Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Apples and oranges and kumquats, oh my!

I’ve been struck several times this week by the propensity to draw invalid comparisons, everything from Cars2 versus Hangover II – really, do these movies have anything in common other than being sequels? – to an incident closer to home, Myrtle Beach versus Yellow Springs.

Perennial mapmaker Rand McNally is running a Best of the Road contest with categories ranging from Most Beautiful to Friendliest to Most Patriotic. Initial public votes narrowed the community nominations to six in each category before teams of travelers were sent out to visit the sites and report back.

Lovely Yellow Springs, our new home, is a finalist in the Most Fun category. We’re up against Glenwood Springs, Colorado; Park City, Utah; Vacaville, California; Santa Clause, Indiana; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’m not familiar with many of those places, but putting tiny quaint Yellow Springs up against touristy Myrtle Beach does a disservice to both locations. Fun, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Myrtle Beach offers golf, beaches, water parks, malls, golf, outlet shopping, golf, and did I mention beaches? Such frenetic activity draws a certain kind of visitor and I’m sure it’s a wonderful spot for the sports-minded.

Ah, but Yellow Springs is for downtime, for free-trade coffee at Dino’s or tea and vegan Twinkies at Brother Bears. Lively street conversations with thoughtful people who care about important, and not so important, matters. Wine tasting and live music at the Emporium. Dining al fresco at Peaches or Ye Olde Trail Tavern. Dancing in the streets when you least expect it. Art galleries and artisan shops from pottery to jewelry to fabric design. Buskers of all sorts. Friendly folks. Leisurely hiking at Glen Helen Nature Preserve, biking the Little Miami Trail, or just strolling the beautiful tree-lined streets, enjoying the fabulous gardens and homesteads which dot the town.

How can our intrepid judges, TravelingJules and TravelingJoan, be expected to compare two such diverse locations?

And as always, my thoughts return to writing. As a writers friend pointed out in her blog bemoaning the comments she received on a 250-word contest entry, “…many of those responding neither read nor write in the genre of my story… Some things are genre specific, what might work in one genre, may very well be the undoing in another.” How can readers objectively compare chick lit and sci-fi? Fantasy and cozy mysteries?

The simple answer is, they can’t, any more than Yellow Springs can stand up against Myrtle Beach. A story can be judged on its tone, character development, continuity, narratives, and mechanics. But comparisons? “To compare is not to prove,” says an old proverb. Often based on a false dichotomy, comparisons divide, set friend against friend, brother against brother, and writer against writer.

I need to remember that the next time I read of an author simultaneously churning out titles in three different series while I struggle with juggling a novel, an essay, and a short story or two.

I hope TravelingJules and TravelingJoan remember that as well, and enjoy Yellow Springs to its fullest without the added burden of unequal comparisons.


  1. We are all individuals, and as such, cannot fairly compare ourselves to others. Some people find a cookie cutter that works, plug in details an you have a new story in a series. Do you really want to be a cookie cutter writer? I surely don't. Nor do I write to be published, I write with the hope that it might one day come to be. You are a gifted writer, remember that.


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