Why I Will March

Sometimes you have to find a way to get in the way…or get in trouble…good trouble…necessary trouble.
—John Lewis

“Tell me why you are marching,” a friend said.

My heart is full of so many reasons. Crafting a poster is hard.

Diane Nash and C.T. Vivian lead a demonstration in Nashville. Credit: The Nashville Tennessean.

Black leaders march down Jefferson Street at the head of a group of 3000 demonstrators and heading toward City Hall to protesting the Z. Alexander Looby bombing. Leaders are Rev. C.T. Vivian, front row left, Diane Nash of Fisk, Bernard Lafayette of American Baptist seminary, Curtis Murphy of Tennessee A&I, back row center, and Rodney Powell of Meharry. (Jack Corn / The Tennessean) 4/19/1960. Image found here.

I have carried these reasons with me for a while.

This Saturday I will march

  • For survivors of sexual assault silenced by misogyny
  • For my Muslim brothers and sisters who worry for their safety
  • For the Black Lives Matter movement
  • For Diane Nash and John Lewis and their repeated, courageous ACTIONS
  • For my Latina sisters and their families who are immigrants and those who have been here forever, all of us making this country great every day
  • For my friends and family with pre-existing conditions, i.e., health concerns and challenges that shape their daily lives
  • For my LGBTIQA friends and family whose wonderful selves, voices, and expressions must be seen and heard
  • To say yes to the beautiful diversity of this country
  • To say yes to the respect, civility, and grace that the Obama family embodies
  • To say no to the FearMongerer in Chief
  • To say no to the Republican majority, who are repealing health care and are abandoning our citizens once again
  • To say no to propaganda and fake news that destroyed one of our first female candidates for President and that infects our public discourse
  • For journalists out there doing the right thing every day
  • Because facts matter
  • Because words matter
  • For democracy

For integrity, eloquence, and inspiration, please see the Women’s March Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles.


How Could I Not Be Aware?

It’s April 30 and I just learned yesterday that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I’m troubled that I didn’t know, considering the book I’ve just written. How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought is about many things–race, family, identity, and religion–but its basic story is that of a young woman who survives the trauma of sexual violence. My book is part of awareness because I have met so many survivors over the years whose stories made me cry, wonder, and pray. Out of the unanswerable questions about human evil and horror we perpetrate on one another, a story emerged that I had no choice but to tell.SAAM logo

Talk early, talk often. Prevent Sexual Violence. SAAM’s slogan resonates because I just wrote a portrait of a noncommittal and wandering mother who never broaches such subjects with her daughter. The greatest sin of omission we can commit as parents, guardians, and educators is not talking about these issues. If we don’t discuss with our children and teens their rights to their own bodies and ways to keep themselves safe, then they will flounder at best and risk trauma on their own. And what child or teen knows how to deter a sexual predator or an assaultive partner?

Though talk won’t guarantee 100% safety, it will shine the light on a subject that thrives in the dark. It will force perpetrators to stop, one by one. Let’s try talking

It was about the time that certain U.S. congressmen started rationalizing rape or explaining it away that I knew How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought had something timely to say. It’s an old, old story, the threat of sexual violence, the ignorance about why it happens, and the hatred of the victims. We must stop blaming or ignoring those who seek help or speak later rather than sooner.  We must stop getting squeamish or offended that someone wants to raise something so “awful” or “ugly” or “inappropriate.” What’s more inappropriate–the discomfort of this discussion, or rape? What’s more unpleasant–allowing a secret to be said, or living day and night with the terror of it? 

When Wendy finally finds someone who will listen to her, her first thought is to blame herself. She says, “I am supposedly a smart girl, an old soul. Smart girls know better.” Is it any wonder, when certain legislators running this country would tell her the same lie? It’s your fault someone raped you. You brought this on yourself. 

There are college women unwelcome on their campuses who are now fighting back. There are military personnel who are saying, Enough. And everywhere we turn, in every community great or small, there is a child or a teen who is looking for someone to ask him or her the right question so the words may finally flow. 

Talk early, often, and now. It may be the last day of April, but the awareness can grow anytime, anywhere, no matter what the season. 

Writing Prompts

  1. What is preventing me from having a conversation with someone who needs to know how to be safe?
  2. What have I read, whether fiction or nonfiction, that might pave the way to a conversation about respecting one’s body, the bodies of others, and keeping oneself safe? 
  3. What responsibility do educators have to talk about these subjects? What is the right time and place for these conversations, and who should lead them? To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, addresses incest and rape. 
  4. How would I answer these questions if I were reading a work that shared scenes of sexual violence? How might I adapt these discussion questions–designed for Mayella Ewell and Wendy Redbird Dancing–to another work of literature or nonfiction?
    1. Why doesn’t the survivor tell the truth about her trauma?
    2. When she speaks, what does she say? Why?
    3. What does the setting of the story tell you about why the survivor doesn’t tell the full details of her story?
    4. Does the community have a responsibility to the survivor?
    5. Place yourself in the shoes of the survivor or someone else in the community and explain what you might do and why.

What’s the Moral of the Fable of Facebook?

“Breathe, eat, drink, sleep, defecate, and check Facebook: these make up a significant portion of a very short list of daily activities that you have in common with a quarter of a billion other humans.”

— D.E. Wittkower, “Why Mark Zuckerberg, Not Julian Assange, is Person of the Year”

I’m always trying to find morals in things. I have this writerly need to understand the world in a sentence. I indulge the illusion that somehow, someday, I’ll absolutely, completely understand this person, this place, this situation…It’s addicting. Are all writers control-freak analysts like me?

No disrespect, Aesop, but morals bring the property values down on a piece of literature. Not only should we never tack them like bumper stickers to the tail end of our stories, but we should never write them all over the living room walls, like the previous owner of our house did. Let’s just say BELIEVE IN YOURSELF spoke loud and proud for several months before the realty figured the place would sell better with a new coat of paint. My neighbors told us later that there’s a buried message in our living room.

We must also beware of characters in our stories spewing theme capsules–like Ron Weasley vomiting slugs in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. No one wants to see slugs on the lawn while touring the grounds.

Inserting a moral isn’t wrong; it’s just bad form to leave it there. In fact, moralizing is a necessary step in the writing process. First you discover a truth of human nature or “how things are”; then you own it in a topic sentence, stating this grand idea oh-so-boldly; then you delete the ego and make the idea speak subtly, luminously through scene, character, and image. I don’t always follow that particular sequence, but I get better and better at spotting theme cropping up in a draft–cue final metaphor!–ugly weed you need to pull before the realtor shows with client.

So like my stories, life gets the same once-over (AKA, neurotic contemplation) in search of message. Since life is full of Facebook these days, I continually ask what this form of social networking means. I first wrote to understand it in two stories: “Facing It,” where a man struggling with Asperger’s discovers more than he wants to know about his wife via Facebook, and in “Postal,” which begins with a ten year-old girl pestering her mother for an account. Her mean-girl pal already has a profile, yet one more notch in the bully’s belt. Facebook plays the role of evil technology in both stories, a tool for characters to pursue their worst desires.

One theme I’ve derived personally from my travels through Facebook is that it’s a platform to be childlike or childish. (I thank Seth Godin for the inspiration to see things through this lens.)

Childlike means playing with new ideas, being open to new people, and engaging in dialogue. Childlike is embracing adventure and opportunity and reaching out…attending new events, liking new things, joining new groups. Facebook is a great platform–trampoline–for these activities.

Childlike also means playing school, where we take turns teaching each other. Recently two of my friends engaged in a fascinating political exchange regarding the deficit–people who may never meet except through my status update. I see writers in my local network post on various topics, and suddenly I’m hip to latest news in the publishing industry or have a good summary of a bestseller. I’m more culturally literate than I was seconds before.

If childlike is open, joyful, and curious, how great is it to use Facebook to encourage a fellow writer and to invite one another to book signings?

Like blogging, Facebook extends the conversation when the print you read alone leaves you hungry for dialogue. I read of Laura Maylene Walter’s writing journey at Poets and Writers and now I follow her blog. Every experience worth sharing can now be shared with so many.

If you can do all of the above with the adult wisdom of not revealing too much personal data and not taking an obnoxious, righteous soapbox stance (cue my mistake), then childlike is great.

But it’s hard for us not to cross the line into childish (i.e., Status update: Flossing my teeth…My husband just told me to lose weight…My wife told me to sleep on the couch). It’s hard to craft a political post or an angst-ridden statement without sounding too indignant, too angry, too martyred. Tantrums. Pouts. And once you have done this, consider you have successfully walked into the mall with a megaphone (thanks, Greg, for this perfect analogy). So many of us have forgotten this bio hazard. Maybe because we’re not left standing with the megaphone and everyone staring, we think we got away with it. We didn’t.

Childish is making it all about you, all the time. Try pitching your book incessantly, grasping at fandom without giving anything back. Facebook must be a gift to others in some form, or people won’t read the post. No one wants the sales guy knocking on their front door; why would they want it on the computer or phone? Jane Friedman dissects the problem beautifully here at “When or Why Social Media Fails to Sell Books.”

Childish is staying on Facebook when you should be writing.

Childish is ignoring live, real-time relationship for virtual. Be wary, O introverts, of siren songs, screens luring you away from complex, raw, uncontrolled face time. It’s in the rough shuffle of daily life where we get our best inspiration.

Facebook starts something. It gets wheels turning and forces us to write 420 characters or less. Child’s play, child’s speak. Then comes the question: are we ready to deepen those thoughts, best shaped offline? Slowly, reflectively, sans distraction? That’s adult behavior.

The adult inside me just posted this update: I’m nowhere near done understanding the message of Mark Zuckerberg’s new medium. Stay tuned.