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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

February 2019

So, one of my favorite high school memories……

……occurred during lunch, while I was waiting for my fifth period class to start.

The class was Spanish I and, if I recall correctly, I was either reviewing or finishing up some homework that was due that day.  Most likely the latter – I wasn’t exactly the most-on-top-of-it student.  I was a junior and more interested in writing my stories or doodling horses in the margins of my notebook than anything else.  [1]

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed my Spanish class and would write quotes of the day on the chalk board – sometimes in Spanish, sometimes not – with proper attribution.  I just…..wasn’t that much of a dedicated student.

Maybe ten minutes before the bell rang to end the lunch hour, a girl walked up to me.  I don’t remember her name, only that she was blonde, wore a long, black dress, that she was probably a sophomore and that we shared the same Spanish class.  What was I wearing?  Jeans, a T-shirt, sweater and sneakers.  [2]

It was with some curiosity that I watched the Girl in the Black Dress approach.  We weren’t friends, barely even friendly acquaintances, so I wondered what she wanted.

It didn’t take long for me to find out.

Suffice to say, I was subjected to a list of things that made me (in her eyes) undesirable – I was boring, no one liked me, I was ugly and on and on.  You know – the usual sort of thing one does to establish dominance in the pecking order of high school society.

I didn’t know exactly what to do, other than listen – it was kind of a shock to be disrupted from my classwork and be subjected to that.  Her parting shot was cruel, more than what she’d actually said up to that point.  I’m not going to write what it was, because that’s not really the point of this story.

After she’d left, I turned my notebook to clean page and began to list all the things that I was interested in.  I filled two pages and was still coming up with things.  I looked at those pages and thought, ‘If I’m interested in that many topics, then I’m interesting.’

Something to that effect, anyway.

I don’t remember if I cried.  I do remember being upset and discombobulated.  Writing that list helped to center and ground me.  When my teacher arrived to open up the classroom, I was fine.  I had already chosen a quote for the day, but due to that encounter, I decided to change it to a quote from Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). [3]

Sidebar – In that film, Young Sherlock is challenged by a classmate (Dudley) to find a missing trophy using his wits and deductive reasoning. As the bell chimes out the last few seconds of the deadline, Dudley makes an assumption that Young Sherlock ought to give up, since he had not found the trophy.

To which Young Sherlock replied, “Never assume anything”, marched over to a shelf, picked up a vase and, with the final chime ringing, drops it to the floor. The vase shatters and the missing trophy is revealed.

“Never assume anything” became that day’s quote for Spanish I.

Class had been going on for about twenty minutes – the teacher was lecturing in Spanish, some of my classmates were either responding to the teacher’s questions in Spanish, passing notes or dozing – when a voice loudly declared,

“Oh. My. God.”

The teacher stopped, bewildered.  The dozing classmates stirred.

The Girl in the Black Dress pointed at the blackboard and asked, “Can I erase that?”

Not quite sure of what was going on and only interested in continuing the lesson, the teacher just nodded.

The Girl in the Black Dress got up, erased the board and on the way back to her desk, shot me the dirtiest look that, to this day, has yet to be matched. [4]

I only smiled.

Message received.

So, why is this one of my favorite memories?  Because I handled a situation in my own way, that kept it between us and did not diminish either one of us.

Which, if you think about it, is pretty cool, no matter what age group.

 

[1] I scraped by enough to graduate.

[2] I hid a lot behind sweaters, T-shirts and jeans back then.

[3] Of course, it would be Sherlock.

[4] She didn’t approach me again.

Note – I don’t know what happened to her after high school.  But I hope that she did well for herself and that, whatever triggered her insecurities that led her to approach me that day, she was able to overcome them.

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So, I’m aware of the alleged controversy…….

……surrounding the American Library Association children’s book award being removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name.  What a to-do – an award’s name being changed to better reflect diversity and inclusiveness that it seeks to honor!! The horror!!  Oh, the humanity!! [1]

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award

What followed was a great gnashing of teeth and rending of hair, accompanied by faux-outrage videos that reduced its argument to insults and name-calling.  The asinine responses would be truly amusing and delightful……if they actually knew what they were talking about or if it was being presented as satire.

Many reduced their arguments to insults and derogatory comments, rather than do any actual research to discuss why they disagreed with the American Library Association’s decision to re-name the award.  This shows a singular lack of respect for other viewpoints, a severe lack of empathy and a definite lack of intelligence.  Those kinds of posts are designed to rile up and cause arguments, with a good amount of bullying thrown in.

There is the mistaken idea that doing so is white-washing history (it’s not); that the award committee was bowing to political correctness (they weren’t – they had been considering changing the name for more than a decade – read their statement here); and the reactions have been as vitriolic as if the books themselves were being banned and burned (they aren’t).  What most people don’t understand is that Wilder herself white-washed her own history, with the help of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.  The Little House books began life as Wilder’s autobiography, but it was Lane’s editorial help that shaped the books into the classics we know today.

World Fantasy Award.
Designed by Vincent Villafranca

This is not the first time that an award’s name has been changed, to better reflect the values, the diversity and the inclusiveness as proscribed in its mission statement. Until 2015, the World Fantasy Award had previously been known as the H.P. Lovecraft award.  Lovecraft was a racist bigot and made no apology for it.  However, fantasy and, in particular, science fiction has always taken a more inclusive and diverse view of the world around us.

Bust of HP Lovecraft, the previous award.
Designed by Gahan Wilson.

It is extremely problematic for an award to claim it is about diversity and inclusiveness, only to be symbolized by an individual who is the antithesis of that.  But to cry “White washing history!” for simply changing a name to better reflect the diversity that is out there to be represented is to ignore the very real problems that exist today.  In both cases, neither author was banned from schools, libraries or otherwise censured nor are they being thrown onto pyres and set aflame – which would have been cause for concern in terms of censorship.

The attitudes of Lovecraft and Wilder are of their times, yes, but they are still alive and well in 2019 and are still doing some serious damage.  If all you see is political correctness run amok, then you’re not paying attention.

And f you find yourself saying, “I hate being politically correct about (fill in the blank)”, then please do yourself a favor and substitute ‘politically correct’ with ‘respect’ and ’empathy’.

You might be horrified to hear yourself.

 

Recommended reading:

Pioneer Girl – Laura Ingalls Wilder; edited by Pamela Smith Hill
Prairie Fires – Caroline Fraser
I Am the Providence: The Life & Times of H.P. Lovecraft – S.T. Joshi

 

[1] Please note the dripping of my sarcasm.

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