{invicta animi, & rest in Earthsea, ursula k. leguin}

Dear Readers, today we lost a sage.

…Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.

Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself — as I know you already have — in dark places, alone, and afraid.

What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.

…And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing — instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.

~ from the 1983 Mills College, A Left-Handed Commencement Address,” by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Thank you for everything, especially the Hainish novels, which truly brought me truths from fiction. May we always see differences in the world with kinder eyes.

{p7 does pf: triolets}

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Ay! November already. Here, have some colors of the season. This is from the gorgeous altar display at the Oakland Museum of California. Their combination of migration – the Monarchs – and the passing of life as commemorated and celebrated during the Dias de los Muertos – was among the more memorable and beautiful that I’ve seen. Well worth a trip.

At some point, this form will become easier. At some distant date, all we’ll need is to hear a form and, with a graceful flourish, we’ll pull out a pen and produce said form with grace.

That day is obviously not yet come, at least not for me.

Last attempted in 2015, the triolet remains the more problematic of the repeating forms for me. I think it’s the awkward rhyme scheme, which never gives me a feeling that the poetic statement is complete. Like a song which closes with an unresolved chord, I find myself… stopped, but not…finished. I’m never quite sure if I’ve yet said what I’ve meant to say – or if it was coherent. Nevertheless, I applied myself to this month’s task set by the lovely Liz, which was to use two autumnal words from a list comprised of orange, fall, chill, light, and change.

Autumn Colour

The poet warned us gravely ‘nothing gold can ever stay,’
Persimmon’s orange a honeyed warmth ephemeral as mist.
You’ll sooner find a treasure in a vacant alleyway,
The poet warned us, gravely. Nothing gold can ever stay
Bright. Tarnishing, the light fades into winter’s shadowplay.
Drink down the days at autumn’s end on memory’s mailing list.
The poet warned us gravely ‘nothing gold can ever stay,’
Persimmon’s orange a honeyed warmth ephemeral as mist.

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Technically, red is the more ephemeral color, but I just had to play with that… because orange is a hard word to include in a poem, since nothing rhymes with orange. I also like to play with using fourteen syllables occasionally.


White-hot, our spirits rising through the heat,
The flame renewed with passion’s fiery light,
Destroyed, we fall. We signal cold’s defeat,
White-hot. Our spirits rising. Through the heat
We radiate – our frantic dance complete –
Collapse as ash, with sated appetite.
White-hot, our spirits rising. Through the heat
The flame renews our passion. Firelight.

Now here, I was only writing about fire. I’m told Other Interpretations May Apply. *cough* I take no responsibility.

There’s more poetry on the horizon from Liz, Laura, early bird Kelly, and Tricia. Sara and Andi are still on busy lady walkabout, but may rejoin us presently. *waves*

Also, happy Books and Blogging Weekend to all those gathered in Hershey, PA for the 2017 Kidlitosphere Conference. Poetry Friday today is hosted at Teacher Dance. Sometimes, when you’re feeling blah, the Friday poetry round-up is just the thing. Read on for a little lift of your spirits.

{of pageantry & pain}

“…and to the Republic, for which it stands…”

It’s easy enough to avoid American nationalism in the form of the anthem or the flag. Just come late to a game or a classroom. Slip in behind the Scouts or the Pathfinders as they march proudly onward with the Colors. While there are so many people don’t know all the words to the Pledge and to the Anthem, I do – I always have, though I never considered myself someone terribly patriotic. I just didn’t mumble. If I was going to say a thing, I was going to mean the thing. That’s just how I am. I am one of those weirdies who look up and READ the lyrics of songs, and sometimes, I don’t sing them because they’re words I can’t get behind. From Top 40 pop music to hymns, I’ve always been that way. As my friend and fellow English teacher Susan Goins always said, “Words. Have. Power.”

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I became deeply uncomfortable with the words to the pledge years ago, but didn’t decide to stop participating in its recital until early 2014, when so many of the things which complicate my relationship with the United States came together in a perfect storm. Again, not someone who would simply mumble, or la-la-la my way through the parts I didn’t like, I heard the words and realized that I could no longer give unquestioning allegiance to the decayed and listing Republic. As you are perhaps rearing back in shocked affront, imagine how it upset me. Additionally, during the past couple of years, my relationship with church also got the “It’s Complicated” tag on my imaginary FB page – as there are things with the church in which I was raised that are also so anathema to me personally, so insular and content with it – that I don’t know how to integrate them with who I am as an adult.

All this to set the scene for my story.

There are multiple occasions for the winnowing of beliefs in adulthood. Values form and clarification is not always the most fun of work, but if it doesn’t get done, you’re staying a nymph instead of a dragonfly, capisci? (And eventually, the nymphs eat all the food in the pond, and can’t fly away, so they die. FYI.)

So, I attended church this weekend, which was an International Celebration spearheaded by the community’s teens. I was prepared for much of what it was – cheerfully chaotic, cheesy, and very, very cute. There are something like thirty nations represented within our one congregation, which meant that the scripture was read in Haitian French, Peruvian Spanish, the Maori language as well as English, and the hymn was sung in Tagalog, Swahili, Spanish, Samoan and English. This also meant the service was amusingly interminable (we were fortunate the speaker graciously bowed out), but full of heartening moments as we acknowledged the immigrant and the “stranger within our gates” with the renewed commitment to them as family. Despite myself, I warmed to the familiar concepts.

The Flags of Many Nations procession was my very favorite thing, as little kids, big kids, and sometimes whole families paraded down the aisle in national costume, waving their flag, while an (increasingly shorter as the service dragged on) clip of their national anthem was played. I loved seeing the participation, the joy and pride. When the Kenyan kids stood and saluted their flag as it passed, little bodies ramrod straight and eyes bright, my heart pinched a bit. I remembered what that was like – that unstinting, unhesitating love for my country. I found my eyes smarting with tears – and then, I went lightheaded for a moment, as a wild, unfathomably deep scream of rage boiled up from deep within – at how that has been irrevocably taken away from me.

“…One nation, under God, indivisible…”

And oh, the sucker punch when my own flag stuttered haltingly up the aisle on the shoulder of a Korean War veteran. Oh, the pinch. I was already there, though. No avoiding this. No quietly slipping out. It was take a knee, or… or… I couldn’t decide.

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The old people around us were dabbing their eyes. The kids were beaming, happy their program was a.) Nearly over and b.) Such a success. Would anyone there understand what taking a knee – in church – was about? Had any of the teens, people, who were raised sheltered, insular and oblivious like me, did they eve understand the importance of Colin Kaepernick? The brutality of our national relationship with law enforcement and people of color? The necessity – the responsibility – of all citizens to push back and resist? Would what I was about to do make any difference to their understanding? I’m sure you can imagine the wash of conflicting feelings flowing over me. We were supposed to be celebrating our exclusivity and diversity. We were meant to leap to our feet, our hearts beating as one in proud agreement that we all loved our country.

Everyone surged to their feet. I, too, found my feet – bitterly unhappy that I didn’t have the courage to kneel – that it wouldn’t have made the difference we need. That maybe nothing will. I stood, yes. But with my arms crossed, my head bowed, and my face wet.

“…with Liberty and Justice for all.”

{to my tallest little brother}

Ducking social media through July and August doesn’t mean I’ve missed anything, it’s just that I’ve largely held my silence. I would have still, but a young friend reached out to me. He grew up in LA, and is of Mexican American descent, and felt like he shouldn’t speak up right now, as a brown person… but he wrote, nervously, to extend his sympathies to me, as a fellow human being. Which kind of broke my heart. So shines a good deed in a weary world, as the Bard would say. So. I wrote him a note:

Mi hermanito precioso,

I often think that it would be useful to belong to a denomination which follows a liturgy. Because waking up to a news cycle like this has me simply saying over and over again, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy,” like the words of an abruptly simplified mass spinning out into infinity.

Lord, have mercy. What a mess.

Like a faulty foundation will topple an entire building before its time, the foundational flaw in in our system of laws – that of the 2nd Amendment is not really for all people, only white people – is reverberating throughout the nation. There are cracks in the foundation, the floor is collapsing, and we are sinking down, down, down.

I struggle to articulate how long it took me to look at this head on; it was so much easier to just agree, “Oh, yeah, all lives matter.” As time went on, though, it grew harder to remain silent, as those who complained most loudly about the Black Lives Matter movement seem to believe those protesting police violence put an invisible “only” in front of the words: as if they mean “ONLY black lives matter.” A people clearly receiving a message from a largely indifferent culture that no, your lives don’t matter don’t need salt rubbed into the wound with a tsk-tsking and finger shaking about being more inclusive. As I’ve tried to explain it to more than one person, if you had lung cancer, you would be about treating your lungs, not ignoring the lungs in favor of the elbows, under the lofty idea that “all body parts matter.” You’d be treating the lungs, if the lungs were where the problem was, would you not? It’s about focus, not exclusion. But few people make the effort to understand this — because we are a people who rely on all caps and incoherence. We favor a rush to response rather than slow reason.

Lord, have mercy. We are such a mess.

Know what else is in my liturgy? Those who live by the sword will die by it.

I believe this is so, so true. In every way. I know that there are nations and states who have open carry, but you know how I feel about guns, and the machismo that goes with them. If people don’t respect me and my words, they’ll never respect that I have lethal force, until I use it. If people can’t respect the badge – and they can’t, legitimately, in many instances – then they’re only allowed to fear the lethal force it employs. If I give in to the urge to slice and dice instead of think, even verbally, I, too, will bleed.

We – and by this “we” I mean the law enforcement and the legal system and the larger society – have to become aware that all of us bleed and to become aware that indifference to the blood of our brothers and sisters will assure that we bleed out, too.

MLK and Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X — every one of them spoke of the need to come together and support social justice for each other, as black and brown and white. Our outrage may be what brings us to stand shoulder to shoulder, but our need to staunch the wounds is what will have to keep us standing, long after this immediate disaster is over. It has just happened too many times before – too many times before Trayvon Martin, even – that we’ve all rallied and said all the right things, and then let the momentum of peace and justice for all fade. It’s easy to be distracted by the next thing. But, my biggest prayer is that we learn to pay attention. This has to stop.

Or the endless litany of pleas and tears is basically por nada.

Love you back,


PS – And, I have no idea what you’re intimidated about. This stuff is hard to write through, hard to think about. What is it with you people thinking writers judge you like they’re your English teacher?????? I’d NEVER do that!! *cough*

May you find a moment in which you extend peace to your fellow human being, and have it mirrored back to you.

{dear mr. handler}

November 20, 2014

Dear Mr. Handler:

I remember the last two National Book Award books I’ve read – the Gene Yang and the Sherman Alexie books both blew me away, so I know BROWN GIRL DREAMING must be STUPENDOUS. So soon after Ms. Woodson’s words during the We Need Diverse Books debacle, this award is a real triumph. I am SO pleased for Jacqueline Woodson! These are my thoughts today, while you’re beating yourself up at home, probably wishing to God that you had never seen a green-and-white striped melon, much less told an allergy joke, expressed lighthearted dismay about not being eligible for the CSK Award, or made light of racial profiling. Today you are possibly feeling a little like the Paula Deen of the kidlitosphere.

Dear Mr. Handler, thank you for acknowledging that you spoke with your mouth full of privilege, and with your eyes blinded by it. Thank you for understanding the extent to which you had erred, and thank you for your apology. I am writing to remind you that the best apologies on earth are non erbis sed operis; not words, but deeds. You made a solid and humble apology – acknowledging what you did, not blaming anyone else or excusing yourself. But, the very best apologies make restitution. Here’s what I’d like to suggest:

First, buy Ms. Woodson a case of high-end champagne or whatever non-alcoholic fancy bottled drink of her choosing. Raise a silent glass to her well-deserved award for sharing such a personal and touching story, and applaud again the National Book Foundation’s good taste in awarding her this honor.

Next, buy half a print run of BROWN GIRL DREAMING. Take it in your mittened hands, and walk it around frigid New York. Press it into the warm palms of school children in large suburban schools. Press it into the hands of middle-aged shoppers at the Mall. Press it into the hands of elderly people coming out of church. Fly to a different state. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Finally, in silence, allow the furor to die. Don’t speak. Let your acknowledgement of your error be your last words to the Outrage Machine that is Twitter on this subject. By your silence, you can assist in directing the attention back to Jacqueline Woodson where it rightfully belongs. The social media world is a vicious critic, quick to indict, quick to a blood frenzy – and you may feel this sting for awhile, but lifting up someone else has always been the best way to mitigate the effects of negativity. Using your influence, your money and your time to boost this talented and lovely author is honestly the least – and the best – you can do.

And, know that this too shall pass.

Still a fan,



As a postscript, I want to respond to the idea of “permission racism:”

I’d previously suggested that Mr. Handler put his head down, close his mouth up, and Do Better. Doing Better may eventually mean an explanation — but how about at a We Need Diverse Books event, and not on Twitter? Perhaps at a public event, in person, he can say why he thought his remarks were funny/edgy, and why he now knows that he’s wrong and what he’s going to do with his newfound understanding. That would be a powerful step in further opening the door on dialogue about race in publishing.

His fund matching to me isn’t giving him permission to be racist after the fact. A part of a good apology is to own what you did, and the final piece is to take steps to make restitution. He can’t restore the whole night – we don’t time travel yet, and he’s not hardly a god – but I think he’s doing so much more than many others would in his position. Which is maybe faint praise, but it’s what I’ve got. For me, this is about US as kidlitosphere people. I don’t want us to be vicious. I don’t want Daniel Handler to be the Paula Deen of the kidlitosphere… I really don’t. And I think we shouldn’t let the Outrage Machine of Twitter goad us into asking him to do unrealistic, ridiculous mea culpas through his whole life, and still act like there is NO forgiveness for him, at any point, at any date, EVER, because Racist! and Let’s Get Him! Here is a truth: EVERYONE has perceptions and biases and comprehensions that are less than ideal. I don’t at all like the concept that “everyone’s a little bit racist,” but I certainly will concede that everyone speaks poorly from privilege at times, from bias, from mistaken attempts at humor and relating that fall painfully flat, or edge toward disrespectful and stupid. We need to be as gracious to him as we would want others to be to ourselves. Seriously.

{ding-dong, the bells are gonna chime…}



Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Mazel tov and joy to my dear Secret Agent Man, Steven Chudney & Ralph the Awesome.

{scotland calling}

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An unemployed prism; Lynedoch Crescent, Glasgow

And a lovely gray mornin’ to ya…

It’s the last rain of summer, since we can’t quite yet call it the official First Rain of autumn, the equinox not being for another handful of days yet. The brief rain has made the earth smell so sweet… and a gray, rainy morning reminded me to flip on the computer and check out the polls, since today’s Decision Day in my old stomping grounds, Glasgow, Scotland.

Except, of course, as of yet, there’s nothing to report.

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A pilot kips under a wing to stay out of the wet. Talinn, Estonia.

Half a world away, the BBC’s charter is tying them to rules that they cannot break. The election cycle is so different there. By their own charter, they’ve got to give equal time to all major strands of argument. By their charter, there will be no coverage of any of the issues relating to the referendum on polling day, from 6am until polls close at 10pm on TV, radio or bbc.co.uk. By their own charter, they’re not allowed to try and sway the vote.

No all-day-long, breathless as-it-happens (or, more likely, “as we assume and/or made it up”) approximations of poll results. No talking heads, rehashing how a politician looked, walked, what he said last week, what she did yesterday. All that’s going to go on today is reporting on how the votes are tallied and counted, what the weather is like at the polling stations, and other incontrovertible facts.

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If a raindrop falls in the forest… Charing Cross, Glasgow

Dear BBC,

Could you, however this goes today, adopt our news agencies? Just for maybe six months or so… long enough to run them through a little News Bootcamp… so that they can learn how to do things. We’ve got an election year coming, and gee, could we use your example…

Good luck, Scotland.

{we need diverse books, because…}

A la Carte
We need diverse books, because…

…too often, our idea of attractiveness tends to be a straight, pale line: Eurocentric, able-bodied, waif-bodied, gendernormative, conformist. Diverse books remind us that our stories are varicolored, many shaped, multi-shaded and arc in bright leaps along a non-conformist spectrum. Beauty – Adventure – and best of all, Love – is where you find it. ♥

So, diversity. Suddenly everybody’s talking about it. What’s it for? Why do we need diverse books? That, friends, is the question the crew at #WeNeedDiverseBooks wants YOU to answer.

Make Noise: TODAY at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

For the visual part of the campaign:

♦ Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.

♦ The photo – family friendly, of course – can be of you, your buds, your stuffed animals, your Barbies, your local library or fave bookstore – and should say clearly WHY you support diversity in kids’ lit. Even a photo of the sign without you will work.

♦ Make Art: There will be a Tumblr at We Need Diverse Books Dot Tumblr Dot Com that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to [email protected] with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on the Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.

♦ Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be our job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever we think will help get the word out. (Have you checked it yet? Some good discussion is already going.)

♦ From 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. It is hoped that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets. This could be big!

♦ The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long the discussion keeps going, so all are welcome to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.

On May 2nd, the second part of the campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of the campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!

Everybody’s talking about diversity… but is there anything we can really do about it? Let’s find out. Make some noise – so that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. Raise your voice – so that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important – and why. We hope you will help spread the word by being a part of this movement.

So, that brings us back to the question…

Why do you need diverse books?

{north american discworld con, ’13: girls doing science}

A geologist and a physicist walk into a panel…

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Kathryn Hoppe, geologist, and Catherine Asaro, physicist, explain how The Fifth Elephant might have slipped. Discworld Convention 2013

One of my favorite things about the Discworld Con – besides all the people-watching, and some truly inventive Maskerade costuming – was that the panels were balanced well between men and women. The Mad Science of Discworld was all done by men (Anatoly Belilovsky, Pat Harkin, Bill Mayhew, Jon Singer), and there was a lot of silliness and bwahahahaha sort of mad-sciencey stuff, but The Science of the Discworld was dominated by women (and Jon Singer, who sat and contemplated his good fortune in being next to such brilliance). Real science, real women.

Equal opportunity brilliance. Cool.

{sing out loud: the girls of summer}

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“In summer, the song sings itself.” ~ William Carlos Williams

A secret cupped like a gorgeous blossom in small, grubby hands: the first day of summer. Anything can still happen, and there is wonder and beauty around every corner, and every day is at least a week long. At least, that’s what summer seemed like, all the days of childhood. Now, it’s more people frowning about if what they’re wearing will be a wrinkled, sweaty mess by five o’clock, and if they can get away another day without shaving. Never mind. I’m here to reconnect with wonder, and do a little happy dance that I’ve been named a Summer Girl by the fabulous Girls of Summer Book Club.

The Girls of Summer are the girls of awesome. Co-founder Gigi Amateau (CLAIMING GEORGIA TATE; COME AUGUST, COME FREEDOM) is a children’s author in her own right, and as such, this is doubly wonderful that she gives back to her community in this way. Each year, she and her friend and fellow author, Meg Medina (TIA ISA WANTS A CAR; YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS) pull together a list of just eighteen books – definitely difficult! – as their Summer Girls reading list. The list covers picture book to young adult fiction that are fab for summer reading and celebrate and develop that awesomeness that makes a summer girl strong. Each year, Gigi and Meg hold a live launch in Library Park (a name that just begs you to get on the lawn with a book!) – behind the Richmond Public Library (or inside, in case of rain) where readers meet Virginia authors in person, take part in book giveaways, helped along by bbgb books, and indulge in cool, sweet treats. As PR icing on the cake, Richmond Family Magazine and the Richmond Times-Dispatch covers the events and the books in their literary section. These Summer Women are, together with their community of book people, making Richmond, Virginia an awesomely more literary place.

And this, their third summer together, they picked one of my books!

I’m in such excellent company as Ian Falconer, Sharon G. Flake, Kekla Magoon, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Atinuke, Anita Silvey, and more. Every Friday, there’s an author Q&A with one of the eighteen selected authors. I had a great time being involved – this was such a treat for me. I wish I could have been at the reading the other night – and had some of that ice cream.

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Click to enlarge; photo courtesy G. Amateau

Thanks, Girls of Summer. Thank you, Gigi and Meg. Thank you, Richmond. I’m honored.

Today is still a glowing secret, cupped in your two hands – the longest day of light. What is it, that you plan to do with this one, wild precious life?

Celebrate it.