Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pride, PRIDE, pride

I am so lame--Pride Month is over today! Happy Pride! I love Pride Month--I always want to take my homophobic students to a parade and say "Look. Not all gay men wear buttless chaps. They're regular people, just like you."

I am the advisor for SCC PRIDE, a safe-zone group at my school. I love it, but I realize it's not ideal, because I am an ally. Problem is, I don't think any of the people in the LBGT spectrum who work there feel safe enough (work-wise, not violence-wise, I hope) to be the advisor. How's that for shitty? So I do it, and I'm honored to do it.

However, one student called me out. She said it wasn't my fight, since I don't know what she goes through every day. Fair enough--no I don't. Some folks don't trust allies for that reason. Understandable. But it's still my fight, because of all my family and friends who don't have the same rights I do. Civil rights fights are everyone's fight. Plus I fell desperately in love with Harvey Milk when I saw the documentary THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK when I was an undergrad. MILK is phenomenal, too, but that documentary--holy shit. The candlelight march (which is in the Sean Penn film)? It still reduces me to tears.

It's also my fight because I wanted to say, to the real Tessa who inspired SKY, that it would have been OK. Had she come out to me when we were in high school, I would have still been her friend. She knows that now, in real life. But I think she liked that it happened in a book, too. And it makes me happy that she likes it.

Graphic stolen from WIPEOUT HOMOPHOBIA ON FACEBOOK (which isn't letting me link), a phenomenal page, except it should be "Wipe Out," not "Wipeout," like the surfing song. English teacher = always a possible grammar lesson. Sorry. : \

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cultural (in?)competence

In our house, we like Rick Riordan. My husband and son devoured the PERCY JACKSON series this winter, and I finally finished it late this spring. When we saw his latest series, THE RED PYRAMID, we were all over it--woo hoo!

Last week it was finally my turn with the new book. By page 7 I know this brother and sister do not look alike. Carter takes after his dad, who is African-American, and Sadie takes after her mother, who was white. Here's Riordan's description of Julius, their dad: "He has dark brown skin like mine, piercing brown eyes, a bald head, and a goatee, so he looks like a buff evil scientist" (3). Carter also dresses like his dad (business-like but stylish, always dress clothes). Sadie, on the other hand, looks like this: ". . . she takes after our mom, who was white, so Sadie's skin is much lighter than mine. She has straight caramel-colored hair, not exactly blond but not brown, which she usually dyes with streaks of bright colors . . . [and] her eyes are blue. I'm serious. BLUE eyes, just like our mom's" (7).

Why is this important? You'll see.

I'm reading away, lost in the adventures, and we get to page 373, where Carter is practicing with his sword on a back-porch thingy on his RV. People are looking at him, because he's on the interstate and traveling very fast, so he makes this comment: "Once in a while we'd pass a rancher's truck or a family SUV, and the driver would get wide-eyed when he saw me: a black kid swinging a sword around on the back of an RV. I'd just smile and wave . . . ."


By this point, I'd totally forgotten Carter was black, so the sentence snapped me back to reality. And I was embarrassed, because I'd forgotten that fact. Then I had to ponder WHY I'd forgotten it. I came up with a few reasons:

**it didn't matter to the story

**I didn't think fourteen-year-old black guys should be dressed in dress clothes while going on adventures and playing with swords on the back of RVs

**another reason I'm unaware of

I have no idea which of those reasons is the predominant answer. Maybe all of them, maybe none of them. In my head, when I was imagining Carter and his sword, I saw a kid that sort of looked like Harry Potter. Got a little cultural bias there, Kirstin?

In some ways, I go with reason #1, because Riordan doesn't make it significant that the kids are biracial (or I missed it, which is possible, because I was so absorbed and reading fast). The cover gives no real clues, either. If you look at the book's cover, the kids are turned away from the reader, plus the cover colors are not realistic--it's mostly golds and browns (though their hair is different from each other's). Still, Riordan *told* me the kids were biracial. My brain just chose to impose whiteness on them--at least on Carter, anyway.

Does this make me bad? Probably not. Does this make me a product of my white Midwestern culture? Yes. I asked Shae if he knew what color Carter Kane was, and he said no, he didn't notice. When I told him Carter had dark skin and Sadie had light skin, his eyes got wide. His comment: "I saw him as no color," which means white, but it also means he just took him in, and his skin color didn't matter to what Carter was doing. That's all right.

One last question: how would those kids appear to readers of color? Would they switch them out as white? I bet not.

This is something to think about.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

W-A-I-T is a four-letter word

I'm waiting right now. If you're a writer, you'd better know how to wait. It's not a good word.

I'm waiting for people to say yes. I'm waiting for people to say no.

I'm waiting for inspiration to strike.

I'm waiting for trepidation to recede.

I'm waiting for confusion to clear up (ha ha--never!).

The other verbs that go with waiting are goofing off, surfing, thinking and avoiding.

I'm goofing off in every possible way by doing *other* kinds of work, which is BAD.

I'm surfing the interwebz for new author promotion strategies.

I'm thinking of all the ways I can strengthen my characters.

I'm avoiding the tough stuff--should I *really* be a writer? Should I quit my job, pierce my lip, dye my hair teal, and take up photography? Should I buy a pair of purple Chucks? Should I run away to Australia? All of these things are valid questions, except the last one. I couldn't run away because then my kid wouldn't take his vitamins, and then he'd die of scurvy and rickets and other horrible diseases, which would not be OK.

Despite all this roiling about, underneath it all, there's always waiting.

(Do people even know what "four-letter words" are anymore? Like p*ss and sh*t and f*ck? Maybe the four-letter word concept is old and tired, but I still think wait is one of them.)

The pug is for you, Amy Tipton, and the sign is from here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nobody ever gets shot on the Hallmark channel

One of my students (a high-school guy) said that to me: "Nobody ever gets shot on the Hallmark Channel." Exactly! It's not their audience. Knowing your audience is a key part in selling things, including writing. Granted, I don't know about the Hallmark Channel--I'm not their audience, except for being a woman. Maybe people really do get shot there, but I'm sure, if it happens, it's only bad guys or for a good reason, and there is forgiveness all around.

Henceforth, two wildly different examples of knowing your audience:

Example #1: It's a Chamber of Commerce buffalo, isn't it? Actually, it's a random buffalo I found in Custer State Park outside of Custer, SD, but he looks like he was planted there to sell the place, down to that raised right front foot. He needs a coffee can next to him that says "tips", or the state of South Dakota should have him on retainer for standing around like that. He read his audience (people who drive around looking for SD wildlife) quite well.

Example #2: Hyperbole and a Half. I have no idea why I like this blog, except for the fact that her screechy insanity appeals to me more than almost anything I read these days. I think her audience is people who *want* to be crazy-ass weirdos who scrawl funny drawings about stupid stuff heaped with sarcasm and wild amusement *but have no guts to do it*. Like me. I hope Allie Brosh won't come after me for swiping her drawing, hopefully not since I only said good things.

On a related note, I did see fish at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago that posed for cameras--swam right up to the glass and showed people their best sides and smiled in a fishy way. I was floored. So maybe this buffalo posed too, I don't know. But I'd guess not. I always figure a buffalo could give a fsck about a camera, because he's huge, powerful and able to trash a car in three seconds. He knows he's better that you, tip jar or not.