“…We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files – We’d like to help you learn to help yourself – Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes – Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home – And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson Jesus loves you more than you can know…” Simon & Garfunkel
It’s interesting how a soft floating memory can be triggered by a melody and lyrics, and be pulled into my present from a past that seems like a lifetime ago. I remember how desperately I identified with Dustin Hoffman’s character Ben Braddock in the film “THE GRADUATE.” I had a suspicion that I was lost and didn’t know it. Fortunately there wasn’t a Mrs. Robinson in my life but I had my concerns and I didn’t know where to turn.
It was 1967 and I was one semester away from graduating from UCSB into one of the most chaotic times in recent history. The war in Vietnam raged on, in the streets and college campuses there was a feeling of uncertainty and I didn’t realize how much of the path ahead of me was without signposts. I felt like I was a square peg and society was waiting for me to enter their world, pounce on me and pound me into a round hole to make me fit.
The thing that I was the most leery about was that I suspected that this process of socialization might be so subtle that I would never see it coming and when the process took place I might never notice. – Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes – Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home – All I wanted to do was to find my Elaine Robinson, (Katharine Ross) and flee.
I was a product of a universal approach to education that gave me knowledge but left me without a real idea of what my strengths and aptitudes were, a clear idea of my interests and how these would translate into a profession that would help me make a meaningful addition to society.
Looking back I don’t think what I feared happened, I wasn’t socialize in a way that neuters a person’s soul and spirit, I was able to keep most of my uniqueness. I’m happy and proud of the lives I’ve touched – there are some due to my immature ignorance I wish I could offer apologies. I think that it would have been easier had I found insights into human behavior earlier in my life.
I knew I wanted to be a good person, it was instilled in me from an early age from a wonderful positive home life but I didn’t know what areas to focus on. And with that this is the reason for this blog and my children’s story, if you use the “Great Riches of Life” as a mirror or perhaps a road map it’s easier to find the greater joys in life.
This post continues the previous discussion, which explored some of the motivations and general thoughts upon which The Littlest Dragon and the Princess is based. I wanted to tell a story about a world where hard work, equality and imagination can overcome the difficulties that life can bring.
Our cultural awareness in the western nations especially the United State has significantly evolved over the last hundred years. The social equality of peoples of different ethic backgrounds and gender is beginning to become the same in most Western countries but as it does there are some questions that lurk in the back of my mind.
The international suffrage movement had little success during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Most developed countries move to give women the vote took place during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Since 1950 many of the third world countries joined this movement. My 21st Century mind finds it’s difficult to understand how anyone could truly believe a hundred years ago that women shouldn’t vote. Many proposed that if you gave women the right to vote it would put so much pressure on them that they would face mental break down. (Please!) A common belief was that since women were emotional creatures they were incapable of making sound political decisions. (My eyes are rolling.)
The issue is that as children we tend to grow and accept the beliefs of our parents and other primary caregivers. We are taught ideas and concepts of the past, some of which are valid, some are not. Slowly social change takes place and we look back on ideas like women don’t have the capacity to make wise political decisions as provincial now but back then it was accepted common wisdom.
This brings me to the point of this post.
If the common man in the 19th Century couldn’t see that he was in error due to his ignorance about women’s capacity to vote, what are those beliefs and opinions that I hold today, that tomorrow’s enlightenment will make me shrink with chagrin from those former unsophisticated viewpoints?
I’ve taken some liberty with the appearance of my characters while writing this story. It was an interesting surprise that in the process of drawing the dragons that the different types took on different appearances. This was not something that was planned it just happened. It could be likened to dressing a strong willed small child who is very opinionated about what clothes they will wear. “Don’t put that green shirt on me, you know I don’t wear green” they might argue. The drawings would wrestle back and forth on my drawing board until their features were acceptable to them and then I could move on to the next character.
The Grand Wizar is a very social dragon that leads the dragon community in the seasonal festivities and especially the birthing celebrations in the spring. He has a plump effervesce about him where as The Old Dragon Sage is very wrinkled and has a stoic appearance. Both of these character’s dorsal crest are similar to the traditional approach of drawing an upside down V, which curves backward from their head to their tail. It was also a pleasant surprise that The Littlest Dragon dorsal crest didn’t follow suit for it was similar to fur that begins with his Mohawk hair cut and proceeds down to his tail. Not only does this hair cut hint at his mild mischievous nature the addition of this feature made the little guy more appealing, even cuddly.
There have been observations that Princess Leizu doesn’t look Chinese, this was
on purpose since I’ve aimed at a universal appeal and I wanted
her to look Eurasian. One of the biggest changes from reality was the place of women in Chinese society historically and currently.
There are things about our culture worldwide and historically that concern me but the one that really upsets me is the treatment of women. It is so discouraging the way that they are regarded and not given the same opportunities, social ranking or liberties as men. I applaud the changes in the western world even though they’re not complete and I’m horrified at what goes on in the East today. I guess it could have reflected the fact that men are usually stronger than women but the fact that this perception has lasted as long as it has truly amazes me.
I’ve put Leizu and her Aunt Wu in a position of authority in the weaving mill so they could be involved with the production of the fabric and eventually the strange circumstances would reveal why Leizu dropped that first cocoon into her tea and discovered silk. This line of attack was also taken so that I could tell a story about a world where hard work, equality and imagination could overcome the difficulties that life can bring. It is about creating a world that I would like to exist rather than the reality that still exists.
This isn’t something that is unique to me since many artistic works display utopian themes. The painter, illustrator Normal Rockwell said that the motivating force behind his presentation of wholesome American values was that he was disappointed in the world around him so he painted the world the way he wished it would be rather than the reality that he experienced.
It’s interesting how this project’s has grown in complexity. I had been constantly reminded that the creation of a book was the easy part. Finding an agent and getting it published was the difficult part.
Since I was amazed at the magical manner in which the story was revealed to me I wanted to be the exception to the rule. Now five months since completing the final drawings and eight weeks since finishing the final version of the manuscript I’m still researching publishers, agents and sending out queries.
One of the problems is that it’s hard for an editor or any other person operating the door of acceptance to know what a successful book looks like. Years ago I took a number to writing classes at U.C.L.A. ext. At the beginning of the first class the teacher, Tara Ison, makes the interesting statement, “Nobody in Hollywood knows what a successful screenplay looks like.”
Then she went on to tell her story about a script she wrote with her writing partner and all of the difficulty getting it picked up. Finally an agent agreed to represent them but told them NEVER show the scrip to anyone again, it just wasn’t a good idea. They agreed, spent about a year writing other works without success and finally parted ways with the agent. They returned to their first script, worked it a little and after awhile it finally was made. The result was the commercially successful “DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER IS DEAD,” giving Christina Applegate her first staring role.
Finally a break with my research I was able to share this post and I’m back to the work of queries and submissions.
Perhaps it was because Princess Leizu was raised in such a poor land that she was so dedicated to her responsibilities. Perhaps it was because she was so young when she was put in a position of authority that some of her youth melted into a compulsion to follow what seemed to be her duty. Perhaps it was because of her karma that lead her in a direction where she blindly accepted her reality and her fate regardless of how dire it was.
When she faces a crisis in the middle of the story because she makes her decisions through what she feels she must do, by necessity rather than by opportunity, she eliminates any other possibilities that might set her free from the dilemma. And as great as Leizu’s character is, kind, hard working, pleasant attitude, cheerful spirit this is her one unresourceful trait.
Fortunately because The Littlest Dragon had been just average in intelligence when he grew up that he had to develop self-discipline to be able to complete his classroom lessons at school. It was this experience that lead him to deal with the crisis in a different way. His ability to stay focused on a problem until he found a solution combined with the wise words of the Old Dragon Sage would spin the conflict in the middle of the story in a different direction.
It is common in today’s society to refer to this as the ability to think outside of the box. Too often we don’t know how to develop this ability and when we think we’ve identified the box and are outside of it we don’t realize that we’re just inside a larger box that surrounds the old box.
An essential approach in thinking outside the box is to understand how we make our decisions and of how our operating system works so that we can discard approaches in solving problems that don’t work. The first step in this process is to understand how we make decisions, how we filter the external stimulus and what filters we use to help us make these decisions.
As I began to write this story I realized that I needed to mold my characters so that their strengths and weakness could play off of each other. The Littlest Dragon was made so small so that he would look insignificant and inept at handling difficulties of life but it is because he is so small that this apparent weakness becomes his strength. His small size would also create a coziness that would appeal to the readers, especially young girls.
I wanted to keep the story in line with the Chinese legend that Leizu discovered silk but besides changing her history from being the wife of the Yellow emperor to the daughter of the emperor, with whom young readers can identify, I wanted her to come from a very poor kingdom. It is because of this poverty that the Princess is faced with a crisis in the middle of the story that she must overcome.
The underlying message of this story is that you don’t have to have magical abilities, super human talents or extreme wealth to be successful. Anyone can become successful and achieve their dreams. A goal, persistence and action are some of the most important keys to achieve success.
Princess Leizu had a humble childhood. Her mornings were spent with her aunt who ran the royal weaving mill that had previously been managed by her husband who is now deceased. Afternoons were spent studying in the garden where she was tutored by this aunt. These morning and afternoon experiences shaped her character; she is hardworking, diligent and humble.
Recently I had the chance to watch Lindsey Lohan’s 2004 film “Mean Girls.” I hadn’t realized it when I first saw this performance but it was brought to my attention that it was based in part on the nonfiction book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” by Rosalind Wiseman. This insightful look at the social dynamics of teenagers gives parents advice to help girls survive cliques, gossip and other issues at school.
Wiseman’s book fundamentally changed the way that parents look at their daughter’s friendships and conflicts. It encourages them to become proactive in their children’s social development suggesting how to choose best friends and how to express anger. Similar articles on child development stress that self-discipline is a very important skill to teach children. By directing ones’ actions according to what one thinks instead of how you feel you can build your self-discipline. After the novelty of beginning a new sport or musical instrument wears off one is tempted not to practice however by acting according to what we think rather than what we feel will help us attain our goal.
The background story of The Littlest Dragon and the Princess deals with incorporating positive growth principles into our lives. It reinforces the important Napoleon Hill’s “Twelve Great Riches of Life,” presenting them as specific objectives that will increase peace and joy into our lives. Hill’s list is prioritized with the most importance at the front but as important as “positive mental attitude” is I wonder if number nine, “self discipline” is perhaps equally important in one’s life.
Life can have challenging times and if we don’t learn to discipline ourselves to prevail we face discouragement, defeat and failure. Repeatedly The Old Dragon Sage encourages The Littlest Dragon to face the bulling difficulties at school with self-discipline and not by responding to his teasing classmates.
Attainment of the Twelve Great Riches of Life is a life long pursuit but parents can ensure their children a greater likelihood of success by building self-discipline during the early years. After winning the 2012 Olympic Gold in time trial U.S. cyclist Kristin Armstrong credited her success to self-discipline, “This is an amazing moment for me…I read about things like Michael Phelps. But I always feel like I’m the normal one, the normal kid that never was told by their coach that I have anything special…It was just the determination and sacrifice that I had, all the way from when I was in elementary school.”
The advice that The Old Dragon Sage gave to The Littlest Dragon, to ignore the bulling and it will usually go away, is an important approach to this type of situation. The harassment in this story was more like mean teasing and not as severe as some of the hurtful things that happens in our Nation’s schools each day.
After The Old Dragon Sage encourages The Littlest Dragon to ignore the mean teasing he moves on to a more important part of his advise to the little guy. One of the most valuable aspects of our mental make up has to do with having a positive mental outlook about one’s self. That would be hard to do if The Littlest Dragon believed he was a nobody so The Old Dragon Sage begins a conversation about self esteem and his beliefs about himself.
As we grow up not only do we create an operating system that kept us safe during the formative years of our life, during this time we also accumulated a great number of beliefs about ourselves. One of the most common approaches of looking at these beliefs is to evaluate them as whether or not they are true or false. Unfortunately we can always find evidence that support a belief even if that belief isn’t true.
I’m not suggesting that truth is relative and you can make up your own reality and set of rules about life. To do so would be dangerously heading down a very slippery slope. The type of belief that I refer to has nothing to do with topics like, “is there a God?” “Is man basically good or bad?” etc. The beliefs I refer to are the ones that we hold to be true about ourselves, of those in relations to others and to the world.
Instead of looking at beliefs as whether they are true or false The Old Dragon Sage suggests that a better approach is to look at your beliefs about yourself as whether or not they are resourceful to you. Thinking that you’re insignificant, a looser, unlovable or a misfit doesn’t do anything but bring unhappiness. These types of beliefs should be discarded and replaced with ones that affirm uniqueness, success, talent and goodness.
I expect that some would feel that presenting this information to my target audience, 8 to 12 year olds might be a bit too soon, perhaps, but one of the driving forces behind this project is that I didn’t encounter the 12 Great Riches of Life or positive life coaching until much later in life. The question “Why I was unaware of these insights” turned into “What can I do to interject this way of thinking to the youth of our society,” hence The Littlest Dragon and the Princess.
There seems to be numerous items in the news each week about the trials our young go through at school. One of the most disturbing is when an unfortunate youngster is picked on, worst still when they are bullied. In this story The Littlest Dragon is teased about his height because he is about the size of a chipmunk and most of the other dragons were as big as horses.
Dragons in this society were supposed to be symbols of power and respect and like many different societies that lived in this area size mattered. If you were big you seemed more important than others.
During the first year of The Littlest Dragon’s schooling some of the other dragons in his class begin to tease him about how small he is, they even try to convince him that he is so small that he is a nobody. At the end of a rather grueling week instead of going home he retreats to the high mountaintops to be by himself and think. It is in this area that he encounters one of the oldest dragons he has ever seen. He is about the size of a dog.
The Old Dragon Sage listens patiently about how the other classmates have teased The Littlest Dragon. He then gives him advise about how to create a situation that would reduce the amount of teasing and bulling.
Most of the classroom teasing and bulling is decreased if the individual being bullies doesn’t respond. The more kids see that their target is uncomfortable and bothered with the verbal assaults the more they continue but if the target doesn’t react the bullies soon move on to other classmates who will become upset with the mean teasing.
I have the utmost respect for Eoin Colfer, the author of the very successful series of children books Artemis Fowl. In these books the precocious and very intelligent young boy, Artemis Fowl II, attempts to regain his family’s fortune by researching clues on the Internet. He is a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind who helped in his quest by Domovoi Butler a huge Eurasian manservant bodyguard. I can see why this story and Artemis would entrance many young boys because they adore the antics of this preteen James Bond.
Sadly the very few preteens have the skills and aptitudes of a character like Artemis Fowl and when they are confronted with the normal issues and problems when growing up they need direction and good advise. It was my goal to create a character that was normal, perhaps even challenged in some areas to serve as an example to school age kids of how deal with adversity.
The research that dealt with Chinese dragon mythology revealed that these beneficial dragons could vary in size from as small as a chipmunk to as large as a school bus. Because our society usually makes such a big thing about the importance of being big I choose to have my young hero be the smallest that had ever been born. I also felt that if his character was based on goodness and perseverance his actions could serve as a role model for the youth of today. His main strength was that “He was able to stay focused on a task or problem for a long time and eventually always found a solution.” Because he wasn’t gifted and had to work hard to learn a lesson he developed a strong self-discipline.
Self-discipline is one of Napoleon Hill’s Great Riches of Life and usually it is the ninth one listed but I feel that it is one of the most important. Even though we have the intelligence and skills to achieve we can fail if we never get started achieving our goals. Whether it is the objective of being physically fit, at peace with our relatives or giving attention to the other twelve riches of life self-discipline is needed to attain that goal.