Episode 83! The Conversation, conversation Jacqueline Davies
Welcome to episode 83 of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Usually, this podcast features an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday).
In this episode, Jacqueline Davies and Grace Lin discuss Jacqueline’s essay, “The Conversation,” (which can be heard in episode 82).
On today's podcast you will hear:
Jacqueline Davies is the talented author of YA and middle grade novels as well as picture books. Her beloved The Lemonade War series, tells the story of a brother and sister who make a bet to see who can sell the most lemonade in five days. The second book in the series is The Lemonade Crime; the third book is The Bell Bandit; the fourth is The Candy Smash; and the fifth and final book in the series in The Magic Trap. Her newest book Nothing But Trouble (HarperCollins, 2016) tells the story of two smart girls in a small town who can't help but get into trouble by pulling pranks. See more about Jacqueline at her website.
Grace Lin, a NY Times bestselling author/ illustrator, won the Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the Theodor Geisel Honor for Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same. Her most recent novel When the Sea Turned to Silver was a National Book Award Finalist and her most recent picture book, A Big Mooncake for Little Star, was awarded the Caldecott Honor. Grace is an occasional commentator for New England Public Radio and video essayist for PBS NewsHour (here & here), as well as the speaker of the popular TEDx talk, The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf. She can also be heard on the Book Friends Forever Podcast, with her longtime friend and editor Alvina Ling.
grace: Hi Jacqueline.
jackie: Hi Grace. Thanks for having me on the Podcast.
grace: Thanks for being on. I'm really happy to talk to you, because I thought your essay was fascinating. Now your essay The Conversation was about how, when you in a work environment had sent this email out to all your colleagues ... Something about how the assignments were being given. You got a lot of pushback from your male colleagues, but what was really interesting was that you were called aside by one of your female colleagues, and that conversation is what your essay's about. You want to tell us a little bit about that?
jackie: Sure. So, very common situation. Assignments are handed out, and the more assignments you get the more money you get. So it was a payment inequity situation. The men in the group were getting more assignments than the woman. I was with the organization for a couple of years, and I noticed this, and after being there for a couple of years I decided to bring it up with the whole group. I started an email with everybody involved, saying, "Hey I'm noticing this. What's the protocol for handing out assignments? What are, kind of, the guidelines that get followed?"
jackie: I wasn't surprised that the men weren't happy. They were being privileged in the system that was set up, that was working. They didn't want anybody rocking the boat. They just didn't want to talk about it. They didn't want me asking any questions, which was all I was doing. All I was doing was asking questions. So it didn't surprise me that the men got angry. But what did surprise me was when the senior woman in the group called me up to basically say the same thing, in a different way, but the same thing. She said, "I'm your friend.", which she was. And, I still like this woman. I don't want anybody thinking that I think badly of her. But she said, "I just need to tell you that you really shouldn't be having this conversation at all. You shouldn't be talking about this. This is something that should be kept quiet. Should be handled in back rooms. It's not something that should be talked about in the open.", and that surprised me.
jackie: Then, from there, she went on to say that I was, kind of, revealing things about myself. Revealing, kind of, who I was in raising these questions. That I was- [crosstalk 00:02:46]
grace: She gave you a couple of adjectives that are really interesting.
jackie: Yes. Yes she did.
grace: Like [inaudible 00:02:52], ambitious.
jackie: Yeah, yeah.
grace: That's really interesting, because when we use those adjectives for men they're not ... especially things like ambitious, we don't really look at those in a negative way when we use that to describe a male. But, interestingly enough, when she used it to describe you it really had a negative connotation.
jackie: Yeah. I mean, think about it. You say, "Oh he's an ambitious young man." And that's like a great thing. Then you say, "Oh she's such an ambitious woman. I wouldn't trust her with anything." You know, we have these different attachments to that word depending on whether we're talking about a man or a woman. And, aggressive and angry. I remember them because they all started with A. So it was one of those things where it, king of, locked into my brain at the time.
jackie: The funny thing is that I don't think there's anything wrong with being ambitious. I don't even think there's anything wrong about being aggressive. I mean, another word for aggressive is a go-getter. And I am a go-getter. But the angry one was the one that really surprised me. There's nothing wrong with being angry, but I just don't think it's an apt description of me. I think that most people who know me would not say that I was a particularly angry person.
jackie: So the fact that she attached that one to me was the one that, kind of, turned the way I was looking at the conversation.
grace: Yeah. You were saying ... We were talking early about how you said it was, kind of, like a Jenga piece. When she said that, all of a sudden everything else she said, kind of, fell down and you started looking at it in a different way. Is that right?
jackie: Yeah. I mean, it was like she was constructing this whole tower of who I was. I was this, I was that. I was this, I was that. It was this whole tower of, this is not the way you're supposed to be. But that one piece, angry, didn't fit. So I, kind of, pulled that one piece out of the tower and then her whole argument about who I was came falling down.
jackie: One of the most important things for me in writing this essay ... I always like to have some practical takeaway. Something that somebody reading the essay can say, okay, I can use that. The thing that I'm hoping people will use from this essay, is the idea that in the face of someone constructing a tower about you. Telling you who you are and constructing this narrative of who you are, you need to try really hard to listen to the voice inside of you that knows who you are.
grace: Yes. You talk about that as the hum right?
jackie: Yeah the hum. The hum is what I called it. It's not quite as strong as a voice, but there is a sound, kind of, a humming sound. When Julia said that word "angry" that's when the hum in me said, wait a minute, wait a minute, that doesn't fit. So, I just really encourage all people, woman, all people to try really hard to listen to that voice inside that will, kind of, keep you on the right path of knowing who you are.
jackie: Because people are going to construct narratives about you your whole life for their own reasons. Whether they know they're doing or not. I'm not saying anything here was malicious. I'm just saying that Julia had a certain need to narrate me in this particular way. I needed to fill this certain role for her for some reason. I don't know why. It was, I think, the first time in my life that I was able to resist somebody else telling me who I was, and listen instead to that humming inside of me that says, wait a minute you're not an angry person. That's not who you are. So, it was important for that reason.
grace: So what I think is interesting is that Julia had this conversation with you because she was trying to help you. Right? That's what you said yourself, it's like you're not angry with her. You realized that this was, kind of, her way of helping you. What do you think you would say to her now if you were having that conversation with her now?
jackie: Oh that's such a good question. I do think she was trying to help me. You know, one of the things I was worried about in writing this essay was that people were going to ... readers of it were going to point a finger at Julia and say, "Oh, she's a bad person. Look at what a terrible thing. She's betraying the sisterhood, and she's in competition with another woman.", and all of that. Some people did say exactly that. They, kind of, wanted to paint her as the villain. And, I don't see her that way. I think she's operating in the same environment that the rest of us are. We are all soaked and saturated in these ideas we have based on gender. About who a woman is supposed to be, who a man is supposed to be, and the characteristics that are appropriate to each.
jackie: So Julia is just as much a victim of it as any of us. I was on the receiving end of it and she was on the giving end of it, but we were both involved in the same system. The same system that tries to keep woman in a particular place. So, you know, what would I say to her? I wouldn't say anything. If it came up I would say, "I understand why this was happening. I understand the dynamic that was happening between us. You're not the villain, I'm not the hero. We were just both involved in enacting the roles that are assigned to us, practically from birth."
grace: What would you say to her ... So say you were having that conversation with her right now. Knowing what you know, would you try to point out to her how she's in that ... how she's playing a certain part of the system?
jackie: You know, the thing that I was pleased about, in terms of that conversation that I had, is that I didn't fall in line with her and say, "Oh you're right. Oh you're right I shouldn't do that." I didn't do that. I listened. I just kept my ears opened and I listened. I didn't contradict ... well actually no, that's not true. There were several points where I said, "I don't think that's quite right. I don't think that's quite true." But I didn't call her out on anything.
jackie: Would I do that now? That's a really good question Grace. I think I would only do it if I thought I could help her. Now she's quite a bit older than I am, and how open would she be to hearing from somebody much younger? I don't know. I don't know if she would have just thought, you don't have as much experience as I do. I really do know more what I'm talking about than you do.
jackie: I think if I thought that what I said could be absorbed by her, that she could hear me, I think I would have attempted it. But, short of that, I didn't feel any need to take her to task. That was just not how I was feeling about it.
grace: So how about this? How about if we reverse it. Say that you are in Julia's position and a young woman has come into the office and is causing a lot of waves, and you want to help her. What kind of advice would you give her?
jackie: Oh, well, I don't think I would have responded to that young woman in the same way that Julia responded to me. Like I said I don't know what was going on with Julia. I can only make guesses about that. But, if a young woman came into the office and was making waves I would want to get to know her better. I would want to hear what she's talking about and see if I could understand it and see if we were in alliance on it, and help her, support her. I think that in many cases ... I have kids who are teens and young 20s and they often come to me with challenging ideas. I just try really hard to listen to it and learn from it, because that's the only way we move ahead.
grace: Well that's great. Thanks so much for having this conversation with me Jackie.
jackie: Oh thank you.
grace: I just have two questions for you to end our conversation.
grace: First question, give me an elevator pitch of what you're working on, or your latest book?
jackie: Okay. I'll just tell a quickly, just because this just happened this week. My newest book Nothing But Trouble, which is a middle grade ... I'd say grades four, five, six. About two smart girls who get into some trouble when they start pulling pranks in their middle school. It just came out in paperback. So, that's, kind of, my announcement for this week. Happy that Nothing But Trouble is out in paperback. Keep an eye out for that.
grace: All right. Great. My second question for you ... All right, so my second question for you is, what is your biggest publishing desire? And when I say your publishing desire I want you to name something that you're almost embarrassed to say out loud. Like don't say something like, "I want to make a living for my art." No, I want you to name something that ... like I said, something that you're almost embarrassed to mention.
jackie: Okay. So, I knew you were going to ask me this question. So I gave some thought to it. I am not embarrassed to say that I want a street named after me.
grace: That is great.
jackie: I would like there to be Jackie's Way somewhere. Either in my town or in Boston, which is the city closest to me. Or in New York City. Or anywhere. I don't care where, anywhere. I just want there to be a Jackie's Way so that I always get my way. That's what I decided is the thing I want most in publishing.
grace: That's awesome. I just wanted to reiterate for the listeners that the reason why I'm asking these questions is because I feel like it's really important for all of us to be able to name our dreams, and not to be scared to name what we really want. Which, is really what your essay was all about.
jackie: Right, and to not hold back. Don't hold back.
grace: Exactly. Well thanks so much. I hope some day that I get to drive or walk along Jackie's Way.
jackie: You and I will stroll down Jackie's Way. I hope it'll be a beautiful street.
grace: And I'm sure it will. Full of flowers and castles.
grace: All right, thanks so much Jackie.
jackie: Thanks a lot Grace.
grace: Okay. Bye.