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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Something Wonderful

In August I learned that my editor would be on sabbatical until the new year and publication of my forthcoming verse novel had been postponed until spring. Also postponed was the publication of a handcrafted pamphlet to be printed by a small but creative press. Small presses have limited staff and unexpected situations often affect the production schedule. I was disappointed by the delays, but the lull in publication seemed a perfect time to revamp my website. Unfortunately, revamping a website is not as easy as I thought it would be. A feeling of futility quickly took hold and did not alleviate the void I sometimes feel when not researching or writing. 

I've written about this before— when something I've been working on for so long is finally book-bound, I experience an emptiness that borders on loneliness.  Characters who have become so real, who have risen with me and accompanied me throughout my days are suddenly silent. With my mind echoless and emptied of what ifs, I suddenly feel friendless and alone. I'm not sure all writers experience this, but I do. 

Before beginning another project, I organize my notes— I file the unused thoughts, collect the excised words and quietly go about my day wondering what I'll write next or even if they'll be a next. What if no characters come to call? What if I remain in this soundless gray cave forever, with only a lackluster website to keep me company? 

Then something wonderful happens. Something exquisite. Something quietly extraordinary.  A small platinum pin drops in a dark, silent cave. I see the slim spark, hear a silvery ping and happily spend my days searching to find that sliver of light, straining to hear his or her shy voice emerge from the shadows. 

The path to publication is often filled with delays and disappointments, but today I heard a platinum ping. I pulled out a clean notepad and sharpened pencil. Updated pictures and fancy fonts will have to wait— there is something I need to find out first— someone I need to know. 

I look forward to working with my editor again. Hopefully, next year will bring more childhood dreams sitting on a shelf, and more opportunities to talk with students, librarians and teachers.  But being a writer is not about being published. It isn't about a dazzling website with updated pictures and fancy fonts. Being a writer is writing and something wonderful happens when a platinum pin falls in a darkened cave and I hold my breath searching for the story.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Mama Said

It might have been the most brilliant blog post ever. Words and ideas had been tumbling in my brain all morning. I knew just what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. Poetry rather than prose this month. Wow. What a first line! What a metaphor! Let me just finish what I started yesterday. I just need to attach this one PDF file then I'll hit send and blast out this month's post. The new website is still not up and running (getting closer) but I do want to keep up my blog. I've been neglecting it lately and want to settle down and write something more heartfelt. Been thinking about what I wanted to say for days, and this morning, the perfect words popped into my head. Haven't set anything down yet, but the whole  poem is practically written already.  Already the morning sun has burned off  yesterday's leftover clouds and it's going to be a glorious day. I'll get so much done! First the blog post, then  back to my WIP. Pour the coffee and get cracking! Such a great opening line...such a great metaphor...

Hmm..... wonder why my PDF files are's always been so easy to convert PAGES into PDF....let me try this..nope.... still gray... hmm...just downloaded an update—better check the support sites, maybe there's a glitch...oh, here's something, I''ll try that...hmm! guess not...let me try—nope...maybe I should just call support...I don't want to waste time with so many words tumbling in my brain...hello, yes, well I already tried that but I'll try again...nope still gray...still gray...sure I'll share my screen...sure I'll hold...hmm...another royal baby...another political  rally...oh, hello, yes, yes, I'm still here...again...try that again?...nope, still gray...shut down and restart? no problem...nope, still gray.... what keys do you want me to hold down again? oh, ok...yes the screen is blinking...yes, the apple is back...yes, I let go of the start button...nope..files are still gray...still gray...still gray...well yes, I understand...updates have glitches...I understand...thanks for the work-around tip...I'm sure the problem will be resolved shortly...thanks for your help...

The late afternoon sun bathes the yard in a coppery light and my brilliant blog post? Up in smoke, gray and irretrievable as my phantom files... mama said there'd be days like this.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Autumn Haiku

Been working on creating a new website which I had hoped would be up and running by now. In a desperate (and ridiculous) attempt to keep a New Year's resolution from a few years ago, I am posting this picture and Autumn Haiku which links to last month's reflection and reveals my losing battle with the onrush of time.

Already August
swoops to Almost October—
Where'd September go?!?!?!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Yikes! August Already?

The poem below was inspired by a recent  monologue of Jimmy Kimmel as well as my own backyard observations. I'm not sure how often comedians and poets contemplate the same phenomenon, but certainly the arrival of August elicited the same response from most everyone I know (and many of whom I don't).

You and your friends
always sound 
so surprised when I arrive,
but certainly,
 (especially at your age), 
you knew I’d return
as surely as you knew
I’d leave again.

Why, then, are you surprised?
Patiently, I waited 
as I always wait—
just around around the bend,
in the lengthening shadows,
for the fading call 
of the cricket and katydid. 

Finally, when the endless blue 
bamboozled you,
when the wisteria
wrapped you in her woody arms;
and the honeysuckle and hyacinth 
lulled you to forgetfulness,

I approached. 

My suitcase was packed
(as it always is)
with peaches and pears; 
with mulberries and melons;
goldenrod, sedum,
and well-worn passports 
for the warbler and sparrow.

You take what I have to give
(as you always do),
and when my suitcase 
is empty,
you shudder
and shut me away
never noticing the message 
tucked in my side pocket—

time passes. be kind. forgive your enemies.
most of all, 
do not be surprised—
winter is waiting just around the bend.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Sweet Vacation and Sneak Preview

This year's vacation, sweet as it always is, was made sweeter by an email from my editor at Scholastic who notified me that my newest manuscript had been accepted for publication in the spring of next year. It takes me a long time to research and write a book; my stories go through numerous revisions with many of my agonized words landing on the cutting room floor. Here's an outtake from my upcoming novel which I will write more about as it nears publication...

whenever people gathered,
the question was asked—
Where were you 
when it happened?
And then, 
How did you survive?

The important people,
the doctors, lawyers,
and citizens of great
would share their stories,
and we'd mourn their loss
or celebrate their courage.

I also survived and my story
has been told
by someone who matters,
remembered by name—

but even he now lies
beneath the earth,
the name on his headstone
washed away by time.

What should be remembered,
what matters most
is that we were both saved 
by gentle, loving, dog
who cared not a whit
that earlier in the day
I had been sweeping floors
and emptying chamberpots.

More to come!
My Vacation Office

Friday, June 29, 2018

History 101

The saga taking place on our borders is a sad reminder that time moves in slow concentric circles and that as a people, we often fall far short of our lofty American ideals. 
Decades ago, afraid that refugees were a threat to national security, Franklin D. Roosevelt turned away hundreds of desperate individuals escaping Nazi persecution. Finally, bowing to increasing pressure to do something, Roosevelt capitulated and 1944, 1000 mostly Jewish refugees were invited to wait out the war at an abandoned army base in Oswego, New York. Considered guests of the President, these displaced individuals had no legal standing and were expected to return to their homeland after the war.  Until that time they were kept behind a chain link fence — adding humiliation to the unspeakable traumas they had already suffered.
For generations, thousands of accompanied— and unaccompanied — children  arrived in Ellis Island with the blessings of parents who hoped that their children could forge a better life than they themselves could offer. My own grandfather was seven years old and traveling with a local family when he left Italy to meet an older sister living in New York. Danger often pushes us to make unthinkable decisions. Poverty does the same thing.
I doubt there are any readers who would condone Roosevelt’s initial choice to turn away so many desperate people seeking shelter, many of whom later perished in concentration camps. And whether or not they were accompanied by their parents,  how many of us are not grateful for the courage of immigrant ancestors who gave us our own American roots? 
Of course there is a great difference between legal and illegal entry, but desperation often forces difficult, life and death decisions. As in every choice set before us, kindness and compassion should always trump rigid man-made rules.
History is a  perceptive and truth-bound teacher but her lectures drone on and on to inattentive, apathetic learners. At best, we watch out the window, selfishly disengaged and absorbed in the minutia of our own lives. At worst, we are callous egotists, indifferent to the needs and suffering of others, wielding power instead of pity, stubborn righteousness in lieu of compassion. 
The more I read and research, the more I realize that History is not simply a indifferent record of the past. To those who are listening, History issues a vital warning about the present.  As human beings we are capable of great kindness and compassion, but we are also capable of great cruelty, self-centeredness, and indifference.  Be vigilant, History seems to implore. Be braveDo what is right before what is wrong destroys the good you have achieved.
As we sit daydreaming, History is taking notes. Years from now the conscientious student will wonder how we let it happen. With so many high ideals, how did we lose our way?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thoughts on Research, Racism and Role Models

Recently the New York Times began a series of obituaries written for noteworthy citizens who  had been  overlooked at the time of their actual death. As the Times states, Since 1851, obits in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now we are adding stories of other remarkable people. 

Always alert for tales of the forgotten, especially those that reflect a  refusal to be defined by any force that seeks to denigrate or stifle, I was delighted to read these miniature biographies. These were truly exceptional women, women who had contributed to both science and the arts, true role models, inspiration for a new generation. I decided to dig deeper and immediately set to work— new notebook, sharpened pencil, and special library requests for books that were long out of print or otherwise inaccessible. Boundless enthusiasm is always the hallmark of early research when voices from the past first invite me into their lives. Unthinkable! eagerly scribbled in the margins of my new notebook, a perfect title and first line for a possible picture book. 

Halfway down page 108 of a book borrowed from a nearby college, I put down my pencil. In a litany of accomplishments I stumbled on a line that derailed me. My subject was a racist. How could such an gifted and enlightened individual harbor such ugly, racist thoughts? 

Because my blog is a place for personal reflection and not to provide an exposé of historical figures, I won't be naming my subject. Let readers celebrate her accomplishments and let her ugly private thoughts remain buried in an out-of-print, not easily accessible narrative. For myself, however, I cannot unknow what I know. 

Some may argue that my subject was a product of her time; that we cannot judge people from the past by contemporary standards; that it is not our place to scratch too deeply into another’s person's private beliefs or politics. But if we are all and always the product of a given time, how does anything ever change? Civilization only moves forward when individuals are sensitive to eternal truths despite their society's restrictions. Isn't that what the Times was celebrating? Isn't that what they were rectifying by these long overdue obituaries? 

If my subject could see that a woman was equal to a man despite the limits of her generation, why could she not also see that the color of one’s skin does not determine a person’s worth or intellect? Why did she not also realize that poverty often stems from limitations imposed by the ones with the most power—  the same limitations that decreed a woman less capable than a man?

We rightfully admire forward-thinking people who step outside society’s unjust boundaries. Remarkable people should be remembered and celebrated. But if, in looking back we stumble upon something wrong or offensive, it seems that we should pause and note that too— not to chastise or vilify, or muddy the waters, but to hold racism’s ugliness to the light, to prevent it’s continued proliferation, and remind ourselves that we can be greater than our role models.