Friday, January 31, 2014

Reading Twin

We showed up to work wearing the same outfit, right down to the silver necklaces with teardrop pendants.  We had our own clothes, but chose all the layers and colors exactly the same.  We were even both reusing a venti Starbucks cup.

Two library girls with a matching sense of "style."

Ast it turns out, we really like Sense and Sensibility, both the movie and the book.  We love Emma Thompson and admire her many talents.  She likes Hugh Grant; I'm not a big fan.

"I like Hugh Grant, but I don't really think he worked for that role with Emma Thompson.  It never really seemed like the right match," she went on to clarify.

"EXACTLY!" I can easily forgive her liking Hugh for making an observation I have felt all along and not ever articulated.

"You know who I think she is a better match with?  That other guy in the movie who dumped her sister.  HE seems like the one she should have been with...not that character in the movie, of course.  Just someone like that guy," I tell her, in a mood to have opinions about people I don't know.
"EXACTLY!" she echoes with the same enthusiasm I showed her observation.

She looks him up to recall what he looks like.

Turns out, he's married to Emma Thompson.

Whoah, it's not often my random musings are *right*.  I think we both gained a notch more respect for the other's opinion for that one.

So we add a little stack of opinions to the table, each of us laying them down in rapid succession like two kids playing war: happy when they matched even if it meant having to concede a bunch of other points. Just like the card game looks pointless and boring to anyone watching, but is actually quite engaging to the players, that's how this conversation feels. I sense an outsider would wonder why we are talking about these people and plots like they are real.

I'm listening to an audiobook I will have to abandon because it isn't keeping my interest.  I've read stronger books in this genre (Cory Doctorow's For the Win and Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, for example.) She looked at me with a little shock.

"You liked For the Win?  ME TOO.  And I loved Ready Player One.  So much!"
"But you like Sense and Sensibility."
"I know.  But I really liked those books, too."

I never would have pegged her as a Doctorow fan. His work and themes are about as far from Jane Austen as a reader could get.  I wonder if I seem as unlikely.

When I ask for audiobook suggestions for my drive home, we discover that we literally like ALL the same authors.  She is reading Ann Patchett's latest.  I have it on hold to get the next available copy.  Every author, every title, in any genre.

It was the most uncanny resonance. "At this point," I finally conceded,  "I will take anything you suggest."

My opinion cards had all been played.  She matched on every one.  She ended up taking the whole game and title as my Reading Twin.

Who just happens to dress like I do, too.

Fun, but kinda weird, right?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Footnotes of Our Story

I don't remember when the notes started.  But somewhere along the way, Bill started leaving me notes.  Post-its, random scraps, torn pieces from a daytimer...little notes.  I find them on the mirror, on the kitchen counter, taped to my alarm clock, his love in writing to be discovered before the day can let me forget.

We are word people.  This is our language.

They are small, and the themes are simple and repetitive, but these little squares quilt my heart and keep the cold and lonely away.

Tonight Landon brought out a lovely latched basket that I had not noticed was missing.  Inside was a package he had wrapped with two colors of construction paper and twice as much tape.

"I made this for you," he said to Bill.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It's for you."

Bill peeled back the outer layer.  A white paper emerged.  In fact, there was nothing but paper.  Scraps Landon had cut and "written" on.  A heart with more tape and writing.  And his main attraction, a full sheet covered with letters from an alphabet stencil.

"What does it say?" Bill asked.

"It's love.  It's loving words.  It's a note I wrote for you and it says I love you and we can go to a theater together."

Bill and I share one of those glances that say more than it's worth trying to express aloud.
My eyes get glassy and my throat gets tight.

We are word people.
This is our oldest son learning our language.

My heart is so full, I find I must write it all down while I can still remember it.

Even as I type, a few aisles in every grocery store have exploded with red and pink, candy and cards.  There's a day on the calendar marked to express and share love, in all its preference for red and pink, candy and cards.   And the day may pass at the Brown house with nobody remembering to mention it at all.

Just as you can't create an entire beautiful quilt in a day, our love is grown in small bits-
one post-it, one calendar scrap, one construction-paper-wrapped collection of words at a time.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

You're Not Always Right

"Mom, did you know Georgia is one of the coldest places on Earth?"

Hmmm....I did not know that.  In fact, I know nothing like that. "Well, Buddy, that's not really true.  Georgia is in the southern United States, and there are lots of places colder than that."

"I'm not talking about that."

And now he's annoyed.  As he often is when he is corrected.  Like many of us, he likes to be right more than wrong.  But I don't want the seeds of "know-it-all" to bloom in his personality, so even though it isn't fun, I do point out when he's wrong.  Sometimes.  When I have the energy.

"Let's look at the globe, Buddy."

(He got a globe for Christmas and both of us still think it's great fun to pull it out for anything we can think of.)

"This is Georgia, here in the United States. It isn't one of those icy places like Antarctica or the Arctic, which are much colder."

"It's not that Georgia, Mom!  It's a cold Georgia. You don't know what you are saying.  You are just confused."

Sheesh.  I'm pretty sure I know that Georgia is not as cold as the Arctic.  And then a lightbulb goes off in my head....."Do you mean the Georgia that is a country near Russia?  That might be a cold Georgia,"  and we find it on the globe, but still he is unsatisfied. And frustrated.  And a little miffy that his mom is so dense that she can't concede that Georgia is one of the coldest places on Earth.  I'm a little down that he has such an unteachable attitude.  That he's kinda stubborn.  That he thinks he has to be the expert about EVERYthing.  But we let it go because what's the point of arguing?

This morning Landon was finishing watching a documentary called "Frozen Planet." We've been studying the Arctic, so I thought it was a nice tie-in.  When I walked in I heard the narrator say, "Winds in South Georgia can get up to one hundred and thirty miles an hour."  South Georgia?!

I sneak out and get his globe.  I scan the top.  I search the bottom.  Yep, there it is, an island near Antarctica called South Georgia.

One of the coldest places on Earth.

Well, since we're talking about cold things, can I have my Humble Pie a la mode?  

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Must-Read Memoir of 2014

What if you knew someone whose heart was shattered in one terrible night when her husband unexpectedly died in her arms?  What if you knew she had two little boys whose world crumbled right along with hers, even while they peacefully slept?

Pain like that is a palpable vortex.  It is dark.  It is scary.  It is overwhelming to feel your own heart break and know that the pain you feel is nothing, NOTHING compared to being the one for whom the light has been snuffed.

But what if from the bottom of the vortex your friend sent up a message?  Like a white-hot flare, she shoots up some words, "I'm down here.  It's unimaginable. And this is how it is." And every day, she blogs.  But "blogging" is no verb to describe the raw, jagged, heartwrenching, horrible/beautiful journey that she takes you on.  You read her very heart on the screen, and time after time, there's nothing for it but to cry.  Or sometimes, laugh.  And then cry about that, too.  You, who are not the crying kind.

And then what if, somebody who knows the right people and how to make things happen finds out about your friend's blog and it seems the next thing you know you are watching her sign a book contract under the twinkling lights strung by her dearest friends and a thousand prayers and heaps of love?

And there's nothing for it, but to cry.  But it's joy.  Mixed up with all that pain.  Because a miracle is being born.  One brave word at a time.  And your friend, she just lets you in. Not just you, anybody.  Everybody.  Open arms, open heart, this girl who needs to process it all alone and all together, in words.

Can I invite you to go there?  To go to that dark, scary place with her?

The book will hit bookstores everywhere in 22 days on February 18.  Or today if  you are a preorder kind of person.  And then maybe, like me, you'll find yourself welcoming dawn with this book in hand, feeling gratitude to a person who would lead us all the darkness and out again.

Because the book is called, And Life Comes Back.  
And so it does.

And when it does for her, a little of yours will come back, too.

  • 9/26, 4:19am

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Wishing I Were on the Other Side

"Raise your hand if you already have something written you want to publish."

A few hands go up.

"Raise your hand if you have already published something."

A few other hands go up, noticably more easily.

"Raise your hand if you are thinking about writing something you would like to publish."

It looks like the rest of the attendees raise their hands.

"So raise your hand if you don't even know what program you are sitting in."

Gets a few chuckles.

But I neither laugh nor raise my hand. I know where I am (a workshop on epublishing) but I'm not sure I can answer why I carved out the time to drive here and listen to some movers and shakers on this topic.

I don't have a well-loved manuscript hidden away somewhere that just needs a platform to find an audience.  I didn't just finish the National Novel Writing Month with something blazing hot, begging to be published. And yet, publication beckons to me like an Everest.  Why?

I used to think that everyone wanted to be a writer.  Turns out, that's because I happened to know a lot of voracious readers, and most of them do.  If someone hands you a ticket for transport or transcendence, you often wonder if you could be a magic-maker and hand out such remarkable tickets, too.

For every encouraging person who has ever told me anything along the lines of, "You should write a book," are a hundred other voices (most of them in my head) pointing out the ridiculous improbability of it all.  After all, you have to be an author to write a book.  You have to be someone brilliant and remarkable and photogenic and disciplined.  You need hundreds of ideal, uninterrupted work hours where you are productive and focused and inspired.  You need a Mac computer, awesome penmannship, perfect grammar, and oh yeah, a never-ending spring of unique ideas that leaves you breathless with their originality and beauty.

None of those things are true of me.

What about you?  Doesn't the idea of publication beckon to many of you, too?  We read, we write, we stumble around in the dark with our words, looking to shine a little light. Find a path.  Embark on an epic journey....

only to still be wasting time fiddling around with the batteries of our flashlight.

All the while another author runs past us in the darkness, takes a flying leap off the cliff into the unknown, and all we hear is, "Wheee!"

Whee?! That's it?  Did they get published or not?

We don't get the answer to that.  Self-doubt settles back down around us in the darkness. It seems it would be much easier to stop trying to earn the "externally-validated-author" badge and get off this trail altogether. Other worthy pursuits await.

But then we catch a faint echo of that whee and can't walk away.

Because we definitely, absolutely want to believe that the journey would be worth it for its own sake, that the risk is worth taking. That whatever success or failure waits at the end of that flying leap of faith, the flight is the thing.

But wouldn't it be grand to know that we had wings that would carry us before we even leapt?

There is No Immediate Love/Hate

How long does it take you to appreciate a piece of  visual art?  Sure, you could spend any length of time imaginable admiring something, but generally speaking, doesn't most art compel a response rather quickly?  You see a painting and find it haunting.  A sculpture leaves you cold; you move on.  Someone has crafted a quilt that suggests "heirloom" before it is even one year old. Even music asks us to make up our minds fairly quickly.  Yes, you could develop a deep appreciation for unfamiliar music over time, but most of us can hear a song and assess rather quickly if we'd rather change the station.

And then there's word.

For artists who paint with words, we don't have much hope of appealing to the instantaneous resonance one can feel with music and visual arts.

Who pulls an unknown, unopened novel off the shelf and declares, "I must have this collection of words in my home!  It is amazing and wonderful and I get chills just looking at the cover."?

But you could easily walk into an art gallery and feel that connection.  Love at first sight with no investment or risk at all.  You just walked in and fell in love.

Artists show you a destination.
Writers ask you to take a journey.

Writers ask for a little more--a bigger risk of your time and interest.  I may not be able to win you over at first glance, but sit with me for a spell.  We may become friends yet.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ridiculous or Iconic? Classic Children's Stories through a Different Lens

I got it into my head that my kiddo should know fairy tales.  Like they are part of the canon of Western Civilization, a piece of required knowledge, background info everyone should have to successfully navigate the nuances of later literature.

Or something like that.

But as we move through these stories, I'm beginning to have my doubts.

 Take, for example, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In the face of danger two goats essentially throw their siblings under the bus to save their own hide.  The eldest brother, with no one else to throw, resorts to brute force and rescues them all.  It's heartwarming.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears: A curious vandal escapes charges of breaking and entering, destruction and theft of personal property by fleeing the scene of the crime.  Her outraged victims never hear from her again.

The Three Little Pigs: Two lazy siblings count on one industrious brother for all the good ideas.  When their own homes are destroyed by a ferocious enemy, they run for their lives only to instantly turn in mockery of their foe as soon as they reach safety.

Little Red Riding Hood: A disobedient and scatterbrained girl mistakes a ravenous wolf for her grandmother. She is consumed in her entirety by the wolf (is he part jaw-unhinging snake?!) and is rescued by a woodsman with an ax to the wolf's belly.  The gory slashing of his belly is quickly glossed over as everyone learns a valuable lesson that mother knows best.  Or is the lesson that Little Red seriously needs glasses? Or half a wit?  

The Gingerbread Boy: An arrogant cookie-boy leans too hard on his one and only talent (running fast) and is killed by a creature who had mastered swimming, running AND cunning. Lesson: Foxes are sly.

Other authors apparently had doubts about these plots as well, which led to us finding variations.  In one, Goldilocks tries to make ammends. In another she meets three LiBEARians and learns about finding "just right" books.  The Wolf often turns out to be better than we thought.  He has allergies/a terrible cold.  He was just trying to borrow some sugar.  They start a community garden and all go vegan.  The Gingerbread Girl lassoes and captures the wolf with her long red licorice hair. The variations are all over the place.

I know these stories are iconic, and surely someone has earned a doctorate explaining what they tell us about the human condition, but I'm willing to admit that  reading five versions of each (with corresponding Venn Diagrams) is more than any well-rounded person needs.

So I am not too surprised that Landon said to me today, "I don't want any more picture books for awhile.  Let's just read true-fact books, okay?"

Yes, let's.

The chatter of talking animals quiets down for a bit and we settle down for something he chose and desperately wanted:

F/A-18 Super Hornet

Well now, doesn't this just open up a whole different can of worms?!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Unforgettable Bear

Bear-Bear was a grungy, germ-infested, foul-smelling, sad little excuse for a stuffed animal when I let him move on.

In the interim, Bill has occasionally told me that Landon is still missing Bear-Bear, but I dismissed the idea. Surely Bill was assigning a sentimentality to the situation that Landon didn't possess.  I've never heard a peep about it. The preciousness of a saggy lump of a worn out bear did not compute.

Then tonight happened.  Stories were over and Landon was getting ready to go to bed.
"Dad, do you think you could call your old school and see if someone found Bear-Bear and they didn't know what to do with him so he is sitting in a closet somewhere?  Can we drive down there and see if anybody found him?"  His voice cracks.  His eyes fill up with the real-deal, genuine tears.

I sat there stunned. My little boy is really, truly missing that bear almost two years later. I can't let Landon think that all his pain is his own fault, and yet, I don't want it to be mine, either.

I take a deep breath.

"Buddy, I really made a big mistake.  Bear-Bear was dirty and stinky and gross and even after we washed him he just seemed like a grungy, dirty bear that I didn't want to make you sick, so I got rid of him. But I'm really sorry.  We should have talked about it before I did that."

"But could Daddy just check to make sure he didn't get left at his school?"

"He could. He can.  But I think we need to get on a mission to find a new animal your big loving heart can welcome as your very special one.  Maybe we'll find a bear.  Maybe a monkey.  Maybe something else will be the one, and you'll just know you're ready to love it like you loved Bear-Bear.  Do you think you're ready to love another animal and let it be your favorite one?"

He nods, but I can see that he is still sad and trying to process the permanency of the loss.

"Mom, did you throw it away or give it to the Goodwill?"

I don't know for certain, but I'm certain what I need to say.  "To the Goodwill, Buddy. He was excited about meeting some new animals and going on new adventures.  He was ready to go."

We hug.  Bill and I look over his head in our shared misery over my miscalculation.  I believed Landon wouldn't remember, wouldn't care, and would quickly be over it.

My little boy has spent half his life (and all the time he can remember) feeling the loss of that bear.  It's hard to acknowledge that this is an addition to what will be a long list of ways I let him down, cause him pain, disappoint him, misunderstand him, or otherwise fall short.  Oh, I'm hoping and praying that it's a short list, but I'm not kidding myself, either.  Parenting is hard, and nobody does it perfectly.

I'm remembering my last Christmas of being a little girl when the doll my parents got me was a bitter disappointment.  Not the baby doll I yearned for, but a stand up doll that had golden ringlets and a creepy grin.  With dogged perseverance, my mom took me to every toy store she could think of until we found the perfect baby doll, the very last one of my childhood, and most beloved.

My mom isn't a sentimental person, either.  But sometimes, a parent can look into their child's heart and see a big, deep yearning for something that isn't fueled by greed, peer pressure, or market manipulated wishes...It's for something real and simple and solid like a doll or best-friend bear.

I've learned my lesson, sweet boy. He may be the last one you love with all your heart, the perfect stuffed animal friend for you to finish out your littlest years with, but we'll find him. And when we do, I promise he can stay with us every day you ever want him to.  And then for me, maybe a couple more.