The World We Live In

Four Quotes From White Awake

“That’s why I’ve come to believe that a white person’s reaction to the term white supremacy is the most tangible sign of his or her being awake or not. Once white supremacy is understood as the evil and dangerous system it is, the common enemy becomes abundantly clear. The enemy is not each other; this is not white people versus people of color. No, the enemy is white supremacy, and the evil one leverages that system for destructive purposes. It’s a dark and dangerous system, and it must be opposed and dismantled at all costs.” p. 148

This one is pretty straight forward. How we respond to the term white supremacy says a lot about our views of ourselves, our culture, and others. Hill writes a lot about why this is and how we can move from fragility towards resilience.

 

“Consistent with in-group/out-group behavior, I worked hard to prove that I belonged to this group that I deemed to be awakened to race and active to address it . So I became borderline obsessive about achieving the approval o those whose opinion on race mattered to me. This included just about every person of color I knew and white people I admired who are doing the work of reconciliation and justice.” p. 128-129

This one was especially clarifying for me-I related so much to wanting to show I was on the ”right team”. Hill references Christ’s parable of the  Pharisee who assumed his righteousness based on his separation from “other people”-such as the tax collector who humbly pleaded with God for mercy.  He talks about how easy it is to identify ourselves with those whom we perceive are enlightened, educated or ‘right’ people and distance ourselves from people who are not in order to bolster our own worthiness.  But if Christ is the root of our identity and our worth is unshaken in him, then we are free both to love people we  disagree with and to work alongside those we admire doing needed work. One reason Christ was so radical was that he befriended and spent time with the social outcasts. As white people wanting to learn about and dismantle white supremacy, we can forget that today’s social outcasts might include that person making racist comments on Facebook. I’m not saying don’t challenge racism and I certainly don’t mean that boundaries aren’t important; I mean that we don’t have to unfriend everyone who doesn’t think like us just so that we can feel secure in our efforts or our image.

 

“it’s impossible to have your eyes opened to the history of race in our country without experiencing “psychological discomfort” and “cognitive dissonance”, both terms that Brown uses in her descriptions above. When the feelings come, we can choose how we will process and internally categorize them. […] When we recognize the building blocks of race-the ideology of white supremacy, the narrative of racial difference, ongoing systemic oppression, etc.- we must learn to avoid falling into a shame spiral and instead appropriate the guilt of our discoveries in a way that yields healthy outcomes.” p. 104-105

Shame is something I’ve struggled with deeply my whole life. It’s so helpful to understand that shame is counter-productive and simply not needed. As a Christian, I relinquish my shame to Christ, and that empowers me to move forward when faced with the “psychological discomfort” of learning our nation’s history of racism and the terrible things listed above.

Hill also warns that if we desire to increase diversity among our social groups (friendships, businesses, etc), we must be willing and able to recognize and name white supremacy where we see it. “When our first attempt is to pursue diversity, we risk prioritizing the secondary problem (lack of relationship) over the primary and most threatening problem (white supremacy. […] Transformative revelation allows us to see that the lack of diversity is not and never was the result of a random set of social factors; instead it’s a direct fruit of the legacy of white supremacy.” (p 150)

 

As white people, this cultural identity journey, as he puts it, is a life-long process of growing in sight, lament, and action.

There is so much in the whole book and in the quotes I’ve chosen that it seems impossible to summarize it or them adequately. Hopefully, you can read the book yourself and be helped along the way of your cultural identity journey, or receive the grace to begin.

As a follower of Christ, this journey for me is rooted in my identity in him: a radical, marginalized, brown-skinned teacher who came to break barriers and affirm that we are all made in the image of God, ultimately suffering and dying for our sin, including the sins of white supremacy.

 

 

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A Writer's Journey

This New Year

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Here we are, and I haven’t blogged much lately, spending my writing time plowing through novel drafting. I finished that draft and sent it to beta readers January 2nd! And while I thought I’d have time to jump into a new short story while I wait for the feedback, but our 2019 started off with a bang.

On New Year’s Day, my grandfather passed away less than 24 hours after I’d spoken to him on the phone. (I am so, so grateful for that conversation.) His beloved wife and son, my dad, were with him at the last. Somewhere, I’ve tucked that grief away, taking it out at times to sit with it, uncertain I can or should try to really see it all the way through without my family nearby to share it with me. Many days I go through life and wonder how it can seem so normal. What if I rush past the window of grief, even though it’s really a corridor?

That afternoon, I came down with the kids’ cold and it is a whopper. I’m still coughing horribly and tired. Between that and my oldest chidren’s last few days of winter break, there was not much writing going on, which is fine, if still a bit disorienting/frustrating. I’d spent a solid 6 months writing my novel and not doing that felt strange at first.

Looking back at my goals for 2018, it’s interesting to see which I did and didn’t meet. I’m ok with all of it. My novel was my passion project and needed my focus. This year, I have very few goals because I want to see where the year takes me.

The one definite goal I have is to get my novel ready to submit to Pitch Wars in August. (I just “eeped”a little.) Between beta readers and then, I’ll have about 7 months to do what I hope are the final revisions and edits before it’s ready. That seems like a measured and manageable time for those goals. Oh my.  Can it really be?

Otherwise, I hope to be on here a little more often than the last six months. Oh, and read lots. I only read 1 nonfiction book last year, so I’m setting the goal of 3 for this year. There will always be lots and lots of fantasy to read. And always, there will be the hard, gentle work of allowing and seeking growth and connection.

 

 

Books and Stories

18 Books I read in 2018

Happy New Year! 2018 was a year of reading for sure! Last year, I kept almost perfect track of every book I read. Some of them I shared a bit about on Instagram or this blog, but I thought it would be the perfect time to share 18 brief book reviews for some of my favorites.

Most of them are middle grade/ young adult fiction. Not surprising, since I love to read from those genres. Without further ado, and in no particular chronological order, here are the reviews:

Middle Grade/Young Adult 

Poppy by Avi: A young deermouse lives under the authoritarian rule of her father and the terror of Mr. Ocax, the owl. After her beloved Ragweed is eaten by Mr. Ocax, Poppy begins a journey to find a safer dwelling for her family. A tale of courage and wit, this is book 2 of a 6-book series and can stand on its own as well.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson: Set in the 1970s, this story about Frannie records her school and home life and a growing self-awareness. The title is taken from ‘s poem of the same name about hope. Hope is exactly what Frannie seeks, while watching her brother Sean face disrespect for his deafness, her mother struggle with a pregnancy after miscarriage and loss, and school dynamics between queen bees and bullies. The class is unsure of the strange new student. Full of loving, realistic family dynamics, this book explores African-American life, biracialism, and discrimination. It’s a gentle, thoughtful and thought-provoking story.

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman: Elizabeth begins a new high school and starts a job at a lending library, where she soon finds out about a mysterious collection with strange abilities. Someone with evil intent is out to get the collection. Can she and her new friends stop them in time? This book was fun to read and I enjoyed the unusual premise. Elizabeth’s gift for “smelling” magical objects was interesting. The antagonist was a bit two dimensional and I kind of rolled my eyes at yet another YA book with a romantic subplot. Seriously, it’s ok for not every protagonist in this genre to fall in love…overall, though, if you like fairy tales and fairy tale elements, mysteries, chases and a good dose of humor, you’ll enjoy this one.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi: Aru Shah is a liar. She wants to fit in at her middle school. Her mom isn’t always there for her, and she so badly wants a friend.  One day she releases a demon sent to awaken the god of death, and Aru Shah must embark on an epic quest where she will encounter gods and goddesses, beasts and strange houses (yes), and maybe even her own truth. This book was hilarious! It reminded me a lot of Rick Riordan’s books (he writes the intro to Aru Shah). Chokshi’s book is inspired by the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic poem. And also probably by middle school. I highly recommend!

If Wishes Were Horses by Anne McCaffrey: In this novella, Tizra is the teenage daughter of a magician who holds the village together under a nearby threat of war. While her village leader father is off fighting in battle, Tizra learns resourcefulness, leadership, and perseverance from her remarkable mother. Ok, so I liked some of the unusual things about this book. A mother, probably middle-aged, is the heroine of the story. Her magic is subtle and not the focal point, yet she is a powerful woman (total Enneagram 8, for all you personality type people like me): fearless, resourceful, and holding so much together, even when that means the entire village moves into your home and you have to clothe them in the dead of winter.  I didn’t like how, even though it’s told from Tizra’s perspective, she seemed more like a means for the reader to see what was going on, rather than a three-dimensional character herself. Not fast-paced, but it stood out to me for it’s unique qualities.

Murder at Midnight by Avi: Young Fabrizio simply wants to be useful to his master, Magnus the Magician, but the grumpy old man complains about him more than he acknowledges his help. Though Magnus claims he is not truly a magician, as magic is outlawed in the city of Pergamontio, that does not keep him from getting caught in a political trap that may end in his death. Is magic truly involved? Fabrizio must find out to try and save his master before it is too late. This is a fun, fast-paced adventure-mystery.

Castle in the Air by Dianna Wynne Jones: The sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, this story follows Abdullah’s adventures that lead him from his home country of Rashpuht all the way to Ingary. He searches for his beloved princess, Flower-by-Night, encounters djinns, ruffians, cats, and more, as he is aided by a magical carpet. He is clever, and a bit of a romantic. If you liked HMC, read this. If you have or haven’t read any books by DWJ, read this. The foray into the desert country and Eastern-esque culture was delightful, and it’s full of twists and humor.

The House of Many Ways by Dianna Wynne Jones: The final book in the series also begins with a different protagonist. Set in Ingary, it follows Charmain Baker’s housesitting adventures. If the house bends space and time, one might have more of a challenge than usual. Like CITA, Howl and Sophie enter the scene towards the end, but by then I’d fallen in love with the new characters and it all blended together masterfully.  (See above.) Of course, magical animals are present here too.

Murder Mystery

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny: I couldn’t find Still Life, Penny’s first in her Inspector Gammache series, so settled on this one. The only way this may have been a problem was in Gammache’s character himself. He seemed like a man who has already overcome his demons, almost annoyingly perfect: he’s got a loving wife, successful kids, a top career, access to a secluded and beautiful bed and breakfast visited by the wealthy (and in this case, troubled). Other than that, Penny’s writing is more than enough to make me want to track down the first books. Wow. Her skill with creating characters you alternately want to slap and hug is remarkable. Everything is highly nuanced, and I’ve never read a mystery novel that almost felt like poetry in places.

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom: I’d read the first two in this series, Dissolution and Dark Fire, last year, and let me say, I am hooked. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer of Tudor London, finds himself heading to York ahead of King Henry VIII’s grand and expensive progress, where he will tend to legal matters. Naturally, a murder in York complicates issues, and political intrigue and danger ensue. I cannot express the skill and draw of Sansom’s writing. Not only does he make the period come alive in all its elaborate, fragrant, colorful detail, but he has created a multi-faceted protagonist that you can’t help but root for. Shardlake is often noted as melancholic and not without the faults that make a character seem real. He is also humane in a way that avoids feeling like the author took a 21st century character and put him in the 16th century. His personal suffering make him a sympathetic character. This book is paced so that I found it hard to put down! Sansom’s extensive research for the period that sent me on more than one Google search. I could talk a long time about this book, so consider this a recommendation.

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry: This series opener begins with a killer terrorizing Cater Street in London, and Charlotte is caught up in it when a maid of her family household is found strangled. (Why ‘hangman’ is part of the title beats me, because even characters clarify that victims where not hanged but garroted. Shrug.) There is a lot of talk about the poor of London, but all the characters are middle class and up, so it felt like more telling than showing in this regard, though Perry did her research on the era. Still, I was mostly disappointed in this Victorian-era murder mystery/romance. Several characters, including Charlotte, made decisions that seemed very rushed and insincere. The whole ending was rushed and I would have loved to have read more about how everything wrapped up. The constable was pleasantly unusual and I thought Charlotte was enjoyably outgoing and flawed without being a pain, but sadly, I found the whole story lacking. But if you like Victorian society, light romance, and can overlook what appears to be an author’s rushed  attempt to finish a book, you might like this one.

The Tale of Hilltop Farm by Susan Wittig Albert: Part of a series that fictionalizes Beatrix Potter’s life at Hilltop Farm, which she purchased in the Lake District, this book fits easily into the ‘cozy mystery’ genre. In other words, the plot is slower, the death is peripheral, and there is very little if any character development for anyone. Animal characters form a subplot, which could have been cute but felt kind of Meh. I wanted to like it more (Beatrix Potter! The Lake District!), but it felt like more of a waste of my time. Maybe some day if I’m sick in bed (ha), I’ll hunt down the next book. Maybe.

Literary/ Miscellaneous 

The River Bank by Kij Johnson: Five stars for this one! I mentioned it on my Instagram account. The sequel to Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows introduces new characters, specifically female mole novelist Beryl and her rather high-strung friend Rabbit. The two characters enter life on the river bank with all of its rhythms, surprises, and familiar characters. Johnson gently, masterfully allowing readers to questions assumptions about class, gender, and privilege. I’m glad I bought this one.

Thud! by Terry Pratchett: Part fantasy, part satire, this book is part of the extensive Disc World series. In a city nearing the anniversary of Koom Valley, an ambush of dwarves and trolls, a city inspector struggles to keep the peace. Then a ‘deepdowner’, a fundamentalist dwarf leader, is found dead, and his job gets that much harder, ending up in Room Valley itself. Pratchett is a genius with politics and humor. I laughed so much and found his parallels remarkable. For example, the deepdowners are dwarves that live so far below the city’s surface that they believe it does not exist, and they expect their females to dress as males. Any attempts to dress as female are punished at worst and frowned upon at best. Oh, and a board book plays a significant role. Just read it if you like good writing, satire, and/or fantasy.

The Round House by Louise Eldrich: I found this book through Kaitlin Curtice’s post of 25 books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading ( a list I need to revisit). It’s about a young boy, Joe, who, after his mother’s attack in their Ojibwe reserve, goes looking for the perpetrator with his friends. Joe is a young teenager thrust into ugly realities, but he is all too familiar with life as a Native American in a country that wants to forget his ancestors’ ways of life and their own treatment of these people. Full of Ojibwe stories, sadness, humor, and pubescent sexuality, this is a masterful coming of age story. Eldrich is an excellent author and had me hooked even as the story genre isn’t one I would have picked up on my own. 

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clark: Wow, this book took all of six months for me to read! Clark writes brilliantly in the pastiche style, emulating the likes of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. The setting is an alternate British history during the Napoleonic wars and follows the reclusive magician, Mr. Norrell, and his brash, talented student, Jonathan Strange, their meeting, parting, and reuniting. Female, African-British, and poor characters are frequently silenced throughout the story, and by the protagonists. Arabella Strange, Lady Pole, Stephen Black, and Vinculus all have integral parts to play in the story, especially the ending. If you can plug away at a 1000 page book, love detailed footnotes and aren’t looking for a fast-paced action story, you’ll find this book hugely rewarding.

Fire and Hemlock by Dianna Wynne Jones: I know, I know-another DWJ. The only book of hers I’ve read set in the 1980’s, it is nevertheless a fantasy novel full of twists, humor, and details galore. The story is based on two Scottish poems, Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, and lines from one of these poems are quoted at the start of each chapter. I loved how those poems foretold elements of the story. It is confusing at times, one of those books in which you don’t catch everything in the first reading. Many consider it to be her masterpiece, and I can see why. Of all the novels I’ve read this year, this is one I’ll reread. 

Non-Fiction

White Awake by Daniel Hill: Part personal journey, part informational, pastor Hill shares what it means to be white in America and how Christians can follow Christ out of blindness into awareness on the cultural identity journey. He shares seven stages on this journey: encounter, denial, disorientation, shame, self-righteousness, awakening, and active participation. Eye-opening for those of us just beginning to learn about our nation’s history of racism and white supremacy (like me), gracious towards everyone, I think this should be read by every church. I can’t do this book justice in a little paragraph. If you are white, please consider reading it.  

Honorable Mentions

The Other Side: Shorter Poems by Angela Johnson

Revelation by C.J. Sansom

Heartstone by C.J. Sansom

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (reviewed here)

Westmark by Lloyd Alexander (reviewed here)

 

A Writer's Journey

Lost and Found in Fiction: What Writing Revealed to Me

Six and a half years ago, I returned to writing. I can’t describe the kind of freeing relief it brought me. I returned to blogging and started writing a fairy tale that I thought would be a short story.

I wrote because I could no longer ignore the call. I wrote because not writing was draining me of energy. And, completely unbeknownst to me at the time, I wrote to tell myself about long-buried, long-forgotten trauma.

Most of my experience until then was in writing stories for children’s magazines. Not one had sold, so far. The story of a princess and the mysterious statue that appears in the castle grew and changed and evolved. At some point, the short story demanded to be a novel. (I’ve written a little about this before.) I had no idea what I was doing then, but the process has been rewarding, not always in a pleasant way, but in a way I needed more than I knew.

In the years it’s taken me (still taking me) to write this novel, I began to see parts of myself revealed in the words I’d written. Parts of me I’d forgotten or didn’t know. And not just parts of me, but memories, memories I’d suppressed and forgotten.

One day as I learned about the nature of suppressed trauma memories,  recognition flooded my body and mind. I froze, panic choking me. This was shockingly familiar. Over time, I read about it and spoke to a therapist, confirming what I knew even before memories began to surface: that when I was barely old enough for kindergarten, someone trusted had fractured my childhood. At that age, when actions and people are still usually categorized as either good or bad, the brain doesn’t always know how to store memories of a trusted individual  doing something bad. Those memories don’t get stored properly. But they don’t leave. They just manifest differently.

For me, one way they manifested was in a fairy tale turned fantasy about a protagonist who must return to the scene of  long ago, forgotten events in order to stop a villain from wreaking havoc on the world.

I was writing to tell myself that something was wrong. That world was me and I was trying to remember something that wreaked havoc on my life. It was time to start facing that havoc.

Today, this novel has gone through six or seven drafts. I have changed many details that once spoke deeply to me about what I’ve lost or grappled with. At first I wondered if this made the story lose something good in the original version or something of personal value to me.

But writers know that if you toss something out of a draft, it doesn’t evaporate. You store it carefully away for another time, where through time and life it ferments into rich material. If something meaningful didn’t make it into one book, it will appear in another one.

Secondly, whenever I wish I this novel was written, edited, and published by now, I remember that I was writing to tell myself things. Deep, life-altering things that demanded recognition. Things that somehow, could only be said through a long story process. Because somehow it was story that finally led me to battle the monsters that lay hidden deep inside.

And it was worth it. Because I needed it. The things I wrote for myself were worth the time. And story, I have learned, can offer a unique opening to the path towards healing.

This is where I would tell you some beautiful story of God’s nearness to me in the midst of all of this. He has been near, and he’s given me many tools to work through this trauma, specifically story. But as much as I wish I did, I don’t have some amazing parallel insight on my relationship with God to share with you. Maybe this needs more fermenting time. For now, it’s enough for me to say in awkward prose that he was and is near, he’s trained my hands for battle, and in my hand is a pen. And I’m not done wielding it yet.

With words we share, shape, and name. With words, we can cut a path through darkness.

Why do you write? What are you telling yourself? It may not be about trauma (I sure hope it isn’t), but maybe if you have been writing the same story over and over again, you are trying to get a message across to one reader: you. Don’t ignore that message.

You are worth it.

A Writer's Journey

(White) Writer Meets Diversity

I’m writing something like the 7th draft of my novel. The characters have been pretty homogenous-everyone in my fantasy world was white, despite there being three different kingdoms. Over the past couple of years, as I slowly grew more aware of my predominantly European setting and focus in writing, it no longer seemed ok. I have friends who don’t look European. They matter to me and it bothered me to see how little representation people of color have had in literature. So to honor my friends, I wanted to include people of color in my story.

It seemed like a simple changing of skin and hair color for my characters. It wasn’t difficult to do at first, because I’d never really settled on what my characters had looked like anyway. And in the fantasy genre, as Janelle Garrett reminded me, the writer creates her own cultures and peoples: it doesn’t have to mirror ‘real’ life, but it should certainly avoid racist language and character typing.

Ok, I thought, this is easy! Just add some different skin colors in here, and voila! A little more representation in literature. Yay me.

Or is it easy? At this point the over-analytical side of my brain kicked in and I did what I’m good at: panic that my efforts aren’t enough.

Who am I, a white woman, to be trying to include people of color? What if I offend someone?? Should I scrap my characters and make them all black? But I can’t do that, because now we’re back to square one here, just a white girl who has no business writing about black people. Even ones in a made up culture.

Help.

Actually, getting help is a great idea. Asking friends for their thoughts helps me get out of over-analyze mode and they will tell me if I’m totally nuts or just a little. So that ‘s what I’m doing, asking for input.

And really, this is yet another opportunity for me to let go of perfectionism. I’m going to make mistakes as I learn to love my black friends and I already have. What matters is that I am humble and I am listening. That I am moving towards instead of hiding in fear of, basically, not being perfect.

So yeah. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m willing to learn. Because I love my friends.

So share your thoughts if you like, especially if you are a person of color. I value your comments.

A Writer's Journey

Seasonal Writing Suggestions

I’m not a gardener. One day I’d like to be. I hear from my gardening friends how digging in the dirt teaches you. You learn patience and pacing, dirt and beauty in ways only gardening can teach you. No one plants the same cucumber seeds all year long. No one harvests pumpkins all year long either. (Maybe you hate both of these and I’ve already lost you.) I’d venture to think, that despite my black thumb, that I can see a few similarities between writing and gardening. In fact, I think writers need these seasonal rhythms.

I’m going to share a few small ways that I am beginning to discover what influences my writing seasonal rhythms, and some ways I have adapted over the last few years. Keep in mind I’m a mom with small children at home. This is one of the best enforcers of creativity, in my experience!

Natural Light

Do you have to write in daylight? Do you do your best work late at night? If you’re a natural daylight junkie, early summer mornings of writing might become afternoon winter sessions. My rhythms are greatly influenced by the fact that my children wake up very early with each Fall Back, and they do that for several weeks. Sometimes I can squeeze a few words during those early mornings in while my little ones play. Morning is my preferred time to write, but sometimes those winter months mean I write during nap time instead. With Spring Forward, I can look forward to the return of morning writing.

Energy

Does winter slow you down and summer give you the itch to move? Or maybe like me, it’s the opposite. If the temperature slows you down, maybe you need a change of scenery to revitalize you. If your summer writing spot turns into a nap-inducing nook in the winter, consider writing at the kitchen table or at a coffee shop.

Summer is often the time for vacations and school breaks. If you can identify the seasons in which you will be busier, perhaps planning for smaller spurts of writing will help with your goals. Maybe you can’t write 2k words every day, all year, but you can squeeze 250 words in-between errands, events, etc. during the summer. You can still be clear about your progress. Then, in the slower months, set bigger goals to catch up.

Another way to steward your energy in these more hectic months is to tackle shorter writing projects. Maybe you set your novel revisions aside after the first round and write blog posts for a month. If you have that flexibility, sprints may serve your goals rather than trying to maintain a marathon.

Adaptability

The key to all of this is adaptability. I have never been great with sticking to a schedule. Changing nap times, bed times, colds, and everything that comes with being a mother has made that even trickier. Instead of feeling like I’m starting over with every change, I try to see it as finding the larger picture of the year. Yours may or may not mirror aspects of the earth’s seasons, but you can create your own seasons to best cultivate your creativity and reach your writing goals.

For other seasonal resources that might help you create these rhythms, check out Emily P. Freeman’s What I Learned posts, which she writes quarterly and invites other writers to join. Here’s the link to her recent Spring post, with a download and links at the end.

Mohawk Momma Loves offers several amazing resources for identifying soul rhythms that can impact every area of your life.  Few things are as freeing as realizing you don’t have to plow through the year with the same structures and spaces if they aren’t serving you.

Recognize your natural rhythms, then create the environment you need to best utilize them. And give yourself time. Remember, seasonal change doesn’t usually happen overnight. If one year the green beans just don’t sprout, maybe next season, you can try something else.

Do you have helpful seasonal writing practices? Let’s talk!

Books and Stories

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

 

Jade is a Sophomore at a private school looking for her voice and place in the world. She leaves her friends and neighborhood and takes a bus five days a week to get there, aware that she does not fully fit in. She signs up for a mentorship program that allows her the chance for a scholarship. Her mentor, Maxine, misses the first meeting, to Jade’s disappointment and frustration. Jade wonders if the mentorship program is worth her time, if the women running it really get what girls like her want out of life, and learns to become fully herself in a world fraught with challenges.

Piecing Me Together is a story of friendship and family, racism and the contrast between wealth and poverty. It is the story of one young woman’s discovery of the power of art for self-discovery and bringing people together. Jade faces difficulties of learning to speak up for herself and decides what’s worth fighting for. This coming of age story brought me to tears several times. Watson’s story is powerful, real, and eye-opening, and the ending is hopeful and realistic.

Part of what makes this story so wonderful is that Watson never condemns any one person or any one side of any issue. It’s both the mentor and the mentee who offer wisdom. The old life and new lifestyle both offer healthy contributions to Jade’s life. There is good to be found in the wealthy and the poor. Real life reflects this kind of healthy weaving of disparate parts and Watson reminds us that when everything works together, we often have a healthier whole.  (Reviewed by Bradley Sides). From BookBrowse.com

Here are some quotes from the book. I tried to pick some that stood on their own, without the need for pages of context. Now I wish I’d taken a screen shot of the poem near the end by LeeLee, Jade’s friend. But I guess you’ll just have to read it yourself. 🙂

 

Books and Stories · The World We Live In

Through the Magnifying Glass: Racism in Beloved Books

I have been thinking about and writing this post for about a month and a half. As a reader, parent, and writer, it’s one of the biggest elephants in the room when it comes to books. Racism and xenophobia are prevalent amongst some of my favorite authors, but what do we do about it? Chuck them in the burning pile?

This post really began back in March when I read L.M. Montgomery’s Further Chronicles of Avonlea. I have read and loved many of her books, but this one short story collection I hadn’t read before. In it I revisited not just one of my favorite author’s delightful writing style, but prejudices and xenophobia as well.

At the end of the book, full of Montgomery’s humorous mishaps, reunited lovers, and a few other items that belong in their own class, Tannis of the Flats is the tale of a woman in the wilds of Canadian frontier who falls in love with the man who spurns her for a Canadian-born woman.

Oh my.

If I wasn’t aware of Montgomery’s xenophobia before (such as Marilla’s insistence that they only get a Canadian boy, and I’m paraphrasing), this story couldn’t leave anyone in the dark. In the small town where the story takes place, the native peoples are called breeds, or half-breeds if their origin is mixed. There is the stereotypically lazy, no-good native man. Tannis is the ‘heroine’ of the story, referred to as a ‘half-breed’, and has been distinguished by some education in Prince Albert, but it has only served to add

[…] a very thin, but very deceptive, veneer of culture and civilization overlaying the primitive passions and ideas of her nature.

The next paragraph is worse and further illustrates the fact that even a good education cannot make one of these “breeds” into a respectable person, and that their intelligence and value is already determined by their ancestry. They are not the white person’s equal.

Notice how the white woman in the story, at her point of choice, is portrayed:

The good, old Island blood in Elinor’s veins showed to some purpose. “Yes,” she answered firmly. “No, Tom, don’t object-I must go. Get my horse-and yours.”

I’m not sure if that “Island blood” is Great Britain or P.E.I.(probably Great Britain), but it makes the point.

Tannis is the hero of the story, not primarily because of her deeds, but because she overcomes her nature, her ethnicity, which is apparently the source of her evilness:

In a white woman, the deed would have been commendable. In Tannis of the Flats, with her ancestry and tradition, it was lofty self-sacrifice.

Anybody ever said that about a white person’s ancestry? With the possible exceptions of references to socio-economic class, I don’t think so.

Now the first time or two I read Anne of Green Gables, Marilla’s comments went over my head. That’s not really surprising as I’m privileged, and it took a few more obvious examples of racism for me to pick up on it in Montgomery’s stories. I think it was Alicia Montressor from the story “The Red Room” in Among the Shadows that first opened my eyes. The brooding Italian boy Neil Gordon in Kilmeny of the Orchard is another glaring example.

You know the saying, the victor writes the history? I’d say the same is true for much of literature.

Little House in the Big Woods and all Laura Ingalls Wilders’ books hold a place in my heart as the first novels I ever read. Pa and Ma’s pioneer spirit is admirable and inspiring. But what kind of language is used to describe the Native Americans? It’s the kind that caused her name to be removed from a children’s literature award.

I love many of the characters in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, but have you noticed that an entire nation marked as the enemies of Aslan’s country are identified by their brown skin and culture reminiscent of Middle Eastern countries?

Likewise, the breathtakingly vast and detailed world of Middle Earth inspires many imaginations including mine. But what about the fact that, again, many of the human-like enemies of the good guys (who also happen to be referred to as “Men of the West”) are dark-skinned?

Sometimes people say that these authors were simply a product of their time, and we shouldn’t take these elements too seriously. If Montgomery and Tolkien are products of their time, well, so are we. Today, we know better. Try putting yourself in the shoes of someone of a different culture or with darker skin than yours and then try not to take seriously the fact that books with protagonists like you seem to be the development of recent decades or less, rather than centuries. Try to overlook the fact that most books written about people of color aren’t actually written by people of color.

As a mother and reader, I can think of two things we can do to address this. First of all, welcome and pursue people of different backgrounds. On social media, in stories, person to person. Listen to their voices. It’s not something to check off our list. And obviously you don’t have to be either a mother or a reader to do these things!

Secondly, I think we need to employ critical thinking skills when we read. I’m not going to hide Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books from my children. I’m not going to throw out Tolkien, Lewis, or Montgomery. But understanding how characters are portrayed is important. Understanding cultural context from the author’s point, even in fantasy worlds, is important. My friend and elementary teacher Tamara Russell offers three simple questions to consider when it comes to the voices present in any story. Even if you are not a teacher, you’ll find this (and her blog) to be informative and challenging.

You guys, I still have so much to learn. Sometimes I’m terrified of saying ‘the wrong thing’. I’ll admit I was sad, deeply grieved, when I began to see evidence of  racism in literature. I’d be lying if I said part of that wasn’t  because it be so much nicer/easier if life were simple and racism weren’t a thing? But it is real, people deal with it daily, and I can’t look away. If Jesus came with a message that included liberty for the captives and oppressed (Luke 4:18-19), then I cannot pretend to be blind to systems of thought and acton that uphold oppression. (There’s a lot to unpack there and I don’t have all my thoughts put together yet, but I’m not arguing that Jesus simply came to improve our life’s conditions. I hope that makes sense, but shoot me a question in the comments if it doesn’t.)

Later I’ll write about how these discoveries are influencing me as a writer. For now, here’s a fantastic article written by a woman and mother of color: Does Race Matter if Books, Like Anne of Green Gables, Touch Your Heart? 

As always, I welcome thoughtful, respectful comments and discussions.

Books and Stories

Waiting for the Magic by Patricia Maclachlan

My kids and I just finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It always feels like an accomplishment to finish a book that big with them! Afterwards, I was more than ready for a shorter read-aloud. I picked up Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan from the library.

Patricia MacLachlan is probably best known for Sarah, Plain and Tall. This story has its similarities: two siblings grapple with a missing parent. In Waiting for the Magic, the older brother, William, is the protagonist. The missing parent is the father, who has left the family for an unknown period of time. MacLachlan treats a difficult topic with just the right amount of gravity and gentle prose, and ties up the story with a neat, happy ending, which children may or may not be able to relate to.

The four dogs and one cat in the story provide much of the humor, along with Eleanor, William’s little sister. MacLachlan writes Eleanor’s dialogue like you’d expect a four-year-old to talk without being cliché-ic or annoying, and she gives the dogs and cat their voices without falling into some of the worn-out ‘talking pet’ themes in many books and movies. All of this illustrates and provides contrast for, rather than detracts from, William’s own internal struggles.

This sweet story belies MacLachlan’s skill for conveying childhood struggles through simple words and actions. I think, as a read-aloud, it might require a bit of audience awareness, because children who have experienced a parent walking out on them might find this story to be a reminder of how it didn’t turn out for them. Otherwise, I’d recommend it for sure.

A Writer's Journey

Writing Personalities: Introverts & Extroverts

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Happy Friday! In collaboration with other lovely writers, I’m answering some questions today related to introversion/extroversion dichotomy and my writing. I decided to stick to the Q & A format. Be sure to read the other bloggers’ posts at the end of this one!

  1. Are you an extrovert or an introvert?

  2. Introvert!
  3. What stigmas have you come across with your personality type in life?

I’m not sure I’ve personally experienced anybody associating any stigmas directly with my introverted self. It’s been more like people shaking their heads because I expressed a need to be alone. *Chuckle*

3.  Do you view your introversion/extroversion as a help or a hindrance?

I think both have their advantages and disadvantages. Introversion most often feels like a hindrance when I consider the energy output certain tasks require. And as a parent with young children, I have to weigh and plan so that I don’t burn out during the day without some sort of downtime space for us all, so that I can make it through bedtime. Simple outings can be exhausting. Part of that is just the stage of parenting Mike and I are in. (No doubt both extraverted and introverted parents can relate to that in one shape or another.)

On the plus side, I am never ever bored when I’m alone. My imagination is vast and complex, which feeds my writing.

4.  What stigmas have you come across, specifically in the writing community, in terms of your extroversion/introversion?

The deck seems to be stacked in favor of introverts here. Much of the writing community seems to be geared towards introverts; we might even be the dominant half of the writing world in terms of percentage. I personally have not come across any stigmas, other than the general stereotypes such as the dramatic artist or the starving artist, and most of those are applied by those outside looking in. However, we all know that while those stereotypes aren’t complete, but they can be part of the writing life!

Just ask me about why I considered driving a garbage truck as a career option yesterday. Hint: it’s not because I love garbage trucks.

5. How would you say your introversion/extroversion affects your writing? Does this have a positive or negative effect on you as a writer?

Well, I don’t need environments like coffee shops to get my best work done, so I love writing at home. In fact I’m too easily distracted/drained if I write anywhere but home.  I think and work best in quiet, so that can also be hard to find in a household of six, but it’s possible to find the time. And it can be recharging for me.

6.  Do you write characters with a similar personality type? If not, how do you write characters with a differing personality?

I try to write different character types. My current protagonist is so much like me, though. I didn’t mean to do that, and when I kept discovering our similarities, even my attempts to change her didn’t work. She’s just too real and wants to be who she is too much for me to fight it now. So, I embraced it. With other drafts I wrote last year, I intentionally researched and made choices about my characters’ personalities before I wrote. It helped.

7.  Does your personality affect which genre you write in?

I hadn’t thought of this before. I think it’s more my imagination that affects my genre choice here. My imagination is too big and sprawling to not make up my own new worlds, so I gravitate towards fantasy.

8.  How are your storylines affected by your extroversion/introversion?

This may or may not have anything to do with it, but I haven’t yet attempted an epic with multiple main characters. I’m having a hard enough time getting the events straight for my one protagonist!

9.  How does your introversion/extroversion help or hinder your marketing of yourself as a writer? What challenges or benefits does this create?

Navigating social media has its challenges for me as an introvert. Even though it’s not face to face interacting, engaging on line feels overwhelming and exhausting at times. In order to really connect with future readers and be genuine, I’m trying to cut back on pointless scrolling (which helps no one) so I can be intentional when I’m on Instagram. I haven’t been on Facebook much since last year. For me, it’s about pacing myself and learning, but being content for now with slow growth. However, I really want my stories to genuinely touch people’s lives, and I dream about the day someone tells me that my book had an impact on them. That will be the day.

Do you think your extroversion or introversion influences your writing? If so, how?

This blog was a collaboration with other bloggers. You can read their take on this subject at their blogs:

Jaq Abergas