Monday, January 24, 2011

Tiger Mom Roaring

I have been intrigued by the almost rabid discussion that has taken place since the release of Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I first read about the Tiger Mom in the Life and Culture section of the December 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Since then, the topic has been discussed on radio, television and all over the blogosphere.

Today, I read an excellent article by Annie Murphy Paul in Time, “The Roar of the Tiger Mom." In the article, she discusses the book, and a variety of reasons for the uproar.

This subject appeals to me on a variety of levels.

1) As the daughter of a Tiger Mom (kind of) – Though my Japanese-American mother was not quite as “ferocious” as Amy Chua describes herself, there were many times in my upbringing that I compared myself to my friends, and felt my mother was too strict, even unfair or cruel. (But then, what teenage daughter doesn’t think that of her mother at one time or another?) Though I did not know my maternal grandmother, my obasan, I understand from stories my mother has told me that she, too, was a Tiger Mom. These traits have been passed from one generation to the next, and I often wonder what parenting style my own children will have.

I remember many “Tiger Mom” episodes in my upbringing, but one that was very similar to those described by Chua was the time I was proud of the four A’s on my report card, only to hear my mother ask, “What happened in history? Why did you get a ‘B’?” Though I was crushed, I did everything in my power to bring that grade up the following semester.

2) As a mother – Ms. Chua was raised by her very strict Chinese father, and made the decision to raise her children as strictly. However, I made the decision NOT to be quite so strict as my mother. (Though you’d have to confirm that with my daughter and son.) When I had my children, I believed my upbringing was too strict, too filled with responsibilities, and therefore I “went easier” on my children. Though I expected the best of them in school, they did not have as many chores, were allowed to watch more television, to play, to be children and have fun. After reading about this Tiger Mom and reflecting on my own childhood, I wondered if I made the right decision. I think so, as I am very proud of both of my children and their accomplishments.

As mothers often do, I question what I might have done differently. Curiously, it would not have been to be more of a Tiger Mom. If I could do it over again, I would have played with my children more, and set a better example of charity. Where Tiger Mom methods develop ambition and learning skills, I also think it’s important to develop the skills that make us human, too—imagination, cooperation, empathy.

3) As an American - The book’s release coincides with America’s economic slowdown. I think the fear, even the perceived helplessness surrounding this slowdown contributed to much of the uproar over the book. According to the Time article, America’s growth is “anemic” at 2.6%, whereas China’s is 10%.

The article also discussed Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which showed that in recent testing, students in Shanghai “blew everyone else away.” American students were 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math. We can defend our Western teaching methods until we’re blue in the face. Obviously, something needs to change.

4) As a writer -Yesterday, I watched an interview with Ms. Chua’s husband, Jed Rubenfeld, who is also a Yale Law School professor, and an author in his own right. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of him or any of his books, and I wondered what he thought of his wife’s sudden infamy. Then, I considered the reasons for it.

According to a blog by Gil Asakawa, Media Stuff, as well as the Time article, The Wall Street Journal excerpt misled readers to believe the book was a “bossy parenting handbook.” However, in actuality, it was a memoir, written “not as an exercise in maternal bravado but as an earnest attempt to understand her daughters, her parents and herself.”

Still, by Chua’s own admission, some of her stories may have been “slightly exaggerated for effect.” And, what an effect it had, which, as a writer, is interesting to me. It is the very emotional firestorm brought on by the Wall Street Journal excerpt that catapulted the sales of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Lastly, in my novel, Broken Dolls, Sachiko Kimura’s mother is a Tiger Mom, and I found many similarities between Ms. Chua and Mrs. Kimura, proving that there is a part of our true selves, even in fiction. Sachiko is a little bit of me, a little bit of my mother. Mrs. Kimura is a bit of my obasan and my mother. Okay, I’ll admit there’s even a little bit of me in Sachiko’s Tiger Mom.

The discussion about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, reflections on my childhood and my parenthood, and the creation of my characters in Broken Dolls has led me to one conclusion. It is important for parents to guide their children through the high expectations they have of their children. But children must also sometimes fail to make the adjustments necessary for accomplishment the next time. Pushing them toward excellence should be done with enough tenderness that children excel for a sense of pride in their own accomplishment, and not out of fear of failure in their parents’ eyes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When I Grow Up has a great commercial about what kids want to be when they grow up:

It made me think of what I wanted to be when I grew up:

I want to be a doctor. And to become a doctor, I want to go to a university in the middle of the Swiss Alps. And while I'm there, I want to have a horse, and I want to name it "Christian Warrior."

That about covered it - everything I could have possibly wanted in life at the age of innocence was summarized right there. Funny how when we don't know our limitations, we shoot for the stars.

So what got in the way? Life.

For one thing, I doubt there was a medical school in the middle of the Swiss Alps. But, hey, they looked pretty.

And besides, maybe I haven't made it to Switzerland (yet) but I have been to Wyoming.

Back when it came time to decide which educational path to take, I placed getting married and having children above getting a medical degree, and settled instead for the easier-to-attain business degree. (See what growing up did to me? Why not be a doctor AND a mom?)

The boyfriend was mine. The horse, my sister's.

And what about that horse named "Christian Warrior?" My sister must have wanted one more than I, because she was the one who ended up with a horse. She named  her "Sundae."

Close, but no cigar.

Thinking back to my childhood ponderings of "what-do-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up" makes me smile. In the mind of a child, the possibilities are limitless. It's a poignant fact of life that sometimes we let those possibilities diminish in our minds as we grow up. Disappointments. Life's challenges. Fear. Obstacles like those add bricks to a wall that we build around our dreams, until one day, they're no longer visible.

But now, at my age-that-shall-remain-unmentioned, I'm dreaming again. So . . . what do I want to be when I grow up? First of all, I've decided I don't think I really want to grow up after all. So, in my child mind, my possibilities are endless. And, it will surprise none of you to know:

I want to be a best-selling author. And I want to live on a beach where I'll open my window, so that when I write, I can listen to the whisper of waves coming in and going out as seagulls cry above them. And when I taste the salty sea breeze that blows through my window, I'll battle with the desire to write or to walk on the beach. But, writing will win, because after all, I'm a best-selling author.

What do YOU want to be?

Monday, January 17, 2011

An Interview With Malena Lott - Renaissance Woman

I had the pleasure of meeting Malena Lott when I was her "shepherd" at the November 2010 meeting of Ozarks Writers League, where she was the featured speaker. I'd started reading her book, Dating da Vinci and was intrigued by her story of the young, handsome present-day Leonardo da Vinci. From our first meeting at the airport, I knew Malena possessed the very spirit of da Vinci - la vita allegra - joyful living.
Malena and Jan at the OWL Hillbilly Formal
Malena is a renaissance woman, full of creativity and inspiration. The interview and links that follow will give you but a taste of how she shares those who are also on a path to la vita allegra.
JAN: In your book, Dating da Vinci, your character—the young widow, Ramona Elise—is attracted to Italian immigrant, Leonard da Vinci’s la vita allegra – joyful living. But dating him leads her to find her own la vita allegra in unexpected ways. What was your inspiration for the book, and for your character, da Vinci?

MALENA: Da Vinci came because of my obsession with him. I had studied him for years before I wrote the book, and you'll see da Vinci quotes everywhere in my life. I even named the creative brainstorming room at my ad agency "The da Vinci Den". My inspiration was from dealing with my own grief. I've lost a lot of loved ones in my life and people close to me, including classmates, as early as 6th grade, and the biggest losses were of my grandparents who raised me, which is why I dedicated the book in their memory. What a lot of people don't know about grief is how much it changes you for life. It never goes away, but does transform your spirit. There is a loss and longing there that never goes away, which is why Ramona refers to it as Before and After and Grievers and Normals. You have a new kind of normal after a loss. 

JAN: You founded Book End Babes, a website that promotes “Girls Night Out meets great reads.” I love the concept.  I used to be a member of a book club that met once a month. Can you describe how Book End Babes is the same as a “traditional” book club, and how it differs?

MALENA: I wanted to be a part of a community of readers, but something that goes beyond goodreads and online sites. So Book End Babes is an effort to get women to get together at least six times a year in person and read whatever you like and talk about it. Just add to the conversation about books and stories and life. Reading makes people more empathetic and greater citizens, which is why the other slogan is "real babes read books." The online portion is a blog made up of a dozen bloggers who talk about books-to-film, young adult reads, romance, women's fiction and even food writing! A very fun mix to inspire women to read. 

JAN: Writer's Digest once published an article on famous writers’ “sins” and how they found redemption. For instance, Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha, stated that he is challenged by debilitating perfectionism in his writing.  His redemption? He makes his first pass better than an outline (including some dialogue,) yet still “free” enough to keep him from being too minute and precise. What is your writer-sin? Have you found redemption?

MALENA: I've often said writers are afflicted with OCD, which is both a blessing and a curse. It does keep us obsessed enough with the story to finish it and yet it can get carried away. You question yourself - is the dialogue strong enough? Is that a dumb name? It can get carried away. I have to stop myself from thinking about the book all the time. My redemption is, oddly enough, reading even one line that I love and just saying, "It is done." If I know I did my best, that's all I can do. 

JAN:  Do you have any writing quirks you’d like to share?

MALENA: I do think writers are a quirky lot. :) For me, I can't write the first draft without a title I love. Now that doesn't mean the title won't change. I have a women's fiction book that I will probably epub next year that started as Loving Lancelot and then became Lost in the Spotlight and now will be Second Acts. I also can become obsessed with who I think would play the character in the movie version of the book, but I think that's more about helping me with characterization than ego. (I hope!)

JAN: What are your five favorite books, and why?

MALENA: My favorite books seem to change the more I read, but back to my original list, I still love A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving (named our third child after Owen), LITTLE WOMEN, A BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, BRIDGET JONES DIARY. A lot of my favorite contemporary authors are ones I blog with at Girlfriends Book Club, so be sure and check out these fab authors, too. 

JAN: You have a strong marketing background, and are still involved in marketing with small businesses and with writers. Brandgirl Blog I’ve heard you speak about the importance of personal websites, blogs, social networking, etc. Though I was reluctant to join Twitter, since hearing you speak, I have done so, and it has doubled traffic on my blog. Can you share your hints for writers to cast a “wider net?”

 MALENA: On the one hand, it's overwhelming, but I'd like for authors to see personal networking as an opportunity. For as much time as it takes to tweet, Facebook, blog and do interviews, real connections are being made and I've made genuine friendships through the process, too. It really is a win-win and if you are only relying on the publisher or a publicist to make those connections for you then those are lost as soon as the ties to those people are gone. Since I'm epubbing FIXER UPPER (launches this week!) on Kindle and through Smashwords for the other ereader format, I've been so thankful for how many contacts I have to help get the word out about my new book. The tip would be that you have to do WAY MORE than you think you do. I may contact 50 blogs/media outlets to get 20 interviews. Also, having a theme or series on your blog is a good way to build a readership. I've done short series, but now I'm doing a 52-week series on verbinizing your life, one action verb at a time! Very excited about it. 

JAN:  How do you manage your time, being a writer, a marketer, a mother and a wife? What is your writing schedule like? 

MALENA: Well, I manage, but I wouldn't say I'm entirely satisfied with it yet, but you have to be forgiving of yourself. My 3 kids have 3 different sets of school times so that means I'm busy taking, picking up and after-school activities, and since my lil guy is in half-day kindergarten I'm really not alone but two and a half a day, five days a week. I used those hours to go to the quiet room at the public library to finish the young adult novel I wrote in 2010. Otherwise I try to get some writing done in the mornings and a few hours on Sunday. I have to have quiet a lot more than I used to, so I might put earbuds in and listen to Bach to help block out noise. 

JAN: If you could collaborate on a project with anyone, who would it be and why? 

MALENA: The first thing that popped into my head is my husband Rod! He's an editor and a great writer, but he's a film critic and writes articles and features, not long-form fiction or non-fiction. I'd like to do a book on marriage with him some day. We have a good one and I adore him. I'd love to inspire others. Love rules.

Thanks so much to Malena for sharing her thoughts on writing, marketing, scheduling time, reading books . . . To get to know her better, visit her at these sites:

Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for an autographed copy of Dating da Vinci. Drawing will be held on Monday, February 21. Winner will be announced on this blog, on Facebook and Twitter. (See? I've been listening to Malena!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lickerish Twist

At the New Year, my husband and I decided that each of us would listen or watch for a new word each day. We would then present our new word, with definition, to each other during our nightly happy hour.

I particularly liked the word my husband presented tonight. Here's how it went:

Stephen:  So, did you come up with your new word?
Jan:         Yes, did you?
Stephen:  Yep. You first.
Jan:         No, you go first.
Stephen:  Okay, lickerish.
Jan:         Licorice? That's not a new word.
Stephen:  Yes, it is.
Jan:         No, it's not.
Stephen: Yes, it is.
Jan:        Spell it, then.
Stephen: L-I-C-K
Jan:       THAT's not how you spell licorice.
Stephen: Yes, it is. L-I-C-K-E-R-I-S-H

(Author note: Okay, this is where I didn't want to play this game anymore. My husband was making up a spelling of a well-known word.)

Jan:         That's not how you spell it.
Stephen:  Look it up.
Jan:         I'll look it up on my cell phone -  lick·er·ish/ˈlɪkərɪʃ/
1. fond of and eager for choice food.
2. greedy; longing.
3. lustful; lecherous.

Jan:         It IS a word. I love that word! I'm going to write a story about that word.
Stephen:  What's your word?
Jan:         Torpid.
Stephen: Torpid?
Jan:        Yep.
Stephen: What does that mean?  tor·pid/ˈtɔrpɪd/
1. inactive or sluggish.
2. slow; dull; apathetic; lethargic.
3. dormant, as a hibernating or estivating animal

Enough said.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Journey - Chill Out!

In my post HAPPY New Year!, I listed nine items that Real Simple magazine discussed in its article "Nine Ways to Be Happier" in the January issue. The second Monday of every month through September, I'll write about each:

JANUARY - Chill out.
FEBRUARY - Remember whence you came.
MARCH - Don't dwell.
APRIL - Spread the wealth.
MAY - Eat a snack around 2 p.m.
JUNE - Get a move on.
JULY - Limit your options.
AUGUST - Start baking.
SEPTEMBER - Make your bed.
OCTOBER - To be announced! (In other words, I'll make one up.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hold On!

"Our waking hours form the text of our lives; our dreams, the commentary." -- Anonymous
Last night I dreamed I was driving a semi-truck and I couldn't control it. At one point, I tried to use the brakes, but they kept locking up on me as I tried to avoid hitting other cars while the truck swerved and swayed. When I discovered I had taken the wrong route, I searched for a place to turn the behemoth around. I found an area in an empty parking lot, but when I tried to do a U-turn, the truck almost turned over.

What commentary of the text of my life did this dream bring? I saw several key elements:

1) The behemoth semi-truck
2) Trying to control it
3) Trying to keep from hitting other cars
4) Wrong route
5) Fear of turning truck over

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Best Medicine

"Laughter is the spark of the soul." -- Unknown
Last night I dreamed of laughter. It was a dream with no plot, no protagonist, certainly no antagonist - nothing more than scenes of people in my life whose laughter I love and have loved. The scenes made me smile, but I woke with a tear because many of those in my dream are no longer with me.

I always knew how I loved the sounds of their laughter - deep and throaty, soft and giggly, or hearty and boisterous. I am often aware of how I miss "the spark of their soul." But the dream was a reminder to enjoy and appreciate more, the laughter of those still with me.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Five Questions for Edward "Ned" Downie, Satirist

Ned is thought to be hiding in Northwest Arkansas, where he is sought in connection with serial violations of the Elmore Leonard Rules. As the satirist member of the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop, his short stories have appeared in several anthologies.

We writers often meet for dinner before our regular Thursday night meetings. Often, the subject of politics arises, and I have found that some are happy to discuss opinions and others would prefer not. Ned has been someone with whom I've had several such discussions. Most are matter-of-fact and respectful, though a few have become heated enough that one or the other of us decided it best to bite our tongues. Ouch.

It has caused me some curiousity about political discussions and non-discussions. Why is it that politics (and religion) can be such a challenge to talk about?

In my humble opinion, it's because many of us believe we are right - that our "side" is the only side, and therefore, we owe no credence to what the other "side" thinks. To that, I quote Max Born:

The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

HAPPY New Year!

The January issue of Real Simple magazine contained a series of articles on happiness - appropriate for the New Year, since it's what we think about as we "start with a clean slate." I was particularly interested in the article "The History of Happiness."  In it, the author, Marcia Menter, explains that getting everything you want in life will not necessarily make you happy, and that many people today mistakenly equate happiness to "having it all."
The article included a list of nine ways to be happier:

1) Chill out.
2) Remember whence you came.
3) Don't dwell.
4) Spread the wealth.
5) Eat a snack around 2 p.m.
6) Get a move on.
7) Limit your options.
8) Start baking.
9) Make your bed.

All are simple ways to enhance life. Each month, I'll take an item and write about it, motivation throughout the year - at least until September. Watch for my "2011's Journey" blog posts on the 2nd Monday of each month, beginning with "Chilling Out" on Monday, January 13, 2011.

As a teenager, I remember reading a quote by Ben Sweetland. It put happiness in clearer perspective for me:

Happiness is a journey, not a destination.