Day 20: What’s in a Name?

Well, my scary thing today was foiled. I was going to buy, cook, and eat Swiss Chard for the first time. Frankly, this vegetable has always grossed me out. I’ve never tried it, only seen it. It looks harmless; quite pretty, in fact! It’s just the name… chard. Ick. But, a great recipe for Pizza Bianca on Epicurious had me excited.

Turns out, living in the rural midwest has some downfalls (even more than the clearly obvious one of location). Your local supermarket, as wonderful as it might be, may not carry more “exotic” fare… like yummy cheeses, wines from our favorite vineyards, free range organic chicken, or, alas, Swiss Chard.

I failed at intentionally doing something scary today. But, I felt like I needed to tell the world about my intentions so I could feel better! Remember what I wrote yesterday about silence and not justifying my actions? Well…

Banned Books in the UK

Via Tattered Cover, I just discovered this article from the Guardian UK– our friends the British have jumped on the banned book wagon!

A really great article, discussing some of the main arguments. I particularly like this quote by author Carolyn Mackler, author of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things regarding her perspective on censorship as both a writer and a parent:

“I write about teenagers as they are, and my characters sometimes curse, and they hook up, and they confront their parents when they feel they are being wronged. This, I suppose, is upsetting to people who don’t want their child exposed to these things. While I sincerely doubt that my book will be someone’s only exposure to such content, I respect a parent’s wishes for their children. Their children, I emphasize. Not everyone else’s,” she said. “I am a parent. I closely follow the books that my son reads. If a book is scaring him, we talk about it. If a book doesn’t seem appropriate for him, I tuck it away and suggest he wait a few years. I have a good sense of what he’s ready for, what he’s wondering about. But do I know what is right for his friend or classmate? No way.”

I like that. I like the idea that reading is something that a parent and child do together, discussing and growing in ways that are beneficial to the reader and also to their relationship. I haven’t read The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, but I appreciate Mackler’s comments. Thoughts??

Day 19: The Sound of Silence

After recently reading Richard Foster’s chapters on solitude and silence in his classic The Celebration of Discipline, I decided to practice more moderation in speaking. I’m not very good at being quiet… like, at all. But I thought that, today, I should spend more time learning to control my tongue, and only speak when necessary.

I failed once, noticeably, in class when discussing my deep abhorrence for dress code policies.

Multiple times during today’s six-hours of class, I chose not to share when I wanted to, and tried to be more intentional about using my words to be uplifting… but I have to say, it was really hard for me. I was scared to be misunderstood, or that my silence indicated my agreement or lack of thought about a topic or question. I fight so hard to be understood, it seems, that I forget about making my words count.

And, I think, I’ve spent the past year and a half feeling like a good friend was someone that I could really talk to– I think, though, that as I think about the friends I have and the friends I love, what matters more is our ability to enjoy each other’s silence.

Day 18: Banned Books Week!

Do you need something scary to do this week? Go read a banned book!

Check out the American Library Association’s banned books resource page.

You can follow BannedBooksWeek on Twitter. You can also follow ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom at @OIF. Look for hash-tags #bannedbooksweek.

Amnesty International has developed a register of journalists imprisoned abroad; they may or may not be guaranteed freedom of the press in the countries in which they’re writing.

Attend or host a First Amendment Film Festival. The Huffington Post (of course) has lots of articles and lists on commonly banned books, or “Flashlight Worthy” books (those which will keep you up past bedtime because they’re so good, and are, consequently, currently on the docket to be banned in several school districts). HuffPost also has this list of iconic films based on banned books, to aid you in all your Film Festival needs.

Or, better yet, go buy a banned book and support authors who are are publicly criticized for  exercising their freedom of expression.

I was shocked to read the top 10 most banned books annually on ALA’s register. It’s surprising to see how many books that are undisputedly in the twenty-first century literary canon were or are still frequently challenged as unsuitable reading.

In 2009, the most frequently challenged books were:

“1. “TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs
2. “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality
3. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide
4. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group (this one I’m OK with, but just because it’s bad writing… I suppose, on principle, we shouldn’t ban Twilight either… foolish publishers)
6. “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
7. “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence
8. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
9. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group”

In honor of banned books week, I’m reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, something I’ve wanted to read for awhile, and which shows up as a top 10 most frequently challenged book (The Golden Compass) in 2007. Take that, censorship.

Meanwhile, my copies of Howl by Alan Ginsberg (bought directly from City Lights Bookstore), Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Harry Potter by JK Rowling, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker are proudly displayed on my bookshelf.

And, even though I’m reading The Golden Compass on my Kindle and am thus not displaying anything, I sure am telling lots of people.


I want my hair to look like this:

Seriously, isn’t Carey Mulligan the cutest?

Day 17: Transportation

Yesterday was spent deciding upon the details and necessity of today’s scary thing. This weekend, Brandon and I are taking 16 students on a retreat– the selfsame student’s that we’ll be taking to Asia this January– and I’m a bit freaked out. I’m not concerned about having a good time, team building, or any of the exercises and activities that we have planned.

(One of these I just have to share: we’re taking them to the grocery store, dropping them off in the parking lot with $40, and telling them that they have half an hour to plan, budget, and shop for a three-course meal for dinner, which they’ll then have to prepare. We just get to observe! Can’t wait to see the team dynamics…)

The stupidest thing has made me really nervous about this retreat: transportation. We’d intended to rent vans from our university, only to find that there are no vans available– mini or 12 passenger– and that we have to rely on cars. OK… except this means that we’re going to have to caravan with students who don’t necessarily know where they’re going and who we don’t know very well yet. I have never seen anything like this work successfully, nor have I ever been involved in something like this without a huge and significant amount of stress. They don’t know where they’re going! What if someone gets in an accident? They’re all going to call me! What if we get separated?!

Case in point: our rehearsal dinner. I wanted nothing to do with the planning of it (though I’m quite experienced at planning things), and consequently, a little thing like printing directions from our New Jersey suburb into Center City Philadelphia got dropped. Guests from out of town (Indiana! Minnesota! New York! Iowa!) had no idea where they were going. It was disastrous.

Brandon is worried about me, clearly. “Laura,” he said yesterday, “this concerns me. If you can’t trust them to get 20 minutes away without stressing out, how are you going to handle three international flights and a ferry? How are you going to handle having little to no contact with them once we’re on site?” Ah… checkmate.

I need to embrace today’s scary thing and move on… I’ll let you know how it goes.

Day 16: Privacy Violation

On a monthly basis, I journey to the pharmacy. Each month, the man behind the counter takes it upon himself to remove my so-evidently-birth-control prescription from the bag, wave it around, and explain to me very loudly exactly how to take these pills and the ins-ands-outs of birth control. As if, by now, I didn’t have this figured out. Further, each time that he does this, the people who are in the waiting room find the whole situation very funny. They exchange glances, make smirks, as if I am especially promiscuous (which is so clearly untrue).

In the name of Margaret Sanger, people, what is so funny about birth control!?

This time, I arrived at the pharmacy, as usual. The pharmacist, again, removed the small package from the bag and started waving it around. People exchanged glances as though I were Samantha Jones. Just as the pharmacist began to tell me about the inability of birth control pills to protect from STD’s, I decided to speak up for myself and my clearly-violated privacy.

“Excuse me,” I said with a shaking voice, “I am told this every month. I’ve also been told this by a doctor. I am aware of the logistics of birth control, if you don’t mind. Thank you.”

The pharmacist looked at me as though I had said something terribly offensive… but I stood my ground, I didn’t let myself feel bad, and I took my prescription and left. We’ll see if they say anything next time. Regardless, this little show of bravery made me feel as though I’d just conquered the Norman army.