Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Beyond FACTS: From Here to There, LOTTERY, the AAP, AutismSpeaks.org

Many thanks again to Kristen of From Here to There and Back for picking my name out of a hat last month and sending me a free copy of Patricia Wood’s Lottery. Thanks to Kristen’s impeccable timing, I got to read Lottery while in Patricia Wood’s chosen home state of Hawaii for a long overdue get-away with the hubby. As fate or other powers would have it, I also managed to learn a thing or two about diversity while I lounged (or sat up straight, taking notes) and read Patricia Wood’s terrific first novel.

Perry, the main character in Lottery, is sympathetic and endearing. He reveals his deep understandings of the people and the world around him as he struggles to reconcile the demands of those related to him with the protective tendencies of those who truly know and love him. Perry has always been slow and has endured years of discrimination manifested not only in the cruelty of other children and the ignorance of school officials, but in intentional abandonment and neglect on the part of immediate family members. Raised by his beloved grandparents, Perry cherishes his memories of them and consistently listens to the echoes of his determined, outspoken Gram. One of my favorite passages opens Chapter 14, when Perry has just begun to understand that he’s suddenly become rich after winning a $12 million jackpot in the Washington State lottery. I find it intriguing that before he shifts gears to celebrate his winnings, Perry compares his ongoing struggle to keep his grandmother close at hand—despite and due to the significant challenges he faces on a daily basis—to finding the sun:

“Finding the sun in Washington state is hard, because you have to be in just the right place. The sun hides a lot of the time. I hear people from California complain…about never seeing it. But I know the sun is there. You just have to know where to look. I can sit in my room above the Everett Marina and see it in the water like a mirror. When I see extra brightness through the gray clouds, I can tell exactly where it is. It reminds me of how I have to look for Gram now. I look in those places for her.”

Gram plays a critical role in Perry’s story from beginning to end; she’s one of those “secondary” characters that loom so large you look forward to each of her memorable appearances. Lottery is populated by a full cast of unique characters as well as a few cameo appearances by the general public, represented by people who don’t know Perry, how to treat him, what to expect from him. Most of these people manage to insult Perry or embarrass themselves with very little effort. I’ll always remember the scene with a customer at the boating store where Perry works. The man grumbles to the owner in front of Perry that he’s in a hurry and that his “idiot son” did something to mess up their vacation plans. “You’d think he was retarded!” he states, adding “Oh, sorry” as he glances at Perry.

“Retarded. Idiot. These are words I know. They mean foolish or stupid. I am not retarded. I am slow. Gram says we are all idiots really, and that idiot comes from the Greek word idios. ‘It means private citizen, Perry, a loner, someone just concerned with himself!’ Gram says. ‘That pretty much sums up everybody I know.’”

I knew I’d enjoy this book and gain unique insights from it when I read Patricia Wood’s author bio on the back flap of Lottery. A Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii, she’s chosen to focus her studies on “education, disability, and diversity.” The mother of a grown son and the resident (with her husband and their two cats) of her boat Orion, Patricia offers fun and insightful insights into the boating life, the writing life, and life in general on her blog.

As does Kristen, in a sense. The boating life might not be part of her landscape, but she, too, shares Patricia’s interest in “education, disability, and diversity.” I thought of her yesterday when I read this AP article: “Pediatricians urge autism screening.” According to the article, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released two new reports in support of early screening as soon as a child begins to exhibit possible signs of autism. I’ll let the article outline what to look for; suffice to say that more parents are aware of autism than ever before and want to know what to do when they suspect their child might be challenged socially or academically. A new promising resource noted in the article is autismspeaks.org, a joint project of two nonprofit advocacy groups, Autism Speaks and First Signs, both of which “promote early diagnosis and treatment to help children with autism lead more normal lives.” PLEASE NOTE: Since writing this post I've read a bit about Autism Speaks and am now unsure of this organization's intentions and how it operates. The entire AP article I quote here and the AAP's reports have been read with some skepticism by many parents of children with autism.

I equate the desire to “lead a normal life” to “the pursuit of happiness.” Isn’t that what the world ought to want for all children, for everyone? Thanks to millions of caring, dedicated people and organizations like those noted in this post, hope remains that—overall—we’re headed in the right direction on that front.

Beyond FACTS: Scout Trivia

I’m back! But more on that in a little bit. Matt over at Empathy tagged me a while ago for the meme in which a blogger’s asked to list eight facts about him/herself. I think most bloggers I know have already done this one so I’ll pass on tagging anyone else, but here’s my eight:

1) I’m the seventh of eleven kids (always a fun ice breaker).
2) I’ve got six brothers and four sisters (usually the question that follows...one brother’s missing from the photo).
3) My husband and I met while resident advisors at Syracuse University.
4) We’ve lived in Hartford (CT), Nashville, Dallas, and Denver.
5) My three children were born in three different states (and my youngest loves that she’s a native Texan).
6) My daughters look nothing like me. The most common question I get about my youngest is “Where did she get that (dark/curly/beautiful) HAIR?!” Obviously not from me!
7) My son looks like me but excels at break dancing and hip hop. Again, he did NOT get that from me.
8) So far I’ve written two novels, more than 80 poems, eight or nine short stories, and various essays, articles, and other fun pieces as a free-lance writer. I worked full-time in corporate communications in a past life that ended about 15 years ago upon the arrival of a certain break-dancing child. (He wasn’t exactly break-dancing back then, but he may as well have been!) Finally (I think I’m up to a full dozen by now), I love to copy-edit. Call me crazy and I won’t argue.

I also noticed that Matt tagged one of my favorite bloggers, Britt Bravo over at Have Fun * Do Good for the meme regarding favorite books. Go here for a unique list of titles to consider for your TBR list. Thanks, Matt!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Time to finally see what all this Hawaii business is all about. Gorgeous photo by Rose Valle, mauiactivitiesandtours.com. Aloha!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Beyond FINA: La Bloga: A Celebration of Chicano Literature and Culture

Daniel Olivas, who recently interviewed Lisa See for The Elegant Variation blog, kindly stopped by BEYOND Understanding, allowing me to follow his link to his main gig, La Bloga. I bookmarked La Bloga last year when I realized 1) some of its bloggers are based in Denver and 2) it’s an award-winning blog for good reason: Since late 2004, La Bloga has featured many, many books, authors, Colorado and California events, and resources in order to highlight contemporary developments of the Chicano cultural boom in the U.S.

And yes, I had to look up exactly what Chicano means. Like many kids who grew up way up north in suburbia, I had very little exposure to families of Latino descent. So here’s a run-down for readers like me, courtesy of the nifty site WiseGeek.com:

The most straightforward of the three cultural identifiers may be the word Chicano. “Chicano” refers specifically to Mexican-Americans, or anyone else of Mexican heritage. When Mexican workers and their families first moved into America, they were often referred to as “Mexicanos,” which became shortened over time to “Xicanos” or “Chicanos.” At first, “Chicano” was considered to be derogatory. Eventually, however, many in the Mexican-American community embraced the term, at least informally. There are still older Mexican-Americans who view “Chicano” as something less than respectful. It should only be used to describe those of Mexican descent.

The word “Hispanic” is a bit more universal than “Chicano.” Historically, areas conquered by the Spaniards were considered part of a region originally called Hispania. Modern countries which can trace their history to Spain are now considered to be Hispanic, and include Mexico, Central America, and most of South America where Spanish is the primary language. The only exception to this Hispanic designation is Brazil, which was settled by Portugal, not Spain. Any citizen of those countries originally colonized by Spain can be considered Hispanic. People from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and other areas south of the American border would all be considered Hispanic.

“Latino” is very close in meaning to Hispanic, but it also includes other countries such as Brazil. Although the Spaniards are often credited with colonizing Central and South America, the Romans (also known as the Latins) also had a significant influence over the region for hundreds of years. The regional description “Latin America” is derived from this period of history. To be described as a Latino is not considered derogatory, although it can be construed as a generic for all Hispanic cultures, much like referring to a Korean or Japanese-American as “Asian.” While “Latino” may be politically and socially correct, it may more culturally sensitive to learn a person’s specific heritage and refer to him or her as “Nicaraguan” or “Guatemalan” rather than the broader “Latino.”

Love it. Thanks to WiseGeek.com for the concise explanation, and thanks to Daniel Olivas and the folks at La Bloga for spreading the word about the wealth of Chicano culture and literature that exists just around the corner, if and when we’re willing to take a few steps outside our comfort zones. Simply check out the links to writers to the left of La Bloga’s main page to see what I’m talking about. Then read Daniel’s recent review of author Aaron Abeyta’s Rise, Do Not Be Afraid, and you’ll get a taste of what I mean. Then, as Daniel says: “¡Lea un libro!” You’ll be glad you did, especially if it’s a book Daniel recommends.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Beyond FINESSE: Kristen at From Here to There and Back

I had to post about this because it provides such amazing insight into a world so many people know nothing about: The pressures, anxieties, and immense frustration often inherent in raising a child with autism. Kristen over at From Here to There and Back recently posted on the difficulties of communicating with the team of professionals assigned to help her son in a mainstreamed program at his school. Beyond that, she also reveals her own shock at learning that some of those team members have little, if any, experience working directly with an autistic child as well as extremely limited training. These facts were not discussed before her son was enrolled in this program and was disclosed only after Kristen prodded regarding some recent issues at school. The dismay she must have felt is enough to knock anyone off her feet for a good while. But parents with children with special needs don’t have the option to kick back and recuperate from a shock or disappointment. They have no choice but to be on call at all times, 24/7 and then some.

I had to post about this not only because Kristen’s recent posts shocked and dismayed me, but because her circle of blogging friends—many parents of children with special needs themselves—responded to Kristen’s anxieties and huge maddening frustrations with such a wide range of their own anger, empathy, sympathy, practical advice, suggestions, and plain and simple love for Kristen and her son and family. I learned a tremendous amount about life with a child with special needs just by reading these posts and their comments. As an author with a draft of a novel that explores the impact of family members with special needs, I’m indebted to parents like Kristen and her friends, parents who are more than willing to share what they go through on a day-to-day basis so others might at least have some clue. Maybe some day our school systems and governments from local levels on up will not only get a clue, but will figure out how to really help.

From Here to There and Back is a treasure trove for those who live or work with children with special needs. For those who strive to better understand the challenges these children and their families face on a regular basis, this blog is for you, too. THANKS, Kristen!

Photo © Kristen @ From Here to There and Back

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Beyond FASCINATION: Lisa See Interview on The Elegant Variation

Mark Sarvas of the hip literary blog The Elegant Variation recently posted an interview by contributor Daniel Olivas with Lisa See, author of three mysteries; an opera libretto; a memoir that explores the history of her Chinese-American family; a novel that’s been translated into a zillion languages and is about to be made into a movie; and her latest work, the novel Peony in Love. Admit it, you love that title. Consider the fact that Lisa See is the daughter of Carolyn See, and you can easily understand why I found the TEV interview fascinating (yes, I love to learn what makes a writer tick, especially a writer with an unusual background). Add to all that the fact that Lisa See is Chinese-American and you’ve got a fascinating subject.

Plus there’s the book, which has just been added to my monstrous TBR list. As Daniel Olivas notes: “Peony in Love is based on the true 17th-century Chinese story of three ‘lovesick maidens’ who were married to the same man—one right after the other. They wrote the first book of its kind to have been written and published by women anywhere in the world. When asked to describe the novel, See observes that ‘ultimately, Peony in Love is about the bonds of female friendship, the power of words, the desire that all women have to be heard, and finally those emotions that are so strong that they transcend time, place, and perhaps even death.’ She adds: ‘I’ve written it as a ghost story.’”

Admit now that you’re intrigued as hell and I’ll completely understand. Cultural identity is such a huge topic for Lisa See as a person and a writer:

“I never thought too much about my identity. Who does, after all? But after I wrote On Gold Mountain, people started to ask me—and still do—‘What are you, Chinese or American?’ I know that because of how I look, I will always be seen as a bit of an outsider in [L.A.’s] Chinatown, but to me it’s home. It’s what I know. The same can be said for when I got to China. To me, it’s just a bigger Chinatown—very familiar and comfortable, but again, because of how I look I’ll always be considered an outsider. Then when I’m out in the larger white community in the United States, I look like I belong but sometimes I don’t feel like I do. That world can seem strange and foreign to me. So in writing these books I’m also trying to figure out who I am. Where do I fit in? Here, there, anywhere, nowhere? This quest doesn’t make it into the plots of the books. It’s just a journey I’m on as a person. But I’m not unique in this. Aren’t we all trying to figure out where we belong to some degree or another?”

Enough said. To read the entire TEV interview, go here. Thanks, Mark!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Beyond FICTION: LOTTERY by Patricia Wood

Yet another book I’ll be reading soon…because I just won a copy!! Woohoo! Mille gracias to Kristen over at From Here to There and Back (more on this wonderful blog later). Kristen offered a free hardcover (read: First Edition!) copy of Patricia Wood’s Lottery up for grabs, threw some names into a hat, and pulled mine out. How nifty is that?

While Lottery tells the story of a sudden lottery winner based in the state of Washington, it goes beyond the immediate impact of this development on the main character to explore interactions between people with special needs and those around them. I’ll delve more into the plot after reading the book; suffice to say Lottery has been named a Booksense October pick and is causing a lot of buzz. Those who’ve “known” Patricia for a while due to her on-line activities understand the effort that’s gone into the creation of this book. Those, like yours truly, who’ve only recently discovered Patricia Wood’s nifty blog, are just beginning to enjoy brief escapes into her world, a world that involves not only a writer on a boat, but a writer on a boat with two cats, a husband, and a home-base of Hawaii. Sounds like a nice place to live a writing life; I’ll enjoy a taste of it myself as I head to Maui for the first time next week!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Beyond FACTS: NO PLACE SAFE by Kim Reid

Carleen Brice over at Pajama Gardener has posted an interview with Kim Reid, a fellow Denver writer and author of the newly released No Place Safe. I first heard of this book from Carleen at the Literary Ladies Luncheon a few weeks ago, and I would’ve listed it on the bookish meme below if I’d been asked “What’s the NEXT book you plan to buy?” Consider this review from Publishers Weekly:

“Reid’s well-composed, straightforward memoir recounts the two fraught years of her adolescence when a serial killer terrorized Atlanta. Reid’s mother, an investigator in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in 1979, told her every detail of the quest for the murderer of 29 victims, mostly young black boys. Meanwhile, Reid attended a Catholic school in an all-white part of town, torn between loyalty to her black neighborhood friends and the desire to fit in with the white kids and feel safe at her private school, located far from the danger zone of her neighborhood. Her mother was strict and cracked down on her liberty while piling on adult responsibilities such as taking care of her younger sister, Bridgette. But that made her no less a hero in Reid’s eyes as she hunted for the killer and supported Reid's efforts to diversify her school curriculum. Reid maintains a lively sense of dialogue and characterization, and her memoir is an affecting tale of a girl’s transformation in a climate of fear and pervasive, bleak Southern racism.” Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

We’re talking about significant, strong characters (I love the quote Carleen pulls out regarding Kim’s mother and the quote from Kim on how she searched for solace at the site of one killing), a terrifying time in recent history, and nation-wide apathy despite a series of 29 (!) murders because the victims were black. Add to that Kim Reid’s story of personal growth as she tried to accommodate her two realities as a resident of a seriously traumatized neighborhood and a student at a private school in a distant, much safer part of town—where she faced blatant racism—and you’ve got an honest, informed memoir of impact and grace that’s well worth reading.

Local folks can meet Kim Reid at Borders on Boulder’s 29th Street Mall at 1 p.m. Saturday, October 6 and at Borders in Broomfield’s Flatiron Crossing Mall at 2 p.m. Saturday, October 13. Hopefully there will be many more Kim Reid appearances and signings scheduled soon!