Léna's Lit.Life

Léna (me): Lit, as in literature, Lit, as in light, Lit, as in a little kooky: Life.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Making the Darkness Visible

Fear mongering is rearing it's ugly head again.When I opened up my computer this morning there was an outcry on both Facebook and Twitter from YA authors and YA readers in response to an article written by Meghan Cox Gurdon posted in the Wall Street Journal on June 4th entitled Darkness Too Visible deploring the "dark" content of much of YA Literature.

Sigh . . . but when such eloquent responses popped up on the blogosphere, including a trend on Twitter called #YAsaves, it brought tears to my eyes. I found a post from last year's blog in April entitled Why Kids Like Dark and I thought that would be enough of my two cents, but I am still thinking about it late on a Sunday evening.

We are only as sick as our secrets. We need to make that darkness visible so that we can better understand it. And we write and we read to better understand the world, to give our own feelings a voice. It is freakin' hard to be human, let alone a teenager. There is joy and sadness, darkness and light, and all of us have to jump over some mine fields in the vibrant emotional landscapes we've been given.  Everyone has problems, everyone feels pain. It is a matter of degree, rather than kind.

One of my psychology professors in grad school at NYU told me that the definition of mental health is the ability to tolerate ambiguity, to not see life in terms of black and white. The WSJ article suggests to me that the author doesn't have a handle on ambiguity.

Hopefully as healthy adults, we all learn to manage the ambiguity of disparate feelings, and are able to express them in healthy ways. But our brains aren't fully developed until we are 25. Think about that. TWENTYFIVE!

We need books to help us make the darkness visible.

Everybody knows intellectually that if anger, jealousy, anxiety and sadness are stuffed down, they fester, turning into depression which can manifest itself in any number of ways. That we need to give voice to our feelings.

We need art, literature, plays, movies, music to challenge us and to help us see things in a new way, to see other points of view. What a wonderful world we live in where there is something for everybody!

But I know that it's scary to be a parent. We don't want darkness to be out there at all, do we? We want our kids to have joy and hope. And they will, they'll have it all. You'll be there to help them navigate and think for themselves, have opinions.

Books can't take that away, I promise. And I'll say it again: we are only as sick as our secrets, and we need books to make darkness visible.

Someone tweeted this morning: Madeleine L'Engle saved my life. #YAsaves. I have read hundreds of letters to my grandmother with that sentiment. YA Saves indeed!

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  1. This is lovely LÉNA. I currently am mentoring a dear friend and former student as she prepares a YA manuscript for publication. The female protagonist has been molested by her babysitter and the trauma manifests itself as a gremlin that follows her around wherever she goes. One agent told her that though the writing was lovely, the manuscript was "too dark" because of the subject matter. My friend and I were flabbergasted. Everyone we had talked to about it previously were ecstatic that the subject was being tackled so tenderly and creatively. This experience really troubled me. I love how you said that we need to "make the darkness visible". If we don't create reading experiences for the kids who have not had blissful childhoods--where can they turn? To drugs? To depression? To suicide? Cutting? We need books. Thanks for being a warrior princess for them.


    PS this friend is the one who Ava will be in fifteen years. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing this story, Word Diva! Even though a lot DOES get published, there are multitudes of other works that don't see the light of day because of fear. I am sure that articles like the one in WSJ make everyone in the publishing world very testy! I know that I had to edit out some stuff from Edges, so that it both would be more palatable and "stronger" in that "less is more".

  3. How beautifully put! The world is ambiguity, dark as well as light, sad as well as happy. Teens are at the age where they're starting to realize that and it doesn't always come easily.

    Reading helps! You read about people in the same situation or feeling the same way as you and despite all the problems, they get through it. True, the characters had an author guiding their way. But the emotion still resonates and it's suddenly not so strange to feel the way you do.

  4. Well put yourself JE! Art saves. Period.

  5. Catharsis has its dramaturgical roots in tragedy. One of the roles of the Arts is to help society channel emotions in constructive ways, right?

    I guess the real debate lies in the word "constructive". Constructive can look destructive if you see it in the wrong context. And vice versa.

    I love the definition of mental health you shared. A friend of mine, who is a licensed therapist, defines mental health as one's ability to live in tension. I love that, because it captures my belief that harmony (not balance) is what we really seek. And harmony exists in tension.

  6. I always love hearing your thoughts Keith. Thank you for extending the conversation! And tolerating different tensions sounds like another great definition of mental health! :-)

  7. remember those times. I remember learning about the things parents wanted to hide well before they decided they should hide them. Swearing, sexuality, racism, bullying, gender, ‘lookism’.Order Bactroban I didn’t learn those things from books. I learned them from my peers who were just as messed up as I was.

  8. what a interesting article, however, I still do not believe the similarities between the two . Thanks for bringing this article,
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