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Yesterday I read this three-part Pulitzer Award-winning article about Nicholas Volker, a then-five-year-old Wisconsin boy suffering from an extremely rare, extremely serious disease, and how the race to save his life lead to the first-ever sequencing of a patient's entire genome. Well actually 1% of it, the exons that are responsible for producing proteins. I encourage you to load the article up on the mobile device of your choice, it's quite a read.

I'm sharing it on my fandom blog because of a tidbit in Part 3 about how Nic, bald from chemotherapy and having spent over 600 days in the hospital, drew strength from the character Aang, a bald boy who battles powerful enemies. His mom played "Aang's Theme" while Nic was being injected with umbilical cord fluid. (Which seems to be a safer form of bone marrow transplant--man, I've got to remember to save mine if I ever give birth.) Nic, also a Batman fan, said he would go into the treatment as Batman and emerge as Aang. I... totally teared up at that, to tell the truth.

The only fly in this ointment is that Nic's Aang was the movie version, but it's heartwarming to know that this sick little kid was encouraged by such a great character. Now that he appears to be healthy--knock on wood--and turns seven soon, I hope Nic gets to see the original animation and enjoy his hero in a whole lot more depth.

One in a Billion: A Boy’s Life, a Medical Mystery: Part 1: A Baffling Illness
One in a Billion: A Boy’s Life, a Medical Mystery: Part 2: Sifting Through the DNA Haystack
One in a Billion: A Boy’s Life, a Medical Mystery: Part 3: Gene Insights Lead to a Risky Treatment
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In Part 1 of this essay I have discussed the contours and contradictions of Air Nomad culture and how it influenced Aang and other air Nomad characters. Now I continue with a more in-depth discussion of their cultural values through Aang's story.

Returning was the just the beginning of Aang's journey for the meaning of freedom. Also, Star Wars! )
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Culture in Avatar: The Last Airbender Series:
1. What It Is to Be Free: Aang and the Spirituality of the Air Nomads
2. We Can Do This, Together: Community and Change in the Water Tribes
3. Stand Strong, Stand Proud: Earth Kingdom Resilience and Identity
4. Burn for My Belief: The Fire Nation and the Courage of Conviction
5. Subcultures and Conclusion

My account of Air Nomad culture is basically a story of one character, Aang. We know of others such as Monk Gyatso, Avatar Yang Chen, and other monks in flashback scenes from "The Storm," but as far as we know Aang is the last of the Air Nomads. His struggles to find the meaning of freedom and spirituality, while an individual story, is also about the culture he was raised in, its values, perspectives, and flaws. In a very real sense, his culture lives on through him.

In this essay I'll examine the idea of freedom. And Star Wars comes into it somehow. )
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Since things keep slipping my mind, I thought I'd make a list. This way hopefully I'll be shamed into writing. :)


Shadow of the Dragon King - My mega-long political drama leading up to the ill-fated war meeting and Zuko's exile. So seriously procrastinating on this; will start editing the newest chapter today for upload.

Everybody Loves Ty Lee - A series of short stories that all involve Ty Lee. This is my "break fic," the one that's my go-to when I want to get away from writing other stuff, but of course I'm procrastinating on this, too. Sigh.


King and Lord (working title) - Inspired by FairLadyZ2005's story Kings' Crossing, I want to expand the parallels between Zuko and Kuei into a short three-parter. I need to research the symptoms of PTSD and Qing palace ceremonies for this one.

To Steal a Bride - Inspired by discussions with FLZ about a possible Iroh/Xian wedding story, since the two are married by the time of Iroh Meets His Match. (Incidentally, the "match" in the title is not his wife.) To Steal a Bride will be about Aang ritually bride-napping Katara. I posted the results of the research for this story on Eskimo bride capture here.

Scorned (working title) - This is about Mai breaking up with Zuko post-series. Inspired by a discussion with Kimberly T. about her story A Zutara is Worth a Thousand Words. I came to realize I can't really conceptualize Mai apart from Zuko and decided to remedy that. In some ways it explores the same theme as Amy Raine's Prisons of Choice, and revolves around Mai making a different choice. The Firelady in Scorned might or might not be Katara, but it won't matter since I'm not going to give her a name; a small act of karmic balance to all those Zutara stories where Mai is shipped out on a bus never to be seen again. :P
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I remembered hearing that the Inuits or Eskimos had a custom where the groom staged a fake abduction of the bride. As background research for a short story about Aang and Katara getting married, I wanted to see if there was any support for the existence of this practice, and evidently there is--I found several references to bride capture among the Inuits, though there were some doubts about the veracity of the account. I also found a set of writings by Danish explorer Peter Freuchen who spent time with the Greenland Eskimos (in the story "An Eskimo Takes a Bride") and it... was crazy. Absolutely bloody crazy, involving a wild, violent fight while the groom carried the bride off, and bodily injury mostly to the groom. I had to keep reminding myself that the bride was willing, because otherwise it would be the most disturbing thing ever. (Well actually the most disturbing story in the collection would be the one where Freuchen takes a young Eskimo girl as his bride... sigh.)

So my Aang/Katara story isn't going to be exactly like "An Eskimo Takes a Bride," since Katara's people aren't actual Inuits or Eskimos (overlapping but separate designations, or so I've read) and Aang would cut off his hand before he hit Katara. But the idea of a clueless and gentle Aang having to stage a kidnapping with an exasperated Katara guiding him, and Sokka coming to her "defense," is too entertaining to pass up. Oh, and the characters are all going to be grown up, of course. My image of them as grownups is shaped by an excellent piece of fanart called Who Knows What We May Become. (The 2006 date would explain why Zuko is in his Season 2 look and why the grown Zuko appears to be a wandering swordsman.) Maybe a little younger than that picture, but definitely more mature than in the show.

The idea of the bride's brothers trying to fight the groom off comes not from any account of Inuit or Eskimo practice but from Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff, an Arthurian novel in a gritty historical style. There's a scene there where Artos must carry off Guenhumara from the wedding feast for their first night while her relatives try to stop him. It was all a consensual arrangement, of course, but Artos notes that there is some genuine feeling in her brother's struggle to keep Guenhumara from riding away. I see this as a safe, ritual way for Sokka to deal with mixed feelings about his little sister getting married.

So yeah, the story,  tentatively titled To Steal a Bride, is going to be fun to write, and hopefully it'll help me get un-stuck with my main novel-length project Shadow of the Dragon King. Below the fold are excerpts from the kidnapping sequence from "An Eskimo Takes a Bride" for those who don't have time for the whole thing. A word of warning: It's pretty violent, and a possible trigger for trauma.

Insane excerpts from "An Eskimo Takes a Bride" )
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Romance Should Be Comforting: The "Comfort" View of Romance
Lust is easy. Love is hard. Like is most important.
- Carl Reiner
At San Diego Comic Con 2008, Avatar creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko aired a short film/slide show composed of mostly Zutaran fan art, poking fun at the the idea of Zutara and giving airtime to some other pairings, too. It was the joke short Avatar Book 4: Air, Chapter 1: Forbidden Love, and if you have not seen the epic awesomeness that is the video then you must. (Please be aware some of the pictures are a little racy and might not be safe for work. Also, if you have your sound up, it's very noisy!) 
I was particularly intrigued when Sokka showed up and basically said that Zutarans are doomed to failed relationships. )
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In Part 1 of this essay on Avatar: The Last Airbender as a political story, I discussed attempts to resolve the crisis of a worldwide war unilaterally, from the Earth Kingdom side. In that part and Part 2 I talked about the reasons why the attempt failed, and indeed that maybe it was best that it failed--because the solution had to come from inside the Fire Nation. Until a viable alternative rulership presented itself, outside intervention might have done more harm than good. Then I said that such an alternative existed in the Fire Nation due to the history of anti-war dissent starting from Roku onwards, and that the internal movement to end the war found its focus and leadership with Prince Zuko, both Sozin's and Roku's descendant, finding his conscience and his destiny.
So all the pieces are in place, and the goal is clear: Zuko would become the new Firelord, replacing his father and vanquishing his sister. He would then end the war and bring peace. His uncle and his Order of the White Lotus cohorts would retake the city of Ba Sing Se, something crucial to stabilizing Zuko's rule. Dissidents to the new Firelord holed up in the world's greatest fortress would be a headache and a nightmare for Zuko, and risked splitting his nation apart. And most crucially, the Avatar Aang would neutralize the current Firelord Ozai.
Reasons I Love Avatar 4, Part 3 (in which we ponder kinslaying for fun and profit) )


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L.J. Lee

June 2016

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