Thinking Out Loud – Me V. #MeToo

I have never been sexually assaulted, molested or raped. I have never felt the transgression of someone touching me without my consent. I did not think I was a member of the MeToo movement.

In fact, I felt like I participated in workplace flirtations. They were part of the transaction, part of my currency. What do I mean? If my looks, my smile, my figure, my blue eyes got me extra attention, I was okay with it. I didn’t feel aggressed upon. If anything, I used that extra attention to prove my worth, to hold my own in interviews, to show up as smart.

And then I got it.

It was a slow dawning but I realized that whenever I traffic my looks in a workplace situation, I am asking to be viewed as something other than an intelligent woman. Whenever a colleague approaches me with flattery like ‘you’re so hot and smart,’ I have been slighted professionally. It’s microscopic. It’s not violent. Most men and women are unaware of this transgression. “Oh come on, it’s okay to say she’s pretty.” But is it? What does pretty have to do with intelligence? The minute we allow ourselves to be categorized as pretty, hot, sexy, etc, we have left the world of equality and slipped into the world of being objectified.

Yes, I am aging out of the pretty and sexy category but it’s never too late to wake up.

Writing Tip #8-When To Cut/When To Add

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

When to cut? When to add? In my critique group recently, we were questioning a moment in a manuscript when the deputy character was arresting his mother. Given the tone of the ms, it didn’t feel right. In our discussion, though, what became apparent is that the arrest could be part of a larger motif. It could be part of the mother/son relationship. I usually lean toward cutting something that doesn’t work but sometimes, it needs to be more developed and woven into the fabric of the whole manuscript.

Thinking Out Loud – Secrets

I just finished a revision of my middle grade novel ABSOLUTE YES. At the center of the novel is a secret. When I started the revision, I thought that I needed to make the secret press harder on the characters in the novel. I thought I needed to make its presence loom larger so that it twisted and tempered the actions of the characters.

I discovered something different. Yes, the secret presses on the world of the story but as it becomes revealed, the revelation liberates and strengthens the characters. The secret is not the main character. The secret is the antagonist. And the protagonist has to face the antagonist in order to grow.

But how to make them grow? How to get the child protagonist to face the antagonist?

Well, first I figured out my main character’s belief at the start of the book had nothing to do with the secret. She isn’t aware of it at all. What she believes is: she isn’t smart. When she overhears a tidbit of information about the secret, it sets her on a path of discovery. With each step she takes, she becomes bolder and less crippled by her belief. As she becomes bolder and smarter, she faces the well meaning but misguided (‘I did what I thought was best’) parent figure who has to face her actions of hiding the secret.

What I found in this revision is the character’s strength and the desire to face what seemed like a monster secret in their family. I didn’t need to make the secret press harder on the world of the story, I needed to strengthen the spine of my main character to uncover the secret and shift her belief that she isn’t smart.

Writing Tip #7-Curiosity is a Superpower

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

Curiosity is my superpower. If I can be curious, I can dispel my anxiety about all the things I can’t control. Things like: Will my agent like the manuscript? Will the publishing house acquire the manuscript? There are so many things we can’t control. When we wake up in the morning, we have no idea what’s going to happen. Life is anxiety producing. But If I can step back and be a little curious, my anxiety goes way down and I can breathe. That’s my other superpower: taking a breath. Oxygen to the brain and heart. Amazing stuff.

Thinking Out Loud – Teaching with an Asterisk*

In the world of baseball, there are several hall of fame players who have an asterisk by their records because their feats were in some way marked by underhanded behavior. Steroids. Gambling. Cheating.

Recently, the Seuss estate listed a number of books by Theodor Geisel/Dr. Seuss which will no longer by published because the egregious racial and ethnic stereotypes in the works “are hurtful and wrong.”

I agree and applaud the decision by the Seuss estate. I don’t think the decision is part of cancel culture. These books will still exist on bookshelves and libraries and probably on eBay. If they live another life of serving as examples of how writers unwittingly perpetuate racial and sexual stereotypes, that change is okay with me.

The Seuss books are not the only purveyors of stereotypes and oppression. There are many. Some were award winners in their day. Even authors fall into this category. More than a few well known and successful authors have been accused of using their positions as authors and teachers to take advantage of women.

As a writing teacher, I do not cancel any of these books or authors. When I recommend reading Sherman Alexie because of the way he moves plot through dialogue, I don’t leave out the part about his predatory behavior as an author. When I recommend the Newbery winning Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George because of its strong main character, I also say its portrayal of Alaskan native people is one dimensional.

In short, I teach with an asterisk.

Why? Because authors need to be responsible for their words and actions on and off the page. We are writers of children’s literature. We can’t continue to write harmful stereotypes. Nor can we act egregiously. As a teacher, I think it’s important to make students aware of the landscape of children’s literature and their responsibility if they choose to pursue this career.

Books are written by humans. We are flawed. I was born into racist, capitalist, and sexist culture. I am stained with its influences. Raising up a book, pointing to its perpetuation of stereotypes and throwing it in the flames will not change our world. I believe raising up that same book and showing how it disseminates oppressive stereotypes will further our awareness by looking straight at them.  Being offended by a book or an author and throwing them away is not awareness, it is another kind of censorship–the very opposite critical thinking.