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silly love songs
Oct 24th, 2014 by wrekehavoc

some people want to fill the world with silly love songs.

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in this week’s new yorker, rebecca mead is wringing her hands over what she calls the percy jackson problem. for those of you who don’t have kids in the house,  here’s some 411:  percy jackson is the wacky protagonist of a series of books by (beloved-in-my-house) rick riordan. percy is a kid who has ADHD and behavioral problems in school — you know, that PITA kid whom every teacher wants to dropkick out the nearest window? percy, we also find out early in the series, is a greek demigod (which is part of the reason he struggles so.) through his adventures, kids (and the adults who read to them) often get their appetite whetted for the magical world of mythology.

so what’s so bad about percy? to paraphrase mead’s argument, between the use of slangy-current pop language and milieus and the less-than-deep storylines, folks in this camp are terrified that books like those in the percy jackson series are a gateway drug to a lifelong obsession with literary dross.  they believe that consuming these sorts of works results in less critical readers. in other words, popular fiction is dumbing down the world for kids.

(for those of you keeping score, this is #25,689 in the ways in which you are screwing up as a parent.)

when i was growing up, my mother took me to the library two and three times a week. no exaggeration here. the librarians knew us at both the ocean county library and the now-defunct bishop memorial library. if there were a 12-step program for bookaholics, my mother would be the queen and reigning champ. any time she has had a spare minute, her nose is in a book. if i woke up at ungodly o’clock a.m. as a kid, i’d usually find my mom,  black coffee and a romance or a mystery in hand. she has always been, and always will be, a book pusher. (ask my kids.) mom always had one rule at the library: take out whatever you want, but you need to actually read it.

now i still recall the day that dennis, the long-haired librarian at the ocean county library, stopped my nine-year-old self trying to take out romeo and julietgod bless you mr. rosewater, and war and peace. he looked at me squirrelly, then asked my mom whether she had actually seen what i was taking out of the library. (please don’t ask me why i had made those selections. it seemed like a good idea at the time.)

are you sure you want wreke taking out these books? he asked my mom.

she looked at me with the seriousness of an executioner. are you going to read them, wreke? she asked. i nodded that i would, in fact, tackle all three within the three allotted weeks i would be granted. she then looked at dennis. let’s take them out, then.

(the only one of the three i finished was romeo and juliet. in high school. kicking and screaming by then.)

yep, mom always let me read anything i wanted to read. there was the phase when i exclusively read partridge family and archie comic books. there was my sue barton, student nurse phase. there was every single book about the beatles phase. (that one is still in progress.) and of course, there was the time in seventh grade where i chose soul on ice for a book report. (i still wonder if my english teacher ever recovered from that one.)

in short, there have been plenty of generations of people reading all sorts of things — and somehow, we still continue to get great literature, great music, and great works of art. we all develop in weird and wonderful ways; and part of that is because we each receive such weird and wonderful input from all directions — from our families, from our friends, from our worlds — and of course, from our books. i know there are plenty of baby boomers who grew up reading all kinds of crap under the covers, and yet here we are. so please, get the hell off the backs of the younger generations. with all the other temptations out there, electronic and otherwise, it is difficult enough to get them to read. there will be plenty of time to refine things once they have caught the bug.

in the meantime (and with sincerest apologies to malcolm x), we need to get kids reading by any means necessary. i am not above enticing my kids’ interest in books however i can do it. i have read any number of silly things to them when they were little — i wanted them to just hear the words and love the sounds. over time, i would read chapter books that i thought sounded fun until they were old enough to make their own choices. i admit, though, that when they are a captive audience in the car with me driving four hours to see family, i break out books on CD that i get from my local library.  and they listen.

meanwhile, back in percy land… while waiting for percy jackson’s book five to come out, jools was jonesing for some riordan to read. we made a trek to central library, where we discovered that riordan has also written books… for GROWNUPS.  the boy borrowed mission road, a novel about a private eye trying to solve a murder. sure, it wasn’t his usual fare. but for a boy who loathes reading, he actually read it. granted, he was especially thrilled because there were CURSE WORDS! and INAPPROPRIATE THINGS! in the book. but you know what? he was reading.

what’s wrong with that? i’d like to know.

instant replay: in my house
Oct 22nd, 2014 by wrekehavoc

you parents will feel me on this unless you are candidates for sainthood or unless you believe your children should be.

(in the latter case, please keep them the hell out of my house.)

revisit: in my house.

oxford comma
Oct 18th, 2014 by wrekehavoc

clearly, this bullshit did not end in the ’80s. pity that.

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recently, i was talking with another parent about college. he was pretty insistent about his child going into engineering. now, nevermind he has no idea whether his child has any interest or inclination toward engineering (and science in general): that is what said child will be pursuing in a few years.  if his child is not interested in becoming some sort of engineer, then said kid can pay his way through school. this parent will not be contributing toward something stupid and useless like an english degree, for example.

(you know, the degree i happen to hold.)

when i was a college kid in the go-go 1980s, it was tough to be an english major, especially when you were child #3 following child #1 (a doctor) and child #2 (computer science dude.) and here i was, in love with language and meaning and, to be honest, writers in the earlyish part of the twentieth century. preferably, but not exclusively, women. oh, and usually american.  and i often answered the barrage of questions which really boiled down into one: what will you do with that english degree?

indignantly, i did what any self-respecting women’s college editorial editor would do: i wrote what ended up being my most popular column in college. who’s afraid of liberal arts? was so popular that it was actually reprinted. (evidently, i was not the only person with this conundrum.) i was tired of people asking me when i was going to get a real major, a pre-professional major. i was tired of people asking me if i sat and made daisy chains, too.  “i am sure,” i wrote, “that somewhere, someone in my family is squirreling away an English Major Fund so that when i’m big and in the real world, i will have a financial supplement.”

didn’t happen.

and, being pedantic in the way only a 21 year old lit student could be, i quoted john henry cardinal newman from the idea of a university noting that education should be for it’s own sake in order to help you grow as a person. education should be:

something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through the senses; something which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it seeks, which invests it with an idea.

i argued that it was easier to live with yourself when you were someone and not some thing. it is difficult to change gears if you make yourself narrow; but the study of liberal arts broadens you and makes you more of an intellectual utility infielder. in short, it helps you adapt.

decades later, i am glad i chose the path i did. yes, i went on to graduate school and specialized; but when i wanted more than what a career in that specialization offered, i duck and dove into something completely different: i crashed into the early days of the internet. on my interview, my boss showed me how to build something and then asked me, the english major, to build it. i froze at first (i’m an english major, remember?), then slowly attempted to make things happen as he had done.

and i messed up.

but, i took a deep breath, backed up, and tried something else. which worked. (mercifully.) and i got the job.

later, i asked my boss: why did you hire me when i messed up on the interview?

his reply? you backed up and figured it out. i need people who know how to think and who can learn. (it was a new industry at the time.) i don’t need specialists: it’s a new field and there are none.  (in 1995, there really weren’t.)

so yeah. english major here. english major who has developed and built web properties. who has done research studies in education policy. who has performed regression analysis. who has put together several major events, uniting cabinet level secretaries and their entire departments in the process. who masters the world and delivers it daily to her family. (note: i am still a crappy cook. but so far, i have not killed anyone.)  i’ve changed careers plenty, and now, i get to do what i always loved best: writing.

i’m not starving. i’m monitoring my world and changing with it as needed. i can write cogently (most of the time.) i can think. maybe i can’t fuse my identity to some specific career, but actually, i like being stealthy like that. and i’ll be damned if i make my kids tether themselves to a pre-professional course of studies unless it is the course they choose. sure, there are consequences in all choices, but should they be the deciders of their destinies? i think so.

so to that parent who is willing to carrot-and-stick his kid’s future with his own demands? maybe you need to be squirreling away a Therapy For My Kid fund.

oh. and while i am not using capital letters in my blog,  for the record: i do give a fuck about the Oxford comma.


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