The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Today I was stupid enough to read the newspaper. I think I am going to be depressed for awhile now.

The the caption was, “Executed teenager’s conviction thrown out- 70 years later.” My first act of stupidity was to read anything about executions. But I read the whole article. A fourteen-year-old boy, George Stinney, was arrested for murdering two little girls. He was black; they were white. After a one-day trial George was was pronounced guilty and sentenced to death by electric chair. When he was executed, the straps to the chair didn’t even fit his arms.

George was innocent.

George was a little boy the same age as my sister Sif. Sif is a beautiful, imaginative, compassionate person. She is fairly shy at the moment, but soon everyone will know of what a genius she is. I have no doubt that she will change this world for the better.

George had barely started life. He was held in utter contempt because of his skin color. According to the American “justice” system, his life wasn’t worth being lived. The decision was made in cold blood and with the approval of the national government.

This happened in 1944 when America and the other free countries of the world were fighting against the oppression of Hitler. Hitler held Jews in such contempt that he was mass murdering them. It was senseless. All of these people, guilty of being alive, were dehumanized to such an extent that killing them seemed like nothing more than weeding out an invasive species of weeds.

Why must human beings hold other people’s lives in contempt? Every nation and time period has had a hated group. In Ancient Rome female babies were regularly left to die of exposure because their parents only felt that boys were worth their love and time. Who cares if another woman dies? The Ancient Romans were not the only ones who held and hold this attitude.

Slaves’ lives have always been considered valueless as well. They are humiliated and stolen from: their families, freedom, identity. And if they die, it is only a temporary, monetary loss. More worthless people can easily take their place.

As the human race, why do we hate? Why do we decide whose lives are valuable and whose are not? This brings up an even worst question, does anyone’s life have value?

At the moment I almost don’t think so. We are a race of hate and blood and backbiting. What point is the little good we accomplish during our short lives?

Besides hate, there is another similarity every human shares: we have all asked the question and look for the answer. As The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says, it is “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” We either seek the answer for why the world is wrong or we look for distraction from the question. I have to believe there is an answer to the question. Because why do people keep going on? Why do parents do everything they can for their children to live to adulthood? Why are there justice systems that attempt to keep innocents unharmed? I think it is because we all have the hope that there is answer to our question.

I am Christian. Because of this I think I have at least part of the answer to the question (I am pretty sure it is not, in fact, 42). I believe that God loves all the people of the world and doesn’t just want them to survive. He wants them to truly live. The world we are supposed to be in has no hate and death. Doesn’t everyone feel that? We don’t belong here. We know that injustices are not supposed to exist. Maybe that is why people continue to survive; because they want to make the world be the way it is supposed to be, even as they hate and backbite and kill.

Perhaps I’m unrealistic. Maybe there is no answer to the question. Maybe the best way to live is by being distracted until we finally die. I don’t believe that. God help me, I am going to drive out hate with love until we are in the world we were made to live in, even if no one else cares to do the same.

But I doubt that I will be alone.

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And I Thought I Was Clever…

I have yet to actually solve a mystery. I have read every single Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and I didn’t figure out any of them. In my defense Homes keeps most of the clues to himself so the reader doesn’t really have a chance.

[Note: When I say that I have never actually solved a mystery, I don’t mean that I have not figured out who committed the various crimes. I usually just find who the author seems to be trying to paint as innocent so that the reader is surprised at the end. I look at the writer’s style and structure; I don’t pay too much attention to the actual clues. End note]

Agatha Christie is another matter completely.

A couple of years ago I felt like all that my friends ever read were Agatha Christie novels. Everyone seemed to agree that And Then There Were None was the best. So of course I read it. It is a marvelous book with or without the mystery. I love Christie’s descriptions of people and how she so slowly reveals all their dirty little secrets. I did not try to solve this story because I was more interested in everything else.

I got more Agatha Christie at the library vowing that I would read them like true mysteries and solve them before the book ended.

And then Agatha Christie completely betrayed me.

I was reading a collection of her short stories and almost all of them had a supernatural element. They were… unsolvable. That is not fair! If you bring ghosts and such into the equation, that means anything goes. With this in mind I could solve any mystery at all by saying, “Aha! He was possessed by something-or-other and that’s what made him do it. He didn’t have to have a motive. Case solved!” “It was the ghost! No need to arrest anyone. Everyone just hope for the best because justice can’t be served”

I was very done with Agatha Christie. Not until today have I read another book by her, and I think it was very good for me.

I picked up The Mysterious Affair at Styles which is the first book in which Hercule Poirot appears. I will admit that it was odd circumstances that caused me to try Agatha Christie out again. (I watched Doctor Who. Something about a wasp and a unicorn. Bizarre, but strangely marvelous.) I read it assuming that I could figure Christie out just like I had figured out all the other juvenile mystery writers. For a long time she lead me along thinking that I had caught the criminal by about halfway through the book. A snobby voice in my head said, “Ha! The Queen of Mystery? What nonsense! I guess I’m just too smart for yet another author.”

I was very, very wrong.

I have not felt so legitimately stupid in a long time. Usually I have a good excuse to make me feel better. There was no excuse. I was just as oblivious as the dense sidekick. All of the clues were right there, but I didn’t get them. Agatha Christie was so clever that I did not suspect her of being clever.

This is why it was probably good for me that I read this book. I was in danger of becoming an arrogant big-head. Thank you, Agatha, for pointing that out to me. At least it was really fun on the way to feeling stupid. In fact I read that book faster than any I have read in a long time. I think I’ll read another Agatha Christie.

I bet I could solve it this time.

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Super Nanny

I am an old-fashioned nanny. I would like to say that I am a magical, charming nanny who has righted all the wrongs in my chosen house, but I’m afraid that is certainly not the case. Most of the time I am half awake when I show up at the door and my young charges have  most of the ideas. Sadly,  my imagination runs dry when it comes to thinking of games for a three- and one-year-old.

Technically there are four children. I don’t watch the two oldest boys as much. They are home schooled by their mom while I watch Reed and S.C. Reed is three and he asks “why?” all the time. I have heard of people complaining about how children ask “why?”. Not until I met Reed did I realize how horrible the question “why?” is.

I say, “Do you want to go on a walk?” and he says, “Why?”

I say, “It’s time for lunch,” and he says “Why?”

I say, “You are not allowed to say ‘why’ anymore,” and he says “Why?”

I love him anyway.  We both share a love of Superman and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

S.C. is an adorable little girl. Apparently, I am the only person outside of the family who she will tolerate without crying. She is one year old and doesn’t talk. That’s why no knows why she has decided to tolerate me.

They both taught me something this Halloween. Something that now almost seems obvious: Superman would make a better nanny than Mary Poppins.

The day before Halloween I came to babysit in my Superman shirt. I am very fond of this shirt. I bought it in the men’s section, and I have discovered that men’s shirts are better made than women’s. Once a little boy confronted me at the park about me wearing a boy’s shirt. We ended up having a rousing discussion about truth, justice, and the American way. Reed and I haven’t had that discussion yet because we can’t get over why we like Superman.

That day I took Reed and S.C. too the library. I made friends with three different little boys who immediately trusted me. They told me their names, about their families, who their favorite superheroes are, and how much money their parents make. There was a feeling of community and understanding in the library that day. Nothing could possibly go wrong, Superman was there.

Because men’s shirts are so well made, Reed and I do more wrestling when I’m Superman. We build more forts and run more races. I do fun stuff.

The next day, which was actually Halloween, I dressed up as Mary Poppins. I came with a carpet bag full of books, a scarf, an umbrella, a long skirt, and a hat with flowers. Their mom was thrilled by my costume. Reed liked the umbrella and S.C. liked the hat. After they were tired of those, I had to figure out what we could play while I was wearing a skirt and a white blouse. Their grandma came over to relieve me of duty, and she was very excited by my outfit.

That night I walked around in high heels, holding an umbrella while were trick-or-treating. Not many children recognized me, but plenty of adults did. They commented on my hat and carpet bag and quoted the movie and smiled in recognition.

The third thing I learned during Halloween is that high heels are the worst invention ever. I could see my breath in the air, but I still decided that going barefoot was better than wearing those shoes. After that, most people just commented on my lack of shoes.

Mary Poppins is a fascinating character. Everyone likes her in the Disney movie, but she is almost nothing like that in the books. I have one friend who does not like Mary Poppins now that she has read the books. I think Mary Poppins is for adults, not for children. (I admit that I kind of sort of got this idea from Saving Mr. Banks.) Mary Poppins isn’t really an adult no matter what she does to convince us of it. Mary is a selfish child who gets away with it. She is like a reverse Peter Pan. She never grew up but she tells all of us she has. We believe her because she is so cross and proper and rude she has to be a grown-up. But I know quite a few children who are just as crotchety as Mary Poppins. Mary lives the life I think most of us wish we could live: she is a mean know-it-all, but everyone still loves her.

Mary is the friend of adults, Superman the friend of kids. I love them both, but I would rather be Superman.

Only someone as magical as Mary Poppins can wear heals all the time.

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Hulk Smash

I am taking a writing class at the community college. My only paper has been about karate.

That’s my life in a nut-shell.

It is very strange; I have been telling people that I am going through a mid-life crisis, but that’s impossible because I’m only seventeen. (At least I hope it’s impossible. Maybe I’m only going to live to be thirty-four and this really is a mid-life crisis.) This crisis has given me a drastic personality switch. I don’t like school. My room is a mess. I drink more coffee than is good for me. I’m no longer a morning person. I find being mean fun. I am not interested in my future. I like to read comic books.

The one thing I still really enjoy is karate. I am at the dojo every single day, even if I go there just to watch everyone else do what I love. I have fallen asleep twice at the dojo. The first time I was curled up like a cat in a saucer chair during an entire 45 minute class. I had just gotten done with my own class and should have felt energized. But no, my evil Dr. Jekyll side took over and I sacrificed all of my dignity for a nap. The second time was in full view of the front door and windows to the sidewalk outside. It was on the rickety bamboo bench that has been fixed by duct tape. I guess that it is now normal for me to sleep wherever I want to.

I don’t like learning about anything except karate and superheroes. The superhero thing is completely unprecedented. (Notice how many E’s that word has. I must remember that next time I play hangman.) One of the main reasons I haven’t liked superheroes is because of how incredibly sexist they are. Why do women have to be sex objects in order to save the world? It is sickening, and it makes me so mad that I have given many a rant about it. Anyway I like Superman. He’s awesome, and I saw the original Superman with Christopher Reeve which I enjoyed more than all of my sisters combined. (Even though they had some ridiculous sexist parts that made me as angry as The Hulk.) And then I started liking Wonder Woman after I saw this:

She's epic

She’s epic

This was drawn by Michael Lee Lunsford. I love it. This is a superhero who is not wearing her underwear and being weak. She looks like she could actually do some damage.

In my quest for some more epic female superheroes, I found She-Hulk. I love that she is gigantic green woman. She is strong and she could crush you. But to me, the most disturbing part is the lack of clothing she generally wears. Why, She-Hulk, why? You are an intelligent woman. A lawyer for crying out loud!  Why aren’t you more self-respecting? You could be green and beautiful in a totally non-sexual way. I’m going to try and get Sherlock to make an epic picture of her and then I might post it.

Wow. Now that I’ve gotten to the end of this post, I don’t even know what it’s about. I’m just surprised at how much I changed in a couple of months. I am an angry, unmotivated, irresponsible person.

But that could just be my secret identity.

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The Sameness

My mom read The Giver by Lois Lowry aloud to my sisters and me before we saw the movie last weekend. It was the second time Sherlock and I had read the story and the first for everyone else.

Something that stuck out to me this time was the “Sameness.” All of the people in the world of The Giver had decided to make everything the Same in order to eliminate problems. They had no colors, no real families, and rules for Sameness that all the children memorized in school. It sounds extreme, but don’t people naturally make their own Sameness in our current world?

Most people run in circles with others of the same race, economical class, or value systems. We have our own “rules” for what is normal and what is not. These are generally about etiquette and style. If the rules are broken, you are punished by being labeled “weird.”

People feed off Sameness and are quite willing to conform in order to keep the Sameness. Often I see groups of friends dressed in almost the exact same way as each other. Even “weird” people by others’ standards hang out together. There used to be hipsters; now hipsters are mainstream.

The fight against Sameness is a well known theme in movies, books, and all other stories. While we seem to have a need for Sameness, we have a desire to be unique. It is a very, very strange mix of traits.

What are we to do? With no Sameness, there is disorder. With Sameness life is boring and stressful and sometimes downright dangerous. (Read The Giver.) There is natural good Sameness among all of the human race. It can be beautiful how people, who should have nothing in common, can connect around the world. And yet, we are more than just-like-everyone-else.

I would almost like to ask what other people think about this, but I have a dilemma. If a lot of people agree with my thoughts, I will be caught up in Sameness. If no one likes what I say, I will be disappointed that I’m the only one who thinks like I do.

Being human is a curious thing.

 

 

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My Novel Ideas

When I was between the ages of twelve and thirteen, I had completely decided that I was going to be a novelist. I loved reading novels, right? So writing them is like reading them, only backwards…. right? I had never even finished writing a short story before. To solve that problem, I got just about every book from the library about writing.

I tried to follow all of the advice from these books at once. For example, I wrote outlines for stories. That literally sucked every bit of fun out of writing. One book suggested using as few words as possible to get your point across. I tried to do that when writing a poem. That poem had zero rhythm or anything else that makes a group of words into a poem. (I like being wordy anyway). Somewhere else I read that you should try to write with others. Almost nothing destroys productivity like working with others does.

Since then I have stopped trying to follow rules and to instead simply try to write. Despite that, I have found several quite excellent books about writing that are great inspiration. Not a single one recommends writing outlines.

The first of these books is Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. I didn’t know who either of those people were; it was just the next book on the shelf. The book is all about writing, but it is also just fun to read. The authors give pointers on every area of writing. At the moment I can’t remember why I liked this book so much even though I have read it at least twice. I guess it’s time for another reread.

Unlike Spilling Ink, I got Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly because of the author, Gail Carson Levine. Gail Carson Levine is best known for her book Ella Enchanted, even though I like The Two Princesses of Bamarre better. My friends and I went through a phase when we were really into princess books. Anything by Levine or Shannon Hale we read. Writing Magic is excellent because it uses examples from her own books as well as tons of others. One thing that she emphasized was always saving your writing. She claims that once you hit teenagerhood, you won’t remember childhood when you are an adult. The only way to remember what you were like is if you save all of your writing. I don’t know if I believe her, but I have still gotten into the habit of saving everything. I might want something later even if I think it is terrible now. That’s why I have way to many “unfinished drafts” for this blog, and I’m so annoyed that that I lost the post that was meant to be published last Thursday.

I like No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty because it reminded me that writing is fun and only insane people attempt to do it. This book is about people who kill themselves while writing a 50,000-word book in a month. I have told my dad about it several times because his reaction is always the same, “30 days? No way. Did you read that right?” Then he asks why you can’t just spread it over a longer period of time so it’s not so painful. Then he seems to almost decide that he’s going to do it. Chris Baty was the person to start NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I haven’t done it yet, but I’m planning on doing it some day…

The last book I like for the writing inspiration isn’t a writing handbook at all. It’s The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy by Leonard S. Marcus. It is a collection of interviews with authors such as Brian Jacques, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle, Jane Yolen, and many more. At the end of each interview the authors give advise to anyone who would also like to be a writer. Because of this book I have unforgiving grudges about authors that I have never read because they did not properly appreciate Lord of the Rings.

This summer I have been rereading favorite childhood books which is reminding me of old childhood dreams. Maybe I will finally reach my goal of finish a short story. After that, I’m sure to write a world famous novel.

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The 13th Birthday is the Best

I have never been much of a movie person, but movies based off of books are even worse. They may be good movies, but they are ruined for everyone who knows that the book is much better. I once tried to watch To Kill a Mockingbird, but I never finished it. It wasn’t because I thought it was bad, it was just much lower than my expectations. The Help movie fell a little short of The Help book. While I liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was younger, I now find more pleasure by poking fun at the Narnia movies than actually watching them.

That is why The Lord of the Rings movies are so incredible.

There is a certain amount of ceremony to The Lord of the Rings in my house. First of all, you cannot read the books until you are thirteen years old. You cannot watch the movies until you have read all the books. Then it is a bit of a family affair the first time one of us watches the movies. Everyone has been looking forward to this moment for about a month while the new thirteen-year-old is discovering Middle Earth. We have long discussions about the books where we laugh or moan about old quotes and scenes we have forgotten about. We  throw red herrings into our conversations to keep the person on her/his toes. I have remarked about how so-and-so dies even though they live to the end of the book. I have perpetuated false alarms. I do this because in our excited conversations, at least a few spoilers get dropped, so we have to make something up that is outlandish so that the reader won’t believe anything we say and will continue to read the books with great expectation.

Once we finally get to watch the movies we have to constantly be shushing one another. You may mock Legolas, Arwen, and Frodo, but keep it to a minimum. You may say some of the best lines with characters, but not entire dialogues. You may gasp, scream, etc., but only when it isn’t drowning out what anyone is saying. This is all to make sure that the person watching the movies for the first time gets to fully enjoy it and compare it to the books. That is always so much fun, but the really fun time is when we watch it for the second time.

Sif turned thirteen last October. Sherlock and I strove valiantly not to interject comments and for the most part succeeded. Sif (NOT me or Sherlock) started screaming instructions at the characters without realizing it. She said things like, “No Frodo! Sam’s your friend, not Gollum!” She still claims that she does not remember doing this. (Which means she was watching them the proper way: getting completely lost in the story.) Now we are watching the movies again in 30-minutes-a-night segments.

All of the teenagers and adults in my family have at least one thing in common with each other: their love for The Lord of the Rings. Because of it, we have immediate reference points to knowing how each other thinks. We know what each person’s favorite scenes are. We know that the perfect man for each of us girls would, without a doubt, be exactly like Aragorn. None of us likes eating cherry tomatoes.

I hate this man

We all hate this man

And my dad only has to say one thing to make anything from bacon to tacos be suddenly very unappealing.

meat-is-back-on-the-menu

I don’t consider myself a real fangirl, and I don’t appreciate it when people trivialize LOTR with geekiness. But there is nothing like re-watching three 3-hour-long movies in your own living room on a summer evening. Yes, I laugh too loud. Yes, I still gasp at things I knew were going to happen before hand. Yes, I practically have the entire thing memorized. No, that does not mean I am going to get tired of watching it.

I just love a good book and I love a good movie.

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