Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not About Elephants

Bobby: "Psssst. Don't tell anyone. It's our secret! There's an elephant in the living room, but we're pretending it's not really there and it's not really an elephant."

Billy: "But it smells and it's enormous!"

Bobby: "Just ignore it. Maybe it will go away."

Sounds pretty silly, doesn't it? Ignoring an elephant in the living room. How could anyone ignore an elephant in the living room?

Just think for a minute what it would be like. An elephant would take up most of the room. It would be difficult to watch TV, look out the windows, or see each other. Carrying on a conversation with an elephant in the living room would be tricky. And think what an elephant could do to the carpet.

How can you think of much else except how to clean up the mess the elephant makes? What do you do when company comes...put a doily on it? How can you even talk on the phone when there's an elephant trumpeting in the living room? And how do you convince the children, your friends, your family, and yourself there's not an elephant there?

Okay, so no sane person would keep an elephant in their living room.

The dialog about the elephant in the living room was written about alcoholism, but alcoholism isn't the only elephant, is it? An elephant in the living room is any problem that we don't want to talk about. It's the thing that we pretend isn't real, that we hide in corners and we sweep under the rug.

I chose to write a book about an elephant. My elephant is called sexual abuse.

This is the way I began my keynote address to the students who attended Wending Words, Journeying Toward Meaning. It was a great attention getter, and it set the stage for my topic, writing about a sensitive subject. I was able to share with the students my journey to publishing Some Secrets Hurt and why I write about sensitive subjects. I write to make a difference.

I shared with the kids my TV interview, we read my book together, and we talked about the statistics. As you may know, current stats indicate that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen. This is shocking for most people to hear, but the kids never batted an eye. What do they know that we don't know?

We talked about what those numbers might represent in their individual high schools. Given the stats, everyone knows someone who has been sexually abused. One third of those who have been abused will never tell anyone. I asked the students what they could do to help someone who has been abused, especially if they don't know for sure. I suggested that we all could be a little kinder to everyone we meet, especially the ones who don't seem to fit in. What if the reason they don't fit in is because they are carrying a secret; a secret shame, a secret hurt, a secret that has shattered their self-esteem? Some Secrets Hurt.

I talked about some of my favorite illustrations in the book, and showed them how Brandilyn brought Maggie to life. I told the students how Brandilyn and I met and shared our passion for making a difference. I highlighted some of the important ideas presented in the book: Sexual abuse is never the victim's fault. Teenagers as well as children are targets for sexual abuse. Abusers are rarely strangers. Whether you are a child or a teenager, you need help to stop the abuse. The only way to get help is to tell an adult that you trust. If the adult you tell does not believe you, or does not help you, talk to someone else. Keep telling until you find someone who helps you. You can heal if you get help. It's really hard on your own.

I told the young writers that point of view is a writer's secret weapon. Point of view is what allows us to get into a character's head and understand what he or she is feeling and thinking. Maggie is what makes Some Secrets Hurt real. She softens a difficult message. We identify with her. We cheer for her. We want her to tell. We want her to get help. We hope her parents will believe her. Maggie is my hero.

If you want to write about an elephant, it is important that you

1. Believe in your elephant. How big is your passion? Is your passion as big as your elephant?
2. Know your facts. This helps you to tell the truth and be convincing.
3. Create a believable character and allow them to tell your story. You can talk about anything, if you do it in a character's voice. Get inside your character's head.

When I wrote Some Secrets Hurt, I wanted to give children and teenagers a voice. I wanted to give parents a tool. I wanted a book that was simple enough for young children, yet meaningful enough for teenagers. I wanted to write a book that was informative enough for parents and teachers, yet powerful enough to promote healing for victims of all ages. How could I write a book that would cross age boundaries, gender boundaries, cultural and religious boundaries?

This would have been a difficult task if I had tried to do it alone, but I had help. I had help from a little girl named Maggie.

Linda Garner


If you would like to read about my closing address, Making a Difference, visit http://www.somesecretshurt.com/ tomorrow.


Annette Lyon said...

So true. I'm glad you've written something to address such an important issue.

A very dear childhood friend of mine confided in me about her own abuse when we were teens. A couple of years later, a mutual friend said a teacher had told her what you just said, that everyone knows someone who has been abused. She said, "I really don't think I do."

It wasn't my place to share my friend's secret, but it was all I could do NOT to say, "You've known someone nearly you entirely LIFE who has been abused." I know about 10 people who have--and those are the people I'm AWARE of. I'm sure there are more. It's a rampant problem.

First step: always, always, believe the child.

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm glad the conference went so well. I'm sure what you taught will help in lots of ways, both in writing and in life. Glad you're home.

Carolyn V. said...

I'm glad the conference went well too. I can't wait to hear it in person from you. =)

Terresa said...

Glad that books like this one are available, for children as well as adults, to learn and have a forum of discussion.

Discussing sexual abuse is a necessary part of growing up in our society today and this book sounds like a tool to help in the discussion.

Glad it was written, glad it is being discussed and helping others seek help and heal.