The Lord of Confusion

lord_of_the_flies2I know I’m probably going to be flogged by English teachers from around the world, but I’m going to challenge this famous piece of literature up against today’s publishing process. In today’s market, would Lord of the Flies be published?

During my four years as an English Lit major at UCLA I read my share of complicated literature and I have a solid shelf of Cliff Notes to prove it. But what I’ve never understood is if you need a translation tool to understand what you’re reading, how do we decide these are great works of art, specifically for our high schoolers? How do they get on that elusive approved list that never dies?

On that note, I’m reading Lord of the Flies (another word for Satan as it turns out) with my high school freshman and neither of us are completely clear about what’s happening. Golding uses about four pages to describe kids playing on a beach with language that manages to complicate the picture so thoroughly, we have to read back over it. We sense there are hidden Highlights messages (I mean you don’t have to hit us over the head with a conch shell to see that), but what they are, we’re not entirely sure. That’s how secret they are.

Now, I know what I would do in a situation like this–I’d head straight for the Cliffs. But would this be okay with the teacher? Would my name come up in the staff lounge while discussing “bad parenting?” Should we be promoting translation tools to our rosy face youth who can’t even drive yet?

If I’ve learned anything from being a teacher myself, and having two kids go through lots of school, it’s that teachers can’t read minds. So I shot the teacher an email and told her we were both having problems understanding the–eh hem–decorative language and guess what she said? Get the Cliff Notes and use alongside. (Keyword: alongside.)

Sweet. Off I went to find said Cliffs and discovered them online–for free. A whole new world of literature translation. Each chapter was broken down with quizlets at the end and I thought how helpful this would have been when I was throwing back 15 novels in 10 week trimesters (often in Middle English) back in the day. I was thankful we had found this tool and that my son may actually be able to understand this famous novel before we just decided it was crap.

On the down side, understand that we just doubled our reading. First we read the summary, then the book, then the analysis. My son’s response? “How many more pages? This is taking too long.”

It’s not flawless, but at least we understand it’s an allegory written by the most likely depressed Golding, wrapped in his post WWII pessimistic view of human nature as savagery. That makes sense considering Hitler just took out six million Jews and 2 atomic bombs were dropped. Golding was grouchy and was certainly not seeing the Universe as a friendly place. But since he was Oxford grade and an English teacher to boot, we throw him a bone by passing his darkly penned novel on and on and on, all the while sharing his deep pessimism with our young adults. Fortunately, sense they don’t really understand it anyway, it doesn’t rub off that much.

But back to my original point–is there an editor out there in today’s market that would confidently take this to Acquisitions and lobby for it? From my limited corner in the literary world, I hear editors wanting clear language that gets to the point…characters the reader can keep track of…a readable text. I know. I know. Language evolves and it was different then. But here’s my follow up question. If that’s the case, and with all the new amazing literature that’s been written over the past ten years, why is it we make our high school students read the same five novels over and over? (All people under 25, exactly how many times were you assigned The Giver?)

Maybe I’m just missing something here. And just to clarify, I don’t feel like this about all novels deemed high school curriculum worthy. But I definitely think we have lots of amazing choices (which don’t require translation tools) that may be passed up in the name of what we’re supposed to revere.

Oh, You’re a Writer?

“The one thing all famous authors, world class athletes, business tycoons, singers, actors, and celebrated achievers in any field have in common is that they all began their journeys when they were none of these things.”

~ Mike Dooley


I just never get tired of this subject. (Not!)

Here’s how it goes:

Nice lady at the Avon Walk: What do you do?

Me: Oh, I’m a writer. And a health coach.

NLATAW: (Ignoring the health coach part.) You’re a writer? What books have you written that I can find on the shelves of Barnes and Noble?

Me: (Wondering how long Barnes and Noble will hang on…) Well, I have one, but it’s an anthology. (Like I somehow have to justify having at least one thing on the shelves of B&N and the library before I dare call myself a writer.)

You writers understand. I know you do. Because we’re all at different points of the journey, but we’ve all started at the same place.

My snarky side secretly hopes Avon lady says something like “I’m a runner” so I can say, “Oh? When was your last marathon?” which of course would only play out in my fantasy mind.

This idea that to call yourself a writer you have to have writer badges in the form of books hanging all over your Girl Scout writer sash is just plain silly. But it’s running rampant, I tell you. I think I get this response 75% of the time I call myself a writer. It didn’t happen when I was a teacher. It didn’t happen when I was a law firm marketing director. (That one was just a head cock because nobody understood what the heck that meant.) Nope. this response is particular to calling yourself a writer.

What is a writer anyway? A person (usually male according to Google Images) who smokes cigarettes and drinks hot drinks while running his fingers through his touseled waves while staring with puzzled red eyes at the blank white? Add location–usually a dark room with lots of crumpled paper surrounding the small desk–and there you have it. Right?

Um, no.

I’m sitting out in the teen center which my son’s friend Bailey (currently going by Russell which he likes better) wants to turn into the “Fortress of Solitude.” I’m on the couch with the printer a whole building away (no crumpled paper). Indeed, this writing won’t ever involve any printing at all unless at some point my mother requests a copy because one of her friends reads it and tells her about it and she asks. I’m drinking Smart Water with Strawberry Lemonade fat burner hoping to knock off that late night peanut butter from last night. I’m sweaty, having just finished my cross training stint while simultaneously watching an interview by Dr. Lissa Rankin on what really happened in the documentary film, “Sacred Science” from her perspective…and I’m not even thinking about smoking. I’m not staring at a blank screen or demanding perfection (if you are a regular reader, you know I have a game called ‘Find Jamie’s at-least-one-mistake in each entry’.) Instead, I’m typing as fast as I can (think Joycian stream of consciousness with punctuation) so I can shower, go get my car from the mechanic, pick up my kids from swim practice, make dinner, and schedule this to go out tomorrow.)

Does this mean I’m not a writer? Must I write about character, or voice, or setting, or other writers, or other books, or metaphor, or ____________ (fill in a writerly word) to call myself a writer? And, when I do, must I have a book on the shelf in B&N to prove it?

Nah. I’m calling bullshit on that.

California Dreamin’

399639_528990720451368_1907623331_nI love dreams. I value them. I’m talking here about the kind of dreams you have at night when you go to sleep and let your guard down. These dreams have changed and are changing the world. But sometimes we get so busy with the problems of the day, we disregard the value of our night dreams.

Many of my friends don’t even dream and when I bring it up, they roll their eyes. There goes Jamie being Jamie.

For thousands of years many cultures have placed high value on using and understanding dream material. There were special dream preparation ceremonies, dream temples, rules about dream preparation (ie. no drugs or alcohol for three days when preparing for dreams). And the symbols that were sent during dreams were trusted and valued. In many places, they still are.

Yet where I live in California, which from the rest of the world’s point of view may seem “a dream friendly” sort of place, dreams are pooh-poohed as unimportant, spiritual stuff meant for metaphysical types and not necessarily meant to be remembered. Unimportant. Fluff. (Certainly not stuff that would be used in the Silicon Valley!)

But let’s just take a look at the creativity and changes to our world spawned during dreams.

The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson(1850-1894) described dreams as occurring in “that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long.”

He, by the way, conceived Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a dream.

Others include…

Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” was conceived in a dream.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came via dream.

Otto Loewi (1873-1961), a German born physiologist, won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1936 for his work on the chemical transmission of nerve impulses.

Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz is a remarkable figure in the history of chemistry, specifically organic chemistry and made two major discoveries from dreams

Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919) is cited by the Guinness Book of Records as the first female American self-made millionaire. She was also the first member of her family born free. She had a dream which launched her cosmetic company after losing much of her hair from a scalp infection.

Elias Howe invented the sewing machine in 1845, but had problems making it work which he solved in a dream.

Golfer Jack Nicklaus found a new way to hold his golf club in a dream, which he credits to improving his golf game.

The idea for Misery and many of Stephen King’s other novels came to him in a dream.

There are so many other examples of writers, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, film makers–you name it–who have injected the creative flow from the night into their daily works and changed the world. A little attention to the subject, supported by a dream journal and a belief that material collected during sleep is valuable, may just be that impetus you need for your next big thing.

And your next big thing can be as basic as understanding how to navigate a conversation. I often dream conversations that show two paths–one that heads down the right way and one that doesn’t. By the time I find myself in that conversation, it’s clear to me which way to go. I’ve learned to stop saying, “I’ve dreamed this” though, because then people look at you funny and excuse themselves to go to the bathroom. Not everybody gets it.

If you’re up for the challenge, put a pad of paper and a pen by your bed tonight. Write this: “Show me what I need to know” along with the date and time. As you fall asleep, say, “I will remember my dreams.” First thing in the morning, jot down any recollection–a symbol, a person who you remember, a feeling you had. That night, go back and read it. It can take a day or two to interpret. And though I’m huge on dream circles (and am so excited to be currently starting one), you will always be your best dream interpreter.

Who knows? You could be holding the solution to a problem that will change the world.