Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympics, gold and talking to kids about not winning

There has been a lot of hand-wringing going on in the Australian media (and its commentariat) in the last three days, as the Australian Olympic team has competed in various sports and obtained a lower number of medals that, apparently, it was "supposed" to. The most prominent example of this is the excruciating dissections of the men's 100m freestyle relay, in which Australia was confidently predicted to take the gold medal, and didn't end up with any medal at all (swimming fourth). Plenty of other competitors who haven't met the expectations of the journalists have also come in for critique, though, from the rowers to the basketballers, the beach volleyballers, plenty of swimmers, and even, to a lesser extent (because they weren't really predicted to make the team finals) the gymnasts.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, all this, and I'm doing a lot of talking to the older kids about the ways in which it's problematic. These are new conversations for us. We're not a sporty family - aside from a casual interest in summer cricket we don't generally watch televised sport, and only one of us (my 7 year old, who is a gymnast) participates in any competition sport. (Well, my 9 year old dances, and does do examinations for ballet, but there, one is only competing against oneself).

We've talked about all sorts of things with this - about why people might focus on the negative aspects rather than the positive; about how much work and effort goes into preparing for an elite sporting event; about how good, strong, and skilled all the athletes at this Games are. We've talked about how people can have bad days or bad performances, even when they're really well prepared overall; my 9 year old, who suffers from stage fright with her dancing, remarked feelingly "Nerves can make it all feel wrong, even when you know what to do." We've talked about the great performances given by athletes from other countries, and why there isn't more coverage of their achievements ("I want to see lots of people winning, Mum, not just the Australians!" said the 7 year old).

Drilling deeper, we have also picked over the other lines of critique, around James Magnussen's perceived hubris before his event and alleged sulking after it; around the amount of money spent on preparing this team for the Games; and on the issue of sport as a modern circus, distracting attention from local and global problems that seem so hard and intractable.

I think it's important for the kids to be exposed to these ideas, at an age-appropriate level. I do not subscribe to the idea that "real Australians" can never question anything about the value, costliness or importance of sport; I don't think it makes us unpatriotic to consider whether Olympic triumph is a useful end in itself, worthy of the not-minor spending it attracts. I myself do question whether the amount of money expended is justified, even as I recognise and celebrate the feats of the human body that these Olympians produce. I believe Olympic sport is a form of theatre, but one that has a real psychosocial benefit to offer some individuals and most nations. I have been enjoying taking my girls through the pros and cons and exposing them to different viewpoints on the subject.

My 9 year old, however, came up with a great insight on her own, drawing together these various threads. She wondered aloud whether the negative, almost vitriolic, reaction to the Australian team's medal results to date was, in fact, partially a result of how much money and hype had been invested in it.

"It's like people are saying, We paid for gold medals! Where are our gold medals?" she said.

I then chipped in with, "Yes, I think that's right, hon, but they are forgetting a few things in there, aren't they?"

The 7 year old said, with emphasis: "Yeah, they are forgetting that all the OTHER countries paid a lot of money to train their people too!"

The 9 year old nodded. "And, that it depends what happens on the day. And, even if someone doesn't win a gold medal, it doesn't mean they did terrible, it just means someone else was better. On that day."

The 7 year old went all thoughtful. "I like seeing Australians win," she mused, "but, then, I like watching anyone win. They all look so happy. It's exciting to watch them. I like watching the ones who do really well but don't win, too."

"Winning has to be their goal," I agreed, "but not winning this time doesn't make them a loser, or a disappointment, does it?"

"No, it just makes them not perfect," agreed the 9 year old. "Next time they might do better. They might learn how, from not winning this time."

I think they get it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reading Notes: The Booker Prize Long List project

Stephen Romei wrote in The Australian last Friday that this year's Man Booker Prize long list (the final 12 novels chosen for consideration, out of around 150 submitted to the prize committee) is "not so much a who's who but a who's that?"

Looking at the list, I can see what he means - there aren't many superstar names, and nothing (incidentally) by an Australian. There are 4 books by debut novellists, which I think has got to be a first for the Booker, which tends to celebrate novels that reflect a certain amount of ... craft maturity?

Still, I think it's probably a healthy sign that the committee is selecting on merit alone, really. As Romei points out himself, this is meant to be a premier prize for the best novel of the year, not the best-known author. There is no reason to assume that the best set of books have been produced by the elder statespeople or rockstars of the literary field.

So, this is the list. How many of the books have you heard of / read? How many of the writers?
- The Yips by Nicola Barker
- The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
- Philida by Andre Brink
- The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
- Skios by Michael Frayn
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
- Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
- Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
- The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
- Umbrella, by Will Self
- Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil;
- Communion Town by Sam Thompson.

(Joyce, Moore, Thayil and Thompson are the debut novelists.)

I usually try to read at least some of the long list books each year. That's how I discovered books like Emma Donoghue's Room, after all; it encourages me to get out of my comfort zone a bit and read things I might otherwise never stumble across.

This year, because reading in bed of a night is the key remaining leisure activity I am affording myself while working lots of hours, I have decided to try (try being the operative word!) to read all 12 books before the prize winner is announced on 16 October. As I have not yet read even one, this is a fair challenge, so we'll see; but I want to give it a go.

I'm going to start with something I know I'll like - Andre Brink's Philida - and one of the new authors - Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I have loved Andre Brink's work forever - one day I'll write one of my writer-fangirl panegyrics to him - and I am confident Philida will be a treat for me. I'm quite intrigued by the precis of Joyce's book, so let's see how that goes.

I plan to review them in pairs - Brink and Joyce first, followed, I think, by Deborah Levy's Swimming Home and Sam Thompson's Communion Town. My pairings will be totally arbitrary, naturally, just based on whim. I'm also going to give a personal guess as to whether the book will make the September 11 shortlist. (This part will be dicey, as I will not have read all 12 by September 11, but I'll give it a whirl anyway).

Could be fun! I hope so, anyway.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Things the kids are enjoying at the moment

I have three children, aged 3, 7 and 9. Being at different stages, they all enjoy different things, but there are a few commonalities that are drawing them all together at the moment. I often spend time dwelling on their differences and dissonances; sometimes it's really nice to think about their shared enthusiasms, the things we enjoy together as a family.

They all love Horrible Histories. Oh, how they love them! This started with the eldest's school project to research a famous person in history, and her decision to look at King Henry VIII. I thought she might enjoy the HH song about old Hal; she did, so did her sisters, and one thing led to another, and now they're on constant rotation. They each have their favourites; the eldest loves the Kate Bush-esque Mary I song, the 7 yo likes the Lady GaGa stylings of the Cleopatra song, while the 3yo is completely besotted with the brilliant Addams-family riff, The Borgia Family. (Well, it is fantastic. Just watch and see).

They are all enjoying the Olympics. The older kids are both doing units on it at school and have been learning various factoids in the build-up to the Games, and were very excited to finally arrive at the Opening Ceremony yesterday. The 3yo wasn't too taken with the opening ceremony, except for Mr Bean (loved that bit) and the lighting of the flame (we *all* loved that bit), but she, like her sisters, really enjoyed watching some of the Day 1 highlights this morning, including the Australian gold medal swim in the women's freestyle. Great stuff.

They are all devoted, DEVOTED, to reading and books. This has long been the case for the elder two, of course, but the 3yo has just started sounding out some basic words and is completely obsessed with "weading, I want to wead it, help me do it!!" The big kids are stepping up to this challenge in a major way, sitting with C, reading to and with her, and cheering on her efforts. I love to see this so much.

They are all very interested at the moment in food preparation and cooking. Their interest is, admittedly, taking different forms - the eldest is into the science of cooking, while the 7yo wants to learn techniques, and the 3yo wants to bake ALL THE THINGS. We are in a phase again where I can cook with more than one of them, sometimes even all three, and have it be a happy experience. That's a really lovely thing for me.

It's nice, that they have overlapping interests and tastes, as well as their many individual preferences and passions. Common ground is a wonderful promoter of family harmony, I find.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Things I Know: Lucky

Today I know that I am luckier than I deserve to be.

I know that when your car has been making a funny whiney noise for 10 days and you keep putting off getting it checked because you're too busy, that you are asking for trouble with a capital T.

I know that my car could've broken down at any time - on the top of Mt Hotham in a blizzard, when the noise first started, or on the way to a business meeting on the freeway, or while racing back to get my kids from school and creche.

I know that I am every kind of lucky that, instead, it had its fit 2 blocks from home last night, and I was able to coax it into my driveway safely, all kids with me.

I know that it's unbelievably good timing that my husband has a scheduled day off today, so is available to help with the car-wrangling.

I know that kind friends who loan us a second car for the day make life so much easier, and that I'm very grateful to them indeed.

I know that having a good mechanic who fits us in at the drop of a hat is an unparalleled blessing.

I know that, when you're bracing for the worst news (ie "your car needs a new engine"), getting a phone call at 10am to say that all that's wrong is a snapped fan belt and a wonky pulley, and the whole boiling is only going to cost $500 to fix, you do a happy dance across the floor.

I know that we are lucky that this has happened while I'm working, so we can afford to pay that $500 without going into debt to do so.

I know that we are lucky to have a car, and a community, and, obviously, a guardian angel on our side :-)

I'm playing along with the Things I Know meme over at Dorothy's today. Check out the post there for lots of interesting things people know!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Scrap the plan

I had a great plan for today. It's C's long day at creche and the big girls have after school care; husband wanted the family car, so had offered to do drop-off and pick-up, which left me an empty house from 8:30am til 5:45pm. (That's just over 9 hours, which is unheard of in the extreme). I have truckloads of work to do on two different projects - my big one and a new, smaller one - so the day was going to run like this:

8:30 Family leaves; I do breakfast dishes & boil the kettle.
8:45 I commence work. I work consistently and productively, without interruptions.
11:00 I take a 15-minute break to blog.
11:15 I work again. Go me! Look at all the work I am getting done, in my head!
1:00 I take a well-deserved hour off for lunch, laundry folding and to read a book
2:00 Working again. I am a powerhouse, I am.
4:00 Half hour break to prepare dinner and get it in the oven.
4:30 Finish off the beautifully written and massive work items I've accomplished.
5:45 Stop working when family comes home and enjoy a pleasant, relaxed dinner.

Sounds brilliant, yes?

Here's how today has *actually* gone done, as at 11am.

8:15 3yo is protesting about being taken to creche by Daddy instead of Mummy. I make a snap decision to come along in the car and walk her in. I figure I can walk home easily enough from school (it's only 1km away) and start work at 9:15 instead, which isn't tragic.

8:45 Creche run done, I am walking into school gates with elder two when 7yo spots her friend, all dressed up, and wails, "Mum, it's 100 Day! You forgooooooot!" Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

8:50 "Don't worry", I say to 7yo. "I can fix this." I turn on my heel and jog the 1km home, pausing once to suck down some Ventolin. Home in 11 minutes, I grab some stickers, some dried pasta shells, and head back to school. The return trip takes slightly longer as I'm a bit winded.

9:20 I arrive at school and pelt to the assembly area, extract E from her class (which, thank heavens, hasn't yet had their turn at parading) and wildly apply 100 stickers to her jacket and pants, and hand her the pasta box. She is smiling so I think I may be out of the poo.

9:55 The parade has dragged on, and on, and ON, but finally it's finished. I take a photo of E with my phone and walk home more sedately.

10:20 I arrive home to find an urgent family message on my home answering machine. Returning that call eats up 30 minutes.

10:50 I turn on the computer, but it won't boot.

11:00 It has booted on the fifth try.

11:05 I feel the need to log this before I start working, so here I am!

So much for my luxurious 9 hours of work time ... I'm going to have to do what I can with 7 hours instead, and probably do a little more once the kids are in bed tonight. But at the end of the day, I couldn't have let E be disappointed; I'm not about to let work start to be the top priority, when I'm primarily doing it so I can make our family life more comfortable (and keep myself skilled up enough to be employable, too). I'll get the work done, but this morning, making C comfortable and fulfilling my commitment to E was more important.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Working music #4: Homegrown

Working music this week has been pretty exclusively Australian, and from my teens / university days. It must be all this revisiting the places, preoccupations and themes of my 20s thing, that I'm doing, both as part of my current project and in trying to write a 20-year-old character in my current WIP :-)

The project is in the middle stage, which always feels overwhelming and exhausting. So this song helps:

As for this one: one of the best songs ever. How many farewells to people going overseas for a few years did this one get played at? Answer: A squillion, at least.

Crowded House will always, always have an unshakeable place in my affections. This song is so beautiful, it makes me smile every time.

Of course, the great man himself, Paul Kelly, had to feature:

Twice, in fact.

And OK, it's late 90s and not really the same sort of song, but I like this one. It reminds me of my honeymoon. Really. (It was constant loop on the US radio station we listened to on an 2-day drive through the snow from Niagara Falls to Philadelphia).

I might try to internationalise a bit next week, we'll see!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The evil that men do lives after them (A poem)

the house smells of sour and burn.
the sweetish pungency of sweat and shoes, overripe apples in a bowl
the unmistakeable tuna acid of long-left cat food
the top notes, cigarettes and an overcooked cake

Oh, she says tiredly, stubbing her butt into an empty coffee cup, watching the flecks of tobacco float in the creamy dregs
yeah, the cake got burned. I was making it for you. But I forgot, after.

the kids, coming in wary and so full of need, are eyeing her, judging whether to whisper or shout.
she tries to smile for them, but the muscles of her jaw slip sideways somehow
leaving only a ghost of ease behind.

I say, don't worry about the cake, I'm worried about you, you don't look good
I know I shouldn't say it, hon, but it's true
can't I help? can't I?

and she, starting to shake
the fresh bruises she gave herself in the flailing today showing greenish on her arms
says, nah,
no-one can help me. no-one can.
whenever I hafta feel something strong, I hafta go through it again

and again


and now we're not talking about her dying mother anymore
(tragedy deep and wide enough, for most)
and the sea is ink with the filaments of the poison that stunned her
still scars her
every day

And I send my kids and hers to play in the yard
make her more coffee, start the dinner
and try to hold myself steady, so she's free to not be

and the radio says, don't do it if it hurts inside

Huh. That's a joke, she says,
It all hurts, even the love
even that.

I touch her hand lightly, lightly
and slice green beans. nothing else to do.
she told me once that she'd walk on razorblades for her kids
and I think she does, most days
just to stay,
just that.

And I know she won't live here, in this house, this town, long. She can't. And maybe
when she goes, I will not see her again, won't ever know
how she armed herself to fight the daily fight, if she found kindness in strangers
or if she didn't.

Then the kids are clamouring for icypoles, and with infinite weariness
she drags out the mask again
and puts it on.

- Kathy, 20/7/2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reading Notes: Why I am not a Potter fan

(This post is part of the Once a Month Book Club link up over at A Permanent Flux. This month's theme is Harry Potter - "anything so long as it's Potterific".)

This month's theme in the Once a Month Book Club is Harry Potter, and I almost decided not to play. What could I, honestly, write that would meet the commandment that it be "Potterific"? I was stumped, and here is why:

I didn't really like the Harry Potter books all that much. I don't own them, have only read the first four to the end and half of book 5, and have only seen the first movie, and I don't remember much of it, to be honest.

Before you start telling me how wonderful Potter is, how seriously deluded I must be, let me tell you - I *tried* to love these books. I tried really hard. I quite enjoyed the first two books, actually; I thought the idea was a clever and vibrant riff on two of the great tropes of children's fiction, the school story and the magic story. I liked Harry and his friends. I thought the first book in particular had quite a Roald Dahl-ish feel about it, that sense of a resilient child's-eye view of magic and menace, humour and really grisly adult behaviour, that makes Dahl so everlastingly appealing to kids.

I have tried to pin down what it was about the Potter books that ended up feeling so blah to me. It wasn't easy, because these are not badly written books - Rowling is a better than competent writer with an engaging turn of phrase and a real gift for characterisation. I don't do well with prose that is turgid, flat, over-written or excessively descriptive (less telling! more showing and doing!) but I can't honestly say the Potter books are guilty of these sins. In the first two books in particular, the stories zip along, the dialogue is really well written, and the characters emerge (slowly, but it is kid's fiction - you're not going to get Madame Bovary style intricacy, and nor should you).

So if the books aren't badly written, what is my problem with them exactly?

I know it's not just a contrarian reaction to their popularity; I love the Hunger Games books passionately, for instance, and they are extremely popular. I consider popularity to be neither a recommendation nor a disincentive - some really great books are widely read and some really rubbish books are. It's not a useful filter, overall.

I don't think it's the school-story focus, although I'm willing to admit that may be part of it. With the short-lived exception of a 9-month crush on the Chalet School books when I was about 10, I never really took to school stories in a big way; as an older child and young teen, I was mostly reading sci fi, fantasy and crime fiction. Stories set in boarding schools didn't hugely appeal to me, and maybe they still don't.

I think, really, it's probably down to three things:

1. These books very quickly (in my opinion) started to suffer from the Too Many Characters and Too Many Sub-plots traps. As a reader, I can maintain interest in and connection to three, maybe four, main characters, with a suitably rich, but backgrounded, supporting cast. The more people I'm supposed to care about, the more side-stories I have to track, the harder I have to work, and the better the overall story has to be to justify it. I don't begrudge the effort when it's Tolkien, but Rowling, I would contend, is no Tolkien.

2. I really felt that the fourth book (which is noticeably fatter than its predecessors) showed a lighter editorial touch, and not to the book's benefit. Without having the slightest basis for this suspicion, I wondered if perhaps Rowling's increasing fame by that stage made her less vulnerable to editing. Whether that's so or not, I thought the fourth book was bloated, and it didn't inspire me to plunge ahead with any great enthusiasm.

3. I got tired of the master plot. This is what I call the X-files trap - collapsing under the weight of the expectations you've created, that nothing could ever really fulfill. It gets to the point that even if you Break All The Things, Reveal All the Shockingly Shocking Secret Businesses and Kill A Large Number of Sympathetic Characters Just to Show You Mean It, it's not enough. I understand that the final book did a bit of that, no doubt in an emotionally resonant way for those who had engaged fully with the characters and the story (ie not me).

Anyway, for better or worse, that's probably why I'm not a big Potter fan. There are certainly an ocean of worse books, I'm not claiming otherwise, but for me, these didn't ring my bell, and I can live with that.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Selections: The snow

We just got back an hour ago from a long weekend at the snow with the kids - their first time ever! It was great fun and completely exhausting, not to mention a little hair-raising, as we drove through a blizzard on the top of Mt Hotham and waited out a whiteout on the way down.

There was, naturally, the eating of snow:
much tobogganing:
and walking up snowy slopes.
My husband G looked like a bank robber
while I looked like the Michelin Man.
The road was lost in snow
and the bush was lovely, sugared with fresh fall.
And now, back in Melbourne, the winter sun is shining.

Kim at frogpondsrock usually runs Sunday Selections each week, a photography meme for people to show off shots that might otherwise never see the light of day. The meme is on hiatus officially, but it was too good an opportunity to miss for these winter shots :-)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Change of scheduling for essay on language critiquing "mummyblogging"

So last Wednesday I posted, in a flurry of enthusiasm, that I was working on an essay about the ways in which "mummyblogging" was being described / attacked / dismissed / minimised, and how this was eerily reminiscent of attacks on other women who speak over time. I was all fired up, and I have indeed been working on it, but:

- it's turning into a long and complicated research project, and I need more time and space to do it justice;
- school holidays;
- work busyness; and
- I have been seriously side-tracked by a new story I've started writing, the main protagonist of which arrived in my head one morning and has refused to be dislodged thus far.

The essay is still coming, but I think it'll be a couple of weeks before it's ready. I'm OK with that, and I hope it will be OK by you too.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Working Music #3: Fuel to the process

Another busy week with work and school holidays, and another set of tunes :-) As of 5pm yesterday, when I sent another bunch of documents off, I am on a break from the project until the kids go back to school on Monday 16th, which will be *so welcome*.

This week, thinking about friends and tweeps who are off to BlogHer in New York, I played my favourite ever song about that amazing city:

I was also chilling out a little with this one:

A little bit of an anthem, this one:

What a debut single this one was:

The Good Son, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' early album, has been on rotation, including this beautiful, beautiful song. My husband, who has a great voice, sung this song to me on our third date, at which point I was hooked :-)

So that's a wrap from me for a bit. I've got a book review post almost ready which will go up later in the week, but other than that, I'll be light-on for blogging until school and work resume. I'm trying to be as switched-off as possible so I can be switched on with the kids. Have a great one, all!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"All this has happened before and will happen again"*: Backlash, personal blogging and keeping women in their place, Part 1

So both the blogosphere and old media have been a bit preoccupied lately with the "phenomenon" rather cringeworthily labelled "The Rise of the Mummybloggers". Aside from sounding vaguely like a C-grade zombie movie, this phrase has all sorts of problematic notions embedded in it, and here's the thing:

None of them, not one of them, is new.

I am an historian by education, and, watching this conversation unfold, I was struck by how very familiar it all sounded. It may not come as a big surprise to anyone (or maybe it will, I don't know), but the deploying of loaded language to shame, silence and reduce the impact of female voices is a common and continuously repeated trick throughout much of recorded history. When women speak in ways that are uncomfortable, or just unfamiliar or unfathomable, to those in positions of inherent or explicit authority, they are shut down. Or, at least, that's what is attempted, although usually without complete success, because not everyone will be silenced, no matter what tactics are deployed. As the Indigo Girls put it, "You can't keep a spirit down that wants to get up again..."

Lots of people have written directly responsive blog posts on this topic, making fun of the debate (often hilariously), unpicking specific complaints about personal blogging and its growth, and defending the right to write. I thought I'd do something a little bit different here; I'm going to look at some of the language that's been used to describe and attack "mummyblogging", and some of the criticisms levelled at it, and compare it to the tactics, language and criticisms levelled at other "women who speak and are not silenced" over time. I also want to look at the nexus between language belittling maternal voices and the kinds of imagery at play in the new-again reproductive rights debates currently raging in the US, of which only whispers have yet reached the Australian political landscape.

What's the point of all this, you might say? After all, no one is actually *preventing* women who are mothers from blogging, or speaking, right? People can have negative opinions without it infringing on the right to speech, yes?

Yes - but I think there is a real value in understanding the ubiquity of a particular kind of criticism that is levelled at women who speak and are heard, and, worse yet, are perceived as having some influence or power. It's a dragging down because of femaleness, a devaluing because of maternity (or its absence, it works both ways), a tapping into a set of unspoken but powerful cultural assumptions about the worth and value of women's words. It hurts debate and its hurts women, because its fangs bite deep into the cultural bedrock we're all brought up on, knowing or not.

This is going to be an essay, in 4 parts. It's been researched, and it will be - quel horreur - footnoted. It's not everyone's cup of tea, I will not blame any of you who tag it TOO LONG DID NOT READ right out of the box. But if you have the patience to stick with me, I hope that these comparisons might really highlight how not-new this kind of denigration really is, and, in doing so, help to shake this dust off our feet.

Because, after all, if personal blogging by women is being catcalled so predictably, there must be something frightening in it after all, some sly potential, some underground power, in these words we write about food and books and play and children and the world and ourselves and our hearts and our bodies and places and tragedies and laughter and souls.

Part 2: Calling out mummybloggers: The maternity card will be posted on Saturday.

(*title quote from Battlestar Galatica: Razor. Cos I am all about the pop culture while interrogating tropes of cultural silencing, yo.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Modernising classics: Is it ever a good idea?

I saw a link to this article on Twitter just a few days after posting my Once a Month Book Club review / panegyric of Anne of Green Gables. It's an announcement that a Toronto media company is planning an Anne of Green Gables reboot, a modernisation for television that will aim to appeal to the YA market as much as to existing fans.

My reaction was instant suspicion, and a sinking feeling in my gut. Phrases about putting the Anne stories "in a broader, more international context" and talk about "writing in more modern points of view" worry me a bit. Even more, I get twitchy when the producers airily talk about emulating the sensibility of YA runaway successes like the Twilight and Hunger Games books (both of which are utterly dissimilar to Anne, and, I'd venture to say, to each other, in theme, aesthetic, voice and moral universe).

It's not the notion of adaptation for film or TV per se that bothers me. There are good book-to-film and book-to-TV efforts and there are bad ones; there are some notable examples of the visual version of the story being more compelling and better crafted than the original text (as a not-huge-fan of EM Forster, I'd have to put the film version of A Room With a View in this category, for instance; and I liked the film of The English Patient even more than the book, despite the book's highly literary and award-winning status). The existing TV series of the Anne books themselves, made in the 1980s and starring Megan Follows as Anne, are lovely, and my girls and I enjoy them as a complement to the texts.

No, what makes my teeth itch is the idea of modernisation of the story. I can think of one - possibly two - examples of truly successful modernisations of classic stories for film or TV (Sherlock is a cracking example of Doin' It Rite here). Offhand, I can also think of a dozen absolute shockers, dismal efforts that appealed neither to fans of the originals nor the expected cashed-up new generation. This seems especially true of children's classics, actually. Three of the more egregious examples illustrate the point:

Exhibit A: The Dark Is Rising movie
Exhibit B: The Famous Five reboot
Exhibit C: My Friends Tigger and Pooh (Winnie the Pooh reboot)

I think my main issue with modernisations is that unless the writers, producers and actors are extremely clever in the way they address the stories, the core elements that made the stories appealing are lost in the process. Place, values, and voice are not extrinsic elements to stories like the Anne books; the whole savour, the whole beauty of those texts is their infusion with the late-19th century worldview of their author and her powerful evocation of place-in-time. Prince Edward Island is a character (or more than one, actually) in these stories, and Anne's particular moral-ethical lens, indelibly coloured with 19th century values, is the filter through which the stories come alive. "Modernise" that - "internationalise" it - and what's left? Some escapades of overly imaginative children, which, while entertaining enough, lacks the integrated, magical integrity of the books as they stand.

Besides all that, I just think modernising classic stories - which usually means contemporary costumes, dialogue, settings, props, values / assumptions, and maybe inserting gender / diversity balanced characters - is based on a false and rather insulting premise: that people (in this case, kids / young adults) only connect with characters, situations and places that are familiar. Somehow the assumption seems to be that, if the fiction intersects with or purports to offer any view of an actual real-world situation or circumstance (not magical, not fantastic, not cartoonish), then the real-world elements must be rendered comfortable by making them replicas of the world around them. The argument that this means children can relate better to the story or the characters is, I think, entirely and irretrievably misguided.

Sure, children do like stories about people and circumstances they recognise, and such stories, when fresh, novel and well-developed, are great. BUT children are much smarter, more flexible, more capable and more creative than adults give them credit for. They can also deal with LOTS of different reality-scenarios - past eras, different social or cultural contexts, different types of language, different sets of assumptions, different ways of writing (or telling) stories. All that they can deal with - in fact they eat it up. I believe that it begins the process of learning that the world is, and always will be, a multifaceted place, and that the way you live your life is, in fact, not immutable, but changeable over time, place and circumstance.

Taking a classic story and attempting to modernise it usually strips it of the elements that made it great in the first place - elements that were embedded in the language, values, characters and style of the stories. I pretty much believe that redoing a classic is like dissecting a frog (or a joke) - at the end of it you may understand what made it tick, but it's stone cold dead.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Working music #2: This week's tunes

I've done a little better carving out blog time this week - 3 posts, woot! - but Sunday finds me out of time again, so I thought, why not put up a few more working songs. If nothing else, I'm building an on-blog playlist for myself :-)

So this week, I've been listening to this:

I actually didn't like this song so much when it first came out, but man has it grown on me.

Also have been revisiting my teens and giving this one a whirl:

The whole album from which this one is drawn has been hammered. It's helped me clarify my thoughts around some of the issues I've had to write on. (Not for the fainthearted, though).

As has the album from which this - my wedding dance song - came:

And for some world music, it's hard to beat Dead Can Dance:

Soundtrack to my week!