8 Late Updates

The updates aren’t particularly late, I guess. But it rhymes!

Interesting how nothing bloggable has happened since November, huh? Well, the truth is, too much has happened — many things that made me think, “I should post about that.” You know what they say about good intentions and how they’re ideal for diabolical road maintenance. I’m just giving up and writing out a list of updates.

1. I’m writing a novel. Yes, the same one I’ve mentioned over the past (sigh) two years. Two or three times, I thought the end was in sight. I got really excited. And then I’d run into a snag that required me to go several chapters back and rewrite. Which is where I am now, having to write in an entirely new event to justify the climax.

2. It’s going to be a good novel! My problem is that I tend to write stories that are similar to existing genres, but don’t quite fit in one. They’re too lighthearted for drama and too serious for beach reads. So in my current novel, I’ve got a young librarian in a small town who has two love interests; but at the same time she’s dealing with the ongoing effects of racism and abuse. So definitely not an easy fit into one particular category.

3. I’m putting this item third, but I really ought to put it first, last, and in between all other points. In January, my kids’ best friend, a 13-year-old boy who was like a nephew to me, died suddenly of a previously unsuspected brain clot. He and his family have lived directly across from us for sixteen years, and he spent hours at our house. His loss is inexpressible. My kids are still pretty numb, and my husband is able to compartmentalize a broken heart. But I go through every day with my brain repeating, over and over, that our favorite friend is gone. It’s very difficult to watch his family grieve, and to try not looking too far ahead at all the years that he won’t be here. It’s hard, and sad, and I wish we could rewind and get another chance.

4. But life goes on, weirdly enough. I can switch from flooding tears to figuring out the day’s schedule in a moment.

5. Some stuff has been happening in the Toxic Christian Patriarchy world. A lot of it happened around the time we lost our friend, and I just couldn’t dredge up enough spirit to care. Fortunately, others have covered it better than I could anyway.

Go here to read about how Bill Gothard of IBLP/ATI had to face his accusers in court. The suit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations, but the judge allowed each woman to speak and validated them afterward.

Here’s the Joy frequently covers the various implosions among long-entrenched church leaders.

You know how Christians are always looking at “our country” and shaking their heads and praying for revival? If you ask me, those prayers are being answered. Powerful men are finding that they can’t squash their victims’ voices like  generations of men before them could.

6. We’re finishing up another year of homeschooling, but this year is different — this year we’re graduating our oldest daughter. I wrote an open letter to her to commemorate the occasion. It’s odd to be writing to an almost-adult, when I still clearly remember her as a newborn baby with her nose smashed sideways from the birth.

7. I’m seriously excited about this novel I’m writing. (It’s still untitled since I can’t title my works until I’m done.) I’m finding space to allow my characters to be that confusing mix of good and bad that everyone is. It’s especially important in this novel, I think, because it’s set in a little Southern town with the usual history of racism. It would be all too easy to write it as “bad guys racist, good guys not.” But I strive to write real, human characters — and none of us possess all of the approved virtues that would make us a full-fledged “good guy.”  If only I could keep the plot from tangling up, I’d get this thing done!

8. (The fact that there’s a plot at all is a dramatic improvement from my earlier attempts at novels.)

Summer is coming. Writing is on the docket. That looks pretty good to me.

Dear ____, Love Sara.

Dear Blog,

I’m so sorry. Between homeschooling, writing a new novel, and — you know — living, I haven’t had much time for blogging.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Other Novelists,

I don’t understand how you can say, “I’m working on a new novel, and here’s my first chapter!” Everything I write is in a state of flux until its final edit. I mean, I just changed the main character’s name and her bike’s name. Just not ready to share anything yet.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear AOL Instant Messenger,

I read recently that you have officially passed away. My friends and I don’t use you anymore, but we mourned your passing. You were the social savior for all of us cult kids in the 90s. I’m not even sure I would have gotten married without AIM access to keep in touch with DJ.

I will wave a sad farewell as that little door-closing sound makes it final slam.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Other Novelists,

It’s going to be an excellent story when I’m done. A friendly white girl learns how racial injustice in the not-too-distant past still affects our lives today. So far I have two love interests, a narcissistic grandmother, and at least three Jane Austen references. Ha, I see you baring your teeth in jealousy. That’s right. It’s going to be good.

The bike’s new name is Imogene, by the way.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Enya,

I found out that you released an album as recently as 2015. You were my guilty indulgence in the 90s, along with AIM. I was supposed to be listening to “godly” music, defined by our Revered Leader as any music that emphasized beats 2 and 4 in the rhythm line. (I didn’t make that up.) But you usually didn’t have a driving rhythm line, so I could justify listening to you — despite fears that you were spewing New Age spiritism all over my fragile Christian soul. Thank you for giving me some relief from choral hymns and harp music.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Misguided Readers,

What do you mean, does my  main character run a cute little shop and interact with colorful characters? Do you really expect me to write cute little bumbling romantic scenes? Do you even need a final piece of folksy feminine wisdom to wrap everything up? Oh horrors, I’m not the women’s fiction you’re looking for.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Grammar Nerd,

Okay, yes, I know. The second sentence of this post should begin with “among,” not “between,” because I listed more than two reasons. Thank you for your contribution. Nerd.

Love, Sara.

The Fable of the Two Game Players

The other day while playing the game Castles of Mad King Ludwig, I decided to challenge myself by playing what I guess could be called a Phantom Double Solitaire version. (The official rules don’t actually spell this one out.) I set up a second “player” to build a castle against mine, and we’d see who won.

I, Player Green, always gave myself the first choice for which room tiles I wanted to buy. I also got to choose my own bonus cards (the bonuses at the end often decide the winner). Player Yellow got to buy whatever she wanted to, but only after I did. She also got bonus cards, but I didn’t look at them so I didn’t know which tiles would actually maximize her points.

Other than those two conventions, we both stuck to the rules. I played Yellow’s turn with as much dedication to winning as I played Green’s.

In the end, Player Yellow (the second-choice player) finished in the high 80s. That’s a very respectable solitaire score. As for me, Player Green, I scored one of my highest scores ever, 130.

In my mind, Player Yellow was dissatisfied with our game. But why should she complain? She could start by being grateful she was even allowed to play. Secondly, both of them played the game by the same rules. Thirdly, she got a decent score — not as high as Green’s, sure, but nothing to complain about.

Green didn’t cheat, didn’t do anything to sabotage Yellow. She just played the best she could.

Well, okay, because she always got first choice and got to choose her bonuses — it was easier for Green to get ahead and stay there. Good decisions paid off better, good luck went farther. Bad decisions didn’t set her back quite as far.

Put simply, Green had an advantage — a privilege — that Yellow didn’t. And Green won by 50 points.

There’s a not-very-subtle social justice moral to this tale, if you wish to see it.

The Parable of the Hidden Figures

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie Hidden Figures. I thought I’d state that outright before I got into my detailed discussion of it. (Otherwise known as “SJ can’t watch a movie without completely picking it apart.”) (I’m a terrible movie date.) (But I don’t give spoilers.) (And DJ still loves me anyway.)

Hidden Figures is a parable for white people.

Granted, it’s based on black people’s experiences. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary were all actual black women who achieved success in the halls of NASA, which in the 60s was simply clogged with white males. The reason I say it’s a parable — a fictionalized story meant to illuminate truth — is because the movie shows what ought to happen rather than a strict adherence to what probably really did.

The black community knows exactly what life was like in the early 60s. They don’t have to be reminded of segregation, demonstrations, violence against them, and the quiet but suffocating refusal to allow black professionals to advance in their careers. The white community is the one who needs to see it and feel the futility and injustice. This movie does that. By giving the viewers three good women to sympathize with, we “become” those women and understand the obstacles they faced. This is the power of fiction.

But, being a Hollywood parable, we get the advantage of seeing it play out before our eyes. The entire movie takes place over a period of about two years. In theater time, of course, that’s about two hours. So in two hours we get to see these women pursue their dreams, demonstrate their capabilities, and win the respect of those around them. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. Just that the results weren’t so gratifyingly immediate.

Another “parable” aspect was that the movie showed several white characters who saw their error and paid due respect to their black colleagues. It made the movie easier to watch for those of us who have a sneaking fear that we would have upheld that system had we lived then. The white community of that time, while definitely top-dog, was also under pressure. They lived under the regime of a segment of society that truly despised anyone who wasn’t white; for the ordinary, peace-loving person, it was a risk to cross racial lines.

So really, the white response in that movie was much more mid-21st century than mid-20th. And while it’s not exact history, I think it was a good way to show how we today ought to respond.

(Another 2010s vs 1960s aspect of the movie was that nobody smoked. In reality, you probably couldn’t walk into any of those offices, men’s or women’s or white or colored, without forcing your way through the smog of cigarette smoke.)

All that said, I truly enjoyed the movie.

It follows the storylines of the three women, all with different ambitions. Dorothy wants the title and pay that comes with the supervisor job she’s already doing. Mary wants to become an engineer, a near-impossibility for a negro woman in segregated Virginia. Katherine — who is really the focal character — is a brilliant mathematician assigned to calculate the numbers that will get John Glenn into space.

Apart from the story, the movie is visually fun to watch. They recreated the 60s in good Hollywood style. The dresses, hair, decor (all that ugly dark paneling!), and technology looks just right. Which probably just means that it looks like what I vaguely remember of “old lady houses” and other Hollywood sets, but anyway.

The family life is portrayed as warm, with young black men who want the very best for their wives and children. Religion is present, acknowledged but not overdone. The pale colors of the surrounding set often highlighted the brown skin of the women. A few camera shots managed to communicate, “Look at aaalll these men! White men! It doesn’t look quite right, does it?”

It’s easy to see the frustrations these women faced at work, from Dorothy’s sweet but chilly white superior, to Mary’s sassy fashionista facade covering her stifled ambition, to Katherine’s half-mile hike to the Colored Bathroom every day. (The director is furious when he finds out her plight. “At NASA, we all pee the same color!” is one of the best declarations of equality in the movie.)

The story touches only lightly on the oppression, violence, and injustice of the era. And I think that some people were happy to ignore that reality yet again. I saw one comment about the movie that said,

“Those women were facing real issues. But they were faithful and stayed on task, and presto! It all worked out.”

No, honey. The “presto” part is because this movie isn’t history, it’s a parable. If you come away thinking that they had it “kind of bad,” then you need to do a little research. Ever browsed photos of of riots, attacks, and black men hanging from trees? They had it “kind of bad” in the same way that cancer makes you “a little sick.”

These women were extraordinary, and it leaves me wondering how many more black men, black women, and simply women in general, didn’t manage to break through with their gifts and abilities. It was a time of smothering injustice, and it’s not all resolved yet. I hope this movie, with its funny moments and gentle indictment of white superiority, can inspire the white community to understand and acknowledge the wrongs of the past, and show them a way to amend the wrongs of the present.

White Oblivion

stocksnap_q621it4pyjThis past Monday night, we listened to an excerpt of Martin Luther King Jr.’s profound and poetic “I Have a Dream” speech, read in a raspy Batman-like rumble. (DJ has a cold.)

Most of it went right over the kids’ heads (although Bookgirl probably caught a lot of it this time around). I’m glad that DJ makes a point to read it every year anyway. He and I need to hear it and understand where we’ve come from.

As I’ve said before, I grew up in South Mississippi. We were a lower middle-class white family, somewhere between belle and redneck. The “desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression” that King references in his speech wasn’t the Mississippi I knew. I was vaguely aware that things had been bad “back then,” but it wasn’t anything I recognized in my world. The white community didn’t teach its next generation hate and anger.

It taught us oblivion.

We — my white friends and I — didn’t understand how recently segregation had been the order of the day. It simply wasn’t discussed. Martin Luther King, Jr. was dismissed with a slight shrug of distaste. I didn’t know anything about Rosa Parks until my sixth grade English teacher, a black woman, dedicated a day of class to her. Thanks to Norman Rockwell’s painting, I knew about Ruby Bridges and integration, but not the seething hate that surrounded her. I was married before I learned about the Detroit race riots (thank you, Dreamgirls). It was last year while researching for a story that I looked up “race relations 1972” and discovered that things were still really nasty in Boston and Washington, D.C.

Of course, as a child, I didn’t understand a lot of things. And as I got older, none of these facts were concealed from me. The white community simply didn’t bring them up.

Later in the evening of MLK Day, I got myself some ice cream and sat down with what I consider leisure reading — a 1963 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. At first the significance of the publication year didn’t occur to me. But I began reading an article about how families could make the most of their money, and King’s words came back to me.

I read, “It’s sad but true that a great many homes in America today are below the standard of what their owners should have and can afford.” And a thought crept in, You don’t mean the “the negro’s basic mobility from a smaller ghetto to a larger one,” do you?

I read, “A packaged weekend ski trip that includes bus transportation, four meals and two night’s lodging, rental of ski equipment and tow charges, costs only $37 per person…” Assuming you aren’t denied those meals and lodging.

I read, “Traveling by car offers the advantage of convenience and savings on transportation costs for a large family… Motels and hotels charge about $9.50 a night for two…” Two WHITE PEOPLE. The words were a roar in my head.

This magazine, a “family magazine” for “Americans today,” was written only for white people. And I’d never really thought much about it, because I’m part of the club, so it’s easy to assume that everybody gets the same benefit.

Outright black oppression at the hands of white supremacy isn’t really history. It’s still living memory. It’s a charred field barely covered over with new growth. More and more I realize that we can’t expect our nation to “move on” from a catastrophe that’s still hot to the touch.

I want healing. I want to see things change. And I’m trying to start with myself. I never singled out other races for hate and disgust. I’ve worked hard to shed some toxic ingrained attitudes of white supremacy.

But I can honestly say that what I’m mostly guilty of is something that’s harder to see in the first place. I’m guilty of oblivion.

So this year especially, I’m grateful for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I’m glad that we still have his words that make us stop and acknowledge the truth we’d been taught to ignore. May oblivion not blind us to the plight of our neighbors and fellow humans.