Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Role Models And Fate


Several times a week, I think "I really should make a post on the Little House blog- the folks there are so crazy loyal; and worth talking with..."

And then, searching my brain for something worthwhile to talk about; I come up pretty empty, except for all the horror stories rapidly escalating around the entire world... and who needs that?

You all know the world is a horror, and the trends are worse.  What we need of course is to find some way to come through it.

Without attempting to summarize the tome it would take to document why "popular culture" is a complete waste of energy and dead end for our species - I'll just note that probably many of you are in a fight, as I am, to get our children to see "the real world" - without it being filtered through their smart phone, iPad, video games, or latest dystopian megablockbuster movie series.

"Hey- kid - look at the dragonflies; they're catching ants with wings right over our heads!"
"What?  Oh.  Yeah, very cool, daaad.  Can we watch a movie tonight?"

This is horrifying.  Intractable.  Universal.  And I believe deadly dangerous for the world.


I'm re-reading "Anne Of Green Gables" at the moment- by myself, not with Smidgen.  Nothing bad about that, I still read stuff out loud with her; but this is just my current research.

Then today I found this announcement that a wonderful Japanese TV serial is being dubbed in Tagalog, for the Philippines.  Very successful entrepreneurship...

Anne, and Laura of the Little House series, and this Japanese girl Amachan, - and back about as far as you can go in popular literature - all start out impoverished, desperate, and struggling.  Our hearts go out to them.  And by the end of the book?

Anne winds up the top scholar for an entire province, Amachan winds up an actual rock star, after picking seaweed, Laura winds up happily married, well off, and a newspaper columnist...  Even Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm winds up well-to-do.

And these are the stories we give our children, to build their dreams on.  More current stories are the same; think them through. How many of the children reading these stories have any hope of matching these outcomes?

Very, very - very few, is the answer, and the vast majority know it by the time they are 12 years old.  Their future does not include becoming a rock star, or getting a full scholarship to Harvard - or anything, in fact, that the world will see as "remarkable".  They are just plain kids; with just plain lives to live.

Where are the role models in literature for just plain people - who live just plain lives - happily, and contentedly, without constant envy of those "better off", and endless dissatisfaction with their world?

I'm not even sure how I would go about writing such a short story, let alone novel; models to build on are - nonexistent, as far as I can remember this morning.

The knowledge that their future is without fame or a moment on stage with crowds cheering wildly - leaves the great majority of kids feeling hopeless, forgotten, and worst of all, useless.  Bleak.  So?  What the hell; drugs, party, indiscriminate sex, tribal hatred - why not?  No point to any of it, anyway.

How would you build a Japanese TV serial that told the wonderful story of - a common, satisfied life?  Or say, a hugely successful American TV reality show about - real, common folks; happy with their fate and place; every day?

Those are the models we desperately need.  The concept is so different- you might even be able to sell it, commercially.  Life is worth living; common lives very much included.  I believe.

Some of you are writers!  Please - see what you can do.  And pass this on to your writer friends.

Yes, the fate of the world may depend on it.


Anonymous said...

Well, I don't have any suggestions for whole stories, but one of my favorite sites on the web is livinglifefully.com. It's full of positive quotes from all sorts of writers. You can find plenty that speak of beauty and happiness in ordinariness. I subscribe to the daily spiritual quotation in order to get at least some positiveness each day.

Christine in WI

knutty knitter said...

Anne then gets married, has kids and lives pretty normally from then on. Lots of community in these books too which always drew my interest. Just lots of the silly, funny, odd, tragic, happy things that people go through.

One set of books that my now teens did share enthusiastically with us both is our love of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series. Might be worth a look.


Aimee said...

I think Laura's life was very ordinary. She and her husband were never rich - she didn't get the life she weaned when she married (she never wanted to be a farmer's wife) but she always did the best she could with what she had available, and she made good use of her natural talents. You call her a "newspaper columnist" - ye-es, but on a very modest scale. She wrote for a local publication and, like many women of her time and place, sold eggs for pocket money. It was only in her fifties and sixties that she wrote the books she is famous for, and unless I am mistaken, she never enjoyed much celebrity in her lifetime. Only one of her children outlived her. Yet she was cheerful and pleasant and respected in her community. I think she's an excellent role model.

Greenpa said...

Aimee - well; we could argue. :-) Laura works at painting herself as ordinary; but there are multiple places where she is not; like in school. She mentions with considerable pride "spelling down" the entire town, and being the top scholar, receiving the praise of the entire audience when she recited American history; and more. Her newspaper column was for the Missouri Ruralist; a statewide publication still in existence; far more than the occasional note to the paper, it was a feature; and f you've read much of her newspaper stuff, it includes very long and detailed moral expositions on almost everything.

Anyway. :-) What about the kids in the class who always came in 10th in spelling? Never wrote for any newspaper? Never got chosen first for baseball? Those are the ones I'm thinking about; I know plenty of them. Many find happy satisfied lives; but it's not through literature, as far as I can tell.

Myosotis said...

Not quite the same and its fantasy but Tenar, from Earthsea, goes from being a spooky high priestess to a perfectly ordinary farmer's wife and it's portrayed as a much better person to be.

Greenpa said...

Myosotis - I've very familiar with Earthsea; Le Guin is one of the most brilliant writers- and thinkers- I know. Thinking about it, she does kind of approach the sort of story I'm talking about in "Always Coming Home"; several of the women are "plain people", and admirably portrayed- but not the protagonists, if I remember correctly; they are exceptional.

You know; she would be my first choice for someone to write the story I'm looking for- hm... She's still with us, but very insulated, her website says she loves to read MAIL - but cannot generally answer; it's just too much. If I could find a way to get my foot in her door, I'd give it a try.

shadowfoot said...

I haven't read it in years, but perhaps Blue Willow Plate? Family with young girl struggling, I think during the Depression but not sure. Sorry, terrible description, and if I can find the box it's in, I'll re-read it. She doesn't end up rich that I recall, but neither was the ending depressing. I remember reading it more than once, but that was 40 years ago.

- Heather G

Greenpa said...

shadowfoot - thanks!! It looks like you're right, that also opened the door to finding a few other names. I never ran into this book (actually just "Blue Willow", but even with the plate in google finds it); but I'm adding it to my reading list. Wikipedia has lots to say about it, including this quote:

'In Horn Book magazine Howard Pease's essay "Without Evasion" mentions Doris Gates as one of the rare exceptions: "Only at infrequent intervals do you find a story intimately related to this modern world, a story that takes up a modern problem and thinks it through without evasion. Of our thousands of books, I can find scarcely half a dozen that merit places on this almost vacant shelf in our libraries; and of our hundreds of authors, I can name only three who are doing anything to fill this void in children's reading. These three authors - may someone present each of them with a laurel wreath - are Doris Gates, John R. Tunis, and Florence Crannell Means." '

And later- it mentions an author I was in fact very familiar with; Lois Lenski, who specifically wrote about "plain" children's lives. "Strawberry Girl" is the title that pops into my head, along with "Mama Hattie's Girl", which I own a copy of. Now I'm embarrassed I forgot those- guess it's time to re-read! Lois Lenski's books were abundantly available in my grade school libraries, and read widely.

But- I do remember passing Mama Hattie's Girl by in the past year, when looking for one to re-read as I go to sleep - specifically because I do remember that it's pretty disturbing; showing quite a lot of the bad side of human nature, along with the everyday good. Not good for going to sleep with.


Myosotis said...

For some reason this cam to mind this evening and I'm pleased to see there are more comments. I loved Blue Willow when I was young enough that the girls seemed like "big kids" I don't think I've read it since. I suspect my parents still have it though, the copy was my mother's. I should reread it.

It's only a picture book, but I think Blueberries for Sal fits in. A long-ago favorite of mine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blueberries_for_Sal

Greenpa said...

Mysotis- good to hear from you! I still haven't dug out Blue Willow; but I'll get there; and take a look at Blueberries when I can; I followed your link.

I continue to think about this, since Smidgen is not fictional- and the world she's growing up in is in many ways not just atypical, but really, really, strange by mainstream standards. Hard for a child to pick their way through it all.

I did just find a book that is closer to what I was looking for than any mentioned so far: "A Daughter Of The Land", by Gene Stratton-Porter. Her most famous books are "A Girl Of The Limberlost", and "Freckles". Both those protagonists are patently exceptional people; the main figure in 'Daughter" is pretty consistently not. It's quite an unusual story, because throughout the whole thing there are no foreshadowings of a sweet happy ending. Ultimately, she gave in (likely to her publisher) and tacked a happy ever after bit on in the last two pages. If she'd left out the 2 page deus ex publisher bit, the book would be a serious downer; a journal of hard work, struggles, closed doors, huge blunders, and consequences. You know- real life.

I like the book. One reason - the Daughter is uniformly admirable; even after being a fool. And she rings true- I know folks like this; they really are the salt of the earth.