To Fierce Women – Young and Old

 

Books that feature quirky, strong eleven year old girls are my favorites. They sit at the magical age, when they know who they are and are fiercely independent. Before the world interferes. I’ve written a middle grade fantasy with a funny strong ten year old girl as the protagonist and a YA fantasy with an angry powerful defiant young woman as the hero. Even at my age, somewhere those girls still exist within me. And I write those characters and love those characters because they reside in me and in all the women I know, all the young girls I know.

I’m a fifty-eight year old woman, who’s dealt with sexism every day of my life. At the age of five as I recited the pastor’s sermon on the way home from church, I was told that women weren’t allowed to be ministers in the church I grew up in.  At twenty-eight I had a boss suggest I should strip for him for his birthday (it was a joke, why can’t women take a joke?). In my fifties I deal with being called a bitch by thirteen year old boys whenever I tell them not to spit on the library floor.

Some of sexism is subtle. The eye rolling when I mention equal pay for equal work. The smirks when I use the word patriarchy (because obviously it’s just a figment of my overactive female imagination). The sighs of dismissal when I take issue with “locker room banter.” Why can’t I just understand that boys will be boys?

I wanted to believe that young woman today wouldn’t face the things I’ve faced. Like when at the age of twenty-three, fresh-out of college and newly married, I went on a job interview. I had the right degree from a good college and was hopeful, until the interviewer asked “and what am I supposed to do if you get pregnant?” I stared at him for a full minute, unsure how to answer that question. For a minute, I couldn’t figure out what the job had to do with getting pregnant. And then, as it dawned on me he was saying he didn’t want to hire me because I was female and might have to go out on maternity leave, I was angry. I sat there, trying to decide between swallowing my anger because I needed the job, or telling him what I actually thought of him and his question. I replied, “You don’t need to concern yourself with that.” To which he answered, “no but you do.” Needless to say I didn’t get the job.

Since the election, I have felt tired. It would appear that those are the good old days many people want to go back to. The thought of having to continue to face sexism every day, of having to hear those comments and see those looks and somehow find the strength to continue to work and live and succeed in this world felt like too much. The realization that every day will continue to require either addressing or simply enduring sexism, felt like something I could no longer do. I had naïvely assumed things would get better in my lifetime. I’d see the day I wouldn’t have to deal with sexism anymore. I’d see the day young woman wouldn’t endure the insults and comments and demeaning remarks, I’ve endured.

Every ass-kicking fantasy with a fierce young female protagonist that I read, reminds me that young women today need me to fight for them more than ever. They need every book I can write, every protagonist I can create who doesn’t take crap from anyone. They deserve every effort I can muster to create a better world for them. Anger and passion can be good things. I’m not ashamed to be called an angry feminist. I am here to fight with every ounce of anger and strength I have for the young women of this world who deserve better. Here’s to fierce women. May they be your daughters, your sisters, your mothers, your aunts, your nieces, and your grandmothers.

 

My Service to Humanity

I used to think I was an opinionated person, but lately my only opinion is that being nice is highly overrated. This, I realize, lacks the criteria for an opinion which should be a well-articulated idea based in a grounded philosophy. My so-called opinion proves not that I’m opinionated, but that I’m irritated.

And really that’s okay. Irritability, I’ve come to see, is a true service to humankind. Think about it. What do words like nice, sweet, and kind offer the world? They are short, one syllable, easily spelled words lacking in any substantial use for metaphor, simile, or onomatopoeia. “She’s as sweet as a marshmallow,” doesn’t quite do it. These words are simply insipid. But what about curmudgeon, irascible, cantankerous? They roll off the tongue and send us running to the dictionary.

Irascible. It’s truly lovely. You can just feel it, can’t you? The friction generated from rubbing against the sandpaper surface of an irascible person. Rough enough to strike a match against. To light a spark. To ignite a fire. To send your similes shooting into the air like fireworks.

And what can a curmudgeon do for your literacy skills? There’s broadening your vocabulary. There’s even onomatopoeia. Snarly, after all, causes your lip to curl up when you say it. Growling, snarling, biting. And irascible – so rrrrough, rrrrresistant, rrrrrroarrring. “RRRRRRR,” I say.

Then there’s spelling – curmudgeon after all has that tricky ‘dg.’ Cantankerous requires sounding out each syllable. Irascible, well, irascible requires the dictionary. Does being nice make you exercise your spelling skills? No. But finding the right word for a curmudgeon, one that isn’t a four letter word or will get your mouth washed out with soap, is an exercise in articulateness, literacy, and eloquence.

My mother always said that people who swear lack the vocabulary to express themselves. So the gift a querulous person offers is that they broaden your vocabulary, thereby allowing you to know more big words for telling someone off. And if they are big enough words, the other person won’t even realize you weren’t nice. They’ll think you are just a disputatious librarian.

Nice people are, of course, nice. They make us feel good. Or sometimes they make us feel guilty. Like we should be more like them. But truly being cantankerous is a gift to humanity. The querulous, fractious, and contentious among us broaden vocabularies. The irascible curmudgeons improve spelling skills. The surly, snarling, and crotchety teach the meaning of onomatopoeia. Those of us that are as choleric as a hungry bear give metaphor a new name!

So, here’s to literacy. It’s my pleasure to do all I can to help improve it. And to cantankerous people. People willing to use their snarly, fractious selves to resist.

Flying Poop

The thing I love about fantasy, is that you can make up new expletives. The world may actually need new expletives.

I write a column about dogs for the local paper – and I was told not to use the word poop. It apparently offends people. The oppositional defiant person in me – just wants to write a column that goes something like this – “Poopity, poopity, poop, poop, poop.” Because if no one has noticed – dogs poop. So do people and every other species on the planet.

Along with pooping, we also fart, belch, pee. We are born, which is incredibly messy. And we die, which may or may not be messy, but is pretty final. And for some odd reason, we don’t like mentioning, writing, or discussing any of these things. But farting – is not just for 3rd grade boys. It’s fact of life. So, let’s stop being so namby pamby about the human (and other animals’) body and admit we have bodies and they do things.

Random Acts of Weirdness

I told the Jr. High Writers’ Group today that their stories needed to be non-gory and coherent. Coherent was as upsetting to them as the non-gory part.

“What’s coherent mean?” one of them asked me.

“It means that the protagonist wants something, so she acts to get it. She fails, causing something else to happen. Which she then has to do something about, leading to yet another thing happening.”

“Like, they have to connect somehow?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

They apparently like randomness in plotting. A happens and then B, which has pretty much nothing to do with anything happens. The crazier and less connected things are, the better.

The sad part is, I’m just as bad. After I read a first draft, I often have to admit that a lot cool things happen, great obstacles, real problems, but they are often pretty random. There’s little cause and effect connecting them.

Life in general seems to lack cause and effect, which is one of the reasons we like fiction. A story has to at least make sense.

So, here’s to reading more, and writing more stories, that have a little cause and effect and not so many random acts of plotting.

 

Stem Book Clubs

As a librarian, I write a lot of grants. The problem with grants is that often I actually get them. And then I have to do all the work I proposed doing. This year, I received a grant for the library’s book clubs. We run book clubs for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, as well as Jr. High and Teens. In this year’s grant, I proposed doing some STEM activities with the summer book clubs. So, along with reading and discussing a book each month, we had science experiments, art and writing projects, and cooking. Here’s something to know before you consider doing this – some books lend themselves to science projects and some do not.

Flunked by Jen Calonita is a great book, which we used with the 4th grade book club. But until someone writes a book on Fairy Tale Science, it can be a little hard to come up with STEM activities to go with it. We did do invisible ink, which might have been a little bit of a stretch. But, really what’s a fairy tale land without secret messages?

stowen

My favorite book and STEM book club this summer was The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston, which we read with the Jr. High students. The Story of Owen takes place in modern day Canada, but there are dragons. And they are not friendly, wise dragons, with people as dragon riders. They are mean, hungry, carbon loving dragons. So, along with eating the occasional person, they love to attack anything that produces carbon, from cars to oil refineries. The chapter on learning dragon avoiding maneuvers in driver’s ed is one of my favorite parts. The book also has a lot of environmental themes, so it lends itself to alternative energy science projects.

As part of our book clubs then, we made water wheels. p1000961

We got the idea from DK’s Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects by the Smithsonian. It’s a great reference for any library with a Maker Space or wanting to add a little Science to other library programs.

For a craft we made dragon eggs, of course. To make the eggs wp1000962e used plastic Easter Eggs. We decorated them with strands of hot glue. Once the glue dried, they were spray painted with a dark color; mostly black, although some of the kids chose to use red or purple. When the spray paint dried, we dabbed a little silver spray paint gently over the painted egg using a paper towel. This gave it a mottled aged look.

summer-2016l

Finally, we needed a cooking project; something Canadian. We opted against poutine- french fries slathered in gravy and cheese curds and went for Nanaimo bars. I first had Nanaimo bars in graduate school, because one of my fellow graduate students was from Alberta and it was her go-to-dish for potlucks. I hadn’t had them since, but these bars with a chocolatey nuttey crunchy layer, a custard layer, and melted chocolate on top, were as good as I remember. Here’s a recipe.

I have to say, despite how much work each of these book clubs were – they were so much fun. We read a lot of great books, made a lot of cool treats, and did some fun hands-on science.

Writing Material

I write a column in each of the local papers. One column is about dogs, the other about the library where I work. At least that’s what they are supposed to be about. But life being life and columnists being columnists, pretty much anything that happens, any person or animal who crosses my path, or is in my life, is fair game. Still, there are days I’m scratching my head for something to write about. My own dogs, apparently, are only willing to provide so much fodder. And I can only mention my husband Bruce, so many times.

I had been flying under his radar for quite a while, until his brother, Roger, brought one of the papers to a family dinner.

“Look at the article Priscilla wrote about Bruce,” he said.

“You wrote about me?” Bruce said.

To be honest, I couldn’t remember what the column had been about at all.

“No,” I said, “it’s not about you. I just mentioned you.”

I grabbed the issue from Roger to refresh my memory. “In the first sentence. I mentioned you in the first sentence.”

I kept reading. “And the second paragraph… and the third…. And the last line. But it’s not about you. It’s not like I wrote about the time…”

“Don’t even think about it,” he said.

“Or the time….”

He just gave me a baleful look.

But really, there is a difference between mentioning someone and writing about them.

It’s hard to talk about anything in life and not mention Bruce. After all, I’ve been married to the guy for going on thirty-seven years. (We were babies when we wed.) In all those years, every time I’ve moved, he’s moved. Every house I’ve lived in, he’s lived in. He knows every boss I’ve had, visited every college I’ve attended, and co-owned every dog. There’s not much that happens in my life that doesn’t involve Bruce. I can’t tell any story about something that happened without including Bruce.
Other than reading, that is.

In our house, we have Bruce’s book shelves and my book shelves. And never the books shall meet. For fear of cross contamination. His shelves are filled with only books on the Shakers, Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish, their history and religion. My book shelves contain dragons, shapeshifters, assassins, and Death. I am, after all, a librarian and a fantasy writer. Maybe he’s right to fear cross-contamination.

Death is one of my favorite characters. There’s Markus Zuzak’s Death in The Book Thief or Christopher Moore’s Death in A Dirty Job. But the best Death by far is Terry Pratchett’s in the Discworld series, a grim reaper with occasional feelings of conflict over his job. But mostly I love Susan, Death’s granddaughter. Susan has a certain irritated temperament I can relate to. As Susan says, “don’t get afraid, get angry.”

So what is this post really about? Its proof that I can write something that isn’t about Bruce, no matter what my brother-in-law Roger says, that I can ramble on about nothing of consequence, and that I can always end up talking about books. Because, like I said, I am a librarian and a writer.

Reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

 

ben

Ben – my Golden Retriever

I have a friend who’s writing a memoir about the early years of her marriage. It was the 1950’s and she and her husband lived in Paris. I have another friend whose early married years were in the 1960’s in San Francisco. Of course, if I wrote about the early years of my marriage, it would take place in the 1980’s in Idaho, which definitely lacks the allure of Paris in the 50’s or San Francisco in the 60’s!

When Bruce and I got married, we packed our few possessions (a set of towels, a pair of sheets and a toaster) and headed to the United States Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) in Dubois, Idaho. Dubois is the county seat of Clark County Idaho, which consists of 1,765 square miles, three towns, 900 people, 4,000 cows, and 10,000 sheep. As the county seat, Dubois had two churches, a general store, a school, a post office, an extension office, a bank, a liquor store, two diners, and three bars.

The general store carried everything from lettuce to saddles. The post office was operated by the same woman who ran the liquor store. So, you could get your mail from 8 am to noon and your liquor between 1 pm and 5 pm. The extension agent, an ex-rodeo cowboy, did everything from agriculture, to 4-H, to the women’s koffee klatch.

The librarian worked at the school library, so the town library didn’t open until 3 pm. And I was always there waiting for her. The library was an old store front. It only carried paperbacks, lined neatly on rough-sawn, white washed book shelves. I read my way through Georgette Heyer, regency London being as far removed from Dubois Idaho as I could imagine. That of course was back in the days when I read romance. I eventually switched to fantasy, romance being just a little too unreal for me.

I really marvel when people tell me they won’t read fantasy, because they want to read something real. Because in my not very humble opinion, romance is the most fantastical literature there is.  Even mysteries are rather unreal, as reality is never as neat or easily solved as writers make them seem. You might think that reading non-fiction will give you something real, but I’m not sure that’s true. Memoir after all, isn’t so much what really happened, as what the writer remembers. And as any of us that have reminisced about childhood events with siblings know, even living through the same event is no guarantee that we know what “really” happened.

So, if fiction and biography aren’t real, than what about “real” non-fiction. Well personally, I love the 636’s (animals), but I’m pretty sure that if Marley and Me were told by Marley and not John Groghan, it would be a totally different story.  And I’ve never cooked something from a recipe in a cookbook and had it end up looking like the pictures in the book. And don’t get me started on gardening books, which never show pictures of gardens overcome by weeds, which are what mine look like!

No, I’m convinced that “reality” and what’s “real” is pretty hard to pin down. It’s all a matter of perspective and there are as many perspectives as there are people. More maybe, because some of us can hold opposing viewpoints all at the same time. There are only two things you can do. Read widely, to get as many different perspectives as you can. And tell your own story, because it maybe your version, but you’ve got a right to it.

So, here’s my reality. It’s a little bit about writing (fantasy, mostly), a lot about reading (fantasy, mostly), some stuff about being a librarian, including programming (some fantasy, but mostly, fortunately or unfortunately true), and a great deal about animals, because they keep me sane.