Saturday, June 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Joss!

Talk about a convergence!  Today, June 23, is the birthday of Joss Whedon and (totally coincidentally, I’m sure) often called the “happiest day of the year.”  (It’s the truth, at least amongst those who celebrate Midsummer.)

So I thought it would not be completely inappropriate to muse a bit on Whedon today.  It’s no secret that I like the man, despite never having met him.  His work has been an inspiration for mine – the big one is Faith & Choice in the Works of Joss Whedon, but in the last six years, I’ve also presented and published work dealing with other aspects of Whedon’s work, such as using Buffy episodes to teach concepts of morality, the link between Dollhouse’s Rossum Corporation and the 1920s play by Karel Capek that entered the word “robot” into common usage, and what the Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop has to do with Firefly.

Whedon fans are an unusual bunch.  We knit Jayne Cobb hats, we dress up as Malcolm Reynolds (this one is his TV daughter on Castle surprising him at last year’s Comic-Con), and we raise money – lots of money – for Good Causes.

All that being said, I thought I’d re-post something I wrote for last year’s Great Buffy Rewatch – you can see the archive of all those posts here.  At the end of the year-long Rewatch, several of us were asked to contribute something about the impact Buffy had made on us.  This is mine:

It’s not going too far to say that Buffy changed my life. Really, it did – and no one was more surprised at that development than I was. Through a show that I at first resisted watching due to the silly title and ridiculous premise (I was a heathen back then), entire worlds have opened up to me. I’ve written blog posts, articles, chapters, and a book devoted to the creations of Joss Whedon and that all started with Buffy. I’ve talked about Whedon’s work in locations ranging from map-dot-small university towns to the metropolis of Istanbul. I’ve signed books and asked for autographs. I’ve met people whose intellect, kindness, and creativity could power the space station if you could figure out a way to harness it. Moreover, I met my husband through Buffy and for that alone, I should send Whedon a fruit basket.

In addition, through Buffy I’ve learned a few things. Among the lessons:
  • Darkness can be fought, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll win. That’s why you fight in the first place.
  • Family matters – and that family extends far beyond the one we’re born into. 
  • Courage is found on battlefields, but it can also be found in high school hallways.
  • Libraries matter.
  • We’re better off not knowing what other people think. 
  • Love is stronger than death. 
  • Souls are pesky things, but life without one isn’t really life. 
  • Humans can be worse than demons and better than angels. 
  • Everyone – always – is dealing with their own pain and that’s why sometimes they don’t notice yours.
  • Sometimes, no matter how hard you try and how skilled you are, you lose.
  • And sometimes, despite the odds and the prophecies, you win.
Happy birthday, Joss.

And thanks.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fools, Mortals, and Teaching Magic

If you're lucky, you like your day job.  If you're very lucky, you have days during which you absolutely know that you're doing a Good Thing.  I haven't always liked my day jobs (I began my official work life as a teenaged dishwasher when minimum wage was - well, truly minimum.  Even so, I maintain that job was better than waiting tables), but I've tried my best to find the positive bits within them.

Somedays that's not too hard to do.

This summer, my teaching load consists of two "cafeteria" drama classes.  You know the type - a little history, a touch of acting, a jot of design, and chocolate pudding at the end.  At such a pace - I have five weeks with three lengthy sessions per week - you often just cross your fingers and hope that the class is getting something worthwhile out of it.  Medea one day and Chinese opera the next.  Today, they performed scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream, an assignment that I'm always hesitant about.  Like most folks (in college or out), my students are polite in the face of my unbridled enthusiasm, but are convinced that Shakespeare is boring, hard, and pretty much a one-way ticket to Snoresville.  So I've got an uphill climb and I'm not afraid to use bobbleheads and plot maps, to explain bawdy jokes, and demand that they read out loud - early and often - to get them up the hill!

I flippin' love teaching Shakespeare - and Midsummer during summer is a great way to go with such an abbreviated class. There's SUCH a tremendous payoff when students get the jokes and appreciate the beauty of the language.  When the play-within-a-play clicks and they can laugh at the absurdity of Nick Bottom and his no-talent friends - well, that's just nifty.  To give credit where it is due, I am greatly aided by the lessons collected by the Folger Shakespeare Library - yes, I've replaced my usual text with Folger crystals and yes, my students do notice!  Maybe their involvement with the Bard ends here, but maybe they take in a production (The Tempest is being done for free over in Charlotte - click here!) or rent a DVD or seek out (squee!) Whedon's upcoming version of Much Ado.

Good storytelling doesn't go out of style and that's a lesson worth learning. And seeing students get excited and engaged about learning - call me a geekess, but that's cool.