Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why The Hunger Games is a trilogy for our times

I have two Twitter feeds, one for my author life @sarahdarerlitt and one for my life as a political columnist @realsaramerica. This morning as I was scanning my political feed I came across this article in the International Business Times.

While hundreds of black celebrities have happily doused themselves in freezing water for the Ice Bucket Challenge, news outlets like Hip Hop DX, Ebony and Buzzfeed, as well as social media users, have accused prominent African-Americans of being too quiet about the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, two weeks ago.

“I think there is definitely a lack of articulation in public forums,” Mark Anthony Neal, a professor in African and African-American studies at Duke University in North Carolina, told International Business Times.“The weird irony behind getting black celebrities to weigh in on Ferguson is that every five minutes you see another one of them doing an Ice Bucket Challenge.”

I don't feel it's my place to comment on that. The quote that I'm here to talk about is from Neal Lester, an African-American literary and cultural studies professor at Arizona State University:

At end of the day what preoccupies people’s minds is what’s happening on TMZ, not what’s happening on CNN.”

When I read that, all I could think of, once again, was how Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES is the trilogy for our times.

I've written about my admiration for the Hunger Games before - I have an essay, The Politics of Mockingjay in the SmartPop anthology The Girl Who Was on Fire, and an additional essay, "Occupy Panem" that comes as extra digital content with the movie edition of the book.

I've seen some great discussions lately about books to use to talk about Ferguson. School library Journal had a piece focusing on "Resources on Protest, Nonviolent Resistance, and Civil Rights". But the reason I think The Hunger Games is also a great discussion resource is this: inequality and distraction. Panem and Circenses.

I don't want to take anything away from the very real issue of race that is at the core of what happened in Ferguson. I have friends who have been stopped for "driving while black." My boyfriend got lost while driving in the exclusive private area of Greenwich known as Belle Haven the other day, and the security guard just waved at him because he was white and driving a nice car. We both imagined how things would have gone if neither of those factors had been true. Somehow I doubt the security guard would have just waved.

But there's another important issue at playing out simultaneously worldwide that we cannot and must not ignore - inequality.

Collins' trilogy is a wonderful way to start kids thinking about these ideas - leading to discussions of the political strategy of "bread and circuses", reality TV and media literacy.

The problems in our country stem from complex sources and it's important to have our kids understand that we need to attack them from all fronts if we're going to make headway.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Kim Kardashian and the culture of Narcissism - Kidlit Authors propose an antidote! The #selfless campaign

Yesterday, we learned that Kim Kardashian is going to publish a book of 352 selfies called "Selfish."

I won't post a picture.

But I will post one quote from the article:

"So I had Stephanie (her assistant) get a Polaroid and we were taking photos around the entire house … making this cool book and it ended up turning out so cool we came up with this idea to do a selfie book so I'm going to make some super racy. I mean, every girl takes like full like pictures of their a-- in the mirror."

Do we? Do we really? I created this survey to test Ms. Kardashian's hypothesis. Please take the survey!

I was teaching a writing workshop a few weeks ago, and two students (12 and 14) were arguing about who was more popular and cool based on how many followers they had on Instagram and how many "likes" their posts got. It made me incredibly sad.

That's why I'm so happy that my work as a writer for young people has brought me into the incredible #kidlit community. My fellow Kidlit authors are the antidote to the culture of narcissism I see in so many other realms of today's society. Just after I'd posted a link to this news accompanied an expression of despair, my friend Melodye Shore had a great idea:

This is one of the many reasons I love my work and the wonderful community of writers I get to work with. Within an hour, Melodye set up a Facebook page, Hashtagselfless, with this description:

A collection of selfies in which ordinary people go about their everyday lives, doing/observing extraordinary things, maybe, but w/o #Selfish motives.

The motivation behind this campaign is similar to the work of one of the most incredible organizations I've had the privilege to be associated with, StoryCorps. Founded by Dave Isay, StoryCorps records "our" stories - interviews of "ordinary" people, who, when we get to hear their stories, are far from ordinary. I learned more about parenting from MOM: A Celebration of moms from StoryCorps than I did from any parenting book. Yet we get swamped with "celebrity mom" parenting books, published not because the celebrity has proved to be a great parent, but merely by virtue of their fame.

I've learned to find my heroes in real life, not reality shows.

Help us celebrate #selfless by posting pictures to your social networks using the hashtag. Visit the HashtagSelfless Facebook page and post there.

Let's try to give our young people some more inspiring, non-celebrity folks to look up to.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Corporate sexism rant - Part Deux

I had a rant a week or so ago because not long after I signed up for private banking, Chase sent mail to my house (the one upon which I hold the title and the mortgage solely in my name, not to mention the investment account solely in my name, the fact that I WAS THE PERSON WHO SIGNED THE PRIVATE BANKING AGREEMENT SOLELY IN MY NAME etc) addressed thusly:

Josh, you might remember, is my son. Not my husband. My college aged son. He is, however, the only person with the name Littman in this household who happens to have the XY chromosome. You will note that this letter wasn't addressed to my daughter (who also has an account at the same bank linked to mine over which I have co-signing authority) and myself. It was addressed to my SON and myself.  Remember this fact for later. It is important and relevant.

After I ranted about this on Twitter, Chase's customer service department asked that I follow them so I could DM them some info. They said they would bump this up to their Executive Office and they were taking it very seriously. 

"Good!" I thought. "So they bloody well should!"  

If you read my previous post, you'll see that this kind of thing is an all too common occurrence for women, and it PISSES US THE FRICK OFF. 

Well, this morning I opened the letter from Chase's Executive Office that was supposed to put this situation to rights and well...to say it didn't is an Understatement of Epic Proportions. 

To say that Ms. DeLeon has missed the point is being kind to missing the point. Technically she is correct. Yes, I am the secondary signer on my son's accounts, because they were set up when he was a minor, so yes, hello, DUH! 

But this is completely missing the MAJOR POINT of my complaint, which is this was a mailing from CHASE PRIVATE BANKING and *I* am the Private Banking Client, NOT my son! He is the secondary client at Chase Private Banking. I am the primary client. He is just along for the ride because HIS ACCOUNTS ARE LINKED TO MINE. I made this very clear in my DM's to Customer Service on Twitter. But somehow that doesn't seem to matter. And it's curious that they sent it addressed to my son and not to my daughter. After all, she has accounts linked to mine, and I'm the secondary signer on her accounts, too? So out of three Littmans living at this address, Chase chose to send this letter addressed not to me, the Private Banking Client, the mortgage holder, the investment account holder, the savings account holder. Not to my daughter, a checking and savings account holder linked to mine over which I am a secondary signer. No, they chose to send it to my son, the male name over which I have secondary signing authority, but then claim that there is no sexism involved at all. 

If this is really Chase's response to an accusation of sexism ie/ we can send letters to your son who isn't the primary client as if he is the primary client, instead of you, the woman, who IS-  and not only that we can tell you you're wrong because when he was of the age to be allowed to set up a checking account, you did so in order to teach him financial responsibility with you as secondary signer, I'm going to start thinking about moving banks. And that investment account I just set up with you guys?  I already have a broker elsewhere who knows better than to be sexist with me. I'm sure he'll appreciate having some extra capital to invest for me, along with the commissions and fees. The ones that you will lose. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

In which I go off on another Parenting Rant - inspired by Daughter's college orientation

My "baby" (who stands several inches taller than me now) is heading off to college in the fall, and we spent Wednesday at her institution of Higher Learning attending Freshman Orientation.

 This whole "Freshman Orientation" in the middle of the summer - with concurrent "Parent Orientation" is a new business. We did not have such things back in the Dinosaur Era when I matriculated at my Institution of Higher Learning. I flew down a week early to attend Project WILD, a pre-start of school wilderness program run in conjunction with the North Carolina Outward Bound School. My parents drove down to meet my grimy, bedraggled, but very proud self at the end, helped me move in, gave me a hug (after I'd had a shower!) and then drove away.

The best parts of the day were:

1) presentation by the avuncular head of Campus Police, who addressed the parents and students together about safety policies, alcohol and drug policies, and skinny dipping in the large fountain in the middle of the quad policies. I am relieved to report that Daughter has no desire to skinny dip in aforementioned fountain, but had thought about a surreptitious clothed swim. (Go for it, honey. (Clothed!)  You only live once!)


2) excellent presentation by head of the school's new Title IX department, who spoke to parents only. "I don't want to scare you, but statistics show that one in five college women report having experienced sexual violence."

Dude, I was already scared enough about sending my daughter off to college with all the date rape stories. In fact,I'm getting her one of these.

What I loved about both his presentation and others was the message, "You are losing control of your kids, but you aren't losing influence. TALK TO THEM about things like using alcohol responsibly, and parents of male students, have a conversation about consent."

I LOVED THIS. It wasn't just "Girls, don't drink and be slutty hos, because it'll be your fault if some guy can't control himself when you're passed out."


They even posted a great definition of consent:

But then things started to fall apart.

We had a half hour presentation on...Dining Plans. Really? I read all that stuff in the brochure when we signed up. Did I really need to sit through a half hour Powerpoint presentation about it?

And then we got to the Q & A, and the helicopter parents started piping up. A parent asked, I shit you not: "Do the washing machines in the dorms take quarters or (the college name) points?"

*Sarah's head explodes*

<Commence Rant>


Your child is 17 or 18 years old, and about to embark on their college experience - an experience which yes, is about academics, but which is also part of preparing them to stand on their own two feet, employ critical thinking skills, problem solve, learn life skills, and enter the real world of earning a living and supporting themselves.


It really isn't that complicated. And if they can't figure it out? Let them learn to ask questions - to advocate for themselves. That, too, is an important life skill.


Clearly it was a long time ago, but the one question I remember my parents asked during my college trips was "How much is the tuition?" I cannot imagine for a million years either of my parents asking about laundry machines. I was taking the Tube to school by myself in London by the age of 9. So there would have been absolutely no doubt in my parents minds that I could figure out how to use a dorm washing machine and tumble dryer. They trusted me to figure these things out for myself. They called me once a week, on the twin assumptions that "No news is good news" and "Bad news travels fast."

Parenting is a constant balancing act - like the Talmud says, one should "push away with the left hand while drawing closer with the right hand" (BT Sanhedrin 107b). By the time our kids get to college, we need to be able to let them go - to relinquish control, but maintain influence, trusting that if we've done our job, they'll do just fine.

We can set the expectations for ethical behavior, and what it means to be a good human being, and model that behavior. We can't say one thing and do another.

We can let them know that they'll make mistakes, because everyone does, including us, and we'll be here for them when they do.

But above all, we have to let them go figure out things for themselves. That's what it's all about.

<End Rant>