Reading

The Line Keeps Moving

 

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my top ten novels, always comes to mind when someone asks for a recommendation.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my top ten novels, always comes to mind when someone asks for a recommendation.

This morning, as every morning, after my yoga I sat in front of the laptop and started cruising the news.  I don’t read any one paper/site cover to cover; I hop around, the HuffPo, The Guardian, New York Times, Politico, and any links popped up overnight on my Facebook feed that catch my eye.  And so I saw the headline for this essay in The Guardian, and got excited.  (As excited as I get at pre sunrise, only on my second cup of coffee.)  I am a huge fan of Lionel Shriver, as evidenced by the photo above.  Over the past few years I’ve gotten rid of the majority of my paper books–surprisingly liberating–but I keep a couple of shelves worth, a selection or two or three showcasing authors I worship or individual volumes that have had a huge impact on me, as a person and/or as someone who writes.

When I read the essay, my first thought was, “oh, fuck.”  It’s about the author’s response to part of a speech given by Lionel Shriver, about identity, cultural appropriation, what is or isn’t ok for an author to explore through their fiction.  When I love an author’s work, I want to be one hundred percent devoted to them in every way.  I want them to be the giants I’ve built them up to become in my mind, I want to have faith as I learn more about them that this is someone I’d enjoy having conversations with over tea, coffee, or a glass of wine.  Silly, isn’t it?  Especially silly when I’m someone who still harbors occasional fantasies of being published (well published!), and yet here I am running this blog:  Mrs Fringe of the colorful language, big mouth, strong opinions, and anything but neutral political leanings.  I have no doubt there are many who would not enjoy having coffee with me, maybe even some of the same who enjoy my words when they’re fiction.  I’m the first to admit not everyone finds my sense of humor charming. General publishing wisdom–common sense, really–dictates that anyone hoping to earn a dollar from strangers shouldn’t do anything to actively offend anyone.

The thing is, I’m a person, first and foremost. That’s what Mrs Fringe is about, being a person who wears many hats, plays many roles; complete with disappointments, laughter, mourning, screw-ups, nonsense, inappropriate thoughts, offensive-to-some language, a desire to be heard and understood, a desire to learn and understand more, a desire to connect with others.  Kinda like, oh, say…fiction.  And the authors of said fiction.  Yes, it’s imaginary characters and made up scenarios, but good fiction, enduring fiction, the kind of fiction Lionel Shriver writes, is uncompromising, unapologetic.  She creates characters who are SO real, doesn’t hesitate to use her characters and scenarios to explore who we are as human beings, as a society, to use the mirror of fiction to examine the beauty, pain, and the ugly bits of what it means to be a whole person.  Sure it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also riveting.  This is the fiction that endures, because people are people–now, fifty years from now, two hundred years ago.

So I’m a person.  So, apparently, is Ms. Shriver.  And I read the essay, thinking about the author of the essay, her offense at Lionel Shriver’s remarks referencing how easily, too easily, people are offended now, the idea of political correctness.  Her offense at the idea that a novelist can accurately and appropriately portray someone whose experience of life is vastly different than their own, i.e.: a white novelist writing a person of color, straight novelist writing LGBTQ characters, etc.  Her interpretation of the novelist’s speech as arrogance–maybe it was, because I only have the author’s paraphrasing before she walked out twenty minutes into it, I don’t have enough information to give an informed opinion.

I want to be offended by her offense.  But I’m not.  The truth is, she has a point.  Could a white male have written Their Eyes were Watching God, given the character of Janie Crawford the same depth, the same enduring honesty created by Zora Neale Hurston?  Nope. Could In the Time of Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, have been written by someone who isn’t Dominican, written in a way that allows the reader to come as close to feeling what it would be like living in the shadow of Trujillo as you feel reading her story of the Mirabel sisters?  Nope.  If a white author writes a black protagonist, I’m going to be skeptical, I’m going to be wondering about the character being written in a way that is not only not realistic, but wondering about the icky squicky line of that protagonist being written in such a way that it’s lecturing (subtle or not) the reader on how a person of color should be feeling in this imaginary scenario.  Will that novelist be able to allow the reader to feel the enduring humanity while preserving the reality of life experiences through they eyes and thoughts of a protagonist who isn’t straight and white?

Lionel Shriver, as far as I could tell from the essay, had a point, too. If we are afraid to examine any but our own narrow viewpoint, so afraid of using the wrong words we stay silent, we will never understand a damned thing, and our worlds will shrink with the novels in front of us, rather than expanding.  Female authors have written beautiful, powerful strong male characters and vice versa.  What would seventh graders read if Harper Lee hadn’t written To Kill a Mockingbird?  What are we teaching these future generations (*cue thinkofthechildren wail*) if they stop reading it because it might be triggering, or offensive to examine our society’s racism–past and present?  You know what was amazing to me, about Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin?  Reading about her afterwards, and learning she isn’t a parent.  My mind was blown.  But maybe it shouldn’t have been.  Maybe it’s because she isn’t a parent that she was able to take such a hard look at parenthood without turning the mother into a saint or a caricature of a villain (though not necessarily likable).

Would it be the same thing, a white author writing a protagonist who is Black, or Latino, Asian or Indigenous?  No, but it also shouldn’t mean limiting characters to only those who experience life the same way the writer does.  If it did I’d have to give up even fantasizing about having anything published.  I can see it now, the NY Times Best Seller– Mrs Fringe Buys a Slow Cooker.

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Cultural appropriation is a real thing, and it’s something we need to be aware of, and sensitive to.  Maybe it’s harder for whites to understand because so much of the tradition of white, Christian culture involves the attempt to force it down the throats of everyone else.  What the line is, exactly, I’m not sure.  At the beginning of this post I referenced yoga.  Is it cultural appropriation for me to practice yoga?  I’m pretty sure I don’t have that Jane Fonda exercise tape anymore.  Or a beta machine to play it on.  Nerd Child tells me the Weeping Buddha statuette I have on my desk is cultural appropriation.  I don’t know, it makes me feel better to touch it in the early morning, pretend that I really am letting go of any sadness and starting the day with a clean slate.

Mother of God with Child--Kuz'ma Petrov-Vodkin

Mother of God with Child–Kuz’ma Petrov-Vodkin

I saw the above painting recently, wished I could have it hanging in my apartment.  I’m far from a religious anything, let alone Russian Orthodox.  It’s art, and what makes great art (visual, written, or other) is the creator’s ability to preserve the specific subject while transcending it, offering the reader/observer/listener a world outside of her own while tapping into the common themes we all share.

People don’t change, the human condition has had us exploring the same questions for hundreds of years.  Society, though.  Society changes.  The words and language we use changes.  What is acceptable changes.  The line of what is or isn’t ok to do and say moves.  Sometimes it moves quickly.  It behooves all of us to remember this, and if we write, or read, or engage with the world in any way, it behooves us to remember this, like everything else that’s important, involves many shades of gray.

*Follow up: This morning I saw the transcript of Shriver’s full speech in The Guardian.  I thought some of my readers might be interested, and as always, invite all to come back and comment here if you read it.

Afterword

This full moon wasn't last night, but it felt like it should have been.

This full moon wasn’t last night, but it felt like it should have been.

What is stage fright, anyway?

So last night was that thing.  The reading.  I spent the day with my brain in the overdrive of heightened anxiety, changed my clothes three times, my shoes four, and slopped half a gallon of product in my hair, in a futile battle with the humidity.  I was pretty sure I didn’t have to worry about how my words would be received, or how I’d sound, because surely I was going to have a stroke before it was my turn.

Husband offered to meet me down there.  Down, because the bar couldn’t be further from my apartment and still be in Manhattan.  No, thanks.  I’m one of those people.  When I’m nervous about something, I’m better off alone, because your moral support will likely be met by me biting your head off.  Cranky.  Bitchy, even.  That and the fact that I figured the reason I was doing this was to maybe, hopefully, connect with other writers.  I know myself.  If Husband was with me, it would be the perfect excuse to not speak to anyone, revert to my teenaged self, sit in back and make jokes about myself.  Man Child offered to go down with me.  No thanks.  Then he offered to just travel down with me.  Umm, maybe.  No, no, I’m a grown up, I don’t need an escort, I’m fine.  Are you sure?  Yes, thank you.  Are you really sure, because I’m going to start laundry otherwise?  Yes yes I’m sure.

Ten minutes before I left, I’m going to call Husband and have him meet me.  Oops, look at the time, he’s already on his way home, that wouldn’t be nice.  I’m good, I can do this.

Five minutes before I left, ummm, Man Child?  I changed my mind.  But you can’t stay.  He traveled downtown with me, and then encouraged me when I spent ten minutes standing outside, bemoaning the fact that I had remembered my camera but not the battery that would allow it to work.

I really have great kids.


I’ll be honest, this sign in the window is probably what got me through the door.  That and Man Child’s gentle shove.

At the entrance to the back room, where the event was being held, the producer was checking tickets.  I was nervous about the whole e-ticket thing. My name was already on his list, great. I’m scoping the room behind him, happy to see empty seats in back when he says, “Oh.  You’re reading.”  Was I supposed to mention that?  “Umm, yeah, I guess so.”  Damn, I’m smooth.

It’s a funny thing.  Once I was in, I felt acutely aware that I have never done this before, but not nervous.  Basically I was certain I was going to fuck up, drop my pages, lose my voice, have that stroke, yanno.  It wasn’t crowded, there were two featured writers and several open mic-ers.  The open mic folks were mostly poets.  Excellent, this way I was certain to not fit in.  I liked the way it was organized, open mic readings scattered throughout the evening with the featured writers in between.  (Featured meaning authors with books recently published/about to be published) I’m not sure what I expected, but it was a lively mix of “straight” poetry, spoken word, an excerpt from a graphic novel, excerpts from a flash essay collection, part of a short.  The crowd was mixed in age, sex, and ethnicity, also nice.

There was a microphone! Eek.  And others were introduced by the MC with a bit about them.  Crap, was I supposed to tell them something other than my name and here’s-my-eight-dollars?  Ah well.  I considered plugging Mrs Fringe before or after I read, but therewasamicrophone.  I just did it.  I read the opening few pages to Astonishing (probably about half the first chapter, it’s the one up on the blog here).  Everyone was quiet while I read, so either I held their attention, or they were taking the opportunity for a cat nap. Maybe they just couldn’t hear me, I didn’t get too close to that mic.  I’m from south Brooklyn ferChristssake, I can be plenty loud.

I met a few people who seemed quite nice. Many of those in the audience and those who went up are apparently regulars, but everyone was welcoming.  Not one pointed and snickered, or muttered, “poseur” as I went past.  If they did I didn’t hear them.  Success.

In any case, I felt like it went well.  I was surprised I couldn’t see the audience once I was up there, all I saw was lights, and that made it much easier.  More surprising, I didn’t feel intimidated while I was reading, I just…read.  Scenarios like this always surprise me, no one talking about the angst and futility of trying to get published, trade or otherwise.  It’s as if there’s an assumption that you and everyone else is doing it, you belong there.

I might even say I had fun.

 

Playground Politics

We're missing the train

I seem to have missed my train

Hello all.  Yes, yes, it’s been a while.  You know when more time than usual passes in between speaking to a friend, you keep thinking you should call, but the more time passes the harder it becomes to make that call?  Yeah.  First I was in a bit of a funk; there’s nothing to say, no one cares what I have to say, blah, blah, blah. Then, in the past few weeks, there’s been so much going on I couldn’t decide where and how to jump in.  Nothing has happened to me/mine personally, it’s been wonderful having Man Child home, he has a good job, Nerd Child is in the last stretch of high school–drove north and saw his final production the other day–that young man is an excellent director! Art Child is well, Husband is well, Incredibly Stupid Dog continues to forget which end is supposed to be on the pee pad when she lets loose…all good in Fringeland.  But the world around me?  Prince died, which I took more personally than I have any right to. North Carolina has decided genital checks are in order because thinkofthechildren.  The Bernie movement has faltered (to say the least), and Donald Trump has won the GOP nomination.

After two weeks of pretending that last tidbit couldn’t be real, I have to accept it.  I have to get on the train. Not the train car supporting him, of course.  I feel like it’s rush hour and the car open in front of me is suspiciously empty.  If you’ve ever been a subway rider, you know what I mean.  If you haven’t, let me give you a tip.  When a crowded train pulls in, if the car you’re about to get on is miraculously empty with several open seats, there’s a reason–and that reason usually involves a stench so foul even the most weary and unsteady travelers would prefer to be squashed nose to armpit in the next car.

Yesterday I was having a conversation about this nightmare with a friend of mine, and I referenced playground politics.  For me, this sums it up.  Because it doesn’t feel like a train.  I’m an adept rider; pains, nerve damage and all, I can keep my balance, squeeze into the most narrow space between two man-spreaders if it means a seat, and throw myself through the closing doors without getting my purse caught.  This is more like a throwback to childhood, a concrete lunchtime playground where girls have cooties and with a choice between splintered seesaws, dodgeball, and a cement water fountain that dribbles rust.  So here we are, this cycle of American politics where might makes right and he who spreads the most outlandish, the most vicious rumors wins.  Where is the lunch aid?  Where are the teachers?  Where are the grown-ups?

As I’ve said previously, I like Bernie.  I never thought he was a perfect candidate, and I had questions, but I thought he was the best choice.  For a moment, I thought he had a real shot.  That moment is over.  I don’t love Hillary.  I have a lot of questions and reservations about her that I don’t want to have.  (I’m a feminist ferchistssake, a woman for President? Yes, please.)  But I’m not hesitating to support her, especially when I look at the alternative.  The alternative isn’t Bernie Sanders, it’s Donald Trump.  A man whose positions take us from an unsupervised playground to Lord of the Flies.

While I wasn’t blogging, I did more reading than I’d done in a while.  I even decided to read Infinite Jest, it’d been on my to-read list forever, and it seemed like the perfect time.  I got about 600 pages in, and spent a good 500 of those pages feeling certain that I’m an idiot, because I didn’t get it.  Not that I wasn’t able to follow the storyline, I was.  Not that I didn’t notice and appreciate some lovely sharp prose, I did.  But I really, really don’t understand the how/why this novel became the lauded, prized bestseller that it did.  So I gave up, once again determined to accept that I’m just not that smart, and clearly incapable of understanding the publishing industry.  If a friend had written it and given me the manuscript to beta read, I’d have suggested cutting about 500 of the 1200 pages.  But the timing of my attempt to read this was perfect for today’s political climate, because today is when we are living the backstory of Infinite Jest.  If Donald Trump becomes President of the United States, we will slide right into Subsidized Time, and tomorrow will become the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.  I may not be smart enough to slog through all 1200 pages, but I’m smart enough to know I don’t want to live inside them.

You’re frustrated?  Me too.  You’re broke?  Me too.  You’re tired of the status quo?  Me too.  But my eyes are open.  And what I see is hideous.  A circle has gathered around the combover playground bully.  The circle is growing, gathering legitimacy and support, and it’s feeding on greed, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and wishful thinking.  I know some people speak of idyllic childhoods and pine for their lost youth.  Me?  I was glad to leave the playground behind, and I don’t want to return.  The lunch aid isn’t coming.  We have to turn away from the childish blowhards telling us might makes right, get on the train before it derails completely, and be the grown-ups.  We may or may not be in the gifted program, but we’re smart enough to recognize the stench of fresh shit.

Suck It Up, Ya Weenie!

The latest must-have accessory for the woman of 40,000 years.

The latest must-have accessory for the woman of 40,000 years.

I tried.  Tuesday afternoon I was shaken but feeling positive, “oh, a few days of rest and I’ll be ok.” Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, not so much.  I made a bunch of calls on Wednesday morning, trying to find an ortho who could see me that day. No luck–and apparently most of them super specialize, and the offices all insisted I choose if wanted to see someone for my arm or my pelvis.  “but they both hurt like hell.” “Well, you have to decide which specialist you want to see.” Screw it. No appointment, the pain seemed like it was easing up, I figured I’d just tough it out.

10:15 Wednesday night, I was lying in bed trying to pretend the pain had not increased by multiples of thousands, and my back doctor returned my call. Bless this woman. I told her what was going on, and she told me to come in first thing the next morning.  I did, she checked me out, and sent me off to the imaging place, with more concerns than I thought.

I may not have been able to tough this out, but apparently I’m pretty fucking tough.  The next ten hours involved 4 MRIs, 7 X-rays, 1 CT scan, and 3 exams.

At the first MRI stop, after being told it would take 2-3 hours. Umm, do you have a chill pill or something?

Sorry, Mrs F, we’re an outpatient facility, so we don’t offer any medications.  We have headphones and music, it’s on classical already.

Find me the classic rock station and we’ll be in business, I can get lost in my youth–where I didn’t humiliate myself by breaking and tearing my body from a simple slip on ice.

Between the music and the two hours of sleep I was running on, I was able to stay very still, no panic in the tube.  Could have done without Van Halen’s “Jump,” though.

The doctor was in touch with the imaging center throughout, and it seemed that every test finished sent me to another.  Everyone was nice, but suspiciously nicer as time went on, particularly since I had to have been screwing everyone’s schedule, being pushed (figuratively) to the front of the line, staff and techs waiting for me to hobble in at each new stop.

Can I please go get tea before the next one?

I’m sorry Mrs Fringe, they’re waiting for you.

Again and again.

Finally, one woman said I could get tea while they burned the images of all the tests onto cd.  Yay! When I limped back in, she told me my doctor was waiting for me to call her. I know, I know, by this time it was clear I’m looking at some serious injury, but by then 7 hours had passed, 8 since my morning coffee–a woman needs a cup of tea–and some of us need several!

Every time I thought I was finished, I was sent to the next test, the next building.  I stripped so many damn times by the time I reached the last X-ray tech I expected her to stick dollar bills in my underwear. By then I knew I had 4 fractures, why did I need more X-rays? The day ended at the office of a special trauma orthopedist, his physician’s assistant, his orthotist, his secretary, and the cleaning crew–clearly waiting and wondering when this patient would leave so they could do their jobs.

So. Despite that first X-ray done at the urgent care place, my arm is fractured, and now encased in a super duper molded to my arm but removable for showering cast.  The rest of it….As I understand it, there are three types of bones that make up the triangular shape of the pelvis.  I have fractures in all three, including one that extends to the hip socket. I would make a joke about not doing things half-assed, but I’m pretty sure this yields the very definition of half-assed.

Dogwalking is out of the question for the time being. I didn’t actually ask about typing, I figure I’ll just go slower and less verbose than usual, stop when it hurts.

On the positive side, even though I feel like I’m completely out of shape, all the past yoga left me in good enough shape that I don’t need total bed rest, can hobble with the cane when I need to, yanno, live.  And I think this gives me the perfect opportunity to catch up on my reading.

Don’t Look Back

Closest thing in the house to a pillar of salt.

Closest thing in the house to a pillar of salt.

Art Child and I have discovered the joys of Netflix, and marathon-watching tv series.  Earlier this week, we finished Buffy.  I know it was hugely popular in its prime, but I had never seen it.  I wasn’t much of a tv watcher until the last 7? 10? years.  I’ll be honest, through the viewings of the first few seasons it was mostly me reading while Art Child watched.  With the later seasons it caught my interest more.  I don’t think I’d say this is a must-see series, but it was fun, and while I thought Buffy’s character was pretty much a yawn, I value the message of girl/female power and I did enjoy the way Spike’s character was developed.

Why am I talking about this?  Because it occurred to me if this was a book–or more accurately, a book series, it would be Young Adult.  That demographic of fiction that has experienced such a huge explosion of devoted readers (and writers) but holds absolutely no interest for me.  So if Buffy was a written series, would I have enjoyed it? I don’t think so.  If a book starts angsting in a way that makes my mind wander, I close the book.  If I was watching this show without Art Child, I don’t think I’d have made it past the first season.

Between spending a lot of time, thought, and in conversation about the how and why of Fifty Shades of Grey being such a hit, watching this tv series, and watching Nerd Child navigate his junior year of high school, I’m thinking about this popularity of Young Adult fiction with adult readers.  Regardless of what angle I use to approach, my overriding thought is, why?

I want to be clear, I am not bashing young adult fiction or young adults.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I like teenagers.  It’s pretty damned cool watching my kiddos and their friends navigate the world, figure themselves out, develop their interests, values, priorities, and become adults. Young adult fiction can be light and fun or serious and thoughtful, general fiction to romance to sci-fi and fantasy, same as children’s fiction or adult.  Of the first two novels that jump out out me when thinking of novels I read and loved this year, one had a woman in her forties as the main character, the other is written from the perspective of a 5 year old boy. But what makes young adult fiction young adult isn’t just the age of the protagonist, it’s the focus, the grappling with becoming, discovering who you are, losing your innocence and finding your place in the world–whether that world is in the South Bronx, a suburb in the midwest, or the planet XCTHRGH.

When I was a teen I read and loved Forever, by Judy Blume, and the works of Paul Zindel–My Darling, My Hamburger comes to mind.  I wished there were more of these books and authors then, and I’m glad there are more for today’s teens.  I haven’t been a teenager in a long time. Tastes change, interests change.

Being a teenager is hard. Dealing with high school is hard. I guess I think about it a lot because I’m-the-mama-that’s-why. Fun as it can be, parenting teens is hard. As an adult, I know this stage doesn’t last forever, though it feels that way. As an adult, I know things change, and growth and maturity have more to do with resilience and flexibility than anything else. I also know there’re a lot of pitfalls at this stage, pitfalls that can throw someone off course for the next 10-20 years (or more), pitfalls that if handled well can set someone up for a better life. Different choices make for some different challenges.  Both of my boys went to high powered boarding schools on scholarship–one long graduated, one attending currently. It was a decision Husband and I made because we wanted them to have every opportunity possible, and we believed they could each handle the workload, responsibility, and independence.  Along with these amazing opportunities and education is the early knowledge of exactly where you and your family sit on the socio-economic food chain, no parent on hand to provide chicken soup when you get sick, or help you out and run a load of laundry for you when you’re in the midst of finals. Did we make the right decisions?  I think so, I hope so, but I still question it every day. As I recently told Man Child, the worst kept secret is that none of us know what we’re doing as parents, we’re all doing the best we can, trying to avoid the out and out worst decisions and not fuck up too badly.

Positive and negative, there’s built in conflict, drama, and emotion with teens.  These are also musts with fiction to make it interesting.  But honestly, for me, mama-ing teens is enough.  Are there things I miss about being a teenager? I suppose.  I miss that oddly emphatic combination of hope, swagger, faith and conviction that my adult life would be what I wanted it to be, complete with multi-book publishing contracts and boobs that would remain firm and resilient forever.  Can I look back and recognize poor decisions I made, points when I wish I had gone right instead of left? Yup. Would I actually want to go back in time to do so?  Not a shot in hell.

And I’m not looking to regularly settle into the head of a teenaged main character when I have me time for reading.  An occasional foray, maybe. I don’t need the featured protagonists of novels I read to be direct reflections of me, i.e.: women who are forty thousand years old living broke urban lifestyles. I have friends of different backgrounds, ages, and experiences, so why limit my novels? I do need the protagonists and their conflicts to hold my interest, and for me, most fictional teens do not.  When I read it, I loved White Oleander, by Janet Fitch.  I wonder if it was published today, instead of in 1999, if it would be shelved as young adult. I think it’s likely, and I would have missed it. Yet I still don’t “get” what is it about these books–well written as many of them are–that is so compelling for many adults in their thirties, forties, and beyond that people are specifically seeking them out.  I don’t often feel I have much to look forward to, but looking backwards isn’t my answer. Except, of course, for the music.  I’m never growing out of the music I loved as a teen.

 

Tweet tweet, Bonus Post

Books

Books (Photo credit: henry…)

I could have left today with a relatively humorous and inoffensive blog post, but why stop there?  There’s one thing that’s been on my mind since yesterday.  I don’t have it in me for a full political rant, but I have to mention it.  Because I’m Mrs Fringe, that’s why.  There was a “campaign” on Twitter yesterday: #WeNeedDiverseBooksbecause  Part of me thought this was cool, and I suspect we’ll keep seeing that hashtag for a long time.  More of me thought WTF?  How is it that we need such a campaign, over 50 years after the Freedom Riders rode through the country, President Barak Obama on his second term as president of the United States…and yet we still have to tell the publishing industry we need diverse books that reflect the diverse people buying and reading those books.

The thing is, while tweets are catchy, they don’t really tell a whole story.  Kind of like the various colored ribbons representing awareness for different diseases–ribbons are cute, no one feels threatened by them, they might even match your t-shirt–but they’re a far cry from the messy, painful, and complex reality they represent.

I saw some clever tweets with that hashtag.  Saw some not as clever tweets, but well intentioned, the right idea.  Still felt sad that it was necessary.  I know it is, though.  I live in a diverse building, in a diverse city.  We are a diverse family.  But a few years ago, when Nerd Child was applying for high schools, I read an online comment from a parent who lived somewhere else, bemoaning the fact that the private boarding schools are committed to having diverse classes, stating that this isn’t representative of the “real world.”  Umm, maybe not this parent’s real world, but mine and many, if not most (once you branch beyond US borders) others.

Yes, both my boys went (one is still going) to private boarding schools, schools that put thought into the diversity of each year’s class, in addition to test scores, recommendations, skills/talents and after school activities.  Both on scholarship.  (And don’t kid yourselves, there many more  bright and accomplished disadvantaged kids, of color and not, who are qualified that the admissions committees think they’d like to spend 4 years with, and then have representing their schools as alumni. There’s no golden path) But you know what’s beautiful?  When I see my boys’ friends, and see how these things do make a difference and carry through. Both have friends from different cultures, different races, different countries.  Not just school friends, but friends kept beyond the boundaries of a school day or year.

Still, this trending twitter campaign feels a bit preaching-to-the-choir, no?  I have to think the publishing industry includes some of the most culturally conscious people in our society.  I mean, books! Reading! Classics!  Freedom of Speech and down with censorship!  Maybe the marketing/purchasing end of the publishing industry will pay attention to the twitter feed, maybe not.  Maybe they’ll take it to mean they should add a title or two to the “multicultural” lists.  You know, that small, separate section of the bookstore, stuffed between romance and erotica.

Years ago, when I was looking at kindergartens for Man Child, I went on a tour with two friends, both looking for spots for their own children.  We left the school, and one parent said, “I liked it, very diverse.”  The other said, “You thought so? I didn’t think it was diverse at all.”  Why the different perception?  Because to one parent, diverse = many children of color.  To the other, diverse = many white children. My way of illustrating that it’s all perception. So point of view in the books we read should represent these different perceptions, if we are going to do more than pay lip service to diversity.

 

I saw a tweet from a publishing professional that reminded me why we still need this type of campaign.  Nothing terrible, definitely not racist, sexist, or homophobic. But it was the equivalent of #weneeddiversebooksbecause some kids want to wear boots instead of sneakers.  Umm, huh?   Individuality is absolutely important, I’m a huge supporter who rants often about kids being raised and expected to be sheep instead of critical thinkers.  But this particular campaign is about diversity.  About having characters that all readers can recognize and identify with, not just a default of middle class white girls battling dragons and making the world safe for democracy in Young Adult books, and the stifled white man in suburbia, or cute and earnest young white women figuring out how to get the guy, get that promotion and a good deal on those pumps they just had to have. Diversity of race, culture, religion, gender, socioeconomic class, politics, and sexuality.

I agree, we do need books that recognize and reflect the diversity of our world, our communities.  Real diversity, not just the token black/latino/male/lgbtq and not just “issue” books where that difference is the focus of the book, and not taking books that do reflect diversity and sticking them in the corner, on their own shelf, where only those specifically looking for those books will find them.

John L. LeFlore and Freedom Riders

John L. LeFlore and Freedom Riders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Tail End of Sunrise

Somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 this morning.

Somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 this morning.

Looks like an impossibility, no?  I stood on the terrace drinking my cafè con leche, camera in hand and the blue and gray and pink and white of the sky made me feel inside out, upside down.  I could have been looking into an ocean as easily as up to the sky, if it weren’t for the water towers and smokestacks of neighboring buildings to orient me.

This morning’s sunrise was a surprisingly accurate reflection of how I feel as I’m reading The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud. So perfectly simple, natural, it’s a deeply complex piece written with such honesty it makes my heart stop every few pages.  The words and phrasing aren’t pretty but they’re beautiful (if that makes sense to anyone other than me). Her main character is pure in her anger– no coyness, no stereotypical qualifiers, I’m not reading into it, she tells us exactly how angry she is and how she sublimates that anger in order to function–much the way I know those deep pinks above, stunning as they are, represent a big storm on its way later.  I took the photos so I can look at this sunrise again tomorrow or next month or next year, but they won’t give the same wow they did when I stood there this morning.

There are many writers I admire, for craft, plotting, characterization, descriptions, but.  There aren’t many writers who have made me feel like I’m holding my breath, chest and head hurting but I’m afraid to exhale, afraid to keep turning the pages because then it gets me closer to the end.  I don’t want it to be over, and I also don’t want to find out if it was wrapped up in a neat and tidy package where everyone gets to live happily ever after because sales-marketing-feel good-life is a cabaret.

*this, by the way, is why I don’t write book reviews on the blog.  Not too many people looking to buy a novel want to know how a book made me feel, but the feelings are what’s important and memorable to me.

Some novels I read and know no matter how much I enjoy them, they aren’t my type of story to write.  Thrillers, horror, so fun!  My imagination doesn’t go in those directions.  Some novels I read and think yes, I should be querying and pursuing publication, my work is competitive.  This is a whole other category.

This is the type of book I will remember the name of, will recommend to friends and acquaintances for the next ten years.  I’m guessing there are a lot of people who won’t like it.  Anger, especially women’s anger, tends to make people uncomfortable. It’s also the type of novel that makes me wonder what the fuck I think I’m doing.  A strange feeling, hard to state clearly because it’s inspiring at the same time.  There’s a little back room in my brain where I’ve been drafting a character for another story, and he’s starting to knock, wanting to move forward.  As much as I’m loving The Woman Upstairs, feel it was money well spent, it also makes me want to stomp my feet and shake my fists because this is what writing can be, but my writing is not.  Cliche as it may be, the word that keeps coming to mind is heartbreaker.

Must mean it’s time to get the Led out before I get back to reading and before the rain comes.

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Lost in Space

Lost in the space

Lost in the space (Photo credit: JimmyMac210)

Feeling kinda

 

Betwixt and between.

 

I’m trying to decide what to work on next, while I begin the process of querying.  I have to be working on something, because querying without another project to focus on is a certain design plan that leads to a very fitted white jacket.  Nicely accessorized with padded walls, but really, I’d prefer something loose and flowing right now.  I could go back to the WIP that’s been frying brain cells for years already.  I could begin something completely new.  I’ve got an idea for a character, but no plot.  This is new for me.  Usually by the time I’m at or near the end of a project, and I’ve been writing regularly, the first portion of the next project seems to write itself, because it’s been brewing.  Not this time.  I’m not blocked, just unsure of which direction I want to take.

 

betwixt

betwixt (Photo credit: Daniel*1977)

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to do some reading.  In doing so, I’ve discovered a fundamental truth about Mrs Fringe has changed.  I don’t remember not knowing how to read, I don’t remember not loving to read, and I’ve always been a trope of a bookworm.  Sure I had books I liked, books I loved, books I raced to finish because I didn’t enjoy them, but I read them.  I would read anything, and finish it.  If I had nothing new to read, I would reread; hell, I remember my mother yelling at me because I was standing in the refrigerator, reading the labels on the condiments.

 

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been broke for long enough that I’ve adjusted to not having things to read, or because of my period earlier this year of not being able to lose myself in a novel, but it has changed.  I’ve picked up at least three books in the past few months that I didn’t enjoy, and I didn’t finish them.  How does this happen?  Something so much a part of me, how others see me and how I define myself, no longer true.

 

I’ve also read several books I liked, and a couple that I loved.  But now that I’m feeling this whole whichwaydoIgo in terms of writing, I wonder if the two are connected.  I wonder if Heinz is still running that write-our-slogan campaign.

 

A gruesome accident

A gruesome accident (Photo credit: KateMonkey)