Last week I was fortunate enough to go on vacation with my nieces. The three of us rented a house up on a lake in New Hampshire. Their folks left Sunday night, and then my sister came back Thursday night. But for the majority of the week, it was the three of us. Both of my nieces have a lot of interests, and varying types of artistic expression. One of them, B., created Bezel and Blue out of piles of fluff and a needle, I kid you not. The other niece, T., loves music, and so she DJ’d our puzzling time on the porch. “Who’s this?” I’d ask. “Which one is that?” I sounded cranky, even to myself. I kept getting the names of the bands wrong, which she tolerated with a laugh. (My Chemical Romance turned into My Chemically Induced Romance, which isn’t the same thing. At all.) I mentioned that to my sister, and she said something that called me up short.
“Well, we had Flock of Seagulls, and Tears for Fears. Not a lot of room to throw stones. Remember the grief we’d get?”
Time for a behavior shift for Aunt Julie. I remembered my thirteen and a half year old self, discovering music and books, hesitant in my adoration, trying to play it cool just in case someone made fun of me. I remembered my father bringing home a Partridge Family album when I was about eleven, and the joy of feeling supported in my love for David Cassidy. (Dad still made fun of the songs, but I think he knew the lyrics.) Being a fan of something is risky, especially for a teenager. Having an aunt who isn’t listening won’t help.
So I started asking questions better questions, so she could teach me. “Is this Panic! At The Disco or My Chemical Romance?”
I’d listen to the lyrics, and I’d guess. Her sister likes both bands, but doesn’t share her passion, so she’d guess as well. We’d all discuss the difference between the bands, and their music. T. would quote lyrics, and give us the backstory on songs. I’d still offer opinions, but I made sure I’d never make her feel like her musical taste didn’t matter. I didn’t pretend that I loved everything. I just acknowledged that we could have different opinions, because we had different points of view.
Have you heard of the musical Hamilton? I haven’t seen it yet, but I have listened to it a bunch of times and love it. The lyrics and the show itself upend expectations around history, casting, musical, storytelling. Changing the narrative is part of the conceit of the show. “Who lives, who dies, who tells their story” matters. As a writer, I control narrative. I tell the stories. Is my entire narrative told from the point of view of a fifty year old, or do I try to use other lenses? Who else tells their story? What stories do I read/watch/listen to that aren’t like my own?
I am very proud to have played a small part in Sisters in Crime’s 2016 Publishing Summit Report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Mystery Community, titled Report For Change. The report talks about issues around inclusion in the field. The topic is complicated, but important. The report is forward thinking, which we all need to be, and lays out some paths for change. One thing I am thinking about a lot as we wrestle with these issues is the same life lesson I learned from my niece.
Being kind, and open to other narratives, does not take away from your own. They may make you reconsider things, but that’s all right. It adds to the richness of your life. Who knows, they may also give you a new perspective to add to your life.
By the way, I downloaded Panic! At The Disco’s Death of a Bachelor. Changing the narrative.