Category Archives: Soap Box Issue

Disturbed by Prejudice: Hunger Games, Writing and Public Perception

I’m not gonna lie.  I’m extremely disturbed.  First the bullying in our schools, the homophobia with the Clementi/Ravi case and now, the outcry over casting decisions for Hunger Games.

If you haven’t heard, the scuttlebutt is that some people are downright angry that several key characters in the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel were…not quite what they pictured.

Namely, and I quote: “why did the producer make all the good characters black smh” and “why is Rue a little black girl?”

Um, because she was in the book.  And even if she hadn’t been, what difference does it make?  Rue is an innocent, sweet child who was thrust into the games as cruelly as all the other kids.  Her death was tragic–on the page and on the screen.

Not all agree with me.  In fact, one such tweeter admitted that Rue’s skin color on the big screen ruined the movie for her.

Another took it one step further: “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad”

Okay, I’ll bite.  That is extremely racist.  And seriously messed up.  A young child’s death isn’t sad because her skin is darker than yours?  This sentiment hearkens back to the day of Nazi Germany.  It echoes the hatred heaped on the Irish in America’s early days.  It encompasses the sheer viciousness of our planet’s history.  It is a sad commentary on just how un-evolved human beings really are.

I’m not gonna lie, people’s ignorant, undereducated and outdated beliefs creep me out.

I think this is why my younger juvenile lit is full of bullies.  I like to tackle the issue of fitting in.  I like to empower my characters and encourage them to take control of their destinies by believing in themselves and not abiding by the labels provided to them by others–ignorant, undereducated and outdated others.

By doing so, I hope to empower and encourage kids to come out stronger, smarter and less likely to spread hate and prejudice themselves.  We need to break the cycle of bullying in our society–by kids and by the adults who should know better.

I applaud Ms. Collins for the beautiful portrayal of her characters.  I applaud the casting decisions and am thrilled that the Hunger Games movie was not white-washed.  Because, guess what?  We are only as good or as bad as our behavior.  And bad behavior knows no skin color.

On days like this, I’m embarrassed to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed.  I don’t want to be judged by the color of my skin.  Because, honestly, I am the sum total of what I’ve done, what I believe and what I feel.  Not what I look like.

I’m too disturbed to ask any questions, so please feel free to share your thoughts on the topic.  Any tips you have on how writers can help perpetuate acceptance rather than intolerance would be greatly appreciated.

To read more about this, hop on over to the post Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Very Disappointed.

Celebrity Hype and I: The Hunger Games

I love Suzanne Collins.  Her writing is honest and strong.  She writes lyrically, yet efficiently.  She isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics, and she does so admirably.  To say that she is my favorite author is an understatement.

Yet, I’d like to note that I loved Ms. Collins long before The Hunger Games hit book shelves.  You see, she’s multitalented.  She’s authored a picture book and a Middle Grade series–which was devoured in our household.  She’s also quiet and poised.  Not to mention, I’ve heard from a writer friend who went to school with Ms. Collins that she’s sweet and kind and smart and funny.

She is one of the very few celebrities I give credence to.  You see, in the midst of the social media trap that writers find themselves in–blogging, tweeting, FBing, etc, etc, etc–Ms. Collins found a place in the heart of readers nationwide because of her storytelling abilities.  Not because she pandered to the masses.  Not because she wore slinky outfits in her author photo and not because she behaved badly on national television.

I’m just going to throw this out there: I don’t like celebrities–as a general rule.  If I had to be honest, I’d say my disdain for many of them is as close to prejudice as I get.  Funny that I want to be an author.  That I want my books on book shelves and nightstands and libraries across the globe.  Quite hypocritical actually.

But let me elaborate.  What I don’t like is the God/Goddess pedestals we put celebrities on whether they deserve it or not.  I don’t like that famous actors can act naughty and rude and pretentious and spoiled and still be looked upon as role models.  I don’t like that rock stars can rock rehab centers often enough to have their names permanently etched on a waiting list for the next “oopsy” and our kids LOVE them and want to be like them.

I think “celebrity” sends many, many wrong messages to our children about what success is and what being great really means.  I think reality shows that glamorize teen pregnancies and bitchy housewives set the tone for low and misguided expectations for America’s youth.  Heck, for its adults, as well.

I hate that compassionate nurses and great teachers get paid celebrity pocket change, while some celebrities with extra-large wallets who are greatly admired by youngsters don’t have a compassionate or generous bone in their bodies.  It just seems so…wrong.

On the other hand, I love that some celebrities are quiet, poised, sweet, kind, passionate, compassionate, smart and funny.  I love that some celebrities make my children really think about the society in which they live.  I love that these celebrities aren’t afraid to make a positive impact.  I just wish there were more of them.

But then again, maybe there are, and I just don’t know about them.  After all, squeaky wheels get the oil and the kind of celebrities I admire aren’t squeaking.  They are busy working.

The Hunger Games movie opens tomorrow morning.  At 12:01, I will be sitting in a theater with a gaggle of teens waiting breathlessly to see the film adaptation of my all-time favorite book–one that takes a clear stance on the “reality” of today’s entertainment and the impact it has on our society.

Kudos, Suzanne Collins.  I wouldn’t interrupt my sleep for anyone but you and your Hunger Games.

How about you, dear readers, what are your thoughts on celebrity-ism in today’s world?  How do you think reality shows have skewed our realities?  Who is your favorite celeb and why?  What type of celebrity role model do you cringe at?

Curious minds are really, really curious!

To Ban or Not to Ban: Kindle in the Classroom?

A student took her Kindle to school one day, only to have it taken away as an unapproved device.  The above student was doing nothing more than reading before class–the activity for which the e-reader was made.

In the same school, some students carry–and play with–ipads.  They browse the internet on Kindle Fires or watch movies on ipods.

When did reading become a crime?  When did books become unapproved devices?

On one level, I get the argument: it is an electronic device.  However, the original e-ink readers are nothing more than literary etch-a-sketches.  Nobody is watching movies on them or texting on them.  They are reading.  Because, really, that is the sole purpose of a designated e-reader.  It’s the only thing it does well.

By taking away a portable library, I think schools are undermining a great and educational hobby.  They are forcing kids to choose between carrying thick books or no books at all.  They take away the privacy of shy readers who may not want to be ridiculed for reading certain books (the jock who reads Twilight or the struggling readers whose thin books and juvenilish titles easily peg them as “dumb”).  Will these readers simply quit reading if their only other choice is being the butt of a joke?

What says you?  Do you feel that designated e-readers should be banned from the classroom?  Why or why not?  Which factors should be used to determine if individual devices are a hindrance or a benefit? 

Teachers, in particular, please pipe up.  I’d love to have your experienced wisdom in helping me determine where I stand on the issue.

Curious minds really, really want to know.

Controversy Alert! Judgement Day

Our tiny town lost a child yesterday.  A first grader succumbed to cancer.  Whatever your faith, whatever your nonfaith, whatever your journey or life experience, this is a tragedy.  A life lost before it got started.  A potential never reached.  Silence, not laughter.  Emptiness never to be filled with love and joy and the growing pains of raising an innocent child to adulthood.

Sadly, a dear friend relayed the loss of a child in her hometown two days ago.  An eighth grader took his own life.  Rumor had it he was bullied.  Another loss.  Another silence in the hearts of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, basketball coaches, peers, future employers, a future spouse and future children.  Another gaping hole where once a child lived.

Each and every life is precious.  Each and every one.

Yet, if I started layering these stories with other information, opinions might begin to change.  Humans are judgemental.  We let our values and prejudices interfere with our basic human compassion.  We put ourselves–and those like us–on pedestals and deem others somehow inferior, somehow less deserving.

I hear it all the time.  As a court advocate for kids, as a mother, a member of social groups, a Christian, a wife, a coworker.  Every role I play puts me in a position to hear–and pass–judgment on others.

Too often, I hear compassion slip away as information is revealed.

“Her dad is black.”  Or Hispanic.  As if this is somehow the reason behind the grades a child gets in school or how well she sits in class.  For the record, plenty of “white” kids get poor grades and fidget through first grade.  They also bring weapons to school and drink and get detention for smart-mouthing teachers.  Yet, I’ve never heard, “Her dad is white.”

“He’s gay.”  As if this somehow negates the very idea that he could love a child without having perverse thoughts toward it.  Hello, folks.  Lots of molested children are victims of heterosexuals.  Lots.  More than you care to consider.  Some of them by biological fathers or grandfathers or uncles or brothers or mothers.  Yes, that happens, too.  And far more often than you’d care to consider.  Our children’s sexual safety isn’t in danger from homosexuals, but rather from a pool of psychologically aberrant individuals taken from every race, religion, gender and profession.

“Ugh.  She lives in a trailer.”  As if this automatically relegates a child to a life of unwashed clothes, headlice and burger flipping.  I grew up in a trailer, as did my business-owning, neat-as-a-pin, liceless brother-in-law.  I’ve been in tidy trailers and trashed mansions.

“But they’re Muslim.”  Or Catholic, or Buddhist, or Methodist, or Lutheran, or Atheist, or Wiccan.  As if these people are incapable of doing anything productive, compassionate or selfless simply because of what they believe or don’t believe in regards to faith.  Plenty of Christians I know are hypocritical, selfish and judgemental.  Just like plenty of people in every other religion or nonreligion known to man.

We are human.  We persecute those different from us.  We are brash and cruel, thoughtless and dehumanizing.  We forget the very basic, underriding compassion for others even as we tell the world how wonderful we are.

We suppress and oppress.  We judge people on factors that may or may not have any impact on events, behaviors or failures.  We generalize and stereotype.  We inhibit and prohibit.

We forget to strip away the irrelevant information and remember that underneath, we were all innocent children.  Are innocent.  That we are all precious and deserving of respect and compassion regardless of where we came from, whom we love or what our faith.

Take a moment to evaluate your own prejudices and judgements.  Ask yourself where they came from and why you feel the way you do.  Consider if your feelings have been passed down through the generations and have relevance in your life in the here and now.  Is it a stereotype you’ve learned from television, the newspaper, your preacher?  Is it a generalization you’ve made based on personal experiences?  Is holding onto it conducive to living your life?  Do you take into account other’s personal experiences before foisting your values onto them?  Do you have room to improve?

You don’t need to answer those questions here, but I ask that you think about them as you go about your day.  Don’t let the loss of our innocent children slip away forgotten, because underneath the labels we paste on ourselves and others, we are all inherently the same.

hugs~

*Thoughtful and respectful commentary is welcome, regardless of the content.  However, any blatantly disrespectful comments will not be approved.  This blog does not support attacking individuals or groups of individuals for any reason.

Get Off Your Soap Box: Warm Some Hearts

Today is my third attempt to dismantle my soap boxes and become an active participant in the things I believe in.  I am done shouting from the podium and expecting everyone else to do the grunt work.  If you have a soap box issue, please consider joining me on the ground level.

Spread the Wealth…er, mittens.  I don’t have wealth, but I have lots of extras.  With four growing kids, we annually fill garbage bags of clothes that my kids have outgrown.  Sadly, I know other people who literally fill not only trash bags, but their trash cans with gently worn clothes instead of donating them to somebody who can use them.

With winter fast approaching, I’ve cleaned out my closets.  A big job and one I don’t relish.  However, the following “extras” I found made it all worthwhile: mittens/gloves (7 pairs), hats (2), winter jackets (11), snowpants (5), scarves (2) and fall/spring jackets (6).

But what to do with them all?  Consignment stores don’t always get the gear into the right hands.  And even some community service organizations get a more diverse customer base than anticipated.  In fact, I’ve heard the Salvation Army has become kind of a chic place to shop for well-to-do individuals.  While it is not my right to judge others, I know for certain that I don’t want our extra winter gear to clothe kids whose parents can afford new winter wear.  This defeats the purpose of warming the hands and hearts of children in need.

Common arguments against donating to the needy:

  •  “It’s not my fault parents spend their money on cigarettes and booze instead of their kid’s clothes.”
  • “Why should I dress someone else’s kids when the parents are too lazy to pay for it themselves.  Get a job.”
  • “Nobody gives me handouts.”

To which I say: “You’re right.  You are not obligated to be kind, giving or supportive.  You are not obligated to part with your hard-earned money and out-grown snow clothes.  Nor are you obligated to provide for anyone besides yourself.”

Arguments for donating to the needy:

  • It is not a child’s fault his parents smoke or drink.  It’s not.  No matter how much one may dislike families on welfare or families who live in trailer houses or families who buy booze and not mittens, we must remember that the children are not the ones making these choices.  They are simply the ones with frost bit fingers and cold toes.
  • Again, a child is not responsible for a parent’s unemployment.  She is simply the one to suffer from lack of food, clothing and decent shelter.  She is the one standing on the playground with the wind whistling through her four-sizes-too-small, thread-bare coat.  Not to mention, not all unemployed parents are unemployed by choice.  I’ve known very affluent, educated individuals who lose their jobs.  I’ve known these same people to be unemployed eight months later.  If they had kids without new winter clothing would we feel bitter toward them or commiserate with their bad luck?
  • The “nobody gives me hand outs” argument is just plain ridiculous.  I don’t care who you are, we’ve all gotten something free at some point in our lives.  When we started out as newly weds, at least one piece of furniture, one set of dishes or one blanket was donated by parents, friends or friends of parents.  When we got pregnant, somebody passed their maternity clothes onto us.  When our friends’ kids outgrew that cute jumper and baby swing, we were the recipients.  Everybody gets hand outs at some point and to some degree.  Some just need them more than others.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t exactly get off my soap box for this matter.  But, I’m still doing something about it.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve always donated our children’s out-grown clothing.  However, I (rightfully) worry that these items don’t always make it to the right individuals.

Because our county does not have a Coats for Kids and I know we have many kids in our community who need coats, I’ve contacted a very wonderful and generous woman who works closely with families in need.  She’s already guaranteed our donations will get into onto the right hands.

How about you?  Do you have trouble donating to the needy?  If so, why?  Is donating items more acceptable than donating money?  Why or why not?  What are you teaching your children about your community’s welfare?  You don’t really need to answer those questions, but I’d like you to think about them and how this issue pertains to you and your community.

Easier questions to answer: What do you do with your used clothing?  Have you seen the new “for profit” drop boxes for used clothing?  If so, how do you feel about that?  What tips or resources do you know about that can help warm the hands and hearts of our nation’s youth?

Passionate minds want to know.

Get Off Your Soap Box: Personal Safety

In case you missed it, this week is when I get off my soap box and do something about the things I believe in.  In line for today is personal safety.

Yesterday, my little sister called me.  She’d found Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman on our shared Kindle account.

“After I finished reading, I curled up in my bed and cried for forty-five minutes.”

We then talked for forty-five minutes about how important this book is and about whom should read it.  While I know Ms. Littman wrote Want to Go Private? to initiate conversation between parents and their children, Little Sis believes far more people should read this book than just parents and teens.

“Everyone,” was her exact assessment.  And she’s right.

Personal safety is a taboo topic.  Nobody wants to hear about sexting scandals between young teens and thirty-year-old men.  Nobody wants to hear about incest or the assault that took place in the back seat after the homecoming game.  Everybody turns away from rape victims and ignores the pain they must have gone through.  Or worse yet, they blame the victim, not the predator.

Sadly, this mindset is so pervasive that even the victims blame themselves and predators are left to pray on others, untouched, unchecked and smarter with each perpetration.  It is sickening and debilitating.  It’s wrong on many levels.  And nobody is exempt.

Child pornography infiltrates many a household.  Significant others fall victim to the twisted whims of their partners and can’t escape the escalating behavior.  The elderly are emotionally manipulated for their money in the same way that vulnerable teens are culled by sexual predators.

I’ve worked as an advocate for children.  I’ve seen the fall-out from such abuse.  I’ve also seen just how horrifying these experiences can be.  And yet, we don’t take charge of personal safety the way we do drinking and driving.  The message is not on billboards and public radio.  The message does not make television commercials or magazine covers.  As a society, we prefer not to talk about it, because then it might not exist.

But it does exist.  Every day, potential victims are groomed by perpetrators.  Every day, victims are left to navigate the after-math of their experiences.  Every day, somebody blames the victim.

“They should have known better.”

“She asked for it.”

“It’s his own fault.”

The truth is, relationships are easily manipulated and perpetrators learn how to manipulate emotionally vulnerable individuals in a way that would make your toes curl.  They practice it, hone it, and perfect it like normal people do with their hobbies.  They get good at it so they can be more effective at luring their victims into a one-sided relationship that feels safe and fulfilling.

Well, I’m here to do something about your personal safety.  I am getting off my soap box and telling everyone I know that personal safety is hard to hold onto in this day and age.

Today I launch #WTGV, a book give-away of Want to go Private? 

#WTGV (Want to Go Viral) is my way of educating anyone who loves someone enough to care about their personal safety.  From November 1st-December 31st, I’m hosting a three book give-away of Want to Go Private?

If you simply want to enter your name in the drawing, hop over to my #WTGV Book Give-Away page and follow the rules posted there.

If you want to help make the message of personal safety  go viral, please visit my #WTGV page to learn how you can help spread the word.

If you care at all, please stop by the #WTGV tab and see what’s new between now and the end of the year.

So, who wants to go viral?

Get Off Your Soap Box: Literacy

I have a few soap box issues.  Namely child welfare and literacy.  Now, child welfare is a pretty big soap box and can include things like food, shelter and literacy, which means I very likely have stacked my soap boxes on top of each other.  Not a good thing if I ever need to climb down.

Which is exactly what I’m doing this week.  I am finally getting off my soap box and doing something about the things I believe in.

LITERACY

This could be my biggest soap box issue and likely stems from Eldest’s struggles with dyslexia.  It could also be from watching adults settle into a life of poverty and crime because they never reached their potential due to their own struggles with reading.  Or, it’s possible that my desire for a literate world is due to the fact that I’m a writer and firmly believe that everyone deserves the pleasure of escaping into a good book.

Regardless of why, I have a big literacy soap box.

 A Few Horrifying Facts

  • Libraries recycle their books that they unshelve or that don’t sell at book sale fundraisers.  Last year, my local library recycled three pallets of books.  Recycled, not recirculated.  As in trashed.  Never to be read again.  Wasted.
  • Books are expensive.  Yeah, I know.  Even discounted books cost more money than some people have.  In some ways, reading is a luxury.  A rich person’s hobby.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this choice: feed your kids or buy a book?  How about this one: pay rent or buy a book?  Read a book or take a shower?  Jeans or words?
  • Go to the library, you say?  Well, a lot of families living pay check to pay check work when the library is open.  And when they are not working, they are raising children–which includes grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and homework.  Not to mention, not all towns have libraries.  And not all people have reliable transportation.  And public transit costs money.
  • Illiteracy is symptomatic and genetic.  Okay, not 100% true, but if Mom doesn’t read and there are no books in the house, what are the chances that Junior will read?  If Dad is functionally illiterate and can’t read a bedtime story to Junior, there is no positive behavior for Junior to model.  Literacy, or the lack thereof, is a vicious cycle.
  • Poverty and crime are linked to literacy levels.  Pages of statistics support this.  I would like pagest of statistics to celebrate the success of communities sharing literacy, instead.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Because I’m getting off my soap box.  Right now.  I’ve finally put my brains to good use and said, “Self, who has the least access to books?”

To which I answered, “People who can’t afford them.”

And where will I most likely find people who can’t afford to read?  At the food shelf.  If you can’t buy milk, you sure as heck can’t buy a book.

So, how did I get off my soap box?  I spoke with the director of our local food shelf about putting a bookshelf in their building.  I have a gorgeous oak bookcase that has nowhere to reside in my home.  It will look stunning filled with free books.

Additionally, I have boxes of books in my basement that I’ll never read again.  Hardcover and paper back alike.  Romance, mystery, thrillers, poetry, memoirs, westerns, YAs, middle grade, adult…all just sitting there in darkness.  Over the next few months, I will cull them and rebox them to take to the food shelf.  When people come in, they can add some brain food to their bags.

I’ve also talked with our librarian.  After our annual book sale, the remaining, gently-used books will also grace the shelves in the food shelf.  If–if–our food shelf can relocate to a spot big enough to house these books.  But that’s a whole ‘nother soap box and one I’ll be looking into.  If the food shelf fails to be a viable option due to financial/space issues, I have an alternative in mind.

So, dear readers, is literacy a soap box issue for you?  If so, how do you actively address this need?  Share your tips with other like-minded folks.  If you haven’t considered being actively involved until now, what ideas do you have to get off your soap box and make a difference? 

What do you think of the food shelf literacy program?  If you’re willing to contact all the right people and get one started in your area, give us a shout out in the comments.  We’d love to cheer you on!

My challenge for the week: if you are passionate about something, don’t just talk about it.  Get off your soap box and do something.