The Education of a Witch

Which could also be titled, “The Education of a Large Segment of the Population Deemed to be ‘Bad'”. Anyway, you should really go and read this short story by Ellen Klages, who had been added to my ‘authors to investigate’ list because this story is just… intelligentheartbreakingrealhonesttrue.

Here’s the comment I posted to Ada Hoffmann’s blog, who initally linked to the story.

Yes, [Lizzy is treated almost entirely as a problem and not a person, and there seems to be no one willing to acknowledge that she’s feeling scared and abandoned,] although there’s almost a touch of understanding when Mrs Dickens goes ‘ah, new baby, of course’. I confess, I hoped at that point that Mrs Dickens would know what was going on and had isolated Lizzy in order to come talk to her about witches being real but that she had to be responsible with her talents etc etc… Mm, been reading too much Pratchett lately, I think. (Not that it is ‘too much’, just that my expectations were clearly set too high).

I feel ridiculously sorry for Lizzy; I love that she’s challenging the dominant narrative; I am annoyed at the parents for their blatant disrespect for that, and depressed because so many adults do exactly that.

I didn’t read the ending as intented murder, though. The narrative says she was angry at Mum and the baby and wotsie, the boy, so she made the boy’s nose bleed. She’s drawing up the fire at the end not to kill anyone (though granted that may be an unintended consequence) but to express her anger, something that no one has been allowing her to do before now.

Kids are not born knowing how to express their emotions. It’s something adults are supposed to teach them as they grow up. Poor Lizzy has no one even ACKNOWLEDGING her emotions, let alone showing her how to appropriately express them – of course she’s going to let them out any way she can.

But for me, this was not the least bit creepy, and was terribly, terribly sad. Horrific, yes, but not in the scary-creepy-horror story sense. Rather in the ‘that is so tragic it is horrifying’ sense.

Heartbreaking. Absolutely heartbreaking. A very intelligent and commanding story.

 

Basically, it boils down to something it’s trendy to call ‘ageism’, which frankly as a term I do not like, simply because a lot of people (willfully) misunderstand it to mean that children should be given free rein. However, this is a misunderstanding caused by a conflation of the two concepts ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’, and a whole lot of nineteenth century notions about the supremacy of the individual versus society, etc and so on. Having equal rights does not entail being allowed to do whatever the hell you like.

Ageism, therefore, is not about treating kids the same as adults, i.e. never telling them what to do, not forcing them to do anything they don’t want to, etc (why? because frankly that’s stupid and unhealthy :P), but rather about giving children equal RESPECT to adults – which, ultimately, is what we actually mean when we talk about ‘equal rights’ anyway. Equal doesn’t mean identical, and there is no way that everyone on the planet ever CAN have identical lives – also, HOW BLAND. Rather, we want everyone to be equally respected, and have access to things based on that respect. Though, dude, clean water and food would be a nice way to begin with the ‘equal means identical’ thing.

Ahem. Sidetracking. My specialty. Ageism, therefore, is a concept that refers to the way that children are discriminated against not in the behavioural sense per se, but in terms of respect for their emotions. People who say ‘Oh, I wish /I/ was a baby again!’ (and with a currently-10-month-old, yes, I’ve heard that several times in the last year) MAKE ME MAD. OH, SO YOU’D LOVE TO BE UNABLE TO MOVE YOURSELF AROUND, TEND TO YOUR OWN BASIC NEEDS, COMMUNICATE ANYTHING BUT THE MOST BASIC OF CONCEPTS (smiling or crying), EXPERIENCE HORRIBLE PAIN THAT IS ALSO TERRIFYING BECAUSE HEY, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS FEELING THAT I HAVE NEVER EVER FELT BEFORE AND WHY DOES IT HURT AND WILL IT EVER STOP AND HOW DO I KNOW I’M NOT DYING? (Also known as stomach upsets and teething). Oh YES, being a baby sounds FREAKING AWESOME. NOT.

And yet, there are people out there to whom I have said almost exactly that (though I promise, with less capitalisation), who still go – eh, they get to sleep all day and don’t have to do anything.

Way to completely dismiss someone else’s humanity, moron. A cow gets to sleep all day and do nothing too. Maybe you’d be better off bovine.

So. If you haven’t yet, go read the story. It’s a beautiful (if fantastic ;)) example of what happens when children’s emotions are dismissed as not real, or not real enough, or simply just not as real as adult feelings. Guys, I REMEMBER being a child. Compared to life now, sure, I had it good; most kids do. But at this time, being a kid is all you know, and pain still hurts. Give the little people* some respect.

 

* And yes, all of this is a large part of the reason why the 10-mth-old has been called Small Person and Small Boy his entire life. I feel awkward calling him a baby, because it’s too close to synonymous with ‘squidgy thoughtless blob’, and he is anything but. He IS a person – just a very small, very inexperienced one.

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Happy = Unrealistic

In response to Michelle’s fabulous post here.

Actually, I reject the notion that endings can be divided into ‘happy’ and ‘more realistic’. This is a topic of frequent debate at work (i.e. in the English faculty), because there are certainly those in the faculty who despite any kind of popular or populist fiction as ‘trashy’, those of use who take a more midline approach, and those of us who would be more than happy to teach Twilight for its literary merit. I am refraining from commenting on that one, because we are all entitled to our own opinions, but suffice to say I am in the midline group.

One of the most interesting characteristics that delineate the approximately two groups (teach only highbrow lit fic, and teach more accessible texts that have equal merit too) is that it more or less ends up being a discussion about teaching sad endings versus teaching happy endings. Many of the classics are quite bleak, and it is entirely possible to get through several years of schooling and not read a single happy ending.

Personally, I protest. WHY are sad, bleak or depressing endings more valuable than happy ones? One argument is that they are ‘more realistic’, but that entirely depends on whose reality you are living. I have ups and downs in my life, as we all do, but honestly, on balance, my endings are happy. I have a great job, a wonderful family, a lovely home… I am privileged and (by global comparison) wealthy. My endings are happy. A bleak book does NOT reflect my reality, not at all.

I’ve talked about this before – why I don’t believe in depressing fiction.

I’m not saying that we should abstain from sad, depressing endings. I’m not saying that endings should be saccharine. Personally, I find the most satisfying endings are the ones that are bittersweet, or the ones that are happy, but where the happy ending was hard-won. No, I’m pretty sure most people don’t have saccharine endings. No, I’m pretty sure that for most of the world, things do not just appear out of the blue to give you a happily ever after. Some people like those books, and that’s great – whether because the books are wish fulfilment, or because for a small minority they really truly do reflect their reality, it doesn’t matter. Some people like sad, bleak and depressing endings too, and while I’m pretty sure that’s not wish fulfilment, and I acknowledge that it’s the reality for a much larger percentage of the global population, it’s still not the norm for the average voracious western reader, which, let’s face it, is the target market for a ridiculously high percentage of these books.

Ultimately, I couldn’t care less which kind of ending you prefer. I am free to teach ‘happy books’ in my classes, and my colleagues are free to teach bleak fiction in theirs, and you as a reader are free to prefer whichever the heck kind of books you want to. But please: can we all stop pretending that happy endings are less realistic than bleak ones? Because for the majority of readers, that’s just not true.
Thanks.

What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank…

…is the highly awesome title of a highly awesome book by a highly awesome person, aka Krista Ball, which was just released yesterday. Ish. Time zones confuse me. Anyway, here’s the blurbage:

Equal parts writer’s guide, comedy, and historical cookbook, fantasy author Krista D. Ball takes readers on a journey into the depths of epic fantasy’s obsession with rabbit stew and teaches them how to catch the blasted creatures, how to move armies across enemy territories without anyone starving to death, and what a medieval pantry should look like when your heroine is seducing the hero.
 
Learn how long to cook a salted cow tongue, how best to serve salt fish, what a “brewis” is (hint: it isn’t beer), how an airship captain would make breakfast, how to preserve just about anything, and why those dairy maids all have ample hips.What Kings Ate will give writers of historical and fantastical genres the tools to create new conflicts in their stories, as well as add authenticity to their worlds, all the while giving food history lovers a taste of the past with original recipes and historical notes.

And isn’t the cover so pretty-shiny?!?!

What Kings Ate

I’m really excited for the release of this book. I had the privilege of reading it before it was released, and you guys, it is seriously awesome. Don’t be dissuaded by the fact that this is notionally pegged at writers: I promise you, ANYONE with an interest in food history will get a kick out of this shiny, shiny book. Krista writes with a casual, easy-to-read style, and the book is informative, comprehensively researched, and very entertaining, with lots of quirky tidbits and personal anecdotes.

Congrats, Krista, on a really fabulous release :o) YAY!

Book links: Amazon, the publisher’s website, news about the paperbacks, list of other venues where it will be available in lots of other formats soon :o)

Krista was born and raised in Deer Lake, Newfoundland, where she learned how to use a chainsaw, chop wood,and make raspberry jam. After obtaining a B.A. in British History from Mount Allison University, Krista moved to Edmonton, AB where she currently lives. Somehow, she’s picked up an engineer, two kids, six cats, and a very understanding corgi off ebay. Her credit card has been since taken away. Like any good writer, Krista has had an eclectic array of jobs throughout her life, including strawberry picker, pub bathroom cleaner, oil spill cleaner upper and soup-kitchen coordinator. You can find her causing trouble at http://kristadball.com.