• Joan Carris

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

--Frederick Douglas, April 1886

In our souls we long for justice—for life to be FAIR. I remember wailing at various injustices in grade school. “Nobody else has to go to bed at 8:30!” I would cry. Or, “Everybody else in the whole world has a dog… or a cat! Or just a little kitten! Pleeeeeze??” I begged. Often.

In my case, justice was done: I had three children who also wailed when life was not fair. Because life is NOT fair. Not everyone has an IQ like Bill Gates or Barack Obama. Few women are as beautiful as Hollywood actresses or as brilliant and lovely as Vice-President Kamala Harris. Hardly any are as gifted as the football player Tom Brady or golfer Tiger Woods—or tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams—Hey, I played tennis and never got to be in a Big Tournament!

SO… we are not all alike, and that probably wouldn’t solve our many problems anyway. I believe we should thank all the gods there be if we are normal, regular folks, who are upset

when life seems blatantly unfair. Thus, I am submitting a few prayers-for-justice to all of the gods.

1. People who are deliberately mean or cruel to other people should be reborn as fire ants.

2. Those who shoot guns at animals or other humans should be placed with their guns on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific, and left there to shoot it out.

3. Anyone who thinks that war is a solution needs a lobotomy.

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  • Joan Carris

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

"Wit is the only wall between us and the dark."

--Mark Van Doren

Like many of us, I remember being a lowly, humble high school freshman in the fifties—back in the long ago. Oh, to be a senior! Dressed in the current, approved clothing, my classmates and I would project that same je ne sais quoi… as soon as WE were seniors.

The senior couples “going steady” appeared glued together as they strolled around the school. For example, Wade and Peggy. He—darkly handsome, with Elvis Presley hair—was known to be “fast” and so was she. Everyone assumed they were “doing it.” Whatever that meant.

All of this was uncharted territory. In sixth grade we had watched a Walt Disney coming-of-age film so delicate and sweet that it was useless. (The music was wonderful, of course, a beloved Disney trademark.)

The only actual fact about sex that made its way into our minds was that after having sex, the female could end up pregnant. A dire fate, the girls agreed. Vague rumors circulated that some senior girl had been sent away to have a baby. The “boyfriend suspect” continued blithely in life as far as we could tell.

BUT… staying out of trouble seemed to depend on the female saying “Whoa!” to a teenage boy who was a two-legged raging hormone, according to the older girls. Birth control was an iffy thing in the long ago, so girls were typically cautious—curious, but terrified of getting pregnant. Our mothers, all raised by exceedingly Victorian mothers themselves, were so unnerved by the topic of sex that they never mentioned it.

Fortunately I was a nerd. I was also shaped like a lumpy conduit pipe, could spell almost anything, and loved writing assignments, all of which kept boys away in droves. I started dating in college, where nearly everyone intended to graduate with marketable skills. As college seniors, our eyes still focused on the future, we graduated, and many married then or soon after. Yay! Legal, approved sex, if we weren’t too tired. Or if the baby wasn’t screaming in the next room. Or if our teenager hadn’t stayed out way beyond her curfew, rendering us senseless with fear.

And now, in early 2021, we are seniors again, with early eligibility for vaccination against the Covid-19 pandemic paralyzing the world. Oh, lucky us! Seniors again. We can stay out as late as we want, if any destinations are open. We don’t have to get up early and go to work. We can smoke, drink ourselves silly, and throw up on the shrubbery. We can have sex any time we want…except we’re seniors. Oops.

Writers Noted for Substance and Humor:

Richard Russo--Empire Falls; Nobody's Fool; Straight Man

Farley Mowat--The Dog Who Wouldn't Be; Owls In The Family; Never Cry Wolf

Carl Hiassen--Sick Puppy, et al. (not Razor Girl --ugh)

Robert B. Parker--detective fiction--fast, funny, and irreverent--great reader candy

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  • Joan Carris

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

--Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

What do we need with a thirteen-letter word like bildungsroman?? Admittedly, this is a tough word to slip into a casual conversation.

Yet we’ve all read several bildungsromans—novels about someone’s education and coming-of-age. Jane Eyre, for instance, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Little Women and To Kill a Mockingbird. The Catcher in The Rye and The Kite Runner. First used in 1819 by a German professor, the term bildungsroman is now fairly well-known, especially among nerdy English teachers like me.

We even have a bildungsroman for a piglet. Think about Wilbur, the runt pig in the children’s novel Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. In the story, baby Wilbur is blissfully ignorant of a pig’s normal fate. As his education progresses he learns why humans raise pigs, becoming enlightened…and terrified.

Enter Charlotte, literature’s best educated, most thoughtful, and ever-beloved spider. (For me, the only beloved spider ever.) Charlotte weaves messages like Some Pig in her web above Wilbur’s stall, adding another element of fantasy to the bildungsroman business. Those messages turn Wilbur into a popular celebrity, thus saving his life.

I think of this novel by E.B. White as a national treasure. And thanks to the magic of language, we can now christen it with the impressive German title bildungsroman.

Recommended reading in this popular genre:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman (2017)

Empire Falls, Richard Russo (2001)

A Painted House, John Grisham (2000)

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd (2000)

Northern Borders, Howard Frank Mosher (1994)

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (1985)

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Betty Smith (1943)

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