C Is For Cookie, And That's Good Enough For Me

Thursday, December 25, 2008

We've been watching a lot of Sesame Street lately. Lil' Blue was first introduced to the show via that ubiquitous red Muppet Elmo. However, she's branched out into other characters, and her current favorite is Cookie Monster. Toddlers, as you know, learn by repetition - and so I've gotten to watch a lot of Cookie Monster. I assume his appeal lies in his floppy fuzzy body that resembles nothing more than a big blanky, and his silly voice and big googly eyes. But as we watch Cookie Monster over and over and over, I've found him appealing to me as well. Because Cookie Monster, more than anything else, lives in the moment. When he sings "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me", his entire world encompasses the giant cookie in his hand. Past cookies are gone, future cookies irrelevant and unknown. That cookie truly is good enough. Cookie Monster is zen.

As we celebrate our second Christmas with Lil Blue, I've had a chance to think about how much she's grown just in the last year. Last Christmas, every picture of her is from the same vantage point: straight down, as she laid on a blanket because she couldn't yet sit up. In just one short year, that baby lying prone on a blanket is a big kid who can walk, run and jump. She can chatter constantly and knows her animals, colors, and even a few numbers. The baby that barely ate solid foods a year ago now can get her own snacks and request particular types of crackers or juice. Everything is impermanent. Dinosaurs that ruled the earth are now dust below the ground. Our lives are infinitely shorter. I can't slow her growth, and I wouldn't want to. But what I can do is be fully present in each moment, and to appreciate the short time we do have together. Happy holidays, everyone!

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

Twilight Time: A Review

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I finally gave in and read Twilight. Mainly, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. If you haven't noticed (because you don't watch TV, read the newspapers, surf the net, have a teenager, know a teenager, know of a teenager, etc) this book and its three equally-massive sequels have taken over the world. Now, I'll admit that I had low expectations as I went into this endeavor. And I was not disappointed. I mean, I was disappointed, which is what I expected, which...whatever.

Yes, it is a love story. Yes, some vampires show up, and blah blah blah. But after 544 pages, I closed the book thinking "and.....so?" Granted, I haven't read the other three books. Maybe, 2,000 pages later, Bella undergoes some sort of challenge or grows in some manner that explains her current status as a heroine. But it sure doesn't happen in Twilight. Bella's main "challenge" is that she chooses to move to a different city, where she happens to fall in love with a strange boy, who happens to be a vampire. The only real drama occurs when Bella is briefly chased by a vampire bounty hunter (?) who traps her and attempts to drink her blood. But Bella doesn't fight, she doesn't mouth off, she doesn't really do anything except for close her eyes and hope that it ends quickly. Which it does (for the bounty hunter) because the aforementioned boyfriend shows up to save the day. And....scene. Whatever. Its not that Twilight is bad, per se, its just that it could be so much better. And there are already so many books that are so much better.

On that note, allow me to present my list of female fantasy heroines who are better role models for young girls than Bella Swan:

Meg Murry: Meg is the heroine of Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. Much like most young girls, Meg often feels insecure, and her insecurity leads to confrontations with classmates and teachers. She compares herself unfavorably to her beautiful mother (who just happens to be a Nobel-prize winning scientist), and worries about not fitting in due to her brilliant and famous parents, and her genius younger brother Charles Wallace. Yet, despite her insecurities and fears, it is Meg who travels through time and space, first to rescue her father from the evil planet Camazotz, then to rescue her brother Charles Wallace. Through Meg, we learn that regardless of who we are, the most important quality we can have is compassion (including compassion for our own faults).

Sally Lockhart: The first of two heroines created by Philip Pullman. I've often wondered how a middle-aged man can create two of the most vibrant and memorable young female characters, but I'll chalk it up to superior writing chops. The Sally Lockhart novels take place in Victorian England, and are not so much fantasy novels as straight-up mysteries. What makes Sally such a fantastic character is that she feels incredibly real and modern, without taking the reader out of the Victorian setting. Sally faces up to some of the nastiest characters from the darkest corners of London, using only her bravery and intelligence (and the ability to "shoot like a Cossack").

Lyra Belacqua/Silvertongue: I can go on and on about how much I love Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Like Sally Lockhart, Lyra is orphaned at a young age. Of all the characters on this list, Lyra faces the most intense danger and personal challenges, yet arguably achieves the greatest victory. Lyra is clever, irreverant, and most of all, incredibly brave.

Vicky Austin: Unlike the other characters on this list, Vicky Austin's challenges are more internal than external (although she does face quite a bit of real danger at times). Vicky is intensely introverted but cares passionately about others. Her most important quality is her faith in the goodness in others and in humanity.

Lucy Pevensie: The first to discover Narnia, Lucy is always the voice of truth. While her brother Edmund betrays the others and the true king of Narnia, and her older brother and sister are cautious and hesitant, it is Lucy who gives herself over to Aslan whole-heartedly and saves the day (and all of Narnia).

Jane Drew: One of several children from Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence, and the only central female character. Jane has several key scenes, mainly in Greenwitch. She is taken along to a ceremony in which the women of a Welsh village build the Greenwitch - a giant figure made of twigs and leaves which is ceremonially thrown into the ocean. While the other women in the village see the ceremony mainly as a social event, Jane alone sees the deeper significance in the ritual. Jane understands that the figure of the Greenwitch is not just remote and wild, but lonely and sad, and wishes that it could be happy. Her compassion and intuition are rewarded when the Greenwitch gives a valuable secret to Jane in a dream.

Each one of these characters is tested - some multiple times. Jane Drew battles the forces of the dark, Lucy battles the White Witch. Meg Murry travels through space and confronts the Echtroi who are trying to extinguish the stars. Sally Lockhart is chased and attacked by criminals. Vicky Austin is kidnapped and left for dead in Antarctica and nearly sacrificed to pagan gods when she travels backwards in time. And Lyra Belacqua travels to the dangerous, frozen North, and then to land of the dead, where she battles a warrior angel for the release of all the trapped souls in hell. Compared to these battles, Bella Swan and her vampire boyfriend just seem silly. Each of the other characters is compelled on a journey by something greater than herself, be it promises made to friends, rescuing endangered family members, or saving the world. Bella deliberately puts herself in danger, and then relies on Edward to save her. I see thousands and thousands of young girls are reading Twilight. And while I'm happy to see them reading anything, I just feel that they could do so much better.