What’s in a Name

When I was little, I had a stuffed bear I named Suzy Bear. (I have her still, but she’s in storage.) I don’t remember when I got Suzy Bear, or how she came by that name, but I loved her. Although I had other dolls and animals, and a sister and lots of friends, Suzy Bear was the one I confided in. She listened to my secrets, my gripes, my dreams and everyday ramblings. She comforted me when I got a spanking and (silently) cheered for me when I achieved something. Because I loved her so much, I thought Suzy was the prettiest name ever.

Suzy Bear. Actually, not. I don’t have a photo of her, so I did an internet search and found this photo on eBay (goo.gl/2kUEFC). It’s just like my Suzy Bear.

My family lived 3 blocks from the school. Down the street from us, across the street from the school playground, lived a family whose daughter had an intellectual disability. Julie was a nice girl, and I often stopped to say hello on my way home from school.

Looking back now, I realize Julie must have been very lonely. I never saw any visitors at her house, and the family never went anywhere. I suppose that’s why she often stood outside, as close to the street as possible without actually leaving her yard, when school was in recess or letting out. Even so, I never saw anyone talking to her.

Until one day when I was in second grade. Three older girls stood at the edge of the playground. Julie was out and the girls were talking to her. Though that side of the playground was for the fifth graders, I was curious enough to brave a venture over.

I knew all three of the older girls (we lived in a very small town; everybody knew everybody). They were not particularly nice girls, and their leader, Susie, was the not-nicest of all. Still, I was naïvely shocked to discover that they were taunting Julie. Calling her names, and even throwing little pebbles at her. Saying she was “so stupid, you just stand there and let people throw rocks at you.”

Now, I’ve always been a peacekeeper, and I’ve never liked confrontation. You might even say I was a bit of a coward, preferring to run away and hide over standing up. But this—this was too much.

“Stop it!” I demanded.

All three turned to me.

“What did you say?” Susie asked.

“I said, ‘stop it.’ Leave her alone.”

“Why do you care? Oh, you must be a retard too!” Now all three began taunting me, as well as Julie.

I didn’t back down (which surprises me to this day; although I know I wouldn’t back down now, at that time it would have been my most likely course of action). I told the girls they should be ashamed, what would their mothers say, anything I could think of. Eventually they got tired of the whole thing and left.

I asked Julie if she was okay. She just nodded.

I told her she had a pretty skirt on.

Then long, bony fingers grasped my shoulder firmly and a teacher pulled me away, dragging me back to the first- and second-grade side of the playground, telling me to “stop being mean to the poor retarded girl.” My pleas that I was being her friend fell on deaf ears. (And here’s how naïve I truly am: It only just occurred to me this very minute that the three girls probably told the teacher I was making fun of the girl across the street, because the teachers never went on the playground unless somebody was bleeding or somebody complained.)

I was galled, to use my dad’s word, at what the three girls were doing to Julie, as well as at the injustice of being blamed for causing her pain when I was the only one trying to be her friend. All day I burned with indignation.

Julie wasn’t outside when school let out that day. I thought it was just as well, because I wanted to hurry home and tell Suzy Bear all about it.

“Suzy Bear, do you know what Susie—” I stopped in revulsion. How could my beloved bear have the same name as that horrid girl? Suddenly I hated the name. It was ugly and mean and disgusting. It wasn’t to be borne. The only thing to do was change Suzy Bear’s name.

I tried several names for Suzy Bear. I called her Sabrina, after my favorite Angel on the new TV show. I called her Lisa, after my best friend. I called her Meg and Claudia and Anne after girls I read about. None of them seemed to fit.

And my feelings for Suzy Bear didn’t fit anymore, either. I tried to like her just as much, to tell her my secrets and dreams and gripes, but it just wasn’t the same. In some unnamable way, it just wasn’t “right.” Suzy Bear became just another toy.

That’s the power of a name.

I tell this story because I think that’s the emotional reaction of many people to the news about the ALA-ALSC changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

 

Most of the hoopla has died down, but I still get daily comments from people who are either outraged or delighted, and want to know what I think about it, so I’ve decided to respond.

I’m not delighted. I love Wilder’s Little House books and understand the contribution they’ve made to children’s literature. At a deep, primitive level, my heart feels like it did when I tried to rename Suzy Bear. It’s just feels like it’s not “right,” though I couldn’t say why.

Plenty of other people have tried to say why. But the ideas that seem to be causing outrage in so many other people don’t, for me, stand up past the emotion. To wit:

*It’s rewriting history to be politically correct

Um, what history is being rewritten? Is anyone saying that there wasn’t conflict between Native Americans and settlers? Or that there wasn’t good and bad on both sides? Or that the Ingalls didn’t respect Dr. Tan, or that Pa didn’t perform blackface? No. Is anyone saying that the parts of the books anyone finds offensive should be removed? No. So where is the rewriting of history?

I generally ignore any claims of politically correct/incorrect, because people seem to mean so many different things by the term(s) that it’s almost pointless. (The actual definition of the term is “not causing offense to disadvantaged persons or groups.” Hopefully none of my readers wish to go around causing offense.)

*It’s censorship

In a way, this is true. Although changing the name of an award is not the same as calling for the books to be pulled from shelves and banned, it is giving notice that some people may find offense at the books and therefore may wish to avoid them. I’m against censorship, so this does give me pause. However, there are two points that counteract this.

First is the fact that once this media hoopla dies down, no one will know the difference. Honestly, before the name change was announced, did you even know there was such an award? (“Yes!” shout librarians across the country. I’m betting this decision isn’t affecting your thoughts about the books.) For the rest of us: Can you name one person other than Laura Ingalls Wilder who has received this award? Have you ever tried to find a book based on its author winning this award, or turned down a book because its author didn’t? Neither will anyone else.

Second, the actual effect has, in fact, been quite the opposite. The Little House books have enjoyed a surge in purchases since the name change was announced. It’s rather hard to claim outrage over censorship when more people than ever are getting the books.

*It’s judging a different time by today’s standards

When Laura lived, blackface was “acceptable.” So was depicting all Native peoples as savages. I don’t judge Laura for not knowing better, because she was a product of her time, as we all are.

But that should not be confused with recognizing that being hurtful to people is wrong. Period.

What’s happened is that technology has allowed more people to have a voice—people who historically had no voice. As they speak up, those of us who lived in blissful ignorance of the hurt we were inadvertently causing have to make a decision.

Do we decide that since it’s always been that way, and it doesn’t hurt us, it’s okay? Or do we say, “I didn’t know better, but now that I do, I’ll do better.”? Maybe doing better means letting children who would be crushed by some of the comments and depictions in the Little House books know that we care how they feel. If a simple name change of an award hardly anyone knew existed can do that, then I can’t oppose it.

Feel free to let me know how you feel. All respectful comments welcome.

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Get to Know Me #2 – Books & Movies

Instead of taking the social media challenge of posting a book or movie poster every day, I decided to combine them in this post.

Note that these are books or movies that have made an impact, not necessarily favorites.

The “rules” stipulate that there shouldn’t be any commentary on why the particular book or movie is chosen, so I’ll leave it to you to puzzle out why each one is listed.

If you really want to know, though, just drop me a comment and I’ll gladly explain.

Feel free to share the stories that have affected your life, too!

Books

 

 

 

 

 

Movies

 

 

 

We went to DC for a presentation at a conference

Thought I’d share a few photos of our recent trip to DC. I was invited to give a presentation at a conference on fraternalism, so we took the opportunity to see a few things we didn’t get to the last time we were there.

Belmont House: This historic was built c. 1911 by Perry Belmont as a place to bring his wife. She had been previously married to a homebody, who made the mistake of letting her attend social events with their single friend Perry. When she divorced her husband and married Perry only five hours later, the new couple was ostracized in their hometown of New York City. So Perry moved them to DC and built this house. However, news of their history found them, and when they threw their first large ball, only one couple attended. Luckily for them, the couple was President and Mrs. Taft; after that, they were suddenly back “in” society.

Entry way

 

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This is not an umbrella stand but a cane safe. Back in the day, society men’s canes were adorned with lots of gold and other precious metals, so these lockable holders kept them safe at large gatherings.

 

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Family dining room. See the desk in the back corner?…

 

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This is a closer view. Snazzy, isn’t it? Now see the books on top? The second one is mine (Little Lodges)! No one knew I was coming for a tour, and the guide didn’t know me, so it wasn’t “planted.” Hubby asked, and the guide said those are the books always kept on the desk.

 

The grand ballroom. Notice the mirror over the fireplace on the right. When this mirror was installed, it was the largest single-piece mirror in the world.

 

The formal dining hall. I love the old candelabras in front of the far wall.

 

The microwave is modern, obviously, but the cabinetry and warming oven in the kitchen are original. You need a ladder to reach the top cabinets.

The House of the (Scottish Rite) Temple: Built in 1915, this building houses an old research library and museums in addition to meeting rooms.

One of the meeting rooms.

 

One of the research libraries.

 

I wrote about this in Little Lodges!

 

Another library, because you can never have too many books.

George Washington Masonic Memorial: The GW monument is closed for repairs (it was closed for repairs last time we were in DC, too; wonder if I’ll ever get in that one) so we went to the GW Masonic Memorial instead. Constructed between 1923 and 1932, this memorial was created to “inspire humanity through education to emulate and promote the virtues, character, and vision of George Washington, the Man, the Mason, and Father of our Country.”

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The man himself.

 

Replica of the lodge meeting room in which GW met. The altar (in center), bible on it, and Master’s chair (under portrait far wall) are all original from that lodge. Other artifacts from GW’s life are preserved in the wall cubbies, like the clock from Mt. Vernon seen to the left.

The grounds as seen from the top floor observation deck.

And finally, a pretty terrible shot of me beginning my presentation – hubby took it with a zoomed in cell, in a room with dimmed lights (for the slides), which is always a disaster.

“Just as I am, without one plea…”

I caught a cold the day before the conference began and presented this paper with a wicked sore throat. Must have done okay, though, because two academic presses asked to publish it, and a third organization asked about hosting me in a few months. But my next gig is in July, at the Story Circle conference. I’ll be leading a workshop on how to turn your passion into a book. Come join us!

Get to Know Me – Part 1

Do you ever get a series of “get-to-know-you” type questions to copy and answer from a Facebook friend? I get them pretty regularly. They remind me of the Favorites Notebooks that were all the rage when I was in junior high.

The first page of a spiral notebook had the question, “What’s Your Name?” at the top, and then each line was numbered. After that, every page had a question on the top, and numbers down the page. Most of the questions were “What’s Your Favorite…” but there were others, too. We’d pass the notebooks around, and write our answers on the same number on each page. It was a quick way to get to know more about each other.

It occurred to me that many of you don’t know me well, so I thought I’d do some “get-to-know-me” posts. This one will be “favorites.” If you leave a comment, I’ll get to learn more about you, too!

My favorite:

Color: Green – almost any shade, but not neon/lime/fluorescent. I’m especially partial to earth tones.

Flower: Daisies – unassumingly simple, but still lovely – and Indian blankets, also called blanket-flower and fire-wheel, which brighten Texas pastures as the weather begins to really warm up.

Animal: Elephant. They aren’t necessarily the cutest or cuddliest, but they’re incredibly intelligent, compassionate, and sensitive. They’re socially responsible and make wonderful mothers. How can you not love that? Besides, have you seen baby elephants? They are pretty darn cute.

Food: Anything homemade from scratch, but especially chicken pot pie and enchiladas.

Drink: Sweet iced tea and lemonade (but not together).

Season: Autumn! After the long, hot summers of Texas, the crisp mornings of autumn are a wonderful relief.

Holiday: This is a tough one, but I’m going with Thanksgiving. All the family togetherness (and food!) of Christmas without the stress of present-expectations. And it’s all about counting blessings, which is always a good thing.

Game: You’d think a writer/editor would like word games best, but I actually like puzzles better. Of course, word puzzles are tops!

Music/song/musician: Impossible to choose, especially since it depends on my mood at the time, but John Denver is a go-to for singing along with, and Celtic Woman is often playing when I write. I like most music, except for country and hard/metal/rap.

Book/author: Really impossible! Too many books to name. Too many authors, too, but some standouts include Laura Ingalls Wilder, David McCullough, Jodi Picoult, Jane Austen, Lucy Maud Montgomery, David Quammen, Bill Wallace, Maya Angelou, Mary Roach, and Charles Dickens. (Everybody always says Dickens, but he really is one of my favorites. Best of his: A Tale of Two Cities.)

Movie/TV/actor: I don’t watch a lot of TV, but love Jeopardy and Good Witch, and I’m addicted to The Americans (only a few episodes left on that one).

Movies are not as good as books, but there still many great ones. In addition to any adaptation of any book by the above authors, I’ll stop anything to watch these: An American President; Ever After; Little Women; Man from Snowy River; Meet Me in St. Louis; Miss Potter; Old Yeller; Out of Africa; Return to Me; Stepmom; The Natural; The Road Home (Chinese, subtitled); Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken; and You’ve Got Mail.

I also like the DisneyNature “Earth” series; Martian Child; First Knight; Hidden Figures; and Love, Simon.

 I thought the best acting I’d ever seen was Viola Davis in Fences; she was amazing in that movie. But then I saw Hostiles, and Rosamund Pike was PHENOMINAL. The entire gamut of human emotion, exceptionally well portrayed. Christian Bale excelled in that movie also, but Rosamund Pike gets the prize.

Oh, and I have to mention the YouTube short “Validation.” Go watch it now.

This Not That for Writing

What Will You Say?

Let’s say you and your spouse/SO build a home. The two of you design and build the whole thing yourself. (Just go with it; in this scenario you’re excellent builders.) Then you furnish and decorate it together, exactly the way you want it. It’s your dream home, and one day when you both retire, you’ll move into it. 

Now let’s say you have some relatives who’ve fallen on hard times. There’s company layoffs, and medical issues. Their children are in danger of ending up in foster care, or on the street.

So you do the compassionate thing and let them move into your dream house. But you tell them to take care of it; if they trash it, you’ll trash them.

Now let’s say you find out that some other family members will be needing the house in a few months. They’ll need it even more than the current residents. So you tell the folks who live there now that they need to start looking for another home.

Then let’s say your spouse/SO dies. You can’t stand the idea of living in the home you designed and built and furnished and decorated together, all by yourself; so you decide you’ll eventually sell it.

You tell the people living in the house now, and the ones who are looking forward to moving into it in the future, that the home will not be available indefinitely. They need to find a new place, as soon as possible.

 What if the current residents decide that since you’re going to sell the house anyway, they don’t have to take care of it anymore? They quit mowing the lawn. They don’t change the air filters or clean the chimney. There’s a kitchen fire from all the grease, and they don’t repair the damage. They even start hocking the furniture and artwork to pay for their new car.

How would you feel? Would you say, “Oh, well, I wasn’t going to keep it anyway.”?

My guess is, no. You’d probably get mad, maybe even “trash” them, throwing them out.

Here’s the thing, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now: You and I, and everybody else now living, are the current residents. The other family members, waiting on the house – our earth – are future generations.

Someday, this world will cease to exist. But it’s not up to us to bring that about ahead of schedule, stealing from future generations the resources they need to live.

If we don’t care for our home – hocking the furniture by destroying habitat to such an extent that species go extinct, or burning the kitchen by strip mining – what will the Builder of the house think of us? Even if you believe the builder is going to destroy it anyway, was it given to you or I to say when? No.

If you don’t believe there’s a builder, then what about your children’s children? What will you say to them when they ask why we didn’t save the elephants and the whales and the forests when we could, so that they could enjoy them too? Or when they ask why we didn’t stop pollution so they could drink without boiling water and breathe without getting asthma? What will you say to them?

For Your Consideration (aka, Help a Writer Out?)

I’m experimenting. Below is a possible opening for an upmarket novel set alternately between the present day and Nazi Germany.

Would you give it read?

 

Ruth waited until she heard the front door slam, signaling that her great-grandsons had left for school, before she shuffled into the kitchen. Her grandson Abel had already gone to work, so only his wife Rebecca – Becky – remained. What was wrong with the name Rebecca, heaven only knew. But the nickname was the least of it. Ruth had raised Abel the best she could when his parents died, but her teaching didn’t stick. There was so much he’d let go of, and so many other things he’d embraced. Why, last night Re – Becky – made hamburgers from non-Kosher beef, and even let the boys put cheese on them!

 

“Good morning, Bubbe. Coffee?” Becky held up a mug. At least they all used the familiar Yiddish term of endearment. Ruth didn’t think she could stand being called Granny.

 

Yo – yes, thank you.” Ruth dropped into one of the steel-framed chairs at the modern table. She ran her gnarled hands over the top. Smooth and light, it was another reminder of how quickly things were changing. Never again would she sit at the sturdy, oak table she and Isaac had raised their family around, feel the grain of the wood as she polished it, remembering what caused each ding and scratch. It was gone now, sold with the rest of her things. She’d wanted to stay in New York, where her friends and memories were.

 

There, everything was familiar. The Kosher butcher knew what cuts of meat she preferred. Her neighbor Miriam brought her chicken-matzah-ball soup every Sunday. When Ruth spoke Yiddish in New York, everyone understood her. And no one spoke of church or Christmas, because they all went to synagogue and celebrated Hanukkah. But when Isaac passed – just a month ago – it seemed like yesterday, and yet so long – Abel insisted she come live with him and Rebecca. In Kansas of all places.

 

Here, nothing was the same. She had to become a vegetarian just to keep Kosher. Lights and appliances were turned on and off all Sabbath. Abel was the only one who understood Yiddish. Kansas even smelled different. There were no aromas of falafels or freshly-baked challah. Only artificial scents, purchased with the groceries, touched her nostrils here. And people said “Merry Christmas” all the time. Rebecca always answered, “You, too,” but Ruth couldn’t bring herself to do that. Not just because she didn’t celebrate it, but—

 

“Bubbe!” Becky’s voice brought her back to the kitchen. “Did you even hear me?”

 

Neyn—no, I’m sorry. What did you say?”

 

“I said I haven’t gotten everything I need for Hanukkah. There’s not a Judaica store nearby, but the Hallmark Store has some things. Would you like to come along?”

 

It would be the perfect chance to get a card for Miriam. “I’ll be ready in a few moments.”

 

#

 

Becky kept complaining about the crowds, but they didn’t bother Ruth. She was from the largest city in the nation, after all – these spacious stores didn’t know the meaning of crowded.

 

What bothered her was Christmas. It permeated her very body: lights shone in her eyes, carols flooded her ears, cinnamon and bayberry invaded her nose. How could Abel and Rebecca stand it? At least they didn’t have a tree in their house, although Ruth suspected they might have, if she wasn’t there. She’d seen Becky surreptitiously peeking at things to hang on one.

 

As Becky paid, Ruth fumbled in her purse for some change to pay for Miriam’s card. Becky moved out of the way. Ruth looked up just as the cashier said, “Merry Christmas!”

 

And now, will you let me know what you think? (You’ve always wanted to tell a writer what was right/wrong with their writing, haven’t you? Now’s your chance!) Here are a few questions that you can address, or just leave any feedback you wish.

  • Would you continue reading it or set it aside?
  • Can you “see” Ruth? The setting?
  • Did you stop reading or skim any of it? If so, at what point did that happen?
  • Any part you thought was especially touching, or intriguing?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or PM/email me privately.

Thank you so much!