Naming Ender

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Matt and I debated about giving Ender such a loaded nickname. Forget the fact that Ender Wiggin killed two children (in self defense) before he was 12, and forget that he unknowingly committed mass xenocide. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, a summary of Ender’s Game should help.)

Ignoring all of the acts he was tricked or pushed into committing, there’s still the problem of (the character) Ender’s own experience: his childhood didn’t exist, and once “freed” from the training of killing buggers he spent the rest of his life trying to absolve himself of the guilt of that war. He is never at any kind of peace until he marries Novinha on Lusitania some… 3000(?) years later, and that is a half-peace, under shared guilt and the weight of disaster.

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It’s not something anyone would wish on a child, and names are nothing if not wishes for our children. Look at the most common meanings of names: beautiful, lucky, joyous, strong.

Except the character of Ender is not just the sum of his actions and experiences. He’s the most compassionate bad-ass imaginable. Oh, and a genius besides. And everyone he comes in contact with can’t help but love him. These are far from bad things, even if they are the very traits that get him into Battle School, and more importantly, the traits that pushed him to the top of Battle School, and ultimately made him responsible for winning the Bugger war.

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We played with other nicknames. When I talked to him while I was pregnant, I usually called him “Ollie.” It’s funny, it seemed automatic at the time, but now Ollie is a totally different being: Ollie was the fetus and I can’t imagine this baby being anyone but Ender. Of course he could decide he hates it when he gets older, but fortunately Olivander lends itself to all sorts of nicknames. These days I’ve given up on telling people Ender is “short for” Olivander, because generally it just confuses them.

Matt and I both loved the name Olivander, but we weren’t settled on it. I’d thought of the name Ender independently, but wanted to give our baby a name with some meaning aside from a literary character, and Ender, as far as I know, has no meaning beyond the literal “one who ends,” which is not the most auspicious of meanings for a baby. As a nickname though, it’s an entirely different matter.

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We were listening to the audiobook of Ender’s Game, and all its sequels, on a series of long trips. Matt had read Ender’s Game before, but not recently enough to remember it. I’ve read it so often I have bits memorized (which isn’t actually unusual… that is true of many of my books).  As we got to the end of one of the books, Matt said, “couldn’t we name him Ender?” He was half joking. I grinned at him and pointed out that if Ender could be a nickname for Andrew, surely it could be a nickname for Olivander. I think we were pretty much decided after that.

When you think about it, any interesting literary character probably didn’t have a wonderful time of it- otherwise they wouldn’t be interesting. Misery and conflict is what makes a story. If we have a wish for our children, it would be boredom, and if naming our children were granting wishes, we would never name them for literary characters. No one wants their children to have adventures.

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Naming isn’t wishgranting though, it’s giving. And if we are giving Ender anything from the character Ender, I hope it’s a taste of future, of things that seem impossible, of everyday beauty and love. Maybe the knowledge that nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and a bit of healthy distrust for authority. Independence but not loneliness, responsibility but not guilt. And especially a sense of open possibility.

Mostly though, we named him Ender, because it’s awesome. We can only hope he thinks so too.

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  • Jedi Soccer Moms

    Ten years ago, TEN, I saw a Star Wars onesie at Hot Topic with “Future Jedi Master” printed on the front. I bought it immediately. I knew SOMEDAY either I would have a use for it, or one of my friends would.

    We are nerds. Of varying degrees and types, but everyone I spend any degree of time with is a nerd. So Star Wars is always a hit, and as it happened, I got to use the onesie for my own baby. It got me thinking though, watching him roll around in his Jedi shirt.

    Maybe it’s just the hormones. Maybe it’s paranoia. These days, I swerve between absolute joy, and horror at the possibility of loss of any kind(with bouts of boredom and exhaustion thrown in for good measure).

    So, as much as anyone might wish to banish the prequels from existence (and I don’t, I’d keep them if only for the light-sabre battles), I kept thinking about Yoda declaring 9 year old Anakin Skywalker too old for the training.

    When DO children start training at the Jedi Temple? 8 and a half? 6? 3? Infancy? I suspect the (fictional) answer is around 4 or 5, much as you might see of young athletes being taken for training in some places. Or, you know, Battle School.

    Battle School isn’t a bad parallel. You have this child, who has in all likelihood been remarkable since he or she was a baby. Not to say that people would love their gifted children more than typical children, but a precocious toddler probably has a little extra sparkle and charm.

    And then your baby tests too high on the midichlorian scale and your life is just ripped apart. You get those fuzzy bright – too sweet years, and then you don’t see them until they’re vague and peaceful calm as Obi Wan. Does anyone refuse? You leave this beautiful bright four year old to meet his destiny and 20 years later, he’s a stranger who has seen more of the universe than you’re capable of imagining. Maybe all parenting is kind of like that.

    But maybe it’s not like that at all. Maybe the four year old isn’t so much adorably brilliant as he is frustratingly advanced. Maybe he constantly pushes against your artificial boundaries, ready to cross them long before you are ready to let him. Maybe all parenting is kind of like that too. But this little child doesn’t just cause trouble in school when he’s bored, he levitates, and talks his teachers into letting him have extra recess. Every day. Maybe if hadn’t been found by the Jedi, he would have been lost on a path of drugs, crime and force lightning.

    And maybe you don’t have to just hand him over to the priesthood, maybe that was just unique to Anakin’s circumstances, what with Mom being a slave. I mean, obviously it’s a boarding school, I doubt they have Jedi-letts who commute, but maybe they have parents weekends every couple months. Maybe the little ones put down their training sabres and pack up for a long holiday over Thanksgiving. Maybe they make paper planets with heart stickers and glitter for Mother’s Day.

    Then there’s sure to be at least a few families who moved to Coruscant to be near their Jedi tots. In fact some probably even moved to Coruscant just in hopes that their child would be accepted. They probably used special belly-headphones to play special force channeling soundtracks for the fetus. When the baby turned 18 months, they enrolled him in a class that claims to raise midichlorian levels, satisfaction guaranteed.

    Do the parents ever hang out watching light-sabre kata practice? Does Dad pick his Jedi up from a match with a younger but more talented boy and scold him for not triple flipping into the opening he saw two and a quarter minutes in, or what about a little force nudge when the kid blinked sweat out of his eyes a minute later? Does Mom observe her daughter meditating and tell her maybe she needs to work a little harder at it since she always seems to need to itch her nose after only a few hours?

    Why do I assume the Jedi parents would be overbearing and… awful?

    I guess it’s because I know (however it is you can know something about a fictional universe) that there is no room for parents in the world of the Jedi. Parents are distracting, they are attachment, they turn Anakins into Darth Vaders.

    If it’s genetics (and Luke says it is) most parents of Jedi must have had some feel for the force as well. Probably they wouldn’t have turned into Toddlers & Tiaras type psychos, they would have been sensitive, aware of nuances, feeling the subtle needs of their baby. They would have been there with a hug when the training was too difficult, they would have felt the pain of struggle, of the alienation that must be necessary to finally attain a detached calm. And the hugs might keep the student from struggling through, from learning what needed to be learned.

    Was a Jedi ever allowed to be a child? Did they have time for games and giggling and stupid stunts, or was it all concentration and breathing?

    The Jedi. The Jedi’s father. The athlete and her parents. Theresa and John Paul and Ender Wiggin, Mr. and Mrs. Madrid. The parent of every real world soldier, alive and slain. They give so much, and we expect it all of them. Was it worth it? What they missed, what they lost?

    To be a Jedi?

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  • 25 Feb 2009, 5:51pm
    fiction life
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    Moving Slow

    My favorite teacher Sheila Schwartz died in November. Today I listened to her husband, Dan Chaon talk about her, and her book Lies Will Take You Somewhere, which will be launched this weekend at the Lit. Listen to the Around Noon program, read Dan’s tribute to Sheila, read some of Sheila’s thoughts around illness. They all made me cry, but sort of in a better way than I have before.

    Here’s a short story, a fragment really, that I wrote in the first class I took with Sheila Schwartz. Reading it now, four years later, I’m not even sure it makes sense, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

    Lather

    Marcus tried not to sigh as the ragged group of undergrads trickled into his darkroom. Glancing at the developer tray he remembered that he had forgotten to change the fluid. Something had gone strange in the chemistry, and for the last few days it had been ruining everything he put in it, though it ought to have had another week left before it needed to be replaced. Marcus shrugged inwardly, guessing the students wouldn’t notice the difference. Pushing overlong black hair from his eyes, he tried to judge which students matched the names on his roll list. The freshmen were easy to pick out; breathing out cluelessness. They were the loudest group, obnoxiously assured and nervous all at once. A plump, plain girl with drab hair barely reflecting the orange half-light might be Sarah Matthews, or Margret Greer. She looked like a Margret, but Greer was a bit too interesting. The chatty blonds were Tiffany, Brittany and Dawn, though he couldn’t guess which was which and probably never would. William Alexander was the fat dark haired boy, Jeffery Kennedy the tall scrawny nervous one. They were the only boys, aside from a senior, Nathan Brown, who wasn’t there at all and would most likely drop the class within a week. In all five seniors appeared on his list, and they were easy, none of them had shown. Marcus didn’t expect them to sneak in late, seniors never came on the first day and he would have to repeat his rehearsed orientation. A couple of sophomores, Jill Chaffey and another Sara McDougal must be the girls lounging in back with Heather Moore, a punky freshman ahead of her time. He coughed to catch the attention of the twenty-three students who’d managed to find the photo lab by 3:25; ten minutes after the class was meant to start. His cough was ignored, or possibly just lost amid the high pitched freshman conversation so he was forced to speak. “Ok, uhm quiet down please,” said Marcus, belatedly realizing he sounded like a kindergarten teacher. Forty-six scornful eyes turned to him. He took attendance and was surprised to find that the punky freshman was Margret, the bland girl Dawn, and one of the chatty blonds was a junior.

    It’s not that he minded teaching photography. The technical step-by-step and painfully obvious safety rules might be boring to most, but Marcus found the routine comforting. More satisfying was imparting his wisdom to eager young artists, driven to learn how to express themselves in film. Not the piranha faced morons who snickered at his jokes rather than laughing. The only pleasure in teaching an intro class was drinking their dismay when they realized how time consuming and difficult photography really was. Inevitably a third of the class dropped. “Alright,” said Marcus, “today I’m uh going to run through how to process your film and develop your photo paper.” A girl with a frizzy pony-tale, oddly yellow in the orange light of his dark room, put her hand in the air. Tiffany or Sarah maybe, Marcus ignored her. Freshman. “Since we’re meeting in the dark room today,” he continued, “we’ll start with the photo paper.”

    The yellow girl, her frizzy hair making her appear unfocused, interrupted him. “Excuse me, will you show us how to use our cameras?” Someone giggled. Marcus blinked at the girl trying to see her more clearly.

    “Yes-uh, we’ll go over that on uhm Wednesday, but its important first that you learn the technical aspects of uhm photography.” Marcus rubbed his nose and the someone giggled again. “As I was-uh saying. Yeah. Well I have this uhm negative right?” The blurry yellow girl’s hand rose into the air again. Marcus tried to glare at her, but looking at her made his eyes water. He rubbed them and said, “yes, what?”

    “What’s a negative?” the girl asked sweetly. Someone snickered and Marcus realized that he had been wrong, the girl was not a freshman. Either she was making fun of him or she was exceptionally stupid. He reminded himself not to rule out stupidity. “I was getting to that please don’t uh interrupt,” he told her. Marcus pulled a pre-cut negative from the manila folder he’d left on the counter and slid it into the enlarger. “OK, uhm gather around please.” Boys and girls, Marcus mentally added. They closed silently around him the orange light glinting sharply off their hair. Teeth and scales flash! Marcus’s took a clumsy hop back from the counter to give himself room to breathe. The air was thick. “Uhm.” Marcus put his hand shakily on the counter and started again. “I uh, don’t have any paper in here,” Marcus gestured to the enlarger, “but I want to show you how to uhfocus it first.” Marcus put his hand on the enlarger’s focusing knob but then, sensing that they were closing again, spun around to catch them before they could bite. Twenty-three students stared blankly. “the light I mean,” he added lamely. The blurry hand raised again, he closed his eyes and turned warily back to the enlarger. “Well I’ve uh put the negative- this is the negative- into this slot up here so now I,” Marcus trailed off. He swallowed and managed to keep himself from looking over his shoulder. Turning on the enlarger he toyed with the knob, trying to bring the image that appeared below into focus. He thought he’d preset it- one of the students must have messed with it. He’d picked a simple crowd scene taken unobserved at a mall, but now he couldn’t seem to get the light image to resolve. “Well, heh, it doesn’t want to focus right now, but you get the idea.”

    What? Its clear,” sneered one of the fish. Marcus ignored him. He turned the light off and took a piece of paper photo-paper from his folder. “Now, I already know that this particular negative needs a twelve second exposure, but you’ll have to uhmplay with it to see what time each negative needs.” He could feel the eyes of blurry ponytail pressing into his neck, but he pretended not to notice and gave the paper its 12 second exposure. He blinked his eyes rapidly. In the back of his mind he heard bubbles and imagined a frenzied lather of gleaming scales that blurred in even the fastest shutter speeds. He reminded himself that the bubbles were only the sound of the wash bath. Marcus turned to the crowd and shook his head, hair closing his vision like a shutter. The image it left was a clear frightened face amid the sea of blank faces. Then he blinked and the face returned to the blurry exasperation of the pony-tailed girl, whose hand still waved in the air.

    Marcus looked away, taking the paper and dropping into the developer tray. He kept his eyes on the fluid as he said, “You need to leave the picture for about thirty seconds, no more than forty.” Marcus watched the uninteresting crowd scene take form and continued, “Now these chemicals aren’t especially harmful, but they aren’t really very good for you either so, uhm, make sure when you pull the paper out you always use the tongs.” He took the tongs from their hook and carefully pulled the paper from the liquid. “You don’t really want this stuff on your skin.” He let the paper drop into the stop tray and turned back to the students without looking at any of them. “Leave it in the stop bath for at least fifteen seconds, that keeps the developer from uhm over developing your picture.” Marcus continued to speak but he looked over their heads and was uncertain of what he was saying. After a minute or so, he turned back to move the paper from the stop bath to the fixer, and froze staring at the image.

    The stop bath had no effect at all. The picture had continued to develop, blackening around the edges in a stain that continued to grow as he watched. It slowly obscured the mall crowd, dulling them and finally blotting them out completely. In the upper left corner was a bright spot the developer hadn’t ruined, it left an unnoticed face. The same face he’d seen screaming in the student crowd. Unlike the other people rushing through the mall unaware of Marcus’s presence, this woman stared right into his eyes. Her face was wide and stupid in a moment of shock- the face of someone who hasn’t yet had the time to react to some terror. Marcus felt the students at his back closing around him. He spun around, scattering drops of the stop fluid on the startled students. Someone cried out in surprise. Marcus balled up the paper and glared at the group around him. They weren’t moving but he could feel them closing just the same. He took a big step forward with more confidence than he felt. “You’re dismissed early today, go away.” He said hoarsely. The students had orange alien faces. Slowly, confused but willing, they streamed out of the dark room.

    Marcus breathed deeply in relief. He turned back to the paper and smoothed it on the counter. It had finally stopped developing, leaving only the frightened woman. He examined her, and the black space around her, for a clue to what had happened. But it was clear. This woman, her white terror, was the only importance of the boring mall crowd. The developer had left her in focus and blacked out the rest. Marcus shook his head in amazement. His hair again shuttered his sight, and he noticed his folder sitting under the crumpled picture. Thoughtfully he opened it, fingering through various negatives until he finally came to a self-portrait he’d taken a month ago. Marcus wondered.

    He put the negative into the enlarger, and recalled that the exposure for this negative had been fairly short. He gave it five seconds. Marcus dropped the white paper into the developer.

    Ten seconds. An image was beginning to appear, as ghostly as a forgotten nightmare. The hollow eyed woman stared at Marcus from the black and wrinkled photograph clutched in his hand. “What do you see?” he asked her in a whisper which nonetheless echoed in the empty darkroom. He was nearly surprised when the woman didn’t answer, but continued in her moment of blank-faced fear. Twenty seconds. He tore his eyes from hers and looked into the developer tray. The image was there, barely seen, as his face began to blacken in the mix of chemicals. Suddenly, realizing what he was starting to look at, Marcus couldn’t bear to see what it would reveal. Ignoring the tongs, he plunged his hand into the developer and peeled the still changing picture from the bath. Hands shaking, he tore it into pieces and dropped the sopping confetti into the bin. He leaned back against the table, black drops falling thickly from his fingers while he compulsively closed his other hand around the guilty photo. The room was silent but for his ragged breathing and Marcus began to relax, realizing that he’d just escaped the unspeakable. There are some things, he reflected, which should never be seen. He glanced down again to the frightened woman clutched in his hand, and for a moment his expression mirrored hers as his eyes caught instead the black lather hugging his other hand. It had spread and his arm was black, half his flesh painlessly eaten away up to the elbow. The crumpled photograph dropped from nerveless fingers and the black fluid continued up to his shoulder cold and efficient as a school of piranhas. “Now we’ll see,” he mumbled, vision blurred and darkening at the edges. “We’ll see what it leaves.”

    *Story by Meagan B. Call. All rights reserved.

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