I’ve been quiet on social media since I received word of Sandra Moran’s passing. I said that I didn’t have any words. That wasn’t quite true. I’ve had a lot of words. They just haven’t been the right ones. And as a writer finding the right words matters to me. Words make meaning and shape understanding. When it came to Sandra all the words I had were laced with pain, sadness. They were honest, so I don’t think they were bad or even wrong. And still they weren’t right, because what I wanted wasn’t what Sandra wanted.
I wanted to relay stories about how we didn’t really get to be close until this past year, until it was almost too late. I wanted to prove our closeness by telling of the many conversations we had in private during our coinciding transitions to Bywater Books. I wanted to share nicknames we had for each other and the slogan we used for talking about all the great things we’d do now that we both worked for the same publisher. I wanted to scream about those plans. I wanted to shout about what we’ll never get to do together. I wanted to beg someone to tell me what I’m supposed to do now. I wanted to make sure everyone felt the pain, and the sense of loss, and my fears about moving forward without her as part of this rebuilding process. I wanted someone else, everyone else, to feel my crushing sense of regret for not starting sooner or doing more. I wanted to make everyone understand how little they really understood about how bad this hurt me.
And while all those things might be real, and even useful parts of the grief process for me personally, they aren’t the emotions I ultimately want to project to the world about Sandra Moran. Those emotions aren’t really about Sandra at all. They are about me. They are self-centered, and most importantly they are not what Sandra wanted.
I don’t pretend to know everything about her final wishes. I defer completely to her wonderful wife, Cheryl, on those. We were only able to talk a few times after her diagnosis, and all of the conversations were brief, but over the last months she made a few very strong statements about what she wanted and what she didn’t want.
She understood people’s sadness, but she hated to be the cause of it. She did not want to be remembered as a tragic figure. She did not want to be remembered for how she died. She did not want to be talked about as an object of pity or despair. She did not want to be a convenient example for all of life’s unfairness. She was so much more, and she wanted to be remembered for so much more. One thing she told me virtually every time we talked was that she wanted to be forever known as Sandra Moran, the writer. She wanted to known as an advocate for queer literature and queer history in all its breadth and depth. She wanted to be known as someone who lifted up the best and the brightest voices, and while she never said so, I think it would honor her to be counted among those voices.
Sandra Moran left us a legacy that means so much to and for our collective queer family. She left us her work, and she left us with the challenge of following her example. GCLS is accepting donations for a scholarship in her memory. Ann McMan and Salem West are carrying on with Sandra’s plans to help raise money for the Lambda Literary Foundation. The LikeMe Lighthouse is naming their library in her honor. Marianne K Martin is continuing on with their work on The Legacy Project to capture and preserve the pioneer voices in Lesbian literature. Sandra’s passion inspired so many of us, and that inspiration will not fade simply because she has passed the torch. She will live on as a big-tent, big-heart, big-talent woman, and each of us is now charged with carrying her light forward in a million different ways.
I am still not sure exactly which pieces of her legacy I will pick up. I’m still lost and confused, and I think she’d forgive me for that, but I don’t think she’d forgive me if I ended things here, or even if I stalled for too long in my memories of her, because my pain, my insecurities, and my fear may all be valid, but they are mine, not Sandra’s. So I will cry, I will grieve, I will wonder what might have been, and I will probably worry too much, but I will always remember that I’m doing those things out of my own fragile sense of mortality, not as part of my friend’s legacy.
Sandra was better than all that. Sandra’s memory is better than all that. So, when I speak of her, I will not speak of what I lost. I will speak about what she brought to our lives. I will not talk about how she died. I will honor the purposes for which she lived. I will not dwell on the unfairness of it all. I will emphasize how she touched more lives in 47 years than most people ever do in twice that long. I will not obsesses about the work left undone. I will cling to the work she left behind, and I will acknowledge its unique power to teach, to inspire, and to move every one of us forward.
That is more than what Sandra wanted. It’s what she deserves.
It seems like I just got home from my summer travels, but lo and behold, it’s October already! And October means more travel for the Spangler family. I’m not ready, I’m not packed, and I haven’t picked my readings yet, but tomorrow I leave for Scranton, Pennsylvania, where I will have the honor of speaking with the awesome students at the University of Scranton.
Thursday and Friday I get to do one of the things I love best–hang out with college students. I actually got my Master’s of Education in college student personnel administration, so when I find myself talking on college campuses, it always makes me feel all full-circleish. Over those two days I will get to meet with students from Multicultural Affairs, Women’s Studies, Campus Ministries, and counseling as well as doing a formal reading/author chat. In other words, I will be in heaven.
Then after we’re home for only a few days, we’re going to hit the road again, this time on our annual pilgrimage to Provincetown. Oh Ptown, how can I even speak all the ways I adore thee? I could honestly write a novel-length love letter to Provincetown, and maybe someday I will, but for right now I just want to tell you about what I’ll be doing at Women’s Week.
Here’s my schedule as it stands so far.
Wednesday, October 14
10:30-11:30 (God willing and I arrive on time) I’ll be hanging out with Bywater and Friends at Womencrafts (376 Commercial Street)
Thursday, October 15
9:30 – 11:00 – I’ll be reading with a great slate of authors at Napi’s restaurant (7 Freeman Street)
3:30 – 4:30 – I’ll be on the “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Panel at the Ptown Library (356 Commercial Street) with Marianne K Marin, Lynn Ames and Georgia Beers.
Friday October 16
10:00 – Bywater and Friends Meet and Greet at Womencrafts (376 Commercial)
11:00 – Author chat and signing at the GCLS in Ptown event at the Sage Inn (336 Commercial Street) with Georgia Beers, Melissa Brayden, Lynn Ames, DeJay Garden, and Carren Stock.
2:00 – Sweet Romance readings at the Ptown Library (356 Commercial Street) with Melissa Brayden, Rachel Spangler, Jackie D, Nell Stark, Holly Stratimore, and Jean Copeland
4:00 – Signing books with Melissa Brayden, Rachel Spangler, Jackie D, Nell Stark, Holly Stratimore, and Jean Copeland at Recovering Hearts (4 Standish Street)
Saturday October 17
8:30 – 9:30 – Annual Readers and Writers Wiffle Ball Game (104 Bradford). All are welcome to play or cheers us on!
11:00 – 12:00 – Bywater and Friends Meet and Greet at Womencrafts (376 Commercial)
So there you have it, my full slate of events for the next two weeks. I’m kind of exhausted after typing it all out, but I know I’ll love it when the time comes. I hope that those of you who will be in Ptown will join me for some (or all) of the fun things I have planned. And even if you aren’t going to be there, I’d love it if you’d comment and let me know what scenes you think I should read at my various events!
Hey friends, I know that lately I’ve been focusing on new adventures with Bywater and signing my next novel, Perfect Pairing, but one of the wonderful parts of this transition is being able to keep some of my ties to Bold Strokes Books. As you likely know, I have 8 novels with BSB, but my time at BSB was so much more than “my books.” It’s a place where I learned and grew, and most of all it’s where I made the connections that shaped my experience in the lesbian fiction world. I made so many friends and gained so many mentors during my time with BSB, so many names that will never appear on the cover of a book, but without them my name would have never appeared on the cover a book either. I know where I came from and who helped me to get where I am, and I’ll never forget it, which is why I am so proud of my last project with BSB.
The Sweet Hearts anthology is a group effort of some of BSB’s finest. Melissa Brayden, Karis Walsh, and I each wrote a novel that fits the theme “sweet hearts.” Each of our contributions is a stand-alone story that follows a minor character from a previous book. My story is titled Getting Serious, and it follows Lisa Knapp and Marty Maine from LoveLife. I had a blast getting to hang out with them (and see Joey and Elaine) again. I’d been thinking about their story for years. I knew where I wanted to take them, and I believed their story was compelling enough to be told, but how? They were too much for a short story, and I didn’t know for sure if it could fill the space of a whole novel. Getting to write their romance in novella form fit them, and me, perfectly.
All three novellas were then put together and edited by Ruth Sternglantz. I hadn’t worked with Ruth much before this. She had asked me to write the foreword for Lee Lynch’s American Queer anthology, and she’d gone over that with me, but having her edit Getting Serious was fun. I consider Ruth a friend, someone smart and thoughtful and trustworthy. Getting to work with her helped me cross off one of my BSB bucket-list items, and I think you’re going to really like the results.
Now Sweet Hearts is in the hands of the printer. It will be officially on the market in December, but it’s going to make its paperback debut in Provincetown for Women’s Week. I love Ptown, and I love the energy that comes from reading, so anytime I get that chance I’m happy, but this time around it will be extra special for me. I’ll be reading from Getting Serious as part of BSB’s Sweet Romance Readings alongside fellow Sweet Hearts author and close friend Melissa Brayden (Along with longtime friends Ali Vali and Nell Stark as well as new authors Holly Stratimore, Jackie D, and Jean Copeland).
I’m happy to have kept these ties to friends and colleagues at BSB. I am proud of the entire Sweet Hearts anthology and my piece in it, and I am really looking forward to celebrating the culmination of this project in Ptown next month.
I hope those of you who are at Women’s Week will come share the moment with me, and I hope those of you who can’t make it to Ptown will still go preorder Sweet Hearts now.
Many of you know my friend/editor/neighbor/fellow author Lynda Sandoval recently opened a yoga studio in our little corner of Western New York. I had the privilege of helping her do the renovations to the space, which is to say I talked to her and occasionally handed tools to other people. Still, I feel a sense of pride in the studio, and I want it to succeed. And by all accounts it is succeeding. They are offerings tons of classes in so many areas with so many amazing instructors, and people are responding. Attendance is growing every week. People who have never done yoga before are practicing next to people who can effortlessly pop into handstands. Our little community has thrown itself behind this endeavor, and there is a place for everyone in the movement.
I knew where my place was from the beginning. I would take the slow, not hot-classes where Lynda talked in soothing tones. I would downward dog, and salute the sun, spend lots of time in my beloved child’s pose, and to prove I wasn’t a slacker, I would do some planks. Then I would hang out in the lobby and welcome folks like a goodwill ambassador. Wooing is what I’m good at. Exercise, not so much.
I had the best of intentions, but those of you who follow this blog know I’ve had a busy few months. I’ve visited new places, accepted a new job, started a new novel, and signed a new book contract with a new publisher. So much newness. And of course I want to embrace those changes or I wouldn’t have accepted them, but as schedules got tighter and the pace of life got faster, I felt myself pulling back. I needed order. I needed routine, the familiar. I made a list of areas I wanted to anchor myself in and posted the list on my Facebook page as part of a 30 day challenge.
Here’s my list:
64 oz of water x 30
60 servings Fruit and veggies
Detox bath x 4
Yoga classes x 12
Run x 12
Plank x 30 minutes
Read Acts and Romans
Hang out with friends x 4
Donate to the Food Pantry
Edit Perfect Pairing
Family Tennis x 4
Family dates x 4
Inflatable 5 K
Movies x 4
Try a new restaurant
It might look like a lot, but most of the items are basic. They’re things I should already be doing on a regular basis. Taking care of my health and my family and my job, these are the things I know. This list was meant to help me hone in on what I know is best for me. I love my list.
By the middle of the month, I was either on target or close to on target in all my major areas. The only thing I’d had a hard time with was the 12 yoga classes. All those slow, easy, not hot-classes I wanted to do didn’t fit with my schedule or Jackson’s schedule, so I fell behind. I wasn’t going to be able to catch up and stay in my comfort zone, so with a little prompting from Lynda, I agreed to take the power yoga class during the free community-class time slot. I figured I would be in over my head, but there were 20 people between me and the teacher. I hid my mat in the very back corner next to Lynda and planned to slip into child’s pose frequently, or make excuses to sip my water any time things got too hard.
Well, they got hard pretty quickly. I was sweating within 15 minutes. We moved quickly from one pose right into another. I didn’t have time to find an exit ramp we were moving so fast. I stayed up with the group largely out of frantic fear of not being able to untangle myself. Everyone else in the room seemed to be in the same boat. People laughed a lot as we forgot our right from left. Some guy in the front popped into handstand. Someone else tried and crashed. Still, the instructor calmly moved step-by-step through directions upon directions. I couldn’t see her, but she gave beautifully detailed verbal cues. Suddenly I didn’t know a pose looked complicated. I couldn’t see that “crow” was way over my head. I didn’t even have a full picture. I only had one explicit piece of the puzzle on top of another. She said “Put your hands down,” and I did. She said “Look out in front of you,” and I did. She told us, “Bend your arms.” I bent mine. She said, “Use your arms as shelf and hook one knee on.” Once I’d done that, she said to do the same thing with the other.
And I did.
I was in crow, a move I would have never tried if she’d shown it to me and asked, “Do you want to do this?” In fact, I had been asked that very question in the past and politely declined, taking either a modification or child’s pose instead.
But now, here I was, knees on elbows, feet in the air, completely stable and totally in my body instead of my head. I laughed and made Lynda look at me. I know, not very zen, but major progress. And one little accomplishment I didn’t even think I was trying for opened up a world of possibilities. I left feeling much more exhilarated than sore, and two days later I went back to Power Yoga. In fact, I’ve gone back four more times since then. Now I do “crow,” and “bird of paradise,” and supported head and handstands (Someday I will do them unsupported.), and today I got “side crow” for the first time.
(Side crow looks like this…in theory)
Each time I go into class open-minded and let go of all the fears and body image limitations I thought I had, I find I can do so much more than I ever thought to aspire to.
It’s been in a good lesson for me in this time of change. What if I didn’t try to get back to normal? What if I didn’t make reasonable goals? What if didn’t look at a whole problem and decide it couldn’t or shouldn’t be tackled. What if I just took everything as it came without anticipating it, without worrying about the fall or bowing out before I even got started?
What if we assumed we were all capable of doing the things that inspired us and meeting the challenges of the world around us?
What if we approached every step in a calm, matter-of-fact voice that implies everything is possible?
Who could we be then? What could we accomplish?
I don’t know, but I’d love to find out.
I promised a few weeks ago that I’d give y’all a blog about GCLS, and I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but I’m having a really hard time with this one. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about GCLS. The opposite is true. I want to say all the things. Books, readers, literary icons, old friends, new friends, stories, pictures, New Orleans, the whole conference was off the hook.
Let me back up a bit. The GCLS or the Golden Crown Literary Society is an organization dedicated to education, promotion, and recognition of lesbian fiction. If you aren’t a member yet, you should really think about joining. The organization is fantastic, and there’s no better chance for readers and writers of lesbian fiction to interact with each other. I think that’s the thing I love most about their annual conference: I am there as an author, and I am there as a reader. I got to have dinner with the likes of Dorothy Alison and Lee Lynch one night, then lunch with some fellow readers the next two days. I can be signing autographs one minute, then dashing off to get someone else’s autograph the next. Of course when I leave my seat during the autograph session, someone else takes my spot and signs in my place.
Like any other conference, there are also plenty of formal sessions to attend. This year I got to be part of several cool events that ranged from the serious to the silly. I was part of one panel on the coming out experience. Then I moderated a session on graphic novels. Both of those were educational and engaging. They each left me thinking about either the genre or my place in it in new and more thoughtful ways. On the purely fun side, I got take part in a Liar Liar panel with some really creative authors. We took turns telling stories, and the audience got to vote on whether or not they thought we were lying. I suppose that session was plenty educational in its own right (authors are wilder than you’d think), but there was also a lot of laughter all around.
I also got to do a reading from Heart of the Game. It was at 8:00 in the morning…in New Orleans…the morning after Karaoke Night…and yet we had a full room of awesome engaged readers asking great questions. I think that really goes to show you how much these readers and writers love the books we share.
Aside from my official duties, I also got to enjoy some really great sessions. So many of them stood out, and every one of them taught me several things I could take back and use in my own writing, but the one I will likely use the most from was Melissa Brayden’s workshop on to how to write faster and sell more books. She shared a great list of tips or “nuggets” for writers at all stages of their career. The audience was filled with a mix of people ranging from aspiring writers to people with more than 20 books in print, and every one of them was taking notes.
GCLS also offers two guest speakers every year. This year the special address was given by New Orleans local and enthusiast Ali Vali. I’ve known Ali for years, and she is one of the most naturally gifted storytellers I have ever met. She gave a hilarious powerpoint presentation on tips to enhancing the writing process. The keynote address was given by literary great, Dorothy Alison I don’t know what I can possibly say to do justice to her speech other than this: It was the best speech I have ever been privileged to hear. No exaggeration. I genuinely hope GCLS will be able to make the recording public because I think every reader and writer of lesbian literature needs to hear this speech.
The culmination of the annual GCLS conference is the awards ceremony. This is the time when everybody gets all spiffed up and honors not only the best work of the year, but also those writers and works that paved the way for us to do what we do now. This year Rita Mae Brown accepted the Lee Lynch Classics Award for Rubyfruit Jungle, and Joan Nestle was given the Trailblazer Award, which Dorothy Alison accepted on her behalf.
Then we partied. We danced, we laughed, we took so many selfies our head spun, and we shut the place down. What’s not to love about that?
As usual I had bast, I learned a lot, I got recharged, and I left New Orleans already counting down until I get to do it all again next year at GCLS Washington D.C.
Happy belated Labor Day, all. I am always grateful to the men and women who came before me and fought for workplace rights. I am proud of my grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins who still pay their union dues faithfully, and I am particularly proud of my union-member wife. She works hard in a critical and often contentious academic climate at a time when her union is increasingly under attack from right-wing politicians trying to censure academic freedom and privatize education in order to cut off access for working classes. It is only because she continues to do her work and reap her union benefits that I have the freedom and stability necessary to do jobs that I love.
And I do love my jobs. Both of them. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I accepted a position as the social media director of Bywater Books over the summer. I am really enjoying the work of helping to foster better relationships and communication between authors and readers. But I am, first and foremost, a writer. Writing is the work that sustains my soul. That is the work I feel most strongly called to do. Writing is the work that makes me feel grateful every single day for the opportunities I have. It is also the work I am most proud of. Which is why I found it a little disconcerting to have a new social media job and a new book to be published, but nowhere to publish it.
I finished my 9th novel, Perfect Pairing, in July. It’s a story I can’t wait to have out there, but because my new job at Bywater created a conflict of interest with Bold Strokes Books, we decided it would be best to part ways. I am and will always be eternally grateful to Radcylffe and the amazing team she built for the start they gave me and the wisdom they imparted over the last eight years. I will always consider the people at Bold Strokes my friends and colleagues, and I am thrilled that we were able to part company amicably. (So amicably, in fact, I will be reading with them in Ptown, but more on that later) However, with one door closed, I had until the past few weeks not opened another one.
I considered self publishing, but as so much of my work, both writing and otherwise, revolves around relationships and relationship-building, I’m not inclined to “go it alone” in many areas of my life. I love being part of a team, which led me to look at the team I’d just joined in the business capacity in a new way. I already knew that I liked and respected the management team at Bywater, or else I wouldn’t have started doing their social media, but the more I worked with their authors and publicized their books, the more I grew to respect the creative work they do. Everyone I interacted with had a passion for good books, for quality writing, and for the larger lesfic community. Bywater has published everyone from trailblazers like Marianne K. Martin and Katherine V. Forrest to bold new voices like Carol Rosenfeld and Wynn Malone. They published established genre fiction writers like Georgia Beers, Ellen Hart and Baxter Clare Trautman and some of the funniest women I know in Ann McMan and Mari San Giovanni. They don’t shy away from nonfiction either, with writers as diverse as Julie Marie Wade and Fay Jacobs. The more research I did, the more I became certain that no matter what you write, if you write it well, there’s a space for that writing at Bywater Books. I am thankful that Kelly, Marianne, Salem, and Ann felt that my work qualifies as quality writing.
I am proud to announce I have contracted with Bywater Books to publish my next romance novel, Perfect Pairing, for release in June of 2016.
I am back from my big summer road trip. How big was it you ask? Well here are the numbers:
Our trip by the numbers:
Days on the road: 24
Beds slept in: 8
Cities/towns visited: 11
Animals visited: 13
Phone chargers lost: 2
Hours in the car: 64
States driven through: 14
Miles traveled: 4,277
Friends visited: countless
During that time I attended the GCLS conference and did a reading at my favorite bookstore in St. Louis, both of which I will post about in upcoming blogs. It was an amazing ride, but it also very quite wonderful to be back at home. I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed for multiple nights in a row and enjoying the little luxuries or being still for a bit.
However, now that my physical adventures have settled down for the time being, I find it time to focus on a journey of another kind. This one has less to do with the car and more to do with my career. As you all know, I have been a proud lesbian romance author for the last seven years. The lesbian fiction community has given me so much joy, support, and love over that time, and I hope nothing about that will change. I still intend to put the bulk of my time, energy, and heart into producing quality novels, but now, in addition to my writing, I will also be starting a job in social media.
It is with great pleasure that I announce I’ve accepted a position as the new Director of Social Media for Bywater Books.
Those of you who follow this blog and Facebook know how much I adore the opportunities the internet provides for personal interactions with readers and writers. I believe fostering the relationships that bind our community together is one of the most important things we can do to keep our community strong. I find that work to be both personally and professionally fulfilling, so I’m thrilled that I get to combine another one of my passions with my work.
I hope each and every one of you will join me on this new adventure, both by continuing to follow this blog and also by liking/following Bywater Books in Facebook and Twitter.
Hey friends, it’s time for me to get back to work. I’m moving forward now and I am so looking froward to what the next few weeks hold.
First, I will be attending the Golden Crown Literary Society’s annual conference in July. The GCLS’s mission is to educate, promote, and recognize lesbian fiction, and I can’t think of anything more fun than that. Plus the organization is filled with great people who come together every year for a big ole lesfic loveliest. It’s one of my favorite events every summer, and this year I am proud to be making several appearances as part of the conference schedule. If you’re going to be at the con, here’s where you’ll be sure to find me.
Thursday July 23
11:10 – I don’t care what’s written about me so long as it isn’t true…
2:00 – Read Between the Lines – Lesbian Lit and Graphic Novels (Moderator)
Friday July 24
8:30 – Author Reading
11:30 – Author Auction
4:25 – Autograph Session
Saturday July 25
6:00 – Awards reception
7:00 – Awards
10:00 – Dance
I am sure I’ll also be spending plenty of time just hanging out, shooting the breeze, and catching up with good friends I don’t get to see nearly often enough. Please say hello!
Then, the week after the conference, I have the honor of doing a book reading/signing at my favorite bookstore ever! On Thursday July 30, I’ll be at Left Bank Books at 7:00. Left Bank Books was the first place I ever saw a lesbian fiction section. It was a wonderful and even life-changing experience. I love Left Bank Books so much that I put it in Timeless. I’ll likely be reading that scene, along with a selection from Heart of The Game, which also takes place in St. Louis. If you’re in the area, please join me for this one!
It’s been a long and enlightening couple of days.
I ended my last blog with the statement that I would not be posting “pro rebel flag” comments, nor would I post anything outright racist (and I made it clear I deeply believe the two are connected). I did not rule the comments section with an iron fist. I posted a few comments pointing out perceived inconsistencies in my argument or comments from people who wanted to spin my arguments in new directions. I have not censored people who are grappling with nuanced views or asking productive questions. However, I thought I had made myself clear in my closing that I would not engage outright arguments. Maybe I should’ve led with that statement. I now suspect people who didn’t agree with me stopped reading long before they got to the postscript. I’m not surprised people turned away from an argument that challenged them. It’s human nature to do so. Lord knows I buried my head in the sand long enough on that issue. I understand the impulse to do so, which is why I should have probably anticipated the anger and violence with which people reacted to the post.
I should have, but I didn’t.
Over the last few days I’ve been called a MFing idiot, a n***er loving liberal, a lunatic, a tool of black oppression, a worthless dyke, ignorant, a liar, a bitch, and all of those things were in the first line of the comments because I generally stopped reading after that point. I can only imagine what else those page-long diatribes worked up to by the end. I have the mouth of a trucker on me, but I ended up red-faced with embarrassment for the commenters on more than one occasion and tearful with sadness at others. It’s not often I’ve been personally faced with the full force of racism in its virtual form, and I admit I was unprepared to handle it.
I have had to turn off the comments on that blog post, due to both the sheer volume of the comments as well as the vitriol contained in some of them. As I try to get back to work this week, I simply cannot keep up with them any more. I have a career, a family, summer travels to prepare for, and house under a series of construction projects. I do not have the time or the energy to read/sort through 25-50 angry comments every morning and then again every night. But even turning off the comments hasn’t worked, because now I am being harassed via email, and some people have gone so far as to contact my publisher threatening to boycott the entire company if they’re not allowed to post a comment on my personal blog.
I’m not ashamed to admit I am tired to the point of emotional exhaustion.
Let me be clear. I’m in no way claiming I’ve been oppressed. If anything, I’ve seen this experience as a reminder of my privilege. As an educated, white, middle-class woman, I’m not accustomed to being spoken to the way I have been over the last few days. This is a luxury many of my African American friends are not afforded. My heart breaks for them. I wish I could mitigate all the violence they face. I wish I could somehow act as a buffer. If there was some way for me to bear the brunt of the disrespect and anger they face on daily basis, I would put on my big girl pants, gird my loins, and take my verbal beatings, but that’s not how hate works. It’s not as if the people who hate me will run out of hate to hurl at other people. Hate feeds off of hate, ignorance breeds more ignorance, violence leads only to more violence. I cannot drive out any of those abhorrent virtues by submitting to them. The darkness spreads with each new expression. What I can do, however, is curb their expressions. I can stop providing that insidious negativity with an outlet.
That’s all I was trying to do with my little P.S. about not posting racist comments on my blog. I’m not surprised people tried to post them anyway. Why would someone who makes an argument that “Africans invented slavery” as their defense give any deference to my request for appropriate behavior? What I am surprised about is the number of people who’ve become angry (some even enraged) at my refusal to post their racist, ignorant, or mean-spirited comments. Several of them have written me multiple times, becoming more and more belligerent in the process going so far as to demand I give them their right to be heard at large.
If you’re one of those people, please stop. It isn’t going to happen, and here’s why: This is not an open forum or a town hall meeting. This is my blog. This is my online living room, and I will not allow you to talk to/about me, my family, or my friends here in any way that I would not allow you to talk to/about me, my family or my friends in my actual living room. If you came into my home and shouted at me to “Get my fucking facts straight,” I would ask you to leave. If you used the N-word or in any way suggested African Americans got what they deserved, I would show you the door. If you called young black men thugs and said they needed to be controlled, or suggested slavery/segregation worked well to that purpose, you’d be told never to return. And if you accompanied these messages with hints of violence, I would call the police so fast your head would spin.
Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, and as I said in my original post, you’re free to share them in your own blog or on your own Facebook page, but you cannot use my name, my space, or my virtual home as a platform to spread hate. If your comment is something I would not allow you to say in my home, in front of my wife and son, or around my African American friends, it’s not something I’ll allow you to say here. And if you’re trying to engage me in an argument I wouldn’t engage in on the street or in my church, I will not engage it here.
You are not entitled to my approval.
You are not entitled to my space.
You are not entitled to force your views on me or any other human being.
Here’s the final verdict: If you continue to try to spew racism, or try to justify your racism, I will delete your first comment. If you continue to push, I will report you as a spammer. If that doesn’t work, I will report your posts as harassment.
It you don’t like my policies, if they make you angry, feel free to write you own blog about how liberals are silencing you. Post your outrage on your Facebook page, tweet it out to the world, share those posts every day for the rest of your life. THAT is free speech. THAT is the American way. I will stand by your right to blanket your own corner of the Internet with your opinions no matter how much I disagree with them. What I won’t stand is for you to continue to try to force those offensive opinions onto my blog.
Friends, I debated posting this, because a) I doubt people on the other side of this debate are really capable of having their minds changed. And b) I am not sure this is the biggest issue affecting race in America right now. However, my friend and fellow author Rebecca Weatherspoon shared an article the other day entitled “Show Up, White America: The Opposite Of Support Is Silence.” It was poignant and it spoke to me. If you read only one blog today, read that one. But if you continue to read this one, know that while my words might not change the world, this is one small way I am showing up.
I grew up in the South. Confederate flags hung over much of my childhood. Cars, backpacks, notebooks, T-shirts, they were everywhere. I was taught that the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression) was about states’ rights and that it dealt a blow to big government. We got a day off of school every year called “Fair Day” on the official school calendar, but all the older teachers still called it Robert E. Lee Day. Some of them would snicker and say, “Oh, but we can’t call it what it really is ‘cause the Yankees don’t get it.” We associated the rebel flag (that’s what we always called it) with the Dukes of Hazzard and Lynard Skynard, free wheeling country people who were real and down to earth. We weren’t racist. We were Southern. You could be one without the other. The flag didn’t mean hate. It meant being proud of where you came from. Other people, outsiders, they just didn’t understand. I get it. I understand all those arguments, all those attachments. I really do. I even believed them.
But I was lied to, or at the very least, not told the whole truth, the bigger truth.
It’s hard to admit that. No one likes to admit they’ve been duped. No one likes to admit they bought into the propaganda machine. No one wants to look around at people they once trusted, agreed with, defended vocally, only to see them for the bigots they are. But we have to. As a Christian, as a mindful human being, I am called to seek light out of darkness. If we are reasonable, educated, thoughtful people, people who want to learn and grow and make the world a better place, we have to be willing to admit we’ve made mistakes, and more importantly, we need to be strong enough, brave enough, loving enough to correct them.
Even if we’re willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they truly never saw the Confederate flag as tied to any racial issues, and I’ve admitted to falling into that group myself, we still can’t condone its continued use.
Things change, the world changes, symbols change and take on new meanings, or sometimes old meanings bubble up to reveal what had been there all along.
Either way, the Confederate flag is not the first symbol to go through this transformation. The swastika used to have another meaning, too. It was used 5,000 years before the rise of Hitler, giving it much more “heritage” than anything American can ever claim. It was a symbol used to represent good fortune or well being. You can still see it in ancient temples. By the early 1900’s, the symbol was as commonplace as yin-yangs or peace signs are today. Children doodled them on their books, Rudyard Kipling signed swastikas beside his autographs as a sign of respect and good will toward his readers. There is a long-standing, bright, and legitimately beautiful tradition behind the swastika. And yet no matter how German my heritage (and my last name is Spangler, so I’m pretty German), no matter how many wonderful meanings are attributed to the symbol, I would never under any circumstances wave a Nazi flag. I think we can all agree that no reasonable people draw them or decorate with them anymore since it became the official symbol of the Nazi party.
See how that works? Good people were faced with the horror of the atrocities committed under that flag, and they realized the old meaning could in no way balance or overcome the violence and hatred done under that symbol. No amount of warm feelings or past heritage could wash the blood out of the Nazi flag. So they were done with it. Good, thoughtful people do not look at the flag of Hitler and say, “You don’t understand the old meaning.” They simply distance themselves from the symbol and all its modern-day implications. The only people who willingly wear or carry a swastika now align themselves with violence, hatred, and everything the Nazi party stood for. It’s still their right to do so, but no reasonable person would argue that calling someone who brands themselves with a swastika an anti-Semite is an unfair assessment.
The Confederate flag is no different. Southerners, or rednecks, or country folks (however they identify) do not have a monopoly on symbolism. Nor do they control history. No matter what your daddy told you the stars and bars meant, it also meant some people were willing to die for the right to hold other people as slaves. No matter what your teacher said the Confederate flag symbolizes, it also symbolizes white supremacy. No matter what your favorite band told you about broadcasting that you’re a rebel, using that flag also broadcasts the fact that some people are willing to kill to protect the idea of a “racially pure” America. Go ahead and mix all that up, hate and heritage, pride and oppression, good vibes and violence. It still doesn’t come out anywhere near even. The bad by far outweighs the good.
Maybe this flag flew over the park you played in as kids. Maybe it flew in your grandparents’ yard. Maybe it hung in your dorm room. Maybe you associate it with your past or with a past version of yourself. If so, I’m sorry for that. I am sorry for you, and I am sorry for me. I am sorry for what we didn’t know then, and for what we thought we knew so well, but as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.” Now you know better. Now you know the Confederate flag is the flag that flies over every gathering of the KKK. Now you know it’s the flag flown by white supremacists. Now you know that flag was a rallying point for slaveholders and segregationists. Now you know that flag is carried by men who go into churches and gun down African Americans.
That doesn’t mean everything you held dear is dead or even tainted. Pride and heritage and history and family ties all exist outside of the rebel flag context. I still love so much about the South. I love BBQ and fried chicken and corn bread. I love tea so thick with sugar you almost have to chew it. I love the smell of jasmine and the way magnolia petals blanket the ground in a fragrant sea of white. I love the special brand of hospitality that makes a new place feel at home and the way a slow Southern drawl immediately eases tension from my shoulders. I love SEC football. I love the way country music mixes with southern rock. I love baptisms in a river and sun showers at three o’clock every summer day. I love to call every soda a coke. I love to listen to Jimmy Carter talk about just about anything.
There’s a hundred different ways to love the South. There are a million ways to be proud of where you come from, and none of them have to involve the image used to subjugate an entire race of human beings. If you continue to cling to the one symbol of the South used to hurt and oppress, that says nothing new about the flag or the land it once covered, but it says a great deal about you.
If you hear black voices crying out in agony and still turn away in favor of a flag, that makes you racist. If you prioritize a symbol of a dead rebellion over real, living, suffering people, that makes you racist. If you cling to your pride in what used to be or what you used to believe, instead of learning and growing and striving toward healing, that makes you a racist. Maybe it doesn’t make you the kind of racist that shoots up a church, but it make you the kind of racist who values your own comfortable ideas over the hearts and lives of your black brothers and sisters, and that is racism, too. I am sorry if that hurts to hear, but it’s the reality of the choice you are making. You continue to cast your lot with racists organizations, white supremacists hate groups, and grand wizards of the Klan even after being told that’s what you’re doing. If that’s who you want to side with, that’s your American right, but as we used to say in the South, when you lie down with dogs, you come up with fleas.
As for me, when I was a child, I thought like a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child, but now I’m an adult. I have learned better lessons. I know better than I did before. I value human life over the vestiges of my past, and I can be secure in who I am without hurting anyone else in the process. I no longer want any part in the Confederate flag, and perhaps more importantly, I’m done getting flea bitten by people who do.
P.S. I have to approve all comments on this blog, so don’t even bother sending in racist ones. I am all for free speech, but you have your own walls, your own facebook accounts, and your own blogs and I have said all I have to say on this subject. If you want to post some argument in favor of the Confederate flag just post them elsewhere. They will not be posted here.