "Where I steal, there I leave my knife." Which is a nice ambiguous sentence in translation. I've always read it as "If you're going to redo somebody else's work, you have to do it better."

Properly done, literary references start a conversation. "Here's what older writer said. Here's what I (or my characters) think about what older writer said. Here's what I say in return."

A simple example happened in last year's season finale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The heroes were, as usual, facing imminent death and/or world-destruction. The exhausted heroine says, "Hey, everybody knows their jobs. Remember, the ritual starts, we all die. And I'll kill anyone who comes near Dawn." One character, Spike, turns to another, Giles, and says "Not exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech." Giles replies, "We few, we happy few..." to which Spike rejoins, "...We band of buggered."

So, a one-line quotation from Shakespeare. What does it accomplish? It lets the characters draw a parallel between their own desperate fight and the fight in Henry V... which Henry won. It demonstrates that Spike and Giles share a common British-schoolboy referent. This is important, in context, because Spike has been pretending for years to be a lower-class yobbo. It shows Giles accepting Spike, whom he despises, as a partner in repartee. And it gives us a good laugh at the end, as Spike subverts the quotation to his own sardonic purposes.

In short, the literary reference illuminates both character and situation.

Another example is the movie Clueless. The plot is deliberately taken from Jane Austen's Emma. The movie asks "What did Austen say that's still true? How can we create these situations today, in a completely different society? Are the solutions the same as they were in the 19th century?" The movie isn't just Emma-with-a-cellphone. It's a social comedy of the 1990s, with its own voice and worldview.

A larger example is Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. R&G is all about two minor characters in Hamlet, and what they do when they aren't onstage. Periodically, Hamlet or Ophelia or Polonius comes through and delivers one of the great scenes, word-for-word from the original play. Then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to make sense of what is happening.

R&G could not exist without Hamlet. But it asks some profound questions about the play: What is it like to get caught in the clockwork of somebody else's tragedy? Do Hamlet's actions make any sense at all? It also asks the larger question, "What is the right behavior in a world in which your own actions are meaningless, and the senseless actions of others dominate your life?"

Stoppard took what Shakespeare had to say, and then he riffed on it. He engaged in a dialogue with Shakespeare. He built something new from something very old. That's what writing is for: to restate old truths and combine them with the new.

I can't invent tragic thwarted love, or unjust death, or bravery in appalling circumstances. All of those have existed for a thousand years, and been written over and over again by the greatest writers of every culture. I can't even say anything new on the subject. I can say, in my voice, what I see. I can paint the old ghosts in my own colors. And that is the reason it's worth writing at all.

First posted on glass_onion.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

I have always loftily despised people who obsessed about their children's sports achievements. "I've been practicing all week with little Haylee's dance, and her team won first place!" "Son, you've got to follow through. Here, watch me."

Saturday night I walked into my 8-year-old's bedroom at 10 PM. The light was still on. He was lying on his back with a novel held over his head. When I tried to gently remove it from his hands, he wouldn't let go. "Mom, I'm ALMOST finished!"

And I felt a fierce stab of joy. That's my son. He loves a book too much to put it down, just as I did and do.

Now I get it. When you love something desperately, you want your children to love it, too. It isn't necessarily that you want them to grow up and compensate for your failures; it's that you want to share the joy, and to be reassured that you've passed on more than the shape of your nose.

Monday, January 14, 2002

I have comments again! Yippee!

Sunday, January 13, 2002

I am 42. For the first time in my life, I can reliably lower Venetian blinds, my husband having kindly explained to me that you do not, as I had always thought, pull the cord out into the plane of the room, but sideways within the plane of the window.

I suppose I ought to be embarrassed, but actually I'm quietly pleased. So that's how it works!