Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review: The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

Everyone has a story.  Browse through the Memoir section of your local independent bookstore, and you'll find hundreds of them. They'll give you a slant, a spin, an angle of each person's life, the way they would have you see it.  Ask their friends, their business associates, and they'll give you a totally different story.  You could even sit down with the person in question and listen to their life story, and you'll almost have a picture of the entire life, from the high-crashing waves to the calm eddies that hide along the shore.  But always hidden deep within the cores of our being are the pearls of our lives, which we clamp shut, hold fast, and no amount of muscle will let anyone see it.   They are secrets, desires, the very foundations by which we see the rest of the world.  Every once in a while, a person will come along and dive deep down into our souls, and we will let them in.  We will tell them our stories, showing our pearls and the sand from which they came.

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont is just such a novel.  It becomes a porthole into the inner lives of the characters, especially the main one, Jason Prosper, who, little by little, tell us all his story.  Each character is fully developed, fleshed out, with words that are worth reading completely, not skimming over as part of "something every author has to do."  The writing is lyrical, soothing, much like the seaside town that Amber Dermont is writing about.  The frequent forays into yachting, racing with the upper class New England town boys that seem to have no problems or cares in the world are done exquisitely, giving the reader an opportunity to experience the thrill of riding on the open ocean without the boring details that, ironically as he tried to do the same, Melville used in Moby Dick.  I think that if Dermont had written a book about the White Whale, I would have read enthralled from Ishmael to Ahab and through the Romantic landscape of the seas.  Most of all, I enjoyed the intimate contact between Jason and Aiden, and with Cal through his memories, and with Chester and the rest.  I do wish that we could have seen more of Jason showing Aiden the Pearls in his life, or the other times he let people into his inner "oyster," for lack of a better word.  But we have to be content with the side glances of these, as we should never see these ourselves, (one of the distinct advantages of writing in the 1st person) since Jason is telling the story himself.

I've read many debut novels recently, as an employee of Borders, and I have always been impressed with the potential in each of these authors to become better, to write truly great literature.  I look forward to reading the follow up to Ford's The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but I realized, as I finished this novel, that Dermont is closest to achieving those masterpieces.  I look forward to those as well.  I only wish that she had taught the Creative Writing course I took in my small university in Georgia, as I would have learned much.  I thank you, Dr. Dermont, for giving a window into how you write, how the stories are meant to be told, and only hope that more people will witness the sea the way you have written it.

Short Review: If Dermont had written Moby Dick, I would have relished every word.  The foray into the world of New England boarding schools, with all the heartbreak and ecstasy, is done wonderfully. Jason Prosper navigates his way through love, death, and all the swirling eddies in between in this amazing debut novel.  I hope it finds it's way to the top of all the bookstores' "Staff Picks" displays.  I know it would mine.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Davis Cleveland and the Chaos of Twitterverse

Sounds like a book, doesn't it? Actually, it's a serious problem that is obviously more rampant than most parents and adults know about.  First, a brief introduction.  Davis Cleveland is a Texas-born actor who plays "Flynn," Bella Thorne's mischievous little brother on the Disney sit-com Shake It Up.  His storylines are, in my opinion, too short (pun intended,) and he was born to play the role.  The banter he had with "Henry" (Buddy Handleson) was hilarious, some of the best lines on Disney in the past year or two.  A couple of clips here:


The clip on the left actually brought about some interesting events outside of television, and, like uncovering bugs from under a rock, it uncovered a not-so-nice side of children these days.  The episode in question had Cece and Rocky going to a party hosted by "Shake it Up Chicago" moderator Gary Wilde. There were at the party supermodels who took an instant liking to Flynn when he shows up with his mom, busting the party.  There are a couple of jokes made about how the supermodels don't eat, etc...  Well, turns out that former Disney actress Demi Lovato saw the episode, and, having had bouts with eating disorders, among other things, went onto Twitter and">criticized Disney for not having girls of all sizes on the shows.  Davis tweeted back,"> taking up for the show. I'm not trying here to analyze who was right or wrong.  Notice that the Tweets were done shortly before Christmas, 2011.  From that point until now, fans of Demi Lovato have been barraging Davis' twitter account with threats, curses, and insults, most of which have overshadowed his efforts to help out fans with Cystic Fibrosis, and more recently, helping out the (far too late) cause of preventing bullying at school.  To show a demonstration, and to warn you, it does contain vulgarities:

Now, everyone's up to date.  To analyze this mess, we have to see how the Internet has changed our way of thinking, of communicating.  For, as Neil Postman famously said, "The Medium is the Message."  The Internet has created an instant communication relay, allowing anyone and everyone to talk about anything without regulation or censorship.  It has, as Postman talked about in The Disappearance of Childhood, taken away the ability of parents to control what information children receive. It is now entirely possible for kids, or anyone, to find out about anything instantly, from terroristic ideas to pornography of every variety.  It also has the ability, through Twitter and Facebook, to provide an instant open communication between a child and potentially every person on Earth.  This has brought the teasings and insults that children would normally get in school (and believe me, I've been the target of many of them), and launches them into the privacy and safety of the child's bedroom.  Thus the recent suicides due to cyber-bullying.  

What I want to understand, however, is exactly why this happens.  The internet effectively removes all barriers between children and the outside world.  In a place where everyone is equal, where social media makes everyone closer than they could possibly be before, it also isolates people to be utterly alone.  People are at once surrounded by friends, and totally alone.  Isolated and anonymous.  As if they were stranded on some far off island.

Which is what brings me to Davis' situation.  The girls who have insulted Davis can be easily compared to the boys stranded on the island in William Golding's Lord of the Flies.  Without rules, the boys slowly turn into feral beings, turning on friends and companions and wishing their deaths.  And Piggy, the sole voice of conscience in the story, is killed when a boulder is dropped on his head.  It is only when adults show up in the end and rescue them that the boys start to weep, to show remorse for all that's happen.  The island was set on fire by the boys, trying to get their enemies flushed out, and thus the place where they enjoyed freedom becomes a nightmare and unlivable. 

Twitter has become much like that island for some children, where vile insults and, honestly, death threats, are launched through the twitterverse without repercussion.  There is no thought of right or wrong, simply of entering text and pressing "Enter."  And since the idea of anonymity is so strong online, there are no consequences for any thought or word placed in cyberspace.  Thus the rumors of RIP(insert famous person here), or the cyber-bullying of students and the outright lies that float around on the Internet ocean like so much Flotsam.  

There are no boundaries on the Internet.  Now, the question is, how to fix the problem?  Parents can try to monitor and provide regulations for their children on what can be done and said online.  The websites could try some sort of technical restrictions on Facebook accounts, especially of famous people and television shows most likely to be followed by children. I say this because the amount of disgusting things hurled at iCarly's Facebook posts every day is amazing.  You should check them out.  It's very easy to get around age restrictions, but certainly something can be done.  But for the most part, it's up to the children online to regulate themselves.  Why would children like those above say those things?  It makes no sense.  But if kids were taught ethics, right from wrong, instead of being set free in the midst of the world's ideas without a single road to follow, maybe a lot of this mess could be controlled.  I guess it's up to the discipline given out by the parents.  And I've been a teacher and a retail worker long enough to know that parents' able to discipline their children effectively are getting fewer and fewer.  It's also up to children, in the online community, to understand the technology they are operating. Facebook can be easily controlled so that those who would say harmful things are blocked.  And if those insulting things are said by people that you don't know (I would say that all of the people hurling insults at Davis have never even met him, nor he them. ), just ignore them.  Take them as part of the static and noise that covers the Internet. Davis is ignoring them, while showing the world how, without rules, children become feral monsters, taking down anyone with lies, vulgarity, even threats.  It is good that Davis is as strong as he is, and that he realizes that very few of these kids will ever meet him.  Notice that the threats that are pictured above happened in February, some two months after the original exchange.  It's my advice that some of these people get help, from their parents, or from psychologists.  Without rules, these girls will wind up becoming adults with major problems, and words will become actions.  We don't need this.  

What we need to do is laugh.  Thankfully, Disney, Davis Cleveland and his crew, as well as most of the other shows are there to make us forget about some of this junk.  If only life were more like some of these episodes, with all the problems taken care of in 22 minutes.  But, alas, in today's world, it's just not to be.