Blue: Identity, Self, and Possibility
As a child of the 80s, I hum Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Duran Duran songs while I’m cooking, can instantly remember the smell of the ditto machine, pegged my jeans, wore Out of Africa-inspired outfits, devoured John Hughes movies, and couldn’t wait to get Back to the Future. And, as with probably any teen who grew up in rural America, I longed for New York City – the lights, activities, enormous libraries, culture, theatre, museums, diversity, and more restaurants than the 3 our small town sported.
What is it about the bright lights in the big city that draws the imagination of so many? And what is it actually like, for those that make that life-changing move to New York City?
Enter sociologist, women’s studies expert, and author Dr. Patricia Leavy. In 2015, Dr. Leavy was the youngest recipient of the Special Career Award given by the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. The award recognizes her entire body of work, and particularly honors her advancement of qualitative and arts-based research. She has penned a new book in Sense Publishing’s Social Fictions series, entitled Blue. And what a treasure this novel is.
Blue is the quintessential novel of young adults in NYC – exploring friendships, jobs, life, family, relationships, and finding themselves. Set in current times with a love of the 1980s, it’s both a nostalgic look back (for those of us who grew up then, as well as those, like my teen daughter, who can’t get enough of that time period) and a deeply researched sociological novel about growing up and finding your place in the world. Blue includes music, art, film, tv, and aspects of daily life for a 20-something in New York.
Here’s the thing: while this is a short book, it’s an eminently readable, thoughtful, satisfying one – the kind of book where you start and then just read until you’re done, no interruptions and much joy. It can – and should – be used in university classrooms for a variety of subjects, but it is also meant to be read outside of the university – for yourself, or with your book club. There’s much to ponder, and discuss, but also much to ingest, reflect upon, and relate to your own life. I couldn’t put it down, absolutely loved it, and can’t stop thinking about it. Highly recommended.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Dr. Leavy, and ask her about Blue, inspiration, finding your tribe, memory, and more. Here’s what she had to say…
Please tell us about your book, Blue...
Blue is a novel influenced by research, teaching and personal experiences. It’s about figuring out who we are, who we want to be, and the importance of friends who really get us. There are three main characters, roommates, who are all a couple of years out of college and living together in New York City. Tash is a former party girl with a history of falling for the wrong guy. She meets Aidan, a deejay, and he pushes her to start figuring out who she really is. Tash lives with her best friend, Jason, a free-spirited model on the rise. He has his own relationship issues when he meets Sam, a makeup artist with whom he trips over his words. Finally there’s Penelope, a shy and studious graduate student who slips under the radar, but has a secret of her own. As the characters’ stories unfold, each is forced to confront their life choices or complacency and choose which version of themselves they want to be. Blue is about identity, friendship, and figuring out who we are during the “in-between” phases of life. Pop culture and art appear as signposts, providing a context for how the characters come to build their sense of self in the world. There’s a tribute to 1980s pop culture even though the book is set against the backdrop of contemporary New York. It’s written in a lighthearted way but there’s a strong message that we all have choices about which versions of ourselves we become. We are possibilities. While I focused on the post-college years, the themes the characters confront are true at various points throughout our lives.
What inspired you to write this book?
I began writing the book on a difficult day. My daughter’s father died after being ill for many years. I was home alone and needed a way to move through my grief. Creativity is always my path. I think because I was experiencing so much heaviness, I needed to return to a time when I experienced joy and hopefulness. So I thought back to the pop culture and art that inspired me when I was growing up. For example, movies and television shows that comforted me or made me feel like I could be anything. I wanted to celebrate pop culture and how we use it to make sense of our own lives so that became the backdrop for the book. I was also very influenced by my former college students, including those I remain in touch with post-grad through social media. For many, the post-college period is a time of great hope but also intense struggle. I wanted to write the book to try to encourage readers to remember that we are possibilities and can make choices each day about who we want to be, and that it’s okay to struggle as we figure ourselves out.
How can educators use this book in the classroom?
I wrote this book with the intention that it would be used to teach in a variety of classes across the disciplines. Regardless of the specific course, my hope is that the book will make a good springboard for reflection and lively discussion. Students often do better work when they enjoy what they’re reading; when they’re engaged by it and relate to it. My in-depth interview research with college-age students for more than a decade influenced this book and so I think it will resonate with students. Thematically, Blue can be used to teach about the socialization process, popular culture, gender/class/race, relationships, self-concept, and privilege (including educational privilege). There’s an appendix with suggested classroom use including a range of discussion questions, writing activities and research activities. My hope is these suggestions will make it easier for professors to integrate the book into their courses. While Blue has interdisciplinary applications, The Sociological Cinema invited me to write a piece about teaching sociology with the novel.
Times - and places - imprint themselves on us, through art and media. What do you think is important to think about the reality, vs. others' impressions?
Memory is a funny thing. Two people can experience the same event and remember it quite differently. Maybe how they felt at the time they were experiencing it was different but they just didn’t know it. I think we all connect with certain times and places in our lives, they hold special importance for us and we remember them differently than other times and places. For whatever reason, they’re important in our personal narratives and I don’t think we need to question that or explain it anyone. It’s for us. Blue isn’t about me at all, but it pays tribute to a time in my life and certain places-- art galleries, stores, cafés, neighborhoods and even streets-- are peppered throughout the book. Maybe no one, not even my closest friends who were with me at the time would understand why a particular café made such an impression on me, and I’m not sure I do either, but I know these places represent something meaningful to me, and that’s enough.
Finding your tribe or family is an important part of life - and growing up. Why do you think so many people migrate to big cities to find their tribe?
People want to find where they fit in; they want to belong to something. Beginning when we’re little kids, we try to do this. In cities there are so many people, we’re more apt to find those we really connect with. I also think people want the freedom to explore and grow and cities offer a lot of variety. When we’re young and starting off on our own, trying to become who we’re meant to be, carving our own path, there’s often a desire to move away from smaller hometowns. There’s an excitement to cities too, an energy, that draws people to them.
What's up next for you?
I’m working on my first collaboration with a visual artist, Victoria Scotti. We’re working on a book called Low-Fat Love Stories, which is directly based on interviews I conducted with American women of all ages and backgrounds about their body image or a dissatisfying relationship with a romantic partner or family member. The book combines visual art and short stories, each based on one interviewee. For the last few years I have also been working on a large research methods text for Guilford Press. I’m keeping it under wraps for now, but suffice it to say it is truly the most challenging project I have ever taken on. Although it’s a monster of a project, I hope it fills a need. Beyond my own writing I’m going to continue to grow the series I edit for Sense Publishers and Oxford University Press.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Books need publishers and readers, so I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to the entire team at Sense Publishers. There aren’t many academic publishers who would be brave enough to publish fiction by scholars and I appreciate their fearlessness. These folks are also exceptionally lovely to work with and their support of creativity is remarkable. Equally important I want to extend my gratitude to my Facebook community for supporting me while I was writing the book and to the many FB friends who have taken the time to read it. Their support means the world to me.
Patricia Leavy, Ph.D., is an independent sociologist and best-selling author (formerly associate professor of sociology, chairperson of sociology & criminology and founding director of gender studies at Stonehill College). She has published nineteen books, earning critical and commercial success in both nonfiction and fiction. She is the creator and editor for five book series with Oxford University Press and Sense Publishers and a blogger for The Huffington Post and The Creativity Post. She has received career awards from New England Sociological Association, the American Creativity Association, the American Educational Research Association Qualitative Special Interest Group, and the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. www.patricialeavy.com and https://www.facebook.com/WomenWhoWrite/