Yet Another Enforced Absence

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Tue Feb 25 00:27:33 EST 2003

Hey Hallie, good to see you survived and everything!  My time-out is not
nearly so dramatic, but I've finished with all the work associated with an
academic conference and I'm just starting to recover.  (Physically, too.
You'd think that there wouldn't be opportunity for straining muscles at a
conference, but basically the custodians at the campus we were on decided
that they weren't going to provide tables and, oh yeah, we would all have to
trek a quarter mile through a warren of buildings to get between sessions.
So I lugged tables and books and acted as sherpa to a hundred wandering
souls who got lost just like I did the first time.  Good thing it was
blizzarding outside or we wouldn't have appreciated that all our trekking
was done indoors.  I totally wore the wrong shoes.)

There was just one (two?) comments I had on the subject of _Summerland_,
baseball, and personal transformation:

Hallie wrote:

>I did have a lurking 
>unhappiness about the baseball as source and symbol of all magic in 
>the world theme.  I know baseball is viewed this way by a lot of 
>people, but what if you're just not into it?  The transformation of 
>the bad player to wonderful one as symbolic of personal 
>transformation left me feeling a bit uneasy.  How is it different 
>from fat kid becomes thin as symbolic of same?  Oh dear, I hated 
>having this quibble with the book, as I liked it so much, and I'm 
>sure it probably doesn't make sense anyway, but nothing new in that.

We actually have this discussion on baseball and symbolism etc. sometimes,
because Jacob doesn't like baseball at all, and I dislike it a lot, but our
reactions are very different.  Because the reality of watching a baseball
game is so tedious, I'm actually excited to see movies or read books in
which that tedium is transformed into something magical.  I can appreciate
the romantic nature of the sport better through fiction than I can through
the actual grittiness of it.  Jacob simply doesn't like it, ever.

I think the question of "what if someone doesn't like baseball in a world
where baseball is the source of all magic?" is overly realistic.
_Summerland_ is defined as a world in which people simply *are* interested
in baseball.  To me it seems the kind of novel where...well, if it were
quest fantasy, it would be the kind where women never menstruate.  Which is
odd because there are so many realisms woven into the story--Jennifer T.'s
family situation, for example.  Ultimately, though, it all comes back to
high fantasy, where the symbolism is meant to be explored rather than
questioned.  At least, this is how I read the book.

As to the bad player becoming a good player...this is profoundly different
from the fat becoming thin transformation.  We object to the cliche that
losing weight equals becoming a better person for two reasons (at least this
part of the "we" does):

1.  It conveys the notion that character is defined by body weight.
2.  The definition of "fat" is highly skewed by representations in the media
and by cultural conditioning from same; while there are medical definitions
of appropriate weights by body type and activity level, the general
definition of "normal" is a very narrow range, and weight loss is frequently
aimed at attaining that range regardless of whether it's actually healthy to
do so.

But what's wrong with becoming better at something as a symbol of personal
transformation--especially if it's accompanied by hard work, perseverance,
and a genuine desire to attain something better?  The point about losing
weight and therefore believing you're a good person is well-taken; one can
lose weight through any number of methods that do not reflect emotional or
spiritual growth.  It is not nearly so easy to learn to bat .400, and in the
case of this book the kid didn't do it through steroids. (Okay, you know
what I mean; he wasn't a batter or anything.  Caught a perfect game?  Like I
know baseball terminology.)  If you work really hard at something that you
care very much about, you will very likely gain an inner transformation as
you gain a physical one.  That confidence you get in mastering a skill is
perfectly natural.

I'm also of the opinion that if we didn't have this bizarrely skewed notion
of weight in our culture, the way weight gain and loss are represented in
fiction would not be nearly so laden with meaning.  Which is too bad,
because physical changes have always been used to convey symbolic change, to
great effect.

Melissa Proffitt

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