Maybe I should start watching movies again.

The latest buzz on the net has been the brouhaha over a Pakistani actor who had been turned down for being an Hobbit extra because her skin was too brown. Naturally, Twitter exploded in outrage. The casting director got fired, heads are rolling everywhere, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. And retaliation has been just as severe, with a facebook group being created to keep the hobbits white. So some nasty stuff is getting slung around, even before the movie has yet to get a single cel filmed.

At first, I was like, "Well, yeah. Hobbits are white. The only dark-skinned folk are the ones down south who got roped into being slaves for Mordor, thank you very much for doing so, Mr. Tolkien." But then a friend of mine was like, "Well, actually, does it even say what their skin tone was?" And I was like, "Well, we know that they’re curly-haired…but…" Then we sort of stared at each other in puzzled silence.

So then I went home and consulted the source: Tolkien. Unfortunately, the only source I had was the Silmarillion, which, while useful to see how Tolkien world-built his world, surprisingly does not contain anything to do with hobbits…or if there was, I didn’t see it. I then went back to the above mentioned article, where at the bottom, it reads:

In the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien described three races of Hobbits inhabiting the Middle Earth fantasy world which is the setting for the movies, including harfoots, who "were browner of skin" than the others.

Huh.

I’m going to have to read the Lord of the Rings all over again now, because I don’t remember that when I read it the first time. I should have glommed onto the fact that there were brown-skinned hobbits. Or maybe I did read that, but thought, yeah, but there’s brown-skinned, and then there’s dark-skinned…

Which made me think of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Because, you know, when you think of Tolkien, you always have to think of C.S. Lewis. Both of them being British dudes and all.

I’ve seen the first movie, but not because I wanted to. I saw it because it was something my hubby DVR’d, and it was a Saturday night when I had nothing better to do. I know the other movies have come out since, with the latest being Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but I have no desire to see them.

It’s all because of Jill, you see.

The Silver Chair happens to be my favorite book of the Narnia series. That was because of Jill. She wasn’t part of the Penvensie clan–she was completely outside of the family. And because Lewis never really gave a detailed description of her, she could’ve looked like, well, anyone. So, in my nine-year-old mind, I was convinced Jill was black. Sure, the pictures in the book showed her as white, but pictures could be deceiving. I always went by what was in the text.

Jill was cool.  Jill was bad-ass.She didn’t take no guff from anyone. But she also knew when she was wrong and owed up to it. It was easy to project myself onto Jill, because I could see myself in her (I always hoped that after The Last Battle, she and Eustace hooked up because they made a cute couple together.)

So when I learned that they were going to do movies of the Chronicles of Narnia, it left me…well…dismayed. Because I know that what’s up there on the screen isn’t going to match up with my picture of Jill. I probably would be disappointed even if Jill was white–nothing on the screen could possibly match with what I had in my head.

Or can it?

Maybe, in limiting myself, maybe I am missing some pretty good renditions of my favorite books. I mean, I loved Lord of the Rings. The Chronicles of Narnia may not be on the same caliber, but I’ve heard from people that it’s really good. And you know, it could be possible, you know, that they might cast Jill of a different race…

So maybe this means I ought to start watching movies again. I mean, now that Disney’s out of the fairy-tale market, that means movies should start getting good now, right?

Right?

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Going to Art on the Square in a Red Dress

The white boy is putting on his brown leather beret.

I say ‘boy’ because he can’t be no more than 18 or 19. He is beanpole skinny, with a long brown ponytail going down his back. If I was twenty years younger, I would’ve instantly fallen in love with him, pretended to mind my own business while surreptiously following him. As it is, I’m finding him too androgynous for my tastes, his face too delicate, skin too pale. I am bemused to see that he, too, is heading towards the Capitol Square and the Art Fair, all alone.

I reach the Square just as the first few raindrops fall. Jon told me there was a storm front headed our way, so I was glad I took my umbrella with me instead of leaving it in the car. I didn’t think I’d stay long anyway; I would see as much as I could, then head back home. Being out by myself is more of a treat than seeing the art. I could take my time and linger as long as I like, without worrying about people being bored or confused, or just wanting to get to the next booth.

So I was able to stare at the tree woman statue as long as I liked. She stood about half a head taller than me, green leaves for hair, acorns a band holding them back, creased bark for skin, mushrooms sprouting out from her shins, moss on her cracked feet. As people flowed around me, I studied the tree woman, walked around it, noticing little details: she had small boles for knuckles. Her teeth and eyes were human. She had four feet. I walked around her, thinking that couldn’t be right—her back and buttocks curved as human, but something else stood behind her, like a stump—I couldn’t exactly tell. As I studied the feet, what I took for a thick boll of acorn and mushroom behind her heel was actually a baby, curled in a sitting position on the ground. That made me wonder: mother, child. Did father get chopped for firewood, leaving behind the stump of his feet?

The rain began in earnest. I ducked into another stall, marveling at a line of children silhouetted against an African moon, led by a pied piper(site is under construction for now). Another stall held huge Moroccan domes painted on flat stone plaques. More plaques within held scenes of Tuscany, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. As I talked to the artist, soft piano music played from a speaker set on the curb. Beneath it, water gushed through the gutter, a river canal in minature. Another stall held small statues of old woman, all of them sitting on the ground, laughing uproariously. I didn’t want to leave—I wanted to know all of these old women, wanted to sit at their feet, hear all their stories. I think I know what to get my grandmother for Christmas.

The rain did a good job of winnowing out artists. Some rushed to close their stalls, packing things up, zipping up the tarps so you couldn’t see inside. Others kept their stalls open, knowing that the rain would drive passerbys inside. And some artists didn’t mind their art getting wet at all. One artist talked blithely as water poured around her and her painted tiles, some sitting in water an inch deep, colors bright, shiny wet.

I wandered over to see brass wire dancers high above me. The gray sky their stage, their audience below, they spun and danced, undeterred by the rain. The artist detailed how they were made—they started out as clay models, then made into larger wax replicates. Then thin wire lines are overlaid upon the wax until they cover the models completely. The wax is melted away, and what is left is a wire frame in the form of dancers, light, aery, but full of vibrant motion. Human mobiles, I thought, watching a pair of dancers pirouette around each other in the wind.

The streets soon emptied of passerby. The only people were left were those like me, unwilling to let rain stop them. I saw Brown Beret Boy again, perusing vases, his satchel slung over his back. A pair of women called out to me, yelling that I need a martini, and when I looked, they stepped aside to show a huge painting of said martini. I swung around the north side of the square (east? northeast? I get so confused on directions), and there, coming down the mostly empty street, was another black woman. She had no umbrella–her hair was her umbrella. Thickly splayed as a split-open fig, her hair drunk in the rain with wild, abandoned joy. She did not hurry as she strolled towards me. I slowed my pace to watch her pass, and she smiled at me.

"There’s benefits to going natural," she said.

I turned to watch her, envying the thickness of her hair, envying how easy she made it look to enjoy the rain.

I reached the corner and entered a booth that held photographs of all varieties of people. A Buddhist monk boy studying. An African couple and their baby staring off in the distance. Beneath them were printed short quotes. As I studied a Haitian girl sitting in an overlarge chair, the people at the booth next door started shouting "Free beer! Free beer!" Because of the rain, they needed to close up shop quick. Everyone around them cheered.  I would have gone over, but then a photo caught my eye—an elderly African woman staring at the camera with mischevious eyes, holding a pipe stuck jauntily in her mouth. The quote below it read Well-behaved women seldom make history. It reminded me so much of the laughing old women from the other stall that I started to laugh. The photographer, who had dreadlocks that put mine to shame, came over.

"You like that one?" he asked.

"It’s awesome," I said.

"It’s yours," he said. He pulled it out, wrapped it in a bag, and gave it to me with a hug.

There are benefits to going to an art festival in the rain.

There wasn’t much to see after that. Actually, there was a lot, but it all blurs in my mind. The only other thing that stood out was passing landscape photography and freezing in place. "Is that for real?" I asked, staring at a castle too richly hued, water too bluish-green to exist. I went in, and goggled at white sandy terraces, weathered walls with a single brilliant green door. Seeing the pictures online don’t do it justice. At that point, I wished Jon was there with me to see it.

But then my stomach noisily reminded me I was hungry, so I went to Michaelangelos and treated myself to a decaf mocha and a slice of apple pie. The slice was huge, filling up most of the plate with apple and crust. The mocha was sweet and hot. I sipped and watched a guy play with the 360 feature of Google Maps. The scenery he zoomed into didn’t seem much at first—mostly alleyways filled with cars. A wall covered in grafitti. As he passed some storefronts written in Spanish, I suddenly realized he was looking at a 3-D view of somewhere in Mexico. Intrigued, I watched him click on a street, squint at the screen, then follow the street down. He did this several times, zooming out (and confirming my guess that it was somewhere in Mexico) and then zooming back into the 360 view. When he started looking at what appeared to be a single paved road, bordered by vast tracks of greenery offset every so often by a dirt road vanishing into the undergrowth, I couldn’t stand it no longer.

"What are you looking for?" I asked.

"Oh, just looking," he said.

"Have you ever been to Mexico?"

"Me? Oh no. Never been. Don’t want to. It’ll take too long to get back."

===============

As I exited Michaelangelo’s, I unwittingly got into a conversation with a homeless guy. He was old, swarthy, the smell of alcohol ripe on him. He’s been living on the streets for many years. Actually, I surmise this—he’d start off talking clearly but then his voice trailed into mumbling, then silence, so all I could do was shake my head in agreement as his lips moved silently. I thought of extricating myself, but people kept pushing past him—a guy pushing a stroller yelled "EXCUSE ME!" when he obviously had enough room to manuever around. So I held my tongue and listened, even when tears began rolling down the old man’s cheeks.

It reminded me of my dad.

It could have been an obvious ploy. It could have been he was full of regret. Or maybe he a weepy kind of drunk. But I gave him some money and told him to get something to eat. He took it and looked at me. "Can I tell you something?"

"Um, sure."

He gave me a large toothy grin. "You have yourself a good day. I mean it. Have a good day." Then he tipped his hat to me, bowed, and walked off.

Think I’ll heed his advice.

It happens in the Christian world, too.

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2009/12/zondervan_makes_critics_book_r.html

The above article gives an interesting coda to what’s been happening for the past month in the Christian publishing world. It shows that, yes, even in the Christian world, RaceFail lives. It also shows that while we still have far to go, changes can be made, both graciously and lovingly. Here’s another perspective. The writer, Al Hsu, was one of the main people who put together the Multiethnic publishing seminar at InterVarsity Press this past March.

At that seminar, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Soong-Chan Rah. Great guy, reminded me a whole lot of the Angry Black Woman in that he is passionate about bringing racial injustices on Asians to light.  Of course, it’s interesting to read the comments on Rah’s letter to Zondervan asking them to remove the Ninja Viper materials. Lots of different perspectives, mostly support for Rah, but also those who felt that Rah was reading to much into it and to lighten up, in fact–an Asian could have written a same thing. My favorite rebuttal to that came from Irene Cho:

"The statement was meant to imply that most Asians who are familiar with their Asian culture/heritage/language, would not have mixed up the cultures like the authors did. In fact, it’s one of the grievances that’s high on the list. It’s insulting when you’re constantly asked, “Oh you’re Asian. So you’re Chinese? Ah so you know Karate?” Many of us have spent much of our lives answering these questions: Yes, I’m Asian. No I’m not Chinese. And no I don’t know Karate and Karate is Japanese by the way. So what I meant was that in my opinion, most Asians wouldn’t publish a book that treats Karate, Kung Fu, and Tae Kwon Do as if there’s no difference. A book would not have been published that doesn’t specify the difference between Chinese, Korean and Japanese writings. And most of all, most Asians wouldn’t have written that someone’s name sounds like a disease. AND even if they did, it’s one thing to make fun of yourself, it’s quite another to have someone else of a different ethnicity say that my language sounds funky or like a disease and mix everything up and treat all the cultures as if they were the same."

You tell it, sister.

So how do I feel about all this? I feel good that the creators of Ninja Viper and Zondervan did offer an apology and pulled back the books. I feel sad though for all of those who said that it was a shame because it was a legitimate leadership source. And that is true, it is. I just wished the creators researched it better. I do feel that we need more multiethnic people involved in publishing, which is why I support Verb Noire and black writers like Nisi Shawl and Nnedi Okorafor. And goodness knows I’m trying my hardest to add myself to the list. But I also feel what we do is a mere drop in the bucket—that nothing will change, and that those in the media will continue to put up what they like because, hey, they’re the majority and there’s more of them in the media industry than there are of us…

And then I read blog posts like this one which talks about getting minority teens to think about entering the publishing industry, and then I get the December issue of Parents Magazine, which has an article that strives to teach an even younger audience about race relations, and well, we’re trying. Most of us are working on it. It’s just a matter of time.

Rambling Thoughts on a Rainy Cold Night…

I’m sitting here in my chair, a mug of decaf hot Lipton tea next to me (my third one), and an episode of Babylon 5 playing on the TV.

Rainy nights always make me moody.

Our cable went out a couple of months ago. I haven’t missed it at all. Been too busy working on Willow and other short stories. I’m starting to watch movies again. Last night, I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Brilliant movie. Absolutely brilliant. The storyline and editing was wonderful. I want to watch it again, pick it apart bit by bit.

What makes a good story? Is it plot? Is it in the writing itself? Language? Is it the ability to empathize with the characters? Is it turning a twist on a cliché?

I’ve thought about it for a long time, and I realized that one of the ways to learn is to become a slushreader. A couple of weeks ago, Fantasy Magazine put out a call for new slushreaders, and I was lucky to be chosen as one. So far, it’s been good. I’ve read stories where the ideas were so-so. And I read stories where it pulled me in, but something about the story was off…not quite right.

I’m trying to figure out how that applies in my own writing. I’ve been making good on my goal of releasing a story a week out to markets, though this week might be a little hard because of this cold. But for the most part, it’s been fun fore me, mainly because I’m not agonizing over every little word. And these stories have sat on my hard drive long enough. They deserve to get a chance, though it’s more likely they’ll get rejections. But still, better than just sitting there, unread by anyone.

Well, my mug’s empty, and my nose is drippy. I think I’m going to turn in early tonight, read a book. The rain patters against the windows, and I want it to be background noise for Barrick as he travels in the Fae Realm.

R.I.P, Michael Jackson…

 

You know what the sad thing is? Daniel will never know him.

I’m sure he’ll hear a song on the radio. He may even surprise me by getting "Thriller" or "Off the Wall" for his own collection. But chances are, Daniel will know Michael Jackson as a past figure, a supposed superstar who got really, really weird as he grew older.

I grew up knowing Michael Jackson. His songs played on the radio. We used to watch the Jackson 5 cartoon show (remember that?) on channel 50, before it became UPN. My cousin and I sneaked  In seventh grade, our school had a "Michael Jackson" day. We all dressed up in leather and wore sequined gloves on our right hands. Well, I didn’t, but I remember getting out all the Michael Jackson buttons I owed (I think there were six) and wearing them proudly.

I was twelve years old when I watched Michael do the moonwalk live on Motown’s 25 anniversary. My cousin and I watched Thriller and got scared by it. But my absolute favorite at the time was "Can You Feel It" with his brothers. The video was psychedelic enough in the early 80s to be surreal. I’ll always associate "Let Me Show You" with driving to downtown Chicago, because it always seemed to be playing whenever my dad went to pick up my mother.

It’s always a little weird when a celebrity dies, but this is the first time where someone from my generation dies. I don’t mean Michael Jackson was part of our generation. He was 50, after all. But it was us, the MTV generation, whose lives he impacted the most. And I think that’s the Michael we’re kind of mourning the most. Not the Michael of the past Jackson 5, or the Michael of the last few years who appeared more like a living doll. But the Michael that got a grammar school to dedicate a day to him, that appeared to be made of liquid lightening when he danced.

In a sad way, all the tributes being done now seem to be a better fit than if Michael had been alive. The Michael Jackson of my youth and late teens had disappeared a long time ago. MTV don’t play videos anymore, and I don’t follow mainstream music like I used to.

Here’s to hoping he got that peace he was looking for.

The Juxtaposition between Mourning and Celebration

So yesterday was my co-worker’s funeral. Today was Family Fun Night at my son’s school.

It was surreal, seeing so many people dressed up. Ours is a laid-back office, so seeing dresses and suits with ties was distressing. Most of the office is still in shock. It would’ve made a difference if our co-worker died from an accident, or had a heart attack, or died of natural causes, or got shot by an assailant.

What happens when the assailant is yourself?

The only time I dealt with suicide was back in high school, when a guy from my Spanish class killed himself. I didn’t know him all that well–he pretty much kept to himself. When we heard what happened, I remember feeling sad, but not really broken up over it.

But this is different. We knew this guy. We saw him all the time. He took my hubby and me out to dinner. We saw them at church last week. He walked by my desk every single day. I would say “Hi,” and he always had a smile for me.

It makes what he did last Tuesday so out of whack, many of us still have trouble believing it.

I’ve been trying to sort it out in my head and on paper. Mainly there’s sadness, but there’s also anger too. Why didn’t he tell anyone he was in distress? Was there anything we could have done? Could have said? Would he even listen, or was he so far gone that nothing would have reached him? He was always cool, always calm, always collected. Nothing seemed to faze him.

I don’t get it.

Today, we went to Daniel’s school for their annual Family Fun Night. Daniel took me to his schoolroom and show me the picture he drew, the cubicle where he hangs his jacket. We ate soup and salad, watched a Celtic band. Daniel threw a tantrum because he didn’t want to wear his crocs. Later, he jumped in the bouncy house for about five minutes, then came out and put his crocs on, saying, “Okay, I’m done.”

And all throughout the evening, the thought kept running through my mind: He will never experience fun with his family again. He won’t get to see his kids laugh or cry. He won’t be there to dry their tears or laugh at a joke with them. I can’t stop thinking of it. No matter how hard I try.

On Saturday, I went to the farm. I pulled beets out of the crumbling dirt, roots and bugs dangling down. I washed them in ice-cold water, plunging my hands in, feeling their knobbly hardness, marveling at the crimson red of the skins, the striped pink of the stems. Later on, I washed cherry tomatoes, my fingers reaching through the clear water, searching for the smooth orbs. I felt them round and fleshy in my hands: scarlet, tangerine, orange-yellow, grass green. I popped one into my mouth, felt its warmth flood my cheeks with pulp and seed.

Each following day that comes, we will step a little further away from his death. The pain will soften, the sorrow lessens, and we will start remembering more of what he was rather than how he ended. I can feel it happening now, each minute that passes. In the meantime, I’m going to hug my son a little more, hold my hubby a little tighter. I’m going to try to experience life just a little more before mundanity makes me forget.

Sunshine warm on my face

Yesterday started off with my son coming into our bedroom with his pants around his ankles, where he proceeded to pee on our carpet and then tried to dig his way back into his room via our closet.

It ended in learning about the death of a co-worker who was instrumental in moving us to Madison.

Daniel’s bizarre actions confirmed something I suspected–my kid is a sleepwalker. It doesn’t happen often, thank goodness. It’s just a little spooky, that’s all. What parent wouldn’t be unnerved to watch their kid’s face go from crocodile tears to utter blankness as they try to coax the kid back to bed. Then, 15 minutes later, have the kid wake up crying, saying he ‘got lost’.

And 15 minutes after that, he completely forgot about it.

The next time it happens (and I’m pretty sure it will), I won’t be so freaked out about it. Heck, maybe the third time, I can even have fun with it: Daniel, Mommy says to sweep the floor. Oh, how cute that he can clean in his sleep!)

Daniel’s antics, though, were made a little bittersweet in learning that the man who interviewed my hubby for his job had died. Back in November, this man brought Jon and I up for his interview. He took us to dinner, drove us around Middleton (a suburb of Madison). He was a very nice man, and his death has shook the office immensely.

I remember the last time I dealt with a co-worker’s death. It was way back when I worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. One of the ladies I worked with died of cancer. I didn’t really know her that well, but I did go to her wake. Her death, however, made very little impact. Oh, people were sad she was gone, but in such a large office, no one was truly affected. Only her co-workers missed her, but because she sort of kept to herself, it was pretty easy to forget her. I can’t remember her name now.

But in the office I work now, people are mourning. We held a chapel service. We prayed in small groups. People congregate in the corridors, talking in hushed whispers. People I only say hi to stop, wanting to talk a little more, or even hug, wanting the comfort of touch.

I don’t think this man will be forgotten. Not after all he has done.

Today, when I picked up Daniel from preschool, he picked a leaf and held it to his cheek. “It feels warm!”

“That’s from the sunshine,” I told him. “It’s been sitting in the sun.” I took the leaf and pressed it to my cheek as well. He was right–it did feel warm. Eventually the leaf got dropped somewhere. I forgot where it fell. But my cheek still feels warm from where I pressed it. I hope it will stay warm for a long time.

Goodbye, Dave. I know I said this to you before, but thank you for bringing us here. You’ll be sorely missed.