Some folks will look at this photo and see nothing but weeds, potential sunburn, probable bug bites, an annoying tick-check later, and dirty feet in the making. Grab the sunscreen and the bug repellent! They’ve let the kids loose in the the woods again!
Others will realize that these kids are receiving many more benefits than they are facing potential hazards. What are the benefits of taking a walk in nature? Let me count out a few for you!
There’s a special magic that happens when kids play outdoors in an unstructured way. Last week’s Image of Interest discussed NPAs, or Natural Play Areas in parks, and their value. But lower-case natural play areas don’t just have to be in parks.
Creative adults, especially those who grew up with access to interesting natural play areas, almost invariably get a smile on their faces when they think about kids playing outdoors–but in fact that’s getting harder for children to do as years pass.
I attended DemiCon 28 last weekend. It’s a science fiction convention in the DesMoines, IA area (technically, Urbandale), where they had an art show, masquerade, panel discussions, parties–the full gamut of things I have learned to anticipate at sf conventions in my decades-long career of attending them.
And they had author readings.
In my experience, author readings at large conventions by “big name” authors can be standing-room-only events. Author readings by mid-list or relatively unknown authors tend to be the orphan stepchildren of convention programming. If anyone shows up for one, that counts as “wildly successful.”
Some promoting, arm-twisting, and recruitment of friends and family to fill the audience may be required, for newbie writers. We may have loved listening to people read us stories in grade school, or be passionately attached to our audio books and podcasts as adults, but somehow getting people to attend readings at sf conventions continues to be kind of a heavy lift.
As some of my more persistent blog-readers may have noticed, I’m a writer who’s poised on the brink of having a novel to release into the wild. It’s gone through multiple drafts, been professionally edited, and I’ve done all I can to make it the best novel it can be. The time has come to start making people aware it’s coming.
I asked for a reading at DemiCon. Better yet, I got one–although I wasn’t scheduled for many other programming events where I could promote it. I made fliers (with advice from my son about copy writing), and invited everyone I could.
I also was able to connect with a couple of other authors, who also had readings. One of them was P.C. Haring, who’d been scheduled for a reading that morning at 9:00 a.m.
Now, in the normal world, 9:00 a.m., even on a Saturday, is a fairly reasonable hour. At a science fiction convention–especially one with as many lively room parties as DemiCon 28 has, a 9:00 a.m. panel on Saturday might count as cruel and unusual punishment.
I’d noticed this scheduling earlier, and commiserated with him. Then, on an impulse, I offered him the second half of my scheduled hour from 4-5:00 p.m. This was not entirely altruistic on my part: my voice tends to give out after half an hour or so of reading. In any case, he accepted the opportunity. We had a nice attendance–the room was about half-full. I read my first chapter, then he read excerpts from his book. Before we knew it, the hour was over and we’d all had a pleasant listen.
Then wegathered up as many of the audience up as possible, and trooped across the hall to listen toLettie Prellread from two of her short works. The first, “Emergency Protocol,” is a flash fiction (very short) piece that will be published by Analog Science Fiction and Fact at a future date. It is wonderful: watch for it.
Did I gain anything by encouraging my audience to also listen to P.C. and Lettie?
Could/should I have filled my entire hour, all by myself? Well, certainly I had enough material to read (assuming my voice held up). And from comments I got later, the audience would have been game for listening to me. So maybe I made the wrong call. If you look at it from the point of view that all authors are in competition with each other, then I definitely did. Nice guys finish last, and all that.
But I don’t see the world as a zero-sum game, and I especially don’t look at writing that way. I cannot possibly write fast enough to be the only author someone reads (unless they read ver-r-r-r-r-ry slo-o-o-o-o-o-owly, indeed!). Even much more prolific authors ultimately can’t. Everyone’s readers are also going to read other authors’ work.
Therefore, I’d rather be a resource, a connector, a person who introduces people to others they may also like, in any given network. I fundamentally do not believe that any given group of writers (or artists) are competing, so much as conducting parallel enterprises. If we conduct our careers in friendly, cooperative ways, as far as I’m concerned, we all gain, and actually might expand our own networks a bit in the process.
IMAGES: Many thanks to the Balticon Podcast, for the photo of author Mark Van Name giving a reading from his novel No Going Back. There aren’t very many photos of that particular activity (author readings at sf cons), so I was relieved to find a good one! The promo card for my novel, Going to the XK9s, is a combination of my copywriting and design, much improved by comments from my son Tyrell Gephardt, and an illustration I commissioned for promotional purposes, by Jeff Porter. The cover art for P. C. Haring’s novel Slipspace: Harbinger is from his website. The illustration for The Three Lives of Sonata James is by Kevin Hong. It is posted here courtesy of Goodreads. Many thanks to all!
Welcome to Imagination Grove in McLean, IL, a place where more unsupervised play is allowed.
What if kids were allowed to pick flowers, build forts, break off branches, and carry away rocks from public parks? To make extra trails through the undergrowth, to dig holes? What’s the worst that could happen?
If you’re like a lot of grownups, you’re probably envisioning hard-compacted soil, hillsides denuded of flowers, and desolation. In some settings, particularly the more fragile, endangered areas, you’d be right.
But a lot of the current kid-generation’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have memories of being at large and creatively free, in wild or semi-wild places, where they did all of those things and came back from largely-undamaged natural places with a new and deeper appreciation for the natural world we live in.
I was raised on classical music. When everyone else my age was arguing Beatlesv. Stones, Jan and I were discussing Bernstein v. Ormandy. So, when I reached the fifth grade and my teachers asked if I was interested in joining the band, taking up the clarinet seemed like the obvious thing to do.
I loved it. Learning new skills kept me from getting bored in our rural school, and gave me the chance to learn one of the main themes from my favorite symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 4th. I took group lessons on Saturdays, and later private lessons with my band director after school. And I began to dream. Maybe, some day, I would become a professional musician, and get to play with the New York Philharmonic!
I shared my dream with my band director. He shot it down. “Girls don’t play in professional orchestras,” he told me.
This was 1969, and the women’s movement hadn’t made it to small town Missouri. I was still young enough to believe things would always be the way they were at that moment. My interest in band began to decline. Why should I work all those extra hours, if the boys were the only ones who could make a career of it? By eighth grade, when they told me my final grade depended on getting up very early every morning, all summer long, and marching, I was done. I dropped out of band and switched my allegiance back the theatre, where night owls who can’t tell left from right were more appreciated.
In the decades since, strong, wonderful women with more pioneering spirit than I, have broken the gender barrier in professional orchestras. Blind auditions became the standard, concealing any gender cues and placing the auditioner behind a screen, so all the conductor could evaluate was the musician’s tone, musicality, and playing ability. A whole generation of rigidly sexist artistic directors has died off, and about half the musicians in today’s New York Philharmonic are female.
But the hurt, and outrage I felt back in 1969 lingers.It flares up again every time I hear a teacher shoot down a young person’s dream. And I say, no matter what your creative field, feed the flame.
If someone comes to you with an impossible dream, remind yourself that it may simply not be possible yet.
The child with the shining face, who stands before you alight with the glory of her dream, may be the one who makes it possible, sometime in the future.
Nurture those dreams. We need them. They are the agents of change.
ABOUT GIGI: In addition to being my much-admired sister, Gigi Sherrell Norwood is the Director of Education and Concert Operations for the Dallas Winds (formerly the Dallas Wind Symphony), having used her BFA in Directing, her prodigious writing skills, and her lifelong love of music to become involved with a highly-esteemed professional musical group after all. Widow of the science fiction writer Warren C. Norwood, with whom she sometimes collaborated on projects under his byline, Gigi is also a talented writer herself. She is currently working on several urban fantasy stories set in the historic Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, TX.
NOTE: for a similar post about a young woman’s creativity shot down, you might be interested in my post Death of a Purple Elephant, from 2011.
IMAGES: Many thanks to Lark in the Morning’s “Clarinets” page for the photo of the clarinet. Many thanks to Amazon, for the photo of the vintage NY Philharmonic album cover, featuring the all-male-except-the-harpist photo of the orchestra’s musicians. I am indebted to the Madison.com website for the image of the MSO blind audition. The photo is by Amber Arnold of the State Journal. Many thanks to Bidding for Good, for the photo of a more recent New York Philharmonic, complete with roughly half female musicians. Gigi provided the photo of herself. It is used with her permission.
This has been my week to just miss anniversaries. Earlier this week I missed K9 Veterans Day. This time it’s the anniversary of my subject’s birth: Rosa Bonheur (born Marie-Rosalie Bonheur) was born March 16, 1822.
She was literally born a rule-breaker. Her family, inspired by her father, were Saint-Simonians, followers of a radical-for-that-period socialist political philosophy that held, among other things, that men and women should be considered equals, and all class distinctions should be abolished (of coursethe group soon split, with one faction unable to accept the idea of female equality).