ellen mcbee

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Who I Was?

Those of you who’ve been following me know that I write New Adult. I’m trying to be one of those people who are remaking the genre. I think “New Adult” encompasses a whole lot of works that aren’t romance.

Maybe it’s inevitable that I would have to write about high school…which as far as I’m concerned is “the part I had to get through to get to my real life.”

I don’t talk much about my teenage years because there’s not much to talk about. I went to school; I fit in there or not (usually not) for all the same reasons everyone else did. The weird thing is that looking back I don’t think I believed there was something wrong with me; I thought the problem was with amorphous “them”. For one thing, I was super quiet, and that goes back a very long way. I was the kind of quiet that made people either forget I was there, or think I was deaf, so I overheard a lot of things that were not strictly my business. People thought I was stuck up, or conceited, but really I was just very quiet. I was also left-leaning in a farming community, which just made me quieter. But I never accepted the idea that somehow I should change; I accepted instead the idea that I had to grow up and leave.

I know I have some readers who went to high school with me who are already steeling themselves for being attacked. Relax! I don’t think I was really bullied…well, there are some exceptions to that, but I think those people don’t read. They didn’t then, that was for sure! It was more that I was very different from most of the rest of you. More than that, I never really put myself out there to be judged and found lacking. Whenever I did anything unexpected, whether it was wearing a dress or speaking up about being put into an impossible situation (some of you know what that was about and I’m NOT going to discuss it again, except to say that no choice I made was going to be the right one), it seemed like a conspiracy to put me back into the niche you assigned me to. I stopped pushing my boundaries and trying new things because it didn’t feel like it was worth the effort to explain myself or try to get you to see me with new eyes.

At fourteen or fifteen I already understood how different we all were. Did you know how curious I was? That I could tell our lives were different and, though we had grown up together, I really, genuinely wanted to understand? I got to be kind of known for it in college; people portraying me in skits started every sentence with “I wonder…”. Know what else I got known for? I have really great legs. Even my knees are pretty. I’m a good friend, a terrific listener, a great mom, and I’m getting to be a good writer. Not just a talented one, but something even more important: a person who writes, every day.

I started this entry thinking I would write about who I was then, but that’s not really the point. I didn’t find the people who knew me and became lifelong friends until I went to college. There was a whole world out there; I knew it all along. And I don’t and never did look down on people who were happy with what they found back in Tennessee. It just wasn’t for me.

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That Damn Eugenics Research!

Crap. Eugenics is getting inside my head.

So, I’ve been reading for the Polish Boy Scouts project this week, and it’s still exhausting and hard reading. In particular, I’m dipping into “War Against the Weak” with inroads into “Bloodlands.” And then, when I need a little light relief, I’m looking at a book of propaganda posters I just bought. So, yeah, I’m probably in a really horrible mood, which is why I’ve been hanging out in my office this week.

So, the eugenics book concentrates on America, but Edwin Black is the son of Polish holocaust survivors. His argument is that this movement born in America grew to horrible adolescence in Nazi Germany (poetic, huh?). And guess what was eventually at the root of eugenics? Why, American Nativism!

(For those of you who know me in real life, Nativism is sort of “my” topic. If I ever do my Ph.D. in history, it will be on American Nativism.)

So then, there was a weird juxtaposition of real life and writing life when my Facebook feed became completely clogged with posts both for and against Planned Parenthood. In particular, one pseudo-friend posted about how Margaret Sanger thought black people should be eradicated, so I jumped ahead in War Against the Weak to read about her thoughts. She’s often portrayed as an anti-Semite or a racist when in fact she was neither. She became a birth control activist after seeing too many women die as the result of repeated pregnancies, miscarriages, and self-induced abortions. She wanted to prevent those problems by preventing unwanted pregnancy. She wanted women to be in full control of their own bodies.

She was also tainted by eugenics, as were an awful lot of social reformers. She believed in “negative eugenics,” meaning that she thought the unfit should be sterilized. But she also thought the government shouldn’t interfere in family planning; people should be educated on how to prevent unwanted pregnancy and would then be responsible enough to make their own decisions.

Okay, I admit freely that this is a gross oversimplification of her views. She wouldn’t endorse killing people who were retarded or blind or so on, so the eugenics people weren’t as supportive of birth control as she might have wished. And she thought everyone should limit the size of their families, not just poor people and immigrants.

So, here’s the dilemma: is Planned Parenthood tainted by eugenics too? The words we use are that people who can’t afford to take care of children shouldn’t have them. Or that people who are temperamentally unsuited shouldn’t either. Or even that people shouldn’t have more than a certain number of children. In my own awkward way, I guess I wonder if we’re still saying that some people are a “pauper” class (see: the Jukes) and should have birth control so they don’t have more kids. Do we really mean that some people shouldn’t have kids because they are too poor?

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