Friday, June 29, 2018

Puppies for Everyone

I wasn't going to write a blog post today. I'd used up most of this week's allotment of rage, and I have things to do. I'm going to go to yoga and ride before it hits 90 degrees and write my Egypt book. In a perfect world I'll finish the wildly horrible, very long book whose review I have to write by this weekend (the rest of my rage can go right there).

OK I DIGRESS...I am DONE with the nasty brutish male character who roughly grabs the female character and is yelling nasty things and then suddenly kisses her, and she tries to resist but he persists, and then she melts in his arms because ohmygosh it's so sexy, the masculine virility...this in a YA book, this is what we are teaching our teens. It's sexy when someone grabs you and kisses you against your will.


Let's rewrite it. The nasty brutish male character roughly grabs the female character while yelling nasty things, and she blasts him with pepper spray, knees him in the gonads, and says, "That was almost felony assault, you jackass, don't you ever come near me again," and he learns his lesson the way a feral dog would do if you blasted it with pepper spray.

Yeah, ok, still got plenty of rage. It's been a tough week.

However, I have a puppy on my lap.

She weighs 10 pounds now. She weighed four when we got her. We have fallen into this little routine. She can make it through the night without peeing now, so I don't line her crate with puppy pads, but when she needs to go out it's sometimes a little earlier than I could wish, but at the same time it's really not negotiable. This morning it was still darkish when I went out, a week past the solstice. I've always loved early mornings. Good thing.

She goes out, then comes in and eats, then immediately goes out again. We walk down the hill to get the newspaper--it's like a puppy car wash, all the lush wet grass. I towel her off, which makes her growl tiny puppy protests. Then she goes into the breakfast nook--I've gated it--I make my breakfast and sit and eat it and read the paper. Usually my husband's eating breakfast too, though sometimes he's up a little earlier or later, depending on his schedule.

Then I carry the gate to my office and blockade my writing nook. I'm nearly past having to do this. She's quit using the backside of the loom as a toilet and has learned that books are not chew toys. Yesterday afternoon she had free range of the whole messy office for a few hours and did well. But for mornings I barricade the nook. She trots up to my feet, sits down, and makes a few tiny puppy barks. She can bark with the best of them when properly motivated, but in this case she's just talking to me, saying that she's ready for me to pick her up.

I put her on my lap. She sprawls out and takes a nap.

Really. This is what we do. I start my morning off with a puppy sleeping on my lap, and it's a great way to start the day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Other Term for 'Politically Correct' is 'Correct'

Kay. I woke up fierce this morning, astonished and appalled by how some people waste their precious limited time.

I'm serious. Sunday was my birthday and Monday was the funeral of someone I loved. I woke up in the middle of last night when my husband made a sudden noise and my heart flooded with gratitude--here I am, beside the man I've loved for thirty-five years.

It's been a hard spring for many people I care about. I can feel my perspectives shifting.

All over the internet, people who never heard of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Lifetime Achievement Award before this weekend are raising a big unholy fuss over thae changing of its name, acting as though this is just another step in a slippery slope that leads to--I don't know, what? Equality? Justice? Loving thy neighbor?

Folks, we're not saying that it's possible that the racist depictions in the Little House books might possibly someday be harmful to some kids. We're saying they are harmful to some kids. We're saying we know they have caused harm. And that therefore, a woman who died 61 years ago no longer gets to have this award named after her. She won it, its inaugural year. No one is taking that honor away from her.

But seriously, all the things to get upset about in this world, you're gonna pick that?

I'm not.

People are still dying from hunger in this world. People are dying from lack of medical care. People are dying from loneliness and mental illness and social injustice and sometimes they're dying for no reason at all, and I'm picking my battles carefully from here out.

When I was doing school visits this year, for the first time, a student asked me directly in a large group presentation, "Is Susan gay?"

When I said, "Yes," the room applauded. The entire room. It was clear to me that the students had talked about it beforehand and cared about my answer.

For the record, I was in a small conservative midwestern town. After my presentation, a girl came up to me, beaming, to thank me for Susan. Here's the thing: it wasn't because she was gay (she may or may not have been; she didn't say). It was because her parents were gay, and they were good parents, and it was important to her to see her family's reality reflected in books.

In my book The War I Finally Won, Susan, the loving adoptive gay parent, makes Ada write, one hundred times, "I will not continue to conflate lack of knowledge with lack of intelligence."

Here are my lines:
I will not revere the past at the expense of the present.
I will not equate skin color, religious belief, country of origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity with morality, virtue, intelligence or worth.
The mountain I die on will be worth the price.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

We Don't Hate Laura Ingalls Wilder But I'm Glad We Dropped Her Name

On Saturday, the Association of Library Services for Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, voted unanimously to rename their lifetime achievement award. It will now be called the Children's Literature Legacy Award instead of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.

Laura Ingalls Wilder included racist passages in her books. You can argue all you like about whether this makes her a racist--though, if you read all her other writings, and the biographies written about her, it seems that she was--but you can't argue that having Ma say, repeatedly, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian," is not racist. And before you get up telling me that Laura was only writing down what her Ma actually said, hogwash. Laura decided what words to write and what stories to include. Her books were loosely autobiographical but not entirely.

The nine books were published from 1932 to 1953. They were at their peak of popularity during my childhood in the 1970s, around the time of the even-more-loosely-autobiographical, hugely schmaltzy TV show. I adored the books. I adored the series. I dressed as Laura Ingalls Wilder for Halloween.

The first time I read Gone With the Wind, when I was 18, I was captivated. (Yes, this post feels digressive. Stick with me). The sweeping story, the vivid characters, the fantastic historical backdrop--amazing. A few years later, when I was still in college, I picked it up to read it again. And I was horrified. I had learned to be a writer, had learned to examine carefully the choices writers made.

The same thing happened with the Little House on the Prairie books. When I read them to my children, I found myself editing many of the passages. I found myself unable to say, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." I thought of my college friend Jen, a Sioux (she's now principal of a reservation school). I couldn't really edit the passages where Pa dresses as a "darky" and performs in a minstrel show. I told my children why it wasn't considered okay to do that now, but I couldn't really explain to them why it was considered okay then.

I remember loving the Little House books, but the farther away I get from my childhood, the less I admire them. I'm grateful that ALSC changed the name of their award. I don't think that the highest possible honor in children's literature--the only thing that trumps the Newbery, the Prinz, the Caldecott--should be named after a woman whose words are offensive. There's a big internet kerfluffle from people who have only read the headlines. No one is banning the Little House books. No one is rewriting them.

If you're really upset about the name change, do this first: read the books again. All of them. Then get back to me.

We've renamed an award so that it reflects our current awareness of who our kid-lit audience actually is. Halleluia.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Actual Job

So I'm reading this enormous deadly research book.
On Saturday my husband and I were up at Linville, driving home from a morning visit to the farmer's market, talking to our son through the speakerphone in our car. (Bluetooth, whatever. I don't know how it works.) I moaned about the book.

My son said, "Isn't that your actual job?"

I said, "Yes. Yes, it is. This afternoon I will be hard at work on my actual job while your father goes off and plays golf."

My husband said, "She'll be hard at work for twenty-two and a half minutes. Then she'll curl up with the puppy and they'll both fall asleep."

I said, "Twenty-two minutes of very hard work!" but no one believed me.

The puppy is on my lap now. She's come to believe this is part of our morning program. I sit at the computer, doing my actual job, and she sits on my lap, doing hers. Which, for the record, is licking my feet.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Rant About Privilege

I saw a political ad yesterday that really annoyed me.

OK, yeah, all political ads annoy me. All politics annoy me, more or less, and as I've said multiple multiple times I have no political home. I hate all the parties. I would call myself an Independent, but that seems to put me in the same group with Gary Johnson, who looks pretty in a well-made suit but could not name a single current foreign leader.

Still, this one was amazingly bad. It was pretty much the definition of Privilege used to claim that someone was not privileged. It's someone running for Governor of Tennessee. I didn't catch his name, but I'll look for it next time so I remember not to vote for him.

Starts out, "When I was eight years old, I went to work in a factory my father owned for one dollar an hour."

Let's unpack that.

By the time he was eight years old, his father owned a factory.

As the owner of the factory, his father felt able to flaunt child-labor laws and nominally "hire" his son. (Since 1916, no one under age 14 is allowed to work in any kind of non-agricultural job.) At 8 years old, the boy wasn't really working, or he was being put in harm's way. You'd better bet the other factory workers, who weren't the boss's son, were having to keep an eye on him. Joy.

One dollar an hour was minimum wage from 1952-1960, which is when I'm guessing this was. It was on par with what teenage workers would get.

Next sentence is something like, "I paid for college by operating an injection machine." (Photograph of factory floor.)


He went to college. So, beginning work at age 8 didn't disrupt his education, which means it was after school or in summertime.

Someone paid him enough while he was in high school, working at most nights/summers, that it covered his college tuition bill. So, probably not talking minimum wage.

Look, my husband went to work when he was young, first mowing the grass at the business his dad and grandpa owned, then working in the eyeglass lab as a teen. It was a skilled job and he worked hard; he didn't fool around, he put in the hours. But everyone else in the lab was a full-time long-term employee. The only reason there was room for him in the summertime is because he was the boss's son. It doesn't mean he didn't work. It means getting the job in the first place was for him a function of privilege.

Imagine some poor ill-dressed black teenager showing up at that factory, wanting to work part-time for enough money to pay his tuition. Not as likely he'd be hired, is it?

Then there was more blathering, followed by some kind of dreck about people who don't know how to work and live off welfare.

I know there are people in this country who don't know how to work, or, if they do know, don't care to exercise that knowledge. I know some people scam disability or anything else they can. I work in social justice a couple of hours a week and I am neither naive or stupid.

However. "Welfare" has not existed in this country for twenty years now. What we have are federal housing assistance, food assistance, Medicare, disability payments, and that's about it. There's something called Temporary Aid To Needy Families (TANF) which is a cash payment like the old type of welfare checks. A person is limited to five years lifetime or two years in a row, and I've never seen a monthly benefit of over 250 dollars.

Sometime soon I'll post another blog about starting from the bottom. What offended the hell out of me regarding that ad is that the man running seemed entirely oblivious to the fact that much of his life turned out so well because he started at the top.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Whose Idea Was This Puppy?

I haven't been writing much in the past few weeks, and it's making me insane. I get really cranky if I don't write on a regular basis--the months I suffered from major depression and couldn't write were incredibly scary for me on that basis alone. What if I could never write again?

Today my mental health is quite good, except for the transient crabbiness. I spent last week making new good friends with a couple we were hosting from Scotland. (Yes, we spent a complete week hosting total strangers, in our home, and it was a blast. It's not the first time we've done something like that. It's always ended well.) We were up in our mountain house, and just before the Sinclairs arrived I got a long editorial letter from my editor about my Egypt book, which was perfect--if you can, you need to let editorial letters marinate a few days. I mulled. I didn't write.

The editorial letter was comprehensive and fair. My husband, who had been very happy for me when I finished the draft and joyfully declared that it was a Book, was a little flabbergasted by the amount of work still left to do. There's a whole part of the setting that hasn't been adequately addressed, a few characters that drop out halfway through the book, some motivational issues--a lot of work. My husband said, "Are you okay?" and I said, "Oh, honey, I already knew most of that." The thing is, you can't--or at least, I can't--work on problems in a novel until you have a novel. Spend too much time perfecting the first chapter and you'll never get to the second chapter, much less the end.

Two things prevent me from diving headlong into the morass. One is that I now absolutely need to finish the 486-page 400-pound reference book I've been avoiding because it was written by someone who loves jargon and actively resents clarity. Yesterday I made it through 6 pages in 20 minutes before I fell asleep.

480 pages to go. It'll take me til Christmas.

The second thing is my darling puppy. She is a barrel of fun. She is fluffy and cute and opinionated and I love having a dog in the house again, but man, this morning she is wearing me out. Last night I went to sleep composing a blog post in my head (because even writing this blog post is much better than not writing at all) about the incredible beauty of my friend's little daughter frolicking with the puppy on our lawn. This morning I woke to the discovery that the puppy has been using a secluded spot under my floor loom as her own personal loo, and perhaps toilet-training hasn't been going as well as I thought.

I took her out, then put her in her crate while I cleaned up the mess and got dressed. And made coffee. She began to bark maniacally. I took her out. She grabbed the middle of her leash with her teeth and attempted to lead me. It's cute when it's not your puppy doing it. I put her back in. She barked. I took her back out. She shot me insolent looks, and lay down. I took her inside and put her in the puppy playpen. She pooped. Instantly. I grabbed her and took her out for the final dribbles.

Into the crate. Clean up the floor. Attempt to eat breakfast. Puppy throws tantrum in the crate. I don't care. I ignore her. She barks. I take her out. She tries to lead me.

I put her in my lap. She snuggles for a few paragraphs (the first two, above) then tries to bite my hands as I type. I put her back in the puppy playpen, now moved to my office, with a nice fresh chew bone. She barks maniacally. I ignore her--it's more puppy tantruming. Finally she goes quiet, and I turn to give her some attention now that she's not barking. She's just peed an enormous pee all over the wood floor and is sitting in it. Her expression says clearly, "I told you I needed to go out."

It's not even 9 am and we need a do-over around here. Happily I'm off for a walk at the weir dam, with my friend and her large dog. I'll take the puppy, and she can walk and walk and frolic and poop, and after that she'll be knackered, and I'll sit down with that damn reference book and more coffee so I can stay awake and learn everything I need to know. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Other Opportunities

I'm hanging out at my house in the mountains this week.

We bought this place 11 years ago. It's pretty high up one of the western North Carolina mountains, high enough that there usually aren't mosquitoes, and it's usually about 10 degrees cooler than it is in Bristol, only a 75-minute drive away. (It's about 20 degrees cooler than Charlotte, on average, which is why this community exists in the first place. It's been a resort area since well before the advent of air conditioning.) My allergies aren't as bad up here and between that and the coolness we leave windows open, which I never ever ever do at home. I love it.

The last few years we've not been able to spend nearly as much time here as we wanted. Some of that was just life and some of it was over-scheduling. We're working on changing what we can; yesterday evening, as we enjoyed a glass of wine on our back porch, surrounded by trees, a puppy sleeping in my lap, my husband said, "I want to be here more and I want to travel more. I'll just have to work less."

Meanwhile there are still some very hard things happening here. Still not my story, so I won't say more, but it feels dishonest to write an everything's-lovely post. Some things are lovely. Some things will always be lovely. Other things will always be devastating. Nothing can change that. Not ever.

Meanwhile my editor is supposed to call me TODAY to discuss the current iteration of what I'm still calling The Egypt Book (eventually it will have a title). I woke up thinking about the call, and the joy of knowing What Comes Next (answer: lots of work.). When Jess tells me she hopes to call me today, I think she means that she'll probably wake me up with her phone call because she was so eager to discuss my budding genius that she kissed her babies good-bye at 5 am and took the first subway into Manhattan so we could chat before anyone else in the building arrived. She means she'll try to get to the call today but it'll probably happen tomorrow, or Thursday, because I am not her only author and any book that won't be published by Fall 2019 at the earliest is way down on her priority chart than stuff that has to happen before lunch. Also while she loves me she's not getting up early for me.

Meanwhile a book I didn't anticipate as my next book is shoving itself to the forefront of my mind. I always have a mental queue of things I might write next. I would have said I had three or four other books in front of this one. But no. The storyline is spinning out, the characters are taking shape, even though I've not even remotely begun the research.

I did bring four or five books on the topic with me this week. I won't read them all--we'll have company all week, starting tonight, and we have lots of activities planned--but I'll make a dent. And then, as soon as I hear from Jess (in the next half hour, I hope) I'll be back in Egypt, with Howard Carter, King Tut, and Hussein.