Monday, April 20, 2015

The Problem With Movies

I guess it's not really a problem with movies; the problem is in how I've begun to see them. I overanalyze everything, and the end result is that I can't enjoy anything anymore.

I used to really like The Italian Job, just because it's so ridiculous and fun. I watched it again about a month ago. Sigh.

Let's talk about the film's treatment of women:  Poor Becky the Cable Girl! Duped by an idiot like Handsome Rob. What happened to her when she came to work and found that her van and her work shirt were missing? What went through her mind when she put two and two together and realized she had been taken advantage of? And then the girl at the end who was interested in "The Napster." She was probably really nice girl with brains and morals, who was really interested in this quirky and brainy guy. What if she didn't want her clothes blown off by his sound system? The movie doesn't show the immediate aftermath, but I can imagine her humiliation. Any jerk who would do that to a woman and just laugh should be thrown in jail.

Of course, these guys are super criminals, so they really belong in jail, anyway. The premise of the film is that they have to retrieve "their" gold from the person who stole it from them. wasn't theirs in the first place. It rightfully belongs to the Italian guy with the daughter who goes to preschool. Their quest to obtain the gold has nothing to do with justice ("I want to see the look on that man's face when he finds out his gold is gone"), and everything to do with the characters' childish sense of revenge. If it was really about justice, they would send an anonymous tip to the police; the murderer would get jail time, and the gold would go back to the rightful Italian-speaking owner.

Also, even though the traffic system got hacked, they blew a hole open in the middle of the street, and they were driving mini coopers on the sidewalk and down into the subway system, police never show up. Does L.A. not have a police force? I guess not in this alternate universe.

I could blame my high school English teacher for teaching me to overanalyze things at the expense of enjoying them, but that seems like an oversimplification.

Also, did you know that Tron: Legacy is secretly a Christian film? It totally is.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Andrew Lang will Challenge Your Preconcieved Notions of Fairy Tales

I haven't seen the new Cinderella movie yet, but I am sure it's fabulous. There are, however, two things about the film that already annoy me:

1) Another Cinderella movie? For real? How many Cinderella movies do we need? There's Rogers And Hammerstien Cinderella, Anime Cinderella, Disney Cinderella (plus all the Disney Princess Merchandise), Ever After Cinderella, Hilary Duff Cinderella, and that one version with Brandi and Whitney Houston where Whoopi Goldberg and some white guy inexplicably have an Asian son (maybe he's adopted?). When will our lust for Cinderella finally be slaked?

2) Everyone is freaking out about how ground-breaking this film is for ditching the "damsel in distress" stereotype, as if it had never happened before.


Let me introduce you to a man named Andrew Lang. He was a folklorist who is best known for his "Color Fairy Book" series. Among these are The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, the Olive Fairy Book, etc. There are twelve, and they are all free online and easily found in well-stocked libraries. He did not write the stories in these books, but rather collected them from around the world. You'll find many familiar stories within the pages, like Rumpelstiltskin and Sleeping Beauty, but also tons that you have probably never heard of, like The Story of Little King Loc, and Kupti and Imani, and Dorani.

These were published between 1889 and 1910, when the Victorian Era was in full swing and there was a lot of dialogue about math being too taxing for women's delicate brains.

It might surprise you, then, to read the kinds of stories that appear in Andrew Lang's collections. These tales feature - very prominently, in fact - women who take their fates into their own hands. These are not damsels in distress. I can rattle off some examples for you right now.

In "The Enchanted Pig," the heroine must wander the earth for three years in search of her husband, while carrying her child in her arms. In the end, she must cut off one of her own fingers to complete a ladder that is her only hope of finding him again.

Imani, the heroine of "Kupti and Imani," is cast out of her father's palace and made to live in a hut with a crippled man. She sets to work building a successful textile business, and becomes good friends with the king of a nearby country. When the king falls ill, she heals him and becomes his bride.

Here is the last sentence of "The Nettle Spinner:" He had lost two years of happiness, but comforted himself with thinking that his wife was a clever spinner, and, what was much more rare, a brave and good woman.

And those are just the ones whose titles I remember. Other stories feature women who have wizards' duels, and women who must take a vow of silence for a number of years to break some spell. Brave women in fairy tales is not a recent phenomenon. It is not earth-shaking or unusual for a fairy tale girl to have a spine and a mind of her own. I've read many, many fairy tales in my day, and I would venture to say that it is more common than not for a fairy tale to feature a brave and intelligent heroine. All these stories were published over a hundred years ago, but the stories themselves stem from a much older tradition.

I would also suggest that the idea that fairy tale women are useless is a fairly modern construct. Somewhere along the line, someone chose only a few of these stories to feature prominently in the "canon" of Western European folklore, very conspicuously choosing the ones that featured weak, or literally unconscious, female characters.

The thing is, we don't have to remake Cinderella a million and one times. Those brave women already exist in our literary tradition! That is why I think we should instead make "The Nettle Spinner" into a movie.

Friday, March 13, 2015


For four months of 2007, I worked at one of those so-called "treatment centers" for "troubled teens." I won't say which one. I will say it was the worst job ever. I had flash backs and nightmares for months. I lost an unhealthy amount of weight while I worked there, and my monthly cycle was erratic up until five months after I quit.

I signed a non-disclosure agreement, saying that I wouldn't tell anyone what happened there until five years later. Well, it's been almost eight years. It's time to start talking. After I quit, I tried to tell some people in my extended family what I horrible place that was, but my vehemence against the company was chalked up to my own negative work experience. "Those places really help people." Ha! Good one.

All the names have been changed, but the following is 100% true to my actual memory of this incident.

Once, I was sitting in one of the common areas, supervising some the male and female students playing board games together. A male staff member came up to one kid, whom I will call Derek, sat down next to him and told him that he had to go finish a task.

"No, man, I don't want to," said Derek. He has totally passive. He was not being aggressive at all, and wasn't even making eye contact with the staff member, whom I will refer to as John. He shrugged and continued his game of checkers.

"Derek," said John, getting agitated. "Come on." 

They exchanged a few more words. Derek was being a stupid ornery kid, but did nothing to endanger himself or anyone else and didn't even raise his voice. I didn't understand at first what I was seeing when John lunged for Derek with arms outstretched and placed his hands around his neck. The table was shoved to one side, the checkers went flying. Instantly all other staff members in the room rushed at Derek and pinned him completely to the ground. Some held down his hands, others restrained his ankles, completely immobilizing him.

I left the room with the other female students. I found myself in a really horrible position, having to defend the actions of the staff in that room to the other students, while I myself believed it to be a completely unnecessary and disproportionate response.

The next day, Derek saw me in the hallway and apologized to me for his behavior, which was, as far as I could tell, peacefully playing checkers while being a little snarky.

It was only one instance where our supposed training, "de-escalate, de-escalate, use diplomacy, talk him down," was completely ignored.

In those four months I witnessed staff members bullying and making fun of students and purposely provoking them to anger. I was told by my supervisor to lie on incident reports to make it look like anything that had happened was always the student's fault, and never the fault of a staff member. We were told to act differently when parents were around, because it "looked better."

I don't want to make a sweeping statement about all treatment facilities, but THIS one was cankered by institutional dishonesty. These places are marketed as centers for healing, but the place were I worked was more like a re-enactment of the Stanford Prison experiment. In many cases the staff were treated by supervisors just as poorly as the students. I was putting in 50 hours per week, and was always pressured to take more and more shifts because it was so difficult for the company to find anyone willing to work there. I was an "old timer" after I'd been working there for four weeks.

All I heard from the children (and they are children) was, "I wish I hadn't messed up. I miss my mom and dad. I want to go home." I hope all parents will think twice before sending their children away.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

TV is Dumb, Anyway

Several years ago I wrote about how we stopped watching DuckTales because it was sexist and glorified questionable behavior.  Well, we've pretty much given up on almost all TV at my house.

I still let my kids watch My Little Pony on occasion, but in the last month or so they've mostly watched documentaries or other educational stuff. The "Back to the Moon For Good" video narrated by Tim Allen is the Cookie's most favorite right now. But that's pretty much it.

There used to be several shows I followed with interest, but now I don't really like any of them. Shortly before Christmas there was something of a breaking point. We haven't banned television from our home, strictly speaking; we just don't watch it any more. 

I didn't really super love The Legend of Korra to begin with. It didn't have the superb writing or witty charm of the original The Last Airbender series. The characterization was weak. The dialog was stupid. Blah blah blah.

The thing I really disliked, though, was the very last, tail end shot of the very last episode, that clearly depicted two female characters in a same-sex relationship. The reason why I didn't like it had nothing to do with the morality of homosexuality. I didn't like it because I feel the show sexualized female friendship. There is nothing in the whole rest of the show to suggest that either character was sexually attracted to the other; for all appearances they were just friends. And then suddenly it is revealed that they are more than "just friends," as if it is a foregone conclusion that they must needs become lovers. The problems I have with that are many and varied, the biggest of which is that for all appearances no one complained (except me...?).

The experience kind of shook me. This was a show clearly marketed to young people, sending overt messages with which I did not agree. And to make things worse, we live in a cultural climate which likes to paint dissenters such as myself as wicked, unreasonable puppy-torturing bigots. To whom would I write to complain? Who would even hear me, or care?

It killed my interest in any and all current TV shows. If an innocent kids' show could serve as a platform to broadcast ideas with which I have such serious problems, what is to stop any other show from doing the same? The only way to keep ideas that I don't like from entering my home via television is to: not watch it.

Did I say all TV shows? Ok, there's one. You'll laugh. It's Studio C.

It's produced by BYUtv - it doesn't get more conservative than that.

Here's another one I like.

I know some parents will be thinking, "Well, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood is not bad. Super Why is ok." Yeah, it's not subversive or anything, but...have YOU watched more than ten minutes of it at a time lately? I watched like a full 30 minutes at a doctor's office recently and when it was over I felt as though my IQ dropped a couple of points.

Some people may think I'm just being picky. I prefer to think of myself as having high standards.

And now, for your educational pleasure, enjoy this YouTube video about the Mercury and Gemini Missions:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Thoughts on Motherhood, Childhood, and Vomit

Nothing puts your life in perspective quite like having a sick child. I was up most of the night with my Shieldmaiden a few nights ago. When I went into her room to see why she was crying, she was covered in vomit and sobbing so hard she shook.

The husband and I cleaned her up and put clean sheets and blankets on her bed. She threw up several more times that night, but the incident I will always, always remember comes from the third or fourth time I went into her room to check on her. She hadn't thrown up again, but she was sitting up in her bed, with her back to the wall, rocking herself. She wasn't crying, just rocking, rocking. She looked up at me with his haunted look in her eyes that said, "I don't understand what is happening to me."

I don't think I have ever seen anything more pitiful, or more moving. I took her on my lap and sat with her in the rocking chair. We watched some TV together (BBC's Lambing Live - it's about sheep.) until she finally drifted into a peaceful sleep. I snuggled with her for a few more minutes than was absolutely necessary, just thinking about my job as her mom.

What if I hadn't been there? What if she had to just sit there in her bed, all night, cold and sick and miserable, with no one to clean her up or whisper in her ear that everything would be all right? What if she, my sweet little toddler girl, had to just rock herself all night, with throw-up stuck to her hair? And, the really scary question, for how many children is this their reality?

I can't even imagine that kind of misery. I ended up catching what my daughter has, and I've been feeling pretty awful myself this afternoon. Naturally, I've been thinking back to all the times I was sick as a child, and there has been one common theme: my mom and dad were always there when I needed them. My memory is full of times when my mom sat up with me on our ugly brown couch, handing me a drink of water, and times when my dad has given me priesthood blessings. How do children survive without that kind of emotional support?

It never hit me until today what a real privilege that is. I feel that I should definitely appreciate my  upbringing a lot more. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up, and I was bullied as a kid and struggled with depression as an adolescent, but having that emotional tether from parents who loved me was everything.

Now it's two am. I should probably get some sleep.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Coming Clean About My Personal Issues With School

(Things get real in this post. It's personal.)

Ok, ok, you've got me. I'll admit it. Here's the real reason I homeschool: It's because I hated school when I was a kid. Public school and private. Well, maybe not the whole time. Kindergarten was actually pretty great, and I loved the three months I was in Mrs. Thomas's second grade classroom in Idaho Falls in 1990. There aren't many positive things to say after that until my senior year of high school. And even then, the best praise I have to offer is, "it wasn't entirely horrible."

I know, intellectually, that it is not likely that the schools where I currently live would tolerate the kind of twisted Lord-of-the-Flies behavior that passed for "socialization" in New York in the early 90s. I am told that for the first six months of 6th grade, when my mom started homeschooling me, I required several hours each day to process through the trauma that was 5th grade via hysterical fits of crying.

I don't feel that this constitutes overreacting. Here's why: I scored much higher than most of the other children in my class on the standardized tests. I was the first fifth-grader ever in the history of the school to be recognized for passing some high-falutin' language arts exam thingy. I was literally smarter than all of them. But they were so effective at telling me that I was "stupid," "retarded," "corroded," and "dense," that I came to believe it, and it did not take me very long. That kind of emotional abuse takes an unimaginable toll.

When Columbine happened, I found I was able to sympathize with the shooters. I know what it is to be so sick of being called names all day long that you want to literally kill someone. I can't say for sure whether any of my teachers knew the extent of what was going on. Whether they did or not is irrelevant. I don't feel it is possible for one adult to be fully in control of what goes on in a classroom full of children.

Tenth grade, in particular, was a disaster. A lot of things went on (like my main bully also being my chemistry teacher. I am pretty sure she's going to Hell.) that should have bothered me enough to make me want to do something about it: being demoted to last chair cellist in the Orchestra, regularly holding a C in English, etc etc. But I was just in survival mode. I knew all these things were happening but I felt powerless to do anything about it, so I chose not to care.

So yes, maybe the schools where I live now are better. But I can't guarantee to my child that they absolutely are. I don't see school as a place of education. It is a place of torture. The animosity I have for it runs so deep that I cannot imagine a situation that would compel me to send my kid there. Maybe it woudln't be quite so horrible for my own children, but it's not a risk I am willing to take.

I know I've been more guarded here on my blog in the past about how I talk about school; it's because I didn't want to offend anyone. it is. The truth. If anything, I've held back a little.

I could also cite the intrinsic problems of the school system, like trying to educate thirty kids at one time at the same pace. Or the issue of "grading" children. Those things have been discussed at length elsewhere. I am just glad that, as a homeschooling mom, they don't really apply to me.

Here's the worst-kept secret about homeschooling: it is so stinking fun! The Squeaker asks for history and science lessons in the morning, and sometimes we do school on weekends, too. We're learning about Ancient China and jet engines. Today we went to the library and picked up a coffee table book on the Curiosity mission to Mars. We also got a book about everything that's in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The Squeaker can recognize by sight The Spirit of St. Louis, the Curtis P-40 Warhawk, and capsules used in the Mercury and Gemini programs. How many other kindergarteners can do that?

I like having the freedom to choose my curriculum based on what we find interesting. I very much enjoy the luxury of not giving a fig for what the State Department of Education thinks we have to study this year. What I love the most is that we can actually learn, without having to spend our energy on extraneous social drama.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I homeschool.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Jet Fighters Homeschooling Unit

In the last six weeks, for the Squeaker's science curriculum, we did a lot of work learning about the space program. I expected that the natural continuation of that would be to learn about actual space (like the planets and quasars and the oort cloud), but no, he said he wanted to do Jet Fighters next.

Jet Fighters? Ha. That's not usually found in your basic kindergarten curriculum. How in the blazes am I supposed to find anything for kids about the science of Jet Fighters?

Well, thank goodness for the internet.

I was actually able to find a few resources, and I thought I'd round 'em up here in case there are any other kids who want to learn about this stuff, either for school or for fun. There's enough information here for about a week or so.

A YouTube Video tour of the cockpit of a CF-18 Hornet

This is actually an article about jet fighters of the future, but since it is still science and jets, I found it germane to the conversation.

How F-15s work. This is actually written for a much older audience, but my 5 1/2 year old enjoyed the pictures. We were able to lightly skim the text for bits of encyclopedic information that he found very interesting.

Wikipedia article on fighter aircraft with lots of pictures.

Nasa's animated gif on how jet engines work.

This book: Modern Fighter Planes To Color, Cut out, And Fly. The models here are pretty complicated, but my kid was able to figure it out with a tiny bit of help.

I imagine this reveals a lot about my approach to teaching. My kids really hate stuff that is dumbed down to be "just for kids." They know they are being talked down to, and refuse to tolerate it. Kindergarten-level songs and dances just don't have enough detail for them, so I give them more. I know they won't retain everything that I throw at them, but they retain just enough for it to be worth the effort. And it's also more fun.

If I were one of those cool "everything homeschooling" sites, I would include a cute little graphic here or at least a picture of the model of an F-16 that the Squeaker put together. But I'm not one of those cutsie kind of websites, so I won't. If you want the information, here it is, but I'm not trying to impress anyone here on my little private blog.


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