Tuesday, June 30, 2015

About Charleston, the Confederate Flag, and What White People Can Do About Racism

I've thought about this blog post for a long time. While I've been on the road a white man shot nine black people gathered for Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Photos of the murderer showed him displaying the Confederate flag, which until then flew outside Charleston's statehouse.

I don't really know what to say about any of this.

Of course the attacks were racial motivated. They were also insane. I don't know how you can pull the racism out of a diseased mind other than completely eradicating it from our society--and I have no idea how to do that.

I keep typing out paragraphs here and erasing them. I'm not usually at a loss for words.

I want to ask my friends who fly the Confederate flag, why would you display something that you know causes other people pain? Sure, you have the right. The Confederate flag should never have been flown over any state building--but private individuals are allowed to fly it, Nazi swastikas, or whatever. You can do it--but why would you want to? It reminds me of when (white) people complain that it's no longer socially acceptable to use the 'N' word. Are you really feeling deprived because you no longer us that word?

This is such a jumble, and I'm sorry about that. At Bristol Faith in Action board meetings, I sit next to Dr. W. A. Johnson, the pastor of Lee Street Baptist Church, a black congregation in our town. Dr. Johnson is a lovely, gentle, humorous and thoughtful man. I've thought many times about going to a service at Lee Street Baptist. I haven't done it. I'll say that I'm very busy, and I am--I won't even be at my home church for the next four weekends--but also, I know that I'll feel a little uncomfortable as a white woman walking into a black church.

I think it's time I felt uncomfortable. If white people are going to do anything to fight racism at all, we're going to have to be okay with feeling a little uncomfortable. If we want to become honest and aware of the racial divides in our society, we're going to have to listen to words we don't enjoy hearing and put ourselves into situations where we aren't the majority. We're going to have to step down from our dominant position. It won't be easy, but it's necessary, if we want to prevent things like Charleston from happening again and again and again.

I went online and took an Ally pledge from the organization Million Hoodies for Justice. It said-I'm paraphrasing-that I would acknowledge racism, be mindful of the language I used to describe racial incidents, listen to black voices, confront racism when I encounter it, and support black efforts toward justice.

I can think of a few other specific things I can do:
--continue to support the We Need Diverse Books Campaign, not only financially, but by reading diverse books myself and buying them for my nephews and other children in my life
--read more about social justice in America.
--while not expecting my black friends to tutor me, pay attention to what they post on social media; learn from it.
--be willing to talk about race among my friends and with my family.
--don't dismiss other points of view, particularly minority points of view; shut up and listen.
--pray. For justice, for reconciliation, and for the souls of the faithful departed: Clementa Pinckney. Daniel Simmons. Cynthia Hurd. Sharonda Singleton. Myra Thompson. Tywanza Sanders. Susie Jackson. DePayne Middleton-Doctor. Ethel Lance.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Rainbows Over Washington!

I am way, way behind on my blog. I've spent the last week either looking at east coast colleges with my daughter or driving a crap rental car back from Massachusetts after the Atlanta airport bolluxed my flight plans, and I've got a whole list of blog posts lined up in my head. I haven't even written about my heartbreak over Charleston.

However, today I'm at my mountain house. I got up this morning and went to take a yoga class; on my way out, walking through the main fitness center, I glanced up at one of the televisions and saw that the Supreme Court has just declared same-sex marriage legal nationwide.


I expected it. I would have been shocked if it hadn't happened. Yet at the same time I'm sort of shocked that it did happen, that the fight for marriage equality really has been won, right now, at this moment in my lifetime. I can't stop thinking about all the people I know who will be affected by this--people who have been together for years but never allowed to marry, teens who are years away from marriage but who will now grow to adulthood knowing, always knowing, that it's possible for them. Friends. Family. Loved ones.

Love won. Love won today.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

As Always, the Best Pony Clubbers in the World

Last week was pony club camp.

It was the usual awesomeness, good, hardworking kids eager to learn. Camp is a lot of work to get ready for--lots and lots of mowing and weed-whacking, lots of grocery-shopping and cooking (you've never seen kids drink so much milk, or eat so many avocados. Avocados. Who knew?). This year I had an emergency new barn toilet. Camp is worth it, though. Worth it for M and her pony learning to be a team again--worth it for K and K and C doing an upper-level switch ride, so nervous any one of them might have puked, and doing well--worth it for E, our youngest and newest club member,who took excellent care of her mare, learned to properly clean a stall, and bravely (happily) spent the night. Worth it for little S jumping her pony brilliantly, for C coming into the barn with a face-splitting smile. Worth it for 7 members who passed ratings. Worth it for my dear daughter, who in the week before camp, as part of an upper-level ratings project, built a new cross-country jump wholly on her own and repaired all the rest on the farm, a herculean, week-long effort, and worth it because as the last camper drove away my daughter grinned at me and said, "We did it, Mom."

Worth it to have the indomitable Cathy Wieschhoff as our instructor again. I try explaining to the campers and their parents how rare it is to have a rider and teacher of this caliber teaching our little camp--Cathy went from our farm to teach the Area 8 Young Riders, a much bigger deal, and is going next week to teach at the event camp run by Olympians Karen and David O'Connor. My campers don't really know. How could they? We live in podunkville. I happen to like podunkville, but I'm grateful to learn from Cathy whenever I can. On Wednesday, when we were having an adult clinic with Cathy as well as ratings day for half the campers and a certified regional upper-level prep for the other half--along about Tuesday night I wondered if I'd really attempted too much, but it was too late by then--anyway, on Wednesday Cathy got to the barn early to work with a couple of campers who were having specific issues, to make sure everything got ironed out before she left. Also Cathy made the campers clear their own mess from the dinner table, which I appreciated, and told stories about her own memories of being a pony clubber at pony club camp.

I was never a pony clubber. I started riding when I was 18, which means I've been riding for over 62% of my life now. (Yes, I just did the math. I'm that way.) I don't know whether my own pony clubbers will keep riding as adults or not, but I hope that someday they'll look back and tell stories about their own happy days at pony club camp.

P.S. a few days after camp, our oldest member happened to be with her other club in Aiken, South Carolina--she's grown up now and lives in Aiken mostly--and an adult I've never met nor heard of told her that Holston Pony Club was known to be one of the best clubs in the country. I repeat this only so y'all know it's not just me. These are the best pony clubbers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How to Fix the Washer in 41 Easy Steps

1. Notice that the formerly white throw rug from the basement bathroom, used heavily by pony clubbers last week at camp, is now mostly dirt brown.

2. Throw rug, which has lain mostly unmolested in the seldom-used basement bathroom for the last 14 years, into the washing machine. With some towels for friction.

3. Later in the day, go to move the load from the washer to the dryer, only to realize that a) it did not spin properly; b) everything is soaking wet; c) the washer is flashing an error code.

4. Wonder how one throw rug and three towels can unbalance the washer. Start it again.

5. Repeat step #3.

6. Repeat step #4.

7. Repeat step #3.

8. Reflect that the error code, "OE," might refer to something meaningful.

9. Nah. Try a spin and rinse cycle instead.

10. Uh-uh.

11. Look up error codes online. OE means the machine won't drain. (There is no explanation for how "OE" is supposed to stand for "won't drain.")

12. Reflect up advisability of calling a repair man versus attempting a self repair. Ponder cost and usefulness of college education. Ponder self-image of strong, smart, capable woman.

13. Go online and read how to clean the drain filter in six simple steps, beginning with "unplug machine and turn water off."

14. Unplug machine and turn water off.

15. Begin to shimmy machine out from between cabinet and dryer, to access back wall.

16. Call strapping college-age son for assistance.

17. Climb behind washer. Identify water lines and also drain line. Pull drain line from wall. Correct son who says, "now you've broken it." Explain authoritatively that drain line is supposed to be able to be pulled from wall. How else would you clean it?

18. Try to figure out how one might clean a drain line. Look for "trapdoor of drain filter." Fail to find anything remotely resembling a trap door. Attempt to pry various plastic bits from back of washer, without success.

19. Wonder if one read the instructions for the correct type of washer. Climb from behind washer, consult internet again.

20. Ascertain that one has a front-loading washer, and that these are apparently different from top-loading washers.

21. Read terrifying front-loading washer drain-filter cleaning instructions, which include "remove the three screws on the bottom of the lower panel of the washing machine, using the 1/4 inch socket or hex screwdriver."

22. Attempt to locate a 1/4 socket or hex screwdriver. Find a wrench. Hope it's good enough.

23. As instructed, tip washer back. Instead of resting the elevated front edge on wooden blocks, rest it on a pair of rubber boots that happen to be handy.

24. Observe that rubber boots squish.

25. Rootle in garage and find some enormously sketchy wooden bits, probably covered in spiders.

26. Prop front edge of washer on wooden bits.

27. Observe that you do not see screws, three or otherwise, or anything like a metal panel designed to be removed by home repairwomen.

28. While pondering, observe small trapdoor located in plain sight on front of washer. Wonder why one never noticed it before.

29. Open it. Remove drain filter, which turns out to be small cylinder coated with a few plasticky bits which seem to have been the backing to the throw rug.

30. Upon further inspection, realize that drain filter is an open cylinder completely jam packed with plasticky bits. Empty into trash. Look into washer, see drain hose stuffed with more plasticky bits. Remove by poking them with a pencil, as the wrench won't fit.

31. Spill water and plastic all over the floor.

32.  Feeling triumphant, replace filter, restart washer, bask in glory.

33. Not so fast.  OE.

34. Remove filter, rinse again, rinse drain hose, yada yada.

35. Restart washer.

36. No.

37. Remove rug, towels, and millions more pieces of rug backing to driveway. Clean up enormous number of plastic bits from inside washer. Wonder how one small rug can produce 17 rugs' worth of backing.

38. Restart empty washer.

39. Pour self a glass of wine.

40. Attempt to glare washer into submission.

41. OE.

42. Attempt to contact repairperson via internet. Discover that internet is down.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Witnessing the Hidden Things

This is sort of a sequel to yesterday's post. I've noticed something odd about this year: more and more, people are telling me stories of their pasts. Of hidden things.

It seemed to start with the publication of The War That Saved My Life. My main character has a club foot, never treated; at age ten, when the story opens, she walks only with great difficulty and pain. Since its publication, I've heard from many people, some of them friends I've known for years, that they either were born with club feet themselves, or that they had other serious orthopedic issues that required surgical correction in early childhood. When I spoke at the Festival of Children's Reading in Knoxville, a woman came up to me who used the sort of crutches you have when need them all the time, not just for an injury. She said, "As you can see, I'm mobility-impaired, so your book was important to me."

Lately I've been more open about my own stories on my blog, and people write back in private heartfelt comments--it's been sixty years and I still have nightmares. That sort of thing.

Hoo, it's hard to have these burdens. But harder still to bear them in secret. Someone, I forget who, once said, "writers write to know that they are not alone." If we do our job properly, everyone feels less alone.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When You Can't Even See Their Shoes

When I first moved to Bristol I met a woman who drove me crazy. She was everything I was not: tall, slender, blond, athletic, always well-dressed and made up, always, when I saw her, sunny and cheerful. I schlepped around in blue jeans by choice, but that didn't stop me from envying her.

Then I found out that her children were dying of a rare progressive genetic disease.
Then her children did die.

I hated the envy I'd felt. I'd made judgements about her while only knowing a very small part of what it was like to walk in her shoes. In fact, I hadn't even noticed her shoes.

I'd like to say this experience mad me a better person but the jury's still out on what kind of person I am. I will say, however, that it's kept me from being righteously publically vocal about people who are different from me, even if that difference is fundamental and strange. I know, always, that I haven't yet looked at their shoes.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Revising the Sequel to TWTSML

I'm working on my first big revision to the sequel to The War That Saved My Life. It's a hot mess right now, but getting better. A lot of people think revision is essentially line-editing just, like where you change

"Ada" Maggie yelled, running flying into the room with her ​​arms flung wide.

And there is some of that on my end, because I'll always make the sentence better   improve the sentence where I can. But there's none of that on my editor's end - it's far too early for her to be worrying about the small stuff. We're all big stuff just now. My last two books, which have been my best two books, have gone through six full drafts before they hit your hands. (If They have not hit your hands yet, please go take care of that immediately.) So this first revision, this second draft, is all about big stuff.

The opening sentence, for example, went from

I woke up from the surgery sobbing. 


The horse had its back legs blown off.

That's a pretty big change. (And relax! It's a toy horse!)

Yesterday I came across this thrilling scene, in its entirety:

I was reunited with Fred and Butter.

Oh, the action ! The pathos . Yet I decided to work on it just a bit. What we have now:

First thing the next morning, I Followed the path through the woods to the stables. I walked there. No crutches. "Fred" I yelled as I got close, and then I even ran. I had not practiced running very much so I lurched and felt out of breath, but it was running, real running , and it was so much fun I laughed aloud. When I saw Fred I ran faster. He held his arms out, and it was a good thing, because I couldn't get my legs to stop. I smashed right into him . He laughed and swung me up in the air, up in a circle, and when he set me down firm on both feet he kissed my cheek, which he'd never done before. "Ah, lass!" he said, taking his handkerchief and wiping his eyes. "I never thought to see you so spry. I didn't think they could. "
I've now managed to bollux up Blogger. It keeps trying to translate my English into other English.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Concerning Triggers and Trigger Warnings

"Trigger Warning" has become a sort of left-wing joke these days. It might as well be, "Trigger warning, bless your heart." Your poor sweet oversheltered heart.  The one too week to can't deal with reality. Your poor pathetic heart.

That's wrong. A Trigger Warning--a real one, not the ironically-named book by Neil Gaiman, not a facetious "trigger warning" with implied winking emoji--is an act of kindness to someone still bearing the wounds of  trauma. A Caution, Danger Ahead sign to people who need to take a detour or risk themselves harm.

My Post-Tramautic Stress-Disorder is slowing healing. I don't dissociate very often anymore. Now that my children are nearly grown I don't have anniversary traumas whenever they hit certain milestones. I'm pretty present, pretty stable, pretty much of the time. I'm really proud of this

We were at our mountain house in Linville for the past three days. This is an incredible sanctuary for all of us, a place where I feel entirely safe. I sleep well and heavily in Linville; I walk around with my head full of book plots and ideas. It's a dreamy, wonderful feeling.

Yesterday, while my husband, son, and some friends golfed, I played Scrabble with my daughter and her friend. We went down to the beach and I took out a stand-up paddleboard. After awhile we returned to the house. The whole time I was reading books--I read three this weekend--one was Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, surprisingly glorious, and another was Mosquitoland, which is my current pick for the Printz Award. The third, whose title I won't give because I'm reviewing it for Kirkus Reviews, is as brilliantly written and compelling as the others. It was a pretty good weekend for literature.

But when my husband returned he noticed I seemed a little prickly. He kept patting me, which I found uncharacteristically annoying. We had dinner with our friends, and I had to make more of an effort than usual to enjoy the conversation, and I figured I'd just had a bit too much luxury, or something, and needed to go back to work.

The trip home with my son was fun. As soon as I got inside my house, however, my anxiety levels shot up. Way up. I started having an old familiar feeling from my very difficult days, as though my skin were stretched too tightly over my body, crackling and tearing as I moved. I could feel my nerves tingling. Clearly I was entering full Flight-or-Fight territory, and I didn't have any idea why.

It was bedtime anyway, so I went to bed, snugged tensely against my husband, and tried to think step by step about my day. Ny anxiety surged as soon as I thought about that third book. Huh. "It's the book I read that's causing this," I told my husband, "It must be." I wasn't sure why--though the book deals with difficult subjects, it's not about sexual or physical abuse of any sort.

I got up and took a sleeping pill, then did some very deliberate yogic breathing until I fell asleep. That worked: I stayed asleep until morning with no nightmares. In the morning I couldn't wait to get to my yoga class, to my space on my yoga mat. I worked hard, and it helped a lot.

Yoga always ends with savasana, a pose of total relaxation that calms your brain and is a real challenge for me on the best of days. I took up the pose, and my body started to tremble, lightly, all over. Since this is one of the ways the brain discharges trauma, it didn't bother me at all--I just breathed and hung out, trembling. Then phrases from the book began to flit thought my mind. "'Would you leave him to babysit?...Seriously, Mum, the kid's got real problems.' ...I look down at his wrists, caught in my hands. His sleeves have ridden up, exposing deep red scratches on his arms...."

There's more, but that's enough to go on with. Only I was on my mat, breathing calmly. I'm beginning to learn to let these words, these triggers, float past. I kept breathing. My muscles relaxed, at least part of the way. I won't have to fight today. I'll even review the book, sometime later.

This is a hard-won victory for me. Others aren't so far along. Be kind about your Triggers and your Trigger Warnings. Be present, and be gentle, and be kind.