Yet Another Enforced Absence

hallieod at hallieod at
Wed Feb 26 04:59:34 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.)

Ugh!  Toting tables, *and* wearing the wrong shoes. ;-)  My brain is 
definitely lagging in recovering, which is saying a lot.  I had to 
start a rough draft of an essay yesterday, and counted words on the 
first page (first draft is always by hand, for some reason), 275.  It 
took me *four* tries to figure out how many pages would be 2000 words 
(starting with looking at 4 times 275 = 1100, and thinking that was 
too many words, and including next trying 9 times 275.  Terrifying!). 
I'm desperately not looking forward to finishing the rough draft and 
discovering how bad it is.

>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.

Fair enough.  It probably wouldn't have bothered me quite so much if 
there hadn't been the scene in which Jennifer T. said something along 
the lines of "oh, that's why I don't like her" when the one whose 
name I've forgotten said she didn't like baseball.

>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 not at all sure that the two things *are* necessarily profoundly 
different.  Firstly, of course there's nothing "wrong" with becoming 
better at something - any more than there's something "wrong" with 
someone losing weight.  The problem arises, as you've indicated in 
1), when society dictates that thin or good at sports equates with 
better character.  If there were no or at least very few books 
showing fat, lazy, good-for-nothing kids (and I purposely equated 
those, but just to be clear, that's *not* my real view), there would 
be no problem with a (or very few) book(s) showing weight loss OR 
turning into an excellent ball-player as symbolic of character 
"improvement".  It's the weight of societal attitude showing up in a 
lot of books which is the problem.

As for 2) I also believe that society has a fairly unhealthily skewed 
notion of the value and worth of athletes.   You don't have to look 
too hard to find a lot of people who are treated with absolute 
adulation, and whose athletic abilities (and yes, of course, they 
have to put in a lot of hard work) are far from indicative of 
anything I, at least, would consider personal worth. Just as they are 
far from indicating a healthy approach to life (drugs, most 
obviously, but also inappropriate dieting, right round to brain 
damage in sports such as boxing).   And the win at all costs attitude 
trickles down to the schools, where most PE teachers seem to have no 
clue that it might be good to encourage the fat/slow/un-coordinated 
kid who really tries and is a good sport - but only appreciate the 
kid who gives results.

Admittedly, I know nothing about baseball, as no one I knew well was 
a fan when I lived in the US, and maybe it's totally free from the 
types of problems that seem to go hand-in-hand with many competitive 
sports.  Which would make some difference, though I'm not entirely 
sure how much.

>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.

I agree totally.  But personally I consider the skewed notion of 
weight to be part of a general skewed over-emphasis on achievement 
over most everything else - including effort and concern for others 
and fairness and enjoyment, and appreciation of the variations in 
gifts and interests people have.

Hallie, who is NOT starting or continuing any kind of a battle here - 
are we all clear on that?  I'm too tired and fuzzy-brained, even if I 
ever did feel inclined for warfare!  ;-)

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