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The Shy Writer’s Guide To Dealing With Constructive Criticism

September 26th, 2014 3 comments

Plenty of people have decried the softening of our society. How every kid gets a star and a trophy and a medal and a pony just for finishing the one mile fun run. But the truth is, there is still plenty of criticism in the world, and despite our backpacks full of trophies and ribbons and our massive armies of ponies, most of us run into criticism on a fairly regular basis.

Let me just throw this revolutionary observation out there – criticism sucks. Especially constructive criticism. Plain old criticism can usually be dismissed, but constructive criticism is your friends and family actually trying to help you by pointing out that you really shouldn’t be wearing those jeans, or keeping all your ponies indoors has made your home an inhospitable sty that everyone loathes to visit.

Constructive criticism, at least the kind that comes from those who really care, is especially cutting because it’s usually true and it comes from someone that actually matters to you.

I’m pretty sure that everyone has trouble with criticism, but for shy people it’s even worse. We tend to ever so slightly blow things out of proportion.

A boyfriend will say, “I’d appreciate it if you could clean your dirty dishes” and what you hear is, “Your failure to clean your own dishes bespeaks a fundamental flaw in your personality. You disgust me, and I disavow you as a human being. Please leave and find a family of gorillas to live with. You’ll be among your own people then.”

Unfortunately for those of us who are thin-skinned, we actually need constructive criticism in order to grow and improve. Think of it this way, if you get something caught in your teeth, wouldn’t you want a good friend to take you aside and mention it? Sure, it makes you a little embarrassed, but it’s so much better than coming home after a dinner party and seeing your entire salad in the mirror when you smile.

As a writer, I need feedback to improve my stories and novels. Flattery and compliments are awesome. Really, really awesome. But constructive feedback is even better. I need to know if a reader gets confused anywhere in the book. I want to know if they have a strong negative reaction where I wasn’t intending. It’s important for my critique partners and beta readers to let me know if they are interpreting a character’s actions, personality, or motivation in a way that I did not foresee.

It’s not fun to hear that one of my critique partners hated my character or thought a chapter was really bland, but I know my critique partner has my best interests at heart. If she finds issues in my writing, chances are future readers are going to stumble at the same places, and they won’t be so forgiving or supportive.

At some point, you need to accept constructive criticism, even invite it.

Now the caveats.

You’ll notice that I’ve been using the term “constructive criticism.” Constructive as in “meant to help” not “beat the living crap out of your self-esteem.” Bear in mind that not all constructive criticism is equal. People who outright criticize are usually bullies. Most bullies aren’t that smart, successful, or generally happy with their lives. Pay them no heed.

There are, however, some smart bullies. These are the ones you need to watch out for. They get their kicks by cloaking their attack in the form of constructive criticism. By claiming they have your best interests at heart, they then give themselves free reign to unleash criticism which may be cruel, unfair, and definitely unhelpful.

There are even those who are truly trying to help, but who are flat out wrong. Remember that everyone has a bias, and we all tend to skew toward the status quo of their upbringing, religious beliefs, and what feels “safe” to us. They may not like the way you dress because it’s not the way they would dress, or they may not like your romance book because they hate all things romance.

When seeking constructive criticism, choose your sources wisely. Let these people guide you and help you along your life’s journey. Try and ignore all the rest. If you ever have doubts about anyone, try to figure out their motivation. If they feed off of human tears, then they are probably not the best people to be taking advice from.

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to let criticism get to us, especially us shy people.  Which is why we need to learn to deal with criticism. So, I’ve come up with a few better tactics, though crying is always on the table as a last result:

Vet Your Sources

I’ve made it a policy to only care about criticism and opinions that come from carefully vetted sources. These are people who have shown that they are not insane, not mean hearted and who usually take up to 3+ seconds to think before opening their mouths.

I have a carefully guarded inner circle. Membership is somewhat tough to get, but once you’re in, you’re in. This distinction makes it easier for me to turn off all the noise outside. It’s not always easy, but put up velvet ropes around your self-esteem. Create a guest list. Put some beefy, mean-looking body guards at the door and don’t let in any party crashers.

Play nice

I try to be respectful and nice to others. I find that if you aren’t a total jack ass all the time, most people will give you a fair shake. There are always exceptions, but, for the most part, you get out what you put in. Stand up to the bullies, but play nice with everyone else. You don’t have to point out people’s flaws unless they ask or unless you really think they’re hurting themselves.

You know that golden rule thing? It’s gold for a reason.

Know Your Flaws

A little introspection can go a looooong way towards protecting yourself from the outside world. Take a look at yourself and recognize those things you still need to work on or those things that you just plain suck at.

I am terrible at directions. Terrible. It’s practically a handicap. I know this about myself. I grudgingly accept it (not hard when I get lost almost every day). Once you accept a flaw, you disempower those who would wield it against you.

If you accept that you’re overweight or have acne or happen to get lost going to a place you’ve been at least ten times (I was coming from a different direction!), then when people point this out to you, you’re already prepared.

Get A Little Love

Nothing salves criticism like a little positive reinforcement. Make sure you have a supportive circle of family and friends around you and a supportive spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. These need to be people who will accept you even if your feet smell on occasion, you get fired from your job, or lock your keys in your car. Just knowing that you are loved and accepted unconditionally will give you untold strength.

I’m not sure that it is possible to stress this enough. Besides your soul/you-ness and those innate passions and talents that give you bliss, your relationships are the most valuable asset you have in your life. They are more important than money, than success, than winning the “greatest person in the known universe” award.

Keep good people around you. Period. They protect you. They bandage your little internal hurts. Hugs heal self-esteem.

Cry

Yeah, go ahead and cry when you get an especially hard jab, but I highly recommend crying privately in the comfort of your own home. Crying in public makes everything worse, hurts your reputation as a person who is not a total sissy, and makes lots of people really uncomfortable. Excuse yourself politely and then weep soulfully into your pillow. It will help in the short term, but start building up your walls, coating your skin with some layers of sealant, and then consider where the criticism is coming from.

Also, never let the fear of criticism stop you from taking a risk. This is so much easier said than done, but it’s still good advice. If you let fear of criticism stop you from doing that amazing thing you’ve been dreaming of, you’ll regret it forever and ever.

Publishing my first novel was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. So was telling my friends and family about it. But I did it. Now I have three books and a handful of short stories out on the public market — poor, vulnerable little eggs that anyone with an Amazon account can smash to pieces. It’s scary as hell, but I’ve got my velvet ropes up, my body guards in place, and a big fluffy pillow to cry into if need be.

Bring it on.

Categories: Essay, Shyness, Taking Risks Tags:

Why I Would Be A Terrible Green Lantern

September 1st, 2014 No comments
Green Lantern Logo

Way too heroic for me.

My sister – the librarian – is a huge comic book nerd. Apparently graphic comic novels are a big thing at her library, and she’s jumped in with both booted feet and cape billowing dramatically behind her. Growing up, I was a big X-Men fan (Storm forever!), but I’ve only dipped my toe in the vast comic universe.

Recently, my sister turned me onto a Green Lantern cartoon on Netflix called Green Lantern: The Animated Series. The show only lasted a single season, but I found it amusing.

Watching the cartoon, I discovered that the Green Lantern world is pretty complicated. You see, Green Lanterns aren’t the only guys (and girls) flying around with extra special power rings on their fingers. There are also Red Lanterns who are fueled by rage, Blue Lanterns fueled by hope, Pink Lanterns (Star Sapphires) fueled by love, and even Yellow Lanterns fueled by fear. Oh, and one dopey Orange Lantern fueled by avarice. Yes, avarice, because apparently just saying “greed” wasn’t fancy enough.

Every Lantern charges their extra special power ring by shoving their hand into a lamp-shaped battery and chanting a nifty little ditty that often rhymes. The Green Lanterns – fueled by willpower – say:

“In brightest day, in blackest night,

No evil shall escape my sight.

Let those who worship evil’s might

Beware my power–Green Lantern’s light!”

 

Red Lanterns (the guys with anger management issues) go with this gentle little lullaby:

“With blood and rage of crimson red,

Ripped from a corpse so freshly dead,

Together with our hellish hate,

We’ll burn you all–that is your fate!”

 

My personal favorite is the orange greedy guy who chants:

“What’s mine is mine and mine and mine.

And mine and mine and mine!

Not yours!”

 

That’s pretty awesome, right?

One other thing that you should know about the Lantern Core is that the ring chooses you. In order to be a Lantern, you must already embody the characteristic of the ring: willpower, rage, hope, (sigh) avarice, etc… in order to earn the coveted ring.

Watching this cartoon, I realized that if I were a kid I would totally, utterly want an extra special power ring. I mean, come on, you put on the ring and you immediately get an awesome costume, get to fly around space, get to be all glowy and cool, and you can use the ring’s power to create whatever your mind can imagine, like a glowing chainsaw, a glowing Ferrari, a glowing box of calorie-free donuts. (I’ve never seen a Lantern make a glowing box of calorie-free donuts, but I bet it could be done.)

I can totally picture my child self sitting on my bed, staring longingly out the window waiting, hoping, praying for a little ring to come sailing my way. But what color would that ring be? Looking over the list of ring characteristics, I realize that none of them truly fits me.

I would love to believe that I could be a Green Lantern fueled by willpower, but that just isn’t me. To me, willpower equates with dramatic heroics. Hal Jordan, the main Green Lantern showcased in the series, is a little too heroic for my taste. He constantly takes huge risks in order to save the day, which is great…when it works out. In the cartoon — surprise, surprise — his crazy plans nearly always work despite the odds, or he gets saved by a massive stroke of luck at the last minute.

Watching this cartoon, I’ve come to realize that I’m just way too pragmatic to be a Green Lantern. If the odds were stacked against me, I’d turn tail and live to fight another day. So, if I’m not made to be a Green Lantern, a Red Lantern, an Orange Lantern, a Pink Sapphire, a Blue Lantern, or any of the other colorful offshoots zipping around the galaxy, what’s left?

After a relatively short amount of thought, I’ve decided to create my own Lantern Core.

Introducing the Teal Lanterns fueled by pragmatism. The color teal combines Blue (hope) and Green (willpower) and tempers it with Yellow (fear) for an individual that seeks to do what is right but also stays firmly planted in a reality where good and evil aren’t always clear cut and where risks should be mitigated to accomplish the greater good. The Teal Lantern Core would compromise, they would run when a battle was unwinnable, they would make tough, sometimes unheroic decisions in order to achieve an outcome that every side could live with. Sure, we wouldn’t be as heroic as the Green Lantern Core, as sexy as the Pink Sapphires, as positive as the Blue Lanterns, or as bad ass as the Red Lanterns, but I think the world needs the power of Pragmatism.

I even made up a little battery charging oath for my new Lantern Core:

Know when to run, know when to fight

We see beyond black and white

Many roads lead to right

I choose the best path by Pragmatic Light!   

What do you think? Anyone else want to be a Teal Lantern with me?

Superman Must Ignore Tons Of Crime…And That’s Okay

June 25th, 2014 No comments

Is this guy a total D-bag who doesn't stop enough crime?

Who wouldn’t want to be Superman?

The Man of Steel comes with buns, thighs, and abs of steel, not to mention a lock of hair that always curls perfectly on your forehead. Wouldn’t it be grand to soar through the sky (like a bird, like a plane) and to never, ever have to feel vulnerable except when that pesky Kryptonite enters into the picture?

Well, here’s the thing. I wouldn’t want to be Superman (or Supergirl if we’re being gender specific). It’s not just because that form fitting outfit looks tight enough to give some “super” wedgies or even the thought of seeing everyone’s pores and hearing their bodily functions in High Def.

It’d be the pressure.

If you’re neigh invulnerable, can shoot lasers from your peepers, and blow a hurricane when you sneeze (except you never sneeze because even germs can’t penetrate your awesomeness), then you pretty much have to don a cape and tights or you’ll be a total D-bag. See, guys like Bruce Wayne don’t have to be superheroes. He’s just a dude with a butler, an unsettling bat fetish, a perfect growly voice, and enough money to buy a bat jet ski among other crime fighting tools. Even someone like The Flash could probably get off the superhero hook. He may be fast, but bullets won’t exactly bounce off his chest. It’d be perfectly reasonable for him to…say, decide to use his super speed to deliver fresh water to villagers in Africa instead of tango with a crazy villain called Captain Boomerang (an actual villain, look it up). I wouldn’t fault him for that.

But Superman.

Superman is different. If he doesn’t fight crime and save the world, then talk about squandering your genetic legacy. Talk about letting the peoples of the world down.

For a long time I resented Superman, because I felt like he wasn’t being all the hero he could be. What’s a guy who can circumvent the globe during his morning jog doing bumbling around in a suit and glasses as Clark Kent? Didn’t he realize that women were getting raped, children molested, soldiers killed, protestors imprisoned, and governments overthrown while he was typing up a fluff piece for the Daily Planet about five tips to sizzle away belly fat?

I wondered, how many lives could he have saved from an earthquake in Pakistan, a tsunami in the Philippines, or a tornado in Missouri he if had done his little phone booth number instead of grabbing a hot dog for lunch with Lois Lane?

For years and years I was mad at Superman for so callously ignoring all the need around him. For having a life.

And then it hit me…Superman deserves to have a life. Why am I asking him to play the untouchable, majestic superhero every second of every day when I’m too lazy to walk my empty yogurt cup to the recycling container in the laundry room?

Superman spends his nights hanging bank robbers from street lamps (or is that Spiderman?), battling horrendous aliens from outer space (does anyone else think that every citizen of Metropolis should have severe PTSD by now?), and preventing Lex Luther from taking over the world (again).

I gave $25 to Kiva.org…two years ago.

So yes, Superman must make a clear decision to ignore tons of crime…but so do we. Bad things happen every day around the world, in our country, even in our small little spheres of influence, and you know what most of us do? We play Clark Kent, hiding behind our glasses, eating a hot dog with Lois, and waiting for Superman to save us all.

The moral of this story is not to start sewing our pajamas into a superhero outfit. It’s just this – I have mad respect for Superman. Not the fictional character – but all the Supermans in this world who commit their time and energy to making a positive contribution in whatever form that might take (Here’s a little something to warm up your heart). We can choose to make the world a little better, we can choose to cause harm, or we can blend in with the majority and do nothing at all.

Inevitable Book Tie-In

I may not be a Superman just yet, but at least I can create some Supermen on the page in my Girl With Broken Wings series that feature three vigilante protagonists. My characters live dark, dirty, obscure lives as they fight a secret war against genetically altered super humans. My characters aren’t bullet proof and that vulnerability is what makes them truly heroic.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…I need to go dig that yogurt container out of the trash.

Categories: Essay Tags: , ,

How To Write An Awesome Book Review

May 26th, 2014 1 comment

You can totally write an awesome book review. I believe in you!

One of the nicest things you can do for an author you like is to write a positive book review. Seriously, book reviews are a HUGE DEAL to authors, especially indie authors. They not only provide validation (of which we authors are always in the most desperate of need), but also a solid collection of positive book reviews can convince new readers to give the book a try.

Many readers find the idea of writing a book review intimidating. They imagine that writing a book review is akin to the struggle of cranking out the requisite high school literature class essay. Not so! You don’t need to take pains to highlight symbolism or how the protagonist subverts the feminist ideal in your book review. You’re not getting graded. All you have to do is to share your opinion of the book in a thoughtful manner.

Writing an awesome book review isn’t as hard as you think. Trust me. I wrote over 100 book reviews during my tenure as co-owner of Compulsion Reads, a (now-defunct) company that evaluated and reviewed indie books.

If you’ve never written a book review before, then here are a few basic guidelines that might help:

Start with a short setup of the book

Book reviews are written for potential readers, so it is helpful to provide some setup of the story. Consider writing a few lines that introduce the main characters, the setting and the primary conflict. Be careful not to give away too much of the story, or you’ll ruin it for new readers.

Here is an example from a review of my novel, Falling, from the book review blog, Book Marks The Spot:

Maya is living a totally normal life until she gets swept up off her feet, literally. All in one night she gets kidnapped by an angel and learns she has two half brothers oh and the elephant in the room is that is turning into a monster. She now has to survive on animals auras if not she could go on a killing spree. If things couldn’t get worse, her older brother is always looking for an excuse to kill her.

Tell readers what you liked

After the setup, explain what you liked about the book. (Again, you can do this with just a few lines.) Did you have a favorite character? Was the plot fast and entertaining? Did the author have a strong narrative voice that had you laughing and crying? Don’t worry about trying to be particularly witty or finding the exact word. Just be honest, and readers will appreciate your thoughts.

Here is an example from the review I wrote for the very enjoyable book Red Shirts by John Scalzi :

Redshirts is a sweet gift to anyone who has knowingly lapped up the crazy improbability of old (and some not so old) space adventures where drama outweighs plausibility and faceless crew are torn to pieces as a picker upper before the commercial break. Author John Scalzi puts his fingers perfectly on the pulse of these cult shows and breathes life into the poor red shirts that are so often blasted, torn to shreds, and crushed in the background while the heroic officers save the day.

I loved Scalzi’s insight and felt that this book was truly written for me. Scalzi has a gift for witty dialogue and proves himself to be a masterful plotter. The story twists and turns and balances precariously on a crazy premise that does justice to the very genre he unmasks. (See the full review)

Tell readers what you didn’t like.

If you absolutely loved the book, then there might not be any need to point out deficiencies. However, if there were areas of the book that you thought could be strengthened, you can address these concerns in your review. Just take care to mention weaknesses in a constructive and fair manner. (No need to attack or criticize the author directly.)

Here is a short excerpt from my recent review of the book, Beauty is for Suckers by M.A. Carson:

The last quarter of the book picked up some serious speed and a few big revelations piled up. Personally, I felt this part of the book was rushed, and I didn’t like that Nolan (my fav character) faded into the background. Despite these issues, I thoroughly enjoyed Beauty is for Suckers. The book was deftly woven with humor, strong plot points and a good pace. Iris Green proves that death can be the beginning of a meaningful life. (See the full review)

Add caveats.

Remember, your book review is written to help other readers decide if the book might be right for them. If you think the book would appeal to a specific audience or that a specific audience would find it offensive, consider adding a caveat at the end. For example, if I review a book that contains graphic violence or sex scenes, I make sure to mention that at the end of a review.

In my novel, Falling, my characters speak naturally, which happens to introduce a lot of F-bombs and other, shall I say, inventive language into the mix. Several of the bloggers who reviewed my book pointed this out to their audiences, including Maria, of A Night’s Dream of Books:

In spite of the book’s dark theme, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole plot, from beginning to end.  That was largely due to Bennett’s deft characterizations and brilliant prose.  I was even willing to overlook the unfortunate appearance of “the F bomb” every few pages.  Believe me, it’s not every day I find myself doing such a thing!

Finish with a summary sentence

Consider capping your review off with one or two sentences that summarize your overall response to the book.  A book I read earlier this year, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore absolutely blew me away. At the time I finished the book, I was drowning in other work and didn’t feel that I had the mental resources to do it justice. However, I knew his book deserved my praise, so I managed to cobble together a short review with this final sentence that truly sums up how I felt reading the book:

Biff is a lovable narrator, and through his eyes, Jesus truly does live again. One of the best books I’ve read in the last year! (See my full review – Good example of a short and sweet review that will still make an author over-the-moon happy)

Create a strong headline

 Many book review retailors, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, require reviewers to title their reviews.  You may be able to just reuse your summary sentence at the end. If not, think of a short sentence or phrase that sums up the book in a positive manner. As you write more reviews, you’ll find that this part becomes easier and easier.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when writing book reviews:

Be sensitive

Authors spend a great deal of time and effort writing their books. To an author, their book is like their baby. Even if it’s a very ugly baby, it’s still their baby. Be sensitive when writing a critical review. If you felt a book was not very good, you certainly have the right to air your opinion, but be mindful that hearts and feelings are on the line. Be fair in your judgment and constructive. If you come off as a hysterical hater, then you’ll end up looking worse than the book you’re trying to haze. Many authors read every review of their book, so keep this fact in mind when writing anything critical.

Limit spoilers

Nobody likes to read spoilers in a review, though they can sometimes be hard to avoid, especially if you want to talk about how much you liked or didn’t like specific plot twists. When discussing later parts of the book, be as general as possible. It’s better to say that, “The surprise ending was disappointing to me.” Rather than, “I can’t believe Krista got hit by a car on the last page after surviving that psychotic stalker.”

If you feel you have to give something away, then make sure you warn readers so they can stop reading. The best way to do this is to write SPOILER ALERT in all caps before revealing any spoilers.

Keep it clean

Writing a book review doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require a little effort and focus. Make sure you write your book review with care, focusing on correct grammar. If your review is all over the place and half the words are misspelled, no one will take you seriously. Again, and I really can’t emphasis this enough, it’s okay to write a short review, but make sure the review is coherent. One of the most frustrating reviews I got from a short story of mine simply stated:

This story wasn’t for me.

Not only does this type of say-nothing review drive authors to distraction (Why wasn’t the story for you???), but it’s completely useless for readers who might be interested in purchasing the story.

Spread your review

If you really want to help your favorite authors, then post your review to multiple websites where readers are likely to congregate. The top websites include Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. If you have a personal blog, consider posting your book review there as well and then be sure to link to your review on your social networking pages to let your friends know about the great new book you just read. If you want to go the extra distance, post a link to the review on the author’s Facebook page. If it’s a positive review, it’ll definitely make their day.

Read other reviews

One of the best ways to learn how to write a review is to read other reviews. Reading a dozen reviews for your favorite books on Amazon will give you some insight into all the different ways a review can be constructed.

Now go forward readers and spread your awesome book reviews across the land!

Categories: Essay, Writing Tags: , ,

Is Elsa, From Frozen, Too Powerful To Live?

April 12th, 2014 1 comment

Disney Princess, or our future conqueror and master?

Frozen is a sweet movie that cherishes the love between two sisters (not that kind of love!) Ana is a whimsical, quirky and adorable-to-a-fault princess who has catastrophic hair in the morning just like the rest of us. Your heart can’t help but melt for her gumption, her unfailing belief in her sister, and the naivety that comes from living a sheltered life. So too, can viewers emphasize with Elsa, cruelly cursed with unstable and deadly powers. Elsa tries so hard to hold her powers in, always terrified of hurting those she loves, that her life is on ice until the day of her coronation. When she finally does let her fears go, our hearts sing along with her beautiful ballad. We vicariously enjoy her coming out and awesome ice dress, hair down makeover, unless you’re this person. (Spoiler) The movie wraps up with Ana’s empowering sacrifice, choosing to protect her sister rather than be rescued by her odd, apparently smelly, reindeer-talking suitor. This choice ends up being her own salvation. Elsa learns that love is the key to controlling her powers and seems to instantly get a grip with this realization. Everything is all hunky dory.

But is it?

Like you, I want to believe that the end of Frozen is just the start of a long and fruitful reign for Elsa. Ana will marry her stinky, Official Ice Deliverer (not the most secure industry when the queen can shoot ice from her hands, but let’s ignore that for the moment) and pop out lots of chipper little urchins. I can’t help but worry, however, that the happy ice skating scene at the end of the movie is only a short spot of sunshine in the midst of a dark and gloomy reign. As much as I want to believe that Elsa will be a fair and just ruler, I worry that her abilities put her at risk of turning into a power-mad tyrant, the likes of which would make Joffrey of Game of Thrones look fair and lenient.

Think about it, Elsa’s powers are almost infinite in their potential for destruction and mayhem. She froze the entire Fjords and cast an eternal winter upon her kingdom…Without Even Trying! It seemed to require little strength and concentration to basically turn the whole place into a snow globe. Later, when Elsa puts her mind to it, she creates a magical palace of ice as well as a sturdy stair case in which a dozen men could run up. Most chilling of all, she can create fearsome ice creatures — huge and cruel, with knife-like teeth, claws and spikes. A single ice creature batted around Hans and his men like they were sock puppets.

As with the Fjord freezing and castle creation, building the creature seemed to take no effort from Elsa, and after its creation, it continued to exist, seemingly without her concentration or continued effort. Elsa has demonstrated one additional fearsome power, the deadly ice beams she can shoot from her hands or spew in a circle of destruction. A head shot has been shown to render the victim comatose, and a shot to the chest spells death unless remedied, weirdly, by an act of love.

Elsa does a pretty job of almost killing her sister, nearly annihilating her kingdom, and freezing her people to death when she isn’t even trying. What in God’s name could she do if she was?

If Elsa developed a Joffrey-like temper in later life, she could easily terrorize her population. Imagine a cackling Elsa freezing entire families that didn’t pay taxes or skewering enemies on icicles that plunged out of the walls.

But this is just piddley conjecture.

What if Elsa had grander ambitions? Her kingdom, Arendelle, seems to be very small and modest. What could Elsa do if she wanted to expand her empire? She could freeze any port in the world, essentially taking any country’s navy out of play. In fact, she could freeze the Fjords again and march an army right across the ice. She could surround Arendelle with huge, impenetrable walls of ice, protecting her own seat of power while her ice bridges allowed her army to scale any chasm, cross any moat, and climb any wall.

Oh, and it’s not like she needs living, breathing, blood-filled soldiers either. She can just make her own army of ice creatures (White Walkers, anyone?) and march them across the land. And if building ice creatures started to become a bore, Elsa could make conquest even easier by simply surrounding any stubborn enemy’s kingdom with walls of ice and literally freezing them to the brink of starvation until they surrendered. All it would take would be one or two examples and every drawbridge would open for Elsa and her White Walker army.

Elsa can literally take anything and everything she wants.

Will she? We can’t know, but the temptation would be great. If I lived in a neighboring kingdom, I’m pretty sure I’d wet my gown when I learned about her powers. (“%$#^ing ice monsters? Did you seriously just say she could make $%#@ing ice monsters? And that thing with the Fjords, that was her?”)

Once Elsa got a taste of blood and treasure, what if she liked it? What if she never wanted to stop? We don’t know the limit of her powers. Could she freeze the entire planet? With so much at risk, might it not be prudent to eliminate the possibility of a great catastrophe? If someone had a ticking nuclear bomb inside of them, wouldn’t it be for the greater good to destroy them before the bomb went off?

I’m pretty sure I know how my favorite literary bad ass, Tywin Lannister would answer that question. He’d cozy up to Elsa, whisper in her ear about the threats all around, let her crush his enemies, and then put a dagger in her back the moment she started to get her own ideas of conquest.

Is Elsa’s little ice skating stunt truly the end of Frozen or simply a poignant moment made all the more ironic for the horrors to follow?

Yeah, I’m weird.

Categories: Essay Tags: ,

Top Ten Things My Pet Bunny Clearly Does Not Understand

February 3rd, 2014 No comments

I have a pet bunny named Avalon. This is him. He is adorable.

For the most part, we get along well. He has soft fur. I like to pet his fur. He likes it when I pet his fur. He also really, really likes lettuce. I can procure lettuce. We make a good team. Unfortunately, our relationship isn’t all roses and delicious lettuce.

 

10. Flipping over your water bowl is not nearly as awesome as you think. Flipping over your water bowl, while impressive, actually completely depletes your supply of water. You need water to live. This is not a cool trick from a survival point of view.

This is what your water bowl should look like if you don’t want to die a slow and horrible death of dehydration

09. Carpet is not food. It has never been food. It will never be food at any future point. In fact, it is the opposite of food, in that you really, really shouldn’t eat it. Ever. Please stop eating the carpet.

This is not food

08. There is nothing at all interesting underneath the dresser. Please stop trying to dig up the carpet under the dresser. Yes, I realize that there is a small arch at the bottom of the dresser that looks kind of like an opening to somewhere, but it’s not. The only thing under the dresser is more carpet, which, we’ve already established is not food.

There’s nothing under here

07. No matter how much you beg, I will never ever let you eat chocolate again. Remember that one time a chocolate chip fell out of my cookie onto the floor and you ate it before I could pick it up? Two days later you got really sick and I had to rush you to the vet. Do you remember how they had to give you fluids, force feed you, and shave your leg to take a blood sample? Do you remember how I was a total emotional mess, because I thought that I had murdered you via cookie? Of course you don’t remember this, because you are a bunny. But I remember . I also remember the $300 vet bill. So, please stop begging for chocolate, and stop pretending to be shocked that I’m not giving you any. Chocolate can kill you. Seriously, it can kill you.

Deadly poison

06. When you stand right in front of the door it will hit you in the face. Please stop standing so close to the door. The door is not transparent, therefore I cannot see that you are standing on the other side. So, again, this will lead to me hitting you in the face with the door. I now try to open the door very slowly, so I don’t get why I still keep hitting you in the face. You must see the door opening. Just move and you won’t get hit in the face.

Just stand about four feet back from this and you should be good.

05. I’d like you to stop eating your poop in front of me. I understand that eating your poop is a natural thing that bunnys do, and that special forms of your poop (called cecotropes) contain bacteria and fungi that are essential for your health, but it still weirds me out. I accept you for who you are, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with everything you do, mainly eating your own poop. I wish you wouldn’t so flagrantly eat your poop in front of me. I leave the room multiple times a day, often for 30 minutes or more. This would give you ample time to eat your poop in private, but you seem not to care whether or not I’m in the room. Please be more considerate in the future.

04. The sound of peeling a hardboiled egg is not a huge scary thing that requires you to thump your back leg loudly for five minutes and hide under the bed. It’s just a noise you haven’t heard before. It’s okay to be a little nervous, but you really don’t need to freak out about it. There is absolutely no way the sound of peeling egg shells is threatening or can harm you. The same goes for the clinking of change and the sound of my pen tapping the desk. These things are no big deal. Please stop thumping and making it seem like I’m trying to terrify you with everyday life noises.

This is terrifying

This is not terrifying

03. You should probably be more scared of the cats then you are. I am noticing that you don’t give them as much notice anymore. Sometimes they sneak into the room, and you just sit in your hay box munching on hay while they stalk around. You don’t seem afraid at all. You should be. You’re a pretty big bunny, but the cats can still eat you. They are faster than you, stronger than you and have sharp teeth and claws. They are not your friends. You may think that you can change them, and while this is really sweet, it’s also a quick ticket to betrayal and death.

This cold hearted killer is not your friend

02. I know you’re the one eating my shoes. How do I know? Simple process of elimination. The cats don’t eat my shoes and I don’t eat my shoes. That leaves you. Also, I have seen you hop into my closet on several occasions. On more than one occasion I have heard a sound emanating from the closet that sounds suspiciously like you chewing on something expensive and beloved. Also, there was that one time you chewed on my boot while I was wearing it. That was not subtle of you at all. Don’t act all shocked and innocent when I go to buckle on a pair of cute sandals only to discover that the buckle is no longer attached. When I give you an accusing stare, your eyes bug out, as if to say, Who would do such a horrendous thing? If it’s been more than two hours since you ate the shoes, then maybe you’ve forgotten and don’t honestly know. But I do. It’s you. You ate my shoes. I also strongly suspect that you’re the one whose eaten through two of my purse straps.

I didn’t do this

01. Chewing on wires is a terrible idea. Remember up at number 9 where we talked about how eating carpet is really bad for you? Chewing on wires is an even worse idea. It’s actually the worst idea you’ve ever had, except for possibly eating that chocolate chip, discussed in number 7. For some reason you hate wires and want to destroy them all. The existence of wires offends you on the most fundamental level of your being. Your mindless animosity for wires goes deeper than some of the world’s greatest rivalries, including Colonists vs. Red Coats, Hatfields vs. McCoys, Athenians vs. Spartans, Amish vs. Twitter, and Yankees vs. Red Soxs. I have some bad news for you rabbit – you will never win the war against wires. No matter how many times you chew through my cell phone charger, computer cord, lamp wire, WiFi router cable or any other wires, you will not make a dent in their dominance of the world. They are like a hydra. For every paper shredder wire you chew, two will come back in its place. Also, the wires don’t care how many of their kind fall. They are like the army of Xerxes, numberless and undefeatable. You, on the other hand, are very defeatable. You’ve been lucky so far, but this luck can only last so long until your little brain gets fried, mid-chew. You must learn to coexist in a world of wires. I am doing my best to keep them out of your sight and reach, but you have to meet me half way. Did you see what happened to Leonidas in the movie 300? Of course you didn’t, you are a rabbit. So let me tell you. He died. A lot. Sure, he got to yell and chop some heads and run around in his underwear and a cool cape, but by the end of the movie he was a pin cushion. Don’t be like Leonidas . Bow down before the wires. It is the only way.

This is a battle you cannot win

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James Bond, Low-Tech Hero

November 26th, 2012 No comments

NOTE: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE.

If ever there was a hero who relied on technology, James Bond was it. He was a super-agent always equipped with super weapons. Q was his trusty wingman, outfitting him with backpack rockets, exploding pens, exploding gum, an invisible car, a jacket that could turn into a huge cushion, etc…

The dynamic changed rather dramatically in the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall (though I believe technology has played a much lesser role in the James Bond franchise since the transition from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig), where technology is used very heavily by the enemy while James Bond relies only on basic weaponry and even rudimentary tools to fight back.

I very much think this change has been influenced by the role technology plays in our lives. In the latter half of the 20th century, technology held great promise. Things like the person computer, the VCR, the microwave, and CDs made life more convenient and exciting. Technology was mostly a benign friend that was not overly scary.

It’s no surprise that audiences loved to see James Bond utilizing far-fetched gizmos to help him in his missions. The things he used didn’t seem real.

Our relationship with technology is changing. Technology is beginning to swallow us. We can pull up maps to anywhere on our phone, spy on the babysitter with a hidden teddy bear camera, even get parts of our DNA sequenced for less than $100.

Suddenly, the old tricks James Bond used are available to the masses. There’s probably an app for half of what Q has invented for him.

Technology has taken a decidedly darker turn as well. The hacking of data is now routine. So are cyber attacks. We’ve already witnessed government-sponsored cyber warfare. I think we’re all consciously or unconsciously aware that Google and Facebook probably know more about us than our closest friends.

In other words, technology is no longer a benign friend. Somewhere along the way it has morphed into something much more complex, both an amazing asset and a potential threat (not to mention a complete time suck).

Is it surprising then that the latest movie in the James Bond franchise powers down their hero in order to make him seem more heroic? The fear and ambivalence we feel about technology is borne out in how Silva uses it as an all-encompassing weapon to blow up the MI6 building, reveal the identities of MI6 agents, and hack into the MI6 network in order to release himself from captivity.

Suddenly we watch as 007, the hero who was defined by gizmos, fight against a technologically-emboldened villain in a decidedly low-tech way, as demonstrated in the final action scenes of the movie where Bond and his band of two booby trap an old house to fight a much technologically-superior force (who arrive in a fully-equipped helicopter).

The movie has a very nostalgic air. James receives only two basic tools from Q, a palm print gun and a tracker called a “radio”.

There is a very telling scene in the movie that seems to embody the overarching conflict of the movie, which is the old (James & M) vs. the new (our current world). James is set to meet Q at a museum. He sits down on a bench next to a lanky young man (with great hair) who looks to be a college sophomore. The kid pulls a reluctant Bond into conversation, explaining how the painting they are viewing makes him sad. The picture depicts an old warship being pulled to a scrapyard.

The symbolism may be a little overdone, but it does a good job of underlining the theme of the movie, as does the conversation between the kid and James when it is revealed that the sophomore is actually the newest rendition of Q – a geeky, wired brainac who sees James as that old warship that needs to get scraped. Of course when his own network gets hacked, he perhaps appreciates 007’s unique skill set. In the end, the two work together to try and track down Silva. However, it is James, with his booby-trapped mansion and the knife he throws into Silva’s back, that saves the day.

I think this is comforting notion for audiences. What Skyfall shows us is that when technology has saturated everything and threatens to destroy us all, our hero doesn’t rely on an exploding pen or a tracker (which are now cheaply available on Amazon); he fights the old-fashioned way, with his wits and his fists and the occasional martini, shaken not stirred.

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