I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with my good brainiac friends, and it’s been helpful – to helping me sleep better at night, and to actually work smarter in finishing my revision (Oh, yes – I am still working, and the deadline HAS MOVED UP, even. But, I digress.)
I find that when I’m stressed, the more brains I have with mine, the better. Also, the more books, so I can disappear into a place with only maybe werewolves and vampires to fight. Something more manageable and concrete than institutional, systemic racism, anyway.
Not every conversation with my brainiac friends has been easy – we’ve all got to get past our own biases to actually converse with intelligence and understanding. I’ve had people say, in essence, “well, what is it you people want?” And when I’ve cocked a querying brow, they backtrack and say, “Okay – what I meant to say was, “what can we work together collectively to achieve?” Sometimes, we’ve all had to think, It’s a good thing I love you guys. Not everyone has this luxury – to stop and remember that we’re all friends.
Sometimes, our relationships don’t survive our truths.
So, as a note to my friends who are of the dominant culture: please don’t feel like I’m attacking you when I talk about recent racial incidents, when I talk about identity and privilege. Please don’t feel like just because I object to, for instance, the Huron Carol, and say that the English translation of the original Wyandot-language carol (itself written by a French Canadian priest in 1643, not a person of the Wyandot tribe), as “translated” by a Canadian is problematic, that I’m seeing all white people and all missionaries as bad. Please don’t flinch when I say that I feel conflicted wearing the tiny silver police badge necklace my uncle left me – because it’s positive associations with the police, not with white people, with which I am struggling – I don’t want to hurt anyone by wearing something that maybe symbolizes… something it should never have symbolized, which is absolute power.
My point? Please don’t jump to conclusions. We should walk and look at holiday lights for exercise instead.
One of my smarter librarian/ educator friends passed along this quote:
“That the myths of the Protestant Work Ethic, and mythic identity racism, are embedded in the American power structure does not make them less religious in nature or origin, simply more troubling, because they have been used for all time to abuse those not wanted in that power structure…..[they] have been carried forward for almost four centuries because they made those born to wealth and power feel good about themselves. How much better to describe your ancestors as having struggled alone against a brutal wilderness and wild savages than saying that your ancestors were “illegal immigrants” who stole a remarkably resource-rich continent from its inhabitants. How much better to embrace Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Theory” (see Turner, Frontier) than to worry about slaves and underpaid immigrants who built the early national roads, dug the Erie Canal, and built the railroads. How much better to celebrate “American Invention” than to discuss the wholesale intellectual property theft – ranging from woolen mills to those railroads to the telephone debuting across those 1876 fairgrounds – which had enriched the American Republic’s first hundred years. …. Myth matters in the struggle for power. And understanding mythic belief matters even more. And as I have said on more than one occasion, education is the most political thing a society does because it is a struggle for our future.” – by Ira Socol, Taking A Closer Look at the Grit Narratives, Knowledge Quest, v43 n1 p8-12 Sep-Oct 2014.
This was a response to Paul Tough’s book – How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, which has gotten a LOT of press in the education sector, so much so that even I, who haven’t taught for years, have heard about it. I’m grateful that people are thinking about it, and thinking about the impact of the way we think about each other. My smart friend says that one of the best things we can do for each other now is to begin to create new myths and new ways of understanding our past, and creating our future.
Writers are creators. We are the myth-makers. This gives me so much to consider… and I will, once my deadline is no longer prodding me in the backside. Back to work with me.
By now, you’ve run across the illustration found the other day in Buzzfeed on privilege, and man, it’s a good one. Hands on, three-dimensional illustrations for esoteric sociological concepts are THE BEST thing to help people understand concepts, as the great and marvelous Lady Jane Elliott taught all of us ages ago. I love the work that went into this one. But, may I suggest it go one step further? Privilege is when the kids at the back of the room gets only one shot at the recycling bin. The kids in front of them get five shots.
By now, you’ve run across the illustration found the other day in Buzzfeed on privilege, and man, it’s a good one. Hands on, three-dimensional illustrations for esoteric sociological concepts are THE BEST thing to help people understand concepts, as the great and marvelous Lady Jane Elliott taught all of us ages ago. I love the work that went into this one.
But, may I suggest it go one step further?
Privilege is when the kids at the back of the room gets only one shot at the recycling bin. The kids in front of them get five shots.
My writing group tries to take a week every other month or so for craft, and we find articles to read and discuss which touch on vital issues in children’s literature. Some months present easier topics than others, as things in the news catch our attention. This past month, mere days before the Woodson’s National Book Award win and subsequent brilliant acceptance speech, we talked about sizeism in YA lit. We mostly confined our commentary to young adult novels, but there’s really a dearth of representation in middle grade novels as well. We remembered novels from the eighties with fat protagonists and looked at their covers – and looked at their cover updates and noted how the cover girls have grown smaller, smaller, still smaller some only bodies, some headless, some so very distant from the camera and blurred…
Recently, writer and Hamline professor Anne Ursu saw a book, and she wrote about it. I’m glad I didn’t see that book; I might have bought all the bookstore had, and then thrown them away. Or, possibly found someone at whom to throw them. I see things like this, and I want to hold someone responsible.
This self-flagellation ritual, the “I’m fat” kabuki, the ceremonial public confession of sin—passed on from woman to woman, mother to daughter, friend-to-friend, forever and ever—shaming themselves, yes, and teaching everyone around them they should be ashamed, too.
What they might not know is the person next to them is sick—that the words they use warp into nourishment for a dormant eating disorder. What they might not know is they’re teaching the girls who listen to hate their bodies.
Your daughters are listening.
And maybe we can’t help ourselves anymore. Maybe it’s ingrained too deeply. But maybe we can help our kids.
Read her whole piece, here.
Meanwhile, one of my favorite and fab-shoe wearing librarians, Hannah, is thinking deeply about some of the tiny but significant holes in our plot about the diverse books thing… yeah. What happens if you make a lot of noise, get people talking all over America, gain traction with a movement, but fail to move the moneymen? I think I’d like to know what WNDB the nonprofit will do to change the mind of publishers, especially now that they have seventy-four thousand dollars over their stated $100k fundraising goal… and have ten days left before the Indiegogo closes. They’ve talked about how they plan to get books into communities… I’m interested to know more of their plans. WNDB is good, but there needs to be more…
“Atticus–” said Jem bleakly.
He turned in the doorway. “What, son?”
“How could they do it, how could they?”
“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — seems that only children weep.”
— To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Hat tip to Seren from Monology.
Hat tip to Seren from Monology.
November 20, 2014
Dear Mr. Handler:
I remember the last two National Book Award books I’ve read – the Gene Yang and the Sherman Alexie books both blew me away, so I know BROWN GIRL DREAMING must be STUPENDOUS. So soon after Ms. Woodson’s words during the We Need Diverse Books debacle, this award is a real triumph. I am SO pleased for Jacqueline Woodson! These are my thoughts today, while you’re beating yourself up at home, probably wishing to God that you had never seen a green-and-white striped melon, much less told an allergy joke, expressed lighthearted dismay about not being eligible for the CSK Award, or made light of racial profiling. Today you are possibly feeling a little like the Paula Deen of the kidlitosphere.
Dear Mr. Handler, thank you for acknowledging that you spoke with your mouth full of privilege, and with your eyes blinded by it. Thank you for understanding the extent to which you had erred, and thank you for your apology. I am writing to remind you that the best apologies on earth are non erbis sed operis; not words, but deeds. You made a solid and humble apology – acknowledging what you did, not blaming anyone else or excusing yourself. But, the very best apologies make restitution. Here’s what I’d like to suggest:
First, buy Ms. Woodson a case of high-end champagne or whatever non-alcoholic fancy bottled drink of her choosing. Raise a silent glass to her well-deserved award for sharing such a personal and touching story, and applaud again the National Book Foundation’s good taste in awarding her this honor.
Next, buy half a print run of BROWN GIRL DREAMING. Take it in your mittened hands, and walk it around frigid New York. Press it into the warm palms of school children in large suburban schools. Press it into the hands of middle-aged shoppers at the Mall. Press it into the hands of elderly people coming out of church. Fly to a different state. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Finally, in silence, allow the furor to die. Don’t speak. Let your acknowledgement of your error be your last words to the Outrage Machine that is Twitter on this subject. By your silence, you can assist in directing the attention back to Jacqueline Woodson where it rightfully belongs. The social media world is a vicious critic, quick to indict, quick to a blood frenzy – and you may feel this sting for awhile, but lifting up someone else has always been the best way to mitigate the effects of negativity. Using your influence, your money and your time to boost this talented and lovely author is honestly the least – and the best – you can do.
And, know that this too shall pass.
Still a fan,
EDITED TO ADD
As a postscript, I want to respond to the idea of “permission racism:”
I’d previously suggested that Mr. Handler put his head down, close his mouth up, and Do Better. Doing Better may eventually mean an explanation — but how about at a We Need Diverse Books event, and not on Twitter? Perhaps at a public event, in person, he can say why he thought his remarks were funny/edgy, and why he now knows that he’s wrong and what he’s going to do with his newfound understanding. That would be a powerful step in further opening the door on dialogue about race in publishing.
His fund matching to me isn’t giving him permission to be racist after the fact. A part of a good apology is to own what you did, and the final piece is to take steps to make restitution. He can’t restore the whole night – we don’t time travel yet, and he’s not hardly a god – but I think he’s doing so much more than many others would in his position. Which is maybe faint praise, but it’s what I’ve got. For me, this is about US as kidlitosphere people. I don’t want us to be vicious. I don’t want Daniel Handler to be the Paula Deen of the kidlitosphere… I really don’t. And I think we shouldn’t let the Outrage Machine of Twitter goad us into asking him to do unrealistic, ridiculous mea culpas through his whole life, and still act like there is NO forgiveness for him, at any point, at any date, EVER, because Racist! and Let’s Get Him! Here is a truth: EVERYONE has perceptions and biases and comprehensions that are less than ideal. I don’t at all like the concept that “everyone’s a little bit racist,” but I certainly will concede that everyone speaks poorly from privilege at times, from bias, from mistaken attempts at humor and relating that fall painfully flat, or edge toward disrespectful and stupid. We need to be as gracious to him as we would want others to be to ourselves. Seriously.
So many choices of what to freak out about first! So little time!
♦ I would like the toilets in my house to stop backing up. Just… stop. There’s no reason for it, despite the 1948 sewer and pipes. We’ve poured gallons of stuff down it, we’ve gotten it professionally roto-ed, so it needs to just STOP. Surely tree roots couldn’t have grown back again in a year (she says, ignoring how trees grow). I blame the ivy, which we tried to dig out of the garden last year, and it’s coming back and taking us all over. Anyway, the toilets need to just stop mucking about and clear up. We have guests coming for Thanksgiving who aren’t related to us, and so of COURSE the stupid system chooses NOW to back up and make me crazy. *claws the rug* Hiss.
♦ I would like bad news or scary news or worrisome news to take a chill. This past week, one family member had news of maybe cancer, another of maybe organ failure, a third an unknown diagnosis, which should make being thankful around the table – with unrelated guests, mind – especially uncomplicated. This is not to mention a chronically ill friend who is going to try to drop over for thirty minutes – her recent leaving-the-house limit. Good grief. Sometimes… clawing and hissing don’t seem to be enough. I think I need a caterwaul.
♦ I would like to have been smarter than to say “Yeah, sure,” to the myriad things I have, which all seem to have come home to roost within five minutes of each other. Of course this is the year that I get dragged into organizing all the holiday programs for church. So, the weekend before Thanksgiving is a Thing, and the weekend after is rehearsing for Handel (and then off to sing w/ the SF Symphony Chorus Community of Music Makers the following day… because fun, right? Hours of rehearsal was something which I signed up for and thought this will be AMAZING with the chorus and all, but which now seems stressful and time consuming. Which is horrible. I mean, we’re singing the second and third movements of Brahms’ Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen? [it’s based on the Writings of Job] and How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place and traditional Finnish carols [in English], so what’s not to like? But right this second, it all seems like too much effort. I’m disappointed in myself), and then A Thing the weekend following, and then the Handel’s, and then… Cybils judging. Yeah. I am accepting ZERO social invitations in December, just fair warning to anyone. I really feel like I’m unable to focus enough to do anything amazing with this revision, and time… so not my friend right now. *fur explodes all over* Hiss.
♦ I would like to not be thinking of all of this when I am supposed to be diligently working on my revisions, for which I have forty days (and this is counting weekends, because eventually I may have to work then) left. JUST OVER A MONTH TO COPYEDITING, PEOPLE. Crapweasels. I am feeling just the tiniest bit… fraught. *madly sharpens claws*
WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN AS I’D LIKE?
Nothing, of course. What, you thought we had some control over the universe???? HAH. Like a cat tossed from a window, I just have to twist in the wind like everyone else – and pray I land on my feet.
Meanwhile, Cool Things Seen Today:
The People of the Book, yo. The best Bat Mitzvah evah.
Superheroes totally make more sense in 17th century times. No, they do.
Now my writing group is getting iconic votives… Best. Idea. Ever.
Children’s Book Week posters from 1919… for sale!!!! In various forms.
Finally, three words, word nerds: Worldwide. Free. Shipping.
Well, goodbye all, it’s been fun… but I’ve got to stop gadflying about and finish this thing called Novel.
Drat, I was so hoping I could finish my current Wreck In Progress before putting it on the back burner for the revising. I’ve been expecting this since September, so it’s been a nice long – unexpectedly long, thank-you, early arriving Editor’s Baby – break from the P&C manuscript, and I’m hopeful that this means I can approach it anew with fresh eyes.
Right now, all I’m feeling is OVERWHELMED eyes. The notes are so polite, and they’re only five pages long, but – oy. Is it really a snarled skein of crap like it sounds? Ugh. Why wasn’t I born good at subtle nuance in detail? Why do my characters suffer from persistent – and apparently unbelievable – innocence? How do I keep creating frustrating fake outs and muddled conclusions? And, why is writing such a BIG. HARD. STRUGGLE EVERY. SINGLE. TIME?
Seems like you and I have had this conversation before.
Welp, it seems I’ve inadvertently entered NaNoFiMo. I’m only eight days late. Yay, me.
Once more into the breach, dear friends,
See you in January.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil,” Aphorism 146 (1886)
All There is to Know About Adolph Eichmann
~ by Leonard Cohen
NUMBER OF FINGERS:…………………Ten
NUMBER OF TOES………………………Ten
What did you expect?