Last night I went to a book club meeting with a coworker. The book was Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio. What I liked about the book was the opening of a character with tourette syndrome, we get to see how she tries to understand her disorder as she grows up. The time period is the 1950’s and the book really does delve into the education process for someone who was “altered,” as many of Icy’s classmates said.
I could tell you, voracious readers, about the quirky characters, because there are some good ones with names like Peavy Lawson and Maizy Hurley. I could tell you about the writing style or the backwoods setting of Kentucky. But I’m not going to. You can read all that for yourself. I’ve linked the book title above to Goodreads. And you can go buy or rent the book yourself and read that too. I encourage you to, it’ll be good. Read it out loud so you can better hear the appalachian accents. What I can’t provide for you so readily is the exact experience of the book club meeting I had last night. I mean it was good. I thought going into this, maybe I’ll make a few meetings here and there, we’ll talk about the book for two hours, no more I hope. I needed to get home and write up a review for it!
Well, dear reader, that review would have been very different had I not attended that book club meeting, which mind you, lasted for almost 4 hours! And in all that time, we discussed the actual book only a little. And yet I left feeling so stimulated, is that a strange word? LOL. To say I enjoyed myself, seemed too simple. It was a great dialogue. I wish I’d taken notes so I could remember more of what we discussed!
Let me set the scene for you. Wisconsin yesterday, freezing pouring rain, a map to a stranger’s house drawn in pencil, and my car with with a dying left blinker. I arrive at the host’s house and scurry in under an umbrella. We have a mini tour of her all too beautiful home. (All the while I’m thinking, I could never host this meeting, these women are all retirees who’ve lived in these homes for years and made them their own! My house looks like a retro 70’s fixer-upper, comprised of my boyfriend’s music paraphrenalia, orange carpeting, orange tile, and odd “knick-knacks” I’m not allowed to throw away.) There are only 6 of us, the wine is poured, we eat daintily assembled toothpicks of fresh fruit and delicious puff pastries with cream cheese and bacon in them. The book discussion begins.
Ok, last night, I was able to discuss this book with three former teachers, ranging from elementary to college, and two nurses. Talk about gold mine of knowledge! They brought so much to the table. We discussed cognitive and physical disorders in the school system, how they’re handled, the improvements over the years, where opportunities still are. And since I was the youngest member by a good 30 years, they certainly topped me with their history of how things have progressed. In the book, Icy spends time in a children’s asylum, and I thought that was really interesting. Throughout the book, she doesn’t really have friends her age, even there, her best friends are the aides and the doctor. It was interesting to hear from everyone what their experiences were growing up with people of different abilities. Many of the women at the group said they never saw them. They knew these people existed but they were often segregated into “colonies” or separate schools. One woman said her mother took her to one of the institutions when she was 12 to walk the halls and explain that the individuals inside these walls were people too, and she needed to know they were there. The same woman later replied, “It’s amazing any of us were born normal.” We all laughed, but it makes sense, with so many (I think increasing) numbers of chromosomal alterations and knowledge about water supplies, mercury levels, etc. I think we’re seeing more children born with disorders than we ever had before. And since my friends at the book club came from medical backgrounds, we also discussed child immunization and looked at a chart showing how many shots kids have before they’re 5 years old. Each of us there had a different experience in school and how we were introduced to a person of varying ability, and we agreed that things have mainstreamed more now. Where possible, schools are trying to blend classrooms and do what’s best for the children. Certainly, there are some who succeed more than others. What a rich conversation this was.
And then we talked about religion! Ha! There is a scene in the book where Icy and her grandma go to a revival, and it’s pretty intense. This sparked up more conversation about people’s experiences and cultural beliefs.
I’ll leave you with two things. 1.) If you’re involved with a book club, this is a great group read. I’ll admit I thought it had a slow start, but the discussions it “sparked” where well worth having. 2.) Start a dialogue with me! I want more!! I’m a born-again reader! And I’m curious. What has your experience been with people who have cognitive or physical disorders? Did you ever have them in your classroom? Your family? How were they treated? Do you think there is a rise in disorders like autism, asperger’s, dyslexia, maybe even down’s? Do you agree with the statement “It’s amazing any of us were born normal”?
All this immersion in writing and meeting other writers has changed my thinking process. Time, for instance, has taken on a new meaning. How do I prioritize my time to the best of my ability while at work, so when I come home I can focus on my writing? How do use my time off and properly divide it amongst projects? I now think about writing as a second job, and if I want writing to one day be my only job, I need to devote my time and energy to it.
And speaking of jobs, I’ve had a few interesting ones. I’ll tell you I appreciate every one of them because I like to view the world as being full of experiences. Everyone has a story to tell, every situation has something you can learn from in it.
Babysitting was my first job, as I’m sure was many a first job for the average teenage girl. I was even properly trained in a hospital class, learned CPR and carried the number for poison control with me. The first family I sat for was full of devil children. They were very convincing sweethearts to start out with, and suddenly the nights would take a horrendous turn onto Evil Road. Evil Road is where bad things happen for no reason. For example, one minute the eight year old boy would be vacuuming the living room to help out his mother, and the next he’d be dumping his milk on the floor and stomping his sock feet in it. Evil Road is where you think the four year old has gone to sleep, but really she sneaked to her mom’s room and started watching Road House. Evil Road is where the three year old fools you with her red hair into thinking she is cute and angelic, but really she’s allowed to run around the house like a banshee at all hours of the night. What did I learn from this job? Tone of voice. I learned if you’re going to use the line, “Bryce, stop throwing soup cans at your sister!” you’d better say it with some gumption.
My next job was a little something I coined Cake Pan Dishwasher Extraordinaire! Sure I was only “hired” cause my dad owned the place, and sure he wasn’t actually paying me on a regular basis, and sure I lost a fair amount of skin cells from the bleach water, but it didn’t matter, I was helping out my Pop. It was quality time of undivided attention to me. What did I learn in this job? The art of dialogue. I learned if you’re going to have it, it better be good, and two-sided, otherwise your readers may end up putting your story down cause they have “errands” to do.
With all the people skills I was learning, I moved up in the job world, actually getting one that required legal papers and didn’t pay me in cash. I became a clerk at the local video store. This is where I got most my training. I got to know my characters, I mean customers, their likes and dislikes. I did endless amounts of research, sometimes six films a day, every genre! I also quickly learned that the video establishment I worked in and loved was haunted and my boss refused to talk about it. What did this teach me? Rising action and climax. The closer I got to learning about the spirit world, the closer and creepier the spirit world got to me.
When I moved away for college, I had to find a job that would help support me and allow for study time. I found two working in my college dormitory, one as a front desk assistant and one as a dorm housekeeper. I now know that:
- Front desk pizzas can solve any problem, no matter how drunk you are. 😀
- College dormitory bathrooms are THE nastiest places on earth.
What did these jobs teach me? Time management and editing is not beneath you. If you’ve spent the whole day researching and writing and the only time to clean your bathroom is at 2 in the morning, so be it! And if the supplies you are given to clean simply do not cut it to take out the
stains and clumps of hair information dump of words, then you need to get new tools!
Moving onward and off campus, I joked that I worked “part time all the time” as I juggled full time student with three part time jobs. I worked as a copy room slave in the English Department, a student worker in the Diversity Center, and as a clerk in a madhouse conglomeration of Gift Shop meets Rubber Stamping Store. To enlighten you on each of these varying titles, I spent my time in the English Department photocopying lesson tools and handouts, marking grade rosters, and endlessly fixing the jammed copier. I became quick friends with many of the faculty, who subsequently assisted my writing endeavors to take advanced classes without the prerequisite. Igniting a dwindling flame of the past, I was one of the “re-founding” members of the Diversity Center, a place on campus where students could go to learn about the diversity organizations on campus. I spent my winter break working alone in dusty old rooms, cleaning out storage areas and rearranging furniture to give the center life. Finally, job number three, in which I clerked and did odd tasks the owner hated doing inside a stamping/gift shop store. I did lots of things like vacuum the whole place using the small tubular attachment that required you to hunch over and slide the nozzle back and forth until it sucked every fuzz off the carpet (that’s the way Master wanted it). Once she made me work in the display window on one of the hottest days of summer using a pliers to chip off these old, now caramelized, strips that held tubes of twinkle lights in them. I was sweating, grunting, and getting slivers of plastic flying at my eyeballs when I looked up to see someone take my picture from outside! What did this menagerie of minimum wage paychecks teach me? How to make connections and build a foundation, and how to craft the perfect antagonist!
Wow, I’ve really learned a lot about writing from my past jobs. And I know I’ll never be done learning, which is a good thing. What are you learning about your writing process? What are you battling against? What helps you? What can I do to support you? Tell me, I really want to know! Good luck everyone and happy writing!