A response to my friend’s extraordinary Facebook post about systemic racism in America

It’s hard to answer a post like this. You already expressed so much of what I feel. I’m not a mother (unless you count my fur-son, which in this case, we’re not 🙂 ), but I have two nephews I dote on and another little boy in my life (age 6) who’s like another godson to me. I would die for any of them.

But—all of them are cute white boys, growing up in “good families,” with all the privileges you can imagine. It’s very unlikely they will ever face anything like George Floyd or Eric Gardner or Trayvon Martin did. Laura, although what happened to your sons and their friend was horrific, I also think it was an aberration. I could be wrong; I know things have changed a lot since we were Gus and Wyatt’s age. But in general, my belief is that young black men are stopped for “nothings” like your kids were doing much more frequently.

I pray nothing like that ever happens to them again or to my little guys. The other thing I think you understand is that this does go back 500 years in America, and even farther than that in the world, and anyone who doesn’t believe that is deluding themselves.

Think about almost every story you’ve ever experienced by reading, watching TV or in the movies—even in TV commercials: “Black” or “dark” is bad, evil, a stain, undesirable—with a few exceptions, as in the case of ads for chocolate or coffee. The devil is always dark or black. The bad guys in Westerns wear black hats. A bad person is black-hearted.

I recently re-read the The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the umpteenth time, and—although it wasn’t the first time I noticed it—this was the first time it really bothered me how much **dark/black = evil** is woven into the fabric of the story. The ultimate bad guy is the Dark Lord, who lives in the shadowlands, the black tower of Barad-Dur, the black land of Mordor, and his main servants are the Black Riders, the Nazgul, who dress in black from head to toe and ride black steeds. The hobbits and other common folk in the story call them “those Black Men,” meaning dark with evil and literally black in the color of their garments (there are only a hint of actual black-skinned folk from countries far south and east of where the good guys live in Middle-Earth).

Now, I don’t think Tolkien was a virulent racist or that TLOTR is some kind of racist polemic. He was a man of his Victorian times, which means he was probably “a little racist” (kind of like a little pregnant?), and he was using language that everyone used then and still do. But my point in all this was how much more all this bothered me in the books than it ever has before.

I hope that’s a good thing, in a way, in that it means I’ve grown a little bit, but I also think it’s a sign of the terrible times we are living in. I am isolated, lonely, depressed, sad, angry, hurting, and completely disillusioned with any and all authority. I want to join a protest but can’t unless I can wrangle someone to push me in a wheelchair, but I’m also scared to be around hundreds or thousands of people yelling and spraying out their COVID germs. I’m terrified at the thought of being caught in a wheelchair if people start spraying smoke or tear gas and people start running, or anything like that. My bones are brittle and have already been broken enough times that, let’s just say, I’d rather not go through that again.

On top of all that, I know in my heart that none of this pain, anger, or existential angst holds even the barest candle to what people of color in America feel. I have a dear friend who has a wonderfully mixed and exotic heritage who has taught me so much over the 20+ years I’ve known her about the experience of being “not white” in America. I am so grateful for how much she has opened my eyes, but I need to continue learning and understanding more what I can do personally to effect change.

People: IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE. It is long past time. We can’t go back and erase the sins of the past, but we cannot allow this cruelty and pain to continue for one more day. Let the protests and the anger become a catalyst for each of us, no matter what race, to do something, even one thing.

My pledge is to:
1) Write letters to our local mayor and police chief;
2) Write letters to the governor and “my”* local state rep/senator;
3) Write letters to “my” U.S. rep and senators;
4) Always be mindful of my own thoughts, words and actions; and,
5) Read three books recommended in a good article in the New York Times, I think, which I either bought or borrowed free on Amazon Kindle. I think seven or eight books were recommended, but these three seemed a good place to start. Yes, I’ll find the article and post it here, if I can! 🙂 

*Note that “my” is in quotes because I really don’t believe right now that any of those folks have MY interests in mind, or even, let’s say, the interests of the area they represent. I understand that a senator represents a whole state, and can’t pay too much attention to any one person, but I don’t think they even do that any longer.

Thank you for reading, if you are still here, and love to all. Please post your comments and any of your ideas for making change in the world.

Yes, I AM silently correcting your grammar

My friends and family often apologize for typos they make in emails or even texts to me. I always laugh it off or text back that it’s no biggie, or that I didn’t even notice the mistake.

They know me only too well, however. Family members have witnessed my nitpicking almost since I learned to write. My oldest friends, who knew me in middle school and high school, remember I was a straight-A student who loved to read and write. In college, my skills and my hopes for the future focused first on journalism and then, more specifically, on public relations. I knew I would be a writer.

I do love to write. I have four unfinished novels on my computer. I’ve had two young-adult graphic novels published, and I also write poetry and short stories. But my dirty little secret is that I really love to proofread and copyedit.

Yes, today I am making a confession. My name is Robin, and I am a copyeditor. (“Hi, Robin!”)

What brought me to this precipice? We are currently doing some rearranging at work. Some people’s cubicles are being moved, which means they are packing some of their stuff and doing a little cleaning up and clearing out. Even though I don’t have to move this time, I caught the cleaning bug and organized some of my own stuff.

While doing this I unearthed a magnet I’d forgotten I had. It says, “I am silently correcting your grammar,” which made me laugh–because yes, I am. Right now. (Just go with it.) It also made me laugh a little because it reminded me I also have a T-shirt that says the same thing. I only wear it to sleep in because it got some kind of indelible stain on it, so, of course, I had to buy a second one. A couple of years later I had lost quite a bit of weight, so obviously it was completely necessary for me to buy a third one.

That’s right. I have three T-shirts (and a magnet) threatening you with grammar prosecution when you haven’t even written something yet.

I also have, I kid you not, a purse made out of the Chicago Manual of Style. The actual book. I stumbled across it on Etsy; the shop sold mostly book-purses and book-wallets, and the CMoS one was on display as a sample, although it was not for sale. But I inquired, learned the shop owner could make another one, and spent an inordinate amount of money buying a CMoS purse. And almost no one–even many writers and PR peeps–don’t know what it is.

Last, but not least, I also own a T-shirt (on which I spent actual hard-earned cash) sold on the CMoS website when they re-branded the book and site. The T-shirt was just too funny and cute for me to miss out on. It has the CMoS logo with the words purposefully misspelled/disordered then corrected with proper proofreading marks. Hahaha! Get it!?!

Oh, laws. Am I crazy? I’m crazy! But editing is just so. much. fun. It’s a really great feeling to help another writer to improve his or her work. In college, I worked on the yearbook staff, and my junior year I was THE copyeditor–reading every word of a 700-page book, including headlines, cutlines and lists and lists of students’ names. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. Too bad I didn’t have my magnet back then!

I once got to copyedit a wonderful YA novel called Echohawk that won a couple of awards. I copyedited and revised a series of YA self-help books about coping with things like divorce, peer pressure, etc. That was more fun than you might have expected. I copyedited the personal and company memoir of a local businessman whose family coffee company has now spanned four generations and is still family-owned. And, I had the amazing honor to co-edit my grandfather’s World War II memoir.

For my next trick, as I’ve just learned, I will be editing the 2020 Dwarf Stars Anthology for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. I did this back in 2016 and really enjoyed it. I’ll spend the next four months searching for the best speculative poems with 10 lines or fewer so I can compile an anthology of nominees for the SFPA’s Dwarf Stars Award. I can’t think of anything more fun than immersing myself in great poetry–but–wait a second–

Annabelle

My beloved grandmother, Annabelle Elsine Klay White, would have been 102 years old on March 24. She was my mom’s mom, whom my brother and I called Anna, because when I was born she was only 27 and not ready to be a Mimi or Maw-Maw or Granny. (As an aside, my other grandmother felt exactly the same way when I was born–I was the first grandchild on both sides–and all 14 of her grandchildren called her by her first name for all her life.)

Most other people called my Anna “Ann.” My Grand-dad usually did, but he would sometimes call her Annabelle in a special voice, just that little special voice you hear between two people who have been married since the end of World War II.

My grandparents together circa World War Two
My grandparents together circa WWII.

Not everyone saw Anna as excessively warm or emotional. She could be a serious nag. But she was a pretty great grandmother. When she knew we would be visiting, she would tape a soft sponge over the sharp corner of a particular counter that my brother often banged his head on when we were running around in the house. Since he was shorter than me, I would maybe bump that corner but he could really hurt himself on it.

Anna rinsed out and re-used foil paper. She rinsed out and re-used her water glass. But, she and Grand-dad did splurge, in a sense, on bottled water delivered from Kentwood (probably much better known as the birthplace of both Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears).People in Thibodaux, the small Louisiana town where they were living at the time, got their water from the Mississippi River, and their community was one of the first to adopt bottled water for both drinking and cooking.

She had high blood pressure, and she cooked without salt. She fussed unrepentantly at all of us when we salted our food. She worried about all the chips we ate.

She always had a jar of “silver bells” (our name for Hershey’s Kisses) in the kitchen.

When I was quite small, she would let me “cook” next to her at the stove. She pulled up a stepstool for me and turned one of the burners on the special “barely more than room temperature” setting that only small children use, then put a pan of faucet-warm water on it. She showed me how to turn the handle away from me so I wouldn’t accidentally knock it and spill what I was cooking. I would put ketchup, hot sauce, Pickapeppa sauce and every spice in her pantry in my “soup.” Anna kept stale pasta and a few cups of dried beans and peas in little jars in the pantry so I could add them to my creation. I always knew it wouldn’t be edible, but I had so much fun cooking and just yakking at her. I was a motormouth from the age of about two minutes.

Anna always let me and my brother do things that I imagine would at least bother if not horrify another grandparent. She had a small sandbox that we could bring out in the backyard and play with. She let me play with (almost) all her jewelry. We colored with our paper laid out on the carpet, floor or furniture, and there were no washable markers in those days. I think she knew we were both cautious and somewhat anxious children. Maybe that’s why she let us do all these things.

I do know she trusted me with her amazing vintage typewriter, with which I was fascinated. She used it to type letters to our Mom and both of us kids on small stationery that must have been frustrating, but I think saving paper was also important to her. I typed all kinds of things on that typewriter, and I know for a fact that her encouragement of reading, typing and even “interviewing” my grandparents on Grand-dad’s hand-held recorder was a contributor to my love of all things journalistic. I remember that they gave me The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings trilogy for my 11th birthday. Phew. That was a monumental moment for me in so many ways!

Anna was also one of the relatives most concerned for me after I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 21. She worried about me so much, and she often sent me articles about treatments she had seen. After I had my first knee replacement, she fretted about me driving a manual-transmission car with a clutch that I had to press with my non-replaced knee. She finally talked my Grand-dad into agreeing they would buy me an automatic car. They bought me a car! It was a beautiful little black Honda Civic that I loved to pieces and drove for 10 years.

After my mother and grandfather crossed over, my brother and I were the relatives nearby who could care for Anna. She began showing signs of Alzheimer’s, and caregiving became harder and harder. But the hardest thing for me was her confusion about the disease. She had been an incredibly sharp lady, and in the early stages she knew enough to understand something bad was happening to her. I remember once when I sat next to her at the end of her bed and held her hand while she cried, asking over and over, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I remember things?” She remembered enough to know she was losing her ability to remember.

Gosh, I really loved her. She had told me several years before she died what she wanted for her funeral, and I followed all of her wishes except one. She asked me to sing “In the Garden,” and I couldn’t do it–I knew I would just cry and not finish. So I played a version of it that I thought she would have liked on my iPhone. I felt so bad about that for a long time, until at some point I realized of all people, she would have forgiven me for that.

Anna (foreground) with a friend and the young fella who would become my grand-dad.
Anna traveled with her sister to Arizona just before my grandfather was sent to Alaska to fight in World War II. That’s where she met him, and they are both shown here. My grandmother is the lovely lady with the radiant smile.