40 Things You Can Do Today

A lot of us are scared ri962px-rosie_the_riveter_vultee_dsght now. As a country and as citizens we are starting a new journey and that is not going to be easy. We need to do something to make things change. But it can be overwhelming to know where to start, even. Here is a list of 40 things I came up with that we can do today to start making the world around us a little better.


With Your Words:

  1. Have real conversations about what’s going on. Talk to people you love. Talk to people you haven’t talked to in a while. Talk to the kinds of people you never talk to (like those Jehovah’s witnesses or Mormons who come to your door.) Don’t stay silent. Don’t be polite and not talk politics.
  2. Learn to Listen. Being Progressive and Well-educated does not mean yours is the only thought that is legitimate. Being a serious and devout Christian does not mean that you have direct access to God’s opinions.
  3. Think twice before hitting send on that nasty retort/tweet/comment. Many of us are grieving right now. Many of us are not being our best selves. Try not to add to the nastiness.
  4. Along with that: Give the person you’re talking to the benefit of the doubt. Most of us are trying our best to do what’s right. Unless you have concrete evidence to suggest otherwise, assume the person you’re talking to is, as well.
  5. Stop living in an echo chamber. Don’t unfriend that person who has incredibly different beliefs than you. If you realize every opinion/way of thinking you come across sounds like yours, find a way to meet people who don’t think like you. It can be remarkably rewarding to have ones’ cherished beliefs challenged.
  6. Disagree with people in your echo chamber. Sometimes it’s necessary, and we will all be better if we hold each other accountable.
  7. Don’t use politically correct policing to shut down conversations. We need more conversations, not fewer. And we need to learn to have better conversations.

With Your Resources:

  1. Use your dollar consciously. Define for yourself the things that are important to you and start using your dollar to support them.
  2. Support the US Job Market. Buy things made here.
  3. Support your local economy. Buy things made on a small scale in your area. Even if they cost a little more.
  4. Volunteer for a nonprofit. Pick one cause or issue that you care about right now. Go online and research people who are working for that cause. Call one organization and put yourself on their volunteer list.

To Help People in Marginalized Groups:

  1. Wear a safety pin on your shirt or jacket to signal to people who are feeling threatened in public that you will stand up for them if they face harassment. This also signals to non-marginalized people that you believe in caring for others who are being threatened.*
  2. Help someone who is being harassed. This comic shows how to do so safely.
  3. Give $50 to the ACLU.
  4. Give $50 to Planned Parenthood.
  5. Intentionally bring your business to establishments run by marginalized groups. For instance, make a decision to have your car serviced regularly at a repair shop run by Mexicans. There are very few jobs open to most Mexicans in our country. Show your support with your dollar.
  6. Buy books by non-caucasians. These folk have a harder time getting published than everyone else. Show the industry that there is a market for diverse voices.
  7. Spend an hour educating yourself on issues faced by a marginalized group you are unfamiliar with.

To Help the Planet:

  1. If you are in the market for one, Buy a car that gets at least 30 miles/gallon.
  2. Stop using disposable cups. Either plan ahead better so you make your own coffee at home or make it a habit to bring one of those Starbucks mugs around with you.
  3. Set a timer on your showers.
  4. Actually look up the laws for recycling in your area and recycle everything that can be.
  5. Start a compost pile in your back yard. You can literally do this in a bucket if you’ve got no space. It’s not actually a big deal, and you really don’t have to even turn it or anything. But it makes good soil you can use for planting things. If you don’t plant things, give it to your next door neighbor.
  6. Stop using disposable grocery bags.
  7. Buy Used. Do all your clothes really need to be straight off the rack?
  8. Also, Buy things that are better made and use them longer.

As a Parent:

  1. Talk to your children about how they should treat others. Have a conversation with your children, especially your boys, about what it is and is not right to say to or about another person. Make sure they know that you believe that women are not objects and that people should not be bullied based on their race, religion, or physical abilities.
  2. Tell your children you respect them. And let them know that you expect them to live up to that respect.
  3. Give your kids mental health days and the freedom to choose when to take them.

To Be a Better Citizen:

  1. Look up every single one of your local and state elected officials and make a point to know what they stand for.
  2. Put your children back in Public School. If that school isn’t good enough, then use your time and resources to make it better.
  3. Read. Don’t take everything at face value. Look up the constitution and see what it actually says. Make an effort to read thoughtful opinions. Make an effort to read thoughtful opinions that go against yours.
  4. Look up the history of the two party system in America. Stop assuming that all Conservatives or all Progressives are stupid/angry/evil.
  5. Pay for news, and read it. Good journalism only exists of someone pays for it.

To Be a Kinder Person:

  1. Let someone go ahead of you in traffic.
  2. Smile at the person checking out your groceries.
  3. Make eye contact with the homeless person on the corner.
  4. Make an effort to notice the mental/emotional/physical state of the members of your community.
  5. Make chocolate chip cookies for someone who is hurting.
  6. Make chicken noodle soup for someone who is sick.


*Progressive communities are arguing about whether this is a worthwhile thing to do. I think it is, but don’t do it to be smug and self-satisfied and to signal to other members of your progressive community that you are a good person. Intent matters here.


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Be the Change

I started this blog years ago because I believed that there were people in my community who did not know how hard the lives of children could be, and I wanted to raise awareness. I stopped keeping this blog when I realized that there were people who were reading it while taking some sort of voyeuristic interest in the gruesome details of my childhood. I stopped keeping it when I realized that this blog might be how people in the “writing industry” saw me and I worried it might affect my career. I stopped keeping it when I realized that me being open about my life and experiences makes some people, especially my extended family, uncomfortable.

But that was wrong. Sometimes we need to risk making people uncomfortable. And sometimes it doesn’t matter if it hurts us personally or professionally. It’s worth doing anyway.

I have spent my entire adult life fighting for kids who have shitty lives. And many of their lives just got shittier. Queer kids and Muslim kids and girls and racial minorities and more. I have a student who graduated a few years ago and based her choice of college on where her mother could come to visit her without having to pass through a security checkpoint.



What just happened is wrong and a lot of people are scared. But it happened because there are a lot of scared, angry, hurting people who we have been ignoring for too long. And we need to understand their fear and hurt as much as anyone else’s if we are going to fix this. And we MUST fix this. We can no longer believe that the system will just work out. We can no longer allow ourselves to be apathetic or lulled into a false sense of security. We can no longer allow ourselves to be uninformed. And we can no longer allow ourselves the luxury of doing what feels safe or easy.

So, in that light, this is where I come from: I was a foster child in what is known as “kinder care.” My grandmother raised me with the occasional help of her second husband who was a Puerto Rican man and a scary alcoholic. I called them “Mommy” and “Papi.” I did not have a relationship with my birth parents as a child. Mommy suffered from severe depression and my childhood was mostly characterized by neglect. My cousin moved in with us when I was a teen. He was strong and violent and he dealt drugs. Within five years of escaping to college, Mommy and Papi both died of cancer, and my cousin put a bullet in his head.

I have born the brunt of lifelong misogyny, especially because I am smart. I have been raped and beaten, and as a child I was molested by more than one man. I have been a member of the queer community since before I hit puberty and I have been attacked on the streets because of it. I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and dissociation throughout my life. I have been on the brink of homelessness more than once, and I know what it feels like to go hungry.

I air this dirty laundry not because I want anyone to feel sorry for me or to treat me any differently but to make it clear that when I say I stand for people who are scared and hurting right now, it is because I know what it feels like to be scared and hurting. But I also believe that God gave me this life and my many talents and skills so that I can use them to help those who come after me. And that is what I vow to do.

In church each week we say: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

I urge everyone who sees this to think of your neighbor today and every day. Think of your queer and female and black and brown neighbors. And think of your poor and scared and angry neighbors. In the shopping market. On the internet. In the wider community. Stand up for what is right, but do it with love and compassion. We are all so fragile.


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January Thoughts: Coping With Loss

I’ve been out of the blog world for about a month. Working, writing things I was paid to write, just thinking about life, starting new creative projects. Not a bad place to be. But this morning I saw that a beautiful soul who I wish I’d known better has left us. She was an artist and writer and a teacher at Vermont College. Bonnie Christensen will be missed by many, I know.

I’ve been thinking about death a lot recently. I just started a new creative non-fiction project about my mother’s death many years ago. But I’ve never written about death on here. Not because I have no experience with death. I have had too many people to count in my life die. But I’ve never been good with death. I’ve never been good with funerals or saying goodbye or laying to rest. I never know what to say when someone else’s loved one passes away. I have never known how to contextualize my own losses. But death is something that everyone has to deal with at some point.

My freshman year of college, my new roommate and I were comparing notes. As a child, I lost family to depression, cancer, and other diseases. I lost friends in car crashes and to drugs. But my roommate had never been touched by death at all. She was a dear, sweet girl, and I loved her, but it was like a gulf that we were talking across.

That summer, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She left school to spend the remainder of her mother’s life with her. Her mother died two years later, the same summer my mother also died of cancer. A few years later, that friend became a nun. She tended animals in a remote cloister in the mountains in Greece. As far as I can tell, she was just as beautiful, dear, and sweet a girl after her mother’s death as she was that first year we confronted womanhood together in college. But perhaps deeper in her joy and connection to life. A few years later, she, too, died of cancer. She was in her mid-twenties.

I don’t know what to do with this death any more than I know what to do with any other death. But I know that we all have to come to some agreement with death, sooner or later. And I know that death is something that many children have to deal with.

So what can we do to help a grieving child? What can we say? What books can we give them? I’ll try to put up a review of Jandy Nelson’s beautiful novel The Sky Is Everywhere in a few days, because I think that is an amazing portrayal of one young woman’s journey through bereavement. But I’d love to hear other thoughts.

And to Bonnie Christensen, as your soul travels on to wherever souls go: Fair well. You brought so much beauty and light into the world. You will be missed.

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Review Wednesday: Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe

I mentioned this book a few days ago. I first posted this review about it almost a year ago. Since then, that review has gotten more hits than all but two books I’ve reviewed in the past four years on this site. One of the two others being another beautiful book by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I wanted to bring it back to the surface because this book (and just about everything Benjamin Alire Saenz has written) deserves to be read and to be successful. And if race is at all responsible for keeping it off bookstore shelves, even in the community where it is set, then we should do whatever we can to make sure that it doesn’t recede into obscurity and that it gets into the hands of kids who need it. So I’m reposting my original review below.

“As you can see from the cover, it got a whole mess of awards in 2013. The Pura Belpre, awarded to a Latino writer writing about the Latino cultural experience. The Stonewall Award, awarded for excellent books about GLBTQ issues. And, of course, the Printz honor. It deserved every one of them. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read, well, ever.

It’s by Benjamin Alire Saenz, whose novel Last Night I Sang to the Monster I’ve talked about a number of times. For the kinds of things I talk about on here, his writing just can’t be beat. And just briefly, this book is Annie on My Mind for boys. But it’s for gay mexican boys living in the desert southwest.


Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.


Well, first of all, I got choked up re-reading that summary from the book jacket. The book was just THAT GOOD. But here’s why this book is really important. I have gay students here in Santa Fe and I have tried to get them to read this book and they have ALL said to me, “No, miss, I don’t read.” And then I realized: not one of them has ever read a book that really reflects their experience. There are no books about gay Mexican boys living in the desert southwest. There are very few books with Mexican protagonists. There are very few books set in the Southwest. And while the number of books about gay boys has definitely been on the rise for years, they are mostly white boys in New England. Just the fact that there is a love story set in this culture in this place, is almost a miracle.

All kids deserve to have their experience reflected back to them, but most of the books for teens, I’m just being honest, are written by middle-aged white women and feature middle-class, white protagonists. Which is fine, but I am so glad for the Matt de la Penas and the Coe Booths and the Benjamin Alire Saenzs who are writing about non-white teens living in places other than the suburbs.

And this book is just so beautiful. I found myself reading and re-reading it because it was just the best love story that I’ve maybe ever read, period. But particularly for both gay and lesbian teens. Especially for ones growing up in a place where they aren’t even told that being Gay is an option. Every book collection should include this book. Every library should have this book. Every book store should carry this book. Period.”

What books featuring racial minority characters do you love and believe in?

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Racism: Let’s Talk about It.

Racism is on a lot of people’s minds right now. My sister told me last night that there were riots in Portland over the results of the Darren Wilson case. And last week folks in the children’s book world were buzzing angrily about Lemony Snicket’s distasteful “joke” about Jacqueline Woodson’s watermelon allergy.

The issue of racism hit home for me last week when I ran into an issue with a local children’s bookseller. She didn’t carry a book I wanted. So why is this an issue of racism? Well, first a little about Santa Fe: the census says that Santa Fe is 51% Latino. Santa Fe High is about 85% Latino. And Capitol High is probably closer to 95%. Those are the two public high schools. But there are about a dozen private hippy schools and charter schools and I will eat my hand if they enroll more than 5–10% Latino kids. Tuition at the local private schools is about $20,000/year for high school. Just for reference, the AP Lit class as Santa Fe High had to read Othello out loud last year, because they couldn’t afford to buy a class set.

Race is a bizarre issue in Santa Fe. Racism is ubiquitous here. It is one of the most segregated places I have ever been. And yet, cultural appropriation is rampant. Everyone here eats “New Mexican” food which is a pleasing combination of actual Mexican food and Native American food. We all celebrate Fiesta and the burning of Zozobra. And nobody calls it cultural appropriation. And nobody seems to mind that the same historical culture that we’re celebrating is actually a living tradition that belongs to half of our community that is not even welcome downtown in the plaza anymore. As I said, it is a bizarre place.

So back to the children’s book store. I have shopped here many times. I have chatted with the owner. And I have always been very supportive. I support local, independent book stores in general. I support children’s bookstores, particularly. But I don’t know if I can support this shop any longer. Because she doesn’t carry Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets to the UniverseShe doesn’t carry any books by Benjamin Alire Saenz, it turns out. Despite the fact that he grew up around here and that his books are set here.

I sent this email to the store owner asking about this:

Something really upset me last time I was in the shop, and I have tried to let it go, but I am still thinking about it. I came in to the shop looking for Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe. And I discovered that you don’t carry it. And you don’t carry any books by Benjamin Alire Saenz, in fact. This really threw me. Aristotle & Dante was the most decorated YA novel of 2013. It got a Printz Honor, the Stonewall Award, A Lambda Literary Award, and the Pura Belpre. It’s also by far and away the most beautiful and honest book I have read in years. And Saenz is the only Latino author to have ever won the Pen/Faulkner award, I believe. And he grew up in Mesilla and graduated from Las Cruces High.
Half of the children and teens in this town are latino. Half of them could relate better to Saenz’s books than any other books that have been written in the children’s book market. Is that half of our town not welcome in your shop?

Here is the response I got from her:

Thanks so much for your email and your feedback. I’m sorry you were upset by the absence of Aristotle and Dante… on the
shelves of Bee Hive. I have in fact carried it in the store and tried to keep it in stock for quite a while. But it just didn’t move. Because the books come and go so quickly and I only have so much of a budget to reorder books – it only makes sense for me to keep the books in stock that sell and, of course, offer to special order any other specific requests. I assure you Bee Hive was created for all of the kids of Santa Fe – I am not interested to catering to any one demographic. And I would love to get
more Latino readers in the store. But, as with many things in the independent book store business, it has been a challenge.
Thanks so much for your support and your time and attention.
I hope to see you in the store soon.

So, to put it mildly, this response is bull. Let’s deconstruct it for a second. First of all, the book has been out for less than two years. She says that she tried to keep it in stock for “quite a while” but it hadn’t been in stock for like eight months when I came in. Also, I’ve shopped there for awhile. Which means I remember buying another book there and having her tell me that the book I bought had been on the shelves for three years and no one had ever bought it. So why did Aristotle & Dante get sent back? Another problem with this response: why hasn’t she read this book? We’ve chatted books. She recommended Eleanor & Park to me, which I loved. But she obviously hasn’t read Aristotle & Dante. But she is widely read in children’s & YA. Why did she not bother to read this book with four metals on its cover that is set basically in her own community? I don’t know.

I have been trying to understand the racial dynamics in this town since I moved here. I have worked in the public schools and in the private schools. I have friends who are rich white folk and friends who are dirt poor Mexican folk. Lots of good people on both sides. But the racial tensions . . . I’m just not sure.

There’s a lot more to say here. More to say about Ferguson and what happened at the National Book Awards and the responses to them and several articles I’ve read about race recently. And I will, because these are important issues and I think one of the biggest problems is the lack of real dialogue about them. It’s easy to be politically correct. And to police those who aren’t. It’s easy to throw money at a problem. But actually talking about something as powerful, uncomfortable, and intractable as racism is less easy. So this month, let’s talk about racism.

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Gender Book list

So this week, I have a list of books that I think have something interesting to say about gender. Most of these are older books. And I have an entire section devoted to Fantasy/sci-fi because I think that these books often have interesting explorations of these topics. And also a category of adult books that might be of interest to older teen readers. In the list below, one asterisk (*) means the main point of the story is that girls are awesome and they can do anything. Two asterisks (**) means that the main point is that boys are abandoned in the wilderness to survive.

Middle Grade

  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson
  • The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  • Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson
  • *The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • **Hatchet by Gary Paulson
  • *The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • **The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  • Whirligig by Paul Fleischman
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Novels for Teens

Fantasy/Science Fiction

Adult Books For Mature Teen Readers:

  • A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  • Sons and Lovers by D.H.Lawrence
  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
  • Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg
  • The Odyssey by Homer


  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
  • Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
  • Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher
  •  Blind Spot: Hidden Biases Of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaj and Anthony G. Greenwald
  • Our Bodies, Ourselves
  • Changing Bodies, Changing Lives

In making these lists, I kind of intuitively feel out which books really have something to teach about the given issue. But that is a fine line and there is a lot I haven’t read. And it can be hard to articulate why I have included a book or haven’t. Anyway, I’m giving this disclaimer to say that if there is a book that you would like to see included, or if there is a book that you would like to know more about, just let me know. I’m just trying to be useful with these lists.

Again, the person who comments most this month will receive the whole Vampire Queen series from Rebecca Maizel. As always, thanks for stopping by!

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Writing Young Women: An Interview with Author Rebecca Maizel (w giveaway!)

Hey y’all, this is my 150th post! Today we have the fabulous Rebecca Maizel, author of the Vampire Queen trilogy, here to talk about gender. (And she’s offered the whole trilogy as a giveaway this month to the person who comments the most–I’m jealous!)

I first met Rebecca, like so many talented writers, at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. We shared a workshop together her first semester, and I was very impressed with her writing at the time. I also remember that Infinite Days, her first novel, had just come out and she was so anxious about how it would be received.

As I have said before, I love that book. But I’ve invited her on here today because of her thoughts on portrayal of females in fiction. She gave her graduate lecture on this topic, and she has some really interesting things to say about it. So without further ado:

Me: What tropes do you see represented the most? and how do these portrayals affect young folk?

Rebecca: I think the trope that is most often represented in young adult and middle grade literature is the “gossiping girl” as the antagonist. I’ve even fallen victim to this myself in my own work. It’s hard when charting the map of your own understanding of gender and social pressures to make the best choice – meaning how to best represent women outside of traditional stereotype. In hindsight, I’m not sure I would have made The Three Piece so gossipy (from Infinite Days). Nevertheless, this is the trope that I see the most. If you look at endless covers of YA novels (more so in Middle Grade, IMHO), there are rarely girls looking at one another in a way that isn’t conspiratorial or competitive in nature. I think the impact of this is subtle but powerful. If we associate not only females with gossip but our female antagonists as well, it perpetuates the stereotype.

Me: What should we be aiming for in terms of gender representation?

Rebecca: To represent our women and girls outside of stereotype. It’s simple and a bit general but I think this is really important – at least in my own life.  I have tried to do this in my own work though I am not sure how successful I have been. I am reading a book presently called Blind Spot: Hidden Biases Of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaj and Anthony G. Greenwald. One of the theories in the book is that if something is unconscious, say a bias about a group of people, gender, etc, and this unconscious bias is brought into your conscious mind, you can then temper your behavior once this realization has occurred. I think this is similar to theories about therapy (though I can’t say for sure), but I hope that the more I educate myself the more I can recognize stereotypes in books or media and attempt to break them in my written work for teens.

 Me: What questions should we be asking that we aren’t?

Rebecca: I am not sure of a specific question I think we should be asking though one that constantly comes to mind is: Why aren’t we educating young men more? I went to a lecture given by Byron Hurt last year about the race, gender, class, within popular culture, with a particular focus on hip hop and rap music and it was transformative for some of the young men in the audience. I know there has been some movement and there are people advocating for young men but I’m not sure how much access young men are given to these kinds of conversations. I think this is a conversation we need to have with both sexes – not just women. 


Me: And when you sit down to write, how do you think about all of this?

Rebecca: I try to remember my teachers (not really just through their work): Naomi Wolff, Gloria Steinhem, Jessica Valenti, Rebecca Solnit, Roxane Gay, and Shere Hite (and more) whose books and words have transformed me. I hope I can do justice to the many women who have come before me who write about women in a full and three-dimensional way. I will do my best in all of my work, especially my current work to follow their lead. 

Thanks for stopping by!

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