Friday, September 23, 2011

Bullying Is Never Acceptable Behavior

Bullying is never acceptable behavior. Not in grade school. Not in secondary school. Not in high school. Not in life.

We all hear disturbing tales about students who are bullied by their peers. They are not part of the "in" crowd. They may be geeks. They may be homely. They may be overweight. Bullies find the weak spot and go for it. And it causes pain, sometimes lasting all the victim's life.

Let's not forget that bullies need victims. It's not enough to "turn the other cheek," as my grandmother taught me. Once such a turning earned me a smack on the back of my head by a girl I thought was my friend. She wasn't. (Odd, she reached out a couple of years ago and asked to "friend" me on Facebook. I love the Ignore button.)

Student victims don't want to talk about what's happening to them. Sometimes, they are ashamed of the treatment. Sometimes, they don't recognize what's happening to them is bullying. Sometimes, they lack the words themselves.

And sometimes, an adult comes along and provides a vehicle to start the conversation. The latest is a book originially published in 1989. Eaglebait by Susan Coryell was reprinted and released this year. The novel tells the story of Wardy Sparks, a 14-year-old high school geek who falls prey to the popular kids. As kids did in 1989 and do today, he struggled with whom to tell, how to explain what was happening. He finds a mentor who helps him cope and develop self-esteem.

"Being bullied doesn't build character," says author Coryell. "Years and years later they still remember the details." Coryell speaks on panels with educators (she's a retired school teacher), counselors and psychology professors as an expert on bullying.

I was bullied. I can relate to Wardy. I moved to a new school in tenth grade. I didn't know the rules. I didn't know I couldn't talk with some of the minorities in my classes. (I moved from Southern California to Colorado. The Rainbow Coalition was in every class in California. If I didn't hang with minorities, I didn't hang with anyone.) My counselor, who was supposed to help me, told me I was stupid and might get into the local junior college. She even refused to sign my application forms for college. Thank you, Mr. P, our principal, who was my "pal." He signed everything in time for me to be accepted into UCLA as an out-of-state student. And thank you, Mr. P, for the nice letter you sent when I graduated (again) from USC with my doctorate.

But this post isn't about me. It's about giving students a voice. Try Eaglebait if you think a student is reluctant to talk about bad behavior. Help a child.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb

I read this new contribution from Sharyn McCrumb about six weeks ago. I wrote a review for VB Front magazine, which was published in the August edition. I offered a slightly different review to Roanoke Times, only to be told that it would not accept my review. Fine, had the Times not told another source that it had no room to run any review of the book. Well, I have room to run the review. Here it is.

Appalachian writer Sharyn McCrumb returns to her ballad series of historical novels with The Ballad of Tom Dooley. Set in 1866 with flashbacks to episodes during the War, McCrumb gives the reader a look at the hardscrabble life of mountain folk in North Carolina.

Using two narrators, one an illiterate mountain woman with a streak of vengefulness and the other an educated former governor and attorney who represents Tom Dooley in his murder trial, McCrumb opens the door to the difficulty of survival in the post-war North Carolina. The cadence of each narrator captures the rhythm of the mountains.

In Pauline Foster, McCrumb has crafted an amoral character, manipulative, self-serving, willing to lie to stay alive. There is little to like in Pauline, yet she is one of the more compelling characters to come from McCrumb's prolific mind. The other central women, all in their early twenties, are either weak or vain. Ann Melton, Pauline's cousin and Tom Dooley's lover, is the vain one. Another self-centered woman, she cares for nothing but her love for Tom. Forget the fact that she is a wife and mother. She defines herself as Tom's lover. The last central woman, Laura Foster, another cousin, is plain, unmarried and takes care of her siblings. Ann Melton believes she has become Tom's lover.

The men are an interesting mix of sophisticated and simple. Tom Dooley (his historical name is Tom Dula, and yes, if you know where to look, you can find his grave) is a happy-go-lucky young man who loves another man's wife, doesn't care who else he sleeps with, and is generally what we would call a handsome wastrel. James Melton, unlucky enough to have married Ann, is the strong, silent type, working his way through life on a hardscrabble farm. And Zebulon Vance, former governor, war hero, lawyer, works pro bono to save Tom Dooley's life. His is the literate voice, and the one that registers remorse at the outcome of the tale.

Well researched, the book pokes holes in the common acceptance of what led Tom Dooley to murder his lover. No, he wasn't hung on a white oak tree. He died on a town gallows after being found guilty of murdering Laura Foster.

If you think you know the story of Tom Dooley from the Kingston Trio song, you don’t. If you want to know what the real story was, read this book. Available online and soon in major bookstores everywhere.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New blog on writing

Welcome to my new-old blog on writing. I decided that MadMaxisms was schizophrenic. More than half of it was related to writing. The rest was about politics, thoughts about life and cats.

I moved my historical writing blog archive into this new location. Going forward, Write Now, Right Now will focus on writing, tips on writing, where I am in my yet-to-be published life, books I've read and books I reviewed. I will also invite writers to talk about their books as guest bloggers. And I will link all posts to Facebook to reach a wider audience.

For now, welcome. If you followed me on Mad Maxisms and want to follow me here, please do so. If you want to follow Mad Maxisms, you are welcome there. And if you want to follow through Facebook, I'm pleased. I hope my thoughts provide some new ideas and pleasure for all my readers.