ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

The Biggest To-Do List In The World

Yes, my mom life took over my writing life again. I know how surprised you all are.

Today’s list had six items for the pool, one item for the gym, a grocery list, two items for the yearbook, and three items for the band. Then of course I had my housework schedule, which I’m only halfway through.

On the bright side, I was done with the rest of it by 10:30.

I wish I could figure out how to put this energy into the book. Or maybe it isn’t energy so much as it’s dedication? The idea that I can do these tasks and then I’ll be finished? Some days I don’t even want to look at it. I want it to be done and I want to write the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. I won’t speak of how long it’s been since I did any research for the Polish Boy Scouts project. I’m serious about all of it, but some days there’s just no motivation.

And if there’s clutter or some kind of housework that needs doing? It depends. I get overwhelmed by housework easily, so there’s a schedule. Typically I try to spend half an hour or so on the house every morning. Make the bed, wipe down the bathroom, do the dishes, that sort of thing. If I don’t do it, I can’t write because I feel too guilty.

I think that might be the biggest part of this journey. I’m looking at Colorado Gold because I’d like to go; I have friends who are teaching at it. But it’s September; there will be band and kid things and leaving kids with husband. I love him, but feeding the kids something they will eat isn’t one of his strong points. Having my own tiny room for work, not having a full time job, a lot of writers dream about exactly this.

The space is here, but so are the obligations. And the things I feel driven to do that aren’t writing. I think this is what makes that “cabin” fantasy we all have so attractive. Mine is on Crete; it would be a small, sun-drenched space with comfortable seating and lots of windows to let in the ocean breeze. Well, of course it would be on the beach! And the colors would be bright, and food would appear by magic, and nobody there would even know my name, and I would turn out words and paragraphs and chapters and books and then I would call it Art.

Well, it’s a good daydream.

Okay, butt in the chair, coffee at the ready. A thousand post-it notes for my edits, and now I’ll…I’ll go pick up my fourth grade daughter and take her to lunch, the library, and dance. It’s half day Wednesday.

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How To (Re) Write

What a magnificent day it is! We’ve gone from snow and cold to sunny and clear in just a few days. I’m continuing to hope that my apple trees didn’t freeze. They did, though.

Yesterday I finally sat at my desk for the first time in three weeks. Dental surgery, swimming pool, elementary school yearbook, band uniforms, gymnastics meet…it all adds up. I’m hoping that things will be relatively clear for the next few weeks, because I’m deep into rewrites on “What You Stand For.”

After the retreat in Colorado Springs (which I TOTALLY want to do again!), I started thinking that I’m a more critical reader than I used to be. When I read other people’s work for critique, I’m very quick to point out bits of lazy characterization or a plot that skips around. And, my favorite–front-loading the backstory. I think I’m so sensitized to that because I do it myself. How many opening chapters of this book did I go through before I finally jumped into the action? I needed a sequence that explained what the sorority meant to these girls and how it was different from the others.

I read an article when I was in that process about how every chapter in the whole book needed that same kind of detail and polishing and thought. What is that scene accomplishing? Is this character the right one to say that? It seemed exhausting to think of going through twenty-odd versions of every chapter! Maybe writing wasn’t really worthwhile after all?

Fast forward to the retreat and I’m going to self-publish these books. I want to have them all up somewhere around the first of the year, and I’m hopeful I can get there because I’ve learned so much on this journey so far. Looking over the draft of “What You Settle For” helped me realize that I’ve gotten better at first drafts. Here’s hoping that will translate to getting better at third and fourth drafts, too.

Meanwhile I’m going over “What You Stand For” in detail. Yesterday I was doing a read through looking for a particular emotional moment and I realized that Chapter 12 wasn’t reading “tight” enough. There were passages of dialogue and action, but an awful lot of the action was from the outside. Getting in deeper, and as a result going bigger, are the goals now.

Someday, this book will be finished; I have high hopes for mid-May. Meanwhile, the rewrites are making it funnier and more immediate and it has more emotional impact. It’s like I’m pointing at it: “See? Here’s why you’re supposed to care!” I’m feeling good about where it’s going.

Of course, marketing is still terrifying.

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Ethnic Nationalism

Today I was up ridiculously early for reasons I can’t remember. I must be getting old.

I was going to check my e-mail, which I still haven’t done, because my computer was still open to the article I was reading about the Ohrdruf camp, which was a concentration camp dedicated to forced labor and a satellite camp of Buchenwald. It was also the first camp liberated by American soldiers. A tour by Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton was arranged. Eisenhower immediately saw the significance; he felt strongly that the camps should be thoroughly documented so that later people couldn’t say that it had all been propaganda and that the camps had not existed. He insisted on seeing all of the facility.

Patton, meanwhile, didn’t see parts of the camp because of his own reactions. And it has been widely rumored ever since that he threw up within half an hour of arriving at the camp.

Anyway, that’s a well-known story. But as I was reading it over, I got to thinking about the nature of antisemitism, so I did a search. Specifically, I want to know why there is antisemitism. And do people really believe in it, or is it a convenient political tool? Because one of the books I’m reading right now is called Hitler’s Willing Executioners, and it’s about ordinary German people who were ingrained with antisemitism, which had been part of western culture for a long time.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by the results of the search. There isn’t really consensus on why antisemitism exists; it might be easier to ask why there is racism, or xenophobia, or why people are anti-Catholic. But I found a link near one of the articles I read that led me to the idea of ethic nationalism. Which I had heard of before, but when I read that article I also found ethnic nationalism compared to civic nationalism.

I’d never thought about the distinction before. Ethnic nationalism means that you think of a nation, not as a political entity, but as an expression of the ethnic group that forms it. So, if you’re Irish, you would think of a nation encompassing people who speak Gaelic, are Roman Catholic, live in Ireland, listen to folk tales, sing folk music, etc. Eventually you think of your nation as people who look like you, talk like you, see the world the same way, and live in the same place. But it also means that your ethnic group is unambiguously identifiable. You are who you were born to be.

And then, there’s civic nationalism, which is not based at all on where you were born or what kind of people you came from. The nation’s power comes from the active participation of citizens. It’s straight from the Enlightenment tradition, with ideals of personal freedom, equality, tolerance, and individual rights. Citizenship is based partly on being born in the particular nation, but you can also become a citizenship by observing the laws and receiving particular privileges in return. You are who you choose to be.

And writing this now, I’m not sure you can have both of these things in the same country. On the one hand you have all these “Nativists,” which is completely ludicrous in America anyway, who think real Americans are of white European descent and Protestants. On the other you have people like me–bring in the immigrants because it makes us all better and stronger. Real Americans vote. Real Americans care about everyone having as many individual rights as they can. Real Americans don’t care what you look like, and so on.

Maybe that’s eventually the root of the culture wars, and why we’re all interested in World War II 70 years later. It’s a question that plays out every day, right here in America.

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Retreat! Retreat!

No, not from Trump not being Hitler. He still isn’t. And, as my brother put it, this isn’t 1930s Germany either. Though I would like to point out that new scholarship in the field (whic…

Source: Retreat! Retreat!

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Retreat! Retreat!

No, not from Trump not being Hitler. He still isn’t. And, as my brother put it, this isn’t 1930s Germany either. Though I would like to point out that new scholarship in the field (which I’m reading, sadly) suggests that Hitler wasn’t possible without the deeply ingrained anti-Semitism of 1930s and before Germany as well as the willing collaboration of the common people. So. Let’s say Trump still doesn’t equal Hitler, but Trump might equal fascism.

No, what I’m really posting about is the retreat I went on last weekend. Specifically, the RMFW retreat at the Franciscan Retreat Center in Colorado Springs.

People always seem to come back from this kind of thing relaxed and refreshed and ready to keep plugging away, and I certainly am all of those things. It was great to take a mental break from all the obligations that sometimes seem to make up my whole life. Three times a day, I went to a dining room, and someone brought food I didn’t cook. There were plans and activities and talks and classes and, more than that, really wonderful people of all experience levels at writing. I’ve resolved that when I’m doing critiques I’m going to redouble my efforts at being encouraging. It was a little confusing because a few writers had brought brand-new, first drafts; others brought material that was all but finished, so it was hard to know how to be helpful since I didn’t know which were which. Anyway, we’ve all got different reasons for embarking on this journey in the first place, and being encouraging and complimentary is definitely part of being helpful, just like pointing out comma splices and run-on sentences.

I think the part I like best about going to these things is how easy it is to talk about the work and not sound like a pretentious jerk. It’s okay to be a kind of bookish introvert (although I’m 50/50 on the introvert/extrovert scale every time I take one of those surveys, and that’s been true since I was a little kid) and to talk about “This is what I’m stuck on” and “I need help with this” or even “I’m really good at,” which for me is and always has been characters. I can also be open that I try in my own writing to be an original, fresh voice, but still in the confines of the genre. For this New Adult project, for instance, the characters do tend to be snarky and judgmental, but it feels age appropriate. While there’s a strong romantic subplot, that’s not what the book is really about (New Adult books tend to be romances). But, rather than the usual five or so characters in a lot of New Adult, I’ve got about fifteen more-than-background characters, and the story is set firmly in the Greek world. Most New Adult work doesn’t even acknowledge sororities and fraternities, unless it’s to provide an easy villain.

The best takeaway information I got from this conference was from the inimitable Courtney Miller-Callihan, who is an agent. She told me that her clients are finding New Adult sales very difficult, and that I should plan to self-publish the What You Stand For books. I’ve kicked that idea around for a long time, so it didn’t come as a huge shock, but I had always planned to try to sell them traditionally first. Now I know not to waste time on that route, get the books finished, and start selling them.

What a steep learning curve there is in this business! Still, the other task I got done was to go through the manuscript of Book 2 and wrestle it into a plot. I wrote Book 2 during NaNoWriMo this year and thought it was awful, but when I went through it in Colorado it really isn’t that bad. Some of it’s even funny. Who knows, I could be finished with that one and drafting Book 3 in November, and putting up What You Stand For by January?

I thought I wanted the prestige of traditional publishing, and I still do for the Scouts project. But publishing is changing; writing is changing. I hope the quality of the work is going to help sell it, but honestly, I never started doing this for the money (if I did, I’d be an accountant). I started doing it so I could tell the stories. And, if this is how you get the story out, this is how you get the story out.

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Stop Saying Trump Is Hitler

This topic has been written about much more eloquently than I can; people who do political reporting are better at this, I suppose. I’ve been seeing an awful lot of this on Facebook and other places around the web, so one more voice won’t hurt, I suppose.

It’s probably an occupational hazard. I have always been uncomfortable with anyone at all being compared to Hitler or Nazis (and DO NOT get me started on the horrifying “feminazi” term–although, to be fair, Rush Limbaugh started that. Karma’s a big old feminist bitch, isn’t it, Rush?). I suppose I can kind of see people who don’t have an in-depth understanding of 1930s Germany could think there were similarities, but we’re getting into Jade Helm territory here. America is not suffering 30% unemployment; it doesn’t already have a non-functioning coalition government. Here’s a secret: the U.S. government functions exactly like it was designed to. The system of checks and balances is supposed to make it difficult to make changes. The country’s founders knew what they were doing; compromise was essential to the government they made.

And think of that. A few years ago I finally went to Philadelphia, and I was RIGHT THERE in the actual place where a bunch of contentious jackasses got together in the 100 degree heat and argued and fought and drank and went out chasing women and owned slaves and ordered their wives around like servants and thought they owned their children and called each other names and disagreed and then…

Then they made a compromise. And they named it America.

Yes, my children thought I was nuts because I was crying. I was in the place where they made America. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

And I trust those guys. Even if they had feet of clay, they had brains of…okay, I’ve got nothing. They had determination. Grit. They didn’t want to see the country they’d just won devolve into anarchy and eventually be re-conquered and occupied.

Do you really think Trump is Hitler? No, you don’t. You don’t think Trump will build hundreds or even thousands of camps all over America and start executing people without due process. And don’t get me wrong; the system isn’t perfect. But do you really think such a thing could happen? Please remember that this government can hardly sharpen a pencil without four meetings, a memo, a few classified e-mails, and a million dollars in insurance in case something goes wrong and the intern sharpens his finger instead.

There was only one Hitler, though admittedly he had a lot of fanatical followers. His rise to power was brought about by economic and social forces we just don’t have in America. His atrocities were brought about by the sudden successes of his military and a lot of people who were personally devoted to him, all trying to outdo each other in serving him. But the catalog of atrocities is long: Babi Yar, Pawiak Prison, Hadamar, Vilnius, Lvov, Treblinka, and it continues. Do you really think Trump being president would result in this?

Do not honor Hitler and his henchmen by comparing them to Trump. This is a complete trivialization of Hitler’s rule. Trump is a showman; if he reminds me of anyone it’s George W. Bush, who was all excited to run for President and then shocked to find out governing is work. Trump is just the latest in a long line of faces: Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, who will really have someone else running the show. He’s no scarier than the rest of them.

Trump isn’t Hitler because America isn’t Germany. And eventually, maybe that’s all we need to know.

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Were the Nazis Socialists?

So, something a little funny happened today. And as happens so often, it tied into the Polish Boy Scouts.

Well, sort of. I’m kind of getting ahead of myself.

This extremely old friend of mine…scratch that, he’s younger than me. Anyway, this is a friend I’ve known for a long time. We don’t agree politically and we never have, but when we were young we didn’t consider that to be an impediment to being friends. In any case, he sometimes posts things that I consider either thought-provoking or complete nonsense.  Today’s offering was nonsense. It looked like this:

bernie

(Don’t worry. I promise I’ll get to it. First you have to listen to my little story.)

So, I just posted, “THE NAZIS WERE NOT SOCIALISTS.” And I left it at that because 1) Errant nonsense, particularly in the form of a shared picture, is not worth dealing with; 2) I didn’t let it go unchallenged; and 3) likening Bernie Sanders to Nazis is even more nonsensical.

And then another friend, someone I was closer to in those days, posted back. Politically I don’t know where he stood; I’m not sure he even was political then. But, well, it’s America, and everybody has to be political now. In any case I’ve always had sincere respect for this friend’s intelligence, ability to read people, and sense of humor. This friend posted about the Nazis’ 25 point program (you can read all about it here: http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/25points.htm

Thought-provoking, no? I had not run across it in all twenty-two books I’ve read and who knows how many online sources, original documents, movies, research I’ve done for the Polish Scouts. So I took a look and discovered that at best this is propaganda; it defined the Nazi “brand” with a whole lot of promises that were never carried out. And I posted some of that–but I was supposed to be reading on Canaris today so I jumped back into that.

A little while later, friend who posted the original meme said, “It’s right there in the name,” illustrating either a profound desire to annoy me, or a profound misunderstanding of what words are. I mean, they made everybody call Kim Jung Il “Dear Leader.” It didn’t mean he was actually dear or even necessarily the leader. And then the second friend replied, explaining to me that the designations “communist” and “socialist” were perhaps meaningless in the discussion at hand and listed some specific economic examples of how Nazism was socialist.

Fair enough.

I’m not strong on economics (though words and how they change through time? I’m pretty good on that), and the focus of the research has been social history and personal narrative and ideological background. And, whether or not it was true, I wanted to really know it for myself. It’s a pretty significant hole, not just in the research, but in the meaning of the Third Reich and ultimately the meaning of the Warsaw Uprising, child soldiers, and all those themes I’m dealing with.

So, here’s the TL/DR response: No. Nazis were not socialists. Socialists are not Nazis.

And here’s the researched, well-considered, thoughtful response I wrote that was so long I thought, “That would make a great blog post!” Or possibly, a doctoral dissertation.

“I considered just searching this question on-line, but that’s not really what I want to do. I don’t believe in pre-fab research; I wanted to consider the question on its merits and on my own. So if I’m quoting someone, I don’t mean to be.

“I’m hung up on the idea that a totalitarian state could ever be a socialist one. Going back to Enlightenment principles, government depends on the consent of the governed. In a totalitarian state like the Third Reich, it depended on the consent of the 32% of the people who voted for Hitler in the second (and last) free elections held by Weimar Germany. A coalition government was formed and Hitler seized power. There were numerous attempts to unseat him; one of these was on the eve of the Sudetenland crisis, but the generals were betrayed by Chamberlin. In any case, socialism is more than just government ownership of the means of production, resources, etc.; at its core it requires a democratic or collective ownership. In a totalitarian state, by definition that can’t be the case; the ownership is driven by the person or group at the top, not by the people as a cooperating entity.

“Leaving the ideology aside (which is difficult when discussing Nazis), we could go on to who the Nazis considered their enemies to be. The SA (Brown Shirts), the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, used to go out and disrupt meetings of Communists and Social Democrats. The SA was well known for street fights with Communists. Hitler had dismantled all the other political parties by 1934, partly by putting their leaders into Dachau, which left the SA at loose ends and causing fights with passers-by and sometimes with foreign diplomats. The SA was also the left wing of the party; its ranks had been swelled by the unemployed, who were eager for Hitler to begin breaking up the estates of German aristocrats and take other radical economic action. This didn’t happen in 1933 or 1934, but army criticism of the SA as a “rabble” did. Hitler needed the army; more, he needed the support of non-Nazis in the army, so during the Night of the Long Knives he purged the Nazi party of its left wing. By murdering it. Hitler also used the opportunity to get rid of conservatives he thought were unreliable. As a result, most of Chancellor von Papen’s immediate circle were murdered. Some old enemies, such as the former Nazi Gregor Strasser, were killed as well; so were the former leaders of the Catholic Centre Party, which had been aligned with the Social Democrats. And make no mistake: Germany’s Social Democrats were (and are) socialists.

“The concentration camp system was built in the first place to house political prisoners. The political prisoners in the camps were identified as Social Democrats, Communists, and others who opposed Nazism, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. So rather than making common cause with the established Socialists or Communists, the Hitler regime regarded them as enemies and arrested them in large numbers.

“We could also look at who the Nazis counted as their friends. Noted American conservatives Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Himmler’s pen pal J. Edgar Hoover, Gerald L.K. Smith, and Pierre DuPont. None of these people would have remotely considered themselves to be Socialists, or anything other than firm conservatives, political, social, and economic.

“Admittedly going out on a limb here, but the foundation of National Socialism is that people can’t ever improve or change who they are. Political prisoners were kept alive and served limited sentences in the camps because they were considered genetically valuable. Good German women were supposed to have baby after baby because it was good for the race. Eventually, every road to every social program, every military campaign, every educational program, led back to the idea of and the development of the Master Race. Nazi eugenics owes an embarrassing debt to American eugenics. Nazi racism had roots in colonialism and the idea of the White Man’s Burden. The Klan, the eugenicists, all of them thought that Jews had brought communism and socialism and trade unions into the world.

“Meanwhile, Nazism was in direct conflict with several other philosophies, most notably (for me) scouting. The scouting movement was all about improving the self through education. Although in many countries scouts were segregated, Baden-Powell himself thought this was an error. Scouting was really the antithesis of Nazism; it emphasized betterment of the existing people, not removing them from the gene pool.

“So, finally, economics. Which you know I’m weak in, but I will do my best. Nationalizing the banks: The banks had been taken over by the Weimar government and Hitler’s government re-privatized the four major commercial banks in Germany between 1934 and 1938. The banks did, however, have to provide government financing, so it could be argued that they were under government control. It turns out that the Nazis privatized a lot of formerly public companies. Source: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27771569?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents  Massive public works: This is true, but again, it was a continuation of Weimar policies; just like in America, it was planned that these projects would help reduce unemployment and it worked (but not as well as war was going to). In Germany the projects were funded by deficit spending, and eventually through stolen assets. Capture of major manufacturers: I’m not honestly sure what this means. IG Farben, Ford, IBM, and countless others had government contracts; they were paid for producing particular goods and services (such as IBM’s punch cards being used to track concentration camp prisoners). The German railways were privatized under the Nazis, as were various other companies. So really, it was Weimar that was socialist. Meanwhile, when Jews left Poland and Germany and other places, their businesses were taken over by individuals–not by the state. And for the most part German-owned businesses were left unmolested.

“Later, it’s true, some companies were taken over by the government. As far as I can tell, this was done so that Goering and others could enrich themselves through public money to be filtered through their companies; they did not actually run the factories. I can’t find the reference, but I know I read about one such business that was taken over because the owner was not sufficiently Nazi friendly. And again, I think these business takeovers were an outgrowth of totalitarianism rather than a socialist ideology. Hitler himself was uninterested in economics in general and socialism in particular: “What need have we to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.” By which he meant that the state didn’t have to own the banks and businesses if it already owned the people.

“And, eventually, that’s the POINT. Hitler didn’t care about any doctrine other than the one he made himself. He took some ideas and rejected others, and whatever lip service he paid, in his actions he always rejected socialism. And, wherever his grave is, he’s probably spinning in it at being compared to Bernie Sanders! His was a government in which he told his people his goals, and then sat back to see how they could make them happen.

“I didn’t realize that I was fuzzy on this question. Thanks for giving me a good argument to research and think about.”

Anyway, the moral of the little story: yes, I have days when I’m tired of fighting the good fight. I get exhausted by people. There are reasons to oppose Bernie Sanders; you don’t have to make up your own facts. I get tired of making the same arguments over and over; I get demoralized by people who’d rather believe lies than the truth. I get tired of people who won’t open their minds to any idea that Rush Limbaugh didn’t tell them first.

And then some days, good sparks come from hitting opposing ideas off each other. I might never have looked into the economics of Nazi Germany as a policy without those posts. Because what America is really about is the free exchange of ideas, even (and especially) with people you disagree with.

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Something Weird Happened Today

I did it! They did it! And more importantly, it works!

After a very long weekend (gymnastics meet, two hockey games, encountering an awful lot of unpleasant people both on-line and in person), I decided that today is the day. On Saturday I got through the rewrites I’ve been working on (I’ve been making Act II B tighter and more compelling), leading up to, you know, It.

Specifically the big Kit/Brooks sex scene that is the center of this section of the book.

I know, I know; old as I am this should be easy. But it isn’t easy, at all. I have of course written it before, but I faded to black before actually getting down to business. But this is New Adult. The book is still not really a romance, but that’s not uncommon in New Adult. New Adults are busy people, with more on their minds than having sex, serious people, blah blah blah. But I didn’t realize how unsatisfying the fadeout was until I read through Act II B a few weeks ago. I made a three-page outline of just this section; one list of scenes as they are now, and the other of how it should read. So I’m cutting and pasting but there’s also new material.

Today was the day for sex. Explicit, real sex between two real characters, young people who aren’t virgins but aren’t well-traveled, either. Because again, the center, the heart of the story, is that people make mistakes and you learn and move on. Kit’s going into this with her eyes open.

It snowed last night here but there was barely any on the ground when I got up at 5:30. I went through the whole morning, feed the animals, feed the children, pack the lunches, nag people about homework and toothbrushing. At 7:50 I walked the smallest one to the bus stop. Snow was sticking to the street more now, and there was no traffic coming past. At this time of the morning it was a bit eerie, but her bus arrived by ten past 8 and they were all gone.

(Yes, my husband was here. He slept until 6:45 and then took a shower. This is more helpful than you would think.)

I sat down at my desk, and opened the file, and read my outline. And started sweating.

Is this really so hard? What am I afraid of, that people will know I’ve had sex? I do have three kids and I’ve been married for 17 years.

So, I pulled out notes I had from a workshop I attended with Andrea Catalano at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in the fall of 2014. I can do this.

From Andrea: “Just describe what goes where, and take it from there.” Use frank terms; they might even seem clinical at first. Don’t be afraid; people love this stuff.

Okay. I can do this. I check my e-mail and discover that the kids are going to be back soon, since school has now been closed.

Hell. I can do it. Only now, I have to do it fast.

And then, a miracle occurred. I had been planning to start from the scene I already had, and then add to it, but I realized that the scene I already had was all lead-up and no action. I cut the first two pages; I skipped through some description and the next thing I knew those two animals were taking off their clothes.

I did it–they did it. Somehow two characters took over the scene and I just wrote down what they did. I sat right here at my desk and wrote 2200 words and when I was done, these two characters had pretty good sex. More importantly, the scene did what it’s supposed to do; it expresses where these two are in their lives and their relationship. It shows that all those thoughts and feelings are normal, and so is making some jokes along the way. I typed the heading for the next chapter…

And then I slept for two hours.

 

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There is no “THEM” in America

For the past few months, I haven’t been posting here. This wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say but because I have too much to say! Hockey and dance and gym and band and writing and more writing and editing and researching and Bernie Sanders…I have opinions on all of it, and I keep composing these brilliant blog postings that I can’t get posted before I’ve written a new one. But all in my head.

I have close friends back in Tennessee who are friends with people who have formed a Gay/Straight Alliance at Franklin County High School. Now, before I go further, I was born in Sewanee to parents who lived in Decherd. My father and both grandparents were born in Alto. My family in the area goes back to the 1780s and includes Garner, Clark, Crownover/von Couwenhoven, Long, Isbell, Gibson, Dotson, Hill, McBee (obviously) Campbell, and many other families. So at some point I’m probably related to about 3/4 of the people in Franklin County. My grandmother was valedictorian at Franklin County High School in about 1930, when she was fifteen years old. For some reason the people back there think that you have to live there to have an opinion. I haven’t lived there in a long time, so maybe I am already disqualified from commenting, but my connections to the county live on in my family who still live there and the many friends I still have there, plus I was an undergraduate at Sewanee which was my legal residence for the 1990 census.

When I started writing this post, I thought I would have to post about the legal rights of students forming clubs and maybe even write a whole history of the separation of church and state. But, you know, I don’t; I’d be getting at least some of it from easily accessed sources and if you read it for yourself, maybe you understand it better. Suffice it to say that the club has already been formed and a loose coalition of fundamentalist Christians are up in arms about it. Accusing these kids–who just want their own space and their own supportive friends (kind of like a sorority, or the girl scouts, isn’t it? And that’s how it ties in to what I do)–of being “in their faces”, of being non- or anti-Christian, of trying to force their “lifestyle” on good, God-fearing kids. There’s an awful lot of words about “choosing” to be gay, and about “marriage between one man and one woman.” These fundamentalists, whose kids are free to form FCA and after-school Bible clubs thanks to the Reagan administration and the 1984 Equal Access Act, not to mention first-amendment free speech and freedom of assembly rights and 14th Amendment rights, don’t want to allow a GSA because the club offends their religious sensibilities. And I am completely outraged by all of it.

First off, see the title of the post. There is no “them” in America (and, yes, I know that if you spelled out The United States of America, it does indeed include the letters “them,” but that is to entirely miss the point). America is all about banding together and making our own “us.” This is an ideal I first learned in the Franklin County Schools. No, it isn’t perfect; no, everyone hasn’t been historically included, but this is the ideal. For me, this is the reason there is America. To suggest that kids who want to be in the GSA are somehow lacking is horrifying to me. It’s a betrayal of our most cherished ideals.

The second point is related to something else I learned in Franklin County: basic literacy skills (how to interact with text, although not actual reading, which I learned by the time I was four from having people read to me). I have learned an incredible number of things from reading. The vast majority of anti-GSA posters seem unbelievably ill-educated to me; some might have untreated mental illness issues, to judge by their troubling posts. Many seem to think that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, which it was not. Especially in early colonial times, Amish, Jews, Mennonites, Catholics, Quakers, Anabaptists and many others came to the Americas because people would leave them alone here (although the vast majority of people who settled here weren’t religious at all and came to make a quick buck). Anyway, I digress; I’ve learned a lot from reading and reflecting and sometimes writing about what I’ve read, thanks to teachers, many of whom are in Franklin County. And while I can study and learn and have ideas and make connections, I’m never really going to know The Truth. I’m not sure what kind of intellectual snobbery makes people think they do know The Truth. Because, here’s a shocker: the Bible was not written in finished, modern English but in Hebrew (which is written with only consonants) and Aramaic and Greek. These languages all were translated into sixteenth-century English. The words don’t mean now what they meant then! Take a look at a Shakespeare play; the language doesn’t match what we speak now. Wouldn’t basic literacy skills tell you that a translated, much-copied text isn’t going to be accurate?

Last point, which I also learned in Franklin County: one of the worst things you can do is to think you are “better” than other people. I can’t count the number of times I heard that as a child and a young adult; “She thinks she’s better than everybody else,” whether it meant someone’s attitude or clothes or opinions. It was sometimes directed at me because I had a sophisticated vocabulary as a young child (I once used the word “ominous” in a sentence in sixth grade and the teacher accused me of cheating). I personally think it’s a childish, jealous insult, but I’m going to go with it for a moment. To think you are better than others is to assume that you get better treatment and more resources; that your opinion counts for more than others’ opinions.  So, on the one side we have some kids who want to start a GSA and, I don’t know, have a bake sale. It doesn’t matter what the kids want to do in the club as long as it follows the guidelines. On the other side we have some adults (student opposition is oddly not online, though I’ve been told there have been bullying incidents at school) who are saying they don’t agree with the “lifestyle” because it’s an “abomination,” that they “hate the sin but love the sinner,” that “it’s against Christian beliefs.”

In other words, you think you are better than these kids. And that right there is what’s wrong with you.

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I know. I’m a really terrible blogger.

I’m so busy! I can’t believe it! But I won NaNoWriMo this year and I’m in full-on rewrites for What You Stand For. Still working, still writing, still cleaning up the house. And I know I shouldn’t have, but I’ve gotten embroiled in a debate on Facebook, involving the town I’m from and whether it should have a GSA (short answer: yes). More later–I’m working on a big post about church and state and leaving people alone!

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