Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On Vacation

Everyone deserves a little vacation some time. Even me. Be back in a couple weeks with more discomforts (and possibly even some comforts) of diversity. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Community and Communities

Just a short post today because I'm just back from a book event in Michigan--the Southfield Public Library, which is one of the most wonderful modern libraries I've ever seen. The children's department is magical. You can take a virtual tour.
     I want to tell you many things about my experience there, but I am too tired after all the driving and all the talking and all the thinking. The point I want to make is this: The day before I left, a book group discussed my book and wrote to me with some questions. Among them, they asked what kind of reaction my book has gotten from the black community, and ditto for the Jewish community. Then, I went to the Southfield library, and got the same questions. In one case, it was a black woman who asked me what reaction I've had from the black community. 
     I think what this question represents is the fact that the book contains potential controversy, that it is in some way bold, and I am glad about this. But the thing I realized last night is that there is no ONE REACTION from any community, that there really isn't even ONE COMMUNITY. As portrayed in my book, there were multiple points of view in both the Jewish and black communities (and of course still are). And I have in fact had many reactions from both communities. So far, no one has gotten really mad at me for anything I wrote (at least not on the Jewish or racial front). No one has told me that they were offended. Someone out there may have been offended, and I have wondered about this, but no one has told me about it. 
     One black woman last night (she hadn't read my book) asked whether I'd used black dialect in my book, and noted that doing so is controversial. I am aware of the controversy, and said I thought I took a conservative approach with black dialect, that I'd even scaled it back a bit, based on my editor's feedback. Then a black man spoke up and said he was glad that I had taken a conservative approach on the dialect front (he had read my book and told me he loved it). So there you have some of my feedback from at least two voices in the black community.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Playground culture

Grace Paley wrote many stories about playground culture--thus elevating the constantly reconfiguring community of parents and children on a playground to a subject fit for literature. In the photo above, the parents are fathers, and they are staying quite close to the action. In Grace's stories, it's mainly mothers--moving more to the sidelines, chewing over their trials and tribulations with the other mothers. 
     When my daughter was little and I took her to the playground, I often thought of Grace Paley and her stories as I surveyed the scene: the variety of parenting styles, the variety of children, the bonds that sometimes formed between parents, or that seemed to be well-established, the skirmishes that sometimes broke out between children, the running, the climbing, the swinging. I don't remember Paley speaking of this particular theme, but I often felt left out. Parents (usually mothers) who were locked in conversation seemed unapproachable, their friendships already solid, so I often sat by myself while my daughter played. I often thought it to be like a single's bar, as I scanned for someone who might be "my type," someone who might want to connect with me. My daughter often has often felt left out of groups, or imagines them as being unapproachable, and only now am I seeing that she might have absorbed some of this from me at an early age.
     But that is not really the reason I want to write a blog entry about playgrounds on a blog about diversity. The reason is that along my walking route, I sometimes pass a small playground. And now that the weather is warm and lovely, it is often full of "customers"--children of many sizes (but mostly in the under-five-years-of-age range) and parents (mostly mothers). Most of the mothers wear shorts and blue jeans, and some play with the children, while others stand on the sidelines, observing or chatting with other mothers. Of course, the scene is constantly shifting, because children move fast.
     One day when I was passing, I saw a woman walking through the park pushing a stroller with a young child in it. These two looked like they could be customers for the playground. Perhaps they were heading there, except for one thing. The woman was wearing a long flowy kind of robe/dress, which I believe (based on recent research) would be called an abaya.
It was light blue, and on her head, she wore a hijab, or headscarf. I wondered what it would be like for this woman to step into the park with her child, as she was the only one dressed in this way. Because I live in a community that honors (to the best extent it can) diversity, I do not believe that anyone would look askance at this woman or hold any grudge or anything else against her for the way she was dressed. But, at minimum, they would notice her dress, and maybe they would feel awkward about her presence. And maybe she too would feel awkward about even stepping into the scene, standing out as she would. Would anyone speak to her? Would they treat her the way they would treat any other parent who stepped into the playground scene? Would I? 
     As I said at the start of this post, I often felt like an outsider at the playground, even though I wore the same uniform as all the other mothers, so perhaps I am simply bringing my own awkward, outsider feelings into the subject. The woman who wore the abaya and hijab did not enter the playground, at least not while I was around, but instead walked with her child on the various cement paths of the larger park that includes the small playground.
      The next part of the story is this: A few days later, when I walked past the playground, I saw a woman there, playing with her child, pushing him on the swing or some such, and this woman wore what I believe is called a shalwar (or salwar) kameez.
When I saw this woman, I did not for a minute think that she might feel awkward playing in the park with the other women. Now why is that? Perhaps just because she already was in the park playing? Perhaps because I am more used to the shalwar kameez (and a woman I took to be Indian) than the abaya and hijab (and a woman I took to be Muslim)? Tell me, dear reader. Grace Paley's women had plenty of things to preoccupy their minds as they sat in the playground (money and men problems and war among them), but they did not have this one.