By Ashley Lodato
Here’s one of the many things I love about the valley: people’s willingness to jump in and do things, no matter how spontaneous the occasion or how ill-equipped the actor, with a bare minimum of information. We seem to be a population universally game for impulsive commitment.
For example, let’s say I asked you on a Wednesday, “Would you be willing to facilitate a ninth-grade literary circle discussion tomorrow, with a group of 14-15 year olds you don’t know, about a book you haven’t read?” Would your answer be “Yes, absolutely!”?
Well, if you were valley residents Marcia Ringgold or Boo Schneider it would be. Last week both heeded the call of literary duty and not only rallied to run freshman lit circles in Liberty Bell English classes, but also managed to read the assigned books with less than 24 hours’ notice. Talk about being loyal soldiers for literature!
Coincidentally, these lit circles were followed by a school assembly that featured Lithuanian-American author Ruth Sepetys (Roota Suh-PET-tees), talking about her family’s struggles during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. Sponsored by our excellent North Central Regional Library system, Sepetys spoke at six high schools in the NCRL district as well as at a community event in Wenatchee.
At the Liberty Bell assembly, Sepetys spoke about her novel “Between Shades of Grey.” I know what you’re thinking. Reread that title. Completely different book, and written four years earlier than the one you’re thinking of. Sepetys writes from the memories of survivors of the genocide of the Baltic people in the 1940s by Soviet occupiers.
Sepetys voluntarily signed up for an experience far more hazardous than that into which Ringgold and Schneider thrust themselves (although it might not have felt that way to the literary ladies at the time): she signed up for an authentic Soviet gulag experience. Digest that for a moment. Sepetys paid for and endured a 24-hour experience that mimicked the multi-year Siberian deportation some of her relatives suffered, including realistic imitations of the beatings prisoners received. The painful, expensive, and undoubtedly seemingly endlessly long simulation landed her in a wheelchair for a time.
Unlike Sepetys’ gulag experience, the school assembly was engaging and altogether too short. I overheard students saying, “I could have listened to her all day!” Hats off to the library system for coordinating Sepetys’ visit.
Speaking of pain and misery of a different sort, just because I haven’t mentioned Christmas trees yet this season doesn’t mean I’m not looking for tales of agony or ecstasy in your quest to find the perfect majestic living botanical to sacrifice for your indoor holiday decorating scheme. Please let me know how your Christmas tree cutting experience ended, whether in triumph or in tears, the more of either the better. ’Tis the season.