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Sunday, November 10, 2019

An Open Letter to Veterans Everywhere


I wrote this post awhile ago and have reposted it often.  In these divisive times, it bears repeating. There is power in words, in memory, in kindness and in gratitude.

The Vietnam War raged throughout my childhood and into my young adult years. Colorful memories of hayrides and sleepovers, schoolwork and marathon phone conversations are interspersed with blurry black and white snapshots of maps and battles ~ those broadcast on TV and those explored in Friday afternoon current event articles. I hated the war, though not for any deep, idealogical reason. What I hated were the ugly pictures, the angry words, the pep rallies turned into peace rallies that were spoiling my fun. To quote Scarlett O'Hara, War, War, War! It seemed that was all anyone talked about.
Many years later, I was reminded of my youthful attitude towards the war. I was in New York, walking towards Washington Square, wearing my favorite blue cotton dress, the one with the soft wide belt that cinched my then very-tiny waist. Even now, decades later, I can still feel the breath of spring, the bounce of youth. 
      My heels click-click on the cobblestone street. I’m young, free and happy. The world is waiting for me...
...and then I see him. A burly, wheel-chaired veteran sitting under the arch at Washington Square. My clicking heels accentuate the leg stumps he doesn’t try to hide.  All those current event articles, the ugly pictures in magazines and on TV ~ but for the first time, I understood how very little I knew about the Vietnam War, how very little my life had been impacted.
  Writers are rescuers. We save events, moments, people and feelings from being swallowed by time and forgotten. I’ve long outgrown my blue-cotton dress and clicking heels but I never forgot my Washington Square Veteran or the lesson he taught me.  In homes and classrooms, on street corners and in capital buildings, we debate the pros and cons of conflict. But in every war, there are those who give so much more than their opinions.
     His appearance in my novel, All the Broken Pieces, was my way of honoring and thanking the Veteran of  Washington Square for sacrificing his youth and his innocence.
We lost a big piece
of ourselves in Vietnam,
and none of us will
ever be the same,
but we did some good too.
We made a difference.
  I wish my Washington Square Veteran could see this post or read my book. I hope that he has found some measure of peace. Whatever one’s opinion about Vietnam, or any war for that matter, all veterans deserve our respect and gratitude. From the deepest recesses of my heart, I wish them each of them peace. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Very Special Acorn








Emily Dickinson’s poem, "The Soul Selects its Own Society" popped into my head this morning when I was dropping my grandson off at preschool. I had just parked my jeep under a tree with dozens, perhaps hundreds of acorns beneath it. 

Look at all these acorns! my grandson said. 

What kind of tree do you think this is? I asked, and was impressed when he knew it was an oak.

Just like the book about—, I started to say, but my grandson wasn’t listening. He was rolling the acorns under his sneakers and looking intently at each one. All were hatless, some of them crushed open but most of them still whole.

Here, he said, giving me the acorn pictured above. Keep this one!

I looked at the acorn he gave me, then at the dozens, no surely hundreds at my feet. Why this one? I asked.

Because it’s special. 

I put the acorn in my pocket and we trotted into the school. The soul selects her own society and then shuts the door, Emily Dickinson wrote. 

When I got home, I took the acorn out of my pocket and studied it. It's small, brown, with splotches of discolorations but no cracks— it looks like every other acorn I have ever seen beneath every other oak tree I have ever passed. 
         
I will never know why my grandson found this acorn so special. But he gave it me. He asked me to keep it. I know why it’s special to me.
I've known her — from an ample nation — 
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

                                                         (Emily Dickinson)

Friday, September 20, 2019

Requiem for a Young Fly


I'm not even sure how you slipped in—
I’m always exceptionally careful, 
especially 
when the slanted arms of the sun 
gather 
the fading green tint 
of grass and leaves,
and the black-eyed susan
is the only one left standing guard 
against the early morning chill.

I am always super-aware 
of solitary hoverings that long 
to sneak inside my house 
for warmth and unswept morsels
scattered beneath my feet.

We had quite a dance, you and I— 
I must admit there were times
you got the best of me. 

I applaud your swiftness
and quiet perseverance—
so unlike the fat ones
who make the loudest buzz
but can hardly lift a wing.

At first your youth startled me—
your playful daring taunted me.
But then, I heard my mother’s voice.
You are bigger than a fly,
than an ant,
You are stronger than a mean girl 
or brutish boy.

I swung again. You disappeared.

Outside, nothing is different:
summer rays wane;
black-eyed susans stand.
Only I am changed 
by your unexpected visit—
left alone to ponder 
on a quiet, late-summer morning
how something so small 
and almost-silent,
could summon distant giants.



Monday, August 26, 2019

A Child

It seems I've always been around children. Older sister. Babysitter. Teacher. Aunt. Mother. Grandmother. And while I've a terrible time recalling names and dates, details and feelings from my own childhood are as accessible as the penny in my pocket— sitting on the front stoop beneath the shade of the sycamore rocking my Tiny Tears; hopping over sidewalk cracks on the way to my friend Denise's house; watching for my father from the little window in the sunroom; and on the happy days when I stayed at my Godparents' house, standing at the bus stop on the corner of 14th Street, waiting for my Uncle to emerge from the big green bus that carried him away from the glass factory where he worked.  My mother and aunt didn't work outside the home, but they worked, and I played, imagined, watched and waited beneath their watchful eyes. There were new babies, new homes, new schools (and new worries), but wherever I went, I felt safe and loved. I read books and made up songs and poems; I picked small blue flowers with fragile stems that grew between the cracks in the Brooklyn sidewalk and yellow dandelions that dotted the lawn in New Jersey.

When I was older, I asked my mother why the world had suddenly turned so bleak and sad. In addition to a spate of relatives dying, weekly current events were a painful reminder that the world had become an imperfect place.

The world hasn't changed, my mother said. There's always been sickness and war, and people we love dying. But the veil of childhood protects us. The world hasn't changed, but you've grown older. The veil has been lifted. 

I thought about it and realized my mother was right. While I was busy playing with Tiny Tears, Chatty Cathy or Patty Play Pal, while I hopped over numbered squares with Denise, or looked through picture books and wrote poems and songs, my mother and father prayed for peace and mourned the loved ones missing from their lives. The world hadn't changed— there was just so much I hadn't known.

My mother's response shaped my commitment to children and the firm belief that every child, whether in my home or my classroom, should feel safe and loved. Security gives us wings, I gradually realized.  For me the veil of childhood was lifted gently by early good-byes to sycamore trees and sidewalk cracks— by old friends sorely missed and new friends who were not always kind—  by current event articles cut from newspapers and pasted on looseleaf beneath the tender, watchful eyes of parents who loved me.

A new school year is beginning and I am confident that most teachers will strive, as I always did, to create secure spaces for their students to learn. Security gives us wings and every child deserves to fly—

something a child in a cage, separated from his or her family, can never do.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Happy Fourth of July! 🇺🇸

Independence Day celebrates the ideals which forged our nation— ideals published more than two centuries ago in the document that declared our separation from England.  For generations, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as outlined in the Declaration of Independence have formed the genetic code of the United States. This code transcends the lack of vision and narrow minds that throughout our history have misinterpreted, limited or politicized it.

On the Fourth of July and always, we do well to honor the brave men and women who protect and defend our freedoms. We also do well to reflect on the moments when ignorance and pride have caused us to disregard our values.

The core of our national character is not found draped in camouflage and marching in grand parades. The core of our national character is found at barbecues and picnics, in parks and beaches, sitting on wooden benches or ragged blankets, gazing up at a bright, color-speckled sky.

The core of our national character  reaches out in kindness and compassion to those who seek freedom, to those who are persecuted or lost, or broken— to those for whom the desire for acceptance is still a dream. 

The genetic code of the United States was written more than two centuries ago and is not celebrated in a show of tanks and guns, but in the friendship, fellowship and hope of all people who desire liberty— whether or not they are lucky enough to gaze upward at a bright, color-speckled sky!


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

for Anne, Mentor, Friend and Inspiration

When people ask me about people or situations which have inspired me, I usually talk about my mother who loved words and was herself a poet. Sometimes I talk about Ben and the Green Corduroy Angel, or Little Pear, Prince Dolor, Scout, Boo, or a host of other fictional characters that I cherish, all of whom were created by authors I've come to admire. Other times, particularly when I am asked to speak about my interest in Historical Fiction, I talk about Anne. 
     I'm sorry to say that I didn’t always see the value in studying history. When I was growing up, history was an extension of math— a never ending timeline of dates that I memorized with mnemonic couplets or stick-figure drawings. Between history and math, I was firmly entrenched in the what does this have to do with my life camp.
Then I read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank who loved a boy named Peter. Anne Frank who didn’t always get along with her mother. Anne Frank who kept a journal and dreamed of being a writer. This girl had EVERYTHING to do with me. This girl could have been me. Anne was more than a scratch mark, more than a number somewhere between A-25060 and A-25271. 
Suddenly history mattered. Anne mattered and I mourned Anne’s devastating fate as I would mourn the loss of my dearest friend. I mourned— and still mourn— a world where such a fate is possible.
Anne Frank would have been 90 years old today. In spite of everything that she suffered, Anne  believed that people were good at heart. World events continue to challenge this belief but Anne Frank's words remain a noble and heroic inspiration.  How wonderful, she wrote, that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
Though we never met, Anne Frank has been a mentor and friend. Under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, she remained true to herself and became the writer she dreamed of becoming. On this, her 90th birthday, I wish her peace. 






Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Heart of a Child


Having been a teacher for ten years, I often miss working with students and am always delighted to visit schools. Since I've left the classroom, many wonderful technological advancements (as well as many devastating moments) have been deposited on history’s ever-lengthening path. Today’s students are impacted in ways I never would have dreamed. There were no computers, no iPads or cell phones when I was teaching. There were wars to study, but less of them and though we had fire drills, lockdown was a compound word that hadn't entered the school vocabulary.  With all that has changed, my school visits remind me that the one thing that hasn't changed is the heart of a child.

For the past few years, I've been lucky enough to visit New York City Schools through the  Behind the Book program, a not-for-profit literacy program designed to empower students through a love of reading. 

Kindness. Encouragement. Hope. These are the gifts that children offer me when I visit schools. In addition, the  students at my last Behind the Book adventure signed and sent me my very own copy of Flowers and Thorns, a book they had written and illustrated themselves. A book which revealed the beautiful heart of a child. 


Thank you Kimberly and Kyle for inviting me into this very special classroom and thanks too, to all the Behind the Book volunteers who helped create this masterpiece. I hope the authors Pamela, Hadjaka, Karla, Nivialee, Mahamadou, Filie, Selise, Vivian, Jeylin, Mia, Jose, Alexander G and Alexander H, Jaquelyn, Gianna, Lianny, Carlos, Brianna, Anabel, Allen, Jaelise, Edgar, Hidalvi, Ansoumane, Luis and Shantel continue to let their beautiful voices be heard ~ words can change the world ~ thank you sharing your words with me!






I dedicate this post to all the children whose kindness and empathy make this world a better place!
A few of their names are listed above!




Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Welcome April

Wouldn’t it be lovely,
wouldn’t it be grand
if April showered poetry
across our troubled land?

And tossing our umbrellas,
we’d jump in puddles
free or rhymed,
spattering riotous bursts joy
or tender words sublime.

Everyone would get along,
and peacefully join hands
if April showered poetry
across our troubled land.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Thoughts on Vietnam Veteran's Day

      I've reposted this blog before, but some thank-you's are worth repeating.


The Vietnam War raged throughout my childhood and into my young adult years. Colorful memories of hayrides and sleepovers, schoolwork and marathon phone conversations are interspersed with blurry black and white snapshots of maps and battles ~ those broadcast on TV and those explored in Friday afternoon current event articles. I hated the war, though not for any deep, idealogical reason. What I hated were the ugly pictures, the angry words, the pep rallies turned into peace rallies that were spoiling my fun. To quote Scarlett O'Hara, War, War, War! It seemed that was all anyone talked about.
Many years later, I was reminded of my youthful attitude towards the war. I was in New York, walking towards Washington Square, wearing my favorite blue cotton dress, the one with the soft wide belt that cinched my then very-tiny waist. Even now, decades later, I can still feel the breath of spring, the bounce of youth. My heels click-click on the cobblestone street. I’m young, free and happy. The world is waiting for me...
...and then I see him. A burly, wheel-chaired veteran sitting under the arch at Washington Square. My clicking heels accentuate the leg stumps he doesn’t try to hide.  All those current event articles, the ugly pictures in magazines and on TV ~ but for the first time, I understood how very little I knew about the Vietnam War, how very little my life had been impacted.
  Writers are rescuers. We save events, moments, people and feelings from being swallowed by time and forgotten. I’ve long outgrown my blue-cotton dress and clicking heels but I never forgot my Washington Square Veteran or the lesson he taught me.  In homes and classrooms, on street corners and in capital buildings, we debate the pros and cons of conflict. But in every war, there are those who give so much more than their opinions.
     His appearance in my novel, All the Broken Pieces, was my way of honoring and thanking the Veteran of  Washington Square for sacrificing his youth and his innocence.
We lost a big piece
of ourselves in Vietnam,
and none of us will
ever be the same,
but we did some good too.
We made a difference.
  I wish my Washington Square Veteran could see this post or read my book. I hope that he has found some measure of peace. Whatever one’s opinion about Vietnam, or any war for that matter, all veterans deserve our respect and gratitude. From the deepest recesses of my heart, I wish them peace. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Lessons from My Father

     Today would have been my father's 99th birthday. I was thinking of him early this morning when my loving thoughts were interrupted by today's ugly news—the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. To my mind, it is no accident that the mass murderer who perpetuated this violence chose mosques located in a town named Christchurch. What better way to underscore his poisonous ideology of racial and religious supremacy? What better way to increase society's divisiveness and distrust of anyone perceived as other?
     Growing up my father often came home with stories about taxi drivers, the cleaning lady, or the man who operated the elevator at his office building. You never really know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes, he'd say, and I'd learn about the taxi driver who lived through the Holocaust, the elevator man whose son was the first in his family to go to college, and the Polish woman who worked two jobs while struggling to master English. I learned many lessons of kindness from my father and the stories he shared. Much of what I learned is reflected in the stories I choose to write.
     Not everyone in our society agrees with my father or with me. The violence at Christchurch— like so many earlier incidents, is a reminder that a deep hatred for otherness exists and that we as a civilization have still not learned the lessons of history.
     As a writer I have sometimes been criticized for writing outside my lane and appropriating another culture, another religion, another race. And while I understand the limits of my experience and the right of every individual to give voice to her or his own story, I also believe that if we humbly walk in another's shoes we will learn that each of us is more alike than different. Empathy comes from seeking to understand and recognize our shared humanity.
     My heart breaks for the Muslim worshippers lost in today's massacre. I am ashamed of white supremacists and their corrupted beliefs. To remain silent is to remain complicit in their rhetoric of hatred and exclusion. The words we speak, the words we write, the words we read and share have the power to build bridges of kindness or walls of ridicule and distrust. I prefer bridges to walls; I am my father's daughter.


Friday, February 8, 2019

For My Valentine

Seems we've known each other
forever, but still I want 
to give you something
special for Valentine’s Day.
Maybe just a few words
polished and presented—
a poem perhaps, or a story—
something 
that would mean something—
like small sips of kindness
breathed 
into brightly-colored balloons,
or a package tied
with swirls of ribbon
too pretty to pull apart.
Of course, packages like that
seldom 
live up to their promise.
Once I received
a box of long-stemmed roses
from a man 
who was tall and elegant
and wore costly leather gloves
while I wore frazzled wool.
The roses were beautiful,
but not half as beautiful
as the wilting dandelions
I received years later
from the scrunched fist
of the curly-haired child
in muddy sneakers
who traipsed across my
just-mopped kitchen floor
to give them to me
with a kiss 
and an I love you.
That was the spring 
I learned that a real gift
is like a break-away balloon—
love-filled and unexpected.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sometimes I Wish I Were More Like My Daughter (or the benefits of silliness)

  For months, my grandson's favorite snack was cinnamon graham cookies shaped like dog biscuits. My grandson loved these silly treats and my daughter was thrilled when she came across them in snack-sized bags that he could bring to preschool with him. Every day she packed the same snack: grape tomatoes or baby carrots, a cheese stick, some crackers, and his favorite treat, cinnamon graham dog biscuits. Sometimes the cheese stick or one of the tomatoes came home with him, but always the crackers were gone and the small bag of cinnamon grahams empty. 

That is, until a few weeks ago. Though he still seemed to like the cinnamon grahams when snacking at home, his Spiderman lunchbox now came back with an unused napkin and unopened bag cinnamon grahams. 
    We aren't going to buy them anymore if you aren't going to eat them, my daughter said, emptying his lunchbox and opening the bag of biscuits to eat herself.  
     OK, my grandson said, though he didn't mind munching a few biscuits with my daughter.

     How come you don't like these cookies in your lunchbox anymore? I asked my grandson one  afternoon when he came to my house after school. I had just pulled out a neatly folded napkin and the unopened bag of cinnamon grahams.
     Because Kenny teases me. He says I eat dog biscuits

   Hmmmm... a teachable moment, I thought. Well, maybe you should tell Kenny that the biscuits were really delicious cookies, I said,  and offer him a  cookie to try.  
   My grandson didn't seem convinced but I texted my daughter to at least tell her that the mystery of the unopened cookies had been solved.
    Peer pressure starts young. I texted. Kenny told your son he eats dog biscuits.
    I know! my daughter texted back. He told me that already. I told him to eat them anyway and bark at Kenny.

   I laughed. I bet Kenny would laugh too. Sometimes silliness is the best teacher. It might even be the beginning of a beautiful toddler friendship.