Goliath Sucks (Or Does He?)

slingshot weaponOkay, two things. First of all, this theme was not exactly my idea. I was inspired by reading the blog post of this really funny…er, I mean, bitter blogger. But I thought it was worth stealing…er, borrowing. Second of all, this is definitely not a post about sheep. Although sheep are kind of a part of this blog post, I generally don’t pay much attention to them, because sheep are not very bright, follow the crowd waaaay too much, and make me feel kinda bored and sleepy after a while.

This is a story about a shepherd. And a giant.

Veggie Tales Dave and the Giant Pickle

Veggie Tales – Dave and the Giant Pickle

What’s that? You already know the story of David and Goliath? It was already drilled into your head via Bible-memorization-games-for-candy and Veggie Tales and Sunday School songs that get stuck in your head? (…and one little stone went into the sling and the sling went round and round. And round and round and round and round and round and round and round…). Well good, then I don’t need to fill you in.

The whole David and Goliath theme is kind of overdone. With good reason, of course. Perhaps it is within our human nature to desire to see the bully taken down by the underdog. To see good triumph over evil. To see the Israelites defeat the Big Bad Philistines. And so the theme appears again and again in literature, in cinema, in art. The weak, powerless kids defeat the Fratellis and score a pirate ship full of gold treasure. The newb wizard defeats He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named again and again. The abused little girl uses her wits to bring down her mean principal and turn her school into a safe and happy place. Hooray for the Davids! Boo to the Goliaths! Goliath sucks.

Not only do we like to apply the David and Goliath theme to the world of fantasy, but to our real lives, as well. We support the Davids who fight against cruel dictators, against tyranny and injustice. The braver among us aim to be Davids, too (although hopefully not in the way he abandoned his responsibilities, aka sheep, in his determination to go to battle). We gather our stones and swing around our slingshots, eager to bring down the Goliaths in our lives. Because the Goliaths must die, so that good and right may triumph, right?

David vs. Big Bad GoliathBut wait. Who was Goliath, anyway? Why was he there with the Philistine army? What did he do that made our hero, David, want to bring him down with a stone? Clearly, he must have been on the bad side. The wrong side. The side of evil. Okay, well here’s the deal: The Israelites (Team David) were at war with the Philistines (Team Goliath). Why? Because apparently, God told the Israelites that they were destined to own the land where the Philistines lived. Therefore, the Israelites had to go to war and forcibly remove the Philistines (including Goliath) from their land.

Manifest Destiny, anyone?

Basically, Goliath was like the Native American warrior hero of his time, fighting to keep the European settlers from killing his people and taking his land. Team Goliath was on the defense, fighting to save what they believed to be theirs. But they lost it. All because of a boy named David and his rocks. Yay, David.

So anyway, our hero, David killed the Big Bad Giant and won a bunch of money and a woman, and eventually went on to be a pretty cool king. And the Philistines? Well, I don’t think the Bible mentioned what happened to them. Who knows? Maybe they went on to open a bunch of casinos.

Battle of Little Big Horn Manifest Destiny

Paper Lives and Paper People (aka: Misimagination)

  “You had been a paper boy to me all these years – two dimensions as a character on the page and two different, but still flat, dimensions as a person. But that night, you turned out to be real.” (~ Margo Roth Spiegelman; Paper Towns, by John Green)

paper town map

One of the books that I recently finished during my summer reading spree was Paper Towns, by John Green. Although I found the story itself to be, well, mediocre, the author managed to strike a few surprising chords that still echo within me.

From the very beginning, I thought I knew the story. Troubled teen, Margo Roth Spiegelman, makes impulsive choices to gain attention from others. Disillusioned with life in what she describes as a “paper town,” she runs away. The main character, Quentin Jacobsen, who is in love with Margo almost to the point of obsession, disrupts his own life to follow the clues Margo left behind, determined to find her.

Aha, I think. Now I understand the theme of this story, and the meaning of Paper Towns.

“All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.” (~ Margo Roth Spiegelman; Paper Towns, by John Green)

where is Margo Roth But I am wrong. Just as Quentin discovers that he doesn’t really know Margo Roth Spiegelman, I discover that I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in regards to this story’s theme. Margo Roth Spiegelman is more than just a metaphor – she is a real-life girl. And guess what? Paper Towns are a real-life thing (which both exist and yet do not really exist).

But that’s not all. As the story continues to unfold, I learn yet another concept of paper people from paper towns. They are the people who we create of the people who actually exist. Everyone takes the stories that they had heard of Margo and uses those stories to form a “paper,” 2-dimensional version of her. Likewise, Margo uses her memories of friendship with Quentin to create a 2-dimensional, fictional version of him.

misimagined How often do we do this? How often do we read celebrity gossip or see flashes of these celebrities in the media, then use those to tiny snapshots to determine who they are? How often do we take in tiny bits of information about the people around us, then assemble those ideas into a shallow, incomplete version of a person?

Do we shake off our complacency, like Quentin, and make an effort to get to know the real life human being before us? Or do we content ourselves with the fake, 2-dimensional, paper image of that person which we have created in our own imaginations? How real do we allow other people to become? Are we disappointed when the real-life person fails to live up to the false paper image in our minds?

People Watching (aka: What I Learned From Dr. Seuss)

Dr. SeussOne of the things I enjoy doing, whenever I venture out of my cave, is to observe people. Not in a creepy, staring kind of way, but discretely, to satisfy my writerly curiosity about people. While those around me think that I am engaged in reading a book on my iPad, I am occasionally taking sneak peeks, or catching snatches of their conversations. People are fascinating, and one can learn many things just by being still and observing. And what have I learned lately?

That Dr. Seuss was kind of a genius.

read to learn to grow to go places

I know. Most people probably don’t look at his legacy of cute, silly rhyming stories for children and think of the word genius. And in fact, perhaps I am overusing the term. However, it became apparent that Dr. Seuss, like myself, and like most fiction writers, was an avid people watcher. And that somehow, he managed to capture perfectly some of the most common archetypes and struggles of humanity through his humorous and whimsical rhymes. Perhaps the language he used lacked the sophisticated eloquence of Shakespeare, Frost, or Whitman, but he was, in my opinion, no less of a talented poet.

racial prejudice bug

Did you know that Dr. Seuss was once a political cartoonist?

When children listen to Dr. Seuss stories, they may be entertained by his clever rhymes and fantastic characters, like the silly but loveable Cat-in-the-Hat, or the persuasive Sam-I-Am and his strange green eggs and ham. However, if you were to take a closer look at the themes of his stories, you may find some strong political statements   and surprising universal truths revealed.

For example, in the famous book, The Lorax, Seuss uses a humorous children’s story as a barely-disguised political platform against corporate greed, consumerism, and destruction of the environment. In The Sneetches, one of my all-time favorite works of children’s literature, Seuss spoke out against racism, prejudice, and anti-semitism. The SneetchesThe Zax, a very short story about two very stubborn creatures who both refuse to budge, and so neither one goes anywhere. Sound a little like Republicans and Democrats, perhaps? And then there is the well-known Yertle the Turtle, another of my personal favorites. Hitler – oops, I mean Yertle is a turtle who lives in a small pond, but gets the idea that he is king of all he can see. He begins to climb upon the backs of the other turtles in the pond, despite their misery, in order to expand his rule. He takes his superiority complex a little too far, however, and down he falls, as all megalomaniacs eventually must.

“I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh marvelous me! For I am ruler of all I can see!”

A Truly Phenomenal Woman (aka: The Poetry of Maya Angelou)

Maya Angelou African American poetMaya Angelou (1928—2014) was one of the most celebrated poets in American history. Her poems, filled with the universal light and darkness, hope and despair, triumphs and tragedies of the human spirit, are embraced by people around the globe. I first learned of Ms. Angelou, not through her poetry, but through her autobiographical series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I came to “know” her as a young girl who suffered the unimaginable, but rose beyond the pain to become a truly phenomenal woman whose life and words were an inspiration to so many. Her poetry, which is often so honest and raw as to make me gasp aloud, is like a beacon of light to someone like me, and a reminder that one can fall, one can suffer, one can wallow through the worst pits of despair and darkness, but no matter how deep the pain, no matter how low the humiliation, the spirit of a person can overcome. The coldest heart can be restored to love. And we can learn to rise and live again.

Phenomenal Woman

By Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Our Grandmothers

By Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

She lay, skin down in the moist dirt,
the canebrake rustling
with the whispers of leaves, and
loud longing of hounds and
the ransack of hunters crackling the near
branches.
She muttered, lifting her head a nod toward
freedom,

I shall not, I shall not be moved.

She gathered her babies,
their tears slick as oil on black faces,
their young eyes canvassing mornings of madness.
Momma, is Master going to sell you
from us tomorrow?
Yes.
Unless you keep walking more
and talking less.
Yes.
Unless the keeper of our lives
releases me from all commandments.
Yes.
And your lives,
never mine to live,
will be executed upon the killing floor of
innocents.
Unless you match my heart and words,
saying with me,

I shall not be moved.

In Virginia tobacco fields,
leaning into the curve
of Steinway
pianos, along Arkansas roads,
in the red hills of Georgia,
into the palms of her chained hands, she
cried against calamity,
You have tried to destroy me
and though I perish daily,

I shall not be moved.

Her universe, often
summarized into one black body
falling finally from the tree to her feet,
made her cry each time into a new voice.
All my past hastens to defeat,
and strangers claim the glory of my love,
Iniquity has bound me to his bed.

yet, I must not be moved.

She heard the names,
swirling ribbons in the wind of history:
nigger, nigger bitch, heifer,
mammy, property, creature, ape, baboon,
whore, hot tail, thing, it.
She said, But my description cannot
fit your tongue, for
I have a certain way of being in this world,

and I shall not, I shall not be moved.

No angel stretched protecting wings
above the heads of her children,
fluttering and urging the winds of reason
into the confusions of their lives.
The sprouted like young weeds,
but she could not shield their growth
from the grinding blades of ignorance, nor
shape them into symbolic topiaries.
She sent them away,
underground, overland, in coaches and
shoeless.

When you learn, teach.
When you get, give.
As for me,

I shall not be moved.

She stood in midocean, seeking dry land.
She searched God’s face.
Assured,
she placed her fire of service
on the altar, and though
clothed in the finery of faith,
when she appeared at the temple door,
no sign welcomed
Black Grandmother, Enter here.
Into the crashing sound,
into wickedness, she cried,
No one, no, nor no one million
ones dare deny me God, I go forth
along, and stand as ten thousand.

The Divine upon my right
impels me to pull forever
at the latch on Freedom’s gate.

The Holy Spirit upon my left leads my
feet without ceasing into the camp of the
righteous and into the tents of the free.

These momma faces, lemon-yellow, plum-purple,
honey-brown, have grimaced and twisted
down a pyramid for years.
She is Sheba the Sojourner,
Harriet and Zora,
Mary Bethune and Angela,
Annie to Zenobia.

She stands
before the abortion clinic,
confounded by the lack of choices.
In the Welfare line,
reduced to the pity of handouts.
Ordained in the pulpit, shielded
by the mysteries.
In the operating room,
husbanding life.
In the choir loft,
holding God in her throat.
On lonely street corners,
hawking her body.
In the classroom, loving the
children to understanding.

Centered on the world’s stage,
she sings to her loves and beloveds,
to her foes and detractors:
However I am perceived and deceived,
however my ignorance and conceits,
lay aside your fears that I will be undone,

for I shall not be moved.

 

Through the Reflection (aka: The Art of Questioning Art)

What is art? Is it famous paintings encased in glass at museums? Is it the classical music from two hundred years ago? Does modern pop music also count as art? Is it dance? Is it literature, scenery, or architecture? Is art, like Plato said, merely an imitation of an imitation; simply a deceptive illusion of life? Is it enough to simply say that we like art, or should art mean something more? How do we know the difference between what is art and what is entertainment?

The Goddess Minerva surrounded by the 9 Muses, who inspired each branch of the Arts

The Goddess Minerva surrounded by the 9 Muses, who inspired each branch of the Arts

 

I love the arts. And it is because of that passion for the arts that I ask these questions. Years ago, when I was a drama student in high school, my instructor posed the above question:  How do we know the difference between what is art and what is entertainment? The short answer is this: Entertainment simply serves to treat the senses, and everyone will experience it the same way. Art, however, is far deeper. Rarely will two people see it in the exact same way.

I prefer to put it like this: Entertainment tells us, this is the way life is. Art makes us ask the question, is this the way life is?

In other words: Buffy the Vampire Slayer = Entertainment. Girl sees vampire. Vampires are evil. Girl stakes vampires in the heart and kills them. Good wins. Yay for everyone!

However, Shaun of the Dead = Art. Because, although Shaun and his friends are out there killing the obviously evil brain-hungry zombies, we are left to wonder if the real “Zombie Apocalypse” is already happening all around us, only those zombies are the apathetic, complacent people we already know.  The film also poses the question, “When our loved ones transform into zombies, do we destroy them in order to save ourselves, or do we stay and help them?” (Surprisingly deep thinking from an otherwise silly and ridiculous movie).

Scene from Shaun of the Dead (2004). Is it art or entertainment? Are those zombies or concert fans? Or are the two one and the same?

Scene from Shaun of the Dead (2004). Is it art or entertainment? Are those zombies or concert fans? Or are the two one and the same?

There are many more ways to define the arts and why they matter to people. They are a reflection of the human spirit. They are an expression of that which we experience in the natural world. They are a tool for communicating the thoughts, ideas, and emotions which we cannot express in another way. But I think the most important thing is that whether it is through a painted canvas, an artfully crafted sculpture, a melody, poetic lyrics, an inspiring story, or dance, art has a way of touching and rousing the spirit like nothing else can. Perhaps there is a lot of truth in Plato’s definition of art as mere imitation of the real world. But often it is through those reflections of real life that we best see ourselves.

The Kiss (Lovers), 1908-1909 Gustav Klimt

The Kiss (Lovers), 1908-1909 Gustav Klimt

Why I Am An Artist

 

Can you see in the way I move

the flow of the river

flashing green ripples

of glittering suns?

The smooth curves of the earth

and violent, rocky  passion

of the sea?

Do you feel the way it moves inside of me?

Can you hear in the colors I paint

the harmonic battle

the clash and attack of drums that

startle melody awake?

The sweetness of flutes

rising to meet the dawn

like the song of the first bird of spring?

Do you hear it sing?

 

¿Puedes ver en la forma en que me muevo
el flujo del rio
las ondas verdes y brillantes
de soles relucientes?
¿Las curvas suaves de la tierra
y la pasión violenta y rocosa
del mar?
¿Sientes como se mueve en mi interior?
¿Puedes oir en los colores que pinto
la batalla armónica
el choque y ataque de la batería que
le despierta  sorprendida a la melodia?
¿La dulzura de las flautas
Que se levantan para encontrarse con el amanecer
Como la canción del primer pájaro de la primavera?
¿Lo oyes cantar?

Waiting for My Hogwarts Letter (aka: Still a Harry Potter Nerd)

Happy dance! I am such a proud mother right now. No, not because my kids had great report cards or other outstanding  achievements. I am feeling super-proud of my 9-yo son, who is more than halfway finished reading the sixth book in the Harry Potter series. Not only is he enjoying the books, but he has been happily exploring the Pottermore website and talking with his friends about the books. He and his buddies have even created their own game of wizards, complete with magic wands and spell books full of magical spells to memorize and perform on each other. Hooray!


Harry Potter Book Collection

To understand why that makes me so happy, you must know that I am a hard-core Harry Potter nerd. Or, as we like to put it, a Potterhead. Ever since I first opened the pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone years ago, I became rather smitten – no, obsessed by the mysterious and magical world of Harry Potter. It is an understatement to say that I have merely read all seven books. I have read them each at least three times, and once in Spanish. I have listened to both the Jim Dale and Stephen Fry audiobook versions at least twice, and geeked out by comparing and contrasting the narrator’s styles. (Okay, I said I was obsessed, right?). I have watched each film several (dozen) times, collected the Lego figurines, and even have a beautiful book of postage stamps, which will never, ever be pasted onto a piece of mail. HP postage stamps

And every summer, I stare out of my window, anxiously hoping that this will be the year in which an owl will arrive with my acceptance letter into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (Or some adult-school version of it).

Creds to http://sammy4586.deviantart.com/

What’s that? Still not convinced that I am a true Potterhead? Okay, well, I was also a member of the Mugglenet community for years, tried my hand at fanfic (not successfully), and yes, I sewed my own Gryffindor quidditch robes and wore them to the July 2007 midnight release party of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Even cooler, I once had the privilege of having my quidditch robes autographed by Arthur A. Levine, the American editor for the Harry Potter books.

My homemade Gryffindor quidditch robes. (I know, I weighed a lot more back then. Shh…no teasing).

Okay, okay, enough of making you jealous. 😉 I’m sure that you’re convinced now that I am a genuine Harry Potter nut. I had such high aspirations for my three kids, too. I was sure that I could pass on to each of them my love of literature, and especially for J.K. Rowling’s amazing world of fantasy. Sadly, my two oldest children are rather indifferent to Harry Potter. Sigh. Muggles. But thank goodness, at least my youngest son has discovered the joy of magic. Smart kid. No wonder the Pottermore sorting hat placed him in the house of Ravenclaw.

Defying the Stars (aka The New Romeo and Juliet Film)

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”

It is true. It is sadly true. Deep inside, where almost no one can see, I am a sappy, daydream-y, hopeless romantic. My heart melted when Jim finally revealed his feelings to Pam. I cried silent, happy tears when Mr. Darcy finally proposed to Elizabeth. Profound love songs and poetry make my heart flutter like the wings of a hummingbird. And I still get weak in the knees whenever I read the most famous love story in the world, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

I recently learned that there is a new Romeo and Juliet screenplay, scheduled to be released in U.S. theatres this September. My initial reaction was to leap in the air and shout with glee, “Hoorayyy!” After all, Romeo and Juliet is my absolute favorite Shakespeare play, filled with such romance and passion and frustration as the star-crossed lovers are thwarted by life and cheated by death. The Starcrossed Lovers Romeo and Juliet 1968

Then I quickly sobered as I remembered the unfortunate modern interpretation of the play released in 1996, which made use of guns instead of swords and Leonardo DiCaprio instead of a real actor. (Okay, fine, maybe DiCaprio has improved remarkably since then). I was filled with trepidation until I saw the trailer for the new film, and breathed a sigh of relief. The actors are quoting the actual lines of the play, and wearing period costumes, and performing on sets that appear true to Shakespeare’s Verona.  Of course, I would feel much better if the director, Carlo Carlei, were known for more than just television movies and dramas. I would also feel better if they had chosen a slightly older actress in order that they could film a steamy nude lovemaking scene like in the 1968 film.

Still, I am looking forward to the new film’s release this September. If it turns out to be a flop, I can at least enjoy sitting in a dark auditorium, mouthing the beautiful, romantic lines along with the actors. “For never was there a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”