Long ago and worlds apart in small-town Minnesota, Part II

As I explained in Part I, which reviewed the first two book in the Betsy-Tacy series, I just amn’t as into these books as apparently many other people are. Maybe I’d feel differently had I been introduced to them in grade school instead of as an adult, but then again, several books I adored as a youngster haven’t survived an adult rereading.

As someone who grew up poor and working-class and therefore knows real life is rarely like a Norman Rockwell painting or Andy Hardy movie, I also have low tolerance for books, TV shows, and films where everything and everyone are unrealistically idyllic and happy-clappy. No one’s life is picture-perfect all the time, with minor bumps in the road quickly smoothed out.

And don’t ask me to believe your comfortably bourgeois characters are struggling financially when they can afford a freaking telephone in the 1900s, a live-in “hired girl” to cook and do housework, a house with both a front AND back parlor, and building an additional bedroom onto the house! Not to mention having a dining room instead of eating in the kitchen.

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Betsy and her BFFs Tacy and Tib are super-excited about their upcoming tenth birthdays, since they’ll have double-digit ages and will be practically grown. Betsy, the last to turn ten, gets a surprise birthday party at night, lasting till 9:00, which confirms her view that ten is such a huge maturity milestone and sophisticated age.

Betsy, Tacy, and Tib (whose name is frustratingly cut out of the title, despite doing everything the other two do) promptly develop their first celebrity crush, on 15-year-old Prince Alfonso of Spain. On his upcoming 16th birthday, he’ll be crowned King Alfonso XIII.

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Being just ten years old, the girls daydream about marrying him and becoming Queen. They’re so obsessed with him, they cut out pictures from the newspaper and pin them to their undershirts. They can think or talk of little else, until they discover he can only marry an equally-ranked princess of the royal blood.

Regardless, they write him a letter proclaiming their love and wishes for marriage. This letter becomes lost during a picnic on top of the hill. Not only that, the picnic basket itself goes missing.

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While trying to chase down their lost letter and basket, they find a goat and his human, a girl just their age who lives in Little Syria on the bottom of the hill. (The residents were actually Lebanese, but Lebanon was part of Syria in this era.) The goat carried off their picnic basket, whose contents they gather up.

The girls invite the stranger to their picnic, teach her a few words, and learn her name is Naifi. Being typical kids, they decide to keep their new friend a secret.

That spring, their school holds its annual School Entertainment, full of singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, and reciting. On their way home, they discover a pack of boys bullying Naifi. The increasingly violent fracas only comes to an end when Betsy and Tacy’s older sisters come upon the scene.

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James Tinkcom, developer of the real-life Tinkcomville (Little Syria) in Mankato, Minnesota

It all goes downhill for me in the second half. Betsy, Tacy, and Tib decide to do a June Queen ceremony, and they completely flip out when they learn Betsy’s sister Julia and Tacy’s sister Katie are making plans for their own Queen of Summer ceremony.

The younger girls are convinced Julia and Katie stole their idea, and make up a babyish song about them being mean copycats. When Julia and Katie say they planned to invite them to be flower girls, the younger girls act like overgrown 3-year-olds having a tantrum. They even physically attack Julia and Katie and destroy the crêpe paper they spent their own money on.

In the middle of this childish temper tantrum, Betsy’s dad drives up. Given the era, I’m shocked these girls weren’t given a good paddling for their outrageous behavior! They’re not even made to pay Julia and Katie back for the ruined crêpe paper. Instead they’re all prevailed upon to canvas the neighborhood for votes.

During their quest to get as many votes as possible, Betsy and her friends go to Little Syria and meet Naifi again. And here the plot thickens, leading to an unrealistically, sickeningly syrupy conclusion.

Long ago and worlds apart in small-town Minnesota

It’s quite surprising I don’t recall hearing about the Betsy-Tacy series till a few years ago, since I read so many other old books and series when I was in elementary school. For whatever reason, I just never saw or was told about these books until I was well past the age of the intended primary audience.

This 10-book series is strongly based on author Maud Hart Lovelace’s own life, so much so it’s all but a memoir with different names and a few tweaked details. Apparently it has quite a cult following, with many people effusively crediting it with their decision to become writers, citing it as one of their favorites growing up, and calling the characters friends.

There’s even a Betsy-Tacy Society, with regular events like trivia contests, Victorian Christmas parties, concerts, wine-tasting fundraisers, and writing workshops. They also have a gift shop and give tours of the real-life places in Mankato, Minnesota which feature in the series.

But does it hold up for someone only coming it to as an adult, without rose-colored childhood nostalgia?

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A month before Elizabeth (Betsy) Ray’s fifth birthday, a new family moves into the house across the street. Both houses are at the end of Hill Street, which aptly has a big hill behind it. Betsy is very excited to learn the new neighbors have a little girl her age, since none of the other kids on Hill Street fit that description.

The new girl, who’s extremely shy, runs away when Betsy tries to meet her on a snowy March day. She shouts out her nickname, Tacy, and for some reason Betsy thinks she’s calling out a mocking name. (Even if someone has a very unusual name, why would that be your first thought?!)

Next month is Betsy’s fifth birthday party, and Tacy is among the guests. Betsy learns her name is Anna Anastacia, and that Tacy is her nickname. (Mrs. Lovelace found the name Tacy in a Colonial newspaper while researching another book. It was a 16th–18th century Puritan name derived from Latin tace, “be silent.” As for Anastacia, that spelling seems really out of place on an Irish–American Catholic girl born in 1892.)

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The two become instant BFFs, and they begin having all sorts of old-timey fun and games like playing pretend (though these magical stories are written as though they’re actually happening!), eating lunch in a piano box, going up the Hill Street Hill and sitting on a bench, hanging out on the hitching block, buying candy for a penny, starting kindergarten, playing with paper dolls, dyeing Easter eggs, selling colored sand, dressing up like their mothers and going calling as them. At the end of the book, they meet their new BFF Thelma (Tib) Muller.

A couple of problems crop up, but they’re all rapidly, smoothly resolved—Tacy running away from school in tears on the first day during recess, Tacy’s baby sister Bee dying, Betsy being upset when her parents have a new baby.

And speaking of the lattermost, Betsy’s dad was so sure he’d finally get his precious male heir and Junior, he didn’t bother thinking of a girl’s name! He asks Betsy and her older sister Julia, the day the baby is born, to give her a name!

Other than that, nothing really happens. Everything and everyone are all happy-clappy in this idyllic small town full of comfortably bourgeois people. Betsy and Tacy never quarrel. No neighbors ever confront them about how they’re screaming at the top of their lungs in the middle of the street.  Their only consequences for mild misbehavior seem to be mild scoldings and their parents quickly laughing off their antics.

Plus, it’s written in that dated, distant, spoilerific God-mode, so I never felt in anyone’s head or like there were compelling, emotional stakes.

Sorry not sorry, but I need a real reason to care about characters and storylines beyond them being thinly-fictionalized memoirs of an old-timey childhood. Having grown up poor and working-class, I know real life ain’t like a Norman Rockwell painting or Andy Hardy movie for most people, and can’t relate to such idyllic tales. My great-grandparents, who were born around the same time, only wished they could’ve had such happy, innocence-laced childhoods!

Also, even a deliberately episodic, character-based story needs hung on some kind of narrative arc.

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The second book is pretty much exactly the same, a bunch of random episodes in an unrealistically idyllic small town, only with a third girl added. And did people in the 1890s really think trouble automatically begins when three girls become BFFs?! Plenty of trios have been friends for decades!

The first chapter pissed me off, when the girls make themselves look like (physically) dirty beggars and pretend to Mrs. Ekstrom at the top of the hill that they’re starving. Betsy and Tacy’s older sisters come in, and they cowardly flee, whining, “They’re eating our cookies!” Mrs.  Ekstrom didn’t make those cookies for YOU!

There are more playing pretend episodes written as if these magical things are really happening. The girls also attend a street fair with a flying lady, build a miniature house in Tib’s basement, bake a repulsive concoction with literally everything in the pantry and predictably get sick, and start a secret club.

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The girls cut their hair after Tacy recovers from diphtheria, with the intent of making memorial jewelry, and their parents completely overreact initially (because God forbid a girl might have SHORT hair!), but quickly laugh it off and even out the rough edges. It reminds me of the chapter in the dreadful Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family where Mama tells Charlotte and Gertie that Papa would’ve given them the worst beating of their lives if she thought they gave their cousin Ruthie a bad haircut on purpose. WTAF!

The girls decide to hang bags around their necks and fill them with stones every time they’re “bad,” and soon are delighting in “naughtiness” so they can add more stones on purpose. Their “misbehavior” is truly tame, like putting mud in their pockets, calling their sisters stuck-up, making faces at people, and picking flowers in their own gardens. You rebels, you!

At the end of the book, they meet Tib’s beautiful Aunt Dolly from Milwaukee.

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Honestly, there’s no narrative drive to hook me. These girls’ lives are too happy-clappy and picture-perfect, and I don’t see them growing and maturing beyond getting a bit older. There are no serious consequences for anything they do wrong, as there are for girls like Anne Shirley, Cady Woodlawn, and Laura Ingalls. Nothing truly bad ever happens to them. They get to do whatever they want without any real pushback.

Slice of life stories still need some dramatic tension and a sense that these episodes are connected in some way. I don’t like my books to be as syrupy and annoyingly perfect as Full House in written form.

Remember when YA wasn’t a woke joke?

As I’ve discussed many times before, I no longer consider my books about young people to be true YA apart from metadata indexing purposes. They’re books that just happen to feature young characters most prominently.

It has nothing to do with arrogantly thinking I’m so much better, deeper, and more serious than those other people writing teen characters nowadays, and everything to do with mountains of evidence that my style of writing doesn’t comfortably fit into what’s currently popular and seen as YA.

I see my books more as hist-fic which just happens to centre on youths, vs. books about young people who just happen to live in the past. History is more than shallow, fluffy, minor window-dressing to me.

But now we have another major factor at the fore: Woke cancel culture.

Since I decided to go indie in 2014, I’ve gradually drifted away from the trad-pub community. Over the last year or two, I’ve also seriously cut down on the amount of Twitter writing hashtag games and chats I regularly participate in.

The trad-pub virtual community was a friendly, supportive place once. Now the YA corner in particular has become an absolutely toxic clusterwhat over the last few years, and seems to be getting worse on the daily.

At least half of all YA readers these days are grown-ass adults, many of whom proudly admit they only read YA and have zero interest in any books intended for adults. It’s really creepy for an adult woman to announce she swoons over kissing and makeout scenes with teen characters and has crushes on fictional teen boys! A lot of them also start talking in cringey, dated teen slang, like “All the things!” and “So I may or may not be…”

They’re screaming so loudly about wanting to protect the children when they’re the only ones raising the roof over these “microaggressions” and triggers. They’re also rarely part of the group they claim is being so slandered and violated by words on a page.

Even worse, now we have agents and editors getting involved in woke loonery and quickly caving to Twitter mobs. I’m starting a serious cull and unfollowing any agents and writers who are part of Woko Haram.

The scary thing was, none of them were like this when I began following them and read their blogs regularly. Now when they pop up on my timeline, after not seeing them in ages, they’re virtue-signalling their support for woke nonsense.

And of course, they’ve put freaking pronouns in their bios!

This just happened earlier this month. I believe I may have once queried the woke agent in question. Is there any box he doesn’t tick in this word salad mess throwing his now-ex-client under the bus?

It wasn’t enough for Woko Haram, as it never is. Many ranted that he’d not gone nearly far enough, trotting out canned woke phraseology of their own. And they were all baying for Jessica’s blood.

One wokester had the chutzpah to mark up her compelled apology like she were a naughty third grader. Frightening that this loon is a teacher! 

The Tweet storm they were all raging against did nothing but point out the foolishness of dismissing old books. Some of the language was a bit strong, but nothing nearly on the level of the mob which was unleashed.

The markups were done by one of the loons in the baying mob.

After Jessica was dropped by her woke agent, everyone creepily began lining up to robotically thank him. Anyone who asked for proof of how in the world these Tweets were racist was condemned. You’re a hero for making such accusations in YA Twitter Land, but a bully if you dare ask for evidence of such a damning claim.

A few months ago, an associate agent was fired because she dared to like, on her personal account, some of J.K. Rowling’s Tweets and other Tweets supporting her. People who bash Ms. Rowling for daring to acknowledge the existence of biological sex get an automatic unfollow and block from me.

All it takes is an accusation from this woke mob, and everyone immediately rushes to believe it and grab a flaming pitchfork. If a character says or thinks something deemed problematic, that means the writer automatically holds that view too. Everything is viewed through a skewed woke lens, with no room for nuance, context, and intent.

I would never query an agent who used a professional Twitter account to virtue-signal. Some have given free critiques or query priority to people who tick certain boxes or show proof of donating to a political campaign!

So many people in this toxic community have shown themselves as overgrown mean girls who never mentally matured past high school.

These snowflakes need to get out of their woke bubble and see how normal people in the real world live.

Obesity is not awesome

This is a photo of me in November 2008, a month before my 29th birthday, trying on a maid of honor dress for my aunt’s second wedding. (I ended up getting a dark blue halter dress.) It’s obvious I don’t have a naturally small build, but I’m at a healthy weight in this photo, probably somewhere in the 130s or 140s. In other words, a lower plus size.

I’ll never forget the Vietnamese seamstress at David’s Bridal telling me, “You got boobs, you don’t need bra” when I asked about a corset or strapless bra!

This is a photo of me from May 2016, at age 36 and probably close to 200 pounds, looking like a fat kid. I know the camera adds ten pounds, but damn! Even my size 18 clothes were too tight, and I wore as high as a 2X. Every time someone tagged me in a photo on Facebook, I was horrified at how huge I looked. I refused to tag myself in other photos, not wanting to call public attention to my obvious obesity.

September 2016, no longer a mere plus size.

                                         

The photo on the left was taken in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in March 2017, and the one on the right was taken on Lag B’Omer 2017, when I was 37. By that point, I was close to 220 pounds, a size 22, and even more horrified when I saw myself in photos.

As my mother undiplomatically put it when she saw me in person again that June, “You look like you swallowed yourself.”

And keep in mind I’m only a bit under five feet two inches in bare feet. I’m amazed I gained so much weight and lived to tell about it!

This is what a 75-pound loss looks like. I put several decades back onto my life thanks to shedding all that weight. Had I continued on at 220 pounds, there’s no way I would’ve come anywhere close to my dream goal of age 100, or even my minimum goal of age 81 (the age I’ll be when Halley’s Comet returns).

I’ve been in the 144–49 weight range for the last few months, and am finally able to fit into some 10s again. Most of my clothes are size 12 and 14. I also still fit into some 16s and 18s comfortably.

Because the fit of a garment can vary so widely between designers, it’s best to think of yourself in a size range instead of wedded to just one size, even if your weight is stable.

As someone who’s struggled with weight many times during my life, and was within spitting distance of morbid obesity at my heaviest, it enrages me to see SJWs celebrating being dangerously overweight as an immutable characteristic like race, sex, or disability.

I felt strange pains in my chest when I was obese, and had such severe hip pain, I often had to drive places I once easily walked to. There were days I couldn’t even make it 30 feet before the pain became too great!

Because these SJWs are obsessed with idpol and hierarchies of oppression, they have to put themselves into snowflake categories. “Ooh, you’re only a small fat! You’re not nearly as oppressed or special as an infinifat!”

They even call people like me “ex-fats,” forever defining us by how we used to be overweight.

Prepare to be horrified if you check out the “infinifat” hashtag on Instagram. These women (and yes, they’re exclusively women) are dangerously obese, and they’re celebrating this as sexy, awesome, empowering, cute, fun, fashionable, something to be proud of, etc.

The guy below is positively small compared to the delusional “infinifats”!

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It is scientifically impossible to be healthy at every size. The HAES cult also hijacked the body positivity movement. Originally, it was intended for amputees, burn survivors, unusually tall or short people, albinos, people whose bodies were different from the norm in ways they couldn’t change. Not people who revel in being 100+ pounds overweight.

No one gets to be obese overnight or by accident. Some conditions, like PCOS, make it much harder to lose weight, but it can still be done. How dare they try to claim not fitting into a chair at a nail salon or being able to find size 30+ clothes is just like racism!

They see “microaggressions” in everything—before and after photos, being weighed at the doctor’s, the very word “obese,” innocuous comments like “That’s so flattering on you,” citing well-established health risks of obesity, everything that falls short of lovingly proclaiming, “Obesity rocks!”

Even if you’re metabolically healthy now, in the prime of youth, the reality of obesity will start to catch up to you once you hit your forties. There’s a reason we never see women my age or older in this cult.

We only have one body per lifetime. Treat yours well instead of junking it with excess fat and making obesity your entire identity.

Why I loathe open concepts

I well and truly cannot understand why HGTV pushes open concept houses so heavily. Unless they’re laid out in the right way, living in one is an absolute nightmare.

I’ve been in many houses and apartments with semi-open concepts I had no problem with, and seen others I like on video tours. What makes them different and better than the magnified studio apartment style so in vogue now is the floor plan.

A home with an L or U shape has rooms located off of halls, or an enfilade-style arrangement where all the common, public rooms lead into one another through archways, pocket doors, or partial walls.

Copyright The Fixers; Source Wikis Take Manhattan 2009

Likewise with townhouses in many large cities, which are narrow and deep by necessity. While the upper floors have rooms located off the hallway, the parlor floor tends to have common rooms leading into one another. Sometimes there are doors; other times there are archways designating each room.

But what I can’t tolerate is a square-shaped open concept house!

Why do I hate this style? Let me count the ways.

1. Walls and doors exist for a reason. They designate each room for a separate purpose, and ensure privacy, peace, and quiet.

2. Not as much space to hang pictures, put up bookshelves, and store things.

3. The lack of walls also equals poor temperature control. In the summer, it’s much hotter. In winter, it’s unbearably cold.

4. Did I mention no privacy? These houses seem designed for joined at the hip families who are constantly together, never doing anything in separate rooms.

5. Someone at the door can automatically see into the entire house!

6. Absolutely atrocious acoustics! You want to watch TV, read a book, or do anything in the living room? Not if people are in another “room” all of ten feet away or right up the stairs! Everything is magnified like a tsunami of unbearable noise—speech, running water, the other TV, kitchen appliances, aluminum foil, drawers being opened and closed, rattling utensils, the ice machine.

7. It feels like being in a gymnasium.

8. There’s a reason studio and efficiency apartments are only meant for one person or couples just starting out. Why increase the square footage of that floor plan for an entire house?

9. Read any old book or historical novel, or watch any film from before about 1950 or historical drama. You’ll see rooms located off halls or a main common room (usually the parlor), not one giant open space trying to be multiple rooms at once. It was particularly important for the kitchen to be located well away from the main rooms and to have a door.

10. Speaking of the kitchen, do you really want guests to see drying or dirty dishes stacked up 10-20 feet away, to smell food all over the house, or to watch you preparing food?

11. You’re constantly all up in everyone’s business by default of having no place to retreat to.

12. Less flexibility for converting rooms to other uses. 

13. They just look cheap and emotionally sterile!

14. Many people are so enamoured of open concepts they gleefully tear down walls and rip off doors in old houses.

15. Since everyone can see everything from any vantage point, it necessitates more frequent cleaning to avoid messes.

16. It just doesn’t feel like a real house!

17. They’re a terrible fit for those of us who love vintage interior decoration and furniture.

Walls and doors will be mandatory in my next home. I’ll specify I only want to see pre-1950 houses, and if a contemporary house is all I can afford, I’ll save up to install walls and doors as soon as possible. Open concepts are truly an architectural abomination, no matter how heavily HGTV pushes them.