LGBTQ OR NOT, THE PATH TO INNER SELF STARTS EARLY
How did I not read Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle in college when it came out in 1973? That’s what I asked myself after hearing Ms. Brown’s acceptance speech for the Pioneer Award at the 27th Annual Lambda Literary Awards – aka the “Lammys”– in New York City June 1st.
Rita Mae Brown talked of books as markers on the path to self-discovery and challenged each member of the audience to remember the first book(s) that left a strong imprint on their mind. She suggested we examine how the ideas presented in those books, through their characters and messages, helped shape the person we are today.
The first book that popped into my mind was The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper.
It was the helpful Little Blue Engine of that 1930s children’s classic that taught me as a kindergartener the “I think I can” values of optimism and persistence. And because I learned to believe in myself, eventually “I think I can” was replaced with “I know I can.”
This week I asked ,y now 25-year-old kid Harry what book they* had the strongest early memory of. He named Harry Allard and James Marshall’s picture book Miss Nelson Is Missing.
I had to laugh, because at four years old Harry was obsessed with the evil-looking substitute teacher Miss Viola Swamp, who shows up to tame sweet Miss Nelson’s classroom of horribly behaved children. Harry loved to paint Miss Swamp with watercolors.
And drew her with markers.
“The intended moral,” Harry told me, “was ‘Don’t take advantage of nice people.'” But the real message, according to Harry, was: “Sometimes you have to dress-up like a scary drag queen to get what you want.”
Man, I love that kid, in drag or out.
Even though I didn’t read Rita Mae Brown in college, my swag bag of literature from the Lammy’s included a copy of Rubyfruit Jungle. I began reading it on the train ride home and have had a hard time putting it down. I wish I’d found this book about spunky protagonist Molly Bolt, who defied all precepts of labeling, earlier in my life. I think it would have helped me shift from my own gender stereotyping biases and made being mom to a kid who flexed happily along the gender-expansive spectrum a whole lot easier.
CON-GRAD-ULATIONS TO ALL THE SUPERSTARS!
I’ve seen so many great photos on Facebook of proud friends’ kids who’ve graduated recently: Rob Jr. from kindergarten; Maddie from eighth grade; Emma from high school; and Sophie from college. They’ve all passed a milestone on the path to being, doing, and having whatever they set their minds to.
And in the spirit of influential books, here’s a gift appropriate for grads of any age:
I first read this modern Dr. Seuss classic as an adult. It lay out as a coffee-table book at my father’s house. The wisdom this amazing doctor of verse wrote as a graduation speech at age 87 had come at a time I needed to hear it. I had been “waiting” for something to happen in my life. But life isn’t much fun when you leave decisions about where you’re headed up to others. No one but you can know exactly what you want out of life.
Dr Seuss gives such wise advice:
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.
Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.”
He points out the emotional part of the journey, too. The times you’re lonely, before realizing other people are on the same road with you. Or when you’re afraid you’re not good enough, or that you’ve made a big mistake. But no worries.
“You are off to great places.
Today is your day
Your mountain is waiting
So get on your way!”
Please share in the comments below what book was important to you growing up. And what book would you recommend today as valuable reading for kids of any age?
*Note: My kid Harry uses he/she/they pronouns interchangeably. If I ask which I should use, Harry say, “Mom, I really don’t care.”
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