Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Forays in Fiction: Befriending Anger

Laurie Halse Anderson, YA author and creator of the WFMD challenge, posted something early this morning that got me wound up. Then later today she posted the WFMD writing prompt for the day that asks what makes us angry and challenges us to use the anger generated by the things we witness, read about or suffer to give our characters motivation and infuse our fiction with life and passion.

The first was about a situation in Republic MO, the same district that recently tried to ban Anderson's YA book Speak whose teenage protagonist was raped. Her post wasn't about the book banning though but about a recent lawsuit filed against that school district alleging that a special needs middle school student had been harassed sexually and raped repeatedly by another student on campus, had gone to the school officials who interviewed her without her mother present and forced her to retract her accusation, write a letter of apology to her rapist and deliver it to him in person and then reported her to juvenile authorities for false accusations and suspended her for the duration of the school year. Then when it happened again the following year and her mother took her to a clinic for a rape exam and the semen collected was a DNA match for the boy she'd accused the school then suspended HER for 'disrespectful conduct' and 'public displays of affection'. And now they are calling the suit frivolous!

Way to shush a victim's cries eh?

In America.

In 2011.

I was not only angry as I read about this but because some of the incidents of assault on this girl happened in the school library I was catapulted in memory to in incident in my high school library in which I was the victim of sexual harassment and assault while left in charge as student aide while the librarian attended an after school teachers meeting. I was not raped but I was in terror that I was about to be.

This was in 1976 and I did not go to the school authorities as I was confused and not quite sure what had happened to me. I was also afraid it was my own fault because I'd been reading a Harlequin Romance novel and the boy had used that as a conversation starter. My parents didn't approve of those novels even though at that time they had nothing more sexually explicit than chaste kisses so I read them secretly while at school or in the middle of the night.

I was so sheltered because of my family's religious convictions I didn't have the words or even the concepts to speak of or even think about these things. Even two years later nearing age twenty and already engaged I didn't know what a hickey was and got in trouble when my 12 year old sister acquired one from the neighbor boy while in my care.

I could have used books like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak back then. That was the decade when YA authors had just begun to write stories for teens that addressed raw reality subjects like sexual issues, domestic violence, bigotry, bullying etc. I remember some of the controversy about Judy Blume books from about that time.

I was right to suspect that I'd be blamed because when I told my mother that evening (leaving out the romance novel) she asked me if I thought maybe the fact that I'd recently took the hem of the dress I wore that day up two inches might have had anything to do with encouraging this boy. And then the next day told me that Daddy said 'Next time tell him to go take a cold shower.'

Next time?

Next time!!?

The school library had always been my safe haven but it never was again.

Laurie asked in today's prompt what makes us THAT angry and she didn't mean those daily irritants like rudeness, lateness, messes made by others but:

The one time in my life that I got THAT angry was in 1994 when I saw an infant disciplined by his father for crying by the holding of the hand over the mouth during the exhale to 'deprive him of the reward of hearing his own voice'. And every other adult and child in the room sat there as though nothing was wrong. Including me.

That very hour in my heart and soul though silently for several months I repudiated the fundamentalist sect I'd been raised in as it became clear to me that it's teachings were the root and leaf of this child rearing style that made seem normal what should have been anathema.

For me it is the taking of the voice of the victim, dissident, and socially powerless.

There are many more subtle ways of taking the voice from those whose words disturb the societal norm than a hand over the mouth or the cutting out of the tongue or burning of books. One is the deliberate and systematic sabotage of an education that gives one the vocabulary, the concepts, the historical frame of reference to be able to think about and thus talk about injustice and other wrong perpetrated by the strong against the weak, the rich against the poor, the insider against the outsider, the majority against the minorities.

Which is exactly why books like Speak get banned. And sex education, evolution, ethnic studies among other subjects are removed from curriculum and students are tested only on memorizable facts not the ability to think about them and talk radio hosts talk about open season on liberals defined as anyone who disagrees with them out loud and governments act in secret to keep us uninformed and corporations spend billions on a politician's campaign prevent regular people from competing for their loyalty and votes are suppressed and unions are broken and activists are assassinated and 'free speech zones' are created for protesters in locations they are least likely to be noticed by their intended audience and terrorists bomb civilians and the people are told a war is about bringing civil rights to oppressed people when its really about profit and in the name of that war civil rights are taken from the very people sending their sons and daughters to fight and corporations sue those who dare to question the quality of their product and oil companies discourage pictures of distressed dolphins and duck in the midst of an oil spill and children are punished for crying or speaking uncomfortable truths to adults and mothers shame daughters for being unladylike when they raise their voice and preachers excoriate parishioners for asking uncomfortable questions and religions and other social constructs prize obedience over all other virtues including integrity.

So many ways. And every one of them makes my tongue into a hissing flame. My fifteen minute exercise this evening will be a seething rant because I've deliberately damped the burbling cauldron of my rage over voice suppression for the purpose of this post. I tell myself its because I need to remain coherent here or that some of it is TMI for the intended audience but I'm sure that it is at least partly that I'm still voluntarily suppressing my own voice out of habit or fear. And that is incredibly angering.

But I always have preferred to channel strong emotions through my fictional characters. But on the other hand I still carry much anxiety around the feeling of anger. In my family all evidence of strong emotion was seen as disrespect which they supported with Bible verses equating anger to hate to murder and laughter as reserved for glee over the calamity of the evil ones.

Despite having broken away from those teachings nearly twenty years ago I continue to carry the habits of thinking and feeling instilled in me fifty years ago. And I wonder how much that has to do with the fact I struggle so to finish my stories and to submit the completed poems and stories for publication. If so, I myself am the voice suppressor.

0 tell me a story:

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