When you send your work out into the world, you never know what you’ll get back. The writer is given certain stories that come from places seen and unseen, pulled from a myriad of characters they’ve either known or wanted to know in their life, and a plot develops – not sure how.
My latest manuscript is filled with #diverse characters – shades of color, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ages. The setting is in the coastal south on a made up island called Prosperity, along the highway from the east to the west coast, and in a desert town in Southern California called Mirage.
It’s about a group of six women who become friends, and through betrayal, are forced to come face-to-face with their lies. In the first 25 pages of the book, the reader is introduced to these women: a rich white girl, a mixed race beauty queen/lawyer from a well to do family (though not accepted into the country club), an Asian tech heiress, a black girl from the projects, and the wisdom in the group – a submissive wife and political conservative, and the most liberal woman on the island.
It all sounds a bit stereotypical, right? And if we’re honest with ourselves, this may be how we look at people: what we see is what they are. We never get to know people well enough for our first impressions to be debunked. But as the page turns, we get to know these women’s stories and find out that our first impressions are flawed.
This has been my experience.
If you look at me from the outside you see a white girl with an advanced degree. I live in a beautiful home, have two children, and drive a white SUV. Married for going on 14 years, I’m aware that my life looks like a privileged stereotype, and I’d say that it is…
Except for the fact that I’m the first person on my mom’s side of the family to get a college degree. She was the first to get out of poverty by working two or three jobs. I didn’t grow up with her in my life from day-to-day, had to accept seeing her every few years in the summer. She made her decisions so that I could have the best life possible and get a good education.
My father raised me, something only one other girl in my school experienced. She was Hawaiian and Filipino and she became my best friend. She was smart and cool and pretty and formed a dance troupe. I was one of two white girls in it (though the other girls claimed I looked Mexican with my wall of bangs, thick eyeliner, and Raiders jacket). I have a video. It’s embarrassing. And awkward. They’re awesome. Me? Out of sync. My norm.
The friends I met at my primary school fill a big place in my heart to this day. We shared a love for music, four square, tether ball, softball, basketball, and art. We also competed for boys, which was less about kissing, and more about being cool.
Throughout our lives we’ve stayed in touch by phone and by email. There have been straight up tragedies in this group and countless blessings: babies, marriages, vacations, job promotions, etc… We share our memories on Facebook and in the mail. Though our former houses have been shot to smithereens in counter terrorism training operations, we will always stand as the George Brat Pack!
The Beauty of Belonging
What some people may not understand is that in the 80s growing up in a single parent home was not the norm. We were the outcast kids. Parents often wouldn’t allow their children to hang out with us, or if they were allowed, the preference was for us to come to them. The problem? Our dads or moms were working and we didn’t have transportation.
So the latchkey kids united and spent all of their time together – making up dance routines, playing sports, and perfecting our makeup. No kidding, we grew up fast. And there was some early mischief, but mostly it was good clean fun.
I now live in the coastal south, where churches and schools are predominantly white or black. Groups of friends look alike and I’ve heard outright racist comments from people I thought were friends.
It hurts me and I get defensive and I don’t belong.
And I think THE SPOONSTERS, my latest manuscript, has helped me process through the race, class, and political divides I see all around me. This story is an outpouring of my soul, a heart cry for openness and love, and the end to superficial divisions.
I had a conversation on Twitter recently about whether or not a white person could be marginalized. This person said that because white people are the majority race, they cannot be sidelined, and I think the danger in this way of thinking is assuming that all white people are alike. That they belong together in a group: white people over here.
That’s not my story and that’s not where I belong. I’m full of layers and varied; random as one co-worker tagged me, and I belong to whom I say I belong, and I say I belong to a rainbow. White is just what you see when you look at me. It’s not who I am.
People are not their skin color. We’re as multifaceted as the greatest story ever told, with layers of influence (gender, color, familial makeup, socioeconomic status, religious and political affiliation), but these influences only have the power we give them. We are who we say we are, and if we let anyone else tell us differently, we run the risk of being marginalized, of sitting on the sidelines and thinking our story doesn’t matter – that we have nothing to add to the conversation because we’re this or that, as if any state of being is static.
Rapping it up in a Symphony
— Katie Newingham (@KatieNewingham) April 15, 2016
This past Thursday I attended my first symphony. Free tickets to the National Young Artist Competition were being offered through the school where my children attend, and with a love for music and for all things free, I jumped at the opportunity. We arrived to the Gailliard auditorium in downtown Charleston and I felt out of place. The seats were filled with white people, skewing older, with no children (tickets were free for children, so I expected lots of kids) and people were staring at us. That’s how I saw it anyway. I felt like I didn’t belong, but I gave myself a pep talk through the voice of one of my favorite characters, Gibby, and settled into my seat.
At intermission, my little people were complaining of hunger and acting malnourished, and the two ladies behind us were making remarks about how bad they felt for my children. Never mind they ate a full spaghetti dinner, and had a snack of fruit and cookies before we left. So I ushered my kids up the aisle in search of a snack booth and ran into another mom from our school.
One of the first things out of her mouth was “I feel so out of place, like a country bumpkin,” and I loved her for this! It was her first time at the symphony as well and she felt like she didn’t dress right and maybe shouldn’t have come.
This mom attended for her daughter, who plays the Ukelele and the piano, and wanted her to see teenagers playing with the orchestra. She looked beautiful in a white linen shirt and khakis, but more importantly, she and her daughter appreciated the music. Who cares if they’re from the country, got their tickets free, and had never been to a symphony before?
After getting snacks, I returned to my seat, and didn’t have one more inferior feeling, not even when the two old grannies behind me looked at my sleeping son and said, “Poor little fella.” They gave me a disapproving look and I wanted to say, who’s poor? My son’s not even 5 and he’s attended his first symphony and he LOVED it. But I didn’t. I carried my son from the Gailliard auditorium to our car in the adjacent parking garage and reminded myself that class is how you treat people. We had every right to be there, simply because we appreciated the music.
- Place food coloring and water in individual cups.
- Drape a line of connected paper towels over the cup, pushing the middle of the paper towel so that it touches the color mixture.
- Watch the paper towels absorb the colors and blend together to make a rainbow.