Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Why I REALLY Love Writing and Reading Books

As an author, I'm asked a lot in interviews or when I meet someone, "Why did you start writing?" I've given a few different answers to this question over the years. The most common answer really is how I began my writing career, which is this: I used to work full-time in the fashion industry as a buyer. I moved from California to Utah as my husband, and I decided this gave us the opportunity for me to be home with our children, instead of gone, traveling or working long hours in an office while private schools and daycare became our kids lives. However, going from working to not working as a stay-at-home mom just isn't me, and so I took a writing course, loved it and so my writing career began. 

Yes, this is the how I started writing, but what really made me fall in love with writing and for that matter reading books, too, I have to get a little bit more personal for the first time ever.

As a kid, I was never a big reader. Sure I read the books assigned to me in classes over the years by my teachers, but I never had a bookcase in my bedroom loaded with books. I didn't travel to the library every week with my family to check books out either. My parents did read. My dad mostly read his flight manuals as he was an airline pilot and my mom loved romance novels by Daniel Steel and Dana Fuller Ross. At least this is my strongest memory of my parents and the books they read. I do remember my mom, not my dad so much (sorry dad) reading me a few kid's books like "The Monster at the End of the Page" (one of my all time favs), many of the Golden Books and A Little Critter Books, and of course, Dr. Seuss books. 

However, it wasn't until high school and college where I really found my love of books and a certain type of book. Realize I said type of book, not genre. See, I love a few different genres, as most readers do, but there is a running theme in the books that stick out in my mind as my favorites, and this is something I never really gave much thought to until last night when I found myself having a hard time sleeping after something that happened during the earlier part of the day.

See in my first year of high school, my English teacher assigned us to read a book called, "Lord of the Flies." The book blurb is this: Lord of the Flies is a dystopian novel by Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding about a group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results.

After reading "Lord of the Flies" I was more than happy to see what my teacher would assign next in class for us to read. She had us read, "Great Expectations." The book blurb is this: Great Expectations is Charles Dickens's thirteenth novel. It is his second novel, after David Copperfield, to be fully narrated in the first person. Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age novel, and it is a classic work of Victorian literature. It depicts the growth and personal development of an orphan named Pip. The novel contains some of Dickens most memorable scenes, including its opening, in a graveyard, when the young orphan Pip is accosted by the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch. Great Expectations is a graphic book, full of extreme imagery, poverty, prison ships ("the hulks"), barriers and chains, and fights to the death.

I loved these two books, and I still remember how I felt reading them. I'm sure my teacher assigned others, but these are the two I remember most clearly from that first year of high school and still love to this day. The following year of high school, my English class was assigned to read a few books, but the two that stand out in my mind still today are, "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men," both written by John Steinbeck and amazing books. 

The Grapes of Wrath is set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other "Okies", they seek jobs, land, dignity, and a future. (blurb from Wikipedia)

Of Mice and Men is a controversial tale of friendship and tragedy during the Great Depression. They are an unlikely pair: George is "small and quick and dark of face"; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a "family," clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.

Laborers in California's dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie's unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.

There were many other books throughout high school and college, and later in my 20's I feel in love with the Harry Potter series and a few others since. I can go on and on about the books that have stayed with me for years and are considered my most treasured reads, but if you noticed the type of books I love have themes about diversity, the human spirit and humanity as a whole, along with other things too, of course. Why do I love books that touch on diversity, the human spirit and humanity? I can personally relate to them and each of the books I consider a favorite, rings with truth about some very sensitive subjects we all face every day: Prejudice, Racism and Closed-mindedness.

I say we all face these every day because everyone does at some time and on some level. Yesterday was first-time my 12-year-old was faced with prejudice. Before I share what happened, I first want to share the definition of prejudice is:
preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
 
As I mentioned before, I moved to Utah from California to have a family and be a stay-at-home mom. But like most families, we like to go on vacation, and of course, visit family back in our home state of California, where we just happen to be vacationing when this happened:
On a trip to the store to buy a few things so my girls could enjoy an afternoon of baking chocolate chip cookies with their Grandma Twinkie, my 12-year-old daughter was faced, along with me, with a group of young adults who have a very negative opinion of Latter-Day Saints or what many know as Mormons. Yep, they saw our Utah license plate (as they were parked next to us) and couldn't keep from making a few very rude comments about Mormons. My daughter first asked how did they know. I first had to explain how many people from other states, including California, assume everyone who lives in Utah is Mormon. Not true by the way and here is a fact: there are less Latter-day Saints in Utah than the State of Nevada the last time I checked. 

She then asked me why would someone hate us because of our religion. Now that was something I thought I would never have to explain to my own kids. Nieve? Yes! Why? Because I hadn't run into this in a very, very, very long time. Actually, I hadn't had anyone give me a hard time for my religion since I was in high school back in the earlier 90's. The thing is, my daughter, not understanding didn't have anything to do with her being born and growing up in Utah. It really didn't have anything to do with me not preparing her for something like this happening one day to her. She didn't understand because most, and I do mean about 50% of her family, isn't Mormon. We have Mormons, Catholics, Church of Christ, and I'm sure many other religions, in our family tree from grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and so on. She also has friends of many faiths back home in Utah, and it has never been an issue before. But, here I am, seeing this look on my daughter's face of complete sadness and hurt. It broke my heart.

Now, I didn't say anything to the young adults, and it would have been pointless anyway. I'm not 100% positive, but most likely from my own experiences they would have been closed-minded to what I would have said anyway or it would have just given them cause to continue to believe in what they did about Utah and Mormons. (Definition of closed-minded: having or showing rigid opinions or a narrow outlook.) Hopefully, one day they will be more open-minded and less prejudiced towards others.

Now, some reading this may think I am being a certain why, but remember, prejudice means having a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. I've experienced this kind of thing more than once in my life. I've even experienced racism throughout my life so I'm not writing this light-heartedly, and I really hate being so open and personal, but I felt the need and drive to be in this post. 

Okay, so I'm sure some are now wondering how could a blonde, white girl, from a middle-class family (most likely) know about racism. Guess what? That was racist. Just because I'm blonde and white doesn't mean I don't understand racism or that someone or a group of people can put me into a stereotype. The definition of racism doesn't say if you are only in a minority class/race this can only happen to you. The actual definition of racism is:
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. (Keyword: ALL, this means all groups, races, etc. can be racist towards another race, group, etc. no matter if they are the majority or minority.)

I've been stereotyped because of my hair color and skin color for years. What many don't know is this. I didn't always live in the nicest of neighborhoods. At one time in my life, I even lived in low-income housing for some years in Los Angeles County because my mom was single (my parents were divorced) and she was the only one supporting us (myself and her) on a bank teller's wages. One year, she couldn’t afford to buy a Christmas tree or presents. (Sorry dad to paint you in any way. Please know I love you no matter what the past is.) I know what it is like to have people judge me because my skin was different and I didn't fit into the neighborhood I was living in as I was one of the few white girls in my school and apartment complex. I also have seen my friends of color and sexual orientation be treated with cruelty and lack of respect as well by others. I've cried because no one wanted to be my friend because I wasn't like them. I've had kids wanting to beat me up because I was white and not of their race. I've had people hate me because I didn't date white boys, was Mormon or I didn't want to hang with the popular white girls, and so on. But this is what I faced growing up. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me

Fun fact: my family was surprised I even married Justin, a blonde, white guy. Seriously! My son's biological father is mostly Phillipino and Italian, with some other races mixed in. My family (I’m totally guessing so I could be wrong) most likely thought I would marry someone from a different country because I tended to lean that way all my life growing in friends and boyfriends.

The fact is, you don't know me, and I don't know you. By judging you or you judging me by what you see or think you see is just wrong. The experiences I had as a kid, young adult, as a single mother (before my awesome husband) and the one I just had with my daughter yesterday make me who I am. Experiences make us all who we are, to be honest. 

These experiences are also why I love to read the books I do and why I fell in love with writing after I took my writing class back when my daughter was just a small baby in my womb. Reading and writing keeps me from being closed-minded. It keeps me honest, and it keeps me from judging others. Reading and writing helps me to fall in love with the world I live in, it helps me understand others who are different from me and it allows me to see things from a different perspective than my own. It also allows me to challenge my thoughts, views and experiences and gives me a broader range of life. 

This is why literacy is important and why I love doing what I do now. My life is enriched because of the books I read and through the stories and articles I write, which I couldn't do if I didn't surround myself with the world in which we all live in.

So the next time you find yourself thinking or saying something about another, stop and think for just a moment about being in that person's shoes. You may learn something new and different, instead of just being prejudiced, closed-minded and racist.

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