I meant to read one of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, because I think they’re Urban Fantasy, and I’m supposed to be checking that out. Like field research for the bookstore.
But this one caught my eye instead. Because Shakespeare’s Trollop is about the best title ever. So, I read it. In just over 24 hours.
This is the kind of book people like to pigeon-hole as frivolous reading–“beach reading” people call it when they’re being polite. But all reading is important… because books will speak to you, if you let them. They’ll meet you where you are and teach you.
Shakespeare’s Trollop made some pretty strong observations about human nature: our willingness to judge others without considering the life events that shaped them; our desire to be in control constantly battling with our need for connection; our drive to categorize and label other people, without acknowledging that people can be multifaceted, complex, and human.
The truth is I didn’t love the protagonist, Lily Bard (but what a GREAT name for a book set in Shakespeare, Arkansas), or feel any real connection to her. Which is usually a deal-breaker for me. But there I went, turning one page after another because I needed to know who had committed the murder in Shakespeare and WHY. Ultimately, I appreciated Harris’ glimpses into human nature (including my own). And her writing. Which is smooth as butter.
Some kid at school “insulted” my baby by calling her “gay.” And I swear, it lit me up… like I wanted to march down to that school and give that damn kid (and every adult in the vicinity of his life) a tongue-lashing he wouldn’t likely forget.
But instead, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself (being an adult involves so much RESPONSIBILITY and a thousand measured responses, when all you really wanna do is call some kid an asshat–but I digress). And then Jane and I started talking.
First up on the agenda: gently reminding Jane that “gay” isn’t an insult. Oh, I don’t doubt for a minute that this kid called her gay to hurt her feelings and to get under her skin. But … hello…. we go to Pride every year, where we celebrate being an LGBTQ family. Some of her very, very favorite adults in the world are two women MARRIED TO EACH OTHER. I swear, I didn’t yell at Jane. I wasn’t mad at her. But I was enraged that, despite all our living into our true selves, all our conversations about being who you are and celebrating that person fully, society has somehow managed to convince her that “gay” can be an insult.
I was mad because my heart was broken.
Statistically, at least one kid in Jane’s class is likely to be gay (even if they don’t know it yet). And, lately, gay kids are killing themselves at alarming rates. I could barely hold back tears when I thought about that gay kid–whoever they might be–pondering coming out one day, then flashing back to second grade when “gay” was hurled around as an insult.
What does that kind of memory do to a kid in crisis?
But what shook me most of all is that in our little liberal alcove of Atlanta, in Jane’s school where diversity is really celebrated, a homophobic “insult” was tossed at our kid–our kid who watched her Bobby transition, who has never seen either of her parents shy away from claiming a queer identity, who loves so many people who are gay–and it cut her to the core.
Because if it impacted her that deeply, what happens to the kids who don’t have adults that tell them being gay is okay? That it’s MORE than okay. That it’s something to celebrate.
The first time I read Rubyfruit Jungle, I was 19 years old, recently out, and head-over-heels in love with my girlfriend. I devoured the book. It was mouthy, cocky, and brash—most of the things I wasn’t but really wanted to be. But most importantly, Rubyfruit Jungle offered me the gift of seeing some of my own life experiences, my thoughts, my pain reflected back to me on the page. I was represented in this book. And I was there for it. 100%.
24 years later… Rubyfruit Jungle did not disappoint. I’d forgotten about the immediacy of the narrative, the precise turn of phrase that feels like a gut-punch, the poignant moments that remind me who I am (and how far I’ve come). It’s all still there.
But, as a grown-ass woman, Molly Bolt read different. I saw less of her bravado and more of her tenderness. One scene with her mother toward the novel’s end slayed me—and it hadn’t really even been on my radar the first go-round. But it spoke so clearly to my own pain in coming out and navigating fractured familial relationships… I wonder how I could have missed it. But another interlude between Molly and a young lover, that I’d played up in my mind so much that I was sure the entire novel revolved around this relationship, seemed entirely insignificant to me.
Turns out that Rubyfruit Jungle was still speaking to me after all these years… but offering entirely different insights.
Sometimes I get too big for my britches. That’s just cold hard truth.
In a short, succinct, and damn powerful book, Austin Channing Brown managed to make me take an honest look at my relationship to whiteness and how I manage that in spaces where I’m working toward racial justice—hell, in any spaces at all. And she kinda took me down a peg.
This book is a hard read. Because it’s honest. But it’s crucial for white folks invested in ending racism. Because that shit is pervasive. And difficult to stamp out, even with the best of intentions. And what will render me totally ineffective–and even harmful–is thinking I understand what it’s really like to move through America as a person of color. And thinking that the systemic racism that pervades America culture has somehow been washed clean from my psyche. This book fully disabused me of that notion. And reminded me that it is a fight every day to undo the assumptions, the misconceptions, the prejudice engrained in me as a white woman.
I champion reading because I believe it changes us to our core. Books can offer perspective entirely different from our own. And because books expect nothing of us, we can process our feelings, our confusion, our defensiveness in the quiet of our own mind. Which is what, if you are white like me, you are going to want to do with this book.
Because my best friend is an epic vacation planner, my family & I spent Spring Break in Costa Rica this year with 20 of our closest friends. Literally.
I could go on and on about this vacation. But that’s kind of reminiscent of the 1970s slide shows that over-enthusiastic travelers would share with their bored to tears friends.
Not cool, man. Not cool.
But I will share what’s been playing over and over in my mind. It’s something our tour guide/transport driver extraordinaire said about the Costa Rican people: They work enough to earn a living. And that’s it. No need to accumulate things. Or buy a bigger house. Or work overtime to climb the corporate ladder. Enough is actually the goal. Not more.
I guess I feel convicted by that, because it won’t get out of my head. I’ll let you in on a little secret: 7 times out of 10, I’m in a complete tailspin about money. I never, ever feel like we have enough. That scarcity mode of thinking is so toxic. But it’s hard to shake. I grew up in it. And, although we have always gotten by, Simon & I have experienced some pretty lean times.
But we’ve always had enough.
Now, back in the States, I’m considering my own consumerism. What do I have that’s extra? What does having enough mean to me? Have I ever really NOT had enough? Where does my privilege come play with my perceptions?
Recognizing enough, being grateful for enough, not striving for extra, sharing what I have… I am 100% convinced that this is the key to happiness.
I know these things, and still… I forget them all the time. So, I’m soul-searching for the stuff that really matters to me. The stuff that is enough. The stuff that is joy and goodness and contentment.
I was in the library, minding my own business, when Capitalism in America: A History called out to me. No kidding. I saw it and tried to walk away. But I was pulled back to the shelf—completely against my will.
I am whole-heartedly uninterested in economics. And I’m skeptical of capitalism, in general. Also, it was written by Alan Greenspan, so I figured I’d die of boredom before finishing all of its 450 pages.
Good news! I’m still in the land of the living. And I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s strong history component keeps it infinitely readable. Which, co-author, Adrian Woolridge likely deserves the credit for—since he’s a historian and a journalist. Capitalism in America broke down the basics of the upward and downward trends of a capitalist economy in a way I could digest without my eyes glazing over.
But the best part was that the argument so skillfully posited in the book ran counter to some of my most deeply held beliefs. So, it did what great books should do: it made me think and question my position. Ultimately, it made me want to know more and prompted a desire to seek out an alternative viewpoint to Greenspan’s. Which means reading more about economics. By choice. How very odd.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this one. It’s a great primer on both American History & economics. And it’s surprisingly engaging. And you’ll feel smarter if you read it. Pinky swear.
Jane has developed a slight listening problem lately.
Don’t be alarmed. I’m sure it’s not permanent. Symptoms include not hearing me tell her to do something the first (second or third) time, an inability to cut that shit out when I tell her to, and a profound misunderstanding of what “put your stuff AWAY” means.
As you can imagine, this new affliction she’s developed is trying for the whole family. For instance, “Jane put your boots & jean jacket away” might mean they they end up in the closet where they belong. OR they may move from the dining room to the center of her bedroom floor. Because obviously that’s where I wanted her to put them.
And if I tell her to, let’s say, make sure she wipes her face off before school–because she has ketchup from the day before smeared faintly across her cheek–she may or may not do it at all. Which I take kind of personally. Because now I’m that mom that sends her kid to school with day old food on her face that she’s apparently saving for later. In case there’s a run on ketchup in the cafeteria.
But the one that is about to drive me bat shit is when I tell her to stop doing something–invariably something hella annoying that she KNOWS is annoying–and she does it just one more time before she stops.
The truth of it is that all this not listening bullshit, the doing whatever she wants whenever she wants, makes me feel disrespected. It makes me feel undervalued and under-appreciated. And it hurts my feelings.
Simon and I strategized a few times (as parents do) about how to deal with Jane’s Not-Listening-Itis. I, for instance, threatened to throw everything she leaves laying around the house into our front yard. She isn’t sure I’d do it (I would TOTALLY do it). I’ll keep you posted on how that one unfolds. Simon & I also outlined some effect-her-piggy-bank consequences for not tidying her room and bathroom before she leaves for school and before she goes to bed. (Money 100% talks for that kid)
But I went a little rogue yesterday on the way to school…and I just told her how all this not-listening business makes me feel. Honestly. Like she was a real person with capacity to feel empathy and to understand the nuances of a situation.
I copped to the fact that there are books ALL OVER THE HOUSE (apparently, that’s what happens when you hatch a scheme to open a used bookstore). But I also told her that I’m writing like I always do and prepping for the bookstore–which is a lot like having TWO jobs. I am trying the best I can–but I can’t always keep my (book) mess confined to one room.
And then I asked her if she was trying as hard as she could to be a helpful member of the family.
It took her less than a second to say no. Not guiltily. Not even sheepishly. Just straight up: No. And she told me she’d do better. Unprompted. Let’s be real: I both believe her and I don’t. Because she’s a kid. But I do believe she will try to do better.