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Noblebright stories

The writer C.J. Brightly and her colleague Mike Reeves-McMillan got into a discussion sometime ago about a type of fantasy fiction that’s in contrast to grimdark. The term they adopted for the type of story they had in mind was noblebright.

Here’s how C.J. Brightly describes noblebright. (Complete description here.)

Noblebright fantasy has at least one important character with noble, idealistic motives who does the right thing out of principle. The character is flawed, but his or her actions are generally defined by honesty, integrity, sacrifice, love, and kindness. The story upholds the goodness of the character; the character’s good qualities are not held up as naiveté, cluelessness, or stupidity, but rather shown to be worthwhile. Good characters can make a difference. Noblebright characters can learn and grow. They can deliberately choose to be kind when tempted to be unkind, they can choose generosity when it hurts, and they can influence their world and other characters for the better. In a noblebright story, even villains are not without hope; their stories may have a redemptive ending, or they may have some kind of conversion experience (religious or not). It’s not guaranteed, of course, but in a noblebright story, it’s a possibility.

Noblebright fantasy is not utopian fiction. The world of a noblebright story is not perfect, and indeed can sometimes be quite dark. Actions have consequences, and even good characters can make terrible mistakes. But a noblebright story is generally hopeful in tone, even if there are plenty of bad, grim, dark things going on in the world.

I love this idea. There’s room under the umbrella of that definition for many types of stories, including dark ones. It’s the mindset that makes the difference: a belief in the possibility of a hopeful future.

I’d love to hear in comments people’s thoughts both of the term and any novels that they think fit the bill.

Meanwhile, C.J.’s done more than simply promote the term noblebright—she’s also pulled together a collection of 12 indie-published fantasy stories that are noblebright in one way or another, and they’re now on preorder for only 99 cents. I’m very pleased and honored that she asked me if she could include Pen Pal, and I said yes. People reading here have had plenty of opportunities to get Pen Pal, but there are 11 other stories in the collection (plus bonus short stories by some of the authors) that you might be interested in. Under the cut are taglines for each of them. (For mine, I’ll be forever indebted to sartorias, who came up with it.)

Taglines for the noblebright storiesCollapse )

Preorder link here (Amazon), here (Apple), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Kobo).

But truly, I want to know: what novels have you read that you'd label noblebright?

One more

wakanomori rightly suggested that we need the fading moonflower as well, evanescent as the dew that spangles it. Like the dew, fading as the sun rises.

Evanescent moonflower


Moon and moonflower

A moonflower is like a morning glory, but it opens in the evening and blooms through the night. It's very fragrant. In Japanese they're yūgao (夕顔), "evening faces." In Genji Monogatari, the woman called Yūgao gets one of the most exciting stories--attacked by a jealous spirit of one of Genji's other lovers. Genji actually draws a sword and everything! (This is remarkable because mainly men in Genji Monogatari don't get any more active than slipping into women's sleeping quarters or taking walks.)

Here is a moonflower in the evening, preparing to open:

moonflower bud beginning to open

Here it is, later in the evening, unfurling

moonflower unfurling

moonflower unfurling

anotherCollapse )

And here is the moon, a night before full, at 3 am

hazy moon

And the moonflower (this time taken with a flash), fully open

moonflower (3 am) fully unfurled

cicada song and una sonrisa hermosa

At night the katydids have taken up their song, and in the day there are cicadas. Let me tiptoe past an observation about the waning of the summer...

About those cicadas. Their sheeny noise, especially on a humid day like today, gives me an impression that they're burnishing the air the way potters can burnish bowls or weavers can burnish cloth. The air on humid days is like finest shining mist curtains, and the cicadas polish it with their song.

I missed my chance this summer to take a Spanish course through the local university's continuing ed program, so I'm trying to learn some on Duolingo. I mentioned this to one of my students at the jail, whose first language is Spanish, and yesterday she took it upon herself to teach me some things. I loved it. She taught me una sonrisa hermosa / a beautiful smile

What a beautiful word sonrisa is! So I was practicing some sentences, and the head of programs came in to fix our clock, and I got hugely embarrassed and said, "I promise I'm not exploiting my students to learn Spanish! We are doing essay work too!" (<--admitting the thing I feel guilty about), but she is so wonderful and cool that she just said, "I think it's wonderful. You go ahead."

... We did do some essay stuff too, though: honest.

Thoughts on the "Grease" phenomenon

I've had a number of things simmering on the back burners of my mind, and one of them is the "Grease" phenomenon: stories in which a socially conforming character transforms into something (supposedly) excitingly transgressive to make a romance work out--as in the musical Grease. The girl changes completely; the boy, not at all. (The genders can be reversed, though, as in stories in which a manic pixie dream girl stories transforms someone who's supposedly, or actually, stodgy or straitlaced or conventional into something marked as better or more exciting.)

It seems to me that this is obviously because in the minds of the storytellers, one character's stance is desirable and the other's isn't, and so it's right for the one with the undesirable stance to change. At one time, this led to stories where the love of a good woman converted a bad boy--she wasn't expected to become a rowdy lawbreaker; the transformation was all in him. That was equally tiresome. But by now it's switched so it's the other way around.

In any case, however the change goes, and whatever traits are favored, it bothers me when love is depicted as requiring suppression or erasure of characteristics that make a person who they are and adoption of new characteristics.

Love does change people, but stories that give me the impression that the happiness of the couple is based on one person repairing themself, while the other person changes not at all, are VERY UNSATISFYING. If two people are genuinely in love, aren't they most likely to both change in ways that make the love stronger? One partner helps the other get over timidity and learn to be more adventurous, and meanwhile the adventurous partner is learning the pleasures of close observation, which they hadn't done much of before when they'd been rushing from one adventure to the next.

That's the pattern I prefer.

Pocumtuck Homelands Festival

When I left the possums with the woman at Medicine Mammals, she invited me to come to the Pocumtuck Homelands Festival, on the banks of the Connecticut River in Turners Falls--an old mill town where once I heard Anaïs Mitchell perform. Yesterday, wakanomori and I went, and it turned out to be a wonderful time, full of connections, synchronicity, and good news about the possums.

We happened to arrive at exactly the moment that the Akwesasne Women Singers, featuring Bear Fox, were singing songs in Kanienkaha, the language known in English as Mohawk. Bear Fox appears in the film about the Akwesasne Freedom School, a Kanienkaha language-emersion school, that I've written about here and on the Pen Pal website. She's also a major force in the documentary Skydancer about Mohawk (Kanienkaha:ka) iron workers. And I got to see her perform! Here are 40 second of that performance:

Later on we went to buy a CD, and I was able to tell her how great I thought both documentaries had been. (The CD I chose was this one. "That's the best one," one of the other women told me."My fingers must have known instinctively," I said.)

Further along, we found Medicine Mammals.

I asked Loril, the rehabilitator, how the possums were doing. "They're doing great," she said. "The two you brought in, plus the other three--they're all together now in a flannel pouch." She said she and her group were about to do some drumming for a woman who was going to perform a hoop dance, so we stayed for that.

The drummers and singers

The dancer

The audience--I remember being able to sit the way the girl in the first photo is sitting

Near the end of her performance, the dancer passed the hoops to kids and led them in a weaving dance, then asked them to pass the hoops on to others. Meanwhile the singers modified their chant: "Teeeenage Ninja Muuuutant Turtles . . . They are powerfulllll," and so on. It was very fun.

After we left, we went for a stroll by the shores of the river at a point where its waters were mainly being diverted.

Here is where we walked...Collapse )

Last but not least, in the parking lot I collected data for a new Tumblr: Prius bumper stickers (by which I mean, bumper stickers on Priuses, not bumper stickers featuring Priuses). At least in this neck of the woods, they definitely have themes in common... If you happen to see any good ones, send me a picture, and I'll upload it--crediting you in a form you desire!

will to live

On Monday, I was out for a morning run, not very far from home, when I came upon a possum that had been hit by a car. I was passing it, when I heard a wheezing, hissing, chirping sort of noise, and saw a little, blind, baby possum, with just a shadow of gray fuzz on its body, struggling by the side of the road. It had either been thrown there or had somehow managed to creep its way over. And then I saw that there was another, a little way off.

Those babies were in a desperate state, and trying so hard to stay alive.

So, I ran back home and came back in a car with a box. I picked up the two babies, looked for others, but didn't see any others that were alive. At home I wrapped a hot water bottle in a towel while wakanomori looked for wildlife rehabilitators that we could call. (yamamanama, you can bet I was thinking of you, but the place you volunteer at would be like two hours away, so I figured I'd try something closer.) Meanwhile those little babies were cheeping and wheezing away.

For those of you in Massachusetts, this page offers regional pages you can check out for this purpose. (For those of you not in Massachusetts, your state may have similar, or you can simply search on "wildlife rehabilitator.") Waka printed out the page for the Pioneer Valley, and I started calling.

It was still pretty early in the morning and no one was picking up. I left several messages, and at last got one woman, a vet, but she said that baby possums were difficult because they required tube feeding, and that she couldn't do it because she was traveling. She urged me to keep trying other numbers. At last I reached Medicine Mammals. The woman there told me she had a different method for feeding baby possums (involving a toothbrush--I guess they suck the bristles), and that she would take them.

She lives at the end of a dirt road, and the scene behind her house reminded me of Medwyn's Valley, for those of you who've read Taran Wanderer. When I opened the box to show her the possums, we saw that the two babies had made their way next to each other and were snuggled together.

After I turned them over to her and made a donation for her work, she invited me to come to the Pocumtuck Homelands Festival. "We'll have our tipi up and there'll be storytelling," she said. I was thinking, tipi?? The Native Americans in this area never made tipis. But it turns out she's Apache, so that explains it.

When I got home, I got a call from my town's Animal Control Officer. "Did you rescue some baby possums from George Hannum Road?" she asked. "Yes," I said, flabbergasted, because I hadn't called her, so how could she know? "Well, we removed the mother and there were other babies alive in her pouch, and I was wondering if you'd found a rehabilitator?" She must have been calling the same people I'd been calling, and they must have said that someone else from B-town was also calling about baby possums.

So I was able to tell her about Medicine Mammals, so maybe more of those sibling possums will make it.

The possums were at the eight-week stage pictured here (source)

Irom Sharmila, the hunger striker and political prisoner from Manipur, in northeastern India (very far northeastern: it's in the portion of India that's on the other side of Bangladesh), has announced that she is going to give up her hunger strike in August and stand for election.

I think this is a very good decision. She has been on a hunger strike for sixteen years. As a means of accomplishing her goal (ending the law that lets the Indian military take the lives of Manipuris with impunity), the hunger strike has exhausted its usefulness. By entering politics, Sharmila shows she cares enough about the cause to work with others. She'll no longer be isolated in a hospital ward; she'll be able (required, in fact) to speak with others, listen to people's concerns.

She'll also get eat again. Imagine tasting food after sixteen years.

This news story includes comments from people in Manipur. The BBC also covered the story (that's how I heard it), but the report there is bare bones.

But actually, no.

Sometimes something comes to you in a "wisdom" package, and you're conditioned to nod humbly and say yes, yes, I see, but sometimes, if you (or in this case, I) stop and think for a moment, the wisdom seems completely bogus.

Case in point, this, which is apparently from Swami Satchidananda (but I don't know who that is ... yes, I know I can Google it. I probably will, at some point)

“What is it that dies? A log of wood dies to become a few planks. The planks die to become a chair. The chair dies to become a piece of firewood, and the firewood dies to become ash. You give different names to the different shapes the wood takes, but the basic substance is there always. If we could always remember this, we would never worry about the loss of anything. We never lose anything; we never gain anything. By such discrimination we put an end to unhappiness.

No. I have way different relationships with planks of wood, a chair, firewood, and ash. WAY DIFFERENT! You might as well say that all of us are made up of electrons and protons and neutrons, so we're interchangeable. Maybe so, at the subatomic level. But that's not the level at which we experience the world. If a chair gets turned into firewood, you bet I'm going to mourn the chair! And when the firewood is gone and all I have is ash, I'm going to be sad, too--and I'm going to need more firewood, because you can't burn ash. So no, Swami Satchidananda, I disagree with your logic here entirely, and this thought experiment does *not* put an end to unhappiness.

So there.


Open, Close Them**

Dried flower at 7 am

Dried flower at 10 am

I don't know how this flower, with only the remembrance of being alive, decides when to open and close, but somehow it does.

**Title line comes from this song for toddlers. Hand motions accompany it--opening hands when it says "open," closing them when it says "close them"

Open, close them
Open, close them
Give a little clap-clap-clap

Open, close them
Open, close them
Put them in your lap

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