Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Understanding Our Differences

One of the very great joys of my recent trip to Boston was seeing old friends, some that I hadn't seen in years. I loved it. From the first words they said, I remembered why we were friends--remembered why I was drawn to them in the first place. I could be fully honest with them in a way that's sometimes not easy for me, and I relished it. I felt full and thankful.

I also had a lovely evening at an event sponsored by Understanding Our Differences, a group dedicated to increasing awareness and communication between disabled and non-disabled schoolchildren. I got to try a Brailler, which is essentially a Braille typewriter--it's not easy, there are only 6 buttons, but you have to push up to four simultaneously. I got to try to button a shirt one-handed using a button puller. But I also got to speak: I was, in fact, the main show. My book TWTSML won the Schneider Family Book Award for disability representation (actually I co-won with Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish In A Tree--and she was UOD's speaker last year) this year, though I've never known precisely why, because my main character has two disabilities, one physical, and one mental. She was born with a clubfoot that went untreated (clubfoot should be a birth defect but not a disability) and she's been abused to the point of suffering from PTSD.

I have chronic PTSD myself, and I tend to think of Ada's problems as more mental than physical, though the physical issues are what most people concentrate on. I also think we don't talk nearly enough about mental health issues, especially in children. As I told the UOD crowd, the second-highest cause of death in children ages 10 to 14 is suicide. We need to be aware of that; we need to work like hell to lower in. We need to pay attention to children who are suffering. They're not necessarily just shy. They won't necessarily grow out of it.

Yesterday I got a heartfelt email from a young reader. The child wanted to know, essentially, if I had suffered too. If it was okay to be inspired by my character, if I was telling the truth because I knew it fundamentally. If I was trustworthy. Because if I was, then maybe the message of hope in my book could be trusted too.

Absolutely, I said. Absolutely to all of that.

This is why we write: to know we are not alone.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

On the Plus Side

I have so many things I should be doing right now.

--reading the book I've been asked to blurb
--reading the books I've been assigned to review
--reading the many, many books nominated for the Golden Kite award (I'm judging)
--reading the many, many books I've assigned myself for the Egypt book (turns out there's a lot to know!)
--reading my library books before they're overdue

Anyone notice a theme? But then it continues:

--re-reading my book club book as I'm hosting book club tonight (Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys.)
--clearing the living room of book piles, as I'm hosting book club tonight
--cleaning the bathroom and making a schmancy dessert, as I'm hosting book club tonight

And then:
--riding my horse, who is lonely
--doing the barn chores
--doing any of several projects awaiting me at the barn (moving the pony club kits to storage, cleaning tack, resetting the jumps in the field, moving the portable xc jump back to the lower field, doing something about that sand ring, getting the bot fly eggs off Pal, etc etc)

Or back at the house:
--the whole entire mess that is my bedroom closet
--the whole entire mess that is my office
--the whole entire mess that is the refrigerator

Or on the creative side:
--the Christmas projects
--the Christmas gifts bought in Boston, that are all currently stuffed in the bedroom closet, but need to be taken out, sorted, organized, and properly hidden
--the knittng
--the weaving
--the laundry (just threw that in to see if you were paying attention. It's not creative. It does need doing.)


On the plus side
this is writing, so it counts.

Monday, October 17, 2016

In Which I get a Little Upgrade

By the time I met Luis, I was feeling pretty cranky.

Luis, age approximately 25, hairstyle man bun, sat behind the Avis counter at Boston Logan airport. It was Sunday, late afternoon--yesterday, though it seems longer ago than that. I'd had four hours' sleep between the end of the pathetic Notre Dame/Stanford football game and getting up to drive to Midway airport, and I didn't use them well. Then I flew to Detroit, said goodbye to my darling daughter much faster than I'd planned (I'd already said goodbye to darling husband and darling son). Then, inexplicably, I forgot to eat lunch, so that by the time I landed in Boston, retrieved my luggage, navigated the complex overcrowded shuttle to the rental station and encountered Luis, I  was in a crummy mood.

"We got you down for a mid-size," Luis said. "You want something bigger than that?"

I said,"No."

Luis said, "You wanna drive a Mustang?"


"You wanna drive an SUV?"


Luis sighed. "You WANNA drive a Toyota Corolla?"

"Look," I said. "I'm going to be driving in Boston. Last time I was driving here it didn't go well. I want something as small as possible." (Though the instant I said that, I realized I last drove in Boston thirty years ago, when I didn't have glasses, depth perception, a map, or a GPS. And I was driving a full-size van. So maybe things are different now.)

Luis got on the phone with someone and discussed cars for a few minutes. He said things like, "Nah, man, that's what she wants," and then he hung up and said to me, "They're trying to find you a Corolla.  He's gonna call me back." Then he said, "You want the insurance coverage?"


"You want to prepay for gas?"


"You want to rent a GPS?"

"No." (I'd brought one with me.)

Luis fiddled with his phone. I fiddled with mine. Minutes passed. I said, "Look, this is ridiculous. Do you have a car for me or not? I never had to wait for a car before. And I know all that made me sound like a princess, but I'm hungry."

Luis said, "Why don't you just take the Mustang?"

I said, "Isn't that some kind of fancy sports car? The last thing I need is to drive a shift."

"No, no," Luis said. "It's fully automatic. It's just a little upgrade. For free."

"Okay," I said.

"What color you want?"

Was he kidding me? "Luis, I don't care."

I schlepped my bags out to the lot and there it was, a shiny, unbelievably flashy, cherry-red sports car.  Mine. I started to laugh. Never in life have I driven such a thing. I drove it up to the checkout guy, squealing the brakes just a little.

"Man," the guy said, "the only thing better than a lovely young woman such as yourself driving a lovely car like this one is if you were going to take it to the beach."

"I AM going to take it to the beach," I said. "On Tuesday. I'm driving to the beach with my friend, and she's a nun."

"Nuns on the beach!" The man said.

I peeled out of the lot and wheedled my way through downtown Boston. The previous occupant of the car had left the radio set on the classical music channel, so I lowered the windows, cranked the volume, and blared Handel's Water Music so loud it made the windshield vibrate. And it was fine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Outside the Dursleys' House

I thought I'd write about something else today. I had in mind a funny post about how I totally screwed up dinner last night: how, even though I'm a good cook, the meatloaf was inexplicably far too salty and the cauliflower still tasted like cauliflower despite my schmancy sauce, and I even screwed up the sliced apples, for Heaven's sake--but the stories keep coming in, and my heart is breaking.

One friend asked on Facebook for women to comment if they'd been groped in public by strangers. In 57 minutes she got 25 positive responses.

"All that ever happened to me was that someone stuck a hand up my skirt on the subway."

I think about all the work I've done to make sure my children grow up strong and safe. I taught my son to be respectful and honest and kind. I taught my daughter to be respectful and honest and kind, too--and I taught her to defend herself, be loud, and carry a pocketknife. I kid you not.

When we were in the Dominican Republic last year, my husband stepped into the airport restroom and my daughter and I were immediately surrounded by men trying to sell us cab rides that we didn't need. They weren't intimidating, but they were persistent, despite my repeated insistence that we did not need their help. There were getting to be more of them, not less. Then my daughter drew herself up, squared her shoulders, and roared something in Spanish, and the men absolutely melted away. And I thought, good. And yet what's to stop some creep from sticking a hand up her skirt? I hope she'll roar at him, embarrass the shit out of him right there on the train.

But mostly I hope it never happens.

A friend wrote to me that she feels like she grew up in the Dursley's house. You know, like Harry Potter. Not so much stuffed into a room beneath the stairs, but abused in a way no one ever saw. To the Dursleys' neighbors, it was the Dursleys' who were normal, and decent, and good, and Harry Potter was the kid with all the problems. The truth was the other way around.

One More Ting:

I don't care who you vote for, you can still be my friend and I hope I can still be yours. I mean it. I may disagree--at this point I probably disagree with everyone somewhere--but this election in particular is a hot mess and anyway, we're all mostly doing the best we can. Just vote. That part's important.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Time for This to End

The stories come at me from all directions.

The girl who is tortured throughout middle school by boys offering to show her their genitals, every day, day after day. When she gets upset the school punishes her. Eventually her parents switch to homeschooling.

The writer who posts a photograph of a bouquet of flowers on Facebook, as a comfort. She says she knows that so many women have had it worse than she has. All that's happened to her is that an elderly neighbor grabbed her and forcibly French-kissed her in their apartment's elevator.

The elderly woman who bursts into tears as I fill out a paper for her at Faith in Action. She went to school, she said, but what her daddy did to her in the night was so upsetting that her mind was always blank. She didn't know how to make it un-blank. She didn't learn to read.

The six-year-old who wandered away from her family at the mall, was taken out to the parking lot by a stranger and raped, then went back inside and found her family again--and they never noticed she'd been missing.

The rapist given three months' probation. The rapist let off because the 12-year-old victim must have been asking for it.

The girls told that it's their job to keep boys from hurt them.

Every single one of us who was afraid to tell.

It happens over and over and over.

It's time for this to end.

If you want to, tell me your story. Or put it on Facebook. Or tell one person who's safe. Talk about how wrong it was. Talk about how it made you feel. Talk about how it wasn't your fault. Believe that. Talk about how you're going to get loud and aggressive, and make noise and be strong for yourself and your daughters and their daughters, so that someday this shit will end.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Debating that Debate

"I was going to vote for Trump," my esteemed colleague said, "until he said he grabbed women's pussies. You can't do that."

Recently I've noticed with a hint of amusement that friends I have who are planning to vote for Hillary Clinton assume that of course I am as well, and friends I have who are planning to vote for Donald Trump--well, until Saturday, I'm not sure I have friends still planning to vote for Trump--assumed that of course I was too.

Right now all bets are off. I'm having a terrible time here. I believe it is my civic duty, my duty and my obligation, to cast my vote, if only in honor of all those denied the right to vote throughout history, who fought that I should be able to do so. And I am completely repulsed by both choices.

I've never liked politics or politicians. I've said often that my last whole-hearted endorsement went to Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the last truly ethical person to occupy the Presidency.

I am socially liberal and financially conservative. I believe passionately that we need a social safety net--I care very much about the marginalized in our world--and I hate big government and can assure you I pay plenty in taxes. So there's never been a political home for me.

But now: Hillary Clinton has done horrible things in Haiti, a country I care about. Her Foundation seems incredibly corrupt; her deleted emails and her lifelong pattern of dishonesty really bother me.

And yet Trump. For awhile I thought maybe, for the sake of the Supreme Court nominees and my general feeling on the role of government. But I'm a sexual assault survivor. After what Trump said in those recordings, I can't possibly vote for him.

I'd like to throw them both out in the desert and start again. Can't we have a do-over every century or so? Barring that, looks like I'll be voting for the pothead Libertarian who doesn't know the capital of Syria. Either him or Ken Bone.

Friday, October 7, 2016


I'm hanging out at the Baltimore airport. I got here very early this morning, because I didn't know how far I really was from the airport, or what Baltimore morning traffic is like, or how well this Uber thing was going to work out (splendidly; we live in an age of marvels) and I'd been warned that BWI airport security could be awful, and it wasn't, but all that just means I had a nice chance to sit with coffee and the paper, and now to get out my iPad and write this, and it occurs to me, I'm really happy.

I'm on my way to Raleigh, where I'll spend the weekend with good friends and be able to be with my husband and both my lovely children. I spent yesterday talking to interesting, engaged schoolchildren and then having dinner with a fellow writer and new friend, and then I went to bed really early, because extroverting wears me out, and I slept well.

I'm wearing my favorite hand-knit socks and my new favorite sweatshirt. I'm even comfortable, for heaven's sake.

Last night my new friend, who's name I'm not going to give because I don't know her well enough yet to know if she'd like that, described the process of writing one of her books as "pulling wet Kleenex through a coin slot," and that's one of the best descriptions of painful writing I've ever heard. I'll remember it forever.

Also we went to a French bistro and shared a perfectly roast chicken, and that was just the most amazing food. And the night before I had a fabulous crab cake the size of a softball, and I love crab cakes. From a culinary standpoint Baltimore is the bomb.

Also I'm feeling completely wildly happy with the new book I'm working on . The Egypt book. Yes, I know, I've discussed it forever. I've written a dozen pages half a dozen times. But it wasn't coming out right, and, worse, it was actually coming out wrong. And now I've had time enough to think it through, and it's going to be good. It's going to be a ton of work and it'll probably take a long time, and it'll be a hot mess at several points, but it's going to be good.

I am actually entirely happy right now.