My ironic consolation, while friends like Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro battle with the would-be book-banners over inclusion of their work in school curricula, has been that nobody has ever suggested my books be read in schools in the first place. There is a negative smugness in being a pariah. For this reason alone I was disappointed when I was asked just a few months ago to contribute a particular story to an anthology designed for the high-school trade.
The story itself, of course, is blameless, not a shred of sex of any sort in it. It is, in fact, the only story about violence I've ever written. A woman looks out her window and sees a wounded man in her garden who is shortly shot by the police in the street below her house. She has to turn on the radio to find out that he is a bank robber who has shot a policeman. Her husband, reading the paper on the way home, is alarmed for her safety. They watch the events telescoped on the six o'clock news, then scenes of war, all of which seem much more real to the woman than what took place before her eyes in her own garden. It is called "A Television Drama."
Well, what did I expect them to choose? A story about happy lesbians? The unmarried young? A middle-aged woman who can't go mad? The only safe subject, among my many, is violence. I contemplate the potted biography: "Jane Rule is the author of a number of books...." The editor pauses, looking for a suitable title or two. Certainly not Lesbian Images or The Young in One Another's Arms. Desert of the Heart may be too suggestive. Even Against the Season has a rebellious tone. How about This is Not For You? It's the one that's out of print and almost impossible to get.
I wasn't much of a reader myself when I was in high school. Though I had difficulty reading, at least part of my problem was the material we were assigned. In much of it I was being lied to, offended and bored. Do schools still choose expurgated Caesar to "pacify" the boys, expurgated Romeo and Juliet as a cautionary tale for the girls? When 1 was a teacher myself, I was amused to discover that those who censored Shakespeare often didn't get, and therefore left in, the bawdiest of the puns while removing all references to pregnancy. People could commit suicide, gouge each other's eyes out, betray and murder, but copulate they must not. Watered down Shakespeare was, of course, the best we got. Much of the rest was chosen not for its insight or beauty but for its uplifting and patriotic sentiment. I majored in English at university before I discovered writers who were important to me, because I had decided to learn from the skillful liars the techniques for telling the truth.
There are, of course, students who don't have difficulty learning to read, who are encouraged not only at home but by particular teachers to discover writers who speak to their growing need to understand themselves and the world around them. But the majority are dependent on school texts and school libraries. Apparently only about ten percent of the population goes on borrowing, buying and reading books. A 90 percent failure rate to interest people in what can be found in books should indicate that there is something basically wrong.
Though the censorship of our own forum, The Body Politic, is a dramatic issue we must all actively involve ourselves in, the job is far larger. We must be vocal in our communities, on our school boards, in our schools, to see that not only Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro are available to students, but that even I am there, not only with my own small contribution about violence but with the hundreds of pages I've written about human relationship. The time for negative smugness is past, for accepting a censorship of ourselves, while schools are increasingly being pressured by people who think it wholesome to teach hatred, fear, and violence.
Margaret, Alice and I, along with dozens of others, belong on school library shelves and in school texts, teaching people that fuck
(which still can't be looked up in most dictionaries) is not an act of violence but a word for another four letter word, love
, the most complex, engaging and important subject in the world.