Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I may write this in installments throughout the day, 'cause I'm imitating a slug this morning. Keep me away from salt and beer, please.

You can't hang out for years with fiction writers without certain topics coming up over and over: what's a "story," what's a hero, and what makes a character likable? These are big topics, debatable topics, topics that are metaphors for Real Life, so maybe we should take them one at a time.

Let's talk about heroes. What is one?

In my opinion, simply being on the scene of a terrible event does not make a person a hero. If I'm in a building when it catches fire and I make my way safely outside, that may make me smart, or simply capable of following directions, but it does not automatically make me a hero. Even being brave during that event doesn't do it. I could be terrified of fire and have to force myself through it, but that still doesn't make me heroic. People can be brave without being heroes. For me, heroism must have an element in it of conscious self-sacrifice. The person has got to make a choice--maybe in a split second, but a choice nonetheless-between her own life and somebody else's, and choose to help that person at the risk of hurting herself. In that fire, I've got to have a moment when I see that I'm five feet from the door and if I run for it, I'm probably going to live, but there's somebody behind me with a broken ankle and she can't make it on her own, but if I go back for her, I may die, too. If I choose to go back for her, I'm a hero, by my own definition, whether either of us lives or dies.

I think I'll stop here for now and go water the flowers. It's going to be very hot out there. If I don't go out, I'll stay cool, but the flowers may die. If I do go out, the flowers will live, but I may die of heat stroke. I'm such a hero. :)

Do you have different ideas about who is a hero? Have you ever had a moment when you had to make a choice between your own safety and somebody else's? Have you ever seen a hero in action?

UPDATE: I told you, my brain is operating in fits and spurts today. Watch out, here comes a spurt. Or possibly a fit?

Maybe I need to ask first, even before I ask about heroes. . .what is courage? I have a friend who is absolutely emphatic in her opinion that you don't have to be afraid in order to be brave. She thinks some acts are inherently brave. Going into a burning building to save somebody, for instance. I disagree. I think there has to be fear before there can be bravery.

Can a person who does something dangerous, but who isn't afraid at the time, be said to be brave?

UPDATE 2: Wanna see something startling? Go here! (Scroll up to the YouTube video.) BE SURE TO LISTEN TO THE SOUND ALL THE WAY THROUGH, EVEN THOUGH IT'S ANNOYING AT FIRST.

UPDATE 3: I love the tv series "Heroes."


Nancy P said...

All that talk of spicy food yesterday forced me to eat nachos with jalapenos for lunch. I wish I had some left over for breakfast.

Is it Tuesday?

Family Man said...

Hi Nancy.

I really can't say what makes a hero, but I know there are a lot more out there then you see on the news.

We're in for another sweltering day and it doesn't look to get any better.

I've always heard if you eat hot spicy food it helps you deal with hot temps outside. I don't know if I really want to test that theory. :)

Hope you and everyone have a great day.

Nancy P said...

And a great day to you, too, family man. Thanks for posting the crape myrtle photos on your blog this morning. You have convinced me NOT to plant them as trees, but only as shrubs.

Family Man said...

I hope you're good at trimming because those things can get away from you in no time.

Nancy P said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll hide in the other shrubbery with my clippers and pounce on them when they shoot up.

What I love is their wild colors and their incredibly long blooming season.

AndiF said...

Funny you should mention it -- I described my heroes the other day in Knucklehead's post on immigrants. I have always been awestruck by the bravery of my grandparents, all of whom left home as teenagers and in all but one case, without their parents and any other adult. One of my grandmothers was just 13 and was accompanied by only two brothers, ages 14 and 16.

On a wholly different note, a selection of our vacation pics can be found here.

Nancy P said...

Thanks for the vacation pic link, Andi. I'll save them for my refreshing treat between trips out to run errands.

Funny you'd mention bravery in that way, cause I just wrote an update asking what constitutes bravery.

Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between bravery, desperation, and the excitement of adventure, I think. For instance, I had a pair of grandparents who were one of the above, or some combination. He divorced his first wife, married the serving girl (my grandmother) who was 20-30 years younger, left his three children, and carried his new bride to the isolated wilds of Montana to start over. And when I say "carried," I mean it literally, because my grandmother-to-be was paralyzed from the waist down at the time! It turned out to be a temporary paralysis.

So what was that? Surely she was afraid, but of the future or of what they were leaving behind them? Did they leave, or were they pushed out? And weren't they also in love, and were they maybe selfish as well as brave? Wasn't it also an incredibly thrilling adventure? What may have seemed courageous to them may have looked like utter cowardice to the town they left behind.

And how would they look in fiction? The writer would have to scramble to make them heroic, but it could still pretty easily be done. Give him a harridan of a first wife, make them trapped by society, etc. There are a lot of ways to turn them more admirable than not, at least in fiction.

Anonymous said...

Andif, those are AMAZING pictures!! Thanks for sharing slices of beauty this morning. Makes me proud of my (former) state.

Nachos for breakfast?!? Nancy, ugh! I can't face "real" food in the morning - eggs are a stretch. Now cinnamon rolls...where's that bakery??

Heroes and courage. I think by the very nature of the concept, a hero should overcome something scary, or a great obstacle, to perform their heroic act. Then again, if a soldier sees it as his/her duty to protect our freedom and goes to war, that's not done out of fear, although I can imagine there would have to be fear involved, if you're risking your life...

dictionary.com defines a hero as "a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities." But it also reminds us that it's a big sandwich, too...

I'm curious to see what everyone else thinks. I'll ponder it as I run my last-minute errands. Thanks for making me think every day, folks!

GreenMinute said...

Heroes sometimes are such because they inspire bravery in others. I'm thinking, say, of General Ridgway in Korea. Nancy, I don't think he was afraid. And you know for sure George Patton wasn't.

Bravery. Sometimes admitting a mistake is bravery, not because you fear the outcome, but because there is a negative outcome that could be avoided.

Man, am I ever convoluted.

I think perhaps known or understood consequences, as harsh or as negative as they may be, denote acts of bravery. I don't think you have to fear the consequences to be brave.

But you must be willing to suffer them.

Golly, as for hero, I thought you meant in fiction, as in protagonist. Stupid me, stupid heat.

Conversely, though, it is probably an act of bravery to admit you are a pedophile and cannot be cured and ask NOT to be released from prison. People have done that.

Overcoming fear is, being perverse, not always an act of bravery or heroism. And this idea really pisses me off. But some people likely overcome a few fears in order to do something evil -- which they have in mind in the first place. I would not consider them brave, courageous, heoric.

Perhaps intention matters in that the act of bravery be made with the full intention of doing something good. Something of benefit. ???

GreenMinute said...

Bravery, desperation, and excitement of adventure might be distinguished by intent?

Sacrifice was the other word I was looking for earlier. It was under the dog.

Nancy, is it perhpas an act of bravery and sometimes heroism to sacrifice (without fear of any kind, actually) for the benefit of others?

P.S. Desperation, I have found, simply makes me awkward. And oft times huddled.

AndiF said...

Being heroic is an external characteristic -- you are a hero only if other people judge you to be one; motivations are irrelevant.

Only the individual really knows whether they have been brave or courageous because bravery is doing something which you believe ought to be done despite the greater internal or external forces compelling you not to act. The rest of us end up trying to guess based on our knowledge of the people and the events.

But it certainly doesn't detract from bravery if there is some other motivation involved. One can be both brave and desperate, both thrilled and terrified (as I can testify to as someone who often hikes on exposed trails requiring friction pitches).

Beth, thanks and glad you enjoyed the pictures. I think they are high enough res for wallpaper if you want to use any of them to help get over the blah of Florida.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, andif - I certainly will!! I'll try and find pretty ones of FL once I get there, so you all don't feel too sorry for me...I'll be sure to send them in January...(evil grin).

Nancy P said...

I agree that motivations are irrelevent, but I don't agree that you're a hero only if other people say so. Unless by that you simply mean that "hero" is a word in the dictionary and without that we couldn't define outselves as such.
I think the Observer in us--who, I suppose, could be considered a kind of Other-- can also declare us heroic. I know I did something heroic once, and nobody else has to know or say so. I also know I did something cowardly another time, and I don't need anybody else to tell me that, either.

Isn't it interesting? Wouldn't you kind of think heroism and bravery are things everybody would agree on? But they're not, which is what makes them interesting in fiction, too.

AndiF said...

Beth, I've been to FL in winter and I still don't like it. And besides, I do like winter so you'll have to try that evil grin out on someone else. :P

Nancy, to me, being a hero is a label that gets assigned -- in the same way that one can't be a kewl kid unless other people make that judgment. Being brave or cowardly, however, are emotional states that are usually (but not necessarily) manifested as outward actions. No one can tell me that I was or wasn't brave or cowardly -- only I can make that call and often what is a brave action for a specific person goes unrecognized because whatever they are doing is not normally considered to require bravery (e.g., a very shy person going to a large social event could feel that they are being quite courageous).

Nancy P said...

This topic gets circular! Andi I think we've disagreed to the point where we discover we agree. :)

I just looked at your vacation photos, btw. The Gentian is worthy of Olivia's IB's, so to speak. And the curved granite face may be the most perfectly framed photo I've ever seen. I love the glowing rocks. But the one I turned into wallpaper is the purple field.

AndiF said...

I assume you mean picture of the fireweed in the burned forest -- that is one of the few cases where I would have liked to have had a video camera because a single photograph can't really show the visual and emotional impact of being surrounded by acres of fireweed among thousands of charred trees.

Anonymous said...

Fireweed is one of my favorite - wildflowers? Weeds? Whatever. The mystique in that it only grows where there has been a fire...beauty out of such devastation. Almost like a phoenix...

Anonymous said...

PS - I used to love winter - as I get older, it has lost its appeal. Hopefully I'll appreciate it again someday - for now, I'm happy to watch it occuring from afar. I'll have to try my evil grin on someone else! (non-evil grin)

Nancy P said...

That's the one, Andi. The contrast between the lavendar blooms and the stark black tree trunks is eerie and beautiful. "Fireweed," indeed.

Nancy P said...

I just have to say. . .there are some subtle things that my eyes didn't "see" the first few times,even though I'll bet they added to the impact. I only registered them just now on about my 5th viewing. Those white branches curving off in either direction. . .the yellow plant in the middle. . .

My "trash" recycle icon is in among the trees, looking funny there. For hiking litter, I guess.

AndiF said...

Beth, I've been through 56 winters but I'm not tired of them yet. However, I'm generally tired of and have the full hate on for summer by the all-star break. (But I still prefer living where there 4 seasons. Without winter and summer, the exquisite pleasures of mid-April and mid-October couldn't exist.)

Nancy, I always have a stew of emotions when hiking where there's been a fire -- I feel sad at seeing the charred remains, exhilarated by the explosion of new life, fascinated by the regeneration process, and humbled to consider that what we see as devastation and recovery is really just a brief part of the normal cycle in the long life of a forest.

Nancy P said...

Time out to watch the Dem. debate on MSNBC. I heard on NPR that they had to move it to a much larger venue because of the demand for tickets.

boran2 said...

Hi, all. Certainly some have heroism thrust upon them, without time to think/worry about the potential consequences to themselves. I don't think that fear is absolutely required, only selfless action in the face of potential danger.

Okay, that's my quota of "wisdom" for today.

Nancy P said...

That was very good, b2. All of you, in fact. It is too damned hot for wisdom!!

I think I'll go light for the rest of this week while the temps are near 100. Too damned hot to move, much less think hard. You could see from my disjointed post how my brain is functioning like a tv with an electrical short.

Let's just chat for the rest o' the week. Unless you get a brain wave, of course. The rest of us will watch admiringly. :)

katiebird said...

(chat mode)

I just want to say thanks for letting me know about the Debate. I thought it was GREAT. That format made it exciting.

Oh! I just found Oprah with Al Gore. This is a really great night.

Nancy P said...

I thought Keith was a great moderator. He was smart, informed, quick, and he brought up the energy level, I thought.

I couldn't believe Biden brushed off that widow in order to make a point about a prior question. The crowd didn't like it, either.

katiebird said...

That was shocking. Horrible. I couldn't believe it.

Someone said that they liked him, but worried about his foot-in-mouth disease. But, this was way beyond that.

(This Gore thing on Oprah on channel 29 is interesting. He's doing his show on some high-tech thing on her stage. And she's feeding him questions. )

Nancy P said...

I've been playing with making jewelry ever since my classes on Saturday. I love it. It's so much fun and instantly gratifying. :) And I"m finding ways to do it on the cheap. Like taking apart old jewelry to use the parts. That's fun. And I found a shop where they keep a big bowl of used beads and you can fill little bags with them for next to nothing.

I could get (get?!) very boring about this, lol.

katiebird said...

Cool, where did you go for the class?
It sounds like a lot of fun. (I've got a ton of old costume jewelery.)

katiebird said...

By the way, you couldn't be boring if you tried.

Nancy P said...

You're too kind! :)

I took the classes at a bead shop in Corinth. There's also a shop in Old Lenexa and one in downtown OP.

FARfetched said...

At the end of the day, I trudge into town. Worn, but not exhausted. Sweaty, not heroic. :-P

Someone (I'm too lazy to go see who) seemed to want to draw a contrast between heroism and simply doing one's duty. But if duty itself is a hazard, and it's about rescuing others, is that not heroic anyway? The firemen who died in the Twin Towers would probably have said they were just doing their jobs, but nobody seriously debates their heroism.

OK, enough topic. :-) We had a 10-15 minute power outage this evening during supper — it was rather widespread, covering much of the county at a minimum. That, and helping Mrs. Fetched’s mom pick corn at dusk (when it was just hot instead of beastly hot) and shucking it mostly in the dark, sent me right to FAR Future again. I'll probably work some of the elements of this evening's activities into the narrative.

I'm finishing up downloading a Quark Xpress updater for work — you can't spell "IdioT" without IT; and they blocked the site that serves up the binary, saying it's "streaming media." Bah. I'll bring it to work on my smellphone and install it tomorrow.

Looks like another hot one tomorrow. Here's a basket of jalapenos, if you want to test Family Man's theory about spicy food helping with hot weather….

FARfetched said...

Oh, fiddle, I almost forgot. Nancy, since you mentioned making jewelry and so forth, you might want to check out Crafty Green Poet.

Nancy P said...

Hey, far! You've made your fiction so believeable that for a mo there I thought, okay, did that power outage really happen, or not? :)

Now to go check out that site, thank you very much.

katiebird said...

(Spinning head)

FAR! Did that happen, or not? I guess it did??

Nancy P said...

What a cornucopia of crafts and other good things, far. A person could spend hours exploring.

I'm off for a walk, now that it has "cooled down," hahaha.

Anonymous said...

Sorry it's so hot out there. Our weather is finally cooling off - August is the end of summer in N Idaho. 70's today - same tomorrow. No humidity - no wonder people think I'm nuts leaving now. Wish I could send a package of coolness your way...

I'm ready to go - will try and get some sleep tonight, and hit the road early. Will have internet tomorrow night at the hotel in Glendive, MT and will check in from there - might catch some of you late-nighters. Hey, I forgot - I'll change time zones early tomorrow, so will be in Mtn time - a little closer to you all!

Save that basket of jalapenos for me, Far - I could go for some homemade salsa right about now!

Night everyone - wave in the morning!!

GreenMinute said...

Oh, Nancy: Saw this over at Writing well is the best revenge:

More favorites as examples: If you didn't know the authors, could you think a man wrote the deeply complex The Virgin of Small Plains? Could you think a woman wrote the complicated and surprising The Accidental Spy?

So is there something intrinsically male or female about what comes out on the page?

What do think, Nancy? Could a feller have penned up Virgin of the Small Plains?

Beth: 728 miles to Glendive Montana. In 10 hours? Godspeed!

FARfetched said...

Hey folks.

Yep, that was really my evening last night! It was funny, in a way. We were chowing down, and the lights went off. After the obligatory jokes about paying the power bill, Mrs. Fetched's mom called and said the power was out at her place too. Seeing as the chicken houses are more-or-less in between, Mrs. F bolted out the door to fire up the generator. I figure the power came back on about the time she was ready to throw the transfer switch. :-P

Now if it had been FAR Future, the power would have been out most of the day, and came *on* for 10-15 minutes.

Nancy P said...

Ooo, green, you sweetie for passing that nice tidbit along to me.

About your question: beats the hell out of me. Last week a man said to me about the make-out scenes, "How did you know what a teenage boy would be thinking?" Meaning, he thought I did know that.

So maybe a man--or a teenage boy--could have written it?

Nancy P said...

So, far, you're saying FAR Future is not all THAT far in the future, shudder. No wonder so many of us think you're relating real stuff when we read a new chapter.

FARfetched said...

Right. It's about 5 years in the future...