No, I'm not talking about Ozzy Osborn fans. I'm talking about toddlers, the little people with huge emotions, and a specific subset of these little people: Headbangers.
Baby Girl is a head banger. Her anger and frustration escalate so quickly and to such proportions that she can't express her feelings any other way than thudding her head on something hard. Wood door. Wood floor. Sometimes she'll just hit herself with whatever she's holding in her hand: baby doll, magic marker, Play-Doh, her sister's head. It's shocking and scary and very upsetting to behold.
The first thing people always say when I share this is: "Is she autistic?"
"No. She is not autistic."
Then I get the sideways glance, the thoughtful pause in the conversation, and we move on to another topic, because my head banger toddler makes people anxious.
Oh believe me, she makes no one more anxious than me.
But she shouldn't. She has been looked at by occupational therapists, behaviorists, and pediatricians, and they all give her a clean bill of psychological health. She's just a normal kid who, when she feels bad, copes by banging her head. In truth, about 20% of toddlers do this, almost all of them healthy kids who, when they're really mad, put bruises their dear little foreheads. And believe me, it's awkward walking around with a bruised kid. I have never, ever hit my kids. Ever once. Never. But people wonder about me when they see those bruises, and that hurts.
If you have come to this blog post, I'm assuming it's because you are out of ideas and you've performed a desperate internet search looking for answers. I got all kinds of advice from all kinds of experts, and almost ALL of them told me, "Put her in a safe place where she can't hurt herself, ignore the behavior, and she'll stop it."
I followed their advice. I bought a play yard, covered it with foam so she couldn't hurt herself, and we named it The Thunderdome. When she lost control, we'd put her there, saying something like, "You're not allowed to bang your head," and we'd let her tantrum run out. I was told by doctors and occupational therapists and behaviorists and speech therapists this was the right thing to do. For more time than I want to admit here, puzzled and baffled and scared and worried, I ignored her head banging, walked away, withheld the attention she was supposedly seeking with this violence, assured by these folks she would get the message and stop.
Did she stop? No. She did not stop. In fact, it got worse.
Finally, one day we realized that maybe not every emotion a kid has is meant to seek attention. Maybe not every single behavior they engage in isn't about making Mommy love me. Maybe our poor baby girl was banging her head because she didn't know what else to do. Her emotions were just as scary to her as they were to us, and this practice of isolating her was making her feel alone and rejected when she most needed love and understanding.
It makes me weep. But at least we caught it while she's still young.
We retired Thunderdome. We said goodbye to those well meaning experts. Now, when I see her escalating, getting ready to bang her head with something, I don't walk away, I don't isolate her. I get down on one knee, put a hand on her back and say softly, "You're feeling really frustrated right now! I don't blame you! You want things to go another way and they didn't work out, and now you're upset! Let me give you a hug sweetie."
Empathy. Lots and lots of empathy.
It doesn't always work perfectly, but more and more she puts down the hard object. She comes into my arms. She snuggles against my neck, and I kiss her little cheeks.
Which is what I wanted to do the whole damn time.
Is there a moral to this story? There is, and it's this: When your kid is feeling out of control and scared, don't give her the message you don't want to be around her. Give her the message you love her, you're there to support her. Instead of banging her head, she'll eventually come to you for hugs, and everyone in the house will be MUCH happier. Always, ALWAYS, err on the side of love.
And read this book:
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Amy's thoughts on young adult literature, the universe, and her dog Miles. Amy is the author of Vibes and Shadow Falls.
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No, I'm not talking about Ozzy Osborn fans. I'm talking about toddlers, the little people with huge emotions, and a specific subset of these little people: Headbangers.
Romantic triangles have been a part of literature since time immemorial. Helen of Troy, Menelaus, and Paris in The Iliad might be the first. More examples include Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Room with a Viewby E.M. Forster, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak… the list goes on. This is an illustrious tradition to participate in.
There aren’t a lot of ways to instill tension into a romantic sub-plot. There’s the classic Taming of the Shrew device, which has the two romantic leads loathing each other at first, then falling in love. There’s the trope of two lovers torn apart by society or fate, as in Romeo and Juliet. And then there’s the classic love triangle, with messy feelings all over the place, and lots of opportunity for conflict. If any of you can think of a new way to lend tension to a romantic plot, say so in the comments so I can write it. Please.
Romantic triangles happen in real life, all the time, and part of a novelist’s job is to write about real life. I’ve been in a few romantic triangles myself, more often as one of two girls lusting after the same guy, but a couple times as one girl with two guys vying for my attention. (Ah! Those college days!) Believe me, romantic triangles are a lot more fun to read about than they are to experience.
The focus of my Sky Chasers series really isn’t love. My books are an examination of the way in which ideology, both religious and secular, can shape political discourse, the manufacturing of power, and resulting societal problems. My female protagonist is poised between two boys who represent different philosophies: Seth is the pragmatic, apolitical survivor, and Kieran is the idealistic, ambitious leader. Waverly represents the future in my books, and her choice will, in a very real way, shape the future world she is helping to create.
I have three little girls and they're all at an impressionable age, so I let them watch Frozen, written by the brilliant Jennifer Lee, as much as they want to. I do this because Frozen is the most important children's film to come out in decades, and I hope that it's as influential on future films as it deserves to be.
That's a pretty big statement I just made, but I'm prepared to defend it.
Frozen explodes one of the predominant fairy tale conventions of the twentieth century, (and probably every century before,) that the love and attraction of a man is the only thing that can save our heroine. The trope of the dashing prince, or rogue, falling instantly in love with the accursed princess dominates Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and probably others. Even Tangled, which is a very well written movie, still operates under this convention, portraying romantic love as the saving force for our besotted princess. While the heroine of Tangled is hardly helpless, Frozen is the movie that recognizes the fallacy in fairytale logic. The two pronged idea of a man falling hopelessly in love with a woman based mostly on her beauty, and that without this love she is lost, amounts to an indoctrination into the patriarchy that has kept women vulnerable for centuries, and gives members of both sexes a very unrealistic idea of romantic love. Frozen begins to undo the damage.
Anna is our princess in trouble in Frozen, and the first time she's released from an isolating childhood she meets the dashing Hans. They have a conversation full of sparks and laughter, and she takes an instant liking to him. She is so excited about the idea of romance as the solution to her troubles that she accepts him as her future husband by the end of their first night together. All this follows the trope of the princess being saved by the dashing prince who is so taken with her beauty that he proposes immediately. But then the trope begins to unravel. Her sister, the queen, refuses to grant her blessing for the union because she sees how unwise it is for Anna to marry someone she just met, and this causes a fracture in the already fragile relationship between the sisters. The crisis point is reached when Queen Elsa loses control of her powers, causes a deep winter freeze in the middle of summer, and flees the city to isolate herself in the mountains. Anna must delay her marriage to Hans and go on a quest to bring back Elsa, and with her, summer.
This bit about Elsa and her powers constitutes the second fairy tale myth that Frozen explodes, which is that powerful women tend to be evil. Indeed, the original Hans Christian Andersson story upon which Frozen is based, The Snow Queen, depicted an evil, powerful woman causing all kinds of mischief with her magic. Evil queens, naughty witches or malicious mother figures inhabit many fairy tales, including Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Tangled. Frozen rises above this trope to beautiful effect by telling Elsa's story in a new way.
Elsa is incredibly powerful. She can manifest snow and ice at will, just by thinking about it, but in childhood her magic injures Anna by accident. And so she is taught to hide her power, to pretend she is ordinary, to dread her own magic, and above all, to fear her own emotions. "Conceal it. Don't feel it. Don't let it show," is a mantra her father repeats with her again and again.
This illustrates another indoctrination into the patriarchy, and it's a well known one. Little girls and women are, both subliminally and overtly, taught to hide their anger, control it, to concentrate on being cooperative, nurturing, and helpful. (For a study that illustrates this perfectly, see here.) Strong, fiery little girls who are destined to be leaders are softened, and they learn to hide their leadership attributes. These pressures have very negative effects on young women. More than one study, (see here) has shown that a girl's self esteem is likely to drop when she reaches her teen years. Many specialists think the reason is she is increasingly aware of her passive role in society as a sexual object rather than as a powerful agent acting for her own good. Even worse, suddenly it becomes a girl's job to be in competition with her sisters for male attention, which alienates them from each other, complicating friendships between women, sometimes irreparably.
Elsa's journey follows this social tragedy almost in lock step. Just as she is discovering her own personal power in early adolescence, she is taught to hide it, deny it, and cover it up, which alienates her from her sister Anna. This fracture between the two girls sets off a spiral of psychological torment for both. For Elsa, this torment only intensifies her power, and she loses control of it altogether. Only when Elsa finally learns to accept and embrace her power, and to mend her relationship with her beloved Anna, is she able to assume her proper role as a powerful leader who can accomplish great things for her people. In other words, my dear sisters, it isn't the love of a man who will always save you. We women will all do better if we accept and cultivate our own power, and admit that our relationships with our sisters are just as important as our relationships with men, perhaps more so.
And what about Anna and her love affair with Hans? By the end of the movie we learn that Hans
So yes, I let my daughters watch Frozen as much as they want, and we talk about it, and I answer all of their questions, because I want them to understand how easy it is to be tricked by a man you're attracted to, and how easy it is for a girl to lose her own sense of personal power and her connection to her sisters. This knowledge will, I dearly hope, help them avoid some of the more negative experiences many adult and teenage women have in their love lives and their working lives. Above all, I want to see more movies like Frozen that take a second look at the fairy tales we tell our children, and refashion them into the truth.
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Says Tim Worstall of Forbes: "More titles, easier access and quite possibly a saving of public funds. Why wouldn’t we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?"
What an idea! What a deep thinker! It's pure dollars and sense! Fire the librarians, tear down the libraries, and give all the money to AMAZON! After all, they know what to do with it, right? Let AMAZON be in charge of what the public reads from now on and into eternity! I trust them.
Business purists like Mr. Worstall are dummies in intellectual clothing. The only thing that matters to him is money. Forget after school and adult literacy programs, lecture series that are free and open to the public, literary events with guest authors, and the plain and simple public good of having a gathering place where people can read, think, research, and be together.
Forget the blow to the economy of all those millions of suddenly out of work librarians, who would now have absolutely no place to tender their skills. (And they are skilled. Very.)
Oh wait! Mr Worstall has a solution! They can work at AMAZON!!
Forget the slap in the face to all those people who have dedicated themselves to the love of literature, and to the good of their communities. Forget the deep insult of devaluing them to the level of a portable reading device.
The fact that this guy has a national platform is honestly baffling.
What concerns me about this article isn't really the idea, which is ridiculous and obviously stupid. I'm more concerned about this trend of devaluing our public servants. If we devalue our teachers, then we devalue learning too. If we devalue librarians, we devalue literature and research. And do I have to point out that both these professions are populated largely by women? Is this a coincidence, or are suggestions like Mr. Worstall's just chauvinism in the guise of fiscal streamlining?
I'm not providing a link to the FORBES article because it's probably click bait anyway. Instead I'll link to this blog piece by a NYC librarian that responds to Worstall's article rather hilariously:
If you love books, if you love your library like I do, you have to stand up for it. We all must defend our teachers and librarians, because they're under attack in a very real way. Teachers and librarians are heroes on the front lines on our crumbling society, trying to battle the forces that are destroying literature and love of learning. They deserve our utmost respect.
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A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.
She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.
"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."
A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.
"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"
"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."
I didn't write this. Found it here, a great page with jokes for writers:
I have been asked by my good friend, Jil Picariello, (isn't she cute?) author of the beautiful memoir Jessica Lost, to participate in a blog tour. I'm to invite a third writer to a conversation about process, but first let me tell you a little something about Jil. She is a brilliant cook, so brilliant that she even makes her own cheese. She's a sweet and loving presence, and she has an infectious giggle. I was in a writing group with her for a few years after we both completed our MFAs in Creative Writing from The New School, and I learned a lot from her, not just about writing, but about life in general.
Jil is all around delightful, and so is her memoir, Jessica Lost. (The picture to the right is a link to purchase the book on Indiebound.) In it, she tells the story, with the help of her biological mother, of how she was given up for adoption as a baby, and how she found her way back to the woman who gave birth to her. It's a beautiful story of loss and healing, and I highly recommend it. Jil writes very charmingly about her own process here: http://bibliocook.blogspot.com
And now let me introduce the next writer on the tour. We've chosen to have a conversation about our writing process, and I'm honored she agreed to be here.
Laura Pritchett is kind of famous in the town where I live. She's got a Ph.D. in creative writing from Purdue University, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her novel Sky Bridge was chosen by School Library Journal as a top ten book for that year --very impressive. She also writes beautiful essays that you can find in such literary journals as The Sun, Orion, and High Country Review. You can learn more about her at her website: http://www.laurapritchett.com/
Her latest novel, Stars Go Blue, draws heavily on her experience having a parent ill with Azheimer's disease. The book is heartbreaking and absolutely beautiful, and it's getting all kinds of wonderful reviews and well deserved attention in the media. And the cover is just gorgeous! (Click on the picture to order from Indiebound.)
Laura: Thank you for having me! And Amy, YOU are famous in this town. And for good reason. I have to say: this town has such a wide diversity of voices, which is how, I suppose, we ended up doing a blog post together. First, I heard of you and your incredible books, and now I have the extreme pleasure of getting to know you. Whether YA or sci fi or historical or whatever – it is an incredible joy to share this writing journey with others. Also, I think all this speaks to the importance of community – of being part of the larger scope of things. When I first started writing, I was often home alone, writing away. And I still do that. For sure. But I also realize the importance of engaging in the larger community of writers and book lovers ---- which has (luckily for me) brought your work into my world. It’ s an honor to be sharing this conversation with you. You and your works are a complete joy and wonder.
Amy: Thank you so much for that! (Ego swelling very pleasantly. Enjoying sensation...) But let's get down to business: I'd be so interested to hear about what you're working on right now.
Laura: My work is literary and set in the West – so I’m going to address that. I’d say that here in the American West, the West has been portrayed one way: Men were the focus, they were quiet and stoic, they had a bunch of broken dreams, and they had a minority and a woman to help them out. But literature has rapidly changed; we’ve evolved. We’ve quit being so romantic and nostalgic, and new voices have become part of our literary dialogue--voices by minorities, women, and complex men.
Amy: I guess I'd have to say that I'm a bit philosophical in my writing, or at least I try to be. I'm not the only writer of YA who is philosophical, not by a long shot, but I would say that most of the genre tends to be more about story and character and voice, and less about theme. (Though it would be a mistake to say theme is absent in YA.) My Sky Chasers series is, in the final analysis, an argument for the separation of church and state. I look at how corrupting it is when a leader is both the spiritual and the political figurehead, and why it's better for the two roles to be kept separate. Beyond that, I tackle pretty weighty issues like religion, medical ethics, and the futility of violence, so my books, though they are full of action, are not your typical shoot-em-up adventure, even though I think it's a pretty exciting story.
It's always a mystery to me where writers get their ideas. How does it work for you? Why do you write what you write?
Laura: Because I love to read. Be a part of the larger community and conversation. Books have a lot of power, after all. They show us how to live, or how we could live. They make us less lonely, they connect us, and they illustrate ways of being human. Always, as a writer, I am seeking to put words to the inchoate, as truthfully as I can.
And by the way, Amy, I’m a huge fan of your work. And I have to say, I just ordered another to catch up with all you’ve been doing. The other day, at a conference, someone questioned “young adult literature these days,” and I went into a semi-rage rant. He obviously hadn’t read your work – or the work of so many YA writers out there. Frankly, there is TONS of great YA out there, and it makes me a bit crazy when it gets dismissed as being less sophisticated (or something) than “adult literature.” Wrong. YA Lit is EVERY BIT as sophisticated and complex and important as adult literature , and your work is one amazing example. I know you’ve posted on this before, and I so appreciate that. Okay, but back to biz: Tell me, why do YOU write?
Amy: To me this is an unanswerable question, because I really don't know why the stories that come to me almost always star a teen protagonist. Just like for any writer, all my ideas come from deep inside my subconscious, and my subconscious seems fascinated with the teen years. I guess I like the fact that teens are dealing with adult issues even though they have less power and experience than adults, so the stakes become naturally higher --I like a high-stakes story. Plus, I really care about young people, and I want to give them something to read that makes them feel less alone. I slip some heady ideas into my stories to encourage my readers to think, because I know what most YA authors understand: Teens are just as smart, and just as good at reading complex texts, as most adults. And that's the truth. So I try to write books that challenge them, and believe me, that's not easy.
Your books are so evocative and lyrical. I'm curious how your writing process works?
Laura: Generally I think of a character first. I let her sit in my brain for a while. Then I start to ask questions: what’s up with her? What’s her main problem? What’s her main source of joy? From that comes a plot, a story. Then I try to make that character more complicated, more human. When I write a character, I think of that person as having a certain “weather pattern” going on. They are calm, stormy, violent, dull, bright. Of course, a character can change, and needs to change, but still, the character’s core is unique in some way. If I can find that core and write from there, then I feel like that character is a one-of-a-kind – and thus my story will be one of a kind. That’s the most important part of my process, bar none. How about you? What gets you going with a story?
Amy: For me the process is mostly about creating a space in my life for writing. I have three young children, so this is a lot harder than it used to be. I have about ten times more housework than I used to, and a million demands on my time that make keeping a writing practice very difficult. Lately I've been getting up very early, making myself some coffee, and getting some writing in before anyone else wakes up, maybe a couple pages. Then I make breakfast for my family, and they're off to their little social engagements with their nanny, and I get a few more hours to write mid-morning. I find that those few pages I write in the wee hours sets my whole day up for writing during stolen moments the rest of the day. If my book is the first thing I do, it's naturally on my mind all day. I like that. As far as where I begin, for me, it's always a scene, or a conversation between characters. I think I write down the action first, and then hone my characters from there.
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What a fascinating turn of events! Another writer has ventured forth with an article condemning the genre of Young Adult literature. This time it's Ruth Graham writing for SLATE, and she wants you to know that if you are over 18 and you read young adult literature, you ought to be ASHAMED of yourself!
I'm not going to write a response to the actual article, because it is full of false logic and reductive thinking with a healthy dose of arrogance. This writer has obviously read precious little of the current genre, and assumes adults who read young adult literature, like me for example, aren't reading anything else. (I'm well into Persuasion by Jane Austen for the second time, but never mind about me.)
They want the controversy. They want us to go to the article and defend our reading tastes, (which, by the way, need no defense.) So my suggestion is, don't do it.
Which is why the above hyperlink takes you directly to a picture of a rainbow, which is much more worth your while.
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People say, "Parenting is a lot of work." And you get that, before you have kids. You understand, but you don't really understand until you have kids of your own. You don't understand how tired a person can be until you have a baby. Your back aches, you can't get a full night's sleep, and you have to carry around a tiny person who needs you to carry her, no matter how bad that kink in your neck is, or how much you need to sleep or you really just might fall on your knees and cry.
Having kids is like winning the most wonderful prize in the world, but you kind of miss life before the prize. The prize makes you happier than you've ever been, and clarifies your life's purpose in a way nothing else ever could, but that prize requires constant attention, constant work, constant worry. Nothing is more exhausting than a baby. Nothing, that is, except a toddler.
And more babies.
Your body changes, whether you're a mom or a dad. Your life changes. Your house changes. Your car changes. Your schedule is a shambles, your ability to work severely compromised. You discover you have a terrible temper when you're too tired and overworked, and sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you yell, and you see innocent faces looking at you, bewildered and hurt. You apologize, you hate yourself. You sometimes even hate being a parent.
Parenting is a lot of work.
But nothing else gives you those warm cuddles, that soft baby-breath, that sweet silky skin on those chubby arms. Being a parent reconfigures all your senses. You become more fully alive. You become more fully yourself. You learn to love better than you ever have. You accept your mistakes, you move on, you try your hardest to make your complete, all consuming, unconditional love understood to little people who are as amazed by earth worms as they are by hearing Beethoven's Ode to Joy for the first time. You see the world in a new way, and the gift of that is more precious than the freedom you gave up to get it.
So on this Mother's Day, I wish all of us mothers the very best of luck, because we'll need it, and for the most part, on most days, we probably deserve it.
In writing class you are taught to "write what you know." If a writer ventures too far outside her own personal experience s/he runs the risk of inauthenticity. With this in mind, I've felt unsure about writing from the point of view of a person of color simply because I didn't think I knew enough about what it's like to BE a person of color. I want to be authentic, so I've stuck to characters who look like me, who come from the same white privileged background that I do. Until lately, I haven't really interrogated this line of thinking because it's what I learned to do from older writers whom I respect greatly.
But I'm not sure this is really the way to go anymore, because I think there was an assumption in my logic, an ugly one that I feel a little afraid to share with you now, and that assumption is: A person of color is VERY DIFFERENT from me. Another way of putting it is: A person of color is The Other, and therefore I cannot write from his/her perspective.
This assumption sucks.
In my defense I did write a book proposal that had a girl of mixed race as the protagonist. I was invited to apply by a successful book packager, and I was really excited about it! The packager gave me a plot outline and asked for a first chapter so they could get a feel for my writing. I asked if I could change anything about their story, and they said sure. I had noticed that there hadn't been any fantasies written about kids of color, and I thought that would make the book more interesting, and at least for me it did! My character's mother was black, her father white, and as a result of this "mixed" marriage, her family history was more interesting to me as a writer, and I hoped it would be more interesting to the packager, and ultimately to readers.
I have no idea why they turned down my proposal, I really don't. I have met one of the people in the decision making chain, and he is a completely lovely guy. I like to think he fought for my proposal, but I have no idea what really happened. Maybe they didn't like how far I'd deviated from their outline. Maybe they thought the writing wasn't that awesome. I don't know. But sometimes I wonder if they were unsure that a fantasy YA starring a mixed race protagonist would sell well because they think most white kids, still their largest target demographic, wouldn't want to read about a black girl.
This assumption also sucks.
Again, I don't know, but given some of the stories I hear from other writers, I think it's a possibility that my character's race was part of why I didn't get the contract. I've heard that many editors prefer characters that are "neutral." I'll leave it up to you to decide what "neutral" means.
I'm working on a historical novel right now, and while my protagonist is a white pagan girl living in Europe, the other principal character is going to be a heroic, beautiful African teenage girl. I confess I hadn't thought to include an African character in this period piece set in Europe until I saw the recent debate about diversity in children's books, but now that it has occurred to me, I've realized this beautiful girl is EXACTLY what my novel needed to become truly interesting, and hopefully maybe even great. She will be heroic, and smart, and she will help my protagonist survive, and she will be a person everyone, white, black, latino, asian, Pacific Islander, Australian aboriginee, New Guinean… EVERYONE can look up to. I will be able to write about her because I am a human being who is capable of empathy, and I can imagine what it would be like for an African girl in medieval Europe by asking myself the question every writer asks herself every time she sits down to write: How would I feel?
Then I am going to sell that book, (if my luck holds,) and kids are going to read it, hopefully kids of every color and background. And hopefully my book will be one of many books published in the next few years that proves characters don't have to be "neutral" to be appealing to everyone.
Gotta go. I have work to do!
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I love New Year's resolutions. I appreciate the impetus to take a look at my life, and choose something I'd like to do differently, and then acting on that desire instead of letting it nag the back of my mind. That's why I actually take my resolutions very seriously, and I even announce them on Facebook to hold myself accountable.
This year my resolution was not to buy anything for myself for a year. No sweaters, no shoes, no boots, no underwear or socks. No hats, no coats, no tchotchkies, no cosmetics. No. More. Crap.
I was surprised by the reactions I got from friends when I announced my intentions. "Seems extreme," was one comment. Another person joked that I was going to be pretty smelly if I didn't buy soap. Didn't appreciate that one. Of course I'll purchase what I need to keep clean. My husband didn't believe I'd be able to do it, which provides some hint at my reasons for choosing to. I can now report that I've reached the third month of the year, and I still haven't bought myself anything new, at all, except I decided to switch my brand of drug-store face cream, and so far I'm happy with the change.
A lot of people are baffled about my sudden aesceticism, and I decided to explain where it came from, partly because I wasn't absolutely certain of all my reasons for doing it. I'm never certain about anything until I try to write about it, actually.
When I became a mother, I had the same reaction most new parents have: Complete joy, unparalleled love, and paralyzing, keep-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night terror. Suddenly I was responsible for small being(s) who were absolutely dependent on me for sustenance, shelter, and safety. Until you have a child, it's hard to feel in your gut the total responsibility a parent has toward her baby. Take my word for it, non-parents, it's a definite blow to your psyche. Suddenly, nothing you desire comes even close in importance to seeing that your child is safe, well-fed, warm, and loved.
When my baby cried, it was emotional agony for me if I couldn't make it better. If my baby was in pain, or was simply mysteriously freaking out and I couldn't figure out why, I honestly felt like I would go crazy if I couldn't fix it. It's so scary, all the possibilities of what might be tormenting an inconsolable baby: Is it a hair wrapped around a digit? A migraine headache? A potentially fatal intestinal blockage? Or is it just that I'm holding her the wrong way? The anguish a new parent feels in those moments can be intense.
For me, though, I always knew she'd had enough to eat. It wasn't dysentery, or typhoid, or a poisonous insect bite, or an undiagnosed birth defect in one of her organs. I knew this because I live in America where I have access to health care, and I have enough money to buy food for my kids and to provide safe haven for them.
I'm so lucky.
Because these conditions of ease and comfort do not exist for the majority of parents in our world. The majority. MOST people in the world are food insecure, which means that there are lots of parents, today, this very moment, watching their child moan in pain from being hungry, and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. The anguish of being a parent, knowing what is wrong, knowing that your kid might even die from the problem, and still not being able to fix it? Unimaginable. Unbearable. Horrific.
This shift in my world view sapped the joy of shopping from me. I keep thinking about parents fleeing Syria, trying to carry their children across a desert, parents in Somalia, whose children have stopped growing, parents right here in the USA whose kids eat rice every meal, knowing the food stamps won't last much longer. Getting something for myself, with all that on my mind, wasn't fun anymore.
I know that what I'm doing is kind of useless. It's self-absorbed, really. Who am I helping? No one. I give to charities, but not enough. I could give more. Actually I think I will. I just wanted to stop feeling so guilty after the initial fun had worn off from my latest needless purchase.
I've hesitated about writing about this because I didn't want to seem sanctimonious. I don't begrudge anyone their new jeans. I truly don't. Life is hard, and if shopping is your way of coping, then I say go for it. Right now, this year, my way of coping is to not shop. I think of it as an expression of solidarity with the parents who don't even have the option to go shopping for themselves. And you know what? I do feel a little bit better about my choices. It's a break from stuff. A break from shopping. A break from my own petty preoccupations with the material world.
I didn't expect this, but I feel so free.
Once upon a time, women's bodies were hidden this way:
Waists were cinched with whale bone corsets, full skirts concealed legs and ankles, hats and veils on heads, gloves over white fingers, parasols between skin and sun. To expose a woman's body was to disgrace her. A woman's body was treated with shame.
Now women's bodies are hidden like this:
The fat on this girl's legs has been hidden, her true skin tone obscured, corrected, her waistline digitally cinched ever tighter, her legs narrowed, because Jessica Alba was not beautiful enough.
So now women try to hide their own bodies:
They hide their bodies by eating less, until their muscles atrophy and their internal organs stop functioning. They hide their bodies with Spanx, with cosmetics, with collagen injections and laser treatments, with surgery.
But some women refuse to hide their bodies. Sometimes they are ridiculed for it:
In some places, the consequences are worse:
We are brave.
We are aging naturally, we are eating healthy food and exercising for our health, not our appearance. We are raising our daughters to be cunning, strong, and fearless. No one takes our picture and puts it on a billboard, but we are your doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, musicians, artists, and writers. We are mothers.
We know what true beauty is.
True beauty does not hide itself. True beauty is not afraid. True beauty is timeless.
Whoever you are holding the camera, the scalpel, the needle, the laser, the stone, we do not need you to see us as beautiful.
We don't need you at all. Add a Comment
When I was a kid in the 1970s, a hoodie called up images of heroic athletes working to overcome crushing odds to better themselves and win the day. Rocky Balboa wore his hooded sweatshirt as he ran up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, accompanied by a choir of singers belting out, "Feeling strong now!!" This was back when Sylvester Stalone made great movies.
When people wore a hoodie in the 1970's it meant they were working hard to better themselves, sweating it out, getting strong.
But somewhere along the line, hoodies started to mean this:
But that's not why most of us wear hoodies. I've got one, and I wear it when I go running because I can put up the hood during my warm-up on a cold day, and then once I'm sweating, I can flip it back and I feel cooler. I can unzip the front and get cooler still. When I'm done with my run, I can bundle up again on my walk home. If it starts to rain on me, my hood provides a little shelter. My hoodie is warm, and comfy, and it's one of the most useful, versatile pieces of clothing I own.
I bet that's how Trayvon Martin felt about his hoodie. He was the unarmed teenage boy who, in February of 2012, went to a 7-Eleven to buy iced tea and Skittles, only to be shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
Throughout the media circus that followed, we heard countless mentions of Martin's hoodie. Geraldo Rivera famously said, "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” (Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/74392.html#ixzz2thsLEE1L) Rivera, perhaps hearing the mistake he'd made, tried to explain himself: "It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-Eleven, the kid’s wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace." Even if Rivera's intentions had been to advise young men to protect themselves, the logic is right there in his words: Dark Skin + Hoodie = Danger.
One has to wonder if that was George Zimmerman's logic, too.
It wasn't just Rivera making the connection. Hundreds of hooded images of Martin were paraded about, many of them less than flattering, or downright slanderous:
Martin did NOT steal the Skittles. Here's a link to the surveillance video of him buying them from the clerk the night he died: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W34pSMfM6g
There was conjecture that Martin may have been involved in some burglaries, though he was never charged, and it was never proven that the items in his possession had actually been stolen. He'd been suspended for having marijuana paraphernalia in his school locker, but he did not have a juvenile record. It's especially important to note that Martin did not approach Zimmerman in any way. Zimmerman disregarded the advice of the police dispatcher he was on the phone with, followed Martin, confronted him, and when Martin got scared, or angry, or both, and tried to defend himself, Zimmerman shot him. Tragically, needlessly, the boy died.
We all know what happened next. George Zimmerman pleaded self defense, and was found not guilty.
In the wake of the grief and outrage that followed, one must ask the question: Why did the the negative details about Trayvon Martin's past even come up? Why was the hoodie itself so hotly debated? They were irrelevant to the case, but Martin's past indiscretions and wardrobe choice seemed to be on trial just as much as George Zimmerman was. At the end of it all, looking at the way Martin's image was scrutinized in the media, and how Zimmerman was shockingly let off the hook for his murder, one might conclude: If you are a young black man in America and you're shot down, you have to be a saint for your murderer to be convicted. And you better not be wearing a hoodie.
And that, my friends, is what oppression looks like.
Link to The Million Hoodies Movement.
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Here is what the e-verse is saying:
From a Kirkus starred review: "...a climax that is tense and viscerally frightening...Detailed and gripping, with a thorough and satisfying resolution."
MajiBookshelf: "Me not being a fan of books set in space, this series totally blew me away! I'm so happy that I was able to read it, and would totally recommend it to all sci-fi readers out there! I will be looking forward to future books by Amy Kathleen Ryan!"
Fresh Fiction: "Fans of Orson Scott Card and Suzanne Collins will appreciate the depth of Amy Kathleen Ryan's world and how it reveals society at its weakest and strongest points."
Snarky Bird: "This trilogy offers a great mix of dynamic characters, politics and well, spaceships."
Me on Books: "Flame is a tense and dangerous conclusion to a series about survival, faith, power and hope."
Unless you're living in Antarctica right now, you know that the media has been in an uproar over Miley Cyrus's lascivious performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. My first reaction was: "Meh." Much ado about nothing. But the more I've seen written about it, the more interested I've become, not in Miley's silly dance, but in the media's reaction to it.
A few days ago I watched the dance on YouTube to see what all the fuss was about. There's Miley shaking her tail feathers and simulating oral sex, surrounded by people dressed up as giant plush toys. The choreography didn't wow me, nor did the artistic vision behind the display, but the entire thing is very clearly the work of many professionals. To get something like that together, a juggernaut of producers, choreographers, audio-visual experts, software engineers, costume designers, dancers, and cameramen all had to come together to execute this folly. Miley Cyrus herself must have had an enormous staff of people, from the agents who fought to get her the gig, (which must have been sought after by many performers,) to her make-up artists and hair specialists, not to mention all the dancing lessons and coaching she must have gotten regarding how to properly twerk.
And then: OUTRAGE! How dare Miley Cyrus behave like a wanton slattern, stripping down to her underwear to gyrate so suggestively! Suddenly she is at the center of a disapproval vortex for performing in a dance that someone else designed, being asked to explain herself only to have her absolute dumbest sound-bites published. (Were there any intelligent sounding bites? Perhaps we'll never know.) This twenty year old girl is being grilled rather mercilessly.
Considering, though, all the people involved in the show, I have to ask why isn't anyone else being held accountable? Somehow I doubt the dancing puppets, the twerking, or even the song were all Miley's idea. After all, she was hired for this gig by somebody, and told what was expected of her. She was given a job to do, and she did it.
I did a quick web search looking for the names of the choreographers and producers who are ultimately responsible for the show, but I couldn't turn up any interviews done with them. All the attention and scorn is for Miley. I went to the MTV website and found triumphant reports of Miley's record sales skyrocketing, and proud mention of how her name dominates social media. She sure is cashing in on all that disapproval, and so are a lot of other people. So I can't help wondering: Wasn't she just trying to do what they asked of her? And I'm sorry to say this, but at the age of twenty, I would never expect her to have the kind of judgment an older woman would have. She's young, ambitious, she wanted to please her bosses.
In the final analysis, what I see when I look at that performance is a young woman's body being exploited --by a multinational corporation, by producers, by music executives, and by herself. Was she a victim? Not at all. She was more than complicit in that performance; she obviously embraced it. But I have to wonder at all the many people behind that dance number, the people pulling all the strings to make it happen, and question why twenty year old Miley is the only one sitting on hot coals.
To me the answer is obvious: Because the ones behind the scenes are mostly wealthy middle aged businessmen, and she is a young woman.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, I'm pulling out the sexism card.
As soon as a woman exposes her body to suggest sexuality, she is labeled a slut. No matter that she was fulfilling a contract, no matter that a thousand other people are making money off what some see as her degradation. She's called the slut. She's named the whore. My personal reaction to her dance was to feel a little grossed out, but rather than heap all responsibility on her head, I think the responsibility can be spread around to plenty of other people who made the cynical choice to display her that way for the sake of money. They knew exactly what would happen in the media, and probably so did Ms. Cyrus. This tempest in a teapot is every bit as choreographed as Miley's twerking, only in this case, you and I are the performers, and we are fulfilling our role splendidly.
We are talking about it, we are blogging about it, tweeting and twerking about it. We are dancing where they want us to go, and with us come our dollars. Because they knew that nothing gets people more worked up than seeing a young woman unapologetically embracing her role as a sexual object. If it hadn't been Hannah Montana it would have been someone else, but they chose Miley because a few short years ago she had a wholesome, spotless image, and turning that image on its head would provoke the most heated response, and bring in the most money.
I don't have a problem with Miley Cyrus. I have a problem with the system that made such a display so damn profitable.
The thing about middle school is that you are thrown into close proximity with people who you would never socialize with by choice. The kids tend to self sort, so the smarties hang out together, and the burn-outs corner a table in the lunch room from which they emit their dreadful vibes. But that doesn't mean you won't get stuck sitting next to someone who loathes your very soul in math class.
There was this one guy I remember from school who seemed to see into the very pit of my being and recognize some irredeemable shortcoming there. His name was Mark Something. I didn't think much of him either. I was always a good student, and he never seemed to try very hard. He was kind of chunky, and he walked with the kind of lumbering gait you see more often on a middle aged retiree. We were in band together, and he was a consummate musician. He played the French horn, or the Souzaphone, or some large, curly brass instrument. I played rhythm piano, quite poorly I might add, which probably didn't do anything to dispel his contempt.
It was people like this I learned to avoid. I sat with my speech team compadres at lunch, I hung out after school with my goofball pal Annika, I avoided parties altogether. In short, I was not very sociable, though I felt like I ought to be, and to be honest, that hasn't changed much even three decades later.
I wasn't without my petty rebellions, though. One day I wrote on the corner of my desk, "This sucks." I thought I'd gotten away with something occult and mysterious. I'd defaced public property! I was a true rebel! Imagine my surprise when the next day I discovered that someone who sat in my desk during another period wrote a reply: "No kidding." I had a partner in crime! Naturally I don't remember the conversation, but it went something like this:
"School is boring."
"I hate social studies."
"Who cares what the Netherlands exports?"
"You got a problem with tulips?"
"Yeah. I got a problem with tulips. What of it?"
Like that. Meaningless banter, but kind of funny, kind of entertaining, and healing to my introverted soul.
Finally, after a couple weeks of this exchange, I committed a fatal error. I finally breached the firewall of our concealed identities, and asked the name of my desk buddy. The reply came: "Mark Something. Who are you?"
Mark Something? The guy who loathes me in band? The chubby guy who walks like my grandpa? Mark SOMETHING? I was very disappointed.
I wrote something I wish very much I hadn't. I wrote: "I'm Amy Ryan. I'm not thrilled about it either."
And boom. When I saw Mark Something in band class his loathing had morphed into a complete withdrawal of any kind of emotion whatsoever. He no longer looked into my being and found it wanting. He no longer looked at me at all. I did not exist to him. All desk banter stopped.
And ever since, I can't help wondering if I'd left that last bit off. If I'd just told him my name and waited for his reaction, if he might have become my friend? We had a connection after all. If I hadn't assumed that he would be bummed out to see my name under his, if I hadn't been so defensive, maybe band class could have become fun instead of boring, and I'd have made a friend instead of an enemy.
That is one of thousands of moments in my life I wish I could go back and fix. Mark Something, if you're reading this, I'm sorry I ruined it. You can write on my desk anytime.
That's the problem, though. I will probably never see him again, and even if I did, I doubt I'd recognize him. But I remember what happened. It has stayed with me through the decades, even haunted me a little, as though it were whispering in my ear that I was supposed to learn something from it.
The connections we have with people make life interesting and worthwhile. Before our desk graffiti, I had a connection with Mark, even if it was defined by a mutual dislike. The graffiti could have changed that, and gave us a chance to create a different mode in our relation to each other, but I was too stubborn to let my idea of our connection change. With one sentence I gave Mark a reason to sever our tie altogether. Maybe if I'd been willing to tolerate the ambiguity of our relationship, something even more special and interesting than our desk graffiti would have happened. But I couldn't tolerate that ambiguity. I had to keep defining us as enemies, so I wasn't open to anything else. Something about that negative definition felt safer to me than the possibility of change.
If I hadn't been defensive, if I'd just let my name hang there, he might have responded meanly, or he might have decided to offer friendship. I couldn't have done anything to prevent him from putting me down if he'd wanted to. My only power in the situation was how I behaved. I don't know if I let Mark Something down, but I think I did let myself down a little in the name of self protection. I don't know if the experience really changed me, or if I learned anything from it at the time. I think I was too young to think very deeply about what this exchange meant for me and the way I related to the world. But I can think about it now.
It reminds me of a quote from the poet W.H. Auden: "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"
So here's what I think: My definition of Mark Something as an enemy was actually useless. It was useless to define him at all. A better attitude would have been to accept the fact that I had no idea how he would react to seeing my name written on that desk. I had no control in the situation. Trying to maintain our old orientation to each other, persisting in seeing him as my enemy, was cowardly. If I'd been brave, if I'd been open to change, I might have a happy memory of that time instead of a sad one.
It is better to face the world with an open heart than a closed one.
Sometimes it's better to let your name stand alone.
I've been an on again, off again runner for most of my adult life. When I'm off, it's because I've overdone it and injured myself. When I'm on, instead of enjoying the run I'm on, I'm always thinking about how far I'm GOING to be able to run. I would read articles written by seasoned marathoners, and followed the advice of these experts who tell you that you can build your mileage quickly if you take a one minute walking break in the middle of a run, or that you can increase your mileage ten percent per week. I dutifully followed these rules, confident I was doing what I was 'supposed' to do, yet they still led to injury. I would end up with a wicked case of plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, or incredibly painful clicking hip joints. I thought for a long time that soreness is simply a part of running, that it's normal. After all, most runners' magazines are filled with tips about how to wrap sore feet or properly ice a throbbing knee, so I ignored what my body was telling me. The truth is, I am an impatient person, I want what I want right now, and if that means I have to damage my body trying to reach my goal, I tend to grit my teeth and try to run through the pain --until I can't anymore.
Since the last time I was running in my mid thirties, I've had my kids, put on a bit of weight, and turned forty. For a while I tried to tell myself that I can't run anymore, that I shouldn't even try it. Instead I walked, or used my elliptical trainer. After all I've got kids to keep up with. I can't afford to be limping around after them. But I miss running. Nothing makes me feel stronger. So a couple months ago, I got an idea. What if it is possible for me to run pain free? What if I went even slower than the experts tell me to go?
So I started running again, but I'm building my miles at a snail's pace. The first week I got back to running, I ran for one minute. Was I tempted to go farther? Hell yes. It felt good to be on the trails again, but when my timer ran out, I quit and walked the rest of the way. The next week I ran for two minutes. I've continued the pattern for ten weeks now. I figure, since I'm slow, that once I reach twelve minutes of running I'll have broken the mile. The impatient voice inside my head demands, "According to the experts, I could be running a 5K by now!" But I ignore that voice. I'm no longer trying to be the hare. I'm going for turtle.
It's agonizingly slow, it's frustrating, but you know what? I've been running for three months now, and I don't have plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, or clicking hips. I'm not limping. Instead of listening to experts about what my body should be able to deliver, I'm listening to my body, and it's working.
For a long time I made the mistake of trying to fit into the expectations of other people. I ignored the pain, which was a message from my body that I didn't fit into the experts' rubric, that I am different from the norm. Maybe my body is more fragile, maybe my joints are too loose and wobbly for me to ever be a marathoner, but maybe, if I pay attention to the signals I'm getting from my feet, knees, and hips, and take it slow, after another year of running I might finally reach my goal of five miles.
It's taken me four decades to accept myself as I am, to stop trying to measure up to an ideal that simply isn't possible for me. Just because I can't measure up to the ideal doesn't mean I should give up on something I enjoy. So what if I'll never run a marathon? I accept that. And, if I find my upper mileage limit is three instead of five, I'll accept that too. I'd rather run a regular three miles for the next ten years than run five miles this year, only to burn out and quit again. The important thing is to keep running, and to do it in a way that respects my body.
((And for the record, my husband is neither fat nor lazy. He's actually very cute.))
I go to the counter and randomly pick up objects –a wooden spoon, a ladle. “This? This?”
At which point she throws herself on the floor, kicking and screaming, “FUUUUUUUUUUUHK!!! FUUUUUUUUUUUUHK!!!”
Grandpa looks at me, pearly blue eyes clouded with confusion.
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