I hope every writer who speaks to children–and you are all amazing–will one day speak to them of love, hope, and justice. I hope every reader will touch a book and come away more whole, and more ready to bring peace to a better world.
So, today’s view is actually from inside my house, from a recliner instead of a hammock, but I have a good reason! Namely that I am 10 days status post left total knee replacement. Given that showering followed by staying awake is still a small miracle, and I just finished a lunch of blueberries and potato chips (neither required preparation, arguments for healthy properties could be made)–getting in and out of a hammock seemed like too great of a challenge.
Soon, but not today.
This surgical odessy has taught me many very important things so far. The one I’m focused on today is this: communication is hard. Seriously, communication is hard! Often, when I think I am saying something, or getting something across, I am failing. I am failing through no fault of my own, and no fault of my listeners, but due to the different rhythms and words that people build to understand the world around them.
My first example of this is with my surgeon, who is a brilliant man. He’s for sure The Knee Guy of the universe, keeps current, has his own surgical center, genuinely cares, and completed this massive change in my life as a day surgery (yes, really), from which I walked out of the building on a walker. I’m not the genius he is, but I do have a doctorate in psychology, and I write books, so I hold my own. I told him many years ago, “My left knee does not bend past 90 degrees.” He acknowledged this. We moved on to cleaning it up and giving me a few more years before this, the unaviodable replacement, toward which I was clearly heading. I have had to repeat that phrase many times to docs, PT’s, and other people in my life. My left knee does not bend past 90 degrees. Simple, right? Following an ACL repair I had in the 1980’s, with a surgeon who decidedly was NOT The Knee Guy, my knee simply never bent again. I was accused of doing poorly in therapy, etc. etc. and my question of whether or not, when the knee was structurally put back together during that procedure, it was somehow made too tight/limited, well, that got laughed at. I learned to live with it, and end of story.
The Knee Guy put me under for the procedure 10 days ago, picked up my leg, and went to manupilate it with me unconscious, and he was shocked to discover–my left knee does not bend past 90 degrees! No matter what he did, he could get no bend. So, my surgery took two additional hours and a LOT more cutting (my incision is about a foot long with metal staples) to get the knee to bend so he could even complete the replacement. After some discussion with my partner, I realized that apparently she assumed, as did The Knee Guy and most everyone I’ve ever told, that I did not bend my knee past 90 degrees due to pain. No one had any real idea that, once pain was removed from the equation, the joint was only hinged that far, and no further. Though I have routinely SAID this, that’s not what my words have COMMUNICATED all of these years. Thank God The Knee Guy is just that good, and pitched an amazing save anyway, and someday soon, I might not have to tell people that my left knee does not bend past 90 degrees any more, ever again.
But communication is hard.
If accurately reflecting that tiny and concrete piece of my inner experience was so difficult, what must it be like for a woman to explain to a man something inherently female, or vice-versa? How difficult is it, really, to speak across gender and cultural and racial divides? How many times, when we think we are communicating something basic and obvious, are we actually just painting words on top of assumptions?
Merits pondering, for sure.
As for my newest communication battle, it goes something like this:
Bright-Eyed PT Who Looks 18 And Smiles A Lot: “Your goals are 110 degress of passive something or other, 115 degrees of active flexion, and 10 superhero leaps over this amazing shiny terrifying machine with lots of pullies and belts!”
Me: “My goals are to shower without face-planting, put on my own shorts without doing the crosswise monkey-dance, walk without the John Wayne hobble, and maybe someday when I don’t have a giant zipper up the side of my leg, ride a normal bike.”
Bright-Eyed PT Who Looks 18 and Smiles A Lot (smiling less now): “Who is John Wayne?”
Think we’ll get there?
I’m taking a brief break from a rewrite after creating a new chapter (yay, me), enjoying this warm but cloudy spring day in a new spot in the yard, and listening to chickens coo and cluck in the background. This setting is so peaceful, and so far removed from many of the things that trouble my mind.
I’ve read a lot of hate and vitriol on the Internet lately, about one group of fraternity boys singing a horribly racist chant, about Jewish fraternity houses at my graduate Alma Mater being vandalized by swastikas and the terrifying spread of anti-semitism in Europe, about Ashley Judd facing threats of murder and sexual violence because she tweeted an opinion about a sporting event, about state judges refusing the direction of federal judges concerning marriage equality (and states proposing and passing measures designed to skirt the law where marriage equality has already been decided), and a measure proposed in California that seeks to make homosexuality a capital crime, and make it legal to kill people for being gay in the United States.
Where does such hatred come from? What is so frightening about people who don’t all look the same on the outside, or people with different religious beliefs, or women with opinions, or consenting adults joining in a bonding ceremony in the eyes of the law (and/or a higher power)? These questions baffle me. I feel both sadness and fear, and wonder what I can do, as one lone voice and pair of hands, to advocate for peace, healing, and love.
Standing in shining counterbalance is the ongoing discussion in Children’s Literature about diversity and gender equality, and I’m so glad more people are finally beginning to talk openly and join the stalwart and learned voices of folks who have been trying to move us forward in these areas for a long time. Though the conversation is difficult, and awkward at times, and heated at other times, the conversation exists, and it continues. I do not see it going away, or fading into the background. To me, this is a triumph in a time when triumphs are needed.
I’m proud to be a part of Children’s Literature. I believe we can lead, not just reflect, what’s happening in publishing, or society as a whole.