And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
This is going to be a different week. I’ve struggled coming up with a Moment because there is another experience that is dominating my think-space, and every time I tried to pick out a Moment of Happiness and write about it, it was like my brain skewered in my skull and turned me back to this THING. This THING that has me very unhappy and very angry.
And so I turned my focus instead to how can I look at this THING and get something positive out of it. Instead of marinating myself in the hurt and the anger, how can I turn it around and get something good.
And I did it. So maybe that’s part of the Moment too. Not just finding a positive moment to smile about, but looking deep into a not-so-good moment and turning it around. So we’re going to talk about that.
I have a t-shirt, a gift from my husband, that shows the spines of books that have been singled out and banned. There’s a scroll of words that say, “I’m with the banned.” I love this shirt. And now, I want to add some book spines. My own.
I’ve been banned before, sure. Banned and censored. I tend to write about things that are controversial, but that I feel are so important and need to be explored so that they can be understood and solved. But this week, I discovered a new banning – and it’s so personal as to be hurtful.
In 1978, I graduated from Waukesha North High School. I went to three different high schools due to my family moving a lot, and this one was my favorite. I was only there for second semester junior year and my senior year, but those three semesters changed my life.
While I was there, I took the following classes: Creative Writing, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & The Macabre, Growing Up In Literature and Reality. Some of the books that were included on the syllabi were Fahrenheit 451, The Catcher In The Rye, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, and a short story, Wanda Hickey’s Night Of Golden Memories. I ate these works of literature up like the fine meals they are. And of course, now they’re banned.
In Creative Writing, I met the teacher who is still my friend and cheerleader today. I learned what I could do, I learned what my “power” is, what my passion is. I was encouraged to raise my voice, to write what was important to me, to make a difference. I was told I had a responsibility to use my talent.
My gratitude to Waukesha North knows no bounds. They created a pivotal point in my life, a huge impact, and those three semesters have a lot to do with who I am today.
Over the years, I’ve returned often. I’ve been guest speaker in English classes and in the few writing classes they offer. Through the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, I created a program called Authors In The Schools, where I sent publishing authors into the middle and high schools of the Waukesha school district, and in other schools in southeast Wisconsin. During Authors In The Schools, I always brought myself to Waukesha North, and I was always welcomed.
In 2021, I was inducted into Waukesha North’s Wall of Stars. According to Waukesha North, to be included in the Wall of Stars, you must be an alumni and “must have demonstrated citizenship during and after high school, and must have made a significant contribution to the community and society.” I am very proud to be on that wall.
And my books? They were in the Waukesha North library, and in the library of another high school in Waukesha. They were donated to the school by my creative writing teacher, now retired, and I donated some as well.
Note the language there, please. “They were in the Waukesha North library…”
Early in the school year, it was in the local news that the school district made a “sweep” of the school libraries, removing those books that were on the most recent banned list, and old lists too, and other books that were considered inflammatory and inappropriate. I was incensed and horrified. But honestly, I never thought my books would be included. I was a local author. I was asked to make appearances at my school. I was on the Wall of Stars.
But when Waukesha made the news again in recent weeks, this time for our superintendent deciding that elementary school kids couldn’t sing “Rainbowland”, a song by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus about being nice and accepting of all people, my mind turned to that banning again. The superintendent, by the way, said it was because the rainbow is a symbol of LGBTQ+. I can’t help but wonder if he, or his children, ever watched Reading Rainbow. Or played with the Rainbow Brite doll. Or sang along with Kermit to “The Rainbow Connection”. Or gathered around the television to watch what used to be an annual showing of The Wizard of Oz with the classic scene where Judy Garland sings “Over The Rainbow”. My gosh, my generation was just inundated with rainbows, weren’t we?
So when I began to think about the banning, I realized that during this school year, I hadn’t received a single email from a student who checked out one of my books from the school library for a project, or just to read for fun. I usually receive several emails a year, but this year…nothing.
I dug through the internet, but couldn’t find anyplace where I would be allowed to search the library database, to see what was there. So this week, I picked up the phone and I called. I spoke to a librarian who knew exactly who I was. She cheerfully greeted me. But when I asked her if she could check to see if my books were still in the library, her voice grew very quiet.
She checked, and all of my books are gone. Not a one left behind. Not at Waukesha North. Not at the other high school. Nowhere.
She said, “I’m so sorry. There was a sweep of the books earlier this year and –”
I said, “That’s what I was afraid of.”
We were silent for a moment, and then she repeated, “I’m so sorry.”
So am I. I’m up on the Wall Of Stars…but the students are no longer allowed to read my books.
And now here’s the really tough thing. When I was in high school, I was a part of the literary magazine, Polaris. Again, it was one of the things I so loved about this school. A newspaper and a literary magazine! (Neither of which are in existence today. Neither are those classes. And now, the books aren’t available either.) In my senior year, I wrote a short story set in Heaven. God was actually a huge computer, and Jesus was the “computer mechanic” – we didn’t have a word yet for a technician. Gabriel was a drug-using jazz trumpet player. The end of days came when the computer – God – went haywire and Jesus couldn’t fix him. The people of earth, seeing the signs in the sky, looked up in fear. But then it all stopped and life went on.
The story was accepted for the literary magazine. But word got out about its topic, and some parents protested, saying the story should be pulled because it was “sacrilegious”. But my creative writing teacher – and the school administration – stood behind me, and that story appeared.
And now, my books have disappeared.
The school that backed me now bans me.
And the ultimate irony – my new book, Hope Always Rises, is set in Heaven. Though God isn’t a computer, trust me.
So where is the Moment? The moment of happiness. Well, it’s simply this.
I am so glad I was born when I was. I am so glad I went to high school when I did. When the focus was on uplifting students, encouraging them, teaching them to think for themselves. I am so glad that Waukesha North was in my life when it was, giving me what I needed that I wasn’t getting anywhere else. I am so glad for my creative writing teacher, who told me I had a responsibility, because if I didn’t know that, hold it tight to my heart, I might just take this moment and quit. I might just not have the strength to keep on going, when a place that has always been so dear to me turns out to be part of a rainbow-bashing, dream-smashing organization.
I will always be grateful for my Waukesha North. My books deserve to be in that library. The kids that attend deserve to read them.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.
And just a note…I hope you will show support by attending the launch of Hope Always Rises. It will be both a live and a Zoom live-streaming event. It is hosted by the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books and Books & Company. It will be on April 27, starting at 6:00 p.m. central time, at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Waukesha campus, 1500 N. University Drive, in Waukesha. If you prefer to attend on Zoom, here is the link:
Topic: Hope launch
Time: Apr 27, 2023 06:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 850 6514 7767
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Please, please support those writers who are being targeted by small minds.