Hi all, here’s the webinar I told you about on Monday. There are three more in this series, and it’s free to sign up to watch them live (and/or get the recording later). If you watch it, let’s talk about it!
At the end of my last post, I mentioned that my fan-fictional Hufflepuff prefect, Patrick Weasley, wants to go into the Ministry of Magic and work toward making school a safer and friendlier place for students. I didn’t get to clarify what I meant by “safer and friendlier,” so I want to take a moment to do that now. I fear that when some people read that phrase, their immediate reaction may be to grumble about how we make things so easy for kids these days and how we should be teaching them to grow up instead of coddling them. I’m glad these hypothetical curmudgeons brought this up because teaching kids to grow up and to thrive–i.e. teaching them resilience–is exactly what I’m concerned about too. 🙂
Before we can even have a conversation about resilience, we first need to understand that it’s necessary and acknowledge that childhood is hard. I wrote a post about this last fall, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that childhood is hard for everyone–you’re figuring out who you are and who everybody else is and how the world works–but it’s especially difficult for children who experience major forms of trauma. I just watched an excellent webinar by Dr. Allison Jackson and sponsored by Emote, and I’ve been given permission to share it, which I’ll do as soon as the recording is available. It’s the first in a series on identifying and addressing trauma for educators and anyone who works with children; for me, it’s relevant to both my children’s literature teaching and my volunteer work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children. Normally the word “webinar” doesn’t suggest engaging viewing, but I had tears in my eyes at one point during this one, and they weren’t tears of boredom.
When I talk about making schools safer and friendlier for kids, I’m not talking about making everything cheerful; I’m not talking about making everything easy–those things are impossible. I’m talking about letting kids know that they’re acceptable, even if they don’t have designer clothes and fancy lunches, even if they are a different size/shape/skin color from everyone else in the class. And then I’m talking about teaching them that they have the responsibility and the power to be kind to others. I will say more about this in future posts–or maybe Patrick will!
Here are some quick takes for your reading pleasure. Consider it professional development (after all, this is a leadership blog, right?).
- You know you have a serious problem when you start sorting the Corleone family into Hogwarts houses. I started thinking about this a couple of weeks ago when I was considering how to pitch a Hufflepuff leadership book idea to someone who seemed unfamiliar with Harry Potter but had used a Godfather analogy in his presentation. Then I went down a rabbit hole. I sorted Vito and his three sons (his blood sons; sorry, Tom Hagen–I think you’re a Muggle), and, conveniently, there’s one for each house. Michael, I knew immediately, is a Slytherin; he’s quiet and sneaky and always assumes his way is the right way. His dad, Vito, is also very intelligent but, generally speaking, using his genius for good; he’s a Ravenclaw. Sonny is a Gryffindor because he has a good heart but mistakenly believes he can solve everything with his fists. And I put Fredo in Hufflepuff because he just wants everybody to be happy. Obviously, I’m dealing in broad strokes here; I’m just making a fun comparison, not trying to say anything profound about either universe, so please don’t pick a fight with me about the oversimplified way I defined the houses.
- If you want a more perceptive analysis of what the houses mean, check out this post that our Slytherin correspondent shared with me over the weekend. Lots to think about here.
- I watched the first two Lord of the Rings movies over the weekend (extended version, of course), so I want to take a couple of minutes to wax eloquent about one of my favorite honorary Hufflepuffs, Samwise Gamgee. Yes, I guess Gryffindor could make an argument to claim him too (he’s brave and a little impulsive), but a Gryffindor’s not writing this post. 😉 And besides, Sam is the quintessence of loyalty. You really see it in The Two Towers when Sam and Frodo are following Gollum through the wilderness. About 95% percent of the time, Sam thinks Frodo is making bad choices (and Sam is right, I would add). And he says so. But he never leaves, and that’s not only or primarily because he agrees with the abstract cause of Frodo’s overall quest, but because he cares about Frodo. A truly loyal friend doesn’t stop being your friend because you’re making bad decisions; a truly loyal friend realizes that when you’re making bad decisions, you need a friend more than at any other time. Sam also functions as Frodo’s connection to reality. Even fairly early in the quest, Frodo needs Sam to tell him to do basic things like eating and sleeping. And as the journey goes on and the Ring’s increasing pull causes Frodo to fade out of the physical world and nearly become pure spirit, it’s almost as if Sam becomes Frodo’s body, fighting off Shelob and the orcs, and, in the end, carrying Frodo when he is powerless even to move. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ll know my life has truly been fulfilled if I can say that I’ve had and that I’ve been a friend like Samwise Gamgee.
Well, there you have it. Consider your professional development for this week done.
I’m thinking of rebranding my blog. Before I explain why, I’ll briefly explain the blog’s history for those of you who haven’t been with me from the beginning.
I started penelopeclearwater.wordpress.com in December 2011 so that I could get two free books. A friend had told me about an opportunity to receive the books for free in exchange for reviewing them on my blog. I didn’t have a blog, but there’s a lot that I’d be willing to do for free books, so I started one. (I posted the book review in January 2012.) As you will see if you read my inaugural post, I had fairly high aspirations for the blog (I wanted it to be “a place where thoughtful inquiry and the magic of words can thrive”), but I never had a specific theme in mind. For the past 6+ years, I’ve kept that tradition alive, posting about whatever I felt like posting about. In that inaugural post, I also explained the reasoning behind the blog’s name–and its subtitle, which is the motto of Ravenclaw House–and while my original ideas about the title still apply, I’ve come to identify with Hufflepuff more than Ravenclaw (a journey I’ve documented well here on the blog, in a number of existential-crisis posts). In the beginning, I sometimes used “Penelope Clearwater” as a narrative persona; I rarely do so now.
Recently, some observations and conversations have gotten me rethinking the goal of the blog and how I want to represent that goal. Let me first make clear that I have no intention of quitting my day job in order to become a professional blogger. This is a hobby. Nevertheless, hobbies can be approached with purpose just like jobs can. One way I’ve been approaching my blog with greater purpose over the past year and a half is to post weekly, with few exceptions, generally on Mondays. I’ve also linked the blog to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, garnering a larger readership, even if it consists mostly of people I know personally.
I’ve also noticed that most other people’s blogs–at least the popular ones–have a specific theme. I’ve observed that when I categorize my posts with certain keywords–especially “travel”–I get more likes and follows from the WordPress community than when I use other keywords (and certainly more than before I started using categories and tags). This phenomenon was confirmed by a successful blogger I know. Another friend helped me to nuance this idea by noting that while the blogs she follows do tend to have a specific theme (cooking, design, books, etc.), some of her favorite posts are the ones in which the bloggers depart from their ostensible topics and show a slice of their lives and/or make observations outside their chosen fields. This reassured me that committing to a narrower focus may not be as restrictive as I had feared.
Also, when my dad’s guest post from this past Friday sparked immediate attention and elicited articulate comments from some of my Facebook friends, I again got the message that people are looking for ideas to engage with and not just the kooky ramblings of my mind.
All of this led me to the conclusion that it might be time to refocus and rebrand my blog. But I didn’t know what to focus it on until one recent morning when I was thinking about some recent conversations I’d had with a work colleague. The idea came to me that someone should write a book (or a blog–or both) about how to lead like a Hufflepuff–a person who is probably not a natural or comfortable leader. I thought it would be fun to write in the persona of a Hufflepuff prefect and offer advice, from my own and others’ experience, about leading with the qualities valued by our house. And I realized that a number of my existing posts would fit into this theme with very little tweaking.
Next week, I’ll expand on this idea, but for now, what do you think? Would you read a blog about Hufflepuff leadership, keeping in mind that not every post would be explicitly on that theme?
In May, I told you about a panel discussion on fandom that I had just begun, along with a committee, to plan. This morning, all the planning came to fruition, and we had a wonderful event that was collegial, fun, scholarly, and well-attended by enthusiastic fans (not of us, but of a wide range of fandoms), many of whom were wearing t-shirts representing their chosen texts.
In the spirit of “remix culture” (which we could have discussed this morning if we’d had more time), I’m not going to give you a traditional, single-authored recap of the event; instead, I’m going to give you some cool links that will inspire you to join the conversation!
- One of our panelists captured an iPhone audio recording of the discussion that turned out surprisingly well. Here it is on YouTube. The image you’ll see is the fantastic event poster created by Ms. Mariannette Oyola–also mentioned in the next point.
- We had two fabulous vendors selling their fannish wares. One has an Etsy shop, GeekOutsidetheBox; the other posts her work on her Instagram site, @misssoyola_art. I bought something from both, and there was a lot more I had to restrain myself from buying. Check them out.
- During the discussion, I mentioned Confessions of an Aca-Fan, the blog of Henry Jenkins, who was one of the first media scholars to study fandom in a positive light when he published his book Textual Poachers in 1992, and who is still going strong today. If Jenkins and/or his blog sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because I’ve mentioned him several times on my blog.
- I’m going to pull a Gilderoy Lockhart and tell you to see my published works for further details. My doctoral dissertation is about, among other things, fans. In it, I mention the intriguing (if I do say so myself) idea that some authors, like J. K. Rowling and Charles Dickens, are fans of their own work. I don’t mean that they’re arrogant; I mean something more positive and productive. Read more here. (I am not sure if this link requires a log-in. If it does and you can’t get in, let me know–I’d be happy to send you a PDF.)
- Panelist Marybeth Davis Baggett referred to her Christ and Pop Culture article on Kurt Vonnegut, of whom she is a devoted fan. Read the piece here.
- All of our panelists are active (and saying really smart things) on some blog or social media platform, but I didn’t ask which is each person’s preferred platform. I’ll check with them and post their handles here so you can follow them. (And if you’re a panelist and you happen to be reading this, go ahead and comment with all your info.)
Let’s keep the conversation going. Share some cool links that you think would be relevant!
I was inspired by my brother’s podcast, Does Anyone Really Need to Hear This? (listen to the latest episode here) to begin regularly reporting on what I’m watching, reading, and listening to. But since the blog format is less tolerant of long-windedness than the podcast format, I am going to focus on just one of these today—on the three movies I watched this past weekend, to be exact.
- Logan. I may have mentioned before that I’m a regular platelet donor and that one of my favorite parts about donating (aside from knowing that I’m helping to save people’s lives) is getting to watch a movie while tucked under one or more electric blankets. Last Thursday, I chose to watch Logan, the first X-Men movie—indeed, the first Marvel movie—to have Oscar hopes. I’m always a little hesitant to watch violent movies while donating because it’s hard to escape or even look away from a particularly gruesome scene when I’m strapped to a bed, but even though this R-rated film was very violent (more than I expected), I’m glad I watched it. Probably the most striking feature of Logan is how well it captures the artistic trends and cultural anxieties of 2017. The setting—a not-too-distant, not-quite-apocalyptic future (technology still works, but things are quickly falling apart, especially along the US/Mexico border)—reminded me of The Walking Dead and even more of its borderland spinoff Fear the Walking Dead. Fears about genetic experimentation devoid of human conscience were represented in the character Laura, basically an 11-year-old female Wolverine, who, in her silent and deadpan (and occasionally delighted) observation of the “normal” world, reminded me of Eleven from Stranger Things. The cinematography made the whole world look hot and tired, and the music (especially the Johnny Cash song in the credits) added to the weary and foreboding tone. In spite of the cynicism of both the characters and the general tone, the movie still had the heart of a more traditional Marvel film, and I nearly cried at the end. I had always thought of Wolverine as one of the least interesting X-Men, but, like many viewers of this startling film, I’ve done a complete reversal on that opinion.
- Jaws. One of our local theaters was showing this 1975 classic last week, and I saw it Friday night. It was my first time seeing it in many years, and it was both gorier (they blew up a shark!) and better than I remembered. John Williams’s score, though sometimes over the top, is a classic of his early style. The acting is fantastic, the writing is straightforward yet understated, and even though the special effects are not what they would be today, the pacing of the film contributes to a dramatic tension that never lets up. I’m kind of a sucker for male bonding stories, so I really like the camaraderie (and tension—more tension) among the three men who go out to hunt down the shark. It’s a classic seafaring story. And now that I’ve used the word “classic” three times in one paragraph, I think I’ve made my point, so I’ll move on.
- Moonlight. On Saturday night, I finally watched the real Best Picture winner of 2017. I can’t comment on whether it’s better or worse than La La Land; the movies are too different. But I can say that it’s very good. And although it couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to Jaws in every way, Moonlight, too, has some great dramatic tension. I think I may have been holding my breath for the last 20 minutes of the movie as I watched the main character and his old high school friend (and lover? That’s what he wants to find out) conversationally dance around and around the topic neither of them wants to broach. The score of this movie is also excellent, and the camera work and lighting, combined with the bright colors of many of the buildings in Miami, make everything look not cheerful but lurid and sad, in keeping with the story. And Maharshala Ali deserved that Best Supporting Actor win, even though he’s only in the first third of the film.
If you’ve seen any of these movies, let me know what you thought. Next week I’ll be back with what I’m reading.
Today I thought I would take the time to tell you how I think this blog is doing and to ask for feedback from you, my readers, without whom this blog would be nothing but the digital equivalent of a secret diary hidden under my mattress. A couple things prompted me to do this. For one thing, it’s been about a year since I implemented my weekly (usually Monday, sometimes Tuesday) post–before that, I was writing whenever I felt like it, and sometimes months would go by before you heard anything from me. Another reason I wanted to stop and assess the blog this week is that I heard from some people yesterday who either mentioned a specific post they had enjoyed or indicated they knew something about the style of my blog–people I had no idea were reading it. So that made me curious as to how many “silent” readers I have out there and what they’re thinking.
Let’s start with the weekly post thing. I began this practice as part of a larger discipline of writing something (anything–could be a PowerPoint presentation for a class or a sketch of one of my screenplay ideas) for 30 minutes each weekday afternoon, which was inspired by the class on spiritual disciplines in the workplace that I audited last summer at Regent College. (See below for a link to the series of posts I wrote following the course.) Besides the fact that I’m now posting every week, another thing this practice changed about my blog is that my posts are now limited to what I can write within half an hour, which–I think–is keeping them to a manageable length, in contrast to the marathon posts that I used to write. But, with the emphasis on actually writing for 30 minutes, I’m including fewer pictures, videos, and external links in my posts. What do you think about all this? Am I posting too often/not often enough? Have my posts been too short lately, or are they still too long? Would you like me to shut up occasionally and direct you to other people’s work (through the aforementioned pictures, videos, and links)?
I would also like your feedback about the topics I write about. My blog has always been, unapologetically, about a wide variety of topics. I know that I’d probably get a bigger readership and more mentions on the web if I focused in on a niche, like travel or home decor (or even something that I actually know a lot about, like Harry Potter), but I’m not trying to get famous or make money through my blog. Although, as I hope this post attests, I do care very much about my readers, my blog is just as much a vehicle for me to process what I’m thinking and learning. So I’m not sorry for writing a string of posts recently about The Godfather, even though most of you–at least those who are talking to me–don’t care about the Corleones (and, I still maintain, don’t know what you’re missing). But I do want to know which topics you’d like to see more of–and what topics I haven’t addressed that you’d be interested in reading about. Anecdotally, it seems that some of my most popular posts have been the confessional, gut-spilling ones where I let you snoop into the embarrassing parts of my interior life, usually through the screen of humor. But I know that many of you also share my love of music, movies, and TV, and so you prefer posts on those topics. Let me know what you think. I will take your suggestions seriously, and I’ll write about pretty much anything that I know something about (and maybe even some things I know nothing about!).
In closing, let me share what I think have been some of the highlights of this past year on penelopeclearwater:
- Here is the first of the series I wrote following the class on spiritual disciplines. The series continued through July and August 2016–check out the archives.
- There was a lot of excitement on my blog leading up to and following the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
- This post from a few weeks ago–which was both a confessional post and a music post–got a lot of good feedback.