The first awareness I had that someone could use a story to tell more than one story was in junior high school. The first discussions my English class had about Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily opened my mind to the idea that in addition to the literal meaning of the words on a page, the symbolism and theme of those words could convey a parallel or supportive story in the background. A harmony that made the story all the richer and more powerful. In Thirteen Doors, I too wanted to have background notes playing as the theme music to the actual story unfolding with every turn of the page. I wanted to share some of those thoughts I had as I wrote some of my chapters with you.
If you google sunflowers and Davis, Ca you will immediately see hundreds of images of beautiful, bucolic, golden fields, with millions of yellow faces in full bloom. As the local popularity of the endless rows of stunning flowers has grown, it has often caused traffic jams as the throngs of trespassing professional and amateur photographers look to cash in on the scenic appeal.
I open Thirteen Doors with a prologue; a poem titled Sunflowers. It is certainly a nod to the locale of the story, but it is also a multilayered rebuke of a culture that is obsessed with appearance and lip service. For so many parents of disabled children, as every new school year approaches their schools hold such hope and promise – a place where their child can belong, a place where their child can make meaningful progress, a place where friendships can be forged, a place where access to curriculum is guaranteed.
Unfortunately, many others (often those who bow to politics and/or who have with a vested interest in maintaining appearances) view the classroom as something to covet. Holding fast to the long-ago coronation of class and creed that decried their child or their community more deserving others.
The undercurrent, or the water that gives life to any school system is money. And without that local money, many public schools wilt and wither. A flowery representation of schools is a community sales pitch. It is a sales pitch that drives home prices and connotes a safe community. It is a sales pitch straight into the veins of a parent’s innate emotional compulsion, and our species genetic requirement, to provide for our children. It is a pitch that drives home values and feeds a young parent’s lusty desire to see their child receive the best possible education.
Yet selling ideas is the playground of cults and conmen. Selling ideas, nostalgia, entitlement, and access opens the doors of that system to manipulation. People in positions of power with nefarious intentions can find opportunities for their own kind, while others find an anger for families and children that may be seen as undeserving or taking away from what they were told their child deserves.
Ultimately all parents and all children lose. The golden smiling faces we were sold eventually desiccate – children, their parents, and their communities all left standing alone. Even if you got your child into the honors track or gifted program, every AP class available, or on the varsity basketball team – this is not a win. A win would be an inclusive, diverse, supportive, and representative classroom driven by the needs of the public.
The sunflowers of Davis recur in later chapters and the evolving physical changes during their lifecycle is representative of the changes occurring me as my story progresses.