I don’t want my characters to serve as symbols. I want them to feel like people. I want them to feel like you, and your family, and your friends, and your enemies. And I don’t want them to feel real ‘in spite of’ their challenges. I want those challenges to be part of what makes them real.
After all, they’re part of what makes us real.
Here’s the thing about fiction. It’s one of the ways we understand the world. We tell ourselves stories to work out who we are, and to make sense of reality. Stories are incredibly powerful – and incredibly dangerous. By making things up you can tell the truth; or you can create, perpetuate and reinforce a lie. Simplistic, tokenistic ‘uses’ of disability in fiction – as though it’s a thing to be ‘used’ and not an intrinsic facet of the human condition – are a way of not telling the truth. And by not telling ourselves the truth in our stories, we make it easier to avoid the truth in our daily lives.
The truth is, every one of us is differently abled. Every single one.”
We need diverse books, because…
…too often, our idea of attractiveness tends to be a straight, pale line: Eurocentric, able-bodied, waif-bodied, gendernormative, conformist. Diverse books remind us that our stories are varicolored, many shaped, multi-shaded and arc in bright leaps along a non-conformist spectrum. Beauty – Adventure – and best of all, Love – is where you find it. ♥
So, diversity. Suddenly everybody’s talking about it. What’s it for? Why do we need diverse books? That, friends, is the question the crew at #WeNeedDiverseBooks wants YOU to answer.
Make Noise: TODAY at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.
For the visual part of the campaign:
♦ Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.
♦ The photo – family friendly, of course – can be of you, your buds, your stuffed animals, your Barbies, your local library or fave bookstore – and should say clearly WHY you support diversity in kids’ lit. Even a photo of the sign without you will work.
♦ Make Art: There will be a Tumblr at We Need Diverse Books Dot Tumblr Dot Com that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to email@example.com with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on the Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.
♦ Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be our job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever we think will help get the word out. (Have you checked it yet? Some good discussion is already going.)
♦ From 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. It is hoped that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets. This could be big!
♦ The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long the discussion keeps going, so all are welcome to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.
On May 2nd, the second part of the campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.
On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of the campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!
Everybody’s talking about diversity… but is there anything we can really do about it? Let’s find out. Make some noise – so that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. Raise your voice – so that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important – and why. We hope you will help spread the word by being a part of this movement.
So, that brings us back to the question…
Why do you need diverse books?
“Things to do today:
1) Breathe in.
2) Breathe out.”
– Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
A few hours ago I learned of the death of author Ned Vizzini, and I couldn’t remember the user name or password for my own blog for over an hour, which gives you some insight into my state of my mind, especially considering that my user name and passwords are at least half a variation of my own name.
I remain surprised at the profound stupidity of grief.
Blogger (at the time) Alkelda from Saints & Spinners “introduced” me to Ned Vizzini, and over the years we emailed a bit back and forth, talking about books, his, and other people’s. He was a genuinely nice person, always interested in what I had to say – which, admittedly, was usually gushy – and invariably kind to me, and kind about other writers. For my own sake, I will miss that he exists. For the sake of those readers who struggle with depression and who, like me, clutched IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY like a spot-on, pitch-perfect lifeline, I feel with us and for us, an inexpressible loss.
I am gutted. Just sick.
To Know the Dark
“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”
- Wendell Berry
from “To Know the Dark”, Farming: A Handbook, (Harcourt Brace, 1970)
We speak, this time of year, about joy, but those of us who are mental sometimes have to talk about the fact that you can only have sparkles of light against darkness. We celebrate the return of Sol Invictus against the backdrop of what feels like it could be endless, eternal night.
We found a reason to celebrate the longest night, the darkest time of the year. The birthday of the Invincible Sun. Christmas. Yule. We manufactured celebration, when we were in the dark, because human beings are nothing if not resourceful. We chose our celebration. Every day that we get out of bed, those who suffer from depression, in this small way, we choose to manufacture a tiny celebration again.
Until it becomes somewhat of a habit. Until the light returns.
It matters. We matter. We do. Despite what our brains might be saying.
When we feel we are most helpless, let us reach with both hands to help someone else.
And, if you can, move.
On NPR Krista Tippet does a lovely job with a show called “On Being,” and I tell you, I come up with something new every time I listen. This poem came from a years-ago meme, was passed from blog to blog, hand to hand, but I refuse to forget it, utterly refuse.
It is how I want to be – happy, in myself.
Happy in my head.
by Tanya Davis ©2009, all rights reserved
Today, be happy…
by Tanya Davis ©2009, all rights reserved
Time again for a favorite poem…
I honestly do not always love a meme, and I don’t often forward things that other people are blogging or tweeting or passing around, simply because there’s a contrariness within me, and if I’ve seen it once — you’ve seen it four times by now. This piece of wonder went ’round the blogosphere months and months back, but I honestly think it’s worth repeating. Frequently. And to go with it, this semi tongue-in-cheek piece on introversion from The Atlantic, which also bears repeating.
Walk away from the crowd of people around you, and listen to your head.
People who know me know that I am a Serious Choral Person. Other musicians who have heard me laugh hard have commented that I am indeed a singer. (Apparently one’s vocal register(s) are apparent if one has a good laugh. Beware of joke-cracking musicians; they’re making you audition.) For the last five years, chorus music has been a weekly part of my life, and before that (with a pause of a few years), I sang seriously in college and in high school, with the idea that I might someday want to do so professionally. That didn’t come to pass, but I found myself not disappointed, for music remains within reach.
Scotland is a country of choristers, so I am in very good company indeed. Nearly every little village or hamlet has its own singers; every city its choir, every university its community-supported chorus.
Mary’s score is open to Vaughan Williams’ To The Unknown Region (based on a poem by Walt Whitman), a song of amazing complexity and gorgeousness.
Sure, I’ve had bad experiences in choruses with nasty directors and stressful performances – but those are rare. Despite the lingering terror of the audition (oy), for the last two years I’ve had the joy of singing with the city chorus in Glasgow, and I have met some of the most wonderfully odd, insane, ridiculous, friendly, and talented people from their early twenties to their late sixties…with an emphasis on “insane.” We laugh a lot, in our chorus. And when it is cold and dark, we sing aloud for a couple of hours with friends, and rediscover our humanity… and our endorphins.
And, okay, yes: I whine about our chorus outfits – but The Blouse of Purple Hideousness is not that bad. (Hey, it might be short and polyester, but it’s not sequined.) We whinge about standing through a two-hour performance, and complain that “we got that note! It was the basses who threw us off!” but really – who cares whose fault it was? We’ll do it again, work our bums off, until we get it right. We silently stick out our tongues at our director when he berates us for missing an entrance – and then we sing it over again, and come in right on time. We watch the orchestra – distracted by that amazing girl in the brass! – and listen in amazement to the cellists. Whether we’re resurrecting Queen anthems, doing a spot of silliness from Grease or singing the choruses from The Lion King we have fun. And when we sing, we. make. magic.
Music is a gift. Singing with a mass chorus is sparkly wrapping paper, curled ribbons, and a glittery cherry on top.
For the grace of a song in the dark, for the great chords of sacred oratorio reverberating through my mind as I lay wakeful, from the shuffle-side-step-shimmy-bop of ridiculous of 40’s-50’s romantic odes and beach do-wop, to 60’s dance tunes, 80’s anthems, to handbanging metal and grunge, blood-firing gospel, serene flutes and sitars and the swooping romance of Saint-Saëns, I am indeed grateful.
A group of artistic types – Amanda Palmer, her husband, Neil Gaiman, Ben Fold, and OK Go’s Damian Kulash got together at the end of April to write eight songs in eight hours – just to see if they could. (You can listen to the whole record streaming on Amanda’s webpage.) As often happens with random Creative Commons released projects, other artists have put their own creative spin on 8in8, as it’s called. From Neil’s quirky Englishness shining through in The Trouble With Saints to the horribly funny and heartbreaking Because the Origami, this project has just blown me away. This pictorial rendering of 8in8’s song, I’ll Be My Mirror is my favorite by far — it’s a brief musical poem, but the words are too, too true.
“…there’s a fraction of a brain cell that makes us what we are
one false move, you’re in the mirror,
from the car.
Mom used to say this little phrase, “There, but for the grace of God go I.” It’s true, isn’t it? For all of us who fear shouting in mirrors, to all of us, afraid in the car, we are all people, and all fearful. That is what we hold in common. That is what I will remember, when next I see a random, wandering homeless person, talking to themselves: there but for the grace of God…
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
“Oh!” said Pooh. He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”
– Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne
Poor Eeyore. His conversation with Pooh just illustrates the weird conversations a depressed person can have with those who don’t get us. (Of course, Eeyore is being somewhat cryptic, but still.) Tons of people love Eeyore, though, despite his habit of seeing the absolute worst in everything, from thistles to aggressively sanguine tigers. He’s moody, grumpy, and generally a melancholy downer — yet the pink ribbon on his tail reminds us that he doesn’t see himself as depressed. Sometimes there are within him flashes of joy.
Today, the character of Eeyore is 140 years old – probably feeling creaky-old and somewhat down, but he’s still my favorite character in the Hundred Acre Wood, after the timid and tongued-tied Roo. But the question of why we actually like what is essentially a depressive donkey is explored today on the Guardian Books Blog. Says the author, “But the key thing that makes Eeyore a great character is that essential literary ingredient: conflict. Eeyore is profoundly conflicted. He craves love – indeed, he’s always lamenting his outsider status – but he struggles to give and receive it. When it’s offered to him, he puts out his hoof and waves it away.” Eeyore is all of us — every one of us, trying to keep our balance and our tails, in a wood populated by hyperactive tigers, bears of very little brain, annoyingly smart owls, and hideously callous and impatient rabbits.
My friend Shawn and I used to have amusing conversations about depression. I think it’s almost harder for guys to be depressed – girls are kind of expected to have at least monthly visits into bad moods, but when a guy is suffering from depression, it seems harder for people to understand. But, what is there to understand? A chemical imbalance in the brain throws a switch and says, “There. You’re sad now.” And that’s that. Some types of depression don’t have to be about anything. And those are the most frustrating kinds, when everything that’s actually wrong is magnified by five thousand percent. And at those times, the Eeyore among us really need our compassion and patience – and sometimes just our presence.
Today, in honor of Eeyore’s birthday, eat your thistles, hang onto your tails, and remember there’s room for all of us in the Hundred Acre Woods, even the loners who are depressive and grumpy. Love us anyway.
* Good food*
*Good gifts, from good friends.*
May you always eat your bran flakes with enjoyment — or chocolate, whichever is most easily available to you.
May you have friends which surprise you with a different way of looking at yourself — in this case, in felt and in stitches — thank you, Farida!
And may you walk with your head up, except in cases where looking down would net you a view of the beauty even beneath your feet. You might just be walking on sunshine. Or the floral result of sunshine, at least.
Take the time to think one positive thought today. More, if you can manage it. And pass on the gift.
Thank you, Ms. Shari Fesko and the Southfield Michigan teens at the library, for the love! In honor of you sharing the A LA CARTE foodie vibe, here’s our Café Lainey blue plate special of Bananas Foster and a fudge brownie for you!
If Lainey got her hands on this recipe, she’d redo the brownie to be one of those flourless chocolate cakes and probably only take a little ice cream… but… the Bananas Foster we can pretend is healthy. It’s fruit, right? So, that’s fair…
Thanks again for the note and the encouragement. Notes like yours make my day.