Growing Up Gran

We haven’t had a post on Gran, so I think we should have one. I wanted to do a post on Gran for a while now, because she’s so distorted in fanfic. Either that, or she’s ignored until someone needs a name for a baby. She’s a pivotal influence in Sookie’s life, and well, I just like her. ūüėÄ But I’m going to make it Sookie-centric – rather than looking back at Gran’s past with Fintan – I’m going to focus on how Sookie’s view of the world was impacted by the way Gran raised her.

One thing I do want to get out of the way before I begin – the common distortion of Gran in fanfic. The¬†overwhelming bit of input that Gran has in fanfic is Sookie internally thinking “Well Gran would tan my hide if I disagreed with a man! I should apologise and grovel forthwith!” I’m not sure where it comes from – fanfic meme or True Blood. Either way, it sucks arse. Gran is never, ever, ever¬†mentioned as laying one¬†finger on Sookie. ¬†This is the closest Sookie ever comes to mentioning being struck by Gran:

My grandmother would have hit me with a fly swatter if I hadn’t gotten Tray a Coke right then.
From Dead to Worse, p. 116

It’s a pity that fanfic has turned Gran into an overbearing monster – ready to beat the shit out of Sookie because she doesn’t go along with what Eric wants. I doubt Gran would have approved of Eric anyway – with his distinct lack of manners and his propensity for getting Sookie to go with him and get beatings. Gran would have approved of any suitor based on the idea that she didn’t want Sookie to be alone, but that’s pretty non-specific. In fact, Gran would have urged Sookie to take up with Calvin:

My Gran would have urged me to accept Calvin’s offer. He was a steady man,
was a shift leader at Norcross, a job that came with good benefits.

Dead as a Doornail, p. 62

So there’s no reason Gran wouldn’t endorse every single suitor Sookie has, just because they’re willing to date her. She probably would have urged Sookie to go for someone not immortal undead if she could have. Since Eric doesn’t ask for dates with Sookie, I doubt he would have come home to meet her grandmother either.

But half of the time Sookie just hearkens back to a particular rule of etiquette that Adele taught her, and often how it doesn’t really apply to her situation as it stands. She often points¬†out that even her Grandmother would have said “Shit” being stuck in¬†the trunk with Bill or something like that. It’s usually how the rules of etiquette failed her, like how Quinn walks in on the final blood bonding in Rhodes:

There was no social guideline to cover a calamity like this, and even my grandmother‚Äôs all-purpose rule of etiquette (‚ÄúDo what will make everyone most comfortable‚ÄĚ) could not remotely stretch to encompass my situation.¬†
All Together Dead, p. 179

This is not¬†Sookie bashing herself up internally in Gran’s name – this is Sookie¬†trying to wonder how to¬†move through this situation, what to do,¬†and her go-to source for how to act has failed her, as it often does in supernatural situations.

Sookie’s manners are something for which scorn is usually heaped on Sookie¬†by the fandom¬†– for being uneducated or being polite. I actually think that Gran did really well to teach Sookie to be polite, and give her rules to follow. That’s because¬†as a telepath, Sookie has to be careful and watch what she says. Gran drilling manners into Sookie as well as she has has¬†stopped Book Sookie being Show Sookie, blurting things out at the drop of a hat.

Without a pause to speak, or a tone for appropriate conversation, without screaming at everyone else, you’d have to be someone¬†who thought about every word that they say. Someone who followed rules and did¬†things by the book. It’s really the best form of¬†treatment Gran can give Sookie so that she can live in this world without getting lynched.¬†It’s a nice way of getting Sookie to take care of what she says, and helps her hide her telepathy as much as possible, as well as smoothing her passage in the world.

Adele was trying to do her level best – and I think she did a pretty good job – of making Sookie seem like a non-threat, by ensuring her politeness:

“How de do.” Good manners would make you welcome anywhere, my gran had always told me.
Club Dead, p. 181

This isn’t a simple statement that people with manners just spout off – or rather it isn’t just a simple statement. Adele tried to get Sookie to make a good impression – so that even if it is rumoured that Sookie is crazy, at least she’s polite. It gets her foot in the door a lot of places – for example at Remy’s. He thinks he’s heard weird stuff about Sookie, but she seems polite, so he’ll let her stay in the same house as his kid. That’s no small thing.

Those manners that are treated as scornful or pointless are pretty important to getting her labelled “Crazy Sookie” instead of remembered as “Dead in a Ditch Sookie”. Kids who freak people out aren’t spared, and in the real world¬†kids who are different are attacked and killed¬†just for being different or for scaring people. While Sookie would have inevitably freaked people out, that is augmented by her manners – people prefer to believe she’s crazy, because she’s so polite, rather than scary (which would be more likely if she wasn’t polite or was confrontational).

Most people would prefer to think that there’s no supernatural happenings – and they’d be likely to default to thinking she’s crazy if the other part of them believes that she’s polite and harmless. A confrontational or rude Sookie without control of which thoughts she answered would be more likely to be attacked and hurt. Manners and etiquette for Sookie means that while she may answer half a thought you just had:

I heard thoughts I wasn’t supposed to hear, of course, and I repeated them like a child will.
Dead Until Dark, p.  51

That’s something Adele would have to train Sookie not to do. Instead,¬†she smiles and says only polite thoughts you’ve¬†just thought, not the fact that you’re screwing the next door neighbour.¬†¬†There’s only so long blurting things out would fly – child or not. Adults wouldn’t like to have some kid around who asks why they think about hurting children, or why they are having an affair or hundreds of other bad thoughts. Some people have secrets and secret thoughts they don’t want out in the world, even at the price of harming a child.

Parents of kids with disabilities – real life parents – do this a lot. They’ll train their kid¬†with mild autism to go and take themselves off somewhere quiet when they get stressed, or they’ll train their son in a wheelchair to notice things like disabled toilets and always take extra clothes. This is a way to ensure that your kid has some independence – because you want them to move out and live a life where they take care of themselves¬†– because what you want is for your kid to have a semblance of a normal life. Manners¬†is the way that Adele assures that Sookie will be in the real world. It’s her coping mechanism and buffer, not something scornful.

It’s not as if Adele would have been able to refer to the “Guidebook on how to raise a telepath” because plainly, they do not exist. Sookie says in¬†Dead Until Dark that she was forced to go along to psychologists and all kinds of assessments by her parents, and that not once did anyone admit that she was telepathic – even her own mother and father refused to accept that fact. In regular families where a kid has disabilities, it’s mostly just muddling through. No one gives you a guidebook that says¬†what to expect anyway – it’s just dealt with as it comes, much like regular parenting doesn’t have a guidebook for day-to-day, or¬†how¬†to deal with thorny questions.

So as often happens with parents, Adele cobbled together her own system – one that would smooth Sookie’s passage into the world, and give her some sort of guide to follow for the rest of her life. It’s actually a pretty ingenious way of doing that – getting Sookie to say out loud only the polite stuff. So Sookie’s manners have been ingrained into her not because it’s the South, or Gran is old-fashioned (when do we see Jason standing when ladies leave the room etc. ¬°We don’t!)¬†or because Sookie is an olde world Southern¬†belle (who works as a waitress for goodness sake) but because it’s something to keep her acceptable to other humans.

She’d have to seem as human as possible – and before vampires came out, Sookie would have thought that she was the only person in the world with her supernatural problems. There’s a reason she’s excited about vampires coming out of the coffin – that’s because for Sookie they’re a confirmation that she’s something more, just like a whole other group of people. It’s not because she’s a secret fangbanger. Coming out as a telepath wouldn’t have worked either – because people don’t always react well to telepaths:

I could feel his withdrawal, his wariness. I sighed. Same old, same old. It sort of hurt, since I liked him.
Club Dead, p. 91

That’s Alcide, who turns into a werewolf, being reticent about someone who can read thoughts. If a werewolf is freaked out by that, then that just shows what other regular humans are like. Weres aren’t so divorced from regular humans that they’d have a completely different reaction. It’s Sookie who has to try not to scare others – even (useless) Were bodyguards.

No one is going to make allowances for Sookie. Even if she came out to her home town as a telepath, people still don’t want their secrets blurted out, and people are still cruel. After all, that’s what Andy Bellefleur did – he thought Sookie was a telepath, did he ask her nicely? Did he treat her nicely? Nope. He tried to get her composure to break by thinking about Sookie having sex with Jason. Unfortunately, as often happens with kids with disabilities, the kid has to make an effort to fit in, not the rest of the world. People don’t suddenly get kind and compassionate – they like to prey on people’s weaknesses – it happened to me here, online, with real people behind the nastiness. Case in point that people are not kind just because kids have disabilities.

There’s another thing I think Gran did too – one that is essential for kids with disabilities – and that’s give Sookie a good¬†sense of self worth, and keep her from thoughts of ending it all. Children with disabilities have a real sense of how “unfair” the world is – that they have disabilities.¬†For those that have disabilities that are absolutely incurable, they need to have some sort of system to stop them losing themselves in depression. After all, you can’t exactly lie to them and tell them it’ll all be alright, and there will be a cure – that’s false hope, and a real killer. Nor can you make out like¬†everything is fine – because it’s obviously not fine. A kid with some intelligence will figure out that it’s unfair, and that they are burdened with something¬†that¬†others don’t have to worry about.

Kids with disabilities tend to go through suicidal thoughts relatively early too –¬†in my personal experience, if the kid is smart enough to cotton on, they start to get angry and depressed about¬†it when they’re¬†very young – from ages six and up.¬†They don’t wait for teen angst¬†– they have a reason to get started very early. Apart from the fact that people like Andy Bellefleur live – who can and will¬†make life difficult¬†for children with disabilities, there’s an inherent sense of unfairness for kids with disabilities. They’re not philosophical about it from birth – it severely limits their lives – and they have to be taught how to cope in a pragmatic way. So you need to put a system in place to stop them falling into the dark hole of wishing things were otherwise, and to stop them¬†dwelling on things they can’t change.

Sookie shows signs of that too – with her remarks about Poor, Pitiful Pearl – which is a doll who is poor and pitiful. Behold – the doll, and the comic for the doll. That’s an old doll – and I betcha it was a phrase used in the Stackhouse¬†household to buck Sookie up – and not allow her to feel sorry for herself:

“Because I’m used to people not thinking much of barmaids. Uneducated barmaids. Uneducated telepathic barmaids. I’m used to people thinking I’m crazy, or at least off mentally. I’m not trying to sound like I think I’m Poor Pitiful Pearl, but I don’t have a lot of fans, and I’m used to that.”
Dead to the World, p. 188

Sookie uses “Poor Pitiful Pearl” more than once – showing that there are people worse off than her – she has a job, she has a home, and friends and people who love her – with the image of the doll as an indicator that it does get worse. It’s my guess that Adele stopped Sookie falling into these troughs of feeling sorry for herself, so that she didn’t spiral into depression, and work her way to suicide.

It would have been all too easy for Sookie to come home from school, not learning, not having many friends, being teased, and knowing that the cause of all that was telepathy – the telepathy that no one else but Sookie has. It’s not as simple as thinking “Everyone has problems”, because realistically, no one else has those sorts of problems all the time, and they can’t be attributed to something she’ll ever escape. Sookie needs to have a far worse example of what could be going on in her life, so that she puts her disability into perspective.

It’s not a case of Sookie being “too lazy” (a common epithet thrown at kids with disabilities) to apply herself – her telepathy stopped her from interacting well with others:

But I have to admit, the world is a more interesting place to me now. I’m
by myself a lot (since I’m not exactly Norma Normal), so the extra food
for thought has been welcome. The fear and danger haven’t.¬†

Dead to the World, p. 12

It caused her to get teased:

…he pictured me cavorting with my brother.
<snip>
It reminded me of the less sophisticated tormenting I’d taken when I was in grade school.
Dead Until Dark, p. 117

And it stopped her from learning:

And I did poorly in school because it was so hard for me to concentrate when so few others were.
Dead Until Dark, p. 52

I mean, what could Gran say to Sookie? School has a point? What point would that be? She can’t socialise, and she can’t learn. She has to sit in a classroom full of bad thoughts and constant distractions, and she catches hell for that every which way. One only has to look at how much “concern” (read no concern at all) there is for Sookie as a woman from fans – let alone as a telepathic woman. School would have been a special kind of hell.

It’s not as if there are upsides even to good treatment. On True Blood, Jason confesses that he beat kids up at school for picking on Sookie. This isn’t in the books – and that’s because Jason beating people up would lead to worse thoughts about Sookie. No one can control their brains with an iron will – and getting beatings would mean that you’re going to think bad thoughts. Jason can’t control brains in other people’s heads. But we’ve established that the show is fucking stupid.

I’ve spoken before about the fact that telepathy is not a gift. It’s written and spoken about as a disability by CH¬†– it’s designed that way. It’s not designed to be seen as anything but – so save your breath with the “gift” shit and take a leaf out of Eric’s book. In fact, sometimes people mean to pay Sookie a compliment, but it doesn’t seem that way to Sookie:

He felt more comfortable with a strange human, like me, or another shifter,
than he did with regular women. When he’d told me that, he’d meant it as a
compliment, or maybe just as a simple statement; but it had hurt me a little,
though my abnormality had been borne in on me since I was very young.

Club Dead, p. 68

It’s not actually a sin of unforgiveable proportions that Sookie wishes to be normal. If you think so, go on Twitter, read what people are saying there, and try to have a normal conversation or a complex thought to yourself at the same time you’re reading. Being normal is not overrated compared to what Sookie has to endure. There’s a reason she’s willing to put up with the possibility of¬†beatings in the supernatural world. Nor is it nice to hear that you’re strange, when you yearn to be regular, but people only point out how different you are.

I think in part, Sookie’s religion is a part of that – making Sookie regular. Gran would have told her a mantra we’ve heard Sookie recount over and over – to buck up and appreciate what she does have, rather than what she doesn’t¬†have.¬†But I also think that part of that was socialising Sookie right. Now, it’s possible that Gran thought that Christians would have nicer thoughts, but it’s also about being included in a community:

I moved off because a couple of people were waiting to talk to my boss, and
I understood that he was trying to anchor his position in the community.

Dead in the Family, p. 264

Sam used going to church as a thing that you do to make yourself seem like a good guy, and I’m betting that this is probably the reason why Sookie is such a fervent church-goer. It’s not just the system of morals, but also about networking, showing you’re not a devil child, showing you’re an inoffensive slightly crazy Christian woman. Again, it’s not so strictly enforced in the Stackhouse family that Jason is known as a good church-goer – it’s only Sookie who does it. And that’s because a local church is a wonderful way to interact with the community.

The other thing that Adele tried to do for Sookie was build some gumption, and make her strong – give her the drive to keep on going. Mostly she did that through modelling a great example, but she also pushed Sookie to do things that weren’t easy:

My Gran had always told me that a woman‚ÄĒany woman worth her salt‚ÄĒcould do whatever she had to.
Dead to the World, p. 261

Adele made sure that Sookie could do things she didn’t like – like going to school, going out into a world that’s a whole mess of noise and distraction. She made it a point of pride for Sookie to keep going – to be the sort of person who would do whatever she had to. Mainly because when someone has a disability, some things are not easy – and no one would do them voluntarily if they could help it. But it’s essential that they do them. It’s essential to force Sookie to go to school so that she can get a job. It’s essential to force Sookie to socialise even though she pulls away. Being a telepath takes a lot of strength of will, stubbornness, and Adele used her pride to motivate her to keep on ploughing on and not giving up.

All of this shows how Adele helped to construct a telepath who would survive into adulthood – one who doesn’t like to let people down, one who feels other’s rejection very keenly, yet endeavours to be polite. All of those personality “faults” seen in Sookie – the ones that make her not a doormat, make Sookie possible. Apart from the fact that grovelling at Eric’s feet makes SookieDoormat loathsome to read, it also means that you’ve undercut her entire existence in the first place.

Doormat Sookie doesn’t rectify ‘mistakes’ so that arrogant fanfic authors are ‘doing it better’ – she just means that the next time things come crushing down on her, she’d fall at the first hurdle, and weep with the sheer amount of crap she has to withstand because of her disability. It’s said from a place of privilege – the privilege of being not disabled – and a little lack of understanding that telepathy doesn’t go away, it’s not going to make her a supernatural being, and it’s not something that’s a gift.

Most of Sookie’s mental architecture is built to keep her going – not to fall into the depths of depression and despair. It’s not there because CH thought about what would get the most women to hate on her (and hey, the submissive fangbangers who do what Eric tells them don’t even escape the hate, so why would Sookie?) it’s because CH had to find a way that a telepath wouldn’t go crazy and be useless. She had to find a way to keep her going even though things were hard, and they were for Sookie. As the mother of two boys with disabilities, I can say she did a pretty bang-up job of understanding how things have to be when you raise a child with a disability, and not a “gift”. Gran made Sookie growing up possible.

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