February, 2006 Tar Valon Times
Letter from the Editor
New and wondrous things are happening at TarValon.net. The site's coming up on its fifth anniversary. The party planning is going well, and many many people are excited. I, for one, am looking forward to being at a party with 4 other Reds, a record for our ajah. It's not too late to buy your ticket; the deadline is Friday, March 3. Tickets are $100, and cover admittance to games, the masquerade ball, a formal dinner, and, as Kariada Sedai says, "a hell of a good time." The price does not cover your room or meals, except the formal dinner. But pile five or six people in a room and the cost decreases dramatically. Not that I'd condone putting more than four people in a room; hotels tend to look down on that. Shout-outs in the memory book are available for purchase!
This month, a small group is getting together in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the first Winter EuroParty on the 24th to the 26th. Hostess Arien Nalaam made my stomach growl when she mentioned the pancakes she'll be making.
If you're interested in poetry or prose workshops, check out the creative endeavors forum. Jalen te'Kreg posts new submissions every week to be critiqued by anyone, as a literature major or simply someone who appreciates poetry or prose. The workshops give readers a chance to provide feedback to the author without it seeming like an attack on the piece; the readers sincerely want to make the piece better. You don't have to be a writer to know if you like something, so feel free to give advice.
I hope you enjoy this issue. Guest writer Adina al'Mari wrote a review of both the book and novel of Memoirs of a Geisha. al'Cary addresses the stereotypes on the site while new staff member Laurienne investigates the new class about Senior Membership Mother is teaching. Dart brings Novice Melania al'Larwind into the spotlight for her fifteen minutes of fame.
Fifteen Minutes of Fame
interview by Dart Marouvin
Tower Name: Melania al'Larwind
Member Since: April 2004. I think.
Real Life Name: Megan
Age: 17. 18 on the 18th February.
1. The food I'd die for: Anything made by my grandma, especially pasta. Her cooking is always fantastic. And delicious. In fact, I wouldn't mind having some of her food now!
2. My tombstone would say: "Finally, she rests!" because anyone who knows me knows I don't get enough sleep.
3. Trapped on a desert island, I'd want: A million books, including one about survival on a desert island.
4. Favorite Wheel of Time characters: Aviendha/Mat/Moghedien/Lanfear/Logain.
5. I'd pick this person to play me in a movie based on my life: Romola Garai.
6. Secret identity: Ahahaha, *narrows eyes* Like I would tell all you people who could be reading this that my secret identity is--*has a sudden coughing fit and runs to get some water*
7. All-time favorite movie: Lord of the Rings Trilogy - Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. And many, many, many others. I love movies!
8. If I won the lottery, I'd: travel the world like mad. That would be lovely. Hopefully my luck will be really good someday.
9. If I were a cartoon character I'd be: Dot from Animaniacs.
10. Favorite quote: "The sun should never rise on regrets."
11. In five words, I am: delirious, understanding, female, creative, bookworm.
12. Dream vacation: to southern France or anywhere in Europe actually with a few close friends.
13. Celebrity crush: Jake Gyllenhaal. Heath Ledger. (Yep, the gay cowboys..)
14. Greatest fear: Spiders! Eeeep! At least, that is the fear I react most to.
15. Last book I read because I actually wanted to: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I read it for school actually, but really enjoyed it.
New Class Offered by the Amyrlin
On January 3, 2006, something extraordinary happened in the Tower classroom. Several eyes popped on sight and were settled by rapid blinking. After more than two years since her last venture, the Amyrlin Seat has once more graced TarValon.net's education scene.
"My initial thought was that it was a really good idea, as well as something that needs to be addressed," Mistress of Novices Melana al'Cairera commented of the class, which is titled Moving on to Senior Members class by yours truly. Aimed at helping the site's Junior Members gain a more thorough and accurate understanding of the role of a Senior Member, the class has so far addressed several issues Junior Members might come across on the journey towards Senior Membership, including their hopes and expectations, rumours and questions encountered, and detailed explanations on the differences of responsibility and consequence between ranks.
"Specifically, I am hoping that it will serve three purposes," says Mother. "A lot of mythos has grown around what Senior Members are, what they can do, what happens when you are a Senior Member. Some of it has gotten pretty far from the truth."
The three objectives are these: to give members an opportunity to ask questions and get an answer directly from the source; to encourage and educate future Senior Members; and to enrich members' time as Junior Members. "Our community has grown very large the last couple of years, and it is easy to lose perspective of the responsibilities pertaining to the different raisings and ranks," Melana Sedai adds. "I think this class was meant to help our Junior Members gain that perspective."
Captain of the Guard Jaim alBearach feels that with this more structured approach, as opposed to the standard reading of the Tower Constitution or reliance on PMs to Senior Members, the Junior Members now know that they have a place they can go to learn. However, he feels that the response could be better. If you take into account that there are around 45 recruits and probably even more novices, then having three pages of posts isn't really that many. Mother herself is unperturbed, though: "I certainly didn't expect this large a response. I've had several Senior Members write to me, letting me know they are following the thread. I imagine it is being read more extensively than it is being participated in."
What do the participants themselves think? Red Accepted Prewan Beldaim harboured rather different expectations of the class. "My expectations were very vague. The class is more for formal stuff, like laws and how they work on different member ranks. That was just not what I thought the class was about. Mother usually posts very emotional stuff, so I kind of thought she would write more in this direction."
On the other hand, Koralei Marin, a novice, is enthusiastic about the class, feeling that it provides a service that normally isn't met. "Often we Junior Members feel that there is a don't ask, don't tell policy, a mentality that comes from us being told things like, ... Well, we aren't really supposed to talk about that. There is a veil between Junior and Senior Members, and you learn those secrets once you cross that barrier. Mother has the authority to answer the main questions Junior Members have and has done so quite well so far."
Tel Jagin, former Senior Member and current Soldier of the Dai M'hael Company, agrees that the content of the class is definitely relevant to everyone, as the structure of the site and community has changed vastly. "Back then the Reds policed the site. The Hall did not administer raisings or dispense punishments. It planned parties. The class would be useful even to people who are Senior Members right now."
Recruit Tinnlin Fundon goes a step further: "The only two critiques I can give is that (1) it should be required for all junior members to take before being raised, and (2) it should be offered every few months. In the Navy we have certain classes and trainings that are required every few months or so; it's a constant reminder of the important things we must be trained on. In TarValon.net, this is perhaps the most important subject for junior members."
In fact, Mother does have plans for this class. "If it continues to go well, I might ask for it to be added to our library, and perhaps assign someone to re-teach it every six months or so," she says. "I would like the next batch of Senior Members joining our ranks to feel confident about their decision. I would like them to be good leaders, mentors, and participants; to be happy in their decision, because it was an informed decision. I hope the discussion is a starting point to bring everyone to the same page."
In that regard, the class seems to be working well. "This class has made me think a little harder about what I can contribute to the community," muses Serenla Tamowith, Brown Accepted. "Not necessarily chapter summaries or something similar, but what kind of member I want to be."
Dealing with Stereotypes
There has been a bit of uproar around the site recently about how stereotypes about Ajahs and Companies have gotten out of hand and about how it is time to remove them. However, I think we need to look carefully at what these stereotypes and their effects are before we start getting too involved in debunking them.
What we have to consider is that most of an Ajah or Company's identity is based on stereotypes in one way or another. Without stereotypes, we are merely small collections of individuals with no common ground, no shared identity, and no way to differentiate ourselves from the other groups. This strikes me as being both extremely pointless and extremely boring. Even, or especially, in the books, each Ajah has a definite stereotype. How could they stand for anything if they didn't have some sort of common ground?
Don't mistake this for a wholesale embrace of stereotypes. They can indeed be detrimental, and it is imperative to ensure that they don't become so. In my opinion, detriment due to stereotypes occurs in two situations. One, when a member of the group involved decides to emulate the stereotype and try to make themselves fit into it. This is especially dangerous when an entire group decides to do it, making the stereotype real, in other words. Two, it is a problem when others are prejudiced due to the stereotype; that is, they actually believe it to be utterly true.
Certainly, these issues do touch upon the Tower in some ways. However, the solution to these is not necessarily a wholesale denial of the stereotype. For example, new and impressionable members of an Ajah or Company may take it upon themselves to fit in as much as possible by living out the stereotype. Generally they learn to do otherwise fairly quickly, especially when they have the guidance of the Ajah's Senior Members.
Prejudice based on these stereotypes is probably the bigger issue, particularly in the eyes of the current debate. Such prejudice does, however, tend to be from people unfamiliar with the group in question who are relying on either hearsay (jokes, for example), the very public face of the group such as City threads, official material on websites, in some cases, or, in the case, of the Ajahs, the books themselves. It is not unreasonable for a citizen to assume that, without necessarily meeting any Reds, that they are all sadistic torturers due to the general nature of their public threads and the general nature of jokes about them. The solution to this is not to clamp down on the stereotypes but is, rather, to change them. Counter the bad information with good information. If you don't want people viewing you as something, change the way you portray yourself. There will still be mistakes, and there will still be problems, but in the end, it doesn't really matter how a new citizen views you as long as their views are changed by actually meeting and interacting with your members.
Finally, a personal philosophy. When in a position to take offence from something, consider this: If it is true, you deserve it. If it isn't true, who cares?
Memoirs of a Geisha: The Novel, the Film, and an Interview
I recently had the chance to read the novel Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden. Having spent nearly the past year reading a certain well-known fantasy series, a few random school books, and piles and piles of junior high social studies homework, I finally took a break and opened this interesting tome.
Memoirs is set in Japan, during the first half of the twentieth century. The story chronicles the journey of young Chiyo, who is taken from her home when a neighbor convinces her father that she would have a better life if she was sold to an okiya (a Geisha house). After much pain and suffering she is given the chance to become a full-fledged Geisha and surpass what everyone, herself included, thought she could accomplish.
About a month after I finished the novel, Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks released the film adaptation of the novel, directed by Rob Marshall. Marshall has achieved a real depth and faithfulness to the novel that is often missing when a book goes from page to screen. While I would still recommend a person read the book, I would also recommend s/he see the film as well, because it adds a richer understanding of some aspects of a culture unfamiliar to those of us outside of Japan. I would say that the film is basically the annotated version of the novel, as is generally the case when good reading material makes its way to the big screen, so some of the more interesting things were left out, or glossed over.
The great thing about reading is that you get to be "inside" the characters' heads and experience their emotions as they do. The rollercoaster of Chiyo's life as she becomes Sayuri, the most famous Geisha in Gion, is one of great peaks and valleys. When she is at her lowest, thinking nothing can ever change, a few simple words from a kind stranger reach out and send her in a new direction.
The actress Suzuka Ohgo does an excellent job in portraying the young Chiyo. She is full of heart and life and makes the viewer feel her pain when things turn for the worst, and she is one of the few members of the cast who is actually Japanese. The older Chiyo-Sayuri is played by the ever beautiful Ziyi Zhang, (Hero; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) from China. This was the actress's first film done in English, and while she was happy to be a part of the film, she states in an interview what a challenge it was for her to act in English, and then have to use a Japanese accent on top of that. She is, however, a highly trained dancer, so that part was easy for her. Her male counterpart, the Chairman, is portrayed by Ken Watanabe, (Batman Begins; The Last Samuri) although there was not as much interaction between the two as I was hoping and expecting to see.
This brings me to a few of my "picky" points about this film. There is no secret that this is all taking place in Japan, so why, other than marketing reasons, did they opt for a predominantly Chinese cast? I think Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Tomorrow Never Dies) is a great actress, and did well in her part as Sayuri's mentor/Older Sister Mameha, however, I did not go to the movie to watch Yeoh and would have been just as happy with an unknown actress. I also would have liked to have see the movie been made in Japanese. Again, I am betting it was probably marketing on the studio's side that made the change from the original language to a Hollywood-ized "Engrish" of sorts. The last picky thing is the close-ups on the eyes. This was also present in the book. I understand that it is very unusual for someone of Asian decent to have light-colored eyes, but in the book and the movie, it's pounded over your head repeatedly. And I get it. Really, I do. She has grey eyes! The contacts, or whatever they used in the film, look neat, but the viewer sees many unneeded close-ups of them.
Our own Arisaema Draconis had a hand in making some of the sets that were used in the movie, and she also spent several years taking part in some of the Geisha training classes. I asked her a few questions about her work and time in Japan:
Adina: I am going to be writing a little article about Memoirs of a Geisha and remembered that you worked on some of the sets used for the film. Where were they, and what did you do?
Arisaema: I worked on the garden that is depicted outside the home of Mamiko, the white gravel with green moss and soft colored stones. I also worked at the Imperial Villa Rikyu Guest House in Tokyo. While studying at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, I worked on a garden restoration project that was selected as a set while we were there. It was shown in the film.
Adina: How did you come to be in Japan?
Arisaema: My travels and studies in Japan are a result of my education in Japanese Landscape Architecture. I have a masters in Japanese Garden Arts.
Adina: I also remember you said you took Geisha classes. What was that like, and what did you study?
Arisaema: While studying in Japan I studied several Japanese Cultural Arts, which Geisha are highly skilled and trained in. I was a student of the Takamaharyu School of Japanese Classical dance. Some of the dances I learned were shown in the film. I received certificates to teach Japanese Tea Ceremony with the Urasenke Foundation Kyoto and Japanese Flower Arranging with Ikenobo Ikebanaryu. I practiced the art of Bonseki for a brief time, and attempted to learn the shakuhachi, or bamboo flute. For three years I was a member of a Japanese Taiko drum group. While studying in Japan I was required to learn to dress myself in traditional formal kimono and obi, summer yukata and festival costumes. Walking in getta, zori and dance platform shoes is not as easy as it might seem!
Adina: What else would you have needed to do to become a full Geisha, if that was the direction you would have chosen?
Arisaema: To become full Geisha I would have had to study for about 15 years and perfect the arts that Geisha practice. I would have had to wear the lacquered wigs and makeup as well. You should know that I started this in 1995, I still would not be Geisha today.
Adina: Are you still active in Japanese Cultural Arts?
Arisaema: Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed my time studying in Japan and I remain involved in the Japanese Culture and Community here and abroad. Last September I attended the Grand Head Master of Urasenke School of Tea Ceremony to perform tea for the President and First Lady of Mexico in the Mexican National Cathedral.
The bottom line is this: read the novel, and watch the film. You will enjoy them both, but on different levels. While the Japanese have no great love for either, I believe it offers a good look into a world and culture that many of us may not be exposed to otherwise. And it is, at its heart, a beautifully-told love story.