The good news is that it all starts here, with one word: ECCENTRICITY.
Yes! Eccentricity. So, I’m visiting my parents right now, and I love them very much. I am less crazy about their house, which is filled with piles of old newspapers and magazines and boxes and prettymuchanythingelseyoucanimagine because my father dislikes throwing things away. Strongly.
The word “hoarder” has been bandied about. On more than one occasion. Last time I visited, I told him I wasn’t too worried—I’m pretty sure that if he is a hoarder, he’s low-grade. (I’d been watching a lot of TLC at the time.)
Today, as Dad was fishing some boxes and packing materials out of my brother’s old bedroom, so that I could mail a gift, he informed me that I don't need to worry anymore—he heard a psychologist on the radio talking about hoarding, and according to the guy, Dad’s not a hoarder. He just has hoarding “tendencies.”
“Actually,” Dad informed me, “the psychologist also said that in the old days, I just would have been considered eccentric. I mean, I’m not keeping trash in the bathtub or anything. Here, I found some of those bubble sheets that will keep the fragile stuff from breaking.” He then also proceeded to hand me a perfectly-sized box, and I felt like a huge jerk. Because really? I never have proper packing supplies handy and available when I need them. I would have needed to make a trip to the store.
All of which got me thinking about the word “eccentric.”
What does “eccentric” really mean? I tend to associate it with people society has deemed as being outside of the definition of “normal” in some way. Like my father, because he won’t throw away old packing materials. Or sometimes my husband, because he smokes a pipe (corncob even, on occasion), and is wont to go on forty minute treatises about topics like the true definitions of the words “fate” and “freewill.” (And please, don’t you even get him started.) But if that’s what eccentric really means, then we’re all eccentric by some definition—it just depends on who’s writing the definition of normal in the first place, correct? I mean, I’m the one who can never find a box to mail things in when I need one, right? Who’s really the normal one here?
Later on, I was reading emails and thinking about a few very important discussions I’ve been having with various people lately about diversity in literature—what diversity really is and what is now considered mainstream in literature (particularly YA literature) and what still isn’t. I started thinking about what incredibly important conversations these are, because so much of this whole discussion is, at times, relative to people’s definitions of the words normal.
I float in a lot of different corners of this world at different times. In some corners, a YA book with a gay white character has become so mainstream that it’s a given such a book would end up in a public library. It’s not even worth talking about. People in those corners of the world want to know when they’re going to be able to find more books about gay people of color and intersex people and other groups of people that are still woefully underrepresented in literature. And these questions need to be asked—they’re extremely important questions that must be asked. Because in those corners of the world, normal has been redefined already, and it needs to be consistently redefined to be more inclusive and less marginalizing.
And then I was thinking about how in other corners of the world, normal isn’t necessarily redefined yet, and how a lot of libraries (Singapore, I’m looking at you at your hatred of penguins) are kicking out books with characters that even remotely touch the alphabet-that-shall-not-be-named. And how in those places, the people defining what normal is still need to see as much as they can of any other version of normal outside of their own. So those are the places where just getting any queer character into a public library is important. And meaningful. Because it gets people thinking. It changes beginning definitions. It opens up conversations to further definitions of the word "normal".
So I hope we—and by “we” I mean readers, writers, teachers, librarians—keep having lots of difficult conversations about what diversity in literature (both YA and otherwise) really looks like. I hope that we continue to disagree with each other and push each other to see different points of view on the subject. I hope that we continue to support each other when that support is needed. But mostly, I hope that we just keep talking about the need for diversity in literature.. Because that’s the best way we can ensure that all readers and writers out there keep redefining and thinking about what the word "normal" really means.
I mean, if you’ll forgive the cliché metaphor ending here (I just can’t let one go), sometimes we need to be reminded that our version of eccentric is someone else’s version of normal. I could never live like my father. I like space, and order, and I would rather go out and buy packing materials every time I need them than be surrounded by them. But my father isn’t me. He likes having things at his disposal. He likes not spending the extra cash and time to go buy something he could already have. Still, I’ve spent a lot of years raising my eyebrows every time he refuses to throw a magazine away.
Sorry, Dad. Thanks for the perspective. And the mailing labels.