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“That’s Not Too Bad”

Last week I came across some information about Equal Pay Day from equalrights.org. Their goal was to raise awareness of the pay gap between men and women in various professions by commemorating the day in 2013 that women would have to work to in order to earn the same amount that men earned in 2012. I looked up the gap for my profession and found that it’s higher than the national average (77 cents per dollar).


My reaction? “Oh! That’s not too bad.”

I didn’t even realize that was a weird thing to say until hours later. Really? Not too bad?

Now, my school uses a specific payscale, so to my knowledge I’m not earning any less than equally qualified males at my school… but who knows, maybe there’s some “congrats on your penis” stipend that I don’t know about. The point is, not everyone is on my payscale. On average, I (as a female representative of my profession) am not getting my 9 cents. No, that’s not “too” bad – it could be 23 cents or 50 cents or, hell, the whole dollar – but I shouldn’t be okay with a wage gap at all! Inequality to a lesser extent is still inequality. It still exists. And it’s bad – no qualifier necessary.

I experienced a similar reaction yesterday when I first heard about the Boston Marathon bombing. I saw reports saying “2 dead, many injured” and thought the same thing. “Oh… that’s not too bad.” Of course, then I watched the video and looked at the pictures. I cried and felt sick to my stomach. I realized “injured” in this case can mean “limbs blown off.” I spent all night waking up from horrible, stressful nightmares about terrorist attacks and explosions.

That initial reaction – “that’s not too bad” – doesn’t mean I don’t care. What it does mean, I think, is that horror has become too normal, too unsurprising, too common in our everyday lives. I wait for more information before I feel an emotional reaction, because it’s just so exhausting to care about this stuff over and over. I hope that somehow it was a tragic accident so I can be just sad instead of sad and furious and hopeless. It reminds me of the type of articles The Onion published after the Sandy Hook shooting, which they are continuing in a similar vein now. Definitely a case of being funny (in a morbid, gut-wrenching, I-just-can’t-handle-feeling-like-this-again way) because it’s true. “Not too bad” is still far, far worse than it should be. 2 or 3 dead (instead of dozens or hundreds) is still 3 too many.

I recently came across this clip where Ever Mainard comments “Every woman in their entire life has that one moment where you think, oh, here’s my rape!” and again, I’m reminded that rape culture is a thing and whether it’s sexism or violence, we tolerate a lot of shit we have no business tolerating.

I don’t really have anything particularly constructive to say, I guess. Just a collection of thoughts. Sometimes it’s painful to care so much.

Updated to add: After I published this, with the wishy-washy ending, I realized that the reason I wrote it was that I wanted to call myself out. I’m glad I caught myself thinking something I know I shouldn’t, because it gave me an opportunity to think through WHY I was thinking it and why it bothered me. It’s the kind of thought process I want to encourage in my students, and anyone else I happen to encounter, so it’s important to notice it when it happens to me.


Thoughts on The Giver Quartet

I wrote this around 1:00am after finishing the YA novel Son by Lois Lowry. Yet another case of “writing to think” getting a little out of hand… let’s call it a tribute to a story that has stuck with me for quite a long time.

Warning: I tried not to say anything too spoilery, but something you didn’t want to know might have slipped in somewhere!

I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about Son. It’s an excellent novel. There are things I love about it and things I don’t. But it’s hard to be sure what I think because it’s tied up in how I feel about The Giver, and those feelings have had 15 years to develop.

Few books have impacted me like The Giver. I don’t think I’d ever read science fiction before that year, so there were plenty of things that amazed me and creeped me out, and I’ve been obsessed with dystopian literature ever since. I’m pretty sure Jonas was my first book character crush. I love Jonas and Gabe, and I’ve had 15 years to wonder what happened to them. You’d be surprised how often I’ve wondered.

In her Newbery Award acceptance speech for The Giver, Lois Lowry told her audience, “Those of you who hoped that I would stand here tonight and reveal the ‘true’ ending, the ‘right’ interpretation of the ending, will be disappointed. There isn’t one. There’s a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, our own hopes.” She went on to share a few different interpretations from kids who wrote to her, and commented on how real each version was to each reader. Even as a kid, I thought that was fascinating – we all come away with our own stories.

In seventh grade we read The Giver again and did an assignment where we wrote the next chapter (an assignment I later stole when I did The Giver during student teaching – the only whole-class-novel unit I’ve ever taught). I think it was the only fiction I wrote between elementary school and NaNo 2010, and I distinctly remember being both embarrassed and pleased by my dramatic chapter.

I remember loving Gathering Blue because in a sense it was more of the same – Lowry’s amazing writing, teen with a gift, dystopian society – but it was also its own unique world. There’s a brief mention of someone who might be Jonas, which was fun but didn’t necessarily change my reality of The Giver.

But Messenger derailed all that. Worlds collided and we were told, definitively, what happened to Jonas. To me, it felt cheap. Maybe because I read the other two as a kid and read Messenger as an adult, or maybe because I was genuinely disappointed – Lowry made this big deal of not revealing her truth about Jonas and Gabe, then turned around and revealed it anyway. I think Messenger, overall, is the weakest of the series, and I haven’t bothered to re-read it like I did the first two books. There were other things I hated about it, but that’s not really important at the moment.

And now I’ve read Son. I was nervous, because it’s about the girl who “produced” Gabe, and I knew it might further challenge my 15-years-in-the-making assumptions about what happened after The Giver ended. The book is split into three parts, and the parts actually mirror the rest of the series rather well. Book I takes place in the community from The Giver, paralleling those events from a different perspective, and it is awesome. I loved seeing things from another point of view, especially the insights it gave into Jonas’ father – I found him much more sympathetic in this book and much less creepily detached. Wonderfully, though, it made his detachment in The Giver even more interesting, rather than taking away from its impact.

Book II introduces an entirely new community. I was a bit disappointed not to see all the ramifications of Jonas leaving in the first book, but the new society was engaging enough and unique enough that I didn’t mind. It struck me as more rustic, just as the society in Gathering Blue did, and it was enjoyable to read about even if it didn’t fascinate me the way the first community did.

Book III brings us full circle, to the community from Messenger, and of course as someone disappointed in Messenger I couldn’t help being disappointed again. I don’t like the “outside forces” they have to deal with – dystopian literature is great because it’s usually based on the choices humans make, and feels real. I don’t like the neatly-tied-together lives and relationships of characters from past books, even though yeah, I guess I shipped it.

Writing this, I realize that yes, overall I loved Son. How could I not? (Well, I guess I could have hated it – look at poor Messenger). What I didn’t love was having my own reality – the 15 years of life Jonas and Gabe have been living in my mind – stripped away from me with the canon version of events. I love Jonas and Gabe, and I loved the vast, unknown possibilities of their lives after The Giver. It’s more real to think of them out in the world, but out of reach, than it is to see “what really happened.” I don’t want neat coincidences that tie the books together. I want them to be out there living their lives, whether I get to see how they turned out or not, just like anyone else I knew when I was younger.


Lizzie Bennet Diaries & Slut-Shaming

I am a giant Pride & Prejudice nerd. I grew up watching the Colin Firth miniseries with my mom, and since then I’ve seen almost every movie version in existence (most of them multiple times), I wrote my English thesis about it in undergrad, and I wear this scarf on a weekly basis. I own a Pride & Prejudice game that I’ve never played because I don’t know anyone who knows the story well enough to stand a chance against me. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I could fangirl forever about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but I’m going to show some restraint and just focus on what I”m thinking about today.

For those who don’t watch LBD, it’s a YouTube adaptation of Pride & Prejudice told primarily through Elizabeth Bennet’s video blog. The modernization most relevant to this post is the Lydia/Wickham storyline, where the scandal has been translated from elopement to a sex tape. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic change that captures the magnitude of Lydia’s actions and their effect on her reputation and family, but it’s brought up some ugliness among the mostly lovely fanbase.

When lbd!Lydia first started spending time with Wickham, some people started attacking her, basically saying “how could she not know?” The thing is, how could she? In the book, and in the series, he’s a charming guy. The only reason we as viewers know he’s bad news is because we’ve read the book. But Lydia hasn’t read the book. She’s FROM it. It’s absurd to expect her to know as much as we do, and worse, it’s victim-blaming. It’s supposed to be obvious to us that George is manipulating her, but it’s not obvious to her, which only made it worse when the sex tape surfaced and the slut-shaming started. One minute George was an abusive, manipulative jerk (and we knew it all along! we’re smarter than her!), the next we were blaming Lydia for what he did. Lydia addresses these negative reactions starting about 4 minutes in:

The sad thing is, the writers saw this coming. This episode would’ve been filmed at least a few weeks before the sex tape was released and the fans started reacting. What’s ironic to me, and sad, is that we’ll gleefully accept Lizzie’s initial misjudgment of Darcy, but suddenly when Lydia is the misguided one, she’s a stupid whorey slut. And I love that she used that phrase, quoting Lizzie from all the way back in Episode 2, because it drives the point home so dramatically.


What. you. say. matters. I’d like to believe that the people saying hateful things thought they were somehow “adding to the story.” That’s the fun of this format of story-telling, and other times it’s been positive and innocent, like when people posted words of encouragement on Jane’s sad Pinterest pictures. I truly hope that none of the people slut-shaming Lydia would ever consider treating a real person that way.

But if we’re going to believe John Green when he talks about “the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species,” we can’t just accept the excuse that it’s not real. It doesn’t matter that Lydia is fictional. It doesn’t matter that Lizzie said it first. It matters that you are victimizing someone who is already a victim. You are slut-shaming someone who is not a slut. Watching this episode with some friends today, we talked about how we weren’t thrilled that Lizzie said “you don’t deserve this” as opposed to “nobody deserves this”, but from a story perspective I’m glad she did, because it shows how she’s changed. I think December Lizzie would have blamed Lydia for what happened, and I’m so thankful February Lizzie didn’t. It happens in the book, too – in the midst of dealing with the elopement Elizabeth says to her aunt, “Perhaps I am not doing her justice.”

It was so satisfying to see Lydia lash out at the slut-shaming from the fandom, and to see Lizzie look us in the eye and tell us it’s wrong. I’m hoping the writers will end strong with this story arc and drive the message home. It’s a powerful testament to what the novel is really about – perception and judgment and learning to overcome first impressions.

…This was going to be a quick reflection and somehow it turned into an essay. But like Darcy, sometimes I just find it easier to write things down :)

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Little Victories

Sometimes I get overwhelmed. For awhile I’ll be thinking “yeah, I’m totally rockin’ this!” or at least “okay, not bad for my first year”, but then I’ll see what someone else is doing or my students will bomb a benchmark test, and I kinda fall to pieces. “I’ve taught them NOTHING! I shouldn’t even BE a teacher!” And, of course, these meltdowns don’t do me any good because I waste so much time stressing out that I don’t have time to, you know, improve. I have my freak-out, scramble to plan for the upcoming week, and pretty much continue feeling awesome/decent/mediocre until the next realization of my own inadequacies. I think one thing that has stopped me from really upping my game has been the sense that there is so much to change, and it’s an overwhelming feat to fix everything all at once. But then last week, I finally had the realization I probably should’ve had a long time ago:

I don’t have to fix everything all at once.

Are there things I do well as a teacher? Yes. Are there things I could do better? Of course. Are there things I’m not even doing yet, even though I really should? Absolutely. My problem has been that I think, “Okay, so I need to figure out a way to work more grammar and vocab into the curriculum, AND I have to make sure I’m addressing every point on every IEP, AND I need to make tutoring more effective, AND I need to conference with students more often, AND my current homework policy isn’t working, AND AND AND…” then eventually I just think “well, there’s no time to figure all of that out now,” and I don’t figure out any of it. This time was different because I just randomly chose a few things which wouldn’t require a lot of prep work and told myself to do a better job than I’ve been doing. Here are a few things that made me proud of myself and my students last week:

Conferencing: I struggle to spend one-on-one time working with students, even in the classes that behave well enough that management doesn’t prevent it. I tend to think that if I can’t sit right there and work through every concern, it’s not enough (sensing a pattern yet?). This time, I just briefly checked in with every student as they were starting an assignment. Do you have a topic? Do you know where to find information? Do you have a plan to move forward? Good. Next student. It was really very easy, and I was able to spend more time with the kids who really needed it, without ignoring the ones who were on track. Perfect!

Tolerance: It’s so important to me to create a safe environment, but I don’t always feel like I’m effective at calling students out for saying things they shouldn’t. I think I usually come off as too harsh, so the kids think they’re “in trouble” rather than “intolerant.” I made more of an effort last week to calmly, but firmly, make my students aware that certain forms of thinking are not acceptable. Here’s a conversation from when a girl took a larger stack of books to put away than a boy:

Student: Haha, she’s manlier than you are!
Me: Really? Do you have to be a man to be strong?
Students: Uh… no.
Student: Miss, it’s okay, you’re strong!
Me: That doesn’t matter. I’m just saying, being manly doesn’t really have anything to do with how many books you carry.
Students: OHHHHHH!

Yeah, they still tend to react as if someone got burned by some clever quip I said. I would much rather they realize that I just want them to think about the words they’re using and why, but it’s a step. I do have one student who now self-corrects every time she starts to describe something as “retarded”, so I am seeing some progress!