Poetry Friday: Dice

Poetry DiceI don’t have an actual poem to share today, but after Gen Con last week I’ve been thinking about random poetry. I’m weirdly drawn to the dice with letters on them, although I’ve never bought any because I can’t think of an actual use for them (writing letter by random letter sounds way more painful than even I’m willing to put up with) and I haven’t seen a 26-sided die with all the letters (there’s not really a 26-sided platonic solid), so it would involve multiple dice and some kind of system for deciding which die to go with at any given time anyway. Not really the stuff of fun random poetry building. But the *idea* of building random from poetry from dice is still pretty cool. So I went looking to see if anyone had come up with anything interesting along those lines.

What I found was this very intriguing project. Basically, the poet listened to the sounds of the numbers from 1-102 (because dice roll numbers, not letters or words) and chose words or very short phrases that sounded like those numbers. So “fifty” becomes “thrifty” and “sixty-two” becomes “coochy-coo”. Then you roll the dice to see what combination of number/words you come up with and arrange them as you please! Isn’t that creative and interesting? I thought so. I also thought it would be fun to try picking my own words for numbers and making my own set. I think it would be even more interesting to do something like this with a group of kids. It gets them to listen to sounds and experiment with language while having silly fun. You could even get blank dice (they sell them in various sizes and colors, but I’d go with white ones maybe an inch or larger on a side to make it easier to read what you write on them) and actually make your own! I think it would be fun, anyway.

I’m sure everyone else has great poetry today, so go check it out! The round-up is over at The Book Mine Set! Check it out!

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Gen Con 2007

Gen Con LogoI had a great time at Gen Con this year. It was probably one of the best years ever for me. I really couldn’t tell you why, either. I had a bunch of awesome seminars, a couple of quirky, fun games, and met a lot of great, interesting people.

As far as games go, my experiences this year were generally great. It seems that every year I have one game where the gamemaster doesn’t show up and this year it was a game of Little Fears (an RPG where you play kids fighting closet monsters and other terrors of childhood), which was highly disappointing. I love Little Fears, but it’s not a game I get to play often. Last year no one ran it at the Con at all, so I didn’t even get my one game a year fix of it! This year I was really excited to get back to it, and it didn’t end up happening. Oh well. On the other hand, I had two absolutely awesome Dungeons and Dragons games that I will probably never forget. I will write up both of them in the next week or so and add them to the “Gaming” section of the site (I’ll post when they get added, so if you’re interested, you’ll know when they go up).

I always look for “women in gaming” seminars because they are always fun. There are more and more women at Gen Con every year, but we are still in the minority and some of the guys still kind of ogle like this is the only time of year they ever see a woman. There are a lot of women for whom the Con is the only place they get to interact with other women gamers. The thing is, even though there are a lot of women gamers, they tend not to advertise it and even their friends often don’t know (my husband didn’t know I was a gamer until maybe four years after we met and started dating, so I’m as guilty of that as anyone else). This year there was a great roundtable style seminar held on the subject by the Gamer Wenches, a group of women gamers that has been formed on the internet through forums and their website. We did a bad job of staying on topic, but so much interesting discussion was happening that I’m not sure it really mattered. The women in the room played a wide range of game types and while some had been playing for years, others were comparatively very new to gaming. Everyone was very welcomed and respected, though. It was definitely one of the best women gamer events I’ve been to.

There was supposed to be an event about Women and D&D run by Wizards of the Coast, but it didn’t happen. WotC moved it without telling the convention, which meant that no one knew it had been moved and 30+ people showed up for it, but not where WotC was holding it. This was frustrating, to say the least. Several of us did everything we could to find the damn thing, including going to the “right” room (where no one was by that point) and WotC’s booth in the dealer hall. The people in the dealer booth were very nice to us and apologized, but that really didn’t make it less frustrating. And they certainly didn’t endear themselves to all the many people who *didn’t* get an apology either. I’m not sure what happened on their end, but they really should have managed that one better. I had been thinking about buying their new book on women and D&D at the Con, but after that I decided not to.

WotC did an absolutely fantastic job, however, with the other official seminar of theirs that I went to. It was on Kids and D&D and it was run primarily by James Wyatt. He had a lot of really interesting things to say. He discussed some of the tools WotC makes for D&D and how they can been used to play with kids (the Basic Game, playdnd.com, Miniatures, etc.). He has a kid who enjoys playing D&D and so he had lots of personal experience and stories to relate. It was great! He also brought up Mirrorstone Books and discussed the various books they publish and even some that are coming out in the future. The parents in the room hadn’t heard of Mirrorstone (which I think reinforced to the WotC people there that the marketing for Mirrorstone isn’t so much working in many ways, even if they are doing some things right), but they were all really excited about the books as he talked about them. He didn’t know that they hadn’t brought any with them, but I had previously talked to some of the people in the WotC booth about this. I think maybe this seminar could help reinforce the idea that Gen Con *could* be a good place to bring Mirrorstone books. There were parents there who all had really interesting things to say. One couple was even working on incorporating gaming into homeschooling and had some great thoughts along that line. I was really impressed. Everyone was really open minded and had great things to say, and everyone really seemed to want new ideas and suggestions from everyone else. It was awesome. James Wyatt mentioned that he thinks WotC should try and get the rights to make an RPG based on Avatar: The Last Airbender and I think that would be the best idea! It’s the perfect world to set a game in and would draw in kids and adults alike, which means kids could play with their parents as easily as they could with other kids! And it’s just such a great world with so much rich material to draw from. I hope that he can convince the company to really consider it!

The fourth seminar I went to, although it was actually before the Kids and D&D one, was this year’s Games and Learning seminar from David Simkins. Every year for the last couple of years he’s done a seminar discussing his work and the work being done at the University of Wisconsin – Madison on games in education and the theory behind games and learning. It’s pretty academic at times, but that’s probably part of why I like it so much. It’s always really interesting. This year he talked about the research his department has been doing on World of Warcraft. I found the study of how players show and use scientific reasoning and discourse to be fascinating. There were a number of interesting parts of the research that I would love to have known more about, but given the time constraints there’s just no way he could have gone into them as much as I really would have wanted. Besides, I actually found the second part of his presentation where he discussed his own research into games and ethics even more fascinating. He looked at video games and how they built ethical worlds and presented the player with ethical dilemmas and consequences for their choice. It was really interesting and I hope that in the next few years he keeps working with it. I just find his work and the work of the whole games and learning community really interesting.

I did get to play a few fun games at this convention. Probably the best board game I found was Mystery of the Abbey, which is like a complicated whodunnit where you are trying to identify which monk committed a murder based on clues and questioning other players. Another good game I found was a kids game from Front Porch Classics called Adventures in Oz. I actually bought myself a copy of this one, although I have my doubts that I’ll be able to get anyone to play it with me. It’s a simple game where you need to collect the things listed on your character card, then get what the wizard promised you and get home before the Wicked Witch of the West shows up. It’s all based on the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and is bright and fun. They have a similar game based on Cicely Mary Barker’s fairies. Michael bought some decks of the World of Warcraft CCG and got me to play it. Other than the fact that the deck I played with was not really well balanced for playing one-on-one and I wasn’t getting good hands (when I had a hand at all), it seems like a good game with a lot of potential. I think I need to try some different decks or build one from some of the other cards we have and try again.

The convention had more videogames than ever before, but they were all MMOGs. That was fine. It gave me the chance to learn a little more about some of the games Michael’s been excited about that I haven’t been sure of. I was totally not sold on Pirates of the Burning Sea, but after talking to one of their really nice employees and getting her to show me around the game a little I am actually kind of excited to play it. It has some fun new elements to combat, a rather interesting overall system for determining world-changing events, and interesting (if somewhat complicated) ship-to-ship combat. I liked that you can be totally involved in the world-changing events, helping your side take over ports and such, or you can just play by yourself and still be helping your side with all that important stuff just by running missions against the enemy side. It’s really pretty cool. I’m still not terribly sold on Warhammer Online, but I’m less against it now. It does have some cool, interesting elements. I just don’t really think it’s for me.

One of my favorite things at this convention was getting to meet Emily Fiegenschuh, the illustrator of the Knights of the Silver Dragon books, and her husband, Vinod Rams (the illustrator of Mirrorstone’s Dragonlance books). I always really like meeting authors and illustrators, but I was really excited to meet Emily because I loved the Knights of the Silver Dragon series so much and her art was a big part of that. She and Vinod were both super nice and I really enjoyed talking to them!

I had a great Con overall. I got to spend time with friends, play some awesome games, hear interesting ideas and have stimulating discussions in seminars and meet some wonderful new people! I missed some friends who were absent this year, but their absence didn’t keep the convention from being great! I’m glad it was such a great experience. Some years are just not as much fun as they should be, but this is one year I’ll remember for a long, long time because it was an absolute blast! I hope I can keep going for many years to come!

Poetry Friday: The Great War

Vera BrittainOne of my favorite books of all time is Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. My copy was given to me by one of my favorite teachers when I graduated from eighth grade. I respected her so much that I knew she must have given it to me for a reason, so I gobbled it up that summer. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read and has stuck with me ever since. I found Brittain’s life and writing fascinating. I even chose two poems from the book to be read at my wedding. I’ve given copies to several people, although it’s never been an easy book to find (I order it now, but I didn’t know you could do that back then). The book starts with a bit of an old fairy tale and a poem and one of my favorite first lines ever: “When the Great War broke out, it came to me not as a superlative tragedy, but as an interruption of the most exasperating kind to my personal plans.” How could you not be drawn in after a line like that?

The book is full of Brittain’s wonderful poetry and the poetry of her friends and her fiance. All of it is well worth sharing (and may show up here some other time), but today I wanted to share the first poem in the book, which is by Vera Brittain herself and was written in 1932.

The War Generation: Ave

In cities and in hamlets we were born,
And little towns behind the van of time;
A closing era mocked our guileless dawn
With jingles of a military rhyme.
But in that song we heard no warning chime,
Nor visualized in hours benign and sweet
The threatening woe that our adventurous feet
Would starkly meet.

Thus we began, amid the echoes blown
Across our childhood from an earlier war,
Too dim, too soon forgotten, to dethrone
Those dreams of happiness we thought secure;
While, imminent and fierce outside the door,
Watching a generation grow to flower,
The fate that held our youth within its power
Waited its hour.

This is a great book and well worth the reading. I’ve never read any of Brittain’s other books, although she did write others. When I was a teenager I didn’t want to. Somehow I felt like reading them would mar this one in my memory, but I don’t think it works that way anymore. I think I may find her other books and read them now, since this one was so powerful and made such an impact. Even if they aren’t anywhere near what this one was to me, they would still be interesting.

There are more poems (probably less heavy ones!) elsewhere today and you can find them by checking out the round-up over at Big A little a!

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On Icons: Supergirl

Supergirl - MatrixYesterday I read an absolutely wonderful post over at Ami Angelwing’s Blog about why Supergirl matters. It’s a brilliant post that looks at the cultural significance of Superman and Supergirl. She talks about how Superman isn’t actually a man, he’s an icon. Everyone knows what it means to be a Superman and everyone knows the icon images associated with him (the red “S” symbol, pulling open the button-down shirt to reveal the costume, the raised arm as he leaps into flight, etc.).

Superman and his imagery is, in fact, so iconic that it can be borrowed freely by other superheroes because it is the essence of being a good superhero. Ami pointed out that Peter Parker does the shirt opening move (complete with upturned heroic-looking face) in the Spider-Man movies, which I hadn’t even noticed as being particularly reminiscent of Superman. But it is, of course. The Blue Boy Scout was the first to do it and it is a move we only ever see either good guys do or bad guys who are trying very hard to look like good guys do (but then they always get something about it wrong – usually the perfect upturned heroic facial expression). Superman made it what it is.

Supergirl - LindaI have never been particularly fond of Superman, to be perfectly honest with you. He just never really appealed to me. And yet I feel very protective of him anyway, he’s a real part of my childhood. I don’t like people messing with his image, even if I do think he’s kind of an idiot much of the time. He’s still the iconic superhero. I think maybe part of me was just upset because my expectations for his stories were high because he was so important and when your expectations are that high, you’re bound to be disappointed. I’ve found good stories with him as an adult, but somehow that kid-resentment stuck.

When you watch little boys play, they mimic Superman. Even if they are officially pretending to be Batman or Spider-man, they still use those Superman poses. And somehow, even if they have imaginary baterangs or spiderwebbing, they still fly with an upraised arm or two. And you know what? Little girls do it too. If every little boy wants, in some way, to be a Superman, then it is equally true that every little girl wants, in the same way, to be a Supergirl. You see, she shares his iconic status. She wears that same red “S” and does those same things. She fights for the same reasons (or the iconic version does) Superman does – to be a good person and to make the world a better place. She is a strong person who can protect herself and save the people she loves and generally do what she wants, but it’s ok, since she always wants what’s good. That’s a really powerful idea when you’re a kid. And from the point of view of a girl, Supergirl has a pretty appealing image – she’s strong, independent and beautiful. Who wouldn’t want that?

Supergirl CostumeI think it’s great that Supergirl is an icon and I agree with Ami that this is absolutely why she’s important. Supergirl is an enduring character. She’s had many different incarnations and people always want her back whenever DC creates a storyline where she gets killed or something (the history of Supergirl is somewhat complicated), she’s obviously not going anywhere.

More than that, Supergirl is a part of the public consciousness beyond just the people who read comics. There are any number of products based around Supergirl that clearly have nothing to do with the current incarnation and are being sold to people who are very far from the readership of the comic, and those products sell quite well. I see girls with Supergirl clothing all the time. Sometimes it’s just a pink shirt with the “S” logo, but other times they have her name across their chests or even an image of her (usually of the classic Matrix costume – top image above – and never the current incarnation). There are school supplies, journals, jewelry, and I don’t even know what else. On top of that, there’s now a designer clothing and jewelry line based on Supergirl at a boutique in L.A., which shows that there is a real adult market for dressing up as Supergirl!

This is a cultural image that obviously matters to a lot of girls. It’s not to say that there aren’t other characters who matter to us, but it takes a lot to become an icon. I’m not sure even Wonder Woman is quite at the level of iconic status that Superman and Supergirl are. Not yet, anyway. I just wish Supergirl’s current comic reflected the desire for little girls to be her, the iconic image, the Super-family legacy that she carries. But it really doesn’t. The fact that it doesn’t have many female readers is a big tip off that something is wrong. Supergirl, first and foremost, should appeal to girls.

I should be able to hand Supergirl books to the girls who come into my store, but as it is, I absolutely can’t do that. And I wish I could. I wish I could give them the power that comes from having not just an icon to identify with, but one whose world you can actually see and read about and enter with your imagination. I wish I could give them what would make Supergirl more than just a symbol – what would make her a real heroine. I’m thrilled that they are “supergirls”, but wouldn’t it be great if they could read about Supergirl herself? I can hand boys Spider-man, some of the Superman books that are out there, and even some Batman! But there’s no Supergirl.

Please bring back a Supergirl that I can share with girls! I wouldn’t mind if they kept the current book if they really want, that’s fine, as long as there’s another book going about the character that is different – targeted younger and more of what the icon of Supergirl, the icon Superman and his legacy built, should be! Please!

Would You Like Pink or Blue Fries With That?

Lightning Lad McDonald’s ToyI really wanted to send McDonald’s an email letter complaining about this, but since they won’t let me do that without including my address and telephone number, which I object to, and insist I agree to the terms of a document that I can’t find on their website (their website really sucks), I decided to post my complaint here instead. Besides, maybe if I post it here other people will understand the frustration and it won’t just be me sending my complaint into the void that is a corporate complaint box.

I am extremely disappointed in the current Happy Meal toys. I understand that sometimes they need to have multiple toy choices because of typical preferences (it makes sense that every kid isn’t going to be happy with a Barbie in their Happy Meal), and I accept this. I think choices are good. You learn to make big choices by being allowed to make little ones. My objection right now is the very offensive gendered division between the two choices. There doesn’t always need to be heavily gendered choices, simply having choices is probably enough if the choices are different enough. It is very frustrating to see the “girl” choice and the “boy” choice every single time. Especially when it’s often very insulting to girls!

Right now the “girl” choice is a set of mostly pinker-than-cotton candy stuffed animals wearing pink dresses (some of which say things like “baby” or “princess”) and their selling point is that you can take their clothes off and put them back on. What if you aren’t a “princess” girl? Or are just plain sick of baby stinking pink? It gets very old, you know. It’s especially frustrating because the “boy” choice is a set of superheroes from a series (The Legion of Superheroes) that appeals to girls as much as it appeals to boys, much like Teen Titans did. The problem is that none of the very dynamic, interesting and appealing female characters from the show are included in the line of toys. Of eight figures, not one is a girl. Not one.

Princess Bear McDonald’s ToyDid they really think that girls wouldn’t want the superhero figures? The Supergirl symbol is one of the hottest properties for little girls right now (clothing with it sells like crazy, as do notebooks and backpacks and everything else), that’s not just because they often put it on a pink background. It’s because being Supergirl is as appealing for little girls as being Superman is for little boys. The logo is very inspiring no matter who’s wearing it. Everyone wants to be a superhero at some point. In fact, being a superhero has always been appealing to children regardless of sex. It’s just often harder for girls to find role models for that wish. That’s why shows like The Legion of Superheroes and Justice League Unlimited are so awesome – they show strong, competent female heroes side by side with male ones. They give us girls role models to look up to and imitate in the superhero worlds just like our brothers have always had, and they make them easy to find (which has really always been the problem, since none of these characters are at all new).

It’s not fair that only boy superheroes should get to be in Happy Meals, and it’s not an easy thing to explain to a little girl who really wanted a Saturn Girl or a Phantom Girl figure why they can’t have one. And no one should have to. If McDonalds was going to make the major characters of the show into Happy Meal toys, they should have made the girl characters too. Or at least some of them. How hard would it really have been for them to have made figures of some of those girls? It’s not like they are elaborate, jointed figures or anything!

This is the year 2007, I would have hoped that we’d have moved beyond thinking so blatantly in terms of blue and pink, but obviously we haven’t. At least, McDonalds hasn’t. And in their world, superheroes are strictly blue. Sorry girls. Evidently McDonalds thinks boys=superheroes and action, girls=teddy bears and dress up. Hope that matches with your and your kids’ world view, because if not, you should probably go buy kids meals elsewhere. At least until McDonalds decides to give us girls some credit, but I wouldn’t hold your breath on that happening for a very long time!

If you want to see all the current Happy Meal toys, you can see them at the official Happy Meal website: HappyMeal.com
And if you want to write to McDonalds and are willing to give them more information than I was willing to, you can do that at their corporate website here: Corporate McDonalds Email Form

Poetry Friday: Summertime

Bed in SummerIt’s summer and the weather is so warm and beautiful everyday that I couldn’t help but think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem about going to bed in summer! I always identified with this poem when I was a kid (what kid doesn’t, really?) because it’s so awful to have to go to bed when the sun is still up and you could still be out playing! I love that Stevenson so perfectly caught that feeling in this poem!

Bed in Summer

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

At least in summer I didn’t have to turn on a flashlight or lamp to read in secret in my room at night! It’s much easier to hide a book fast than to turn off a light and hide a book before an adult catches you! Still, going to bed when the sun hadn’t set yet was never fun.

Check out what everyone else is sharing today at the poetry round-up over at The Miss Rumphius Effect!

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