My Life In Books – Blubber

Another Judy Blume book, this one deals with the timeless issue of schoolyard bullying.

Fifth-grader Jill joins in with her classmates tormenting Linda, the fat, unpopular kid who makes herself an easy target for the bullies by not standing up for herself. But Jill learns what it’s like to be the victim, not the bully, when the tables get turned and she finds herself the target for the ridicule.

I was surprised to learn, in looking up this book, that it’s on the list of ‘most frequently banned’ books in the US. The main issue seems to be because the bullies don’t get punished. Jill learns that by standing up for herself, the bullies leave her alone, but they never see the error of their ways.

For me, the strength in Judy Blume’s writing is the realistic way she portrays sensitive issues. This book resonated with me because I was a bullied kid – I was the geeky smart kid with the bad dress sense and the funny accent (being British and living in Canada). I was different and ridiculed for it.

Bullying is a terrible thing and I know first-hand how hard it is to deal with when you’re young. But as I’ve moved through life there are a few things I’ve learned about bullies.

The first thing is you can’t escape them, even in adulthood. Bullies always exist. I’ve worked for bullying bosses, and bullying office mates. In an ideal world, bullies would be dealt with and removed from the workplace. In real life, it’s not that easy. You either learn how to deal with them, or you end up leaving your job and working somewhere else.  But chances are, you’ll be dealing with similar issues there too, because human beings are flawed. Most people find it easier to criticise someone else’s failings than to face up to their own – that’s ultimately why reality shows and soaps are so popular.

The other thing I’ve learned is that most of the time bullies won’t admit to being so. My bullying boss never considered himself a bully. He just thought everyone else was being spineless. My way of dealing with him was to give back as good as I got. We’d have screaming matches in the office, and then I would storm back to my desk and ignore him for the rest of the day. There were only the two of us in the office on a full time basis. It really wasn’t the most professional way to run a business, and undoubtedly not the best way for me to handle the situation. I was busy looking for another job in the meantime, but not being the sort of person who feels comfortable walking out of a job without another one lined up, I put up with this situation for rather longer than I should have done.

As an additional point, it became clear to me that my boss didn’t bully women he fancied. Then, he was charm personified. So there were a lot of women – mostly friends but occasionally customers of the company – who thought he was wonderful, and they never saw the side that I saw, every day in the office. Even after I left the job the memories of this person haunted me. Then I based the character of Jonathan in DEATH SCENE on him and killed him off. That allowed me to move on.

Social networking has made it easier for us all to catch up with people from our past – sometimes people we’d really rather not have contact with. Something I’ve learned about bullies of childhood is that though your childhood trauma at their hands is imprinted indelibly on your memory, the bullies have no memory of it whatsoever. One or two people who tormented me as a teenager have got in touch with me in adulthood. They only have good things to say. “How wonderful to catch up with you. So pleased to hear you’re doing so well with the writing. I always remember you for the wonderful stories you wrote.” So you don’t remember tormenting me in the school corridors, then? Strange. That’s what I remember about you. But they only remember who was making them miserable.

Bullying is one of those subjects that gets people very upset. Yes, it’s a terrible thing. Yes, the world would be a better place if we could abolish it. Unfortunately, we never will. Homer Simpson summed it up rather well: “sometimes the only time you can feel good about yourself is by making someone else feel bad.” That’s what bullying is all about, at the end of the day.  All those people who feel bad about themselves turn their energies into making someone else feel even worse.

A great deal of us have a rough time in adolescence because of bullies.  That’s why I think this book still deserves to be in all school libraries. Eradicating bullying is a noble idea but I fear unachievable. It’s more important to teach kids how to rise above it.  How to survive in spite of it.  Because in real life, which is rarely fair, the best thing we can learn is that if we can deal with these traumas and obstacles place in our path, we emerge a better person. I don’t think anyone has an easy time in adolescence, but the lessons we learn there serve us well later in life. The bullying boss who made my life hell for over three years inspired a character in a novel – so a good thing even came out of that situation, too!

All those people pegged as losers and geeks in high school are the ones who grow up to be the most successful. The ones who get the qualifications to get a well-paying job. The ones who find a life partner who values them for who they are. The ones who learn, in spite of the traumas of childhood, self-respect and how important it is to be true to themselves. And these are lessons worth learning.

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2 comments so far

  1. Mel H. on

    I love that you fictionally killed off a bully-boss. You are awesome.

    I discovered this week, through another friend, that Judy Blume is on Twitter. And she’s pretty entertaining. Just in case you wanted to follow someone else…or maybe even tweet about this blog post to her!

    M

  2. Diane Carlisle (@pyrosama) on

    I agree with you. I only read one Judy Blume book when growing up, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” which was the one where she started her period.

    Bullying is something which needs to be addressed by educating potential victims, not by telling fictional stories where the bully was punished in the end and everyone lived happily ever after.

    That’s just not how bullying occurs. Bullying happens in secrecy, so the way to combat it is to teach children to recognize it and bring it to the attention of parents and educators without feeling shamed about it.

    I also posted about my own bully experience. Feel free to share it where you wish. It’s a very important topic. My 5th Grade Bully


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