writing life

Where in the World Have You Been?

Good question!

I definitely have been absent from my blog, but lots has been happening.

I survived the end of the school year, and drove off to Maine the following day for a writing retreat and workshop with dear friends. This gathering is an annual ritual that marks the transition from my day job to my heart job, writing! Each year our little band of writers invites a mentor to join us and guide us in seeing our manuscripts in new ways. We have worked with some fabulous folks over the years including Laura Ruby, Louise Hawes, Clare Vanderpool, and this year, Sarah Aronson. It is always such a treat to gather around the old farm table in the kitchen, or on the breezy porch by the bay, or to scoot the chairs and couches of the great room into a welcoming oval, and delve into the days’ manuscripts. We laugh, we cry, we inspire each other. We have built the kind of rapport and trust many writers only dream of in a critique group. I think each mentor who joins us soon feels like part of the tribe. We are blessed.

Sarah Aronson and Tessa Elwood talk writing Photo credit: Cathy Lentes

 

 

After a fabulous and inspiring week, I extended my stay just a bit, staying with a good friend from the group who lives nearby. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had trouble saying goodbye to Maine, as we caught up with a few of them in Bar Harbor where Michelle Houts, one of our crew, was signing books.

Michelle Houts, Ann Mack, Sally Stanton, and Cathy Lentes together again in Bar Harbor Photo credit: Maggie Houts

 

 

It’s pretty easy to feel supported and motivated when I have this great group of writers in my life, especially when we are all together, and the help I need, the listening ear, the new perspective may be as close as the chair, or room, next to me. But now I’m home, and I’m happy to be, but it will be harder to keep things moving forward. Today, for example, I spent the morning taking down my old mailbox, and trying to put up a new one. Just like with writing, there were setbacks (and a nasty blister. I’ll spare you the picture of that one!) and it would have been lovely to ask a friend for help with the task. Writing can be a lonely job (as can home repair), and I need to remember that I don’t have to do it all myself. Though my Mainely Writing friends are scattered across the country, they are only a text, or email, or Facebook post away when I need them for writing support.

The 2017 Mainely Writers Photo credit: Helpful waitress at Seng Thai Restaurant (Belfast, Maine)

 

 

Do you have a creative tribe you can call on when needed? If not, it’s time to start gathering. Find your people!

And let me know if you find someone who is good at installing mailboxes…

 

Speak up:

6 comments

| TAGS:

, , , , , , , , , ,

Us, Them, They, and Other when We are All an I

I wanted to write this post yesterday, but events and emotions kept me from the page. I woke to this image outside my bedroom window. Inspired and uplifted, I felt ready to write. 

But then the day happened. And as torrential storms threatened from the west, an internal storm overwhelmed from within. Part of it was that one of US was missing. And part of it was that one of THEM had done something that upset me very much.

There’s been a lot of that going around lately. Us, them, they, the other garnering blame for whatever happens to be going wrong. I guess it’s part of human nature as it seems to have gone on since the beginning of time based on what we know from anthropology, history, and sacred stories. It doesn’t make it right, though it may be easy.

I attended a conference recently full of inspired and inspiring writers from across the country and globe. There was much talk of politics, and diversity, and freedom of speech. All of the sessions except one left me full of hope. But one left me feeling a little sick because of what I heard two writers say.

“I don’t want THOSE people to read my books. I’m not writing for THEM.”

“White women abandoned us.”

Back home, at the grocery store, the lines were long and open registers few. I was disgruntled, but resigned to waiting. As I looked around, other women were standing with loaded carts, some trying to corral antsy children. If our eyes met, we exchanged brief, knowing smiles. WE did not fuss. But a man, a white man, in front of me, standing with his wife, began to throw a fit, increasingly loud and embarrassing. Of course, it did not open lines. It only made those of us standing in them feel uncomfortable.

My immediate reaction, other than feeling immensely sorry for his wife, was to think MEN! They have never had to wait for anything. Entitled. Complaining toddlers in long pants.

And then I remembered  what I had heard at the conference and how upsetting it had been.

THIS man had trouble waiting. Not all men. Not all white men. This man.

Just as not all white women abandoned women of color in the last election.

Just as the THEM included in the people who the author said she didn’t want to read her books most likely look very much like the people where I live.

If you happen to follow conversations in the world of Children’s Literature, you, no doubt, have heard the idea of books serving as mirrors and as windows. Mirrors to learn more about people like you, and windows through which to look out and learn about people who may seem quite different from you. The idea being that all readers need to learn more about their identity, but also to broaden perspectives by learning about those outside of personal experience. In our current political climate, this seems increasingly important.

I’m trying very hard, as an individual, to catch myself when I automatically lump people into a category, because I don’t want others to put me in a particular basket just because of where I live, the color of my skin, or my beliefs. Each of us is an I. We may have things in common. We most certainly have differences. We each have preferred tribes. But judge me as an individual. I will do the same for you.

In her essay collection, Words Are My Matter, Ursula K. Le Guin says, ” No matter how humble the spirit it’s offered in, a sermon is an act of aggression.”

I’m increasingly tired of aggression. And I don’t mean to preach. But, we have to learn to listen to each other, to truly see each other, to follow the Golden Rule, and to live a religion of kindness. It’s not about THEM. It’s not about US.

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

How clean are the windows though which you see the world?

It may just be that all of us could afford to scrub a little harder to make things shine.

 

 

 

Speak up:

4 comments

| TAGS:

, , , ,

A House of Makers and Readers

Today was my third amazing day, and final day, at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference for 2016. The conference continues through Friday, but my time there is done due to family commitments. As always, I leave buoyed by the spirit of the authors/illustrators, as well as the contagious enthusiasm of the librarians and teachers who attend, and the deep love and commitment of the Mazza staff and volunteers. As I said in an earlier post, this is the place to be if you love picture books.

Today, attendees heard from three keynote speakers–Steve Light, Lita Judge, and Elly MacKay. Only one had I met before. I was familiar with the work of two. All three made me feel so privileged to hear their personal stories and catch a glimpse of their creative processes. But the one thing that I took away from all of them was the knowledge that each of them were “overcomers.”

Two admitted to struggling with dyslexia. One was that odd ball kid who becomes the target of bullies.

But despite these challenges, none of the three gave up. All had people in their lives who believed in them and one even had the option to hide out in the library if the need arose. (Honestly, I still have days where I need to hide out among the stacks. How about you?)

They each spoke passionately about playing with words and their art materials, about trying new things, about keeping collections of what they love. Though their backgrounds were wildly different, each of them knew the value of time alone, time in nature, and of being close observers of their worlds.

And the thing I guess I love about all of them is that they are still kids at heart and they carry the children they were within.

Here’s some of the wisdom nuggets they shared:

“I live in my sketchbook.”–Steve Light

“You need to be an observer to be an artist or a writer.”–Lita Judge

“If I show up for it, it will show up for me.”–Lita Judge

“There are advantages to living where no one else wants to live.”–Elly MacKay

“I grew up in a house of makers and readers.”–Elly MacKay        

Here’s to all the makers and readers, the painters and dreamers, the kids hiding sketch books and pencils in their baseball mitts, and those of us who know the safety and delicious solitude of rooms full of books.

And… here’s looking forward to the Mazza Fall Conference, November 2016!

Speak up:

comment

| TAGS:

, , , , , , , , , ,

On the Road to Mazza Museum

Wow! What a busy summer.

So far a wonderful writing retreat in Maine with good friends, a visit to Candlewick Press

with fab friend and author, Michelle Houts, and now I’m on my way to the Mazza Museum in Findlay, Ohio for the Mazza Summer Conference. If you love children’s picture books this is the place to be. Stay tuned for updates from the field.

Hint of the Day: Though your writing desk may get lonely, you don’t have to. Take advantage of the many conferences and book festivals available. Find your people!  (Especially if they make you laugh…)

 

Speak up:

comment

| TAGS:

, , , , ,

Lessons from a Broken Toe

I didn’t make the connections at first. I just knew it hurt. A lot. As I sprawled in agony on my just-made bed, my first thought was, “How in the world am I going to get to work today?” My second thought was to curse the large box of books at the end of my bed. The one I had just crashed into barefoot. The one full of magnificent books I have been meaning to read for a long time but just haven’t gotten to because, you know, I have to go to work. And then the thought came, “I have to go to work today because I have that meeting at 10:00 to go over my contract.” The contract I intend to sign in order to work three more years. Three more years in which I probably won’t get to read those magnificent books. You see where this is going…

On most days, I enjoy my job. I like the dedicated educators I work with. I love the students I work with and enjoy the detective work I do trying to decipher their learning issues, figuring out ways their parents and teachers can help them succeed. I love my little office with its twinkle lights, beachy art, and electric kettle where I brew my morning tea. I especially love when children I’ve worked with over the years stop by to give me a hug or visit with me and my crazy-haired stuffed-toy penguin. But let’s face it, I spend most of my time writing reports full of numbers and attending meetings where I talk about numbers, and reading other people’s reports full of stiff language and more numbers. I try really hard to remember that though I have to include those numbers in my reports, my real job is to tell each child’s story. Who is this quirky kid? What do they love? If they could do anything in the world, what would it be? That’s the part that gets me up each morning. That’s the part that makes me consider signing a new three-year contract on the morning I’ve just destroyed my toe.

My mother was a teacher. My father was a teacher. For both of them, choices were limited right after WWII. At the little college where they attended and met, and thus allowed me to come into being, my dad says the choices for the boys were to be a preacher or a teacher. He had no desire to preach. If he couldn’t run away with the circus, he at least wanted to have a farm, but spots at the big school, Ohio State University, to study agriculture were allotted to returning vets, and though he and his friend offered to live in a chicken coop they had built in woodshop, they had to choose a different path. My mother had even fewer options. I went into education also at the urging of my father who was concerned about my future, but my heart has always belonged to stories, poems, the creative life. I think my mother’s did too.

Though I loved working with my students in the classroom, all my creative energies went there. When I had children of my own, that also required enormous amounts of creative energy. But though I love being a creative educator and creative mother, those roles have never been enough for me. I have to write. I have to photograph. I have to live in wonder.

In recent years, I’ve made conscious choices to follow my dreams. I’ve taken the leap into writing seriously and finding homes for my work. I’ve won awards. I’ve completed my MFA. I’ve set goals in motion with a five-year plan. So why did I quaver on that morning of the new contract? Why did my rushing around to get to work lead me painfully into a box of books I had not yet read? Why do I not feel the same joy at my computer at work that I feel when I sit down to start a new poem or picture book or novel? Why does sitting in yet another meeting not provide the same rush as reading my work  in front of an audience or leading a discussion about poetry and art in our everyday lives?

A few years ago, I read a book called Whistle While You WorkThe authors, Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro, included an activity in which you were to identify from a list :

  • Things that fit your gifts and talents
  • Things you are not sure if they apply
  • Things that don’t feel like you at all

Here’s my top five: writing things, exploring the way, shaping environments, seeing possibilities, adding humor

Here’s my bottom five: solving problems, analyzing info, doing the numbers, resolving disputes, fixing things

I think that morning my toe and that box of books had something important to say to me.

I’m walking more slowly now and looking carefully at what lies ahead. I signed the contract, but I’m also gazing forward to what comes next. And I intend to focus on getting more of list #1 in my life and much less of list #3. I have more options than my parents. My daughters will have more than me. But one of the best gifts I can give myself this Mother’s Day, and one I can give my daughters, as well, is to live an authentic life, to not always take the expected path, to not settle for what is, to live in wonder and gratitude, and to always be imagining the possibilities of  what can be. 

Speak up:

6 comments

| TAGS:

, , ,