Friday, April 29, 2016

Holding Space at Malaprop's

"State Senator Buck Newton made the comment while concluding a speech at a rally on Monday and welcomed the idea of being considered a poster child for the law, dubbed HB 2.
The law made North Carolina the first state in the country to require transgender people to use restrooms in public buildings and schools that match the sex on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity.

"Go home, tell your friends and family who had to work today what this is all about and how hard we must fight to keep our state straight," he said to applause." --Reuters AP report
"To The Honorable Governor Pat McCrory and members of the North Carolina General Assembly,
As the owners and managers of independent bookstores, part of our mission is to provide that “third place”, an additional public space other than home or work where folks can gather to discuss issues important to our community. Ray Oldenburg, in his book, The Great Good Place, “argues that "third places… are the heart of a community's social vitality and the grassroots of democracy.” As independent bookstores providing that third place in communities across our state, we believe it is essential to be non­discriminatory, inclusive and tolerant, to promote freedom of speech and equality, and to guard against censorship and unfair treatment.
Another part of our mission is to be profitable; to allow ourselves and our employees to earn a respectable living. What both of these mission statements share is the need for people to visit our stores and become customers. Authors have already started to cancel appearances at North Carolina bookstores over what the ACLU describes as “the most extreme anti­LGBT measure in the country.” This can and will have a real negative impact on our businesses. It doesn’t make sense, financially or otherwise, to choose discrimination over inclusion. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what lawmakers have done by passing HB2.
Company after company is withdrawing from doing business in NC until this legislation is repealed. Retailers and others are already feeling the economic impact of this legislation and we are sure, because of the momentum behind more businesses, conferences, artists, rock stars, authors, and ordinary citizens choosing places other than North Carolina to spend their vacations, the worst financial impact is yet to come.
Small Business Majority’s polling found 67 percent of North Carolina’s entrepreneurs believe North Carolina should have a law prohibiting employment discrimination against LGBT people. Nationally, two­thirds of small businesses say business owners shouldn’t be able to deny goods or services to LGBT individuals. (more info on this polling is here.)
For North Carolina, the choice between small businesses and discrimination should be clear. We hope our lawmakers make the right decision and repeal HB2." --letter from 0ver 30 independent NC bookstores.
I have to be in Asheville, NC, today to record a promo piece for a CD being giving out at ALA in June. Since I was travelling there anyhow, I asked my Dial publicist to see if Malaprop's wanted me to swing by and sign stock. (It's more polite to have your publicist do this, as the bookstore would feel less awkward about telling the publicist no.)
Bruce Springsteen, author Sherman Alexie, and other notables have recently cancelled appearances in North Carolina to protest HB2, the bathroom bill. 
Here's my question: why was HB2 passed now? What problem prompted its creation? It's not as though transgender people have only just begun to exist. It's not as if they're increasing in numbers. It's not as if they haven't always used public restrooms. I'm pretty sure the law exists exactly because of the thinking of people such as Buck Newton, quoted above. Make the state so unfriendly for LGBT people that they all up and leave--oh, except for the ones born to straight, God-fearin', homo-hating North Carolina parents. Those children, well, they'll just have to suffer. Or die. Whichever. So long as the entire state is, you know, straight.
This breaks my heart . But I'm happy to see that, after a protest led by none other than Malaprop's, the Asheville bookstore where I'm signing today, and where Sherman Alexie canceled his appearance, more and more professional writers' organizations, including the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, are calling on authors to actively support independent bookstores because they are exactly what they claim to be, a "third place."
I've always loved Malaprop's. I don't go there often because my travels tend to take me to nearby Asheville much less often than farther-away Nashville, with its lovely bookstore Parnassus, but Malaprop's holds a very special place in my heart because of the time they held space for me.
'Holding space' is a term I've only recently come across. It means to accompany someone through a difficult time, supporting them, being aware of them, but not judging or fixing them. It's a hard and beautiful thing.
So many years ago now--eleven?--I was on the brink of a complete mental health breakdown. I refer to it as the time I fell to pieces. I could feel the storm gathering but had no way out. For no reason other than I hoped it would help me feel better, I decided to go to Asheville for the day, in the middle of the week, in February, alone. I drove my children to school, then went to Asheville, then came back in time to pick them up, which gave me about 4 hours to wander the creative heart of the city.
I thought I was keeping myself more or less together, but I must have looked off, because what I remember most about that day is how kind and gentle total strangers kept being to me. Over and over, without my saying anything to them, without my asking for help in any way. (This is the day that sparked the Loom of God--a long story I'll tell someday, a sort of miracle let me know I was going to survive.) Anyhow, I spent a long time browsing Malaprop's. I took the books I was buying to the checkout and slid them across the counter. I handed the clerk my credit card. He took it, put my purchases in a bag, then reached into a drawer, took out a card, and scribbled something on the back of it. "Here," he said, handing it to me. "Take this over to our cafe, and get yourself something to eat and drink. Whatever you want. It's on us."
For no reason, except that I guess I needed kindness, and he saw it. Malaprop's held space for me, on a day when I desperately needed that. I don't remember what I ate or drank. I remember I did both, unquestioning, sitting in their cafe, chewing something, sipping. I don't remember feeling hungry; I remember that the Malaprop's guy told me to eat and drink, so I did, for free. There's something holy there. 
I hope and believe Malaprop's holds space for everyone. I know for sure they aren't monitoring their toilets. I'll be there at 3 pm to sign some books, which anyone can buy in person or online. 
Think about why some people feel we need laws like HB2. Think about people like the clerk at Malaprop's. Think about which side you'd rather be on.