- Sun, 21:46: The ghosts are here. #halloween #maine http://t.co/BIddf0ixs6
- Mon, 01:05: It would be so cool if #peytonmanning could somehow break his touchdown record on #walkingdead - with zombie-head footballs.
First off, I need a disclaimer: I am not a good person. I screw up all the time. I lose my temper. I make huge mistakes. I am impatient. I ignore people if they use me too much instead of just embracing the fact that at least I am good enough to be used.
And I am writing that disclaimer because I am totally okay with letting everyone know how flawed I am. This blog post isn't about me saying I'm a wonderful person. I know I'm not. I'm just a person. What this blog post is really about is me trying to figure out why people are so afraid of being good, being kind; why so many people rejoice in putting other people down.
So before I went on vacation, I wrote a blog post about the tremendous community response to a fire at a local restaurant that also provided housing upstairs. Link here: http://carriejones.livejournal.com/371399.html
There is no way to go "over the top" when your post is about volunteers and professionals doing dangerous things for others.
Today, a man told me that the post (which reran in our local newspaper) was "over the top" and that it was "schmaltzy."
There was no point in him telling me that. It wasn't good-natured kidding. It wasn't kind. It was meant to make me feel badly.
To make it even better, he then asked me, a writer, if I knew what schmaltz meant.
And I wanted to say, "Yes, it is chicken or goose fat used for frying," but I thought that would be showing off so instead I just tried to joke it off and say, "Yes. I am good at schmaltz."
"That's an oxymoron," he said.
I gave up. I just wanted him to go away.
The thing is, I don't mind being good at being sentimental, which isn't an oxymoron. I'm actually the least sentimental person in my family, not counting my daughter. So, my sentimental threshold is pretty high.
What he saw as schmaltzy, I saw as seeing good in people and applauding them for it. I don't mind acknowledging that while people can suck, that they can also be self-sacrificing and brave and kind. That the drug dealer in the trailer down the street can be the same guy who runs into a burning building to wake everyone up before the fire department comes. And in the case of this specific blog that Mr. I Love to Be Mean was mentioning, I REALLY didn't mind embracing how brave the firefighters in so many communities were that night, or how great the people in our community were about coming together and helping those who were now jobless and homeless.
But that didn't matter to him. What mattered to him was making me feel low. And he did.
The people that I talk about in that post deserve all the kudos they can get. They deserve more kudos that I can hope to give them.
I helped him find his name button (We were at a meeting) and he said, "Well, at least you're good for something."
And I thought for a second, "I am not good for anything."
And I thought for a second, "Why is he so mean? Why does he love hurting other people?"
And I thought for a second, "I must deserve it."
I laughed. As soon as I could, I went into the bathroom and hid for awhile (two minutes) because I didn't feel like I was good enough to be there any more. All the brave in me vanished with his word.
One fireman holds a ladder, surrounded by smoke. Another is on the roof. This man is the support for the other. He will not let go of that ladder until the other guy is down and safe.
But even though I am so far from being a good person, a perfect person, a mistake-free person, I don't deserve random acts of meanness anymore than anyone else does. And he doesn't deserve to be able to do that to me, to other people, to anyone.
Later on when people were eating, and I was going from table to table doing random official duties, he turned to the man next to him and said, "Did you read that bullshit she wrote?"
And I whirled around and spat out, "You need to be nice."
Thrilling, brilliant come-back, I know. And yes, I was shaking. And yes, I finished what I needed to do and left the meeting early. And yes, I am easily hurt and sensitive and all that stuff. I am a big wuss. I am the first to admit it.
The thing is? That "bullshit" that I wrote? That was part of my heart. And he stabbed right through whatever invisible forecefield I might occasionally have and pierced me.
Every time we write or speak honestly about how we see the world, we open ourselves up to hurt. We are vulnerable to the meanness. And that's why it is so much easier to be mean. When you are mean, you build a wall. When you are mean, you can't be vulnerable. When you are mean, you hide, you attack, and you make that first strike because seeing good? Applauding people for their good parts and not just bitching about their bad? That's what makes you vulnerable. You're vulnerable because you open yourself up to the possibility that people can be good, that you can be good, if you try harder, if you love harder, if you care more.
Sometimes when you do that? People who are supposed to exemplify bringing good will and friendship to others (as bode by their club affiliation) will strike at you.
Because the truth is that if you try to see the good in others or your community, you might make others realize how much meanness has clouded their own sight, their own hearts.
If you pride yourself on taking other people down? If you are the type of person who tells others to "toughen up," or who thinks bigotry is funny, or who thinks that seeing good is "schmaltz?" I am sorry for you. I hope some day you can learn to be consistently kind, to others, and to yourself. I hope that you don't spend your life making other people upset, shake, or cry, or just freaking avoid you. Because you are missing out in the good that is in this world, in other people, and even in yourself.
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I originally posted this in 2007. I haven't changed anything in the original post, but I wanted to put it up again during Banned Book Week because I think it's important to remember that censorship happens in all sorts of ways. Sometimes it's loud. Sometimes it's quiet.
I worry about the quiet
Gay is not a dirty word.
It doesn't mean hate.
It doesn't mean pillage.
It doesn't mean war.
However, some booksellers are terrified of it.
That fear makes life a little bit hard for my book, TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (ex) BOYFRIEND, but it makes life really, really hard on gay teens and gay parents and gay grandparents.
Last weekend at the amazing New England Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators my book was on sale. A local children's bookstore sold my book (and the books of other presenters) to conference attendees. On Saturday, author of awesome, Jo Knowles, bought my book.
This is what Jo wrote about what happened next:
And when I put it on the counter, a man who was working there said, "That book is really popular today!" And I said, "Oh good!" And he asked if I was the author and I said no my friend was. Note: People in room: Me, Bookseller, Guy helping, And one other person browsing the books. Anyway, then the assistant said to the bookseller, "Too bad you can't have that book in your store." or something along those lines. So I said, "Why not?" And he said, "Because it has the word "Gay" in the title. And the bookseller said, I'd never be able to sell them. She explained that her store only sells children's books and that grandparents shop there and might get offended.
Jo started shaking. She explained that it was a novel for young adults. She explained that grandparents have gay children. She fought.
Jo is a hero.
And I... I alternate between being horrified, irate and sad. Some booksellers are afraid of controversy. They have bottom lines. They need to make them. I knew that places like Wal-Mart wouldn't stock my book because of that word, the GAY word. I had hoped that independent bookstores would be a little more, um, independent. I had hoped that they would fight the good fight so that kids could get books that were different, that meant something, that had themes that made them think. I can understand that they are afraid that people might picket their bookstores, might cause a stir about a book that has the word 'gay' in it, and that could hurt their business, but what this comes down to really is pre-censorship.
What does this mean? It means that books with gay themes or even the word "Gay" in the title aren't as available. You have to hunt for them. Their authors might not sell as many books. That makes the authors a little less lucrative to publishing houses. Maybe their next book won't get published. Maybe it will. But it's harder.
How hard? In Arkansas approximately 21 % of all public libraries, 5 % of libraries in universities, and 1% or school libraries have books with gay, bisexual, transgender or lesbian themes or content.
I am willing to write books with the word "GAY" in the title and not make a lot of money and not have libraries buy them. I just have my fingers crossed that they keep getting published because a lack of sales to libraries equates to a lack of overall sales. I also have my fingers crossed that people will actually be able to find my books on the shelves of stores.
That's the big problem.
What bothers me is how books can be silenced before they even hit the shelves. Gay books, or even my book, can be silenced because of fear that a grandparent will complain. Story doesn't matter. The fact that it's actually a love story between a straight girl and a straight boy doesn't matter. The fact that it deals with sexual discrimination and epilepsy stigma doesn't matter. The fact that it deals with a girl's quest to become her own person doesn't matter.
That one potential grandparent who might complain? That's what matters.
And that's wrong.
In an article for AfterElton, YA author Brent Hartinger wrote, " Overcoming these obstacles will not be easy. It will take more gay writers and producers willing to force the issue. It will take our standing up to entrenched forces every inch of the way. And it will take audiences stepping up and staring down the bigots."
He wrote that about gay themes in television and movies. It also applies to books. Jo was one of those people. She stepped up. She stared down. She tried to change a mind and she did it out of love. She's a hero.
She knows that gay doesn't mean hate. It doesn't mean war. It doesn't mean rape, molestation, abuse. But that word? It still scares people, and that scares me.
Here's the link to Brent's article: http://www.afterelton.com/columns/2007/1/l
And another to a livejournal post where he talks about the Arkansas study: http://brentsbrain.livejournal.com/34891.h