archaeological investigations

Boys at School Visits, Men at Signings

(Or: I finally get angry enough to blog)

Last Saturday, I went to a really excellent book event. It required driving for 6 hours, and I would totally do it again.The bookstore was that great.

I had one truly nauseating encounter. I don’t want to dwell on it, because I don’t want it to overshadow an otherwise wonderful day, but at the same time, I am not willing to shrug it off.

This is how it went:

A man approached the table. “You wrote these books?” he said. “Tell me about them.” So I did. I launched into my pitch, and got about halfway through. Then he held up his hand. “I’m going to stop you there,” he said. “I don’t read books. I just like to talk to people who do, because I don’t understand how they work.”

I said something gracious like “Oh, well, not everyone is a reader”, instead of “Then what the heck are you doing in a book store?”, which is what I was thinking. I hoped he’d go away. He did not.

“I’m a scientist, you see,” he said. “Theoretical physicist. I am terrible at writing. When I do a report, they have to send it to the secretarial pool to translate it into English, so that other people can read it.”

At this point, I was desperately wishing Erin Bow, physicist-poet, was at the table. Sadly, she was around the corner getting a child to buy ELLA ENCHANTED.

Somehow, I ended up telling the guy that I am an archaeologist. “Why aren’t you out digging holes?” he asked. I don’t tell him that archaeologists don’t dig holes. I don’t tell him that it’s still too cold for real field work. I don’t tell him I’m not that kind of archaeologist. No, he’d made me angry, so I waved my education in his face, and told him that I have a masters in forensic archaeology and crime scene investigation.

“That’s kind of gross, eh?” he said. “Yes,” I said. Because sometimes it is.

“Well, I wouldn’t date you,” he said.

“I wouldn’t date you either,” I told him. I thought: you are super old and this is very inappropriate, but I didn’t say as much. Now I think about that secretarial pool, and I wish I’d added “Apparently you’re kind of a jerk.”

This man, who will approach three award-winning authors in a FREAKING BOOKSTORE and talk down to them, is a problem. He is not a problem that I can solve. If I have learned anything from the Vice article debacle and a career of watching superhero movies, it’s that apparently after a certain point, it becomes very difficult to teach a man something without hurting a woman in his general vicinity, and I am just not down with that.

But there is a problem we CAN solve. And it’s even easy. And I will tell you what it is:

Invite Shannon Hale to speak at your school*.

Shannon Hale is an author with a lot going for her. She’s got a tonne of experience. She’s funny. She’s articulate. She has written so many books, and all of them are excellent. And most importantly: her books are typically labeled “for girls”. Occasionally, she is not invited to schools because she is a woman. Occasionally she is invited, but then only the girls are allowed to listen to her speak. Because what could a successful woman who writes books about princesses possibly have to say to boys?

A lot, of course. How to write. How to plan your time. How to dream and set goals, and then WORK for them. How to put in years of effort, and then be totally overlooked, because you are a woman. Girls will learn that the hard way, but it’s important to tell boys early on, because it might prevent them from insulting random strangers in bookstores when they’re in their late 50’s.

Honestly, I think that’s a little beside the point. If Shannon Hale only had one book, and that book was The Princess Academy, you should still invite her to speak at your school. Because even if she had nothing to say to boys, it is important that they listen to her. It is important that they sit there and feel excluded. That they learn patience and empathy, and to be quiet when something outside their interest is going on in front of them. Girls pick that sort of graciousness up by necessity, but boys coast through, coddled against anything they might have trouble connecting with, so they never learn to try.

I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve had one bad experience at a signing, but every time I’ve been to a school visit, it’s the boys who jockey for a seat in the front row, and then tell me that they love what I’ve written. There’s a dragon on the front of my book (not to mention a boy!), but the fact that there is a girl main character only bothers adults. The last time I was at a school, I was a bit early and so all the kids were outside at recess when I arrived. “Oh, by the way,” the librarian said. “There’s going to be one grade five boy coming. I know you said you’d prefer grades six, seven, and eight, but apparently he begged his mother all weekend and she called this morning to ask for special permission. Is that okay?”

I like to think that those boys will grow up to be the sort of men who are polite to people, not because they can relate to them, but because they are people. It shouldn’t be that ridiculous a dream.

I usually don’t have an answer when people say “Why do you write YA?” I make things up about fun stories and compressed timelines, but I think I have a better answer now. I write YA because those kids want a big world, and I am happy to give it to them. I write YA because those kids are willing to try anything, unless a grown-up has told them that they can’t, and I am probably going to say yes. I write YA, it turns out, because grown-ups can be jerks, and I’d much rather my fans be genuine.

*Or any author who is not a white male. My rates, for example, are quite reasonable.

Endless List of Favorites

→ historical places: ley lines

The concept of “ley lines” originated with Alfred Watkins in his books Early British Trackways and The Old Straight Track, though Watkins also drew on earlier ideas about alignments; in particular he cited the work of the English astronomer Norman Lockyer, who argued that ancient alignments might be oriented to sunrise and sunset at solstices. On 30 June 1921, Alfred Watkins visited Blackwardine in Herefordshire, and had been driving along a road near the village (which has now virtually disappeared). Attracted by the nearby archaeological investigation of a Roman camp, he stopped his car to compare the landscape on either side of the road with the marked features on his much used map. While gazing at the scene around him and consulting the map, he saw, in the words of his son, “like a chain of fairy lights” a series of straight alignments of various ancient features, such as standing stones, wayside crosses, causeways, hill forts, and ancient churches on mounds. He realized immediately that the potential discovery had to be checked from higher ground when, during a revelation, he noticed that many of the footpaths there seemed to connect one hilltop to another in a straight line.He subsequently coined the term “ley” at least partly because the lines passed through places whose names contained the syllable ley, stating that philologists defined the word differently, but had misinterpreted it. He believed this was the ancient name for the trackways, preserved in the modern names. The ancient surveyors who supposedly made the lines were given the name “dodmen”. Watkins believed that, in ancient times, when Britain was far more densely forested, the country was criss-crossed by a network of straight-line travel routes, with prominent features of the landscape being used as navigation points. This observation was made public at a meeting of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club of Hereford in September 1921. X


Protecting Native American culture and history with NAGPRA

Today is the 26th anniversary of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a law enacted in 1990.  This law was intended to secure the rights of Indian tribes to determine the disposition of their ancestors and funerary objects, as well as their rightful claims to objects necessary for the religious practices and items inherent to tribal identity—sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony.

Native American cultural sites cover our public lands.  For millennia, tribal people lived on these lands.  They hunted, fished, and farmed for food and sustenance.  They studied the lands, the animals, plants, and sky, learning from nature, watching the stars.  They built towns and cities. They explored, traded, and battled. They worshipped and practiced sacred rites. They raised their children. They buried their dead.

Our public lands include vast cultural landscapes covered with special places, some of which have been the subject of archaeological investigations, including burial sites.  Most collections made from public lands over the last 100 years were curated in non-federal museums or universities designated in permits issued under the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979.

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More than five centuries after Christopher Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria, was wrecked in the Caribbean, archaeological investigators think they may have discovered the vessel’s long-lost remains – lying at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti. 

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