Tag Archives: empathy

UPDATED: Band of Brothers: The Found Family Trope And Why It Makes Me Cry

23 Aug

EDITED: UPDATE WITH CORRECTIONS

We few…we happy few. We band of brothers. For he that sheds his blood today with mine shall be my brother. – William Shakespeare, Henry V

Let’s talk about storytelling

Many times tropes are pretty bad. By trope I mean a recognizable storytelling concept that readers (or viewers) will connect to. There are tons of them; with characters you can have  the plucky girl, or the badass bookworm or the genius bruiser. With plot/structure you can have the Call to Adventure or the Redemption Quest or a mashup of both where the MarySue goes toe to toe with the Magnificent Bastard.

They even made a periodic table out of them. (If you click that link you might never resurface. That pool is vast and deep and fascinating. Consider yourself warned.) Point is there are certain structures that have become normalized and a given when telling stories.

Some people will tell you tropes are terrible and to avoid them at all costs. But here’s the catch: tropes are popular because they are often true. Stole a boyfriend? Date the boss? Accidentally pregnant so we’re getting married? These things happen.

And on top of that tropes also provide a framework, like an anchor of familiarity for readers. There are definitely tropes you should avoid, ones that vilify marginalized people. And while many characters tropes are dangerous at worst and annoying and eye rolling at best, there are story tropes that are necessary and provide structure – the reveal, the three act, the maguffin, ensembles, etc. And one of the ensembles that I love and have always loved is the Found Family.

Found Family trope (also called the Family of Choice) is by definition a group of unrelated persons who commit to one another as a family.

I put a found family in my book Palimpsest. (oh yeah remember that book Palimpsest that was killing me. Some things happened. Eek!) My main character, stripped of her own family and searching for them, finds herself falling in with a bunch of teenage street chess hustlers who teach her a lot about privilege, love, and showing up. They teach her what it means to be a family. In my current WIP I’m crafting another found family – this one all girls because I also think that the more books we have showing girls as friends not competition, as loyal and kind not catty and bitchy, the better off we’ll all be.

So let’s talk about some of my favorite found families.

These guys were my first:

 

All the other TV shows I watched as a kid focused on the nuclear family until these guys. This was revolutionary for my viewing. I respect that there were shows prior to that had found families but with my age and experience this was the first one.

UPDATED: After discussing this with the hubs last night I realized that Friends wasn’t my first Found Family (and I’m not even sure if I would count them as a Found Family technically but…) THIS was my first found family. Of course, it was Jim.

sarah

Jim Henson’s wonderful Labyrinth was my first encounter with a found family. And it has all the specifics. Hoggle has to be bribed into helping Sarah but then finds that he cares for her. Sarah sees past Ludo’s ferocity and acknowledges that he’s just another creature in need of a friend. Sir Didymus’ classic camaraderie.

Damn, Jim. You did it.

Another popular found family:

harry

This is a good mash up because you have the typical orphan (Harry) matched up with Ron who does have a very loving family and then Hermonie who is the magical “outcast” in her family. Harry Potter in general is full of found families – The Order of the Phoenix is basically that.

Speaking of books I am in love with Kaz’s Crows in Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:

Six-of-Crows-cast

In an interview with Leigh she had this to say:

It sounds a little bit like the TV series Firefly where the heroes are smugglers trying to survive in a corrupt world that’s dished them a rotten deal.

I love a rag tag band of misfits story. In a way, if you’ve read The Grisha Trilogy, you know that that story becomes a rag tag band of misfits story. But I love Ocean’s 11 and Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Dirty DozenThe Untouchables is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s definitely a story I like. I like the feeling of found families, people who maybe don’t have much in common, but come together and become stronger together than they are apart.

And speaking of Firefly:

firefly-10112015

The crew of Serenity are probably one of the most “typical” family structures in the Found Family. Mal, the captain and Inara function as the “parents” to this rag tag team of misfits as they fly around space giving everyone the warm fuzzies. Another aspect of Firefly which is often the case in Found Families is that they contain actual blood relatives – in this case River and Simon who are the newest additions to this family. What this does is allow for the audience to contrast the harshness of River and Simon’s true family with the camaraderie of their found one.

In one of my favorite episodes, “Safe” Mal and the crew rescue Simon and River and Simon questions Mal about why he saved him and Mal offhandedly replies that he’s a part of the crew. Simon, confused presses on :

Simon: “But you don’t even like me. Why’d you do it?”

Mal (irritated in the way only Mal can get): “You’re on my crew. Why are we even still talking about this??”

mal gif 2 mal gif 6

My favorite current found family are these beautiful beauties:

sense8

 

Sense8 in a lot of ways sort of typifies what I love about Found Families. Their loyalty and love and their empathetic connection means that no matter where they are on the planet they can always be together. The Found Family means that someone is going to, like Mal, always come back for you. It means you’re never alone. You’ve got your crew. But Sense8 ups the ante by psychically connecting 8 strangers from around the globe. And it’s not just that they can see what is happening in each other’s lives, they can literally be there, through their senses. And while this makes amazing action scenes, like when Sun (who is in wrongfully imprisoned) can appear in Kenya to kick some ass on behalf of Capheus, it also allows small moments like when Kala, feeling trapped and alone, finds herself with Sun in her prison, also feeling trapped and alone. Or when Nomi tells her coming out story to Lido who is struggling.

Sense8 is about what it is to be human – in all it’s complex mushy messiness. These characters will fight for each other, yes, but they will also grieve with each other. It’s a show that reminds you that underneath the superficial, we are all we’ve got so we damn better show up for each other. If that’s not the most perfect Found Family, I don’t know what is.

These eight people are strangers and these 8 people are also family just as we are all strangers on this earth and all family.

Sometimes… a trope is a really beautiful thing.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

2016: The Year Everyone Died

24 Feb

And just like that, February is almost over.

I finally stumbled out of the David Bowie mourning phase. In the meantime, every creative person in the world seems to be dropping like flies. First Bowie, then Alan Rickman, Glen Fry, George Gaynes, Dan Haggerty, Clarence “Blowfly” Reid, Harper Lee, Umerto Eco, Abe Vigoda, for Pete’s sake.

2016: The Year Everyone Died.

I think it’s time to form a protective circle around Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.

That said, let’s recap: I have much thanks to give.

So first off, thank you to the Commonline Journal for accepting this poem, The Preacher. The subway continues to be a never-ending supply of sad/weird/beautiful.

And to Red Fez for taking Thirty-Seven.

And to Dead Snakes for giving a home to Membership, Blackstar and Radiation Day 26. All cancer poems and I swear, Blackstar was written before I knew anything about Bowie’s last album. Honest.

Also thanks to Drunk Monkeys for giving a home to When David Bowie Was Dying.

Speaking of the late great Starman, I also wrote this essay for Barrelhouse called Can You Hear Me, Major Tom? which owes a special thank you to my older sister, Jennifer who was the first one to introduce me to Bowie. A gift she probably didn’t realize that I would carry through my entire life. So thanks, Jenn. You’re a good sister.

 

I was really excited to have my essay included, because guys, honestly, there are some really amazing stories in here. And, because Barrelhouse is so awesome, they decided to put the whole thing together in a free downloadable ebook entitled And The Stars Look Very Different Today: Writers Felfect on David Bowie

How cool is this??!! Thanks so much to Barrelhouse, especially Sheila who rocks.

static1.squarespace.com

Since Bowie died, there have been tons of really great tributes, but I think my favorite so far is Strung Out In Heaven.

Bowie-AFP-COVER-option-2-EDIT.jpg

Jherek Bischoff and Amanda Palmer pulled this lovely tribute together thanks to her Patreon. John Cameron Mitchell is on it and when I say that the German version of Heroes is incredible, I mean uber-incredible.

The track listing is fantastic, the strings are divine and yes, I cry when I listen to it. It’s cathartic. Leave me alone.

In non-Bowie news (What? What’s that?) I am really excited to say that I joined the staff of Yellow Chair Review as an essayist/interviewer/whatever-random-tidbits-I-think-of-saying-that-the-editor-in-chief-agrees-to-publish-ist.

My first piece went up this month. It’s about lying and telling the truth and the importance of doing both in storytelling as long as you have heaps and heaps of empathy. Empathy is everything (in life too). It’s mainly about people’s reactions to This Is Sarah and their disappointment when I explained to them that I was neither Claire, nor Colin, nor Sarah. That while I made them and their story up, the emotions behind it are real.

Because I am real. I swear.

So thank you to everyone for everything and all that. Hugs and starbursts forever.

**********************************************************************

Next up, I had some time off last month and that meant that I was able to go gallivanting around New York City, my home, as a tourist/traveler. No I’m not talking about the Empire State Building, I’m talking about ART-ING.

We hit The Met, the MoMA, and some galleries (eek!) which was really a big deal cause honestly, that can be super awkward. First off, I can’t buy actual art on a librarian’s salary so if I get a hard sell I tend to just stare at the ceiling until they give up and walk away. Secondly, often we’re the only people in the place which means that either a) they act like you’re not there and you feel like you’ve crashed some private party or b) they act like you want a personal tour and you have to make awkward small talk and pretend that you know how to talk about art.

That said, awkwardness aside, galleries are totally worth it. Museums are great, don’t get me wrong. You need to go see all the Rembrandts and Monets and Van Goghs. But seeing the work of contemporary – sometimes still living breathing artists –  is so important.

It’s like a water fountain that fills my thirsty art-making face. Or something like that.

So the first was a Betty Tompkin’s exhibit at FLAG entitled Women: WORDS Phrases and Stories. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because Sarah at YCR  might (fingers crossed) publish the thought piece/review I did on the exhibit. So I’ll just share some images. We’ll let the art speak for itself.

 

I also saw Vincent Smith’s work. Mr. Smith, who passed away in 2004, was a prominent member of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s and a Brooklyn native (woot!). He gets compared to Romare Bearden (which I can definitely see) but there’s something very Debuffet going on here, don’t you think?

The actual canvas is covered in dirt and rocks that have been painted giving it so much texture – hence my Debuffet comment.

So to recap, galleries =a touch intimidating but definitely good.

The return to writing the last two weeks has been good. Actually wrote some poems thanks to reading Eileen Myles who is incredible. Really moved by how frank she is.

And back to working on Gravity Wins, the book about my falling in love and then off a waterfall. #LongStory

That said, been reading through my old journals and even thought I know hindsight is 20/20 and even though I know it wasn’t really like this, part of 1993-1994 with two very good friends felt an awful lot like the dance scene from Godard’s Bande A Part:

 

and also this:

 

Peace love and starbursts,

Ally

 

Where the ducks go…..

5 Sep

I got to see a good friend of mine the other day. She’s about to start her senior year of high school, in a particularly crappy school. I’ve known her since she was 12. She’s smart and talented and insightful. Unfortunately, being a teenager she’s mostly blind to this fact about herself.

She recently read Catcher in the Rye. It should be stated this is one of my favorite books. Not my favorite by Salinger but up there. She was trying to tell me about how she felt, how her friends made her feel – you know the difficult minefield dodging that is high school – and she was using Holden as an example, specially Holden’s feelings about the ducks at the lagoon in Central Park.

For the sake of context, Holden asks a few people in the book, mostly cab drivers, where the ducks go.

One of the actual quotes is as follows:

“I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go? I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away.”

So as my friend is telling me about this, I can see the tears, two big fat ones that roll down her cheeks before she can even get to the point. And the point is this: My friend worries about the ducks.

And I understand her cause I also worry about the ducks. And the snails. And 19 year old boys hiding in boats.

Let me back up. If you do a quick search you’ll get a lot of “theory” behind the ducks. What do the ducks mean? What is Holden really worried about? You’ll read things about how it’s his transition from childhood to adulthood (caring about the ducks is considered childish); you’ll read that it represents death and Holden’s fear of it and his grief over his deceased older brother; that it stands for Holden’s understanding that life is cyclical. That the ducks returning means Holden will return. Persevere. Survive.

And maybe those are true. I’m certainly not a literature scholar (just a reader) so I’m in no position to judge alternate interpretations. But to me, the ducks are about empathy.

Empathy is defined as the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being.

Empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

On my old walk to work, I used to pass a very large house. At the edge of their property was  a stone wall and a large cherry blossom tree. I loved that tree and when I was passing one day I noticed that the stone wall had dozens of little tiny snails on it. I would stop on my walk and trace their spirals of their shells with my fingernail. I loved those snails. I love that they existed on this wall, in this corner of Brooklyn, on this planet spinning in all that lonely space.

But I also worried about these snails. I was careful when I walked, sure not to step on any of the ones that had migrated down the wall to sidewalk. I was careful about the ones that could be under leaves. I was terrified of the notion of crushing one of these poor things under the hard hard heel of my boot. And I was terrified about other people killing them. Other people wouldn’t worry. They wouldn’t fret about snails. They’d probably just laugh or worse, not even notice.

These snails could stop existing and they wouldn’t even notice.

I worried all the time about snails.

Snails.

Where the ducks go.

Nineteen year old boys who hide in boats after doing horrible things.

Empathy.

I tried to tell my friend what a good thing it is. How empathy will save her. Yes, it will break her heart and yes she will cry a lot but that one day she’ll realize that it is her soul – that her capacity to empathize is what makes her the remarkable human I am privileged to know.

I’m constantly told I’m “overly-sensitive” and not surprising, I’m sensitive about that word.

Overly.

As if there were was only so much sensitivity a person should have. As if their heart could only hold so much and mine, holds too much and that is a weakness. That is something fundamentally faulted.

Broken.

……And when the wizard gets to me I’m asking for a smaller heart……”

-Trout Heart Replica by Amanda Palmer

But what I want my friend to know is that she shouldn’t want a smaller heart. She should want everyone to have a heart the same size as her, the kind that keeps growing, the kind that keeps changing. The kind that has the courage to ask “How are we failing each other?” and “What can we do better?”

I want to empathize with everyone. Every horrible monster this civilization creates and every truth seeker and every saint. All of them.

So yes, what about the ducks?

What happens to the ducks?

Everyone should want to know where the ducks go.

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