June 9, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 23
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020



Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
I don't know how much sense this makes, but when I was in the third grade I got tired of not seeing myself in that mirror literacy grants most people, after they achieve a certain degree of proficiency as readers. Thus, I ended a long period of confusion.

And began another.


I had begun the first grade a little younger than most, and, in general, the less said about that ordeal the better. But my otherwise harsh teacher was very good at coaching smart children.

Seeing that I could read already, she set me to work reading everything - as long as I did it in order. So, I read: Dick and Jane 1, Dick and Jane 2, Dick and Jane 3, etc. Then, I began to speed up considerably until I ultimately was reading to her alone, newspapers I stole from home (but didn't tell her).

In the beginning I read these things eagerly - after all, books at home rarely had pictures... Then, came the astonishment: my mother's mother set enormous store on books, and my parents were always reading. They often read to us in more than one language for the pure music of it. If something was said in a book - it - well it was hard to question just because it was in a book.

So imagine the effect of seeing my parents... foolish. Unsophisticated. Dissipate. Our house was suddenly dull and ugly and small. No neat little path or picket fence; no prissy garden.


It can't all be conveyed, but in Dick and Jane's life, even Dad sat down to breakfast. "Mother" and "Father" didn't have the right names. Mama never looked like a snake that had swallowed a forklift. Mother didn't fight with Father; Dick didn't fight with Jane. Even Spot and Puff appeared to be on their best behavior. "Father" didn't wear a green-jean suit, work swing shift and come back exhausted, surly and sick from alcoholism and undiagnosed diabetes. Mama didn't play piano hour after hour after hour, or play old records of herself as the babies screamed down whatever the welkins were.

Most of all, nobody seemed to love anyone as passionately as I did. The wrong kind of anyone, I mean. That year, in the third grade, I had discovered such a passion.


So, by Spring, having worked hard to find novels and biographies that were about my class, ethnicity, and even my race[s], I had learned that - other than by peering at texts in the most cross-eyed manner (and usually not even then) - I was not mirrored in those books. People like (us) were not in those books. So, that year I started writing stories, and, as far as I can tell, it was entirely because I needed to be able to see myself in someone's written words. And if they had to be my own written words, so be it. I have the gift of a kind of pseudo-aphasia: a short time after I write words, I can't remember them. I can barely remember a story line. So, I had stories to read about people like myself... and over the years, that's how I honed my writing skills.

I invite you to come and experience the result.


Seattle Gay News writer Madelyn Arnold will give a reading from her current novel, Divided by One, at 8 p.m. June 9, 2006, at the LGBT Center, 1115 E Pike St [323 LGBT]. Attendance is complimentary.

One is a sequel to her [2000] work, A Year of Full Moons, and follows the same character from her first week of college until just after medical school. A previous book, Bird-Eyes, won the 1988 Lambda Award for First Novel.

She will also read a few poems - a first, for though she has won awards for both fiction and nonfiction, she has published little poetry.

Under another name, Arnold has an MA in English from University of Washington, a BA in Microbiology from Indiana University, and a good deal of experience working in hospitals and clinics. This novel concerns her fascination with medicine.

Arnold has worked for the SGN in various capacities since 1975, but for the last six years she has only contributed opinion columns, in order to focus on her fiction.

She has given many readings down the West Coast, and east as far as Indiana.

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