Check out my guest post on best-selling author Mia Kerick’s blog about how bullying has become institutionalized in America. You might find it enlightening or it might make you angry. Truth can do both.
Archives for February 2014
Mia Kerick is a best-selling author I had heard a lot about on Facebook, and our paths often crossed in commenting on the same pictures or articles. As she points out below, because I saw her name so often I thought we were already FB friends and was startled when she sent me a friend request and I realized we were not. That has been corrected, much to my delight. She is an amazing lady filled with compassion, boundless energy, enthusiasm, the ability to multi-task so well that I’m envious, and she’s a terrific and successful writer.
To celebrate the unfurling of her newest, and already a best-seller, book for young adults, The Red Sheet, I offered to host Mia on my blog because she and I are very much on the same page. Be sure to check out the links to her book and (YES!) there are giveaways at the rafflecopter link. I have not yet read The Red Sheet, but it is on order and I will dig in as soon as it arrives.
Mia’s post is about the definition of “normal,” a subject I address in my own trilogy of books that began with Children of the Knight. I’m going to add my own little spin to what she said and then you will hear from this great lady yourself. Having worked with special education students for most of my life, and being one myself in the sense that I have always been hearing impaired, I sought to make a distinction for my kids. They always felt abnormal, as did the gay kids I worked with in the Gay Straight Alliance, because people kept telling them that, often their own parents, siblings, or relatives. I would tell them to keep this in mind: people who are hard of hearing or visually impaired or gay or learning disabled or physically disabled or whatever are not “the norm” in life because “the norm” would be considered what is standard or typical. But they, and myself, are completely normal because these things are part of how we were born and are thus “normal.” Everyone one of us is normal because every human being is unique and special, even the ones who think they are perfect because they fit the arbitrary “norms” society has created. The bottom line is, people need to stop trying to make everyone exactly like them and accept inherent differentiations from “the norm” as normal. There, that’s my little soapbox to piggyback on Mia’s post. So without further adieu, I bring you the one, the only, the magical Mia Kerick! Yea!
Hello and thanks for inviting me over…
I recently “met” Michael Bowler during a Facebook conversation about YA books. I must admit, I tried to tag him and I couldn’t. We weren’t friends! Well, not in the FB “official” sense of the word, which came as a surprise to me. We quickly remedied the not-friends thing, and since then we have very quickly come to be real friends. We certainly have a lot to talk about.
So I would like to thank Michael for allowing me to post on his blog, and I don’t think he’ll be too surprised by what I say.
Anybody have a soapbox I can stand on? I think I’m gonna need one.
What makes something seem “normal” to us? Well, first of all, let’s take a look at the word “normal”. (I love examining definitions!)
For the most part, I trust Merriam-Webster, do you?
Here’s what MW had to say:
1nor•mal adjective ˈnȯr-məl
: usual or ordinary : not strange
: mentally and physically healthy
Synonyms can tell you a lot about a word’s meaning. Here is Merriam-Webster’s list of synonyms for the word normal:
average, common, commonplace, cut-and-dried (also cut-and-dry), everyday
But do you want to know what can tell you even MORE about a word? What it is not. In other words, a word’s antonyms. (Also very informative!)
MW’s list of antonyms for the word normal:
abnormal, exceptional, extraordinary, odd, out-of-the-way, strange, unusual
And these “Near Antonyms” further illustrate the point I plan to make:
Near antonyms for the word normal include:
curious, funny, peculiar, quaint, queer; aberrant, anomalous, atypical, irregular, untypical; rare, recherché, scarce; fantastic (also fantastical), phenomenal; bizarre, far-out, Kafkaesque, outrageous, outré, wacky (also whacky), way-out, weird, wild; eccentric, idiosyncratic, kooky (also kookie), nonconformist, oddball, offbeat, unconventional, unorthodox; freak, freakish
There were a lot more…
So, can we agree for the sake of argument that the word normal refers to that which is usual? That which is ordinary? Something that is not strange. And for something to be considered ordinary, we must see it a lot. Cheeseburgers are ordinary. You can get one (or two-who’s counting?) at every fast food store and cookout you attend. You never stop and stare when you see a guy eating a burger. It is NOT a strange sight; you see it every day.
But chowing down on a Witchetty grub? I can tell you this much: if you stand on the corner of Main and Maple streets, and sink your teeth into an oversized, juicy white moth larvae, you might solicit some strange looks. A fair amount of staring would be directed your way. Let’s admit it: in the United States of America the consumption of Witchetty grubs is unusual. Bordering on peculiar.
Dare I say abnormal? Yes, I dare. Eating grubs is abnormal behavior in our neck of the woods.
SO now that we have a working definition of the word normal, let’s apply it to an important topic: relationships. What constitutes a conventional romantic relationship? A normal, ordinary, garden-variety love affair… We should start with a boy and a girl, right? You see standard M/F couples like this absolutely everywhere in real life—and also in fiction—including in movies, television, books. The more you see and read about the boy and the girl—entwined on a hammock, holding hands on a beach, kissing on a sidewalk—the more commonplace it becomes. So normal.
Let’s, for today’s purposes, focus on reading material, though. Would it be fair to say that almost every time we crack open a book, from the age of infancy (“that’s a mommy and that’s a daddy”) to school age (Fun with Dick and Jane) to high school (much less fun with Romeo and Juliet) to YA parent-approved free reading books (Twilight’s Edward and Bella), all kids see is the “conventional” male-female couple. And thus, this pairing becomes “normal” to us. Usual. And somehow, usual morphs into acceptable.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I never came across two boys kissing in any of my middle school English literature books. I never had the option of choosing a novel about a girl discovering her feelings of attraction to other girls in my high school summer reading book options. Were there books covering those topics? I didn’t know. I never thought of that. I never thought of them. “Them” being gay and lesbian young people. Bisexuals and transgenders? Huh? Books about trans-what certainly weren’t on the Young Adult shelf of my local town library.
I never read about these kinds of relationships. Seeing a gay couple, up-close, live and in-person was rare for me, as well as for most of the kids I knew. Reading about them in any of the literature to which I had access was practically unheard of. It is not a very far leap from rare and unheard of to weird and strange. And from weird and strange, it is a mere hop, skip, and jump to abnormal.
I have illustrated that due to the fact that preteens and teens rarely have exposure to LGBT young adults and their love relationships, it has become widely considered NOT NORMAL to be LGBT and in a same-sex relationship. (Hold the applause… there’s more.)
NOT NORMAL= odd, bizarre, funny, aberrant, freakish. Hmm….
Now, just say you are an LGBT young adult. How does feeling peculiar, weird, and abnormal—simply for being who you were born to be—affect your emotional growth and development? Your ability to form relationships with friends as well as with possible romantic partners? Not positively, I’d wager. People who feel weird and abnormal tend to hide or act out because being who they are is, in its very essence, wrong.
Next, say you are not an LGBT young adult. When you see a student you suspect is gay, or a gay couple, how do you react? Well, you stop and stare, never having had much exposure to this unconventional type. You giggle because it is funny and peculiar. You become uncomfortable because what you see in this person or couple is freakish. Because this sight is not NORMAL to you.
See where I’m going with this?
For something to be normal to us, we must be exposed to it. We must allow our youth to be exposed to it. We, as adults, must offer to young adults a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, showing protagonists and heroes, lovers and friends, saints and sinners, lovers and enemies, in all of the sexual diversity that exists in the real world.
We must integrate LGBT literature into Young Adult literature.
Mainstream LGBT literature in school and libraries and everywhere.
Because LGBT IS normal.
One October morning, high school junior Bryan Dennison wakes up a different person—helpful, generous, and chivalrous—a person whose new admirable qualities he doesn’t recognize. Stranger still is the urge to tie a red sheet around his neck like a cape.
Bryan soon realizes this compulsion to wear a red cape is accompanied by more unusual behavior. He can’t hold back from retrieving kittens from tall trees, helping little old ladies cross busy streets, and defending innocence anywhere he finds it.
Shockingly, at school, he realizes he used to be a bully. He’s attracted to the former victim of his bullying, Scott Beckett, though he has no memory of Scott from before “the change.” Where he’d been lazy in academics, overly aggressive in sports, and socially insecure, he’s a new person. And although he can recall behaving egotistically, he cannot remember his motivations.
Everyone, from his mother to his teachers to his “superjock” former pals, is shocked by his dramatic transformation. However, Scott Beckett is not impressed by Bryan’s newfound virtue. And convincing Scott he’s genuinely changed and improved, hopefully gaining Scott’s trust and maybe even his love, becomes Bryan’s obsession.
With a foreword by C. Kennedy
I was back to being the very same guy I had been before the change—
insecure, lazy, selfish, uncharitable—
a guy I didn’t like….
and a guy I didn’t want to be….
but here he was again.
Looking at the world with his frightened and egotistical eyes.
And that’s when it hit me. I popped up off my bed and walked rather hurriedly over to the dresser. I gazed into the mirror that hung above it, and I saw Bryan Dennison.
I reached out my hand and placed my fingertips lightly on the image of the person looking back at me—the vulnerability in his eyes revealed how very lost he was. The person who looked back at me, my very own reflection, had absolutely no direction in his life. None whatsoever.
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five non-pedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.
Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.
Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.
My themes I always write about:
Sweetness. Unconventional love, tortured/damaged heroes- only love can save them.
Rafflecopter Giveaway: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/91bbb15/
Never underestimate the power of giving kids a chance.