Rosy Retrospection & #ReadingEmily

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It’s been a long time since I last visited Emily Byrd Starr, the main character of L. M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon (1923). Emily isn’t as famous as Anne, the star of Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, but she’s every bit as lovable. She’s an imaginative child and an aspiring writer who recognizes and embraces the world around her:

[Emily] loved the spruce barrens, away at the further end of the long, sloping pasture.That was a place where magic was made. She came more fully into her fairy birthright there than in any other place.

Sadly, Emily isn’t lucky enough to stay in this magical place. By chapter three, she loses her beloved father, setting into motion a cascade of tragic events, including the gut-wrenching loss of the yellow account-book into which Emily poured her creative thoughts.

When I signed up to participate in the #ReadingEmily readalong (hosted by Naomi of Consumed by Ink), I remembered the basic outline of Emily’s story, but I didn’t remember the details, and I certainly don’t remember crying over it. But I cried this time.

Am I more sensitive now?

My friend Jaclyn of Covered in Flour (linked below) had a similar experience:

Reading Emily as a child, I was terribly sad for her but didn’t give her father much thought in his own right.  Reading Emily as an adult, I can imagine what he must have felt, knowing that he would have to leave his beloved daughter to fend for herself in the world, that his moments with her were dwindling and that he would not see her grow up and achieve her dreams and fall in love.  (I’m getting weepy again.)

When I was a child, I didn’t have the life experiences to put myself into either Emily’s or her father’s shoes. In our modern society, life expectancy is far longer than it was in Emily’s day. Death felt remote to me as a kid, more so than it does for me now. These days, I worry about the loss of my parents, a loss many of my friends have already faced. I also worry about my children, who were born so early that their mortality was an ever-present fear in the early months of their lives, and that fear has never entirely disappeared. As a result, now that I’m an adult, I identify with ten-year-old Emily more than I did when I was her age.

However, when I look at my 9-year-old twins, with whom I’m #ReadingEmily, I wonder if I’ve misremembered my experience. They found Emily’s trials even more distressing than I did, crying especially hard when Emily’s yellow account-book became a “little heap of white film on the glowing coals.” Of course, these are the same sensitive souls who begged me to make sure that Anusha’s Manoj in Anusha of Prospect Corner, our #OwnVoices homage to Anne of Green Gables, met a different fate from Anne’s Matthew (see How I Betrayed My Kids – While Writing With Them).

Maybe I was the same way when I was their age. Maybe I don’t remember the tears I shed over Emily’s tragic circumstances.

Even when I look back on undeniably tumultuous times in my own life, such as my twins’ 78-day NICU stay, my memories do not fully reflect the reality. Nine years after their hospitalization, I still jump every time they get a cough, remembering the bleating ventilators and pulse oximeters, but most of the time, I only remember the positive parts. As I said a few years ago, when a fellow preemie mom quoted me (under my nickname) in Moving Beyond the Trauma of Preterm Birth:

Honestly, after three years, I have more positive memories of the NICU than negative ones. I was a wreck during our twins’ NICU stay, but I don’t really focus on that when I think back to that time. I miss hearing about every little milestone – every ounce gained, every step lower on the respiratory support, every poopy diaper – and I miss the nurses and doctors who cared for our twins for so long.

L.M. Montgomery understood this memory bias, giving Emily the gift of remembering her final weeks with her father as beautiful when the “pain had gone out of their recollection.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that I remember the magic of Emily’s vibrant world instead of the sadness. That’s just the way memory works.

To find other bloggers who are #ReadingEmily, check out:

  • Naomi at Consumed By Ink (host): “The girl has pluck. It’s easy to see why so many readers move on from their infatuation with Anne and fall in love with Emily.
  • Sarah Emsley: “This month, I read L.M. Montgomery’s 1923 novel Emily of New Moon for the first time in many years, and while I remembered some aspects of Emily’s journey to become a writer—the diary she burns after her aunt reads part of it, the letters she writes to her father after his death, her ambition to become both a poet and a novelist—I had forgotten just how strict her Aunt Elizabeth is, how cruel her teacher is, and how much Emily has to fight to be taken seriously as a person.”
  • Jaclyn at Covered in Flour (also quoted in my post): “And then there are books that are so intrinsically a part of you, books that you have lived in, that you will return to their pages for the rest of your life and even when you’re not in the midst of a re-read, you are carrying their subtle influence with you.  Often, that’s a childhood book – one that was a formative influence on you when you were growing up. Emily of New Moon is that book for me.”

Lawmakers Want to Take Away Your Right to a Fair Trial #StopHR985

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Many civil rights and mass torts lawsuits, including cases similar to the one at the heart of Amelia Elkins Elkins, could never happen if Congress passes H.R. 985, the so-called “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017.”

In Amelia Elkins Elkins, a “courtroom drama” retelling a Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the Elkins family turns to the courts for justice after the matriarch’s untimely death. This fictional lawsuit is similar to real lawsuits happening across the country that stem from unsafe vaginal mesh products made and/or marketed by companies like Johnson & Johnson, Ethicon, and Bard. H.R. 985, if passed into law and signed by Trump, would make it harder to bring these types of cases to court by changing the procedures for multidistrict litigation, including by imposing new requirements on where cases can be filed, forcing trial courts to stop cases mid-way through for endless appeals, hampering the settlements of medical device lawsuits, and forcing plaintiffs into trials in courts unfamiliar with their cases unless “all parties” consent to one.

Horrifyingly, H. R. 985 would also impede civil rights lawsuits by making it harder for plaintiffs to bring class actions (an efficient type of lawsuit in which many plaintiffs with similar injuries bring a single case in court). The proposed law imposes a virtually impossible standard for plaintiffs to meet in order to qualify as a “class” for litigation, requiring the proposed class to show that “each member has suffered the same type and scope of injury.” Plaintiffs in class actions have very similar injuries, but not necessarily the same injury because every person’s situation and experience of discrimination is unique.

These are just a few of the many problems with H. R. 985, which is moving eerily fast through Congress. Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill out of committee without even holding a public hearing. If H.R. 985 becomes the law, we won’t be able to remedy many civil rights violations or hold corporate wrongdoers accountable for the harm they cause to the public.

If you are in the United States, please call your representative in Congress. Please tell them that H. R. 985 is unfair and should not be passed into law. The bill is named the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017,” but don’t let its title fool you. There is nothing fair about a law that protects corporations that make unsafe products and helps bigots get around our civil rights laws.

Here’s how you find out who your representative is. If your representative is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, you can see how they voted here (PDF). There is still time to stop this bill because the full House hasn’t voted on it yet.

Here’s a copy of the bill: H. R. 985 (PDF).

Here’s the press release in which H. R. 985’s prime sponsor, Rep. Goodlatte (R-Va), crows about passing it out of committee (achieved without a public hearing) and misstates what the bill does.

For more information on how H.R. 985 threatens our access to justice, check out Litigation and Trial.

Please spread the word about this incredibly unfair and dangerous bill. Thank you!

More Than a “Bathroom Battle”: An Update Now That Sessions is in Charge of the DOJ

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A Sad, but Unsurprising Update: On Wednesday, February 22, 2017, the Trump Administration withdrew the guidance that protected transgender students.

For more background on the guidance, and why it was important, keep reading (a post from February 13, 2017, before the Trump Administration officially withdrew the guidance):

Donald Trump’s choice of Jeff Sessions as the head of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), confirms what we knew would be true the minute Trump seized the electoral college: our rights as Americans are threatened.

The DOJ is a federal agency with broad powers, including (but not limited to) the prosecution of federal crimes, the promulgation of regulations, the provision of grants to meet civil, criminal, and juvenile justice needs, oversight of various law enforcement agencies (like the FBI), and investigations (such as “pattern or practice” investigations into police misconduct).

It’s hard to believe a man like Jeff Sessions, someone who was once deemed too racist to be a federal judge, could possibly lead an agency with “Justice” in its title. His nomination to the federal bench in 1986 prompted Coretta Scott King to write a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In this letter (available here), King assailed Sessions’s conduct as a U.S. Attorney, “from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws,” saying, “he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.”

His nomination to the federal bench failed, but he became a U. S. Senator from Alabama, and now he is the Attorney General of the United States. The Senate confirmed his nomination after Sessions’s colleagues voted to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren for daring to read Coretta Scott King’s letter on the Senate floor.

So, what can we expect from Sessions as the Attorney General of the United States?

As the National Law Journal wrote last November in What to Expect from a Sessions Justice Department, “Immigration, violent crime, and undoing President Obama’s executive actions are expected to be on [Sessions’s] priority list if he’s confirmed.”

This agenda would be a departure from the DOJ’s actions during the Obama Administration, which sued states over race-based voting restrictions, made an effort to reduce racial profiling, investigated police misconduct, and fought for the rights of transgender individuals.

We are only in the early days of the Sessions DOJ, and already the signs suggest that Sessions does not care about equality for all Americans. Last Friday, the day after Sessions took over the DOJ, the Agency withdrew its request asking the 5th Circuit to narrow a temporary injunction that blocked the Obama Administration’s guidance on transgender students’ rights. The joint filing states that “the parties are currently considering how best to proceed in this appeal.”

I wrote about this case over the summer in More than a “Bathroom Battle”: The Rights of Transgender Children at School. At the time, the district court judge in Texas had just imposed a nationwide injunction that (1) allows Texas and other states to force transgender students to use bathrooms that do not match their gender identities and (2) prevents the United States government from investigating this type of discrimination across the country.

This lawsuit came in response to the DOJ and the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance document (May 2016), which clarified that Title IX prohibits schools from discriminating against students on the basis of their gender identity, defined as “an individual’s internal sense of gender” that “may be different from or the same as the person’s sex assigned at birth.”

From the start, this case was challenging for the government to defend because many people seemed to misunderstand the issue, thinking that the Obama Administration’s guidance forced schools to allow boys to use the girls’ bathroom, which seems to offend some people. But here’s the language from the guidance (a guidance I presume will disappear under Trump):

Restrooms and Locker Rooms. A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so. A school may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy.

Really, all the guidance did was clarify that schools must permit people who identify as girls to use the girls’ bathroom and those who identify as boys to use the boys’ bathroom. That’s pretty narrow.

I don’t purport to be an expert on trans rights, but I make an effort to understand the issue as best I can as a cisgender person (and I’m always learning). I’ve found that literature is helpful in this regard. For example, George by Alex Gino introduces us to a fictional transgender child who shows us some of the harms of forcing a child to use a bathroom that does not match their gender identity:

[George*] stumbled, sobbing, into the bathroom—the boys’ bathroom. Her lips trembled and salty tears dripped into her mouth. George hated the boys’ bathroom. It was the worst room in the school. She hated the smell of pee and bleach, and she hated the blue tiles on the wall to remind you where you were, as if the urinals didn’t make it obvious enough. The whole room was about being a boy, and when boys were in there, they liked to talk about what was between their legs. George tried never to use it when there were any boys inside. She never drank from the water fountains at school, even if she was thirsty, and some days, she could make it through the school day without having to go once.

In this paragraph, we can clearly see how traumatic it is for this child to use the wrong bathroom. We can also see that it’s a health hazard. No one should go an entire day at school without drinking water or using the restroom.

George–who prefers to be called Melissa–is fictional, but there are children in our schools who face similar challenges in real life. It is a shame that our children have a government that isn’t likely to secure or enforce their rights.

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*I inserted “George” at the beginning of the quote because that is the name that appears throughout the paragraph in the novel. However, Melissa is the name the child prefers to use. For more on the recalcitrance of the name “George,” see George or Melissa? It Matters.

**For more uplifting news, see Authors, Does Donald Trump Care About Your Name Change?

Zahrah the Windseeker: For Those of Us Who Don’t Fit In #ReadDiverse2017 #DiverseBookBloggers

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Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu begins with these words:

When I was born, my mother took one look at me and laughed.

“She’s… dada,” said the doctor, looking surprised.

“I can see that,” my mother replied with a smile.

Zahrah has dadalocks, clumps of hair inside of which grow “skinny, light green vine[s].” It’s an unusual, misunderstood trait in Zahra’s kingdom. Many people think it’s associated with strange powers. To avoid prejudice, Zahrah could cut her dadalocks; instead, she grows them down her back. Her hair is heavy, but as her mother has taught her, “it forces me to hold my head up higher.”

Nevertheless, Zahrah is self-conscious. She knows that she different from other children. As she explains:

In Kirki, where fear of the unknown was strong and where so much of the past had been pushed aside and forgotten, my dada hair was like a big red badge on my forehead that said, “I don’t fit in and never will.

Zahrah the Windseeker is a middle grade novel for children who sometimes feel like they don’t fit in. It’s for children who haven’t yet learned how to embrace the unique qualities that make them special. It’s also for adults, because, quite frankly, no one is too old for a gentle reminder to appreciate themselves.

Zahrah the Windseeker is an engaging fantasy novel featuring the friendship between Zahrah and a boy named Dari, who suffers a medical emergency after he and Zahrah venture into the dangerous jungle. Zahra can save him, but only if she learns to harness her powers. To do that, Zahrah must learn to accept herself and push beyond her boundaries. She cannot fear the unknown.

This is another important lesson for my twins, who are shy and rarely take risks. Meanwhile, my youngest, an extroverted, reckless child, needs the opposite lesson. Following Zahrah’s example, she would probably think it’s just fine to explore the woods by herself. But she’s only five and won’t be reading this book anytime soon. When she does, hopefully after she’s learned how to assess risks more appropriately, I hope she’ll enjoy this novel as much as her sisters did.

Here are their thoughts:

Samira: Zahrah the Windseeker is about a girl who must save her friend. I liked it because Misty the Gorilla takes care of Zahrah when she’s sick (though I probably shouldn’t have told you that). There is nothing I did not like about this book. Go read it!

Maram: Zahrah the Windseeker is about a girl named Zahrah and her friend Dari. Dari gets sick, and Zahrah needs to save him. My favorite character is the speckled pink frog that can be annoying but is also wise. Wise people are annoying sometimes. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this book, but I wanted to know more about where the town is located and how it got there. I wanted to know more about its relationship to Earth.

I read Zahrah the Windseeker because my daughters recommended it to me (after Akilah from The Englishist recommended it for them). It was a worthwhile read.

Authors, Does Donald Trump Care About Your Name Change?

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On February 2, 2017, the U.S. Copyright Office issued its final rule in The Federal Register about the removal of personally identifiable information from copyright registration records (PDF). That sounds pretty boring even to me, and I tend to like so-called “boring” legalese. This rule, however, contains something unexpected for our current political climate: for the first time, as of March 6, 2017 (the effective date of the rule), the Copyright Office will permit authors or copyright claimants to change their names in the online public catalog.

Not every author registers for copyright protection with the U.S. Copyright Office. As the Office explains in its FAQ:

In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Those who decide to register have been stuck with the names on their copyright registration applications, even when those names reflect the author’s assigned gender at birth, not their expressed gender now. Those names are available to the public through the Office’s online registration catalog, potentially disclosing a person’s transgender status when an assigned name does not match a person’s expressed gender. This disclosure could increase the risk that a transgender individual will experience harassment or abuse.

As the Office explains in the Federal Register, referencing comments by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and a commenter known as T. Brown:

Two commenters urged the Office to allow authors or claimants to replace their names in the online public catalog… Although it may be possible to use a supplementary registration to change one’s name, both the original registration and the supplementary registration appear in the online registration record. According to these commenters, having a transgender individual’s birth name and changed name appear in the record could jeopardize the ‘well-being and personal and professional life’ of a transgender individual, put them in danger, or subject them to ‘employment discrimination, bodily harm and/or worse.” NCTE argued that not allowing a person who has received a legal name change to replace their original name with the legally changed name may affect victims of domestic violence as well.

The Office adopted the NCTE’s suggested rule as the final rule, which states:

201.2(e)(2)(iii) Names of authors or claimants may not be removed or replaced with a pseudonym. Requests to substitute the prior name of the author or claimant with the current legal name of the author or claimant must be accompanied by official documentation of the legal name change.

So, the author or claimant must provide documentation of their legal name change, a process that varies from state to state. This step makes changing the name on a registration somewhat more complicated, but the new rule is still a big step forward for individuals who want the name on their copyright to match their identity.

Is it odd that this change from the U.S. Copyright Office happened during the early weeks of the Trump Era?

THR, Esq. at The Hollywood Reporter noted that, with the Trump Administration and Republicans in charge (remember that the Republicans included in their 2016 platform the defense of “traditional marriage between a man and a woman”):

[I]t’s somewhat surprising to see a government entity [] do something in the interest of protecting transgender individuals. [However,] it’s an obscure change to copyright rules, and to be quite clear, there’s no evidence that the Trump Administration was involved in this. To go further, we’d bet that Trump has no idea.

The U.S. Copyright Office, sitting in the Library of Congress, is pretty far removed from the Trump Administration, and it solicited comments on its rule on September 15, 2016, during the Obama Administration. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that Trump hasn’t had a chance to infect the Library of Congress with his particular brand of hateful idiocy. For example, the current Librarian of Congress, who appoints the Register of Copyrights and Director of the Copyright Office, is an Obama appointee.

Hopefully, as Trump continues his infestation of Washington, D.C., this rule will remain as it is. It’s hard to see why anyone but the author of a copyrighted work would care about the name associated with their copyright–except, of course, for that person’s harasser or abuser. In that case, maybe the Trump Administration will care after all.

Broadening Our Worldview: Sri Lankan Literature

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On February 4th, Sri Lanka celebrated 69 years of independence from the British Empire. Sri Lanka is my mother’s homeland, but I grew up in the United States, where many people are incapable of finding Sri Lanka on the globe. The fact that Americans know so little about the world is sad. This ignorance explains, at least in part, why a large percentage (though not a majority) of American voters felt comfortable electing a xenophobic man for President (and xenophobia is only one of a long list of hateful traits this man exhibits proudly).

If more Americans made an effort to learn about the rest of the world, the United States would be a better country than it is right now. Not everyone has the resources to travel, but books are a wonderful way to broaden our worldview. I think that is particularly true of books for younger readers, who aren’t so entrenched in their views already.

To learn more about Sri Lanka, check out Cinderzena’s list of Sri Lankan literature (and bloggers!). As she explains:

I decided to create a list of some of the best, spell binding and intriguing Lankan literature written in English. Of course there are so many more wonderful masterpieces in both Sinhala and Tamil (which are both official languages of the country) but translations of them are also widely available. I tried my best to chose from a wide range of genres including translations.

Cinderzena was kind enough to include Anusha of Prospect Corner, the middle grade novel I wrote with my twins. We are Sri Lankan-American (I am half Sri Lankan; my Dad’s side is predominantly Irish with a mix of Sioux, African, and Basque). The novel was a way of exploring our identity as we grapple with what remains of our Sri Lankan heritage while we live thousands of miles away from our mother country.

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anusha-front-cover-smallerTo learn more about Anusha of Prospect Corner, find it on:

The Importance of Writing (Is It Different Now?)

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Donald Trump has only been the President of the United States for a little over a week. It feels longer, doesn’t it? It also feels like an alternate reality, one in which our Constitution doesn’t seem to matter to the people in power.

In this repressive climate of government-manufactured “alternative facts,” there is an increased sense of urgency to dissent, to speak up, and to share our perspectives in blogs and books.  As Nevien Shaabneh, the Palestinian-American author of Secrets Under the Olive Tree, said in her interview on Read Diverse Books, “I think all writing is activism. Literature is able to sensitize what has been desensitized in our society.”

Indeed, writing is a form of activism, and we must share our diverse stories with anyone who is willing to read them.

But that’s the problem. Those who are willing to read about our experiences aren’t the people who voted for Mr. Trump on November 8th. They aren’t the ones who support Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim Ban, his multi-billion-dollar wall, or his vow to strip 24 million people of their health insurance. Trump’s supporters, like the man they elected, probably don’t read much. After all, one in four Americans didn’t read a single book last year.

Thankfully, though, those people aren’t the majority in our country. They weren’t even a majority of voters in the election, which Trump lost by nearly 3 million votes (while capturing the electoral college, a legacy of slavery). I hope our words will reach those people, as well as the open-minded members of the next generation, our future leaders. I hope our diverse perspectives will encourage these people to keep up the fight against Trump’s racist, fascist regime.

I’ve been making an effort to write about my experience as a multiracial, Muslim-American. I’ve also been making an effort to read books that raise up the voices of individuals from other backgrounds, especially the ones that Trump and his supporters have targeted first (of course, he’ll come for everyone eventually, if we don’t prevent it from happening).

I am also taking other steps to resist our government’s un-American policies, as I discussed in Becoming a Butterfly, which I wrote in response to Rebecca Solnit’s powerful book, Hope in the Dark:

I’m trying to push beyond my comfort zone where I can–too many of us have been too comfortable with the status quo for too long–but I’m not going to turn into a [direct action] activist anytime soon. I’m shy, and even making a phone call to a person I don’t know makes me anxious. However, I’m willing to do that when the person on the other end of the line works in a lawmaker’s office. I’m willing to do more than that too.

Every day since Trump’s inauguration, I have engaged in as many daily acts of resistance as I can — which I’ve chronicled on Twitter to hold myself accountable — ranging from participating in my local women’s march to calling my Senator’s office.

But I’ve wondered how much of it I should share publicly, especially after my 5-year-old daughter cautioned me against public displays of dissent against Trump. She said, “Oh mommy, be careful. If he finds out you don’t like him, he’s going to make you leave the country.”

I thought about her heartbreaking words when Trump and his Death Eaters occupied my town last Thursday. My friend, a white woman, gave Trump the finger, but I kept my hands firmly by my sides, keenly aware of the cop beside me with his hand on his gun as Trump’s motorcade rolled by.

But I can’t be quiet. I need to speak up. The other voices of dissent I hear on a daily basis give me strength and comfort (thank you). Maybe eventually, together, our voices will be so loud that the powers that be will have no choice but to listen.