Stop (Book) Clubbing Baby Seals

I love those meme posters that prove that grammar can save the world. One features a pic of a baby seal on a disco floor, with the caption, “Stop clubbing, baby seals.” How commas change everything.

So, yeah. I had the very cool expierence last night of attending a book club where the featured read of the month was BIG IN JAPAN. Yeah, my very own book. Kind of a wacky feeling! But the ladies were really super nice, and I came away having received some insights I didn’t expect. I mean, I thought I’d just show up and answer questions any ladies had about sumo or Japan or the writing process. And I did that.

However, I didn’t realize the book discussion would end up so honest.

The topic that seemed to generate the most emotion (even after the club’s main discussion was over, since I showed up an hour after the start so they could talk amongst themselves honestly about their assessment of the book) was the topic of body image and self confidence.

In the story, sumo unexpectedly offers the MC the chance to change his perception of his body image. One lady pointed out that Buck’s self-image shifts radically the moment he realizes that he’s suddenly not just the invisible fat guy, but that fat can be awesome. “We all have this culturally ingrained perception of what’s acceptable. But I say, ‘Says who?'”

And she’s right. If I were to suddenly transport myself to 17th Century Europe, my curvy curves would be au courant, it would seem from art of the time. Rich women had enough to eat (like moi), and were the attractive set, hips and all.

Everyone agreed that we’ve all felt out of place for one reason or another. We all have a physical feature we dislike, whether it’s our weight or not. They said almost anyone could identify with Buck for that reason.

The emotional part came when we all began mentally applying the situation to our children. The women there were all mothers, I believe, and could see the lack of confidence in one form or another in our children. In the story, Buck is lucky. Sumo becomes the catalyst that changes him from a chump to a champ. The painful part came as we discussed what to do if our children have not found their sumo yet, what to do to help them find that one activity or event that helps them realize they’re okay and can forget themselves and get on with the business of serving others and being the best person they can be, unhampered by the debilitating self-absorbtion that is low self-esteem.

It’s tough! As a mother, I find myself wondering this daily. What will be “the sumo” for my kids? Sports, music, academics, an art contest, scouting, hiking, a huge community service project? Being a punctuation expert and well-known grammar sheriff who helps people know where to put the comma so they don’t club baby seals? Where will that brief, external validation come from that will solidify their suspicions of self-worth? Some are just born with it, but I suspect most people need to have it reaffirmed a few times at least before it sinks in. I wish as a mother I could simply bestow it on them. But a mother’s love, though vital, rarely seems sufficient. Sad–very sad, but true.

For myself, it’s pretty easy to pinpoint the four or five life events that helped me change from an introverted bookworm who didn’t dare sit by anyone at lunch to the talkaholic who thought everyone on earth was just dying to have a conversation with me and secretly wished they could be my friend (jk, but seriously.)

One of them was going to Japan.


5 Responses

  1. Megan
    Megan September 28, 2012 at 4:47 pm |

    What a fabulous experience. You keep saying you write fluff, but there is deep truth there. You might be writing the Great American Novel.

  2. Megan
    Megan September 29, 2012 at 11:19 pm |

    Ah, but “To Kill a Mockingbird” is just about a daughter watching her dad be a good lawyer. Or “Gone With the Wind” is just about a spoiled girl finally growing up. 😉

  3. Wendy Jones
    Wendy Jones October 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm |

    I want to have Big in Japan be the book for my book club next month. Trying to work out the financial deets–but, really, it is THAT good.

    And I’m one of those people who seriously secretly wish to be your friend. 🙂

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