#Chile Is The 2015 Copa America Champion: Chile Stuns Argentina #ASMSG #T4US #IARTG

You and I are fans of “La Roja”, Chile’s national football team. As fans, we have rarely shed tears of joy like we did on July 4, 2015, when Chile won the Copa América, its first international title. We have often shed tears of pain. Why? Chile has a long history of defeat. Losing is temporary, but hope is eternal. Hope is stronger than defeat. If you don’t give up, sooner or later, you will win, even if it takes a 100 years. Literally. Metaphorically. 100 years.

Chile has a 100-year history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Four times we discovered a way to lose, usually after having played like world champions (1987 Copa América). That’s why we suffered, but we kept supporting La Roja, even when we knew our destiny.

We knew, deep in our hearts, we would lose again. It was our destiny. If there was a second place, it was ours…unless there was a third place. Then we would gladly give up second place in order to have third place.

Or, if we couldn’t find a way to lose, then judges, referees, linesmen, assistants or officials would ensure that what we hadn’t lost, on the playing field, would be ultimately lost, off the field. For example, Chile was not allowed to compete in the 1990 and 1994 World Cup. An entire country paid the unjust price for the misconduct of one person. In their prime, a generation of world class players was denied World Cup participation.

No matter what happened, Chile kept coming back for more. Of course, La Roja would then give us more suffering. Mind you, I’m talking about suffering of the soul. We keep a profound passion for football inside of us. The passion has been burning brightly since 1895, when the Football Federation of Chile (ANFP) was founded. In 1913, the ANFP joined FIFA.

Now you know why we play the beautiful game, win or lose. It was beautiful in 1955, 1956, 1987, and 1991. World Cup 1962 was as good as it got for most of us. We won third place in the world, the whole world. Four times in la Copa América, we won second place, but never first. Yes, winning second place, four times, is a great moral victory, but we were never champions.

Then Marcelo Bielsa came to Chile one day and taught us a new way to play. We attacked, we pressed the other team all over the field. Our confident, high-energy, aggressive, free-flowing, and fluid style made us winners. When Jorge Sampaoli became coach, he did things “the Bielsa way.” And we kept on winning. After 99 years of losing, Chile finally won “la Copa América.” We are champions, now, always, and forever…

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“Let’s Talk About Genre” #ASMSG #IARTG #T4US

Let’s talk about genre. Love story? Poor boy meets rich girl. They fall in love…but there’s a problem. Father/parents don’t want their daughter to marry a poor boy. There is another boy (rich) already picked out to wed daughter. Poor boy doesn’t give up, overcomes all obstacles, and in the end, poor boy marries rich girl. They all live happily ever after. Genre? Romance…

Can we add a variation to the example we gave above without altering its genre? Story Tellers: In Pursuit of Happiness, would qualify as just such a variety. Here is the blurb:

Stones & bones are part of our oral tradition. We find stones & bones in folktales, mythology, and religion. What people like about the oral tradition is the ability to change the story, each time you tell it.

The result is unique and entertaining. You recognise the story, but it’s different, unlike anything you have ever heard before. It’s like going into the kitchen on the day after Thanksgiving. You get a meal by making some unusual combinations: a pinch of salt here, a bit of sugar there.

I have taken stones and bones, stories and myths, folklore and tradition, a bit of religion, a pinch of love, a bit of travel, mixed it all up with an incredible long distance romance and built it up around a dynamic protagonist who you will either love to hate, or hate to love…

For dessert (yes, you get dessert too), there is also birth, rebirth, a battle for immortality and ultimate power to rule the world. It all comes down to the choices that an unlikely hero will have to make about who to trust, and who not to trust.

Finally, this book is dedicated to you, the reader. I hope you enjoy your story. These stones & bones, I humbly offer for your reading pleasure. Enjoy…

Genre, based on the examples above, is what we have come to expect from stories that are similar. If for example, the poor boy does not marry the rich girl, we feel cheated somehow. Although we are fully aware that in the real world, the poor boy has about as much a chance of marrying the rich girl as a snowball would have in summer, we suspend disbelief. We are reading the story to be entertained, to escape from the real world. The author knows this, and delivers the goods. And that is a good thing, because it makes us feel good.

**
“Let’s talk about genre”: Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation
New Statesman: June 4, 2015
BY NEIL GAIMAN AND KAZUO ISHIGURO

The two literary heavyweights talk about the politics of storytelling, the art of the swordfight and why dragons are good for the economy.

Kazuo Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman. Illustration: Tim McDonagh

Kazuo Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman. Illustration: Tim McDonagh

Neil Gaiman’s New York Times review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel began a debate about the borders between fantasy and literary fiction. For a special issue guest-edited by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer​, the New Statesman brought the pair together to discuss genre snobbery, education, and why books are still important.

Neil Gaiman Let’s talk about genre. Why does it matter? Your book The Buried Giant – which was published not as a fantasy novel, although it contains an awful lot of elements that would be familiar to readers of fantasy – seemed to stir people up from both sides of the literary divide. The fantasy people, in the shape of Ursula Le Guin (although she later retracted it) said, “This is fantasy, and your refusal to put on the mantle of fantasy is evidence of an author slumming it.” And then Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times reviewed it with utter bafflement. Meanwhile, readers and a lot of reviewers had no trouble figuring out what kind of book it is and enjoyed it hugely.

Kazuo Ishiguro I felt like I’d stepped into some larger discussion that had been going on for some time. I expected some of my usual readers to say, “What’s this? There are ogres in it . . .” but I didn’t anticipate this bigger debate. Why are people so preoccupied? What is genre in the first place? Who invented it? Why am I perceived to have crossed a kind of boundary?

NG I think if you were a novelist writing in 1920 or 1930, you would simply be perceived as having written another novel. When Dickens published A Christmas Carol nobody went, “Ah, this respectable social novelist has suddenly become a fantasy novelist: look, there are ghosts and magic.”

KI Is it possible that what we think of as genre boundaries are things that have been invented fairly recently by the publishing industry? I can see there’s a case for saying there are certain patterns, and you can divide up stories according to these patterns, perhaps usefully. But I get worried when readers and writers take these boundaries too seriously, and think that something strange happens when you cross them, and that you should think very carefully before doing so.

NG I love the idea of genres as places that you don’t necessarily want to go unless you’re a native, because the people there will stare at you askance and say things like, “Head over the wall to Science Fiction, mate, you’ll be happier there . . .”

KI . . . or, “Come over here if you want but you’re going to have to abide by our rules.”

NG I think that there’s a huge difference between, for example, a novel with spies in it and a spy novel; or a novel with cowboys in it and a cowboy novel. I have a mad theory that I started evolving when I read a book called Hard Core by Linda Williams, a film professor in California. It was one of the first books analysing hardcore pornography as a film genre.

She said that in order to make sense of it, you need to think of musicals, because the plot in a musical exists to stop all of the songs from happening at once, and to get you from song to song. You need the song where the heroine pines for what she does not have, you need the songs where the whole chorus is doing something rousing and upbeat, and you need the song when the lovers get together and, after all the vicissitudes, triumph.

I thought, “That’s actually a way to view all literary genres,” because there are things that people who like a genre are looking for in their fiction: the things that titillate, the things that satisfy. If it was a cowboy novel, we’d need the fight in the saloon; we’d need the bad guy to come riding into town and the good guy to be waiting for him. A novel that happens to be set in the Old West doesn’t actually need to deliver any of those things – though it would leave readers of genre cowboy fiction feeling peculiarly disappointed, because they have not got the moments of specific satisfaction.

KI So we have to distinguish between something that’s part of the essence of the genre and things that are merely characteristic of it. Gunfights are characteristic of a western, but may not be essential to making the story arresting.

NG Yes. One of the things that fascinated me about The Buried Giant is there are several places in it where people fight with sharp blades, and people are killed, and in each case it happens at the speed that it would have happened in real life and ends as abruptly and, often, unsatisfyingly: the character falls to the grass with what looks like a red snake slipping away from him, you suddenly realise, “Oh, this is blood,” and you’re thinking, “This is not how a reader of fantasy expecting a good swordfight would have expected this swordfight to go.”

KI If I was aware of genre at all during the fight scenes, I was thinking of samurai films and westerns. In samurai movies mortal enemies stare at each other for a long time, then there’s one flash of violence and it’s over.
What do you reckon would have happened if I’d been a writer steeped in fantasy? Would I have had people talking while bashing swords?

NG You’d definitely have flashing blades. One of the pulp fantasy genres of the Thirties was “Sword and Sorcery”: there’d be mighty feuding warriors with large blades, talking, clashing, grunting . . . you would have got a solid half-page out of it, partly because the writers were paid by the word.

KI When I first came to Britain at the age of five, one of the things that shocked me about western culture was the fight scenes in things like Zorro. I was already steeped in the samurai tradition – where all their skill and experience comes down to a single moment that separates winner from loser, life from death. The whole samurai tradition is about that: from pulp manga to art movies by Kurosawa. That was part of the magic and tension of a swordfight, as far as I was concerned. Then I saw people like Basil Rathbone as the Sheriff of Nottingham versus Errol Flynn as Robin Hood and they’d be having long, extended conversations while clicking their swords, and the hand that didn’t have the sword in it would be doing this kind of floppy thing in the air, and the idea seemed to be to edge your opponent over a precipice while engaging him in some sort of long, expository conversation about the plot.

NG What we’re talking about here is jumping from one literary-slash-genre tradition to another.

KI I’m very fond of westerns, particularly the later westerns. From the Fifties onwards, the gunfights become much more meditative and deliberate. There’s a much bigger silent pause before the people facing each other draw their guns. The idea of the one-on-one showdown – which doesn’t really make much sense when you think about it in terms of practical combat: it’s much better to sneak up behind someone and shoot them in the back – became a genre tradition, that honourable guys, even bad guys, would prefer to face their enemy that way. The Iliad is fascinating on this. Its stand-offs are almost bizarre. There’s supposed to be this huge, wild battle going on on the plains outside Troy, and yet in this mayhem one warrior faces another and they start a conversation: they say, “Oh, and who are you? Tell me about your ancestry.” They swap stories about their grandfather, and one of them will say, “You know, my dad met your dad when he was travelling, and he gave him a very nice goblet.” So a strange bubble develops around the two combatants. And then they fight, or sometimes they discover they rather like each other and decide not to. Things like the final confrontation between Hector and Achilles are definitely on the side of Kurosawa, not Errol Flynn.

But let me come back to the theory about pornography and the musical. So, you liked this idea?

NG I loved the idea, because it seems to me that subject matter doesn’t determine genre. Genres only start existing when there’s enough of them to form a sort of critical mass in a bookshop, and even that can go away. A bookstore worker in America was telling me that he’d worked in Borders when they decided to get rid of their horror section, because people weren’t coming into it. So his job was to take the novels and decide which ones were going to go and live in Science Fiction and Fantasy and which ones were going to Thrillers.

KI Does that mean horror has disappeared as a genre?

NG It definitely faded away as a bookshop category, which then meant that a lot of people who had been making their living as horror writers had to decide what they were, because their sales were diminishing. In fact, a lot of novels that are currently being published as thrillers are books that probably would have been published as horror 20 years ago.

KI I don’t have a problem with marketing categories, but I don’t think they’re helpful to anybody apart from publishers and bookshops.

***

NG What was the reaction to Never Let Me Go? I think at that point the last thing anybody was expecting from you was a science-fiction novel, and that – although it was a novel about people – was quite uncompromisingly a science-fiction novel.

KI I felt that there wasn’t such an issue about science fiction as there has been this time about fantasy. Sci-fi ideas have been used in all kinds of fiction, and there’s always been this tradition of what you could call Nineteen Eighty-Four science fiction: Orwell, H G Wells and so on.

Even so, it probably wouldn’t have occur­red to me to use the science-fiction dimension for Never Let Me Go ten or 15 years earlier. I actually tried to write that same story twice in the Nineties but I just couldn’t find a way to make it work. And it was only the third time I tried, around 2001, that this idea came to me: if I made them clones, who were being harvested for organ donation, the story would work.

Before that, in a more realist setting, I was really struggling: how can I get young people to go through the experience of old people, how can I contrive this situation? I was coming up with not very good ideas, like they’ve all got a disease, or they came across nuclear materials and so they were doomed to a shorter lifespan.

Some time in the Nineties I felt a change of climate in the mainstream literary world. There was a younger generation of ­writers emerging who I really respected: David Mitchell was one of them. Or my friend Alex Garland, who’s 15 or 16 years younger than me, who became famous for The Beach – he was showing me the screenplays he was writing, one of which was 28 Days Later, which became the renowned zombie movie, and then he wrote Sunshine, about a manned expedition to the sun. Alex told me about graphic novels. He said I had to read Alan Moore and Frank Miller and all these people. So from the Nineties onwards, I sensed that there was a whole generation of people emerging who had a very different attitude to sci-fi, and that there was a new force of energy and inspiration because of that. I may have had the crusty prejudices of somebody of my generation but I felt liberated by these younger writers. Now I feel fairly free to use almost anything. People in the sci-fi community were very nice about Never Let Me Go. And by and large I’ve rather enjoyed my inadvertent trespassing into the fantasy genre, too, although I wasn’t even thinking about The Buried Giant as a fantasy – I just wanted to have ogres in there!

NG What fascinates me is that at the time when Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings it wasn’t regarded as in the fantasy genre, either: the first part was reviewed in the Times by W H Auden. It was a novel, and that it had ogres and orcs and giant spiders and magical rings and elves was simply what happened in this novel. Back then these books tended to be produced in exactly the same way as you produced The Buried Giant, in that you’d written other things, and now you wanted to do a book in which, for the novel to work, you needed a dragon breathing magical mist over the world; you needed it to occur in a post-Arthurian world; you needed your monsters and your ogres and your pixies. There were people like Hope Mirrlees – who wrote modernist poetry and profoundly realistic fiction and who was one of the Bloomsbury set, but produced a wonderful novel called Lud-in-the-Mist – and Sylvia Townsend Warner, who wrote books like Kingdoms of Elfin. And these were simply accepted as part of mainstream literature.

KI So what happened? Why have we got this kind of wall around fantasy now, and a sense of stigma about it?

NG I think it came from the enormous ­commercial success in the Sixties, when the hippie world embraced The Lord of the Rings and it became an international publishing phenomenon. At Pan/Ballantine, the adult fantasy imprint, they basically just went through the archives of books that had been published in the previous 150, 200 years and looked for things that felt like The Lord of the Rings. And then you had people like Terry Brooks, who wrote a book called The Sword of Shannara, which was essentially a Lord of the Rings clone by somebody not nearly as good, but it sold very well. By the time fantasy had its own area in the bookshop, it was deemed inferior to mimetic, realistic fiction. I think reviewers and editors did not know how to speak fantasy; were not familiar with the language, did not recognise it. I was fascinated by the way that Terry Pratchett would, on the one hand, have people like A S Byatt going, “These are real books, they’re saying important things and they are beautifully crafted,” and on the other he would still not get any real recognition. I remember Terry saying to me at some point, “You know, you can do all you want, but you put in one fucking dragon and they call you a fantasy writer.”

***

KI Maybe there’s a dimension we’re not really tackling. Is there something about books – as opposed to films and TV – that’s inextricably linked with a sense of class? Do you remember Educating Rita?

NG Of course.

KI What happens there is, when a working-class girl wants to “better herself”, she goes to college and studies literature. That’s what separates her from her class roots. She can’t relate to her family any more, but she seems to be equipped in some kind of way to move into the middle-class world. There’s always been that aspect to books. I’ve been very aware that is part of why some people want to read my work: they think it’s prestigious to be seen to be holding a book by a literary author in their hand. If they are trying to make their way up the class ladder, it’s not enough just to make a lot of money: you’ve also got to be able to converse well about culture, read certain kinds of authors and go to certain kinds of plays. I’m always very uneasy about that.

NG So we’re actually talking about reading for pleasure as opposed to reading for improvement. The Victorian idea of Improving Literature – people who want to somehow improve themselves or their mind; you can look at their bookshelves and know who they are – and the people who just read because they want to go into the story.

KI I don’t have a problem, necessarily, about reading for improvement. I often choose a book because I think I’m going to enjoy it, but I think also it’s going to improve me in some sense. But when you ask yourself, “Is this going to improve me?” what are you really asking? I think I probably do turn to books for some sort of spiritual and intellectual nourishment: I think I’m going to learn something about the world, about people. But if by “improving”, we mean it would help me go up the class ladder, then it’s not what reading and writing should be about. Books are serving the same function as certain brands of cars or jewellery, in just denoting social position. That kind of motivation attaches itself to reading in a way that probably doesn’t attach itself to film.

Many of the great classics that are studied by film scholars are sci-fi: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Kubrick’s 2001. They don’t seem to have suffered from the kind of genre stigmatisation their equivalents would have done in book form.

NG I remember as a boy reading an essay by C S Lewis in which he writes about the way that people use the term “escapism” – the way literature is looked down on when it’s being used as escapism – and Lewis says that this is very strange, because actually there’s only one class of people who don’t like escape, and that’s jailers: people who want to keep you where you are. I’ve never had anything against escapist literature, because I figure that escape is a good thing: going to a different place, learning things, and coming back with tools you might not have known.

I was book-reviewing a lot in the early Eighties, and it seemed for a while like all young adult books were the same book: about some kid who lived in slightly squalid circumstances, with an older sibling who was a bad example, and the protagonist would have a bad time and then run into a teacher or adult who would inspire them to get their life back on track. It was depressing. The wonderful thing about J K Rowling was that suddenly the idea that you can write books for kids that go off into weird and wonderful places – and actually make reading fun – is one of the reasons why children’s books went from being a minor area of the bookshop to a huge force in British publishing.

When I started writing Coraline, in 1991, and showed it to my editor, he explained that what I was writing was unpublishable. He wasn’t wrong. His name was Richard Evans; he was a very smart man, with good instincts. When he explained why writing a book intended for children and adults that was functionally horror fiction for children was unpublishable, I believed him.

KI The objection was what, exactly? That it was too scary?

NG It was too scary, it was very obviously aimed at both children and adults, it was weird, fantastic horror fiction, and they didn’t have a way of publishing it. They knew which librarians bought what and how things got reviewed, and this was simply not something that they could have sold. It wasn’t until much later, when I was in a world in which the Lemony Snicket books had happened, and Philip Pullman and Rowling were being read, and the idea of crossover books aimed at both children and adults existed, that it was published.

KI Perhaps things that deviated from realism were treated with great suspicion. But Coraline seems to be self-evidently a book that confronts all kinds of very real things. It’s about a child learning to make distinctions between certain kinds of parental love, to distinguish between a love that is based on somebody’s need and fulfilling somebody’s need, and what is actually genuine parental love, which may not at first glance look particularly demonstrative. I don’t see how anybody can mistake it for a kind of escapism: you’re not just taking children on some sort of strange, enjoyable ride.

NG I think the rules are crumbling and I think the barriers are breaking. I love the idea also that sometimes, if you’re actually going to write realistic fiction, you’re going to have to include fantasy. For example, having friends who are very religious and who live in worlds in which God cares about them, and their dead ones are watching them from heaven – these are normal, sane, sensible, 21st-century people, but if one were to write about their world, you would need to write in terms of something that would be recognisable as either magical realism or, possibly, fantasy.

KI My guiding principle when writing The Buried Giant was that I’d stay within the parameters of what somebody in a primitive, pre-scientific society could rationally believe. So if you don’t have a scientific explanation for why somebody dear to you has got ill, it seems to me perfectly sensible to go for an explanation that went something like, “A pixie came in the night and gave my dear wife this illness, and I only wish I’d done something about it, because I heard something moving around that night and I was just a bit tired and I thought, well, it’s a rat or something . . .”

If it was within the imaginative world of the people of that time, I’d allow it literally, in my fictional world, but I wouldn’t allow a flying saucer or a Tardis, because that was outside their realm.

NG We’re getting a lot of confluence now. Looking at people like Michael Chabon, David Mitchell, Emily St John Mandel, writers who are just willing to go and explore. They grew up in a world where science fiction and fantasy were around; they grew up in a world of good children’s books.

KI Yes, it’s almost become the norm, now, for new writers to think in terms of dystopian fiction or sci-fi.

NG It’s a good way to go. I don’t think there’s a human being on the planet who has not, in some way in the last 15, 20 years, encountered the phenomenon of future shock that Alvin Toffler described: the idea that it’s all moving a bit fast, that things are changing, thatthe world that our parents and grandparents knew is not the world we are living in now. If you’re in that environment, then science fiction is a kind of natural way of talking about it, and particularly dystopian science fiction, which always begins when a writer looks around, sees something they don’t like
and thinks, “But if this goes on, then . . .”

KI I think it’s interesting that the word “dystopian” has become so popular now. There’s something reassuring when I read that word, because it’s saying it’s some sort of dark, logical extension of the world that we know; it’s going to be a commentary on our world. And so that the fear of irrelevance isn’t there. If I sense that a writer is just weaving some sort of self-referential alternative world, that will not tell me anything emotionally or intellectually about the one I live in, I would lose patience and say, “I can’t be bothered to go there; why do I want to go there?” Do you have any sympathy with that?

NG I am like you in that way. But I could extend this idea that escapism is simply good as a thing to include things like Mills & Boon novels, things that bring joy to people, a joy that will never be reviewed in literary pages, because it is simply – you know – the equivalent of eating an ice cream. I think that always gets viewed with suspicion, like the Victorian triple-decker novels that Miss Prism was writing in The Importance of Being Earnest, or the commentary in the Lady Chatterley case: “Would you let your servant read these?” – the idea that if servants are going to read things, they should read improving literature, not things that are simply distractions.

I’m not arguing that no book is better than another, I’m just saying that books have different purposes. Fundamentally, I’m all for the democracy of books, and for the idea that at least some of the hierarchy of books is artificial. There was a science-fiction writer named Theodore Sturgeon writing in the Forties and Fifties, who coined Sturgeon’s law. He said, “Well, 90 per cent of science fiction is crap, but then 90 per cent of everything is crap,” which is always a useful thing to remember.

KI I would like to see things breaking down a lot more. I suppose my essential position is that I’m against any kind of imagination police, whether they’re coming from marketing reasons or from class snobbery.

But maybe the stigma against fantasy is something much wider than in the fiction world. Since industrial times began, it’s sort of true to say that children have been allowed a sanctioned world where fantasy and imagination is deemed to be fine, in fact, almost desirable. But then when they get to a certain age, they have to start getting prepared to be units of the labour force. And so, society has to start getting the fantasy element out of the children, so that they can become factory workers, soldiers, white-collar workers, whatever, because it’s seen to be not useful to the overall economic enterprise to have children growing up maintaining that fantasy element. You don’t want people who are too dreamy or who are imagining things: you want them to accept this is the nitty-gritty of real life, that they’ve just got to get on with it.

I’m not suggesting we’re necessarily being manipulated by some sinister government or anything; it’s just there in society. Parents will naturally discourage children once they get to a certain age from continuing with the fantasy element in their lives; schools will, too. It becomes taboo in the society at large.

Maybe the reason it’s been loosening up, and the stigma is going away to some extent in the last 25 years or so, is that the nature of our capitalist enterprise has changed. We’re no longer factory workers, white-collar workers, soldiers, and so on. And with the advent of blue-sky thinking, the new tech industries that have led the way in the last two decades seem to require some kind of imagination. Perhaps people are beginning to think there is some economic use in actually allowing us to indulge in what was once deemed childish fantasy. I sound like some sort of Seventies sociology professor, but I feel there’s something in this.

NG You know, I was in China in 2007, and it was the first ever state-sponsored, Party-approved science-fiction convention. They brought in some people from the west and I was one of them, and I was talking to a number of the older science-fiction writers in China, who told me about how science fiction was not just looked down on, but seen as suspicious and counter-revolutionary, because you could write a story set in a giant ant colony in the future, when people were becoming ants, but nobody was quite sure: was this really a commentary on the state? As such, it was very, very dodgy.

I took aside one of the Party organisers, and said, “OK. Why are you now in 2007 endorsing a science-fiction convention?” And his reply was that the Party had been concerned that while China historically has been a culture of magical and radical invention, right now, they weren’t inventing things. They were making things incredibly well but they weren’t inventing. And they’d gone to America and interviewed the people at Google and Apple and Microsoft, and talked to the inventors, and discovered that in each case, when young, they’d read science fiction. That was why the Chinese had decided that they were going to officially now approve of science fiction and fantasy.

KI That is so interesting.

NG Which actually articulates your theory exactly. It’s about the economy and the workforce of a society in which the act of imagining is as important as the act of toiling. We have machines that can toil, but we don’t have machines that can imagine.

KI Have you ever done an event at a Microsoft campus or Google?

NG I have. I’ve done Google and I’ve done Microsoft. Google was like going to a magical party held by nice people – it was a few years ago; I don’t know if they’re still quite as enthusiastic and filled with sweeties and so forth now. Whereas I turned up on the Microsoft campus and had half an hour of trying to persuade the person on the front desk that my name was not something else that also had an N and a G in it, and I was not here to give a lecture on cyber-security, and eventually managed to find some people who were in a room where they had been waiting for me for 45 minutes, and apparently cellphones didn’t work very well, so they hadn’t been able to get our message. It was a strange kind of contrast.

KI But the interesting thing is that you were invited to the Microsoft campus. Indeed, I was there last month. It is seen to be good for the company, and I suppose in a wider sense it’s good for the economy.

***

Illustrator: Tim McDonagh

Illustrator: Tim McDonagh

Moving on from the genre question, I’d be interested to ask you about these fascinating relationships which recur in your work, between somebody who has a normal human lifespan, and an immortal or very long-lived being. Do you know why you’re drawn to that relationship?

NG There are things I can point at that probably set me off, the first of which was probably watching Doctor Who as a very small boy, and starting to realise that this man in this blue box was going to be functionally immortal, but his friends were going to be left behind in time. And also pets. You get pets and your lifespans do not match. I remember realising that as a very small boy, and thinking it was absolutely tragic. You know, my mouse has just died of old age and he’s three.

The human lifespan seems incredibly short and frustrating, and for me, one of the best things about being a reader, let alone a writer, is being able to read ancient Greek stories, ancient Egyptian stories, Norse stories – to be able to feel like one is getting the long view. Stories are long-lived organisms. They’re bigger and older than we are. And the frustrating thing about having 60 years or 80 years or, if medical science gets fancy, 120 years, is that actually 1,000 years would be really interesting. You want to step back and go, “Where do you get this view?” and where we get it from is passing on stories, and handing down knowledge and experience.

You sit there reading Pepys, and just for a minute, you kind of get to be 350, 400 years older than you are. I’ve always loved the idea of making things longer, changing perspective. And part of looking at things in the long term is also, I think, in a weird way, worry about the future.

KI There’s an interesting emotional tension that comes because of the mismatch of lifespans in your work, because an event that might be tragic for one of us may not be so for the long-lived being. There’s an episode of Doctor Who that you wrote, called Doctor’s Wife, and one of the most haunting things about that was a passage where Rory and Amy are lost in some kind of weird time vortex thing. Rory ages enormously, he’s waiting like 70 years, while Amy is running around on the other side of the door . . . And she keeps getting visions of him grown really, really old and he’s been waiting for her, whereas for her, it’s just been like 20 seconds, and he’s saying, “Where were you, where were you?” Eventually he turns into just a pile of remains, human remains, and all you see is an angry, bitter piece of graffiti scrawled up on the wall, maybe in blood, for all we know. His love has turned to hate, because he just waited and waited for her.

Recently I’ve been interested in the difference between personal memory and societal memory, and I’m tempted almost to personify these two things. A society, a nation, goes on and on, for centuries: it can turn Nazi for a while and cause mayhem. But then the next generation comes along and says, you know, “We’re not going to make that mistake again.” Whereas an individual who happens to live through the Nazi era in Germany, that’s his whole life.

NG If you’re going to try and tell one of those stories, then the urge comes to start figuring out a way that you can have a conversation between somebody who can see the big picture, or is the big picture, and somebody who is in some way a brick in the wall. One of the most beautiful things about fiction is that you can have those conversations if you need them.

KI In those cases being able to resort to fantasy opens things up enormously. I’ve often done this, even if it doesn’t look so obvious, even if there aren’t things that look like mythical creatures. Creating an incredibly stuffy English butler in The Remains of the Day, I was very aware that I was taking something that I recognised to be a very small, negative set of impulses in myself – the fear of getting hurt in love, or that urge to just say, “I don’t want to figure out the political implications or the moral implications of my job, I’m just going to get on with my tiny patch”; those kinds of little urges we all recognise in ourselves – taking those and exaggerating them, and turning them into a kind of monstrous manifestation. The butler doesn’t look like a conventional monster, but I always thought that he was a kind of monster.

NG I love the idea of Stevens as a monster!

KI I’m reminded of something Lettie says in The Ocean at the End of the Lane: “Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t.” I thought that last category was really interesting. What are the monsters that stand for things that we should be afraid of but we aren’t?

NG I think it’s very easy to not be afraid of slow things, and not be afraid of things that apparently have your best interests at heart, and sometimes not to be afraid of things that mask themselves in efficiency and humanity. I was reading the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, and his letters home are filled with talking about how his men were working hard, who was doing well, how they got an extra trainload of people in, and: “By the way, give little Willy the present I sent and the chocolate, and I hope you enjoyed the schnapps.” And it was so horribly human.

It is the monstrosity that waits there inside normality, that waits in humanity. I wish that all monsters could be serial killers, could be crazed, could be dangerous, but the problem is that they’re not. Some of them are, horrifyingly, people who in their own head have somehow got to the point where they think they’re doing a good job, doing the right thing. But they’re still monsters.

KI You wonder about Boko Haram, these people who shoot buses full of children, who believe girls shouldn’t be educated and so on. Do they actually believe that they’re doing good?

NG The tragedy for me of something even like 9/11 is that I do not believe that the people piloting those planes were going, “I am an evil person doing an evil thing.” I think they were going, “I am doing what God wants, I am doing God’s will; I am doing good, look at me striking against evil.”

KI I wanted to ask you a bit more about ­stories being very long-lived beings. You’ve said that some stories actually adapt and survive as society changes around them.

NG My favourite example of a story that mutates is “Cinderella”. The story may well have begun in China, where actually they care a lot more about foot size than they do in the west. But it reaches France, and you have a story about a girl whose dead mother gives her these fancy fur slippers, fur being “vair”, but somewhere in the retelling the V-A-I-R becomes V-E-R-R-E, and they become glass slippers. The homonym happens, and now you have glass slippers, which make no sense. You didn’t really have the technology in medieval France to make glass slippers; wearing them would be stupid, they would cut your feet, they would break. Yet, suddenly, you have an image that that story then coagulates around. And now “Cinderella” just spreads and spreads – it has a huge advantage over all the other stories about girls who are sort of dirty and sit by the fire and magic things happen to them. “Cinderella” is the one that survived.

KI Do you think that if stories are left in the hands of professional storytelling institutions, like film studios and publishing houses, they are less likely to mutate in an honest way? Do you think the commercialisation of storytelling could actually be interfering in the natural development and growth of this kind of long-lived being?

NG What a lovely idea! Where stories are concerned, I tend to be very Darwinian. Because I look at something like “Sleeping Beauty”. Disney retold “Sleeping Beauty”; one can assume that its “Sleeping Beauty” reached more people than any other version has. And yet, if people tell the story you won’t get the Disney version where she meets the prince that morning, you’ll get a tower of thorns growing up and a hundred years passing before a prince turns up. It feels like a much better version.

I think that there’s definitely the battery farming of stories out there, but I don’t think they take over: they simply indulge our craving.

KI Is fan fiction today an example of stories starting to mutate? Now you have this phenomenon, which involves both professional writers – P D James writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, or Sebastian Faulks writing another James Bond – and amateurs making up things around their favourite books, and writing prequels and sequels.

NG It’s not a new phenomenon. I love the fact that, you know, in the early versions of King Lear, the story had a happy ending. Shakespeare turned it into a tragedy, and through the 18th and 19th centuries they kept trying to give it a happy ending again. But people kept going back to the one that Shakespeare created. You could definitely view Shakespeare as fan fiction, in his own way. I’ve only ever written, as far as I know, one book that did the thing that happens when people online get hold of it and start writing their own fiction, which was Good Omens, which I did with Terry Pratchett. It’s a 100,000-word book; there’s probably a million words of fiction out there by now, written by people who were inspired by characters in the book.

KI What do you feel about that?

NG Mostly I feel happy about it. But I think the happiest and proudest of people would have been, in those terms, the Stan Lees and the Jack Kirbys, the people who created characters in comics. Kirby was the artist, but also the creating, driving force behind the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, the X-Men, in the early Sixties. These guys created characters about whom people are forever inventing, spinning off, and there’s something very wonderful about that.

KI Yes, there is. I’m often asked what my attitude is to film, theatrical, radio adaptations of my novels. It’s very nice to have my story go out there, and if it’s in a different form, I want the thing to mutate slightly. I don’t want it to be an exact translation of my novel. I want it to be slightly different, because in a very vain kind of way, as a storyteller, I want my story to become like public property, so that it gains the status where people feel they can actually change it around and use it to express different things.

NG Yes, the moment that you have a live actor portraying a character, something exciting is happening; it’s different, and if it’s really happening in front of you live, then, again, you’re seeing something that’s new.

So I do love it when people grab my stuff and take it and do things with it. I love copyright – I love the fact that I can feed myself and feed my children with the stuff I make up. On the other hand, copyright length right now is life plus 75 years, and I don’t know that I want to be in control of what I’ve created for 75 years after I’ve died! I don’t know that I want to be feeding my great-grandchildren. I feel like they should be able to look after themselves, and not necessarily put limits on what I’ve created, if there’s something that would do better in the cultural dialogue. I loved Les Klinger’s legal case, establishing that the Conan Doyle Estate had basically been ­running a shakedown operation for the last 20, 30 years, where they’ve been getting people to pay money to license Sherlock Holmes when Holmes was out of copyright.

KI I didn’t know about that, actually. Since Sherlock Holmes went out of copyright, certainly, he has started to mutate and evolve in a very energetic way. I don’t know if it would have been possible, for instance, to have the Cumberbatch modernised series, had it been under copyright. And Holmes is a very interesting example, I think, of a figure who’s mutated over the years and evolved. I think if you did a big study of Doctor Who, you’d see that the essential story has actually changed to serve the different climates of the times. It’s clear that the Daleks started off as Nazis and the Cybermen were communists. But my daughter was saying that, for their generation, the Cybermen represent the people being turned into mindless wage slaves in the 21st-century workplace. Now the fear of the communist takeover of the world has receded, the Cybermen can become almost the opposite – something that represents a unit of the rampant capitalist culture.

I wonder if Doctor Who will turn out to be one of these creatures who live for a long, long time, as a story that will be a hundred-year-old being, a 300-year-old being. I love this idea of yours of stories being long-lived beings because it seems to have implications for what our ambitions should be, as people who sit at home and write them.

NG I know that when I create a story, I never know what’s going to work. Sometimes I will do something that I think was just a bit of fun, and people will love it and it catches fire, and sometimes I will work very hard on something that I think people will love, and it just fades: it never quite finds its people.

KI Even if something doesn’t catch fire at the time, you may find it catches fire further down the line, in 20 years’ time, or 30 years’ time. That has happened, often.

NG Exactly. There’s a beautiful essay by A A Milne where he says, “I want to draw your attention to a completely forgotten book that none of you have ever heard about that is one of the best books in the world, and it’s by Kenneth Grahame. And you’ve all heard of him, because he wrote Dream Days and The Golden Age” – two popular books – “but he also wrote a book called The Wind in the Willows, which none of you have heard of.”

KI Aha. Stories are interesting in that way. They sometimes just emerge, after some mysterious kind of hibernation period. You can never tell what is going to be one of these long-lived creatures and what isn’t. It would be interesting to think, if stories are creatures, whether some of them are actually deceitful creatures. Some of them would be deeply sly and untrustworthy, and some of them would be very uplifting.

NG There would definitely be bad ones. But how would we know? How would we ever find out?

The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro is published Faber & Faber. “Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances” by Neil Gaiman is published by Headline.

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Mother Tongue, by Amy Tan #ASMSG #IARTG #T4US

Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”: The Purpose And Power Of Language

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From Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” (76-81), it is evident that language has an effect on our lives. Language defines the type of person we are generally and it has an effect on the choices we make regarding our careers, our partners, where we live, work, etc. In “Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan discusses the many ways in which the language that she speaks is multidimensional. It is private, it is public, it is family, it is academic. It is the sum total of her identity. Her story exemplifies us. In the same way that language defines Amy, it also defines all of us.
***

I am not a scholar of English or literature. I cannot give you much more than personal opinions on the English language and its variations in this country or others.

I am a writer. And by that definition, I am someone who has always loved language. I am fascinated by language in daily life. I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language — the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth. Language is the tool of my trade. And I use them all — all the Englishes I grew up with.

Recently, I was made keenly aware of the different Englishes I do use. I was giving a talk to a large group of people, the same talk I had already given to half a dozen other groups. The nature of the talk was about my writing, my life, and my book, The Joy Luck Club. The talk was going along well enough, until I remembered one major difference that made the whole talk sound wrong. My mother was in the room. And it was perhaps the first time she had heard me give a lengthy speech, using the kind of English I have never used with her. I was saying things like, “The intersection of memory upon imagination” and “There is an aspect of my fiction that relates to thus-and-thus’–a speech filled with carefully wrought grammatical phrases, burdened, it suddenly seemed to me, with nominalized forms, past perfect tenses, conditional phrases, all the forms of standard English that I had learned in school and through books, the forms of English I did not use at home with my mother.

Just last week, I was walking down the street with my mother, and I again found myself conscious of the English I was using, the English I do use with her. We were talking about the price of new and used furniture and I heard myself saying this: “Not waste money that way.” My husband was with us as well, and he didn’t notice any switch in my English. And then I realized why. It’s because over the twenty years we’ve been together I’ve often used that same kind of English with him, and sometimes he even uses it with me. It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with.

So you’ll have some idea of what this family talk I heard sounds like, I’11 quote what my mother said during a recent conversation which I videotaped and then transcribed. During this conversation, my mother was talking about a political gangster in Shanghai who had the same last name as her family’s, Du, and how the gangster in his early years wanted to be adopted by her family, which was rich by comparison. Later, the gangster became more powerful, far richer than my mother’s family, and one day showed up at my mother’s wedding to pay his respects. Here’s what she said in part: “Du Yusong having business like fruit stand. Like off the street kind. He is Du like Du Zong — but not Tsung-ming Island people. The local people call putong, the river east side, he belong to that side local people. That man want to ask Du Zong father take him in like become own family. Du Zong father wasn’t look down on him, but didn’t take seriously, until that man big like become a mafia. Now important person, very hard to inviting him. Chinese way, came only to show respect, don’t stay for dinner. Respect for making big celebration, he shows up. Mean gives lots of respect. Chinese custom. Chinese social life that way. If too important won’t have to stay too long. He come to my wedding. I didn’t see, I heard it. I gone to boy’s side, they have YMCA dinner. Chinese age I was nineteen.”

You should know that my mother’s expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands. She reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, reads all of Shirley MacLaine’s books with ease–all kinds of things I can’t begin to understand. Yet some of my friends tell me they understand 50 percent of what my mother says. Some say they understand 80 to 90 percent. Some say they understand none of it, as if she were speaking pure Chinese. But to me, my mother’s English is perfectly clear, perfectly natural. It’s my mother tongue. Her language, as I hear it, is vivid, direct, full of observation and imagery. That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world.

Lately, I’ve been giving more thought to the kind of English my mother speaks. Like others, I have described it to people as ‘broken” or “fractured” English. But I wince when I say that. It has always bothered me that I can think of no way to describe it other than “broken,” as if it were damaged and needed to be fixed, as if it lacked a certain wholeness and soundness. I’ve heard other terms used, “limited English,” for example. But they seem just as bad, as if everything is limited, including people’s perceptions of the limited English speaker.

I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mother’s “limited” English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say That is, because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect. And I had plenty of empirical evidence to support me: the fact that people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her.

My mother has long realized the limitations of her English as well. When I was fifteen, she used to have me call people on the phone to pretend I was she. In this guise, I was forced to ask for information or even to complain and yell at people who had been rude to her. One time it was a call to her stockbroker in New York. She had cashed out her small portfolio and it just so happened we were going to go to New York the next week, our very first trip outside California. I had to get on the phone and say in an adolescent voice that was not very convincing, “This is Mrs. Tan.”

And my mother was standing in the back whispering loudly, “Why he don’t send me check, already two weeks late. So mad he lie to me, losing me money.

And then I said in perfect English, “Yes, I’m getting rather concerned. You had agreed to send the check two weeks ago, but it hasn’t arrived.”

Then she began to talk more loudly. “What he want, I come to New York tell him front of his boss, you cheating me?” And I was trying to calm her down, make her be quiet, while telling the stockbroker, “I can’t tolerate any more excuses. If I don’t receive the check immediately, I am going to have to speak to your manager when I’m in New York next week.” And sure enough, the following week there we were in front of this astonished stockbroker, and I was sitting there red-faced and quiet, and my mother, the real Mrs. Tan, was shouting at his boss in her impeccable broken English.

We used a similar routine just five days ago, for a situation that was far less humorous. My mother had gone to the hospital for an appointment, to find out about a benign brain tumor a CAT scan had revealed a month ago. She said she had spoken very good English, her best English, no mistakes. Still, she said, the hospital did not apologize when they said they had lost the CAT scan and she had come for nothing. She said they did not seem to have any sympathy when she told them she was anxious to know the exact diagnosis, since her husband and son had both died of brain tumors. She said they would not give her any more information until the next time and she would have to make another appointment for that. So she said she would not leave until the doctor called her daughter. She wouldn’t budge. And when the doctor finally called her daughter, me, who spoke in perfect English — lo and behold — we had assurances the CAT scan would be found, promises that a conference call on Monday would be held, and apologies for any suffering my mother had gone through for a most regrettable mistake.

I think my mother’s English almost had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life as well. Sociologists and linguists probably will tell you that a person’s developing language skills are more influenced by peers. But I do think that the language spoken in the family, especially in immigrant families which are more insular, plays a large role in shaping the language of the child. And I believe that it affected my results on achievement tests, I.Q. tests, and the SAT. While my English skills were never judged as poor, compared to math, English could not be considered my strong suit. In grade school I did moderately well, getting perhaps B’s, sometimes B-pluses, in English and scoring perhaps in the sixtieth or seventieth percentile on achievement tests. But those scores were not good enough to override the opinion that my true abilities lay in math and science, because in those areas I achieved A’s and scored in the ninetieth percentile or higher.

This was understandable. Math is precise; there is only one correct answer. Whereas, for me at least, the answers on English tests were always a judgment call, a matter of opinion and personal experience. Those tests were constructed around items like fill-in-the-blank sentence completion, such as, “Even though Tom was, Mary thought he was –.” And the correct answer always seemed to be the most bland combinations of thoughts, for example, “Even though Tom was shy, Mary thought he was charming:’ with the grammatical structure “even though” limiting the correct answer to some sort of semantic opposites, so you wouldn’t get answers like, “Even though Tom was foolish, Mary thought he was ridiculous:’ Well, according to my mother, there were very few limitations as to what Tom could have been and what Mary might have thought of him. So I never did well on tests like that

The same was true with word analogies, pairs of words in which you were supposed to find some sort of logical, semantic relationship — for example, “Sunset is to nightfall as is to .” And here you would be presented with a list of four possible pairs, one of which showed the same kind of relationship: red is to stoplight, bus is to arrival, chills is to fever, yawn is to boring: Well, I could never think that way. I knew what the tests were asking, but I could not block out of my mind the images already created by the first pair, “sunset is to nightfall”–and I would see a burst of colors against a darkening sky, the moon rising, the lowering of a curtain of stars. And all the other pairs of words –red, bus, stoplight, boring–just threw up a mass of confusing images, making it impossible for me to sort out something as logical as saying: “A sunset precedes nightfall” is the same as “a chill precedes a fever.” The only way I would have gotten that answer right would have been to imagine an associative situation, for example, my being disobedient and staying out past sunset, catching a chill at night, which turns into feverish pneumonia as punishment, which indeed did happen to me.

I have been thinking about all this lately, about my mother’s English, about achievement tests. Because lately I’ve been asked, as a writer, why there are not more Asian Americans represented in American literature. Why are there few Asian Americans enrolled in creative writing programs? Why do so many Chinese students go into engineering! Well, these are broad sociological questions I can’t begin to answer. But I have noticed in surveys — in fact, just last week — that Asian students, as a whole, always do significantly better on math achievement tests than in English. And this makes me think that there are other Asian-American students whose English spoken in the home might also be described as “broken” or “limited.” And perhaps they also have teachers who are steering them away from writing and into math and science, which is what happened to me.

Fortunately, I happen to be rebellious in nature and enjoy the challenge of disproving assumptions made about me. I became an English major my first year in college, after being enrolled as pre-med. I started writing nonfiction as a freelancer the week after I was told by my former boss that writing was my worst skill and I should hone my talents toward account management.

But it wasn’t until 1985 that I finally began to write fiction. And at first I wrote using what I thought to be wittily crafted sentences, sentences that would finally prove I had mastery over the English language. Here’s an example from the first draft of a story that later made its way into The Joy Luck Club, but without this line: “That was my mental quandary in its nascent state.” A terrible line, which I can barely pronounce.

Fortunately, for reasons I won’t get into today, I later decided I should envision a reader for the stories I would write. And the reader I decided upon was my mother, because these were stories about mothers. So with this reader in mind — and in fact she did read my early drafts–I began to write stories using all the Englishes I grew up with: the English I spoke to my mother, which for lack of a better term might be described as “simple”; the English she used with me, which for lack of a better term might be described as “broken”; my translation of her Chinese, which could certainly be described as “watered down”; and what I imagined to be her translation of her Chinese if she could speak in perfect English, her internal language, and for that I sought to preserve the essence, but neither an English nor a Chinese structure. I wanted to capture what language ability tests can never reveal: her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts.

Apart from what any critic had to say about my writing, I knew I had succeeded where it counted when my mother finished reading my book and gave me her verdict: “So easy to read.”

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Timeles #Love Story: Book Review of Yukio Mishima’s, “The Sound of Waves” #ASMSG

Yukio Mishima’s, “The Sound of Waves” is a book that captures and engages the active reader on a number of levels. Active reading is important, because unless you share the cultural background of the author, you will miss out on the complexity and depth of the story. First things first, however. The author was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature on three separate occasions, and there are those who believe he should have been awarded the prize. Judging by his body of work as compared to some of the past winners, Mr. Mishima would have been a more than worthy recipient. Yukio Mishima, as a writer, is a master of his craft. After publishing his first book at the age of 16 (no mean feat in Japan), he went on to write forty novels, plays, and hundreds of short stories and essays. Prolific, I think, is the word that was invented to describe this author’s literary production.

In this truly timeless story of first love, Mishima uses evocative language to paint pictures in the mind of the reader. We hear the sound of the waves, we see the ocean, we feel the rain, the storms, the typhoon even. We hear the laughter, the joys, the tears, the pain, the hopes and fears of the characters involved in the story. We understand the way the plot develops as it does, with jealousy playing a major role in the story. That’s human, to feel jealousy when someone else is happy, when someone else has got something you wanted, but you did not manage to get for yourself.

The parents are portrayed realistically, willing to go to great lengths to satisfy their own dreams, to sacrifice to raise a family alone. The parents of Shinji and Hatsue, as well as the other children of the island, are easy to relate to. They want the best for their children. Their motivations are universal.

Culturally, a society in which nature and ancestors are venerated is made understandable to the reader. Shintoism plays a major role in shaping the reactions of Shinji and Hatse to the adversity their love is subjected to. Their actions speak volumes for the traditions and beliefs of the Japanese people. It is with little wonder when we actively search for more information and discover that this book has been made into a movie and filmed on 5 separate occasions in the past 50 years. It’s a classic tale which appeals to a wide audience on each retelling of the story. Again, it is both a timeless love story and a testimony to the values and morality one finds in the Japanese Shinto religion.

Despite all of the numerous islands that Japan has, Mishima set the story on Uta-Jima, a fictitious island. This gave him the ability to construct a remote fishing village island that would not only be contrasted with the modernity found in cities, but also be universally recognizable to the Japanese reader, and at the same time, be familiar to any other reader from outside of the Japanese culture. The result is a familiarity with the isolated setting, and an appreciation of why this island is not more technologically advanced than it appears in the story. After all, we are in the middle of the book before it dawns on us that we are reading a book set in the middle of the 20th century, since the Korean War is mentioned in the story.

Having praised the author extensively for his imagery, descriptive language, storytelling, characterization, capacity to convey Japanese cultural and religious practices, I now point out that he took a calculated risk in resorting to the use of an insect to intervene during an attempted rape. He didn’t pull it off convincingly, in my opinion. It was out of place in a story that was so very realistically written. I’m not opposed to a love story having humourous aspects, but as he used it here, he is asking the reader to suspend disbelief (and laugh) when we would have been more than willing to believe that Hatsue herself had overcome her attacker. Hatsue, after all, is young, in excellent health, strong enough to pull boats up on the beach, and used to hard work. She is also a pearl diver, capable of holding her breath and diving deep into the ocean to wrest pearls from its depths. Her attacker was physically her inferior, and in my mind, she would have easily defeated Yasuo. He would have taken nothing from her except perhaps a lump on his head from the can of WhoopA$$ she would have opened up on him.

Overall, the story is gripping, emotional, and very satisfying. It brought a lump to my throat, choked me up, and yes, I admit that I shed a tear (or two) at multiple times during the reading of this book. As a writer, it’s the kind of book I wish I had written myself, as a teacher it’s the kind of book you want your students to read and discuss. As a human being, it’s the kind of story you wish would happen to everybody, at least once in their lives, namely, to be truly loved in a pure way. I recommend this book very highly to anyone who has ever been in love. The book definitely transcends time and place, and will live on forever through the eternity of the human existence. Well done Mr. Mishima.

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Sir Ken Robinson: ‘The education system is a dangerous myth’ #ukedchat #ASMSG #edchat

Sir_Ken_Robinson_at_The_Creative_Company_Conference

Source: TES Connect
In an exclusive extract from his new book, Sir Ken Robinson argues that our approach to teaching is wrong – and hundreds of years out of date

I’m often asked the same questions: what’s going wrong in education? Why? If you could reinvent education, what would it look like? Would you have schools? Would there be different types? What would go on in them? Would everyone have to go, and how old would they have to be? Would there be tests? If you say I can make a difference in education, where do I begin?

The fundamental question is this: what is education for? People’s ideas differ sharply on this issue. Like democracy and justice, education is an example of what the philosopher Walter Bryce Gallie called an “essentially contested concept”. It means different things to different people according to their cultural values and how they view related issues such as ethnicity, -gender, poverty and social class. That doesn’t mean that we can’t discuss it or do anything about it. We just need to be clear on our terms. So before we go on, let me say a few words about learning, education, training and schools, terms which are sometimes confused.

Learning is the process of acquiring new knowledge and skills. Human beings are highly curious; from the moment they’re born, children have a voracious appetite for learning. For many, that appetite is dulled as they go through school. Keeping it alive is the key to transforming education.

Education means organised programmes of learning. The assumption is that young people need to know, understand and be able to do things that they wouldn’t if left to their own -devices. What those things are and how education should be organised to enable students to learn them are core issues.

Training is a type of education that focuses on learning specific skills. I remember earnest debates as a student about the difficulty of distinguishing between education and training. The difference was clear enough when we talked about sex education. Most parents would be happy to know their teenagers had had sex education at school; they’d probably be less happy if they’d had sex training.

By schools, I don’t mean only the conventional facilities that we are used to for children and teenagers. I mean any community of people that comes together to learn with each other. School, as I use the term here, includes home-schooling, un-schooling and informal gatherings both in person and online, from kindergarten to college and beyond. Some features of conventional schools have little to do with learning and can actively get in the way of it. The revolution we need involves rethinking how schools work and what counts as a school. It’s also about trusting in a different story about education.

Happily ever after?

We all love stories, even if they’re not true. As we grow up, one of the ways we learn about the world is through the stories we hear. Some are about our own families and friends. Some are part of the larger culture – the myths, fables and fairy tales that have captivated people for generations. In stories that are told often, the line between fact and myth can become so blurred that we mistake one for the other. This is true of a story that many people believe about education, even though it’s not real and never really was. It goes like this.

Young children go to elementary school mainly to learn the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics. These skills are essential for them to do well in high school. If they go on to higher education and graduate with a good degree, they will find a well-paid job and the country will prosper too.

In this story, real intelligence is what you use in academic studies: children are born with different amounts of this intelligence, so some naturally do well at school and others don’t. The ones who are really intelligent go on to good universities. Those who graduate with a good university degree are guaranteed a well-paid professional job with their own office. Students who are less intelligent naturally do less well. Some may fail or drop out. Some who finish high school may not go any further in education and look for a low-income job instead. Some will go on to college but take less academic, vocational courses and get a decent service or manual job, with their own toolkit.

When it’s put so baldly, this story may seem like too much of a caricature. But when you look at what goes on in many schools, when you listen to what many parents expect of and for their children, when you consider what so many policy-makers around the world are actually doing, it seems they really believe that the current systems of education are basically sound, and that they’re not working as well as they should only -because standards have fallen. Consequently, most efforts are focused on raising standards through more competition and accountability. You may believe this story too and wonder what’s wrong with it.

This story is a dangerous myth. It is one of the main reasons why so many reform efforts do not work. On the contrary, they often compound the very problems they claim to be solving, such as the alarming drop-out rates, the levels of stress and depression – even suicide – among students and their teachers, the falling value of a university degree, the rocketing cost of getting one and the rising levels of unemployment among graduates and non-graduates alike.

Mass production

Politicians scratch their heads over these problems. Sometimes they punish schools for not making the grade. Sometimes they fund programmes to get them back on track. But the -problems persist and often get worse, because many of them are caused by the system itself.

All systems behave in ways that are particular to them. When I was in my twenties in Liverpool, I made a visit to an abattoir. (I don’t remember why. I was probably on a date.) Abattoirs are designed to kill animals. And they work. Very few escape and form survivors’ clubs. As we came to the end, we passed a door that was marked “veterinarian”. I asked the guide why the abattoir had a veterinarian – wasn’t it a bit late for that? He said that the veterinarian came in periodically to conduct random autopsies. I thought, he must have seen a pattern by now.

If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardisation and conformity, which suppresses individuality, imagination and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.

There’s a difference between symptoms and causes. There are many symptoms of the current malaise in education and they won’t be relieved unless we understand the deeper problems underlying them. One is the industrial character of public education. The issue in a nutshell is this: most developed countries did not have mass systems of public education much before the mid-19th century. These systems were developed to meet the labour needs of the Industrial Revolution and they are organised on the principles of mass production. The standards movement is allegedly focused on making these systems more efficient and accountable. The problem is that these systems are inherently unsuited to the wholly different circumstances of the 21st century.

Creative Schools: revolutionizing education from the ground up by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica is published by Allen Lane. www.penguin.co.uk

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Congratulations! Myths, Monsters & Love #ASMSG #IARTG #RRBC

Congratulations! “Myths, Monsters & Love From The South of Chile” is live in the Kindle Store and is currently enrolled in KDP Select. It is available* for readers to purchase here.

Thank you for publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). We hope you enjoy the benefits of KDP Select. You’ll earn a share of the monthly global fund when your book is selected and read past 10% from Kindle Unlimited or borrowed from KOLL. Plus, you can use the book promotion tools including: Kindle Countdown Deals, time-bound promotional discounting you set for your book on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk to help readers discover your book; or schedule a Free Book Promotion so readers worldwide can get your book free for a limited time.

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**

This book is dedicated to young and old alike. It is a centuries-old myth that has been passed down from generation to generation on the island of Chiloé. This island is located in the extreme southern sector of Chile, far from the urban center of the country.

This fact partly explains the fertile ground available for the myth’s survival to the present day. More importantly, its context is a superstitious world that sought to explain the mysteries of the natural world through the medium of dreams and myths. In fact, according to Joseph Campbell, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” ~ Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”.

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In Loving Memory: Bryan Keith Baker #RRBC #ASMSG

In Loving Memory-p1

Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a unit about friendship with my students. During the progress of this unit, I was reminded of my nephew, Bryan. Let me share with you how this connection came to me, because I believe it is a valuable lesson worthy of being shared with my friends and family all over the world.

As part of the unit, we dealt with Aristotle’s ideas about friendship. Aristotle identifies three kinds of friendship in the book, “Nichomachean Ethics”. These are: 1. utility, 2. pleasure, and 3. goodness.

Although Aristotle acknowledges two schools of thought about whether we choose our friends because they are like us, or whether they differ from us, he takes a clear stand on which of the three types of friendships he considers to be the best. In fact, he states: “But the friendship of the good…is perfect.”

As I reflect on this, agreement with Aristotle is clearly indicated. Yes, in forming a friendship, we would like our friends to be useful to us, and vice versa. We would also like to enjoy pleasant moments, having fun, in the company of our friends. It is this point which forms Aristotle’s opinion that friendship based on goodness is the best type of friendship.

Let me ask two questions here. Would you or I wish to continue a friendship with someone who was unwilling to help us, or worse, gave us help which was worthless, of no value? The answer is, if you will allow me to answer for both of us, NO!

Let me ask my second question now. Would you or I wish to continue a friendship with someone who was boring, with whom there were no enjoyment, no fun, no pleasant moments? The answer, again, if you will permit me to answer for both of us, is NO!

Such friendships, based on pleasure and / or utility, can only be temporary. As we have seen, the friendship is terminated, when it no longer provides the utility or enjoyment one is looking for. Time and time again, we have experienced friendships in which we “give more than we get”. Sooner or later, common sense, or the need for self-preservation, dictates that we end such an unsatisfying friendship.

However, a friendship based on goodness is quite a different matter. Aristotle tells us that friends who are good, “…equally wish good to one another, inasmuch as they are good; but their goodness is inherent in themselves; and those, who wish good to their friends for the friends’ sake, are friends in the greatest degree; for they have this feeling for the sake of ‘the friends themselves… Their friendship therefore continues…and virtue is lasting.”

Friendship inherit in yourself, to wish good for your friends’ sake, are friends in the greatest degree.

As I reflect on the legacy of my nephew, Bryan Keith Baker, a year after his passing, I am convinced that Aristotle’s concept of friendship based on goodness applies perfectly to Bryan’s life. Yet I beg you not to take my word for it, because I am biased in this matter, being his uncle. Instead of my words, let’s please take the words dedicated to Bryan by his friends in this beautiful poem:

Bryan

He was different, he was special…
unique in a thousand ways.
He was giving, he was loving,
and we’ll miss him all our days.

His legacy was friendship,
he was so giving of his time.
His bequest was his faith in God.
His child, family and friends
were constantly on his mind.

He knew sorrow in great measure,
and was stung by illness too;
but neither could defeat him…
nothing his faith couldn’t subdue.

Of course, the Lord will welcome him
with Angels magnifying;
the beauty of the celestial place,
devoid of pain and crying.

But forgive us Lord,
for sinning, for wishing
he was here.
It’s hard to give up someone
we have come to love so dear.

Because you see,
he was different,
he was special…
unique in a thousand ways;
he was loving, he was giving,
and we’ll miss him, miss him,
all of our days.

Ithica - Family

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The Bryan Keith Baker Memorial Scholarship for Rivercrest High School Students #ASMSG #RRBC

Bryan Keith BakerThe Bryan Keith Baker Memorial Scholarship for Rivercrest High School Students provides financial assistance for 1st & 2nd semester of college/university.

Several basketball games will be played on March 14,2015 starting at noon at the Charles Strong Recreation Center in Luxora, Arkansas. The proceeds from this event will be used to help fund the Bryan Keith Baker Memorial Scholarship for Rivercrest High School Students.

We will have our first memorial basketball tournament in memory of our beloved Bryan.

Date: March 14, 2015
Time: 12:00 (NOON)
Place: Charles Strong Recreation Center
Address: 602 Canal Street

We, the family and friends of Bryan, are very excited about this and we are looking forward to seeing everyone. There will be three (3) games played.

The class of 1995 vs. old school team.

The winner will play Bryan’s co- workers from Memphis and Forest City Arkansas.

We will raffle off an iPad at the beginning of the 3rd game.

Come out and cheer for the COLTS class of 1995.

Contact Katherine Warren for more information about how you can donate to help fund this scholarship.
Event Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/BryanKeithBakerMemorialScholarship
(Please check out the page and like it)

It will be wonderful to see you at the fund-raising event. Let’s pack the house one more time in the name of education to honor Bryan’s legacy!Gym at LHS

***

BryanBryan Keith Baker, born December 28, 1976 to Katherine Warren and the late Joseph Warren Sr. Bryan was raised in Luxora, Arkansas and attended grades K-6 at Luxora Elementary School.

While in school, Bryan participated in basketball and was a volunteer for the school’s safety patrol program; the program was responsible for assisting students crossing the street to school safely and to raise and lower the United States flag before and after school.

At this age, Bryan was already implementing selfless service and putting others safety and needs above his own. From 7-12th grade, Bryan attended Rivercrest Junior and Senior High School and excelled in school, band, basketball, track, and numerous student clubs.

Upon graduation from Rivercrest High School in May 1995, Bryan enrolled at Grambling State University in the fall semester and chose nursing as his major. While there Bryan found a different passion and changed his major to Criminal Justice because he felt that he could make a greater impact on the lives of others.

Bryan graduated from Grambling State University in May 2000 and started working at Juvenile Court in Memphis, Tennessee where he touched countless youth and co-workers with his positive demeanor and upbeat personality.

Because of his dedication, many troubled youth were given second chances in life and many came back and informed him of how much they appreciated his motivation and genuine care.

After leaving Juvenile Court, Bryan started working at Memphis Recovery Center and worked with troubled teens that fell victim to numerous substance addictions. Not deterred with one’s background, Bryan was on a mission to open the eyes, hearts and minds of the youth that were at the recovery center in order to allow them to have a second chance in life and take advantage of the opportunity to live out their dreams as positive, productive citizens in their respective communities.

To this day, there are numerous teens that still go back to the center and share their experiences with others and take out time because of all of the time and sacrifices that Bryan dedicated to them.

With the desire to further advance his career, Bryan joined the Federal Bureau of Prisons in both Forrest City, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee. During this time he crossed paths with individuals from all over the world and because of his out-going personality, he never met a stranger in all of his encounters.

He remained a diligent worker that always had a positive message and provided words of encouragement to help people realize that it is never too late to change no matter how old you are. While working with the Bureau, Bryan became ill and was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma Cancer. After a strong battle with cancer, he succumbed to his illness on March 4, 2014.

Today and forever more, our family remains committed to letting his legacy live on through the next generation of youth.

rivercrest

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#PublicSpeaking: What #Amazing Nonsense You Are Talking! #ASMSG #IAN1 #IARTG #edchat

The author at a recent public speaking event in Hualpén community, Concepción, Chile. http://goo.gl/jfXeRL

The author at a recent public speaking event in Hualpén community, Concepción, Chile. http://goo.gl/jfXeRL

To be a good public speaker, never give up. Face your fear. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” ~ James Baldwin

In this book, I share my story, from a variety of angles, of how I face my fear of public speaking. I don’t preach, I don’t lay out a magic formula. I simply share different ways I deal with public speaking, from a variety of viewpoints, stories, activities, some old, some new.

I study people, I do what ancient speakers did to train themselves, like Demosthenes, an ancient Greek lawyer from Athens who was often humiliated and made fun of due to a speech impediment before becoming a much admired public speaker. And then who can forget England’s King George, a man with a stammer and a nation to lead. To lead a nation, in wartime, you must speak to your people – in public – in spite of your speech impediment, despite the stammer, despite the fear.

I share people and stories and activities that helped me. I am convinced you will be helped, there is something here that will aid you in overcoming your fear. At the very least, by knowing my experience, you will know that public speaking fear is normal, and using the information that helped me, begin to search for your own way of dealing with your fear.

In fact, it must be your way. You are the one who suffers, and you must help yourself. Know you are not alone. I admit that speaking in public scares me to death, and I am a teacher of English, a leader, a person responsible for helping young people reach their full human potential.

Nonetheless, I am afraid of public speaking, always have been, and always will be. That fear is constant. It is a feeling of sheer terror, when you are about to open your mouth in public, and risk humiliation if what you say, or don’t say, is foolish.

It is the kind of fear that is best resolved by simply, well…just being quiet, literally keeping your mouth closed. Except that doesn’t make the problem go away, it only defers it for another day. It’s like being haunted by a ghost, when the night comes, the phantom returns, the fear of public speaking visits us again.

Most people are afraid of public speaking, many to the point of a phobia. I am afraid of public speaking, just like you are. We worry about being embarrassed, making a fool of ourselves, getting humiliated by something we said. In fact, some people become absolutely terrified, paralysed, by the very thought of being shamed by public speaking.

In fact, many studies have shown that people fear public speaking more than death! This makes sense to me. Death happens only once, with public speaking we die a thousand deaths!

A common myth about the fear of public speaking is that it’s possible to completely eliminate it. In my case, I can’t eliminate it, but I have learned to control it, to make it work for me, not against me. You can too.

Credit: Fame Pictures, 2008 http://bit.ly/12RIqQL

Credit: Fame Pictures, 2008 http://bit.ly/12RIqQL

Even the most confident public speakers, people like Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Tina Fey, Warren Buffet, Socrates, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Thomas Jerome Baker, will all tell you that they feel some degree of anxiety before stepping in front of an audience. Call it stage fright or phobia. Call it fear or simply nervous anticipation.

The fact is, we all have to overcome nervousness when we have to talk in front of a group, large or small. As the stakes get higher, you will feel anxiety. The most common way to try to eliminate your public speaking phobia is by “desensitization”. As with any phobia, you have to put yourself through the anxiety-inducing experience so many times, again and again, until your body stops reacting to it, or until you learn how to make your nervousness and anxiety work in your favor, and not against you.

However, not only is this a long, difficult process, but most people give up before they reap the rewards for their efforts. If I have a secret, again, it’s this: be perseverant. Never give up, and you will become the best public speaker you can be.

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What The Reviewers Are Saying

5.0 out of 5 stars Don’t Be SAD, February 6, 2015
By Josh DVerified Purchase

This review is from: Public Speaking: What Amazing Nonsense You Are Talking! (Kindle Edition)

According to the National Institute of Health, SAD, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is one of the most prevalent anxiety disorders. SAD includes the fear of public speaking. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the intervention of choice for SAD, and it includes exposure to anxiety-provoking stimuli to induce systematic desensitization and reduce anxiety. That means if you are afraid of public speaking, the cure for your fear is public speaking! You must face your fear to overcome it. The information in this book will help you to understand your fear, to realise that you are not alone, and give you tips that can help you get over your fear of public speaking. I recommend this book highly.

**

5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and Pragmatic
February 6, 2015
By Chref
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

This book explains thoroughly the process of understanding what public speaking is, and how to approach it without fear paralyzing you or crippling you. It provides a lot of practical and pragmatic suggestions to improve your public speaking. I recommend it highly for beginners and even experienced speakers will find it useful too. I give it 5 stars.

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5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Ways Are Still Good February 4, 2015
By Vessy Tab
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

I was very impressed with this book. There is a lot of research that went into this book. Readers are treated to anecdotes, quotes and tips from people like Demosthenes, Cicero, Socrates, James Baldwin, Edgar Allan Poe, Tina Fey and King George too. What all these people have in common is that they are all great public speakers. The book is packed full of so many gems you will be referring to this book again and again in the future. When you compare how Demosthenes and King George worked in similar ways to overcome their public speaking problems, you can see that the old ways are still good. The methods Demosthenes used are still good today. Highly recommended.

**

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