Be not dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.
It’s what we can’t do for each other.
What do we mean to each other?
What does a life mean?
Why are we here if not for each other?
– Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
Things inevitably need maintenance when you need them, thus the oil light went on the day before our last day of packing. We made time to pop over to our usual car shop, where Tech Boy spent so much time before our last car finally blew up and left this mortal coil. They know him well at Honda, so when a lady came out from behind the counter and enveloped me into a fierce, bony hug, I knew it was for his sake, and not my own.
As often happens after the initial greeting of, “I’ve heard so much about you!” the questions begin, as the person tries to measure the real me against what my husband has told them. He, meanwhile, abandoned me to see if he could make the car make that one clunk sound for the technician, and so the lady behind the desk started the inquisition. She asked, predictably, about how Tech Boy and I met, and what my parents thought (they didn’t blink); she shared she’s gay, and her father is homophobic. I talked about being the youngest, and then the middle sibling, about taking care of babies as a tween and teen. We talked about working various jobs. She asked if I had new books to suggest for her nieces, and wanted to know if I had sold anything new. I shared a bit of how my latest project is making the rounds, explaining that the industry is changing and becoming more inclusive. I shared how in some ways I feel that creates a new hesitancy on the part of editors and some writers, but that we’re all finding our feet in this larger world of new voices.
“It’s Obama’s fault,” she said.
Enter feather, knocking me over.
I made my best, “Mmm?” noise, because I just did not see that one coming.
“All this inclusive, political correctness. It’s his fault,” she repeated. “People started talking about race, and felt like they had to pick sides. And it’s not fair to the kids, you know? It’s not fair that it’s affecting you, your business. Children are pure. They don’t know anything about race, and they don’t care about getting stories from blacks or whites or anything.”
“Mmm!” I replied brightly.
Perhaps it was cowardly, but I decided that a dealership shop wasn’t the place to go into my theories of …well, anything, really, and with a woman whose name I hadn’t even caught, whose personal contradictions I couldn’t even begin to plumb? Nix, nein, nope, and thank you. But, I’ve thought of this woman’s egregious assumption often in the days since.
A lot of us assume that children are pure – mentally, I mean. Unsullied by the nastiness and selfishness of the human condition. I don’t know how we manage to forget that they are born professional narcissists and by year one display their amoral characters at will. They will clock you upside the head or attempt to kick/scratch/gum/bite you, should you come between them and their desired keys/toy/cell phone/Cheerio. They scream “MINE!” at the slightest provocation, even claiming ownership over things they’re nowhere near, not to mention don’t actually possess; they can be spiteful little beasts, between bouts of looking adorable and sleeping sweetly and enslaving us with their toothless smiles. They are generally dreadful until taught better, because they, like we all, are wee mammals and nothing more. Animals, until they learn humanity, in a way.
What Honda Lady was trying to convey, I believe, is the common belief that children are free from the bias and tribalism that taints adult interactions due to our having been raised within the constructs of institutionalized racism. But, she’s wrong there, too. Tricia’s recent blog recap of the conference on race she attended at the NMAAHC reminded me of this study conducted by CNN.
With 146 participants, I don’t think it was a big enough study, by any means, but it’s underscoring what other research on early childhood education centers have shown, that adult bias against children of color begins as early as preschool. Little wonder that children’s natural bias and tribalism comes through so young – monkeys see, monkeys do. Human beings begin to make judgments and gravitate toward those who are like us as early as six months…
They’re adorable, squeezable, and perfectly drool-y. They’re plotting, if not world domination, attention domination, and the ability to put everything into their mouths that they’d like, at any time. They’re clueless, but pure? Nope. Children are just… human animals, same as we adults. And, there’s no way you can spin that being the former president’s fault, either.
This week, I’ve been unable to read a book without crying all over it. I am reading a lot of middle grade books in preparation for imitating-my-betters and trying to write some this summer, and …wow.
If you read a certain kind of middle grade books (READ: Old School), there seem to be a lot of Adventures, a lot of Doing Things and running around here and there and maybe seeing a ghost or finding a witch (and discovering she isn’t one). It’s about misunderstandings and opportunities – and all those growing up things that you do. However, I don’t remember most of the middle grade books I read hitting me like this. There was a metric ton of historical fiction, all Arthurian and Eurocentric history, and then there were the classroom books – the DEAR MR. HENSHAW/Beezus-and-Ramona/ Judy Blume types of books, including stuff like THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT or THE GREAT BRAIN – zany, funny, weird, slice-of-life middle school. Add to that ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY and A BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and there you find books that are emotional, but in the accepted way of the-teacher-assigned-this-and-I-know-the-dog-dies (Yeah, and I’m looking at you, SOUNDER and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS). Betsy Byars’ SUMMER OF THE SWANS did hit me emotionally – but I mostly remember reading wonderingly about the little brother character in the book, because he was developmentally disabled, and we just didn’t see a lot of books about kids with differences. (Until high school, and then there was that one dude in GRAPES OF WRATH, and that other dude in FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, and don’t get me started on LORD OF THE FLIES or that bunch of books written by social workers, like A CHILD CALLED ‘IT’ which, honestly, what was THAT all about???)
I think if I’d read the books as a child which I’ve read this week, they would have been incredibly comforting to me. Perhaps rather than middle grade books being different these days, maybe the level of genuineness and frankness of writers is more acceptable now. Rita Williams-Garcia’s ONE CRAZY SUMMER trilogy set in 1960’s Oakland, Brooklyn and Alabama touch on themes like being responsible for siblings when you oughtn’t be, and the horrific unfairness of some adults. Shannon Hale’s REAL FRIENDS broke my heart with its depiction of anxiety and loneliness. There’s a silver lining, of course – bad times don’t last, but I think I was a kid who really needed to be reminded of that.
I haven’t quite connected the dots just yet as to how one becomes brave enough to put that much of themselves just out there, on the page, but I’m working at it. On this rainy June afternoon, it feels like it just might be within reach.
So, that’s me just now; how are you?
(Before I forget, birthday greetings to my eldest sister, who probably is not reading this, since she’s off work and sleeping in as she is every single birthday. No worries that she’s not going to party hearty. Anyway, many happy returns of the day, hen.)
Okay, yes, I admit it: every. single. poetic. form. I’m introduced to, every. single. time. I whine and say is the hardest, the most vexing, the worst. This one took me to the very, very edge of our deadline to do it, and while I got ‘er done, I still feel like I haven’t quite grasped what “Found Poetry” is all about. Logically, it’s little pieces from bigger ones. The American Academy of Poets calls it the literary equivalent of a collage, which might explain the problem I had with it. Collage is kind one of those art forms that… escapes me, even as it inspires myriad of other women to do things like vision boards (or action boards, as an article in Psychology Today says we’re supposed to regard them) and the like. I find it difficult to find meaning in disparate bits of flotsam and jetsam — which are only assigned meaning because I say they have meaning by putting them next to each other. I found this form – neurotic little rule-based me – too loose for comfort. What was my poem supposed to be about? What was I trying to say? And where should I look to find the means to say what I’m saying?
I went immediately to obvious word sources — long-winded car features in the newspaper, pressure cooker instructions, phone book ads, a workbook for the GRE. Nothing spoke to me. So, I tried to come up with at least a topic for my poem. One of the other Poetry Sisters was using instructions, and so I went to the Instructables website, which is where a great many of us find the how-to of life these days. Still nothing. And then I got distracted cleaning out my closet (because DUH, that has to do with poetry), and wondered if I could make a rug from some of the tech shirts Tech Boy gets by the armload from his company every year. No one wants commemorative shirts, and I can only reasonably use so many workout outfits. So… I did a little research and came up with some rug styles that seemed reasonably doable. One of them made me laugh enough that I kept a copy on my desk… and blocked out a word or two… or three. And suddenly I had the shape, and a determination to make a Life Instructable.
More than anything else, this poem is proof that there are messages everywhere, if we sort of let our eyes relax and cross a bit. Or, maybe not. Maybe I manipulate my brain to see shapes in the clouds. At any rate, here’s my poem. It was kind of exhausting, but I have that grudging respect for it, probably how a mother feels after going a few rounds with labor. Man, it wore me out, but here it is, a bit of scrap called “she grew up, she got out, she moved on.”
My Poetry Sisters may have, in fact, had more fun with this than I did. I don’t actually know, really, because it’s hard to work on a found poem as a group — it’s one of those things you have to manipulate and fiddle around with by yourself much more than with any other medium, because you’re limited to the words which already exist on a page — and, if we go by some poet’s rules, the order in which they are found — that’s how I did mine. It’s not something someone can exactly help you with, not without changing your personal connection to the meaning behind the words. At any rate, Sara @ Read, Write, Believe has put together a lovely tribute to a retiring crossword puzzle writer – both an amazing job, and an awesome poem; Tricia @ The Miss Rumphius Effect has given it a shot, and explains some crucial information about copyright and fair use in found poetry; Kelly is down with the Beatles, Laura has posted multiples before, and creates another with aplomb; Andi goes with The Scarlet Letter, which is amazing, and Liz rounds out the collection this month from “the salvage sisters,” as Sara calls us.
Have you ever heard of Padlet? I hadn’t, but Laura has set us up with a really cool sort of public bulletin-board space in which to toss words and images in this poetic form. Go and try your hand at a few. Before you wander off to try your hand at rug-making, don’t forget to check in with Linda Baie @ Teacher Dance for the Poetry Friday round-up. Happy Friday!
This above picture is from Wikipedia. Remember that train? You get on at Platform 9 3/4 by running straight at the wall between 9 and 10…?
Some days are just beyond belief. And when I am grumpy and poor-me-ing – which happens more often than I would like – I try and remember the places I’ve been, and the things I’ve seen, and the sheer wonder of it all.
We are such things as dreams are made of… and occasionally, even in reality, life is but an amazing – and midge-and-mosquito filled, and sprinkling-on-me-ten-minutes-after-this-shot, but still amazing — dream.
“In 1958, The National Bureau of Standards released a commercial standard for women based off a very detailed national survey of 15,000 women.
Firstly, the survey was flawed. They threw out any measurements collected from non-whites. They heavily surveyed fit military women and poorer, less food-stable women. Secondly, the entire standard was molded around the idea that every woman had an hourglass figure. It was classist, racist, and sexist. BINGO!”
PROFOUND, huh? I had this knowledge dropped on me at “Learnt,” Kelli Nelson’s infocomics on Cheap Paper Art, where she puts all of this goodness into easy-to-swallow graphics. The whole site is worth a gander and you’ll learn something, guaranteed. After all…
“Do I like being a writer? I love it. I often tell my husband that it’s the only job I could hold now. I’m spoiled. I work at home in my own study, wearing whatever I please. I never have to call in sick. From time to time, I get to schools and other places where I meet delightful people who love books as much as I do.
But there are days when I wonder how on earth I got involved in this madness. Why, oh why, did I ever think I had anything to say that was worth putting down on paper? And there are those days when I have finished a book and can’t for the life of me believe I’ll ever have the wit or will to write another.”
~ Katherine Paterson, in a 1996 interview
Yeah, Mrs. P., I feel ya.