t January 2009 | sh C. K. Kelly Martin o

We're in the middle of another one of our almost daily snowstorms here. This one is supposed to be good for 15 centimetres or so. Anyway, a few minutes ago I shuffled over to the window, sniffling away thanks to my icky, snotty winter cold, and thinking about how much this weather SUCKS when I saw three kids bound out of the next door apartment building behind their mother (who was not bounding). The kids launched themselves gleefully into the nearest snowbank. One of them collapsed on his back with a joyful yelp, completely revelling in the soft white stuff I'd been staring at with such disdain.

Clearly, I'm missing something here!

I laughed out loud at the trio's enthusiasm but did it inspire me to throw on my coat and make angels in the snow? No, it did not.

Maybe if I didn't have a cold things would've gone differently...maybe. Incidentally, how do you know for sure whether you have a cold, a case of the flu or whether you're actually making the transition to zombiehood? Is there a checklist or something? I'm just wondering.

Cold or zombiehood?
With so much doom & gloom splashed across newspaper headlines during the past two days (reports of both local and global job losses and violence) it's especially heartening to see some of the positive change U.S. President Barack Obama promised already taking shape. On his second day in office Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay, banned the use of torture by U.S. personnel and instructed the CIA to shut down its secret overseas prisons.

On his third, President Obama is set to lift a ban on U.S. funding for groups that provide abortion services or counselling abroad, a policy that has had a brutal impact on healthcare for some of the world's poorest women.

The global gag rule was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, repealed by Bill Clinton when he took office in 1993 and then reinstated by George Bush in 2001.

* You can email President Obama to thank him for ending the global gag rule on this NARAL page.
“With each sunrise, we start anew.”

Sunrise

“In a progressive country change is constant; change is inevitable.”
—Benjamin Disraeli
Warning! FascismA few days ago The Toronto Star published an article about a parent who has launched a formal complaint against Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale with the Toronto District School Board.

Robert Edwards, who read the book when he saw his middle son with it, feels The Handmaid's Tale is anti-Christian and not suitable classroom reading. In a letter to Lawrence Park Collegiate's principal, Edwards complained that the dystopian novel is also “rife with brutality towards and mistreatment of women (and men at times), sexual scenes, and bleak depression.”

My favourite comment on this matter from the Toronto Star comment section:

“Ummmmm, Mr. Edwards . . .
. . . it's a cautionary tale, not a how-to. Honestly . . .”

I've been rewatching the 1967 British series The Prisoner during the past few weeks. My brother and I got completely hooked on the show when it aired late at night in the late 80's/early 90's but I hadn't seen an episode in years until just recently (my brother's Christmas gift = box set of all 17 episodes). Smart. Stylish. Defiant. Enigmatic. The Prisoner is all these things in spades and remains one of the most intelligent and innovative shows in the history of television.

The plot centres around an ex British secret service agent who, when he mysteriously resigns, is abducted and brought to an Alice in Wonderland like village full of other captive spies to have his secrets extracted. The methods of extraction are not so much brutal as they are cerebral (even strangely whimsical at times) and the village is a prison without bars, full of bright colours and banal leisure activities. Aside from Number Two (no one in the village is allowed a name and are instead assigned numbers), it's often difficult to ascertain who is doing the keeping and who is being kept.

Watching "The Chimes of Big Ben" episode last night I marvelled (as you regularly do while watching The Prisoner) at main character Number Six's glorious wit and determined resistance. The experience made me doubly sad to learn that Patrick McGoohan, both the charismatic star of the show and its creator, passed away in Los Angeles yesterday at the age of eighty.

Patrick McGoohan has left a brilliant accomplishment in his wake and I'll be watching (and relishing) more episodes of The Prisoner tonight.

“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own.

—Number 6, Arrival
or
Skipping Double Dutch With A Y Chromosome
“When I was born, they looked at me and said,
'What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.'
And when you were born, they looked at you and said,
'What a good girl, what a a smart girl, what a pretty girl.'

We've got these chains that hang around our necks,
people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.”

What A Good Boy, Barenaked Ladies
Pink Box/Blue Box: Gender Expectations

I have to admit I cringe a little every time someone says, "It's a girl thing" or "It's a guy thing." Unless we're talking about menstruation or prostate glands, the phrase feels like a claustrophobic generalization, one of those subtle little things that help keep people hemmed inside pink or blue boxes. And then there are the articles that profess to tell us "What Men/Women Want." Huh? *All* of them? Is humanity really that easily pegged? Certainly the advertising industry and its clients are happy to define us in this ridiculously simplistic XX and XY way. If they can convince us who we are, then they can also convince us what we need in order to be that man or woman. Ka-ching!

But that division—manly things, female things—is a fiction. There are women and girls who prefer pursuits (careers, hobbies) that have traditionally been considered male and vice-versa. Girls can be tough. Guys can be sensitive. Girls can be techies and guys can be fashionistas. Girls can be competitive and guys can be nurturing. It should go without saying, right? But as a society we're still hung up on old ideas. We're living in a time that likes to think of itself as progressive but still largely defines The only thing worse than going to the ballet is going to the ballet to watch your son! Raise a champ. Nikepeople in terms of pink and blue. Hell, it was practically just yesterday (and no doubt there are people who still believe this) that society believed boys were naturally better at math than girls. Who knows how many women have been persuaded that they likely won't succeed at math oriented careers because of these ideas? And how many men have avoided more 'feminine' careers because of attitudes evidenced in the Nike ad on the right (printed in the latest issue of CMYK magazine)?

Yep, that's right. It actually says “raise a champion” (not a loser ballet dancer son!). Heaven forbid if on top of raising a ballet dancer son, your daughter becomes an auto mechanic! How would you ever live down the double whammy shame?

But thankfully there are people out there who see through the whole gender as binary pretense and have the guts to be themselves, even when that means facing down social pressure and/or bullying.

Thanks to Feministing, for pointing me in the direction of this New York Times article on fifth grader double dutch competitor ZeAndre Orr.

ZeAndre was often harassed at his Brooklyn school for joining the Jazzy Jumpers team ("At any given practice, there can be as many as 60 jumpers. Of those, only two are boys.") and was even kicked down the stairs on one occasion. Even his mother's initial reaction to ZeAndre joining the team was, “Oh, no, Double Dutch is for girls!”

However, ZeAndre wasn't easily dissuaded. Last month he performed at the Holiday Classic Double Dutch Competition at the Apollo Theater. Holding his trophies in the lobby afterwards, a beaming ZeAndre said: “This was my time to shine.”

ZeAndre's story reminded me of a Shameless Magazine article by sixteen-year-old Trevor Dunseith in which Trevor discusses the common (incorrect) assumption that he's gay because he happens to like knitting, the colour pink and isn't a sports fan. It also reminded me of nine year old Nova Scotia girl Lydia Houck who sought to attend a boys-only summer day camp which included activities like fishing, hiking and golfing (meanwhile the only camp created specifically for girls was called "Glamorous Girls" and featured spa visits, manicures and pedicures).

Thanks to ZeAndre, Lydia, Trevor, and the family and friends who support them in their efforts to show their authentic selves to the world. You all make it that much easier for other young people to do the same.

Following their example, together we can strive to create a society where happiness, health and having respect for others is paramount—and labels and constraining expectations (whether they be based on gender, race, sexual orientation etc.) can be relegated to the past.

Brooklyn's Jazzy Jumpers:


***Update***

According to CMYK’s publisher, Curtis Clarkson, the "Raise a champion" ad isn't actually Nike's. “The 'advertisement' is actually the work of an art design student.” Nike had no part in its creation. Read more details here.

An article I submitted to the SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) Bulletin last year appears in the current issue: January/February 2009. The article's about defining young adult fiction (and what an immensely difficult task that is!) and ponders that YA books may be missing out on potential readers because of where they're situated within bookstores.


Who exactly are those teen fiction books for readers fourteen and up intended for if, as common wisdom has it, readers over the age of fourteen have moved on to the general fiction section? Hmm.


You can take a look at the original article "What Is YA and Where Should We Put It" on the SCBWI site (or a hardcopy of The Bulletin) if you have an SCBWI membership. There's also a reworked/updated version from October right here.

Deep breath. Courtney emailed me this morning to let me know that I Know It's Over is a 2008 Cybils Finalist in the young adult fiction category. It's in incredible company with Audrey, Wait!, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Jellicoe Road, Sweethearts, Ten Cents a Dance and Thaw.

* Complete 2008 Cybils Finalists short lists

I'm too blown away (!!!!!!!!!!!!) to form coherent, articulate sentences but I want to say a huge thanks to the awesome Tanita S. Davis (author of A La Carte, also known as TadMack on the Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog) for nominating the book in the first place.

I don't know if I'll be in any less shock tomorrow but I imagine I'll be much sleepier. Who could sleep after hearing this?

Thank you, Cybils panelists for this fabulous New Year's present!
There was about a month last summer when I listened to this Mic Christopher song almost every day. I'm certain it has magical properties and that it's going to help get everyone's 2009 off to a wonderful start.

Wishing you all the boundless joy Mic Christopher sings about!
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