This morning the NYT breaking news brought the murder of an 80-year-old French priest to my breakfast table, and it piled on to the daily horrors of malls and nightclubs shootings, the black men gunned down, the police gunned down, the images hitting my solar plexus, breaking into me. When children are shot or stabbed on trains, I wonder what should have done, I can do. Michelle Obama’s beautiful, impassioned speech last night at the Democratic Convention showed me the power of one voice, how one voice can move people to heal, be more active, help other people in need. And I think about what artists can do and must do with our voices.
–We have to tell the truth. More than ever, we have to fight quick fixes of stereotypes and euphemisms, like labeling a disabled child as “special,” or proceeding with everyday life, saying, “There, there. It’s all right,” when a child may not voice her fear of the violence she has soaked up in the news.
Kathleen Lane’s The Best Worst Thing contains Truth. In this middle-grade book, a young girl named Maggie has all the fears of a little girl, but more. For a girl with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the world is out-of-control scary. The clerk at her local mini mart is murdered, and the murderer is on the loose, and inside her home, her parents are drifting apart, and her older sister tumbles into adolescence. In other words, everything is topsy-turvy. Maggie thinks, “I was too worried about middle school. I was too worried about the murderer. I think I dreamed that the murderer was my teacher! Now I’m super tired and I’ll probably get lost. I’m already lost…” (22) And as the plots intersect, Maggie relies on ordering her life by checking every window and door, saying everything twice, limiting her thinking to only good thoughts. By showing this girl, her magical and obsessive thinking, Kathleen shows us real fears, real girls, real ways of coping with the anxiety that children can’t help but soak in when violence erupts around them. And she shows Maggie’s triumph. We have to write the truth about our children, help them read complicated portrayals of perseverance and friendship, write the truth about children’s fears and not minimize them.
–We have to tell the truth with splitting images, with grace and beauty. Poets like Joy Harjo have written truth and beauty for years:
She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who
carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.
She had some horses.
Or read Patricia Smith and Sherman Alexie and other fierce writers who challenge and break and love language so much they’re willing to crack it open, eat its guts.
–And we have to do more than write. We have to vote, get others to vote, be vigilant without turning into vigilantes, take back the streets, pay kindness forward, pray, pave the way for others who are younger, stronger, silent for now or shrieking too loud. We are stronger together.
Writing salons at Another Read Through books:
September 21—Naomi Shihab Nye
October 12—Audre Lorde
November 9–Ntozake Shange
December 14—Marilyn Hacker
September 24, San Francisco, CA, with Sara Cypher on the first pages of the manuscript you submit (for more information, please click here.)
October 11, 18, 25, 6-9pm, Portland, OR, How to Break Your Reader’s Heart, 3-part workshop, Multnomah Friends’ Meeting, (for more information, TBA)
November 6, 13, 20 & December 4, 11, 6-8pm, Online Writing Salon using Gateless Method.
May 7-14, 2017, Mosier, OR, Gateless Retreat. (TBA)…