What I Was Reading When A Stranger Assaulted Me #NotOkay


Yesterday, Michelle Obama delivered an incredibly powerful speech that captured how it feels to be a woman living in a society with men who believe they can do anything they want to women. She said:

It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts. It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.

It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them, or forced himself on them and they’ve said no but he didn’t listen — something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day. It reminds us of stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how, back in their day, the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough.

We thought all of that was ancient history, didn’t we? And so many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect, but here we are in 2016 and we’re hearing these exact same things every day on the campaign trail. We are drowning in it. And all of us are doing what women have always done: We’re trying to keep our heads above water, just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak. [For a transcript of the full speech, see here]

Are there any women who don’t know the feelings Mrs. Obama describes in this speech? I doubt it. When writer Kelly Oxford asked Twitter users to share the first time they were assaulted, she received two responses per second, resulting in millions of Twitter interactions.

I’ve never publicly shared my own experiences with sexual harassment, not even when writing about the subject on this blog. I’ve avoided it for at least two reasons. One, it’s deeply personal, even though it’s such a common experience, and two, I find it hard to isolate the experiences, perhaps as a result of trying to forget them.

However, there are a handful of incidents from my childhood that I recall vividly. This is one of them:

I can’t quite remember how old I was–whether I was 10 or 11–but I remember the book I was reading. It was The Call of the Wild by Jack London. The cover was yellow. I was reading it on the steps in front of my house on a fall afternoon. A teenager I’d never seen before walked up to me and asked if my family needed someone to rake leaves. I said I didn’t think so. Then, he walked off, and I went to the side porch. We had a swing there. While I was reading, the boy returned. Startled, I stood up, letting the book fall to the floor. The boy grabbed me, pulling down my shirt and putting his hands on my developing breasts. I was so scared. Then, he let go and left, maybe because we were outside in broad daylight. I never told my parents (until now). I was embarrassed, as though it had been my fault.

This experience happened more than two decades ago, but I still think about it every time I see a reference to The Call of the Wild.

The Challenge of Collaborative Writing (When Your Co-Authors Are Your Kids)

For a long time, writing was a solitary experience for me. I wouldn’t allow anyone to read even a portion of my stories until I thought it was perfect, which, thanks to my perfectionism, was usually never.

Those days are behind me, though. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve been collaborating on a writing project with my twins, a pair of third graders with active imaginations only children (and a handful of lucky adults) seem to have.

Our first middle grade manuscript is Anusha of Prospect Corner, which is loosely based on Anne of Green Gables. It features a 12-year-old child who struggles with her identity as the only redheaded member of her Sri Lankan-American family. I love how it turned out. Importantly, my redheaded, Sri Lankan-American daughters love it too.

This is what we did: I had a faint idea of how I wanted the story to go, thanks to Anne of Green Gables. I wrote an original chapter or two every week and shared it with my twins, who critiqued it and suggested what should happen next. Then, I re-wrote the chapter(s) based on their feedback. The result is a 47,000 word manuscript (which we hope to make available soon).

It’s a standalone novel, but we’ve decided to continue Anusha’s story in Anusha of Melrose Square. This time, my twins have assumed a larger role in the writing. They add dialogue and develop characters, and my job is to integrate their ideas with mine. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always interesting to see what they come up with.

So far, our biggest challenge came in the beginning. We had different visions for how to continue the story. I wanted to focus on Anusha’s personal growth and relationship with her nosy neighbor. Samira wanted to focus on Anusha’s relationship with her father, and Maram wanted to focus on Anusha’s relationship with her bosom friend. It’s hard to collaborate on a story if you’re writing three different books. Ugh.

A decade ago, when Neil Gaiman shared some of the lessons he’s learned from his collaborative writing experiences, he said, “Only collaborate if you both are working on the same thing.”

Indeed, but in our case, we can’t simply dissolve the collaboration. We’re family! Plus, the goals of our collaboration are different from most authors’ goals. We are writing together as an educational and bonding experience, not necessarily to publish something at the end of the process. We’ll see how Anusha of Melrose Square turns out. In the meantime, all that matters is that we’re having fun and spending time together.

Here’s a picture of my co-authors working on Anusha of Melrose Square last weekend (while drinking tea–I love that they enjoy tea as much as I do!):


For more posts about our multicultural update to Anne of Green Gables, see:

Two Lovely Berries (New Adult Fiction): “A lovely, intelligent, and honest novel”

Two Lovely Berries by AM BlairWhen I started this blog, I hoped it would make me more comfortable sharing my writing with others. At the time, my perfectionism and self-consciousness always stopped me from completing my creative projects.* Four years later, I’ve published two novels, and I’m thrilled and thankful whenever I learn that someone has read them.

For my 400th blog post, I am delighted to share Stephanie’s review of Two Lovely Berries on Eclectic Scribe (recommended to her by Monika of Lovely Bookshelf):

This is a lovely, intelligent, and honest novel about coming of age, family relationships, and the truths — and lies — that hold families together. It also illuminates how easy it is to slip into disturbingly familiar family patterns and the moment one chooses to take a different path. I enjoyed living in Nora’s head, and it kept me up late at night, wanting to read one page… or one more chapter.

Click here for the entire review on Eclectic Scribe.


*See Perfectionism and Publishing.

**For more background on Two Lovely Berries, see Freshly Pressed & Freshly Published.

Harry Potter & The Cursed Child: Why Are the Sins of the Parents Laid Upon the Children?


My daughter needed someone she could talk to about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the play by Jack Thorne based on a story by J.K. Rowling, Thorne, and John Tiffany. So, I read it during my commute to and from work this week.

It took me a little while to get used to the script format, in which dialogue drives the plot and much of the setting is left to the imagination, but, soon enough, I found myself sucked into the story. It features Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, two boys limited by their fathers’ reputations. One cannot live up to his father’s heroism, while the other cannot escape his family’s association with Lord Voldemort, the most infamous wizard of all.

Scorpius’s plight reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice: “The sins of the fathers are to be laid upon the children (Act 3, scene 5, line 1).” Justice Brennan of the U.S. Supreme Court (from 1956 until 1990) quoted this line in his dissenting opinion in Tison v. Arizona (1987), a case in which the court reviewed what punishment the state could constitutionally impose on the two sons of a murderer for their lesser roles in their father’s crimes. As Brennan noted in this opinion, “an intuition that sons and daughters must sometimes be punished for the sins of the father may be deeply rooted in our consciousness.”

I agree with Justice Brennan. The actions of parents often tarnish their children’s reputations, even when the children have done nothing wrong. This belief is so ingrained in the culture that we have numerous idioms to describe it: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; like father, like son; a chip off the old block. Even Harry Potter and the Cursed Child revolves around this concept — that, spoiler, a part of Voldemort may have survived in an heir — despite encouraging sympathy for lonely outcasts like Scorpius, who is “guilty” by association.

Why do we impose expectations and limitations on children because of who their parents are? I suppose it relates to the assumption that parents have a strong and influential bond with their children. As Stephanie from The Eclectic Scribe aptly observed:

Raising a child is kind of like a love story in reverse, a rom com on rewind. It starts out with an intense bond so all-consuming, so dizzyingly intense that it’s simultaneously overwhelming and perfect in every way. Then there are all the ups and downs, the great moments and the many missteps. And it ends with someone who seems to view me as a stranger.

During “the ups and downs, the great moments and many missteps” in this process, we hope to impart enough wisdom to help our children lead their independent lives.

However, we’re not the only influence on our children during their formative years, contributing to why our children often end up viewing us as strangers. They also have other family members, friends, teachers, movies, television, the Internet, and, of course, books (among other influences) in their lives. These sources introduce children to concepts that may reinforce or counter the messages they receive at home, making it less likely that children will turn out to be just like their parents.

All children deserve a chance to forge their own way in life, including Scorpius, no matter who his father is or might be.

I am glad I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which fueled a healthy discussion with my daughter. She expressed her sympathy for Albus and Scorpius and her belief that children are not simply extensions of their parents. She added, “You’re a lawyer, and I definitely don’t want to be one too. I want to be a writer instead.” Ha. Maybe the apple hasn’t fallen so far from the tree after all?😉

An Eight-year-old Reflects on the Loneliness of Finishing Harry Potter


In this post, one of my twins discusses how she feels now that she’s finished reading the Harry Potter series:

My name is Samira. I am in third grade. I read all the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling (including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.) I was so glad that Voldemort died because I was having nightmares about him (I do not think that’s a spoiler. Who doesn’t know that already? Sorry for the ones that don’t.) Now I’m waiting for my sister and friends to finish. Then I can talk about it with them and not spoil it. They don’t know the truth about Professor Snape and I can’t tell them. I feel lonely that I can’t tell anyone.

In case you’re wondering, I’m the one with the glasses.

Her twin sister’s response: I will be done soon!

AMB’s Response: I reminded my daughter that her father and I have read the Harry Potter series, so she can talk about it with us. However, she pointed out that we haven’t yet read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (by Jack Thorne based on a story by JK Rowling, Thorne, and John Tiffany), and she doesn’t want to spoil it. I guess that’s what I’ll be reading during my commute to work this week.


*I did not edit her reflection, except to suggest that she give an example of something she wants to be able to discuss with her friends (Snape was one of several examples she rattled off).

**My daughter gave me permission to share her thoughts on my blog.


Silence Isn’t A Solution

In the days leading up to and during Eid Al Adha:

This is not an exhaustive list of the deplorable actions Muslims have experienced recently in my country. Most incidents are too subtle or common to make the news. They are drops in the daily bucket of bigotry dumped on minorities because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, or other characteristics. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Speak Up (2015) includes many instances of everyday bigotry drawn from real-life experiences. Here are just a few (quoted from SPLC’s publication):

  • On the sidewalk, [a gay man] passes a man who tells a female companion, loudly, “There were fags all over the place. I felt like killing them.”
  • A Colorado woman uses a wheelchair. She is boarding a plane with her husband when the flight attendant says, to the husband, “Will she need help being seated?” The husband told the flight attendant to ask his wife.
  • A white woman is in a doctor’s waiting room when she notices a Muslim woman wearing a hijab being ignored by the receptionist at the front counter.
  • [A child] wrapped a towel around her head and said she wanted to be a terrorist for Halloween — “like that man down the street.” [A Sikh].
  • An African American minister is pulled over while driving home from Sunday service, in full view of many of his parishioners. He is forced to complete a field sobriety test. When he asks why he has been pulled over, he is told simply, “You swerved.”

It’s the 21st Century. Why are people still treated differently based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, or other characteristics associated with their identity? What can we do about it?

In Another Shift? We’ll Know For Sure in November, I noted research suggesting that higher levels of familiarity with Islam are associated with a reduction in a person’s susceptibility to fear-mongering about Muslims. However, higher levels of familiarity with racial, ethnic, and religious minorities isn’t easy to achieve in a country as segregated as mine is.

That’s where books that feature the authentic experiences of people from diverse backgrounds could help. Literature cannot take the place of real-life interactions, but books that feature people of color and other minorities break down stereotypes and build empathy. While the people who commit the most egregious acts of bigotry probably don’t read much, these books could encourage silent witnesses to finally take a stand.

For example, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is a funny and heartwarming novel that gives readers an opportunity to see the world through a British Muslim woman’s eyes. For those who don’t know what it’s like to be targeted because of their race or religion or other characteristic, it might help to see what Sofia contends with on her commute to work:

Before the doors [of the train] closed I made a run for it, accidentally bumping into a man who was walking towards me. Accidentally. I heard him mumble something… As I stepped into the (non-air-conditioned) crammed carriage, the word finally penetrated my commute-fogged brain. I turned around, mouth open in delayed realisation. Terrorist? Me? What the actual fuck!… No one heard him. Everyone just carried on reading their papers, listening to their iPods as if someone hadn’t just pulled normality from under my feet and smacked my head against some bizarre reality.

Maybe no one heard him or maybe they pretended not to hear, which is especially likely if the bystanders didn’t know what to do when someone utters such hateful speech in public. I’m not entirely sure how I would have responded either, but I’m thinking about it.

For ideas on how to counter daily acts of bigotry, take a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s publication (here’s the abridged version; the full version is linked above). More people need to be prepared to speak up.


*The police have not labeled this act of violence a hate crime, saying that men matching the description of the suspects threatened other women who were not Muslim.

**Thank you to Eclectic Scribe for discussing these issues with me.

Whistle Pigs, Nostalgia, & the Evolution of Language


In Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, “the husband sees a woodchuck looking through the window at them. It is with great joy that they discover that another name for this creature is ‘the whistle pig.’”

I wonder if they would be disappointed to learn that this colloquial name for Marmota monax is disappearing from the dialect it calls home, which is primarily in the Appalachian mountains. It’s among 50 regional words that the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has identified as endangered.

Does the impending loss of “whistle pig” make you sad? Should it?**

Colloquialisms add to the unique character of a community. However, communities change. Demographic, cultural, and technological shifts result in the creation of new words and the retirement of others.

How many regionally-based synonyms of words do we need in our global world these days? For example, DARE’s list of 50 regional words on the “cusp of extinction” includes three alternatives for “pine needle”: Shat, Spill, and Tag. In my neck of the woods, “shat” has nothing to do with trees. It’s the past and past participle of “shit.” Obviously.

It’s natural for word lovers to feel a pang of nostalgia when a word they grew up with disappears from common usage. According to Electric Lit (where you can find the full list of endangered American slang):

If you’re from Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia and think having shat fall from your pinetrees is abnormal, then we have news for you: you are among the many Americans losing touch with your historical regional dialect.

However, what one person laments as “losing touch with [a] historical regional dialect,” another person sees as progress. I tend to be in the latter category, often finding the nostalgia associated with language preservation and purity disturbing. Underneath the sadness associated with the loss of archaic words may lurk resentment for the newcomers who have contributed to the linguistic changes.

Still, there are a few words I’ve wanted to resurrect over a cup of chatter-broth, but what’s the point if no one would understand me?


*For my thoughts on Dept. of Speculation, see Dept. of Speculation: A Short, Unusual, Wonderful Puzzle; for Mr. AMB’s take on it, see Dept. of Speculation: Being Thirty-Something Sucks.

**Mr. A.M.B. adds, “I doubt ‘whistle pig’ is going anywhere, considering WhistlePig is arguably ‘the best rye whiskey in the world.’ Similarly, ‘barn burner’ is on the list, but, checking my email, I’ve used it twice in the past year (and received an email from someone else using it), albeit for a different meaning than ‘a wooden match that can be struck on any surface.’ That’s a ‘strike anywhere match.’”

***A.M.B’s response to Mr. A.M.B: Clearly, I don’t go camping enough because I don’t think I’ve never used “strike anywhere match” or “barn burner” in a sentence before. I’m the one who hails from the same region as “barn burner.” Mr. A.M.B. is the transplant.