In 2007, neuroscientist Lisa Genova self-published her first novel, “Still Alice.” It tells the story of a Harvard psychology professor and her experience with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book became a best-seller and is now a major motion picture. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “Still Alice.”
The bestselling author of the Bee Season presents her latest novel. It’s a complex psychological drama about what happens when the ignorance of youth comes crashing against the wisdom of adulthood.
- Myla Goldberg bestselling author of "Bee Season" and "Wickett's Remedy."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A simple Jewish prayer affirms we cannot become the person we long to be by ignoring the persons we have been. The main character in the latest novel by the author of "Bee Season" comes to understand the power of that statement. Celia's quest for the truth about her past reveals who she was as child and forces her to face the pain she caused her family and friends and how it continues to shape her life. The new book is titled "The False Friend." Author Myla Goldberg joins me in the studio. We do invite your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. Myla, it's good to meet you.
MS. MYLA GOLDBERGIt's good to be here.
REHMI gather you've been working on this book for some five years.
GOLDBERGYeah, it turns out it takes awhile to do these things.
REHMOf course. What got you started?
GOLDBERGIt was a combination of factors. The book actually started about 15 years ago as a little seed that got planted in my head where one day I suddenly remembered having thrown a pair of scissors at a girl when I was about in fourth grade and she was my best friend at the time. It was a pair of safety scissors. She's perfectly fine, but at the time...
REHMWith the round edges?
GOLDBERGYeah, yeah, but it's -- they still manage to do some damage.
GOLDBERGSo they hit her in the leg. She actually bled a little bit. She did not tell on me. And then I managed to wipe that memory from my mind until I was an adult. And as an adult, I've always been a virulently nonviolent person. Like I once took a fencing class and I couldn't even get the lance to hit the person I was supposed to hit 'cause I was like, no.
GOLDBERGSo having this memory come back when I did something violent kind of made me think, well, wait a minute, when -- what kind of person was I when that was okay? How did I manage to forget that for so long and has that affected this nonviolent thing? Like, was I just so appalled that I had to push it aside? So that very little tiny thing blossomed over time and then later on, down the road, when I was sitting down to write, it came back and turned into this.
REHMAnd of course, right now, we're seeing this rash of bullying going on.
GOLDBERGWell, we're seeing a rash of publicized bullying going on. Bullying is eternal. As long as there have been people…
GOLDBERG…there have been bullyings.
REHMYeah, yeah, but I think people are more surprised when it happens among girls.
GOLDBERGYeah, but I don't quite -- I mean, it's a different kind bullying. You know, boys and girls are different creatures and boys tend to be more physical and girls tend to go for the psychological kill and so there's a lot of cruelty that's just emotional and psychological growing up that really is frankly just a part and parcel of growing up. It's just you have to deal and you learn and you figure out what side of it you're on and you process that as you age.
REHMAnd of course, exclusion is part of that.
GOLDBERGIt's essential because, you know, I think to my mind, when you're at that age, you're trying to define your identity and you're doing that in opposition to others, so excluding is a way of defining who you are. Well, I'm not that and that's how you move forward and hopefully, as you get older, you can stop doing that a little bit.
REHMBut in the case of your book, "The False Friend," you've got a situation that turns deadly.
GOLDBERGYeah, it does although, as you read, you do wonder how that death is or is not connected to what's been going on.
REHMRead for us from that passage where we're looking back on Celia's life and she's recalling what that day was like.
GOLDBERGSure. "All five of them, Celia, Djuna, Becky, Josie and Leanne, were supposed to have gone home on their respective buses, but walking had been that day's buried fulcrum, the shared secret around which the rest of the day had turned. Jensonville Elementary lay along a wooded, curving, two-lane road with no sidewalks, its sole pedestrian the occasional doomed opossum. Rumors of the woods abounded.
GOLDBERGThe forest was said to conceal an abandoned stable with a haunted horse skeleton, a derelict quarry filled with glowing water, a moldy mansion from inside which a warlock lured children with promises of candy and then beat them with his belt. They had refuted these stories and then repeated them word for word. They were frightened of the woods and in love with being frightened. To walk along Ripley Road was an unthinkable transgression that could not be denied once it had been conceived.
GOLDBERGCelia and Djuna had been fighting, their anger so sharp, that after 21 years, the memory still made Celia flinch. The force of their argument had propelled them past the others and around a curve, nothing but road and trees stretching in either direction. The gravel shoulder along the road's edge was just wide enough to walk two abreast, but Djuna pulled ahead of Celia and veered into the woods. They had fought so often over the littlest things that the cause of that days furry had merged in Celia's mind with the sound of fracturing underbrush as she threaded her way between trees in an attempt to follow. So much could have happened differently. If Celia had taken the same path as Djuna, she might have seen what was coming.
GOLDBERGHad Djuna entered the woods at a different point, she might have avoided the danger. Had they not been fighting to begin with, they might not have left the road. In any of those instances, the afternoon would have been indistinguishable from countless others. Instead, Celia watched Djuna fall. One minute, she was there and the next, the earth had swallowed her up. Celia may have called into the silence. She may have stood there waiting for Djuna to rise from the undergrowth. Maybe she meant to teach Djuna a lesson. Perhaps she thought her most secret shameful wish had just came true. The unadult mind is immune to logic or foresight unschooled by consequence and endowed with a biblical sense of justice.
GOLDBERGThe only thing more appalling to Celia than these excuses was the child's act they contrived to explain. When Djuna failed to reappear or make a sound of any kind, Celia had not tried to help. Instead, she'd retraced her own path through the trees to return to the road, then back around the curve to where Josie, Becky and Leanne were still waiting. She told them that Djuna had gotten into a stranger's car and they had nodded like a trio of marionettes, the first in a town of 50,000 to believe her."
REHMMyla Goldberg, the book is titled "The False Friend." Do join us 800-433-8850. Celia and Djuna, as you say, were best of friends and they, as you point out early in the book, sort of created this mystique around them that excluded all others. Other people were dying to be part of their group, yet they sort of treated everybody with disdain.
GOLDBERGYeah, it's -- the first taste of power is always a very heady thing and around that age, I think, you get the taste of what you're capable of and you can be really overwhelmed by it. They had found each other and they just had chemistry. I think we've all had that experience at some point in childhood. We just meet with someone and it clicks and like, oh, we get each and it is passion. I mean, before you actually know how to fall in love or before you actually have sexual feelings, they're sort of a proto-passion that can occur between you and a friend and that's what they discovered in each other.
REHMDo you think that girls do this in a way that boys don't?
GOLDBERGWell, I'm a girl, so I can only speak for myself. I know that from observation, it seemed that girls had very different kinds of friendships than boys when I was growing up. Girls, it was a lot about talking and secret telling and pass notes and boys had their own -- you know, you'd I'd have -- you'd have to talk to them, but from the outside, it looked like it was a much more physical, being in each other's presence and doing stuff, was more of like doing activities together and sharing in like play and things like that.
REHMBut the power, really, for girls at least, becomes the power of the relationship itself and the power of that relationship to exclude others.
GOLDBERGAbsolutely, yeah. I mean, the more powerful -- the more people you can exclude and the more people who want to be with you, the powerful -- the more powerful you become. So that's the clique. The clique is kind of born at that age in elementary school and it never stops they just turn into, you know, more sophisticated cliques as we get older.
REHMDo you think parents spot that?
GOLDBERGIt depends. I think some parents do. I think ultimately, parents are kind of powerless about it. I mean, the world of growing up, the world of childhood is one that parents really can overlook -- only look at from the outside and they can offer words of encouragement or words of advice, but for a lot of it, you just have to kind of sit back and hope that things work out.
REHMCourse, the other major theme of this book is memory and how we can use that memory in our own peculiar way.
GOLDBERGYeah, I've been fascinated by memory for about two books now. My last book dealt with memory on a more broad cultural level with a huge mass event and this one is a much more personal level, but memory is something we rely upon every day. It's like the bedrock of our identity in many cases, but it's ultimately completely unreliable. Memory can be very self-serving. It can be very selfish and we just never know necessarily when we've got things right. And I'm very interested in that. Like, I can remember things that I'll tell to my sister and she's like, what are you talking about? I have no idea what you're talking about. And that happens to everybody.
REHMIsn't that interesting? My sister and I have very different memories of what I think are the same event.
GOLDBERGYeah, it's the case for everybody and so in this book, I really wanted to explore what happens when you are dead certain of something that happened a long time ago and you go back to your hometown to talk about it and no one remembers it the way that you do.
REHMBut of course, the other thing is that Celia blocks this out for two decades before she begins to deal with it. The book is titled "The False Friend." Myla Goldberg is with me. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMI'm sure many of you have heard us talk on this very program about Myla Goldberg's earlier book "Bee Season." Now she has a new novel, it's titled "The False Friend." It's about memory, it's about cruelty, it's about the way people, both young and older, behave toward each other. You talked about memory as it relates both to the "Bee Season" and this book, "The False Friend." How do you see the connections?
GOLDBERGWell, the connection I more see between "Bee Season" and "The False Friend" is they're very different looks at childhood. My -- the memory comment actually refers to the one that came in-between, which is "Wickett's Remedy" that had to deal with the 1918 influenza epidemic, but that's a whole other story, but there is a big connection between "Bee Season" and "False Friend" because "Bee Season" examines childhood, but more through a child's eyes. I mean, when you're with that family and you're in Eliza's head, you're seeing things in her state of her age, whereas "The False Friend" is retrospect.
GOLDBERGWhile it deals with a childhood event in a family, you know, when they're -- when Celia was a child, it's an adult look back. There's very few flashbacks in this book. It's mostly looking at childhood through an adult lens. And I was fascinated by the idea that because childhood -- you know, I wrote "Bee Season" when I was in my 20s and so my childhood was still very much a part of me and childhood never stops being a part of you, but it's relationship to you as a person does very much evolve and change and so I think this book, at least for me, reflects that for myself, as now that I'm getting older, my childhood's still there, but it is through a more distant lens that I'm viewing it.
REHMSo you've morphed from one person to another in these two books.
GOLDBERGOh, sure. Well, we all do. We can't help but change.
REHMHow much have you changed?
GOLDBERGProbably someone who's not me would be a better gauge of that. I'd like to think that I've become more compassionate. I think that that's a great goal for anyone as you age, just to become more and more and more compassionate. Which is why with this book, I was really interested in the idea of its main character being having once been a bully. She used to be monstrous. I mean, when she was a child, she really was kind of terrible, but when we catch up with her as an adult, she's not. She's a genuinely good person who is doing good things and I love the idea that I think all of us at some point in our lives, no matter how brief, probably were monsters once. Children tend to be and so that transformation is kind of interesting.
REHMWhat does Celia do for a living?
GOLDBERGCelia has this neat job. She's something called a performance auditor...
GOLDBERG...which the easiest way to say it -- you know how there's consultants who go to companies and see how they can run better.
GOLDBERGA performance auditor does that for government agencies, but it's basically the same idea and so that's what Celia is and it really fits very well with her personality because ever basically since she realizes this terrible event which she's blocked out, she's only been trying to help people. As if trying to compensate subconsciously for this thing she blocked away, she's become a do-gooder and that has changed.
REHMHave other people blocked away the incident?
GOLDBERGWell, when she goes back to talk to people, it's not that people have blocked it away so much that when they talk about it with her, they remember something very different.
REHMWhat did they remember that's different from what she remembers?
GOLDBERGWell, Celia remembers having seen her friend falling, not helping her get up and fleeing and saying a lie, which is that her friend got into a car. But then, when she talks to her friends who she purportedly lied to, they're like, that wasn't a lie, she got into a car. We saw her get into a car. So then for much of the book, you're trying to decide whether these friends remember that because they were told it and then it became -- they incorporated it into their memories as they aged or whether it's Celia who's the one who has had her memory playing tricks on her.
GOLDBERGBecause I know for certain that there's certain things -- if someone tells it to you -- if you are a child and your parent says, oh, I just saw Santa Claus outside on the porch. You may not have seen it, but it very well could be that in your mind's eye, you believe that person. Oh, and I remember I saw Santa Claus, too, and then it becomes your own memory and so the book plays with that idea of who has the real memory and who has the false one.
REHMWhat about Djuna's mother?
GOLDBERGDjuna's mother is -- she's a very fascinating character to me. She's a woman who has undergone terrible loss and I was interested in kind of exploring with her the ways that we are able to recover and not to recover from terrible loss, and the way it can change us and the way it perhaps -- we kind of just get more entrenched perhaps into the person we were before. Her memory of the event -- she wasn't there. It's -- you know, she only had to rely on what people told her and then just to rely on her knowledge of these girls. She was a stranger to the event that took her daughter away and so that's -- I talked before about how parents are only ever on the outside of what's going on in the lives of their children and this is that taken to the biggest extreme.
REHMDo you think that many girls get through that stage of meanness of bullying or does it stay with them?
GOLDBERGI think it depends on the girl. I think we can point to several female politicians, I won't name names, who never got over it and they're still the bullies they probably were when they were small. There's other people, I've met them, who have said, yeah, I was horrible when I was 10 or 11. You know, my parents were divorcing and I was miserable and I took it out on other people or, you know, I mean, there's always a pretty interesting reason why they were mean. And a lot of them regret it and have tried to get better and some of them never really figured out that that's what they were doing and are still doing it in more sophisticated ways and often very successful.
REHMI found myself wondering whether -- you said at the outside, bullying has been with us for thousands of years. Do you really believe that?
GOLDBERGOh, absolutely. It's integral to human nature. I mean, the human creature is a creature that is very sensitive to power, to the wielding of power, to the getting of power and the taking of power and bullying is integral to that. I don't think we can ever get rid of it. I mean, you could say -- you could look in the animal kingdom if you wanted and point to acts of bullying. It's just called something different there. You know, it's the alpha male and the -- but it's just -- it's animals. This is what animals do, for better or for worse.
REHMWe haven't talked about Celia's boyfriend, Huck. How does he take all this?
GOLDBERGWell, he's in a weird spot because he dearly desperately loves Celia and so wants to be supportive of her. So if she's telling him that she did this terrible thing, he feels like, okay honey, well, I'm still with you and I support you and we'll get through this together, but then the more he learns, the more he comes to question whether Celia has it right and so he can't figure out through the book whether his role is better to just be 100 percent supportive of Celia no matter what she says or to let his own sort of logic mind and the evidence that he's getting contradict that and come to her and say, hey, honey, you might not be right on this one and maybe we should look at that instead. It's tricky.
REHMDoes Celia come to a conclusion about what happened?
GOLDBERGI think she does. I mean, the neat thing about fiction is every reader can make a book their own and they can come to their own opinions. I can speak to my intention as the writer of it, which is that I very much wanted a reader to leave the book feeling that Celia has reached some kind of conclusion about what has happened and hopefully some kind of peace about what has happened so she can move forward in her life and in her life with Huck and in her professional life and her personal life and be okay with this and begin to process it. There's sort of -- there's a little coda at the very end of the book, just this one little paragraph. And it's in that paragraph that I'm really hoping when the reader gets there, they're like, okay. She's figured this out.
REHMI hope people don't read that part of it first.
GOLDBERGNo, please. Yeah, take it...
REHMYeah, don't do that. You know, Myla, you grew up in this area. Your parents are still in this area. We hope they're listening today. Tell me about your growing up.
GOLDBERGWell, I was a suburban Maryland girl and so for me, my introduction to culture was being taken into D.C. to see the museums and so that was wonderful, but, you know, I mean, like any other -- you know, I went to -- at my elementary school, I had always -- I have all sorts of memories of being the kid who was picked on and so growing up, my identity was always that of somewhat of -- you know, someone who's picked on. I'm a little bit of a victim, which is why...
GOLDBERGOh, why? Oh, I was a complete nerd, you know. I was this pigeon-toed, gangly, awkward girl with huge glasses with a monogrammed M on the lenses. I was a know-it-all. I was always having my hand up and raising my hand. I mean, I was asking for it, but because of that, when I did have this memory that I mentioned at the beginning of the program about throwing a pair of scissors at someone...
GOLDBERG...I was like, oh, wait, I wasn't always the victim. Someone I was -- sometimes I was the perpetrator as well. And that duality was something I really wanted to translate into this story to give readers, a glimpse of what it was like to be on both sides.
REHMAnd did you share with your parents how bullied you felt?
GOLDBERGProbably not. I mean, I'm sure I talked to them. I mean, I remember coming home and talking to them and saying, oh, so and so called me this and so and so picked on me, but what do you do as a parent with that? You know, they're like, oh well, they're jealous, oh, you're special and they meant it and I knew they meant it and they thought it was true, but in my heart of hearts, I didn't believe them. I was like, okay. Great, now how does that help me go back to school where, you know, someone put a tack on my seat yesterday. It's really hard. It's a very, very tricky thing and now that I'm a mother with my own children it's definitely something that has crossed my mind, how do I help them.
REHMDo you have girls, boys?
GOLDBERGI do, I have two girls.
REHMCongratulations. What about teachers? Do you see that they perhaps see even more than parents do?
GOLDBERGOh, absolutely. Absolutely they see more than parents do and I don't want it to make it seem like adults are powerless. They absolutely are not and they have a very strong responsibility to educate and to intervene and to help people navigate these ways and come up with better ways of making friends and better ways of perceiving difference than the ones that children will kind of figure out on their own if left to their own devices.
REHMSo what would you say to parents who perceive that their child is being bullied?
GOLDBERGIt's an excellent question and I'm not an expert, but I mean, the one thing I thought of is if your child is feeling sensitive because they're the smallest or they're the slowest runner, you don't deny that. You're, like, yeah, you are the smallest in your class or yeah, you do have trouble reading, but guess what? Everybody's got something. You know, you're not alone in feeling like you're the something-ist and so when you point out that someone else is taller and the tallest in the class and someone else has a really hard time with math, it can make them feel perhaps a little bit less alone in their singularity. Everyone is singular in some way that makes them feel awkward.
REHMAnd of course, Celia has a brother, Jeremy.
REHMTell us about him.
GOLDBERGWell, the interesting thing about siblings is, you know, they're gonna have different experiences of the family that they grow up in and the bigger the age difference between them, the wider that gulf of experience can be. Add to that differences in temperament or anything else and it can be like two people who grew up in the same house effectively grew up in different homes. And so to some degree, that's what happened, I think, with Celia and Jeremy. Jeremy had a very -- he didn't have a bullying experience the way that Celia did. He didn't have this intense friendship-type thing, but he had his own battles that he had to fight.
GOLDBERGYeah, he had a drug addiction issue and what happens with him is that actually brings him much closer to their parents then Celia ends up being close because Celia's out of the house when Jeremy's drug addiction manifests and so as always happens, when some big crises hits a family, it makes you stronger. Celia was outside of that so in a way, she's now estranged from this family and it's a different family for her than it is for him.
REHMMyla Goldberg, her new novel is titled "The False Friend." Do join us. We'll open the phones very shortly. What is the writing life do for you?
GOLDBERGIt makes it possible for me to be alive, basically. I can't imagine being here without writing. What it does for me as a person is what I hope it also does for readers. My interest in writing is to try to get inside as many heads as possible. I wanna be able to see the world through as many different lenses as I possibly can and writing gives me a springboard to do that. And hopefully, if I'm doing it right, it will then allow readers to do that, too. The reason I think literature is essential is because it broadens our understanding of the world and of the people in it and hopefully increases tolerance and makes us all better people in the end, which sounds very idealistic. And in some ways, I'm a very pessimistic jaded person, but in this, I am not. Like, it's...
REHMHow did you even come to believe that your writing was worth reading?
GOLDBERGBecause people started reading it and liking it. That helped a lot. I feel very, very lucky in that I had a first novel that was received so well. I mean, you can't get better encouragement than, you know, what I got with my first novel, but even before then, I mean, I've been writing since I was six years old. It's all I've ever, ever wanted to do. Like, when I was a kid, I would sit at an electric typewriter and pretend I was writing a novel and this was fun for me. And at that point, it's not like I thought the world would be bettered by writing. It's just like it was fun. It's pure escapism. Reading is one level of escapism because you get to go into another world.
GOLDBERGWriting is an even more pure form of that escapism 'cause you're building the world you get to escape into and there's really nothing better than that. I mean, my best days are when I forget everything other than the world that I'm creating on that page.
REHMHow old are your children?
GOLDBERGSix and three.
REHMSo how do you find time to write?
GOLDBERGWell, one of them is in second grade, so she's at school and the other of them is in daycare (laugh), so that's how.
REHMAnd what about your parents? Did they immediately sort of encourage you?
GOLDBERGThey encouraged -- I mean, they generally encouraged all of -- you know, me and my sister to do what we enjoyed. When I told them that I wanted to be a writer, it gave them pause simply because it's not a very stable life.
GOLDBERGAnd they wanted me to be happy and stable and comfortable, so for awhile, they're like, well, are you sure? And maybe technical writing. And I was like, no, writing.
GOLDBERGBut then when I was in college -- actually, this was a very huge moment for me. In college, I wrote and directed a play and they came up to see it and they stayed a day longer to see it again and at the end of that, they said, you know what? You want to be a writer and we support that and it was huge.
REHMNow, tell me how many publishers you had to go to for the "Bee Season."
GOLDBERGWell, I actually wrote a novel before "Bee Season," which never got published by anyone. I went around to any publisher that you can possibly think of for about a year and a half. "Bee Season" was very lucky. Really within a few weeks of sending it out, it found a publisher, which was very surprising to me. I was not expecting that after my first experience.
REHMSo the point is persistence.
GOLDBERGAbsolutely. In anything. I don't care what you want to do, you've got to be persistent and if you keep up doing it, eventually someone's going to notice you (laugh) and they'll say, hey, you're doing this thing. You're like, yeah, come take a look.
REHMYou just love what you do.
GOLDBERGYeah, it's a dream come true for me. I mean, it's when you get to do what you love every day.
REHMAbsolutely. And I fully agree with you. The notion, though, of writing a book about childhood friendships and including memory in it, two very, very complicated concepts.
GOLDBERGYeah, which is why the story doesn't take place over a very long period of time. It's a very, very condensed story. It really only takes place over the course of about a week and that gave me more space to go inside more and to really delve into people's heads and to really -- I mean, it's mostly just a series of conversations often. Like, you're just your inner room, you see what they're saying, you see how they're moving and what they're thinking and because I'm taking it so slow, hopefully that's allowing me to get to all the different nuances that I was hoping to get to explore the topics fully.
REHMMyla Goldberg, her new novel is titled "The False Friend." Short break. When we come back, we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd we'll go right to the phones. Let's go to Wolfeboro, N.H. Good morning, Jim, you're on the air.
JIMThank you. My most painful memory of bullying is by myself and as I was listening to you ladies talk, my question evolved, so I'd experienced minor bullyings before in grammar school and I'd say perhaps say three years after the second grade, fifth grade, one of my contemporaries in the neighborhood who went to Catholic school, she persuaded me that we should lure her nephew, who was just a few years younger than we, into the woods. And we tied him up and tortured him with spiders, as I recall. Now, I knew both of these people later as adults and apologized many times to the victim and he was very good natured about it, but it kind of appalls me and yet it makes me feel that probably the bullying instinct is innate in us because I've been bullied substantially as well, so.
REHMDo you think it's innate?
GOLDBERGYeah, I do, but that isn't to say that you can't learn and get -- I mean, it sounds like our caller did learn and changed and, you know, and -- but also being bullied I think helps one become a bully because then there's a lot of anger and resentment and you want to give back what you've received, so it makes sense to me that someone who had been bullied would in turn be a bully.
REHMJim, thanks for calling. To Reston, Va. Good morning, June.
JUNEHi. I don't know that bullying is innate. I think we learn that from the older people. I don't think children are born mean, I think they're created mean. And I had an experience and I was in middle school where the bully girls that were from dysfunctional families and were mean to everybody picked on this one girl constantly, who was an odd person and I remember one time, they got this package and wrapped it all up and gave it to her for her birthday and it was a can of dog food. And I remember in eighth grade thinking, how mean can a person be. And I talked to my mom and we went down and got her bubble bath and wrapped it up, but to this day, I'm thinking where did I get that courage from 'cause those girls could've beat me up.
JUNEAnd all those girls end up pregnant and (laugh) dropped out of school and part of me is like, yeah, there you go.
GOLDBERGYeah, you can't help but feel a little good about that.
REHMYeah, at the same time, you know, to say that bullies came from one side of the tracks and the not bullies came from the other, I don't agree with it.
GOLDBERGOh, yeah. No. It's totally not true and I'm not sure that that's what our caller was trying to imply, either. And I wanna say, I'm not trying to be this reductionistic person who's saying that bullying is inevitable. I think the capability to bully is innate, but whether it actually becomes expressed or not obviously is gonna have a lot to do with your environment and how you are nurtured. This whole nature nurture debate is always something that's very interesting to me.
REHMJune, I gather you had a daughter who was bullied?
JUNEI actually did and again, this was a girl from the right side of the tracks, but the family was pretty dysfunctional. A mother that was not available due to illness and the father that would just, you know, did the best he could, but I think it's, it's -- the girl was an angry girl. I've had enough psychology and therapy that I could see this girl was an angry girl, but when you're in a small elementary school and there's one girl that can control all these other little girls because they don't want her on their bad side, they allow her to get away with stuff and they hurt. She would say things like, oh, you're gonna wear that? And my daughter would never wear it again. And I told my daughter, I explained like your -- the author did, that you support her and you say, she's a mean girl. It doesn’t matter.
JUNEMy daughter, who was not overweight, was a normal size, started skipping lunches 'cause somebody said she had a roly poly belly and that girl was mean. I went to her mother, I went to the school. We had therapists involved. Eventually, my daughter did get into anorexia in high school and the only good thing out of all this, we got her help, but this bully actually last year -- my daughter's a junior this year and in her sophomore year, the bully came over and actually apologized.
GOLDBERGOh, wow. Well...
JUNEBut still the damage that was done...
REHMYeah, that's, that's...
JUNEIt's horrible what we learn from older people.
GOLDBERGIt is. And I guess what you're saying is when I was speaking of the relative powerlessness of a grownup, you were doing everything you could and you were doing all the right stuff, but no matter what, ultimately, there's this world that the children are gonna be taking part and that is impregnable and we can only do our best.
REHMYeah, they only believe what their friends are saying and they sort of push to the side the encouragement that the parents are trying to offer. Here's an e-mail from Kathleen, who said, "Your guest just said parents are out of the picture. I think she's wrong. Parents, teachers set the example, standards that these kids will emulate and what's demanded of them. I went to Catholic schools. When the nuns witness cruelty, they grabbed you by your arm, earlobe and dragged you to their offices and gave you a tongue lashing."
GOLDBERGAnd she's absolutely correct. It is the job of the parent and the teacher to keep a vigilant eye and to intervene, but unfortunately, at least to my perspective, that can mitigate, but it's never gonna eliminate.
GOLDBERGIt's never gonna get rid of it.
REHMTo Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Karen.
KARENI really agree with you, Diane, and so many of the callers. I have reflections of some bullying, being bullied and actually, I have driven to home to educate my -- all four pretty much. My older ones go to high school now, but I think that early on, even at birth -- let's talk about birth. Educating people who are there at birth to help develop a dent toward how we respond to humans in the first place. First experience, the first breath. I mean, it can be something that we don't remember at our ages now, but we experience it very early or if you're giving birth, make sure that it is pleasant, it is loving and kind and gentle and the energy is set. I mean -- and that's the first experience.
GOLDBERGSure. Yeah, that sounds great. It'd be great if we could all have that kind of a lovely introduction to the world and I agree that formative experience certainly happens before we have language and in those first moments.
REHMHere's an e-mail from, let's see, a young man in Orlando, Fla. whose name is Brian. He said, "I was the boy in class with the red hair and freckles. On a number of occasions, I was singled out for abuse by my classmates, even my own brother. I remember once finding a kid more frail than I. I then took the opportunity to bully. It makes me wonder how many bullies are dealing with their own insecurities. I watch my four-year-old daughter in pre-k already in little cliques. It's interesting to be an involved dad and watching this in your own children."
GOLDBERGI absolutely agree with all of that. Yeah, it is and it's -- yeah, you do what you can and I think what he's saying about insecurity and anger is dead on. I mean, anyone who's a bully is dealing with those issues.
REHMAnd someone who's been bullied may in turn become a bully.
GOLDBERGWell, of course 'cause if you're getting bullied, you can get pretty pissed off.
GOLDBERGYou gotta do something with that.
REHMExactly. All right. To Salt Lake City, to Sarah. Good morning to you.
SARAHGood morning. I just wanted to make a comment that I was bullied as a child and grew up in the '60s and so I -- you know, bullying wasn't really talked about, but I turned it around in that I became a huge advocate for the ones that I saw being bullied, so I took kind of lemons and made lemonade out of the bullying that I had. And now I'm a strong advocate for the people who I see that are being bullied, but I also had a comment, too, that this bullying goes beyond so many boundaries in our home, in our lives. Look at the politicians, the world boundaries of bullying. I mean, it just has become so out of control that I'm just -- I don't -- it's almost kind of overwhelming to see how this -- that this has just taken a hold and there's just no control over it.
GOLDBERGWell, you're -- you're actually, you're having some control over it, exactly, with you being an advocate and it's wonderful that you're able to turn it around to that and if everyone could do that, we would solve a big part of the problem, I think.
REHMI should say. Thanks for calling, Sarah. Here's an e-mail from Brian in Indianapolis. He says, "I love the "Bee Season." Would you, please, ask Myla to tell us about her band, The Walking Hellos.
REHMI love her music."
GOLDBERGWow. Well, thanks. Yeah, in addition to being a writer, I'm a musician. I'm in this sort of art punk band and the rock band called The Walking Hellos in which I play accordion and banjo and sing and it's great. And for me, as a writer, the collaborative aspect of making music is a wonderful counterpoint to the very solitary creative aspect of writing.
REHMHow many people are in the band?
GOLDBERGThere's four of us and the rest is a standard rock arrangement, drums, bass, guitar and...
REHMAnd how often do you perform and where?
GOLDBERGWell, when I'm not on book tour, we try to perform about every six weeks or so in and around New York City since we're all in Brooklyn.
REHMGood for you.
REHMThat's terrific. All right. Let's go to DeKalb, Ill. Good morning, Roger.
ROGERYes, Diane. Interesting. I'm also a banjo player. Anyway, I was --I've been always bothered by bullying. I wasn't a victim necessarily when I was young, but I recently read a book called "The Spirit Level." It's by Wilkinson and Pickett and it comes across the pond from England. It's all about a study that they conducted that -- for about 30 years, that compares different states of the United States and countries with the level of inequality and their study shows that the level of inequality causes problems with society and violence is one of those problems.
ROGERAnd that sort of falls in line with other things that I've discovered in studying and come up with the argument I encountered once that human behavior is either reflective, like – and, yeah, or operative and the operative part is the part that we think of as a discretionary behavior and the argument was that human beings tend to operate similarly under similar circumstances and as rules govern, as long as the immediate consequence is always an event or frequently enough an event that reinforces doing that. And I'm just wondering if you've encountered Wilkinson and Pickett's book or that argument which comes from B. F. Skinner.
GOLDBERGB. F. Skinner, I've certainly encountered when I was back in college. I haven't encountered the book that you're talking about, but yeah, I mean, I feel like what you're saying is a little bit what we've been talking about in which, like, inequality can be reduced down to the idea of bullying. It doesn't matter whether it's kids on a playground or the rich picking on the poor or what have you. It's universal.
REHMMyla Goldberg, her new novel is titled "The False Friend." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Daytona Beach, Fla. Good morning, Katerina, you're on the air.
KATERINAYes. Good morning, Diane, and good morning, Myla. I have a question about adults. I went through a lot of bullying when I was small and then when I went into the Army and served, I experienced a traumatic brain injury where I had lost all my memory and over 22 years, I've been gradually restored and I'm finishing my master's program and I'm studying and I'm teacher.
GOLDBERGGood for you.
KATERINAAnd one of the questions I have is when adults start to remember their history or, like in your book, the main character remembers what happened or trying to put together what happened so she can make sense out of her life. And I noticed that I tend to cocoon myself to shield myself from hurt. And it's like -- it's so self-defeating, but then I don't understand the dynamics. And I'm listening to you talk and I see how you are helping this character walk through that issue in her life because it seems like she can't get beyond or make progress in her life until she deals with what happened to her in her childhood.
GOLDBERGYeah, I mean and it can be broadened to, you know, post traumatic stress syndrome. I mean, these sorts of things are things that we deal with on many levels in our lives and the most difficult, like, crucial thing is facing something and yes, it's gonna cause pain, but hopefully, in my mind, you navigate through that pain and you learn what ways to deal with it, you learn what ways to be more at peace with it and then you're able to move forward. Especially for someone like you who's come through so much. I mean, your story is a fantastic one.
GOLDBERGIt's very uplifting.
REHMThanks for calling. Here's an e-mail from Sarah in Idaho, who says, "I grew up living next door to a bully, who among other torments, shot my brother in the arm with a bb gun. It's now more than 20 years later. He recently contacted me by Facebook to ask for forgiveness. Sometimes the impact of bullying can be more severe for the bully than for the bullied. I have not thought of this person for at least 15 years, but he's been dealing with guilt and remorse his entire adult life. I forgave him. I hope he will learn to forgive himself."
GOLDBERGThat's a really, really good point and it is something that I tried to address in this book, the idea that forgiving yourself is almost equally hard sometimes as asking for forgiveness and trying to find forgiveness from someone else. And I think that's often the case that we will focus on something that's very traumatic for us and then we share it and the other person who might've been involved is like, huh? Like, when I tracked -- I actually tracked down my friend, Teresa, to apologize for throwing the scissors. She didn't remember. She had no idea.
REHMShe didn't remember.
GOLDBERGNo, no. So I think it's a very common occurrence and a really astute point by your listener.
REHMMyla Goldberg, her new novel is titled "The False Friend." Congratulations.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is email@example.com and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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