My base line, for which I do not apologize is: Fuck censorship.
I would rather deal with the problems of “too much” free speech than any of the problems of suppressing freedom of speech and expression.
I’ve been going off on Facebook a bit about the proposed — and I think pending —bowdlerization of author Roald Dahl’s books for children — which I read as a kid, and read to my son when he was young. So I’m going to say a few words here.
When young readers encounter an author like Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein, they know immediately this is something different. The tone. This isn’t an all-is-sunshine atmosphere, this isn’t Disney, this is darker. They instinctively know to be wary.
And they should be.
Let’s talk about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, probably the most famous of Dahl’s books for kids because of the two Willy Wonka movies. Dahl doesn’t hold back when he’s describing the children who tour the magical factory. His narrator is a bit mean. Most kids reading this tone will feel a little bit uncomfortable — and ultimately probably a little bit defensive of at least some of the children.
It’s masterful, really. A reader starts out not liking the children, and then finds herself confronted with the notion of justice, and mercy. All the children broke rules in the factory — and they all broke rules according to their own natures. Of course Augustus Gloop is going to be tempted to break a rule (which he learned after the fact, if I remember correctly) pertaining to eating candy. Of course Mike Teavee is going to be so focused on television waves that he ignores the rules. Young readers realize the kids broke the rules and were punished — but did they really get what they deserved? And what does that mean anyway? Is it justice? What about the role of mercy?
Of course young readers want Charlie to win. In the book, he wins the factory because he’s the last child standing — the others have all met their Oompa-Loompa-enhanced fates. Young readers want to be more like Charlie than like Veruca Salt or Violet Beauregard.
And what is Charlie? He’s respectful, considerate, appreciative and lucky.
And what is the factory? Well, on the tour, it’s a pitfall-ridden series of challenges. Not unlike life.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is exactly modeled on original, un-bowdlerized fairytales. And those tales taught lessons, too. Many of the same lessons. Be appreciative. Take advantage of opportunities. Be kind. Don’t go with the crowd — do what you believe is right. Be respectful, but not cringing. Be discerning — pay attention, and be humble enough to learn.
That’s a lot for a kid’s book that is also crazy funny, snarky, complicated, silly, imaginative, and at times a bit scary.
Kids can handle it.
This bowdlerization of Roald Dahl’s books bothers me on many levels, not the least of which is my maxim: Fuck censorship. But also because of the contemptuous opinion of children the censors evince. Stop telling kids what to think. Let them figure out a few things on their own. Let them face challenges and learn to do the right thing. Let them understand that, even when someone has done something wrong, there ought to be a path back. And that some wrong behavior isn’t tolerable. Let them begin to understand that we are all shaped by our environments, but how we respond is up to us. Let them face meanies and baddies in literature, so that when they come upon them in real life, they know what they are seeing. Get out of their way a little bit. Have some faith. Roald Dahl did.
What I’m Reading. And Where I’m Reading It. November 2022
Of course I always take a book on vacation. Usually two, in fact. Even if I’m pretty sure I won’t have time to read. So, here’s what I brought on the honeymoon at Gulf Shores — a horror novel set in the Gulf Shores. Of course. And I did not have time to read it. Instead of chilling with a book on the beach, I prowled the beach, up and down, from the condo across the Gulf Shores State Park and beyond, at least once a day. I finished the book back home in Southern Illinois. At a winery. Because of course that’s where I would read.
The wine is Peachbarn Winery‘s rosé. I often drink their Old School Peach, which is a dry peach. It’s like biting into a peach right off the tree, but not an overripe one. So freaking good. But their rosé is a real treat too.
On a recent road trip (honeymoon!) my husband (omg, I’m married!) and I stopped for the night in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Presley’s hometown. There is a statue of Elvis there commemorating his 1956 homecoming concert. We stopped in to see it.
So much associated with Elvis is over-the-top, commercialized, glittery to the point where it’s hard to tell if it’s mockery, idolatry, or an extension of Colonel Tom Parker’s vision for Elvis. It’s hard, sometimes, to see authenticity.
But I did in Tupelo.
Joe Makowski was “lucky enough to have seen Elvis 81 times!” That’s true devotion. That’s love.
Laura O’Dwyer from Ireland, dedicated a brick at the statue just this year (2022), and says, “Elvis thank you for sharing your music and love.”
Every dedicated brick in the walkway has a similar message of gratitude for music shared.
Elvis grew up dirt poor. His family was into country music, and he got into gospel and rhythm & blues he heard in black communities in Tupelo.
Did white America find it easier to love Elvis than black blues and rhythm and blues musicians? I’m sure that was a factor in Elvis’ success. But I’m not convinced it was his “fault.” Elvis loved the music that was around him as he was growing up, he had an amazing voice, a genuine musical interpretation, he was charismatic, he worked hard and he got lucky.
Elvis’ music was a unique blend of the musical styles he loved, and it had a whole lot to do, not just with the birth of rock & roll in this country, but also with the “British Invasion” in the 1960s that brought The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to America. Love him or hate him, but to deny his musical influence is willfully silly.
That’s not to downplay other musicians. We wouldn’t have rock & roll without Little Richard’s flamboyant combination of gospel and blues. Nor would it sound the same without Chuck Berry’s riffs. And there is a long list of black blues musicians without whom we wouldn’t have rock & roll, or outlaw country, or heavy metal, or rap, or huge sections of pop music.
I walked around Elvis’ statue, reading the 3-line tributes on the paving bricks. And I see love. People love Elvis. His black-velvet voice, as it’s been called. For what he stirred in their hearts. And that’s real. Because here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t move you, if you hate Elvis, if you think his music sucks, if you think he’s overrated. There was an authenticity there that spangles and capes and the Colonel couldn’t cover up.
I was thinking that day, what if Elvis hadn’t been as famous? If instead of a phenomenon, he’d been simply part of a larger musical movement? Would our world look different, maybe less divided? It seems ungrateful to wish Elvis’ fame had lifted others along more than it did. And yet, I wonder if, without the Colonel’s big fame vision, it might have.
Elvis was a true cultural catalyst. He embodied the necessary combination at that time and in that place that turned a musical style into a revolution.
But he paid for it with his life. And that’s a tragedy.
As much as I love wilderness areas, there is something undeniably satisfying about hay bales in the field. And round bales are so picturesque.
(Almost as good as hay in the barn, when I have horses. Though then I prefer square bales.)
Anyway, I love the smell of fresh hay. It’s like summer and fall all at once.
I took advantage of the last few round bales in our back field to do a quick place reading. It’s Too Late appears in The Molotov Cocktail, which was a goal publication for me. Extra-cool when it works out that way. Check out the yin-yang illustration that accompanies the story online!
The germ of that story was an incident that happened years ago, before I bought my first horse and had a partial-lease on a horse in Michigan. Dusty was a registered Paint, a tri-color buckskin paint. I went out to ride one afternoon as a storm was brewing, and the tension in the air, and the horses’ reactions to it, made me feel electric. But also, observant enough not to ride.
I called on that memory as I challenged myself to write something spooky about something I love.
I have a weakness for running water. I love following creeks and brooks along in the woods. When I was a kid, I’d even follow a ditch and imagine all kinds of adventures.
This little creek probably has a name, but I’m calling it Rocky Comfort Creek because it’s near a road of that name. The Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois is patchwork in places, and Rocky Comfort Creek is one of those places. I love living so near a forest, and so near places to hike and explore.
I wrote this story from a prompt, and like many stories written that way, it wandered around until it figured out what it wanted to be. I see an influence from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It was first published in Ghost Parachute, a journal that has gotten better and better over the years. I absolutely love the illustration with this story. I hope you enjoy!
Once upon a time, I went to a car show and it changed my life.
I was a newspaper reporter at the time, working for a hometown paper that came out twice a week. It was a pretty good hometown paper. I even won an award for a story I wrote there. ‘Nother time.
We took turns, the other fulltime reporter and I, covering weekend events. I got the car show. Father’s Day weekend, as I recall.
I like Corvettes, myself. Mustangs. El Caminos – I had one of those once.
I walked up and down the rows of cars, snapping pictures (we were our own photographers at this paper), talking to people for my news story. You know.
I went past a few cars parked together, and a group of 20-somethings sitting in camp chairs. The three or four girls in the group were similar to what most girls (or maybe just me) want to look like – slender and toned, great hair, great legs. They and the guys of the group were sitting, looking around. Looking bored.
I noted them and moved on, just about ready to wrap it up and file my story. I heard music coming from across the park – 1950s music. Thought I’d check it out on my way out.
It was a bit of a party. The first thing I noticed was a woman, a bit older than me at that time, probably mid-40s, about my build, which is to say, could lose a pound or 20. She was wearing tight pants and a halter top and had her hair piled up on her head rockabilly-style. She was on the rumble seat of a car dancing to Chuck Berry. She was having a great time. Some people were watching her, some were dancing by their cars, some were drinking beers and chatting. Like I said, a bit of a party.
I was jealous. What confidence! Call her an attention-seeker if you want to, but you weren’t there. She was living in the moment. She was “let’s have fun, right now, let’s do this, fuck you if you judgy.”
Before I left, I noticed the 20-something guys hanging out near that car with that slightly-overweight “oh hon should you really wear that?” dancing redhead. Their cute little, asses-in-chairs girlfriends nowhere to be seen.
I decided right then I’d rather be the less-than-perfect-but-enjoying-life woman than the super-cute-and-super-uptight girls.
Yeah, I know, judgy. Unfair. Making a determination based on very little evidence.
I was in New Mexico over Christmas. It’s my third visit in the past couple years as we travel to visit family. This time we stayed near Albuquerque, in a rural neighborhood in Sandia Park.
Here’s me in the front yard / sometimes goat run reading my story Wicked Road, initially published as an Ekphrastic Flash in Largehearted Boy. It’s inspired by Reckless Kelly’s song “Wicked, Twisted Road.”
I promise to do better with the audio in future. It was windy. (One reason I look so glamorous in the video.) (Love that video still! Not.)
I’m reluctant to say anything too early as I don’t want to jinx myself, but I seem to be on the recovery side of Covid-19. I’ve been fortunate – mild symptoms, and also, I had early warning that I’d been exposed so I was able to isolate right from the time I was contagious.
For me, it’s been like a combination of a cold and flu. I’ve got some of the congestion of a cold, and the skin-hair ache and fatigue of the flu. The first two days, I checked my temperature obsessively because I couldn’t believe I didn’t have a fever. But in truth, the highest I went was 101 and that for less than an hour. Mostly I was at high 99/low 100 – or normal.
But the fatigue. Whew! I’ve never spent so much sit-on-the-couch-and-watch-TV time ever in my life, I think. It’s important to get up and move with this, so I’ve gone outside and walked around every day of this, and it really does feel good to breathe fresh air. Funny how little it takes to get me tuckered out though!
But… feeling better. More energy. Less fatigue.
Tim has it too, of course. We went yesterday to get monoclonal antibody infusion treatments. We were told we’d probably feel better within 24 – or 32 – hours. Gotta say, I think it’s working. I’m glad to see some early treatment options now.
What’s weirdest, though, is the loss of taste and smell – a common symptom / side-effect. I’ve been drinking my coffee black. I can register that it’s bitter, but can’t taste it. Weird. Unpleasant. Every now and then I’ll get a little bit of a taste of something, especially on the first taste. Like, this morning, I could taste my banana for a second. It makes me wonder if what I’m experiencing is the memory of taste – as if my brain registers “banana” and supplies, momentarily, the taste.
I hope that symptom will diminish soon. But if not, maybe I’ll lose some weight. Silver linings, right?
Also, the congestion … well, it isn’t really congestion. I’ve heard people talk about brain fog, and I’m not sure it’s that. It’s more like my hearing is muffled. So I’m moving through life right now with muffled senses. Writing prompt!
Really, though, I’m profoundly grateful that my symptoms (and Tim’s) have been mild. And I’m not counting myself out of the woods yet – this is too much of a sucker-punch virus, I’ve heard. But, fingers crossed, I’m on the mend.