Still Too Much to Do
My posts recently have been about keeping busy, busy, busy. And I've been getting busier.
Deadlines for PhD applications are creeping right up. I'm only applying to one program right now, but of course want to get the application done thoroughly and on time. I've thought very hard about taking a year off, and I would rather not. I feel I would lose momentum. I still have to send out requests for letters of recommendation--something I will do tomorrow or, at the very latest, the day after.
As part of my grad school application, I will be taking the LSAT on December 1st. That's the one part of the application that I'm really nervous about.
My thesis is marching forward. I'm editing a manuscript as part of my research assistantship. I have class, I have work. I try to find time, every now and then, to spend time with friends.
With so many priorities clamoring for attention, my free time--what little free time I have--has itself become simultaneously more structured and more of a complete distraction. Instead of fooling around on the Internet, I've been reading, writing, and watching fiction. My fiction isn't any good, but it's a rewarding pursuit. It's an area in which I feel I can make progress even when I'm frustrated with other tasks.
I've read my way through a young adult (middle grade?) series called The Last Apprentice. I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment, which should be released early next year.
I love monsters and horror in general, and I have a special soft spot for children's horror. When I was a child I indulged my ghoulish predilections with the likes of Alvan Schwartz and Stephen Gammell's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I always wondered what it was like to be a monster. What does a monster do when there is no one around to eat, or to be vanquished by? What are monsters afraid of?
The Last Apprentice appeals to me so much because, for a simply written series clearly meant for children and adolescents who are not necessarily strong readers, it does not condescend to its audience with simplistic, sanitized characters and ethics. Its world is populated by many frightening and otherworldly creatures, but the line between man and monster--or woman and monster--isn't impermeable. Some of the best of the "good guys" are bad guys--witches, to be exact. They're witches straight out of northwestern European and white American lore: craggy, dirty, violent hags. They practice dark magic, and they also look and fight like monsters. They aren't patently, uniformly evil, though, and in the struggle against real evil some of them prove invaluable allies.
I might be a little bit in love with Grimalkin the Witch Assassin, a relatively young but fearsome witch who is also an unbeatable warrior. I don't know what more you could ask for, really.
As a Gender Studies scholar, I think the series is absolutely wonderful and--among fantasy marketed to boys--unique in the way it treats female characters. In its deceptively simple prose, the book sends a clear message that the misogynistic urges and rhetoric that permeate male culture are not to be trusted. Monstrous mothers are nurturing protectors. Young girls are fierce allies and equals, not simply love-objects. Women--or witches at least--are not only valuable comrades but are overall better, stronger, and more fearsome warriors than men. In the books' complex ethical schema, it is their very darkness that makes witches so strong, and their difficult lives that make them turn to darkness. As the series progresses, it becomes clearer that light alone cannot drive out darkness. The protagonist and his witch comrades fight darkness with darkness. The rage and hatred that the Dark represents are not inherently evil, and when combined with friendship and duty can be channeled against true evil that only divides and destroys.
That's some heavy stuff for a children's fantasy series for shaky middle school readers. Sure, there's The Hunger Games, but simple style of The Last Apprentice marks it as distinctly for children; it doesn't strive for cross-generational appeal, and I love that. I'm definitely going to be reading the series to my own kids some day.