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Beneath Pixie Hollow: A Brief Social History of the Fey Folk

RDG Stout

So apparently fairies are a thing again.

When most folks hear “fairies,” we surely think of Tinkerbell. Disney has rather cornered the market on tiny winged Victorianesque young ladies. As a father of little girls I must confess that I’ve become surprisingly well-versed in the various denizens of Neverland, and I can’t say as I mind a bit of Tinkerbell merchandise. Indeed, I rather hope that hanging a blonde in a strapless miniskirt from the Christmas tree gives my wife ideas.

But this fad goes beyond Disney and the family-friendly market. Neopaganism and the New Age movement have made fairies into big business. Witness the art of Amy Brown, or the 131,395 books that an Amazon search for “fairies” nets you. Cynics would surely dismiss this as infantilism, the aptly-named Peter Pan Syndrome, and lump it as part of a larger phenomenon encompassing Avengers movies and Brony conventions. (Not that we don’t watch a little MLP in the Stout household.)

But methinks there’s more to it than that. Fairies inevitably represent nature, and our postmodern world—largely disconnected from the soil and insulated from the seasons—yearns to reconnect with natural phenomena not just on a physical but also on a spiritual level. We want the world to feel enchanted again. And that’s what fairies do: they enchant the world. But nature isn’t cutesy. And up until recently, neither were fairies.

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Mark Twain on Ambitions

Bookshelf Battle

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
― Mark Twain

Not sure I have anything profound to say about this one, other than I generally find that in life, one often meets many people who feel they have to knock others down just to make themselves look good in comparison.  Why do people feel the need to do that?  I don’t know.

This quote can definitely apply to writing.  Show of hands – how many of you have been laughed out of the room after mentioning you’re working on a novel?

It’s ok.  The people who haven’t been bitten by the writing bug will never understand.  Just hang out and commiserate with other writing bug bite sufferers.

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A Real Live Webpage from 1996, Preserved In Its Natural Habitat; Fiction as Public Engagement

Christopher Cocca

No, not the official Berkshire Hathaway page. I’m talking about the Periodic Table of Comic Books! If you’ve been trying to cross reference an element with its appearances in various comics over the last few decades, I’ve just given you the last resource you should ever need.

If you’re trying to explain the internet of the 90s to your kids between Legends of the Hidden Temple reruns on TeenNick, this will also come in handy. See if they can find the rotating “under construction” graphic before you do.

It’s funny: in some ways, the web has always been about the compilation of trivia (personal or otherwise) and the cataloging of human interests. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook enhance and also undermine that instinct: instead of Angelfire web sites and Tripod accounts with spinning pictures and MIDI music, we give our strange fascinations over to a few centralized social networks who keep meticulous, obsessive track of everything we say we love. While these services have been used powerfully for activism, there’s an argument to made about the ways we’ve regressed as owners of our ephemera. It’s easier, I suppose, to curate our interests with posts and tweets and likes and shares than to build the online shrines that once defined the consumer internet. But those repositories had what Mike Schmidt might call a certain charm that social media doesn’t capture. Maybe I’m remembering the world that seemed possible before we got the world that came. I don’t mean that cynically. Commitment to social action X over social action Y might mean no flying cars or jetpacks, but we have no way of knowing, really, in the short term.

More knowable, it seems, are the outcomes of politics devoid of concern for environmental regulations, economic justice, the sanctity of life, and the generative renewal of our communities. If you thought I wasn’t going to get from the Periodic Table of Comic Books to public ethics in a few short steps, you might not know that The New School (MFA ’11) just announced organizational changes to some of their graduate programs. The writing program, of which I am a proud graduate, is now part of the newly-named School of Public Engagement. TNS is making a bold cultural and political statement here: poets, fiction writers, and essayists trade in public engagement as a matter of vocation and as a matter of fact. It’s probably no coincidence that former TNS president Bob Kerrey shared similar sentiments with my entire class on the first night of our program.

Bloggers, artists, writers, musicians, comic book creators, coders, scientists, actors, preachers…the list goes on and on. We are enlisted in the craft, and it is a craft, of public engagement. The evolution of the social web from siloed shrines of quirky interest to the integrated platforms of curation, criticism, and creation shows just how powerful our drive to contribute something back to the avalanche of corporate politics, media, and culture-making really is.

It’s ironic and subversive that we do it on the corporate platforms of companies that make millions delivering targeted ads based on the content we create and share in resistance to the monolithic messages of people with vested interests in framing these conversations in very specific ways. That’s the world we live in, for better and for worse.

Let’s keep making it for the better.  And when you need a break, check out the Periodic Table of Comic Books.  And don’t forget to sleep.

Manny Pacquiao Speaks to a Butterfly in California

John Bengan

It’s not every day that one of my wonderful friends gets a short story printed in a major publication.  But it is today.

I met John Bengan in our MFA program at The New School, and he is part of a cadre of writers I feel especially close to and whose work I particularly admire.

Today, his fantastic vernacular story, “Manny Pacquiao Speaks to a Butterfly in California,” was published in the Philippines Free Press, his native country’s longest-running newsweekly.

This is very, very exciting on many levels, not the least of which being how good the story was the first time I read it in an amazing seminar led by Robert Antoni and how great it remains.  John, we are all very, very proud of this success!

 

My Dog Can Read (Stanley Fish and Leo Strauss)

I’ve been writing and workshopping a story about a group of people living on a block of rowhomes and the glimpses they get of each other in passing. To the right you’ll find an excerpt.  Who wouldn’t want a dog like this?

Earlier this morning, I came home from a jaunt outside to find my own dog clearly wanting a walk.  It’s icy and raining here.  My coat and shoes were off.  Then I took a look at what he’d brought me immediately after sensing this thing might not go his way.  It was a typed of piece paper.  The final line of the page?

My dog is smarter than your dog.

I haven’t worked on that story in a while.  I couldn’t even tell you where the manuscript was if I needed to. I’ not saying (I’m just saying.)  He got the walk, of course.  He earned it.

Another of his literary adventures, here.

 

 

(Update: The excerpted piece is collected in What Other People Heard When I Taught Myself to Speak.)