Considering the Perspective of both the author and the character

As I work with students and encourage them to add specific setting details, I’m reminded of my early days of publishing.  I’d sold two picture books and the photo-essay for older readers and decided to try my hand at a middle grade novel.  It was about bullying, I remember, and called, “Standing Up to Sixth Grade.”  My agent liked it and sent it on to my editor at MacMillan.  She wrote saying that the book was too episodic, then added, “Sally, is this boy blind?”

Ah, no.  I’d intended for him to be sighted.  I had 26 years of vision and planned to draw on that visual memory.  Both my picture books had sighted protagonists, as well.

But the protagonist in the sixth grade novel never looked out the bus window, never described the playground, and only responded to tactile and auditory stimuli.  Gulp!

On further scrutiny in my picture book, “Maggie’s Whopper,” the great uncle expressed affection never with a wink or a smile, but always with a tug to Maggie’s braid, a tweak to her nose, a pat.  The uncle could see well, but expressed his fondness for Maggie exactly as I expressed love.

So I’ve learned that I have to be fiercely diligent about adding visuals to settings and relationships unless my characters are blind.  But I noticed that students, too, need to be nudged to write fiercely from their own perspectives, but also to do a check within their characters’ shoes to see if they’re speaking that character’s experience or only their own.

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Idiom for a Hero

The Wallace Stevens poem , Idiom of the Hero, seems so appropriate for today.

 

I heard two workers say, “This chaos,

Will soon be ended.”

 

This chaos will not be ended,

The red and the blue house blended,

Not ended, never and never ended,

The weak man mended,

 

The man that is poor at night

Attended

 

Like the man who is rich and right.

The great men will not be blended…

 

I am the poorest of all.

I know that I cannot be mended,

 

Out of the clouds,

Pomp of the air,

By which at least I am befriended.

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“Snuggle Bunny” by Kate Dopirak

Snuggle Bunny is another Kate Dopirak lyrical book for preschoolers.  It’s as delightful as her debut work, You’re My Boo and full of rhyming perfection.  Kate’s a picture book proliferator, someone with ceaseless hilarious and moving ideas.  She’s an inspiration to other writers having spent years coming very close to publication, but just missing because a book was too similar to something the publisher had on its list etc.  But she persevered and now her career is taking off.  Go girl, my lovely, talented surrogate daughter!

 

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Brunonia Barry

I feel compelled to write about Brunonia Barry, the author of The Lace Reader and two subsequent novels.  I read The Lace Reader years ago and enjoyed it very much.  But that’s not the reason for the compulsion.  I met a man who told me he worked in marketing for Harper Collins and some other publishers, marketing various authors.  “The most famous author,” he said, “was Brunonia Barry.”  Because I recognized the name, I was impressed, but didn’t think any more about it.

The very next day I had an e-mail from Goodreads with a letter to readers from Brunonia Barry.  I love coincidence, so wanted to write this short post to publicize Barry and her books.

 

 

 

 

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Lighten Your Blog I just received a chiding from my computer inbox. In a message from one of my few blog followers, my screen reader spoke the subject line as “lighten your blog.” It also referred to my blog that I would soon enter a new career, as an Uber driver with driverless cars on the horizon. Turns out the subject line was “liked your blog.” But ha! My hearing loss heard it otherwise. Maybe my hearing acuity is influenced by guilt???? Do I, Sally Alexander, ever get too opinionated and preachy? Amazing that technology can not only frustrate an humble me, but take me also to task!

I just received a chiding from my computer inbox.  In a message from one of my few blog followers, my screen reader spoke the subject line as “lighten your blog.”  It also referred to my blog that I would soon enter a new career, as an Uber driver with driverless cars on the horizon.  Turns out the subject line was “liked your blog.”  But ha!  My hearing loss heard it otherwise.  Maybe my hearing acuity is influenced by guilt????  Do I, Sally Alexander, ever get too opinionated and preachy?

Amazing that technology can not only frustrate an humble me, but take me also to task!

 

 

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Privilege

The word privilege has come up often this year.  Though it’s not being highlighted in dictionaries as are such words as “deplorables” or “bigly” or “nasty,” it’s certainly been used a great deal, with regard to “White privilege.”

As a White person, I didn’t attribute my privilege recently to a recommendation to go to my favorite shoe store in Shady Side for a pair of “nude” heels.  “The ones Brian has there will go perfectly with the dress.”

But when I thought about it later, I realized that there was a pretty huge assumption with the label “nude.” I began to think of other less glaring kinds of privilege that I accrue because of my skin.  Were I behind a wheel, driving, and in a few years, remember, I might become an Uber driver, I wouldn’t be stopped by a policeman for a broken tail light. People don’t cross to the other side of the street at dusk because of me—or do they?  I do think I give an emotional charge with my disability.  Some percentage of people in the population are afraid of me.  But not because of my expected criminal intent.

This got me thinking about the combination of my Whiteness and my disabilities.  I’m not the garden variety White person.  Disability does subject many people to discrimination in employment, housing, education.  In past blogs Ive pointed out the experiences I’ve had with this, but do admit that I’ve had less than my share.

But I did recently experience discrimination or at least serious oversight. Bob and I attended the Michael Chabon talk at the Carnegie usic Hall December 9.  Though sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh’s English department, some Pitt group celebrating the humanities, and several other very astute groups, the venue offered no amplifiers.  Now I attend the Drew-Heinz lectures there every season.  Always they have an ample number of amplifiers for the enormous crowd.  And mind you, Chabon was a sell-out crowd.  How can educators not have thought of hearing issues of the public in the 21st century?  I was so shocked.

”We don’t have any,” I was told after pursuing this for a half hour. “We don’t provide them. But you can sit near the speaker.”

 

And I did—probably 35 feet away. I also had brought my amplifying equipment that connects to my hearing aids.But for 90 minutes I couldn’t decipher more than an occasional word.  A friend sat in the first balcony.  He has perfect hearing and said most people had trouble hearing because Chabon was interviewed.  His mic was too far from his mouth and he kept hitting it, making a kind of exploding sound that I did hear.

Attending a lecture that I cannot hear is really torture. In 2016 there’s no excuse for such oversights.

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An Anniversary I will not be celebrating, Nov. 27, 2015

One year ago, November 27, 2015, the now President-elect ridiculed a disabled reporter named Serge Kovaleski.  Kovaleski disputed Trump’s claims that hundreds, if not thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9-11 attacks.  While Kovaleski spoke, Trump waved his arms around and held his hand in front of his chest in the position of a claw.  Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that affects joint movement.

I’ve written before of the pass that’s given to disabled people re: malevolent treatment.  Certainly disabled kids get teased and bullied.  But that ceases in adulthood.  Instead those of us with disability face benevolent discrimination—well-meaning able-bodied adults often react as if they know better what we should do and think.   Now I’m the first to admit to being “out of it” at times.  My blindness alone makes me goof, as when I asked a nun (in habit) if she were dating anyone.

But generally I can think for myself.  And most of the disabled people I know earn respect for the difficult challenges they face.  Insulting any of them, any of us, breaks a societal rule, if not a moral one.  It’s pretty pathetic.  But it seems that our future president is an equal opportunity derider.

Now there are many graver problems with our future President than his taking on the disabled  for humiliation.  And even if we had started our lives with $200 million from our fathers, our lives would still be harder than most.  But they are richer than Mr. Trump will ever know or understand.

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