Diversity continues to be a vibrant topic in Children’s Literature, with many difficult and rewarding conversations taking place. This last week I’ve watched many folks get heated, offended, confused, frustrated, even downright angry–then back off, regroup, and dive back in with civil discourse. Way to lead, all of you. This is how it is done. I think the community is setting an example that I wish politicians and government leaders would follow. Talk. Talk some more. Listen. Listen even harder. Then do the right thing. If you figure out you made a mistake, apologize and try again. Do not give up. Do not quit. I’m proud to know so many children’s authors, especially right now!
As much of the country experiences unseasonable cold, it’s 80 degrees and climbing in Western Kentucky. The sun is out, but rain clouds keep sneaking across the blue sky. They’re trying to gather in the corners and get organized. I expect it’ll be pouring by this afternoon.
I’m seven weeks post left knee replacement, and thankfully, the whole surgical experience is beginning to feel like a distant memory. I want it even more distant, and I want my physical and emotional reserves to come back online. I want that yesterday. I want a long stretch of just being able to live, without thinking about how I get out of a chair, how I walk, whether or not I’ll be able to sleep, and my overall health. The thing is, that level of improvement takes time. It takes time, and rest, and restoration, and increasing distance from the event–without new events intruding to drain down the strength and resistance I’ve been able to build.
This week, I’ve been pondering extending this metaphor to our national consciousness as we grapple with the politics of inclusion and exclusion, institutionalized racism and discrimination, and letting go of what “always has been” in favor of what could be, and perhaps what should be. With the 24-hour (30-second, it seems) news cycle, the internet, and social media, many people–especially people on the front lines–never have the time time to rest and restore. There is always another situation occurring, another injustice to address, another assault, another attack. The people being attacked never have the luxury of letting down their guard. They never have the space to breathe.
With this in mind, I have a new mission in my writing, amongst all the others I’ve developed over the years of tapping keys and weaving tales. I want to create books that give people–all people–that space to breathe. I want people who need respite to be able to lose themselves in my stories for five minutes, for one hour, for a few days–for however long they can, however long they need.
I think we as children’s writers, can play a key role in provoking quiet thought, in suppporting positive change, and in illuminating peaceful paths to both rest and restoration.
I am proud to report that 42 days following left total knee replacement, I’m discharged from the doctor, cleared from physical therapy, and returned to work (went back around the 30 day mark). Still a lot of home exercise to go–but the big hill is now in my rearview. Best of all, I AM BACK IN MY HAMMOCK!
Today, the view is out into the woods behind the house, which I suppose are properly called a forest, since no light gets from sky to ground in most sections. Our little stretch of Kentucky backwoods is unique in that it has been settled, then abandoned at least twice. On my land, we have an old cemetery with very old gravestones bearing very long German-sounding names–circa 1700-1800. We assume these to be Amish folks, who then moved farther south into Christian County for better farm land (where the Amish communities now thrive). Subsistance farmers took over the fallow area, then in the 1940’s and 1950’s, struck oil (yes, that television show wasn’t kidding, those of you old enough to remember). The wealthy people went on their way, leaving our area to deer and turkey hunters–and nutty pseudo-hippie cabin dwellers like us.
As a result, along the single lane twisty road that leads to my house, there’s a mix of cleared land, wild land, and land that’s turning wild again–but with whispers of human caretaking from years gone by. While I labored through the rehab process, winter became spring. To give everyone a break from politics, strife, worrying, and the concerns of the modern world, I’m posting shots I took while driving the last two miles to my house, and as I walked up the sidewalk.
Happy Spring 2015, from the Bluegrass State!
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.