I learned about NaNoWriMo from a 7th grade girl in 2001. It was my first year working in edtech, my first year working with kids in any capacity, but by the end of November Fiona was already a fixture in the computer lab. I expected to see her sprawled out in front of an iMac with dozens of loose papers. What made me ask about her novel, and led to hearing the details of her third NaNoWriMo was that, completely out of character, she was using Word.
Up to that point in mid-Novemeber, the majority of her computer time was spent in a web based IRC client, where she schemed, plotted and gossiped her way through an Edwardian-era Potter MUSH (The major rules were “No Dumbledore, No Voldemort, Yes fancy hats.”) Compared to her work running herd over House Slytherin circa 1906, NaNoWriMo represented a slight decline in her strict WPM output. The MUSH not only required long bouts of in-character play, but huge swaths of game-fiction that established landmark events for the community, or dove deep into specific characters and side stories.
The back half of that story, the school half, is barely worth telling. Not a scrap of her writing from her NaNoWriMo novels or from the Potterverse MUSH ever showed up in English class. She was always the “bright girl” who continually disappointed teachers.
Which is all elaborate backstory for why November makes me prickly about issues of “frivolity” and “seriousness” in student’s reading, writing and learning. Heaven help anyone who speaks ill of fanfic in my presence. Not you, of course. You’re sensible. But that other English teacher who’s coming over to visit, the one who uses “the canon” without finger quotes. Maybe give him a heads up before I tweak his stupid nose right into Earth–1228
On the way to the car on this blustery morning, Annika squealed that the wind “means the pegasi are flying new weather to us!” I saw a chance for nerd-dad mischief. “Are you sure it’s not the CatBus passing by?” Annika was not phased. “No, Dada. The CatBus taught the pegasi how to move weather, just like the badgermoles taught the earthbenders.”
We use Python libraries to interact with an API that manipulates the substance of a Minecraft world. We use fantasy, history and mythology as a framework for new stories, running in harmony, counterpoint or bracingly out of phase. Even when cupped in the hands of giants, the act of creation is our own.