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Through new eyes…

“Not a Mary Sue.”


Innocently a young colleague, not much older than my eldest son, asked me if I had seen ‘Force Awakens,’ and if I liked it.

Poor guy.

Never believe that asking a simple question to  an English-teacher-quasi-nerd-fan-girl-turned-Jedi-master-saw-original-Star-Wars-changed-life is going to produce a simple answer.

I hesitated, and he said, “Oh no.” He knew.

So…hesitated, and responded: “I learned that ‘Star Wars’ is our cultural entry, our collective consciousness doorway, to providing accessible analysis of narrative.” Or something to that effect.

Basically: it’s our doorway to being able to discuss literature/narrative, in an informed, impassioned and to us, when we’re discussing plot, character, story arc, decisions, we own it, we create and recreate, and we feel smart. And when we feel smart, we feel confident. And when we feel confident, success is inherent. And nothing succeeds like success.

Think about it: when my husband and I left the Cinerama (our boys having seen the film: older one not in love with Star Wars, in fact hates it, younger one loved it and shared the Belated Media clips below–more on that later) we both knowingly rolled our eyes at each other, and waited until we were out of earshot of other fans to dissect Kylo Ren’s character, plot points, comparisons, and develop our own fan theories. My husband leans toward Star Trek, I sit on the Star Wars side, but somehow we manage to still love each other. This huge epiphany slammed my noggin like a tri-chappe lightsaber: Star Wars doesn’t have to be good, high art, elitist cinema or literature: its value is in our ability to want to own it, and its simple story is its beauty of accessibility.

This is why–oh so very, very why–it’s important to understand how to open that door for our students.

And do not — DO NOT — get your “teacher” all over it.



If you use Minecraft, don’t add a learning target.

If you use Dr. Who, Harry Potter, or Star Wars, don’t put a standard anywhere near it.

If you talk about Journey of the Hero, unreliable narrators, game lore, Dungeons and Dragons, or the poetry of the songs from your youth, be the Obi-Wan to their padawan, and allow them to be the Jedi Master when teaching you about what’s important to them. If you’ve ever spoken to a Whovian, you will be thoroughly schooled in all things Dr. Who.

Allow yourself to be the dork once in awhile. Show them the passion and excitement you have when you talk about a movie you love, or characters you feel like you know personally. I have no shame in telling students I cried when I found out Alan Rickman passed away. If you can watch the scene between Dumbledore and Snape when Snape reveals his motivation (no spoilers…just in case)…then you may need to check for your humanity. Back to Star Wars: a young female colleague told me she thought Rey was better than Leia. Oh, smart lady, please don’t make me bring up context and constraints of time periods.

We fans of fiction, games, lore, and the accessible story unite in pure love of the conversation.

All I can say about that.

Anyway, my colleague showed this to me — so fun to watch fan theories:

JarJar? Master Wizard?

And my younger son shared this series with me and my husband, and we loved them: (there may be some language: apologies).

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Mighty Myth Month: Heroes.

What is a “hero?”

According to Joseph Campbell, it’s essentially this arc:

There is a call to adventure–refusal of the call–crossing the threshold–initiation–road of trials–belly of the whale—add a dash of apotheosis, atonement, fight that final battle, receive a little rescue from without, cross the return threshold, get the ultimate boon, become master of two worlds, and voila! Hero!

But the hero is more than just a man or woman on a trip around the game of Life. The hero does the thing that the community cannot do for itself. However, the hero is not perfect. The hero has flaws, which his or her naysayers, detractors, and antagonists will work to remind us all for the eternity that the heroes’ good deeds live on. Words like “sacrifice,” “mentor,” and “quest” are commonplace in our vernaculars, and may have lost some of their deeper meanings.

A few months ago, my students worked very hard to dig out the themes of the journey of the hero during a class discussion. I worked very hard to keep my mouth shut, so I could let them struggle, squirm, and think on their own. And their thinking was brilliant. They said the theme of the journey of the hero is “people need to believe in the power of hope.”

Mind you, there were no photographs of Abe Lincoln, President Obama, or Dr. King during the discussion. There were no mass-market media messages displayed in the room.

And that, to me, is the real power of a hero. That their struggles, fight, battles, message, and meaning lives on, even when they’re not in the room.

Thank you, Dr. King.


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Monster spray.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear”–Mark Twain

On Wednesday, while we were reviewing the final Journey of the Hero project, I shared a personal story with some of you about when I was a little girl. My parents were renting a house, and I had a room somewhat separated from the rest of the family. My room had its own bathroom, which on the surface seems very luxurious. The closet in the bathroom, holding cleaners, towels, etc., had a crawl space, that hosted constant shadows, no matter how the light shone in, or how bright the sunlight glowed. There were monsters in that crawl space. No doubt, no question, no mystery. Monsters. Small, yes, but ferocious. Spiky, oozing, biting monsters. Luckily, I had a hero–my dad. When I brought him my worry and concerns about the crawl-space-bathroom-dwelling-monsters, he didn’t dismiss my fears; he solved them. Taking a can of Lysol, he thoroughly sprayed the inside of the monsters’ lair, and all around the bathroom. In my four-year-old’s memory, I can still see those monsters disintegrating like so much foul fog and smoke. He placed the can by my bed, in case I should ever need to kill monsters in the middle of the night. I haven’t had a monster problem since.

That’s kind of a silly story, I know. Just a small moment in time when someone who loved me made me feel braver. I guess I could think of the Monster Spray as being my own supernatural aid.

But we know that heroes face much worse–and that the definition of a hero/heroine is someone who does something for other people without thinking of themselves. But that’s the ideal hero. Humans are far more complicated than that. It’s the complications I want you to think about. We can’t relate to heroes who make it look easy all the time-it becomes unattainable. Maybe that’s why in Greek/Roman mythology, the gods/goddesses are flawed. Maybe that’s why in the Bible story of David and Goliath, David is this runt kid. Maybe that’s why in the legend of Joan of Arc, she’s this crazy teenage girl. There’s the Jewish story of a young girl named Esther, who saved her people through her bravery. Scheherazade used her brains and beauty to tell imaginative stories that not only saved her own neck, but showed her loyalty and faithfulness.

But what is the nature of bravery, and courage?

From Mr. Spencer’s Blog:  I saw a woman lose it at the grocery store the other day. She picked up a pink box  and slammed it to the shelf. I can’t remember the words exactly, but she said, “they’re using cancer to sell cereal. I’m sick of it. Why can’t they just have a celebrity?” And she started into a loud rant that quickly cleared the aisle and left her husband red-faced.

She stopped herself after knocking down a few of the boxes. I stared at Brenna and heard, “I’m sick of wearing pink and I’m tired of pretending. Cancer sucks.”

As I drove my cart off, she took off her hat and cried right there in the grocery store. Loud tears. Heaving sobs. Her husband held her.

Listen to these three stories, chosen because the storyteller met an obstacle, or had to overcome a fear: