{how is it the end of may, and other queries}

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.

~ Anais Nin

So ends the merry, merry month of May, which brought to my circle, weather extremes, dishwashers blowing up, Achilles’s tendon surgery, mental health break, court dates, new, difficult medications, sudden sibling deaths, broken-into cars, suicide, lost jobs, lost illustrators, and plenty of book rejections, as always. May presented my larger circle the writer’s strike, persistent book censorship, a disappointing buy-in on the part of the industry (especially side-eying you, Scholastic) who want to appear in virtuous support of diversity and inclusivity, but who in truth bow to the loudest shareholder monies, and corporations moving hesitantly towards ethical behavior without ever embracing or wholeheartedly championing it. And further out from that, nationally, globally, May has continued to reveal to us ugly social divisions, war and its proxies, the high incidences of violence globally against immigrants, violence against trans persons, Asian, and Black communities in the US that goes on, and on, and on, a rising shriek in our collective ears. I’m thinking we’ve somehow cosmically agreed to delay the “merry” from this month until another day.

And yet, May has also been what it always is, a season of growth, a season of renewal, and a season of change. Yesterday I found the first morning glory blossom, peeking shyly from beneath a broad leaf. The hollyhocks are hip high and the dahlias buds grow fatter every day. The chard and lettuce are tiny, tender shoots, the walking onions stand tall in lines, and all the hard squashes and watermelon have more than six leaves. The last of the corn goes in this week, and the potatoes, ahead of a fall harvest. And there are tomato flowers.

In this grim place, there is still life affirmed. Even in an endless night, there are stars.

This month of shifting tides finds me once again reevaluating issues of religion/faith/denomination, re-examining my abilities to write, and contemplating my reasons for publishing. It is, in many ways, something I used to do more nebulously, a sort of anxious, “should I be quiet now? Do I any longer have anything to say?” angst that rattled in my mental background, but I feel it adds value to be deliberate in these thoughts, to let them come and be spoken aloud, instead of merely haunting me from shadowed corners. Who am I? What is my role? Why should I take up space? Each round of this kind of thinking moves me… some direction.

How about you? What questions are you asking, as the seasons blend and flowers move towards fruiting?

We learn things, through these revelatory moments in our lives. Trees age in circles, tides push us out, and draw us in again, moment by moment, step by step, always moving somewhere both familiar and new. I feel like I am moving both closer to my real self, and further out to sea. My closest relationships are becoming more genuine, and the ones which are …less, are fading. The refining continues to cycle things closer to the heart of the flame, and move what is mere dross further away. The Byrds echoed Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a season.” All things will be revealed – finished and refined – in due time. So much of life and art is about our process, about waiting and being. About, in the wise words of the late Robin Smith, being here NOW. The seeds have been planted, the water is in place, and from this moment on, it’s about being present to take in each new unfolding, each new direction, each reset and rekindling of our purpose.

This is, admittedly, not my favorite part. I hate these treading water bits of life, this sense of standing in a boat while it’s being sloshed from stem to stern, while the tide is drawing in or running out, and we’re just trying to keep our balance. And yet – it’s been a month of unpacking some things, in between bouts of flailing about and wondering if I’m doing anything right at all. I sense an answer may be just around the corner…

…but, until then, we wait. We listen.

Here. Ready, though hesitant. Willing, though uneasy. Open to the next move.

{pf: Henri on the internet}

Happy Poetry Friday! I’m at Laura’s today, being interviewed about my latest middle grade book – wherein I have the students participate in Poetry Friday.

Poetry Friday is kind of a funny thing for me – because I never was quite sure how I got involved. I did a little bit of posting, and enjoyed writing the odd haiku, but when an actual published picture book poet approached me about being part of a poetry group, I was… shocked, to say the least. And it’s happened twice now! Do I yet consider myself a poet… Not…really? Even though I just wrote a novel that has original poetry of mine (in the voice of my middle grade character) all the way through it. Maybe it’s just that I don’t want to narrow anything down. I’m a writer. I’ll always be a writer. Sometimes, I just write poetry.

To that end, here’s a semi dansa:

So, How Are You…? and Other Question Pitfalls

We say “Good” and mean “Well…”
Polite insists on “fine:”
(If heartsick, give no sign
It’s in poor taste to dwell,
We say.) Good and mean? Well…
While no one’s all sunshine
It just seems asinine
To beam while we’re in hell.
We say “Good” and mean, “Well…”
Are we to “fibs” resigned,
So no one says we whine?
On this point I REBEL —
Say good, and mean it. Well?

Hope you’re happy and you know it this weekend. Or else if you’re grumpy, you don’t tell people you’re doing fine. Poetry Friday today is Marcie Atkins’ blog, where she is ironically featuring one of Laura’s books today too. Happy Weekend.

{#npm: 27 – place}

Anyone being plopped in the middle of Hogsmeade or Hobbiton would know where they were immediately. Charlie’s Chocolate Factory would likewise be recognizable, as a sense of place crackles from the pages of Roald Dahl’s book. Perhaps within ourselves there are places it feels we’ll always recognize …as home.

May we all find such places.

the “where” trivial
only the warm curled body
and the book, vital

{pushing back the finish line}

It’s been an EXHAUSTING month in the children’s lit field – really, in the literary industry in general. Between the current administration wanting to gut federal support for libraries, to the continued firestorm of authors naming industry insiders and other high profile movers and shakers as serial abusers, it’s been… hard to focus on actually writing. That’s been par for the course for the last year, of course, but lately it’s become harder to imagine this industry in two years, or five years time. With all of the turmoil finished, who will we be then? (Or, will we ever finish?)

It’s Women’s History Month, and across the internet, children’s lit folk have committed to 31 days of posts focused on “improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ industry.” Children’s lit people have an open invitation to join in the conversation in various places, using the Twitter hashtag #kidlitwomen or to access all the #KidlitWomen posts this month on the FaceBook page https://www.facebook.com/kidlitwomen/

While I haven’t participated, I’ve quietly been reading industry professionals’ essays (and ironic poems) about the issues of being overlooked and undervalued, and how to address those issues. Through these writings, we observe where power and representation in terms of who receives professional acclaim, and who does not receive it, intersect. Edi Campbell has continued to do her good work in interpreting data to come up with a rough outline of the facts on diversity within the larger picture (which you’ll find here and more here.) As usual, she is spot-on, and timely.

I am collecting these links here as a place for me to come back to them – because I think they will, in time, be proof — that we’ve been talking about some of these inequities for ages. The numbers won’t lie when it comes to looking back and seeing if a change has been made. The revelatory Ripped Bodice Diversity Report for 2017 dropped in a PERFECTLY timed space with its message of “we have to do better, and we’re doing worse than last year.” Honestly, it’s hard to see where “better” is going to come from, when right now a lot of powerbrokers within the industry seem content with virtue signaling to make sure everyone knows they’re “committed” to being better… but these claims will have to be seen to be believed. Women struggle as a whole within the writing industry, and in the children’s lit world, it continues to be woman-heavy in staffing, but sustain a culture which awards and prioritizes men, as if the business savvy act of writing for children and teens – the largest industry IN publishing just now – is equal to giving birth and nurturing an infant to childhood with one’s own body. Not to mention how women of color are left with not even the few perquisites offered to women in the industry as a whole. And let’s not talk about disabled women, or queer women, or older women, or…

How do we move from desire to action? How do we get ourselves out of conversation and across the room to… act?

If we were writing this scene in a novel, what would happen next?

{“…after the watermelon thing.”}

I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.

And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, you put that in a book. And I said I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morrison, and Barack Obama saying,”This guy’s okay. This guy’s fine.”

Yeah, remember that? 2014, the National Book Award, televised on C-SPAN and elsewhere. People are so heartened to see African Americans on the National Book Award finalist list. Poets and writers and people of letters are tuning in. In the children’s lit community, we’re thrilled that Jacqueline Woodson, one of our steady bright lights in YA literature, has won. She’s earned that BIG award, one which will thrust her outside the quieter waters of children’s lit, and… in that moment, the professional crowning pinnacle of her success thus far, the presenter makes …a watermelon joke.

“In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from.” – Jacqueline Woodson, quoted in the New York Times.

He had an hundred million reasons why, later, he had remarked so disparagingly on the poets who were nominated, why he had told jokes and tried to wrest the attention of the crowd from the nominees onto his vast and hungry ego. But, it wasn’t personal; he cried no foul, she’s my friend! a thousand times, and yet, that moment, those sly, knowing words sliced thousands of us to ribbons, as the audience laughed, and a tall, serene woman had to stand – and yet again, endure. Endure. Endure, with her face at peace, as if the buffoonery of the man before her didn’t reach her.

I don’t support hate, and yet, in that moment, that dizzyingly visceral emotion shivered in my sight. Gut-punched, I wanted to both hiss and claw, scream and spit. As far as I was concerned, that man was finished, and I was done with him and all his works, forever. I never bought, reviewed, read, or talked of anything else he said or did. It made no difference to his life, I am sure, but it seemed right, to me, to simply use my internal Wite-Out and blot him from my notice for the rest of forever. I was fully over this “problematic” favorite.

It’s clear that I’m still sitting with our current moment in the children’s lit industry, trying to work through it, and thinking about the last time that so many voices came together to exclaim in disgust. It was for our Ms. Woodson, and rightly so. The commentary was sharp, and loud – and ultimately… was placated by the huge monetary donation Handler gave to We Need Diverse Books. And then, most of the voices were hushed, pressing their hands against the shoulders of those who still rose up, and their hands over the mouths of those still bitterly protesting. He apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.

But, yesterday, after Handler wandered flat-footedly into the pages of children’s lit history again, this time into the earnest signatories of the #ustoo pledge, wherein members of the children’s lit industry pledged to hold accountable conferences and gatherings, and not attend those which have no clear sexual harassment policy, people took him to task for his very clear participation IN the harassment. The very innuendo-laden jokes, in front of children and adults. The demeaning sexual talk. But — he apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.

It seems clear that you can, unless what you say is racist.

In my small and petty way, I blocked Daniel Handler from my sight years ago – but he’s still been doing things, writing, being invited places, feted within the industry, and I’m the doofus who didn’t realize that his “little faux pas” on Ms. Woodson’s big night had long been forgotten.

But, as Heidi so succinctly asked, didn’t we figure out this guy was trash after the watermelon thing? What are we doing still courting that kind of person to be a speaker and to visit classrooms? Why don’t we seem to take the humiliation, shame, and harm of racism as seriously as we’re all endeavoring to take the #metoo harassment thing?

In all seriousness – is a #metoo movement going to actually succeed if, once again, racism is instructed to take a seat at the back of the bus?

1897. “The day before the inauguration of the nation’s 28th president the Congressional Committee of NAWSA hosted a large parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The idea behind this was to maximize onlookers who happened to be in town to attend the inauguration. Woodrow Wilson expected a crowd at the train station to greet him; however, very few people actually showed up to greet the president, the largest part of the crowd was his staff. The parade was led by the beautiful lawyer Inez Milholland Bouissevain upon a white horse. This image of her as a warrior atop a horse is what made her an iconic image in the fight for womens’ right to vote. This massive parade consisted of no less than nine bands. It also included four brigades on horseback and close to eight thousand marchers. The parade was cut into sections: working women, state delegates, male suffragists, and finally African-American women.

The point of the parade was “to march in the spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the journalist who led an anti-lynching campaign in the late nineteenth century, organized the Alpha Suffrage Club among Black women in Chicago and brought members with her to participate in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. The organizers of the march asked that they walk at the end of the parade. She tried to get the White Illinois delegation to support her opposition of this segregation, but found few supporters. They either would march at the end or not at all. Ida refused to march, but as the parade progressed, Ida emerged from the crowd and joined the White Illinois delegation, marching between two White supporters. She refused to comply with the segregation.”

– Excerpts taken from One of Divided Sisters: Bridging the Gap Between Black and White Women by Midge Wilson & Kathy Russell, Anchor, 1996, and PBS.org.

I think I’ve been naive, and pretty quiet – but it’s clear the time for my naive assumptions is way over.

{december lights: it’s what we’re here for}

Many people find the idea of divinity, of a separate Entity in this universe, of spirit… frankly terrifying. I remember my parents talking about growing up watching people in the throes of religious…somethings, and despite growing up with that, feeling dismayed and betrayed by the adults around them, and eager to escape. As soon as they were of age, they both decamped for more comprehensible experiences, less ecstatic and chaotic, and confusing. I know some would be critical of them for that, but your faith isn’t supposed to scare you.

And yet:

There is something to be said for those in the light of Divinity, who act in pursuit of understanding, instead of relaxing in the presumption of its possession. There is something to be said for the Mystery, and the Enigma, and for uncertainty. We ought to be less comfortable in our beliefs than we are, always questioning our assumptions, always querying our conclusions, critically adjusting them, becoming comfortable in our doubts and in our uncertainties and yes, our fear. We aren’t here to settle complacently into one way of being, but to be led, turned, and moved…to where we ought to be.

We Have Come to Be Danced

We have come to be danced
not the pretty dance
not the pretty pretty, pick me, pick me dance
but the claw our way back into the belly
of the sacred, sensual animal dance
the unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of its box dance
the holding the precious moment in the palms
of our hands and feet dance

We have come to be danced
not the jiffy booby, shake your booty for him dance
but the wring the sadness from our skin dance
the blow the chip off our shoulder dance
the slap the apology from our posture dance

We have come to be danced
not the monkey see, monkey do dance
one, two dance like you
one two three, dance like me dance
but the grave robber, tomb stalker
tearing scabs & scars open dance
the rub the rhythm raw against our souls dance

WE have come to be danced
not the nice invisible, self conscious shuffle
but the matted hair flying, voodoo mama
shaman shakin’ ancient bones dance
the strip us from our casings, return our wings
sharpen our claws & tongues dance
the shed dead cells and slip into
the luminous skin of love dance

We have come to be danced
not the hold our breath and wallow in the shallow end of the floor dance
but the meeting of the trinity: the body, breath & beat dance
the shout hallelujah from the top of our thighs dance
the mother may I?
yes you may take 10 giant leaps dance
the Olly Olly Oxen Free Free Free dance
the everyone can come to our heaven dance

We have come to be danced
where the kingdom’s collide
in the cathedral of flesh
to burn back into the light
to unravel, to play, to fly, to pray
to root in skin sanctuary
We have come to be danced

by Jewel Mathieson, ©2004

Treasure Island 35

A dance that slaps the apology from our postures. A dance that refuses a self-conscious shuffle. A dance to strip us from our casings, and return our wings. What if we were to truly let go of ourselves, and leave the steps to Divinity? Then, we wouldn’t just dance. We’d rise and shine – and possibly fly.

And wouldn’t that just ring in a new year?

Hat tip to Tricia for sending me this poem after hearing it in a yoga class the other day. I might have to rethink my aversion to yoga! Or, at least find one where they read you poetry while you’re holding your pose. What a fine thing, to ignore your discomfort and open your heart to “eat and drink the precious words,” as our Em might have put it.

{december lights: y fea sea la palabra}

“En un mundo donde la oscuridad y el silencio han amordazado la esperanza, que la musica sea la luz y fe sea la palabra. Para que vengan tiempos mejores, que suenen los tambores.” – Victor Manuelle

A loose translation: In a world where darkness and silence have muted hope, music is light and faith is the word. To bring better times, bring on the drums. I heard reference to this amazing quote on an episode of NPR’s Code Switch podcast in November, and it’s stayed with me. Even as I center light in this end-of-season celebration, it has been difficult to feel particularly joyous. More than ever before, the commercial nature of our celebrations has stuck in my craw, and the traditional insistence on larding all the cracks with manufactured joy in the face of some real doozies in terms of social injustice has been… difficult to swallow, to say the least. But, I do find that occasionally, music can drown it out, for a while, for long enough to recenter. In keeping an attitude that lifts one up and keeps one moving forward, turn up the volume. Faith is the word, so sound the drums, Sister Rosetta. On with the dance, Dirty Dozen Brass – and keep it moving. We have too much to do to mope. Arise & Shine.

{thanksfully 3.0 ♦ enamored with armor}

Kelvingrove Museum D 578

As authors, we sometimes struggle with how much we should protect our readers. Especially authors who write historical fiction, who write works with “historical” content which is problematic by today’s higher and broader understanding – how we present this information in fiction matters. I have read a LOT of discussion on the topic, and continue to read accounts this week about how others are trying to navigate these tricky places in their lives.

Today I’m grateful for the gatekeepers who try to protect the young, and I’m grateful for those gatekeepers who understand when to open the gates.

{thanksfully 3.0 ♦ sloppy firsts}

Upstairs Bathroom After 3

I don’t read reviews unless my editor gives them to me – I figure I have enough problems – so I generally only see her copy of what Kirkus has to say, and they are always decent, if not always particularly kind. (I am greatly blessed for this decency – I have seen them be outright vicious, and know my time will come.) This review was strong, but I am indicted for “clunky” dialogue, which makes me chuckle. I’m actually pretty proud of my dialogue skills – most days. But, some days they, and the rest of my narrative chops, are pretty crap. Clunky is a generous description; at times they’re outright sloppy. Trying to shrink-fit and meld pieces of a story together, some older, some brand new, is like taping up drywall, spackling holes, mudding, painting. It’s all remodeling the house.

I’m grateful today for the mercy of the first draft, for the awkwardness of the words splayed gracelessly on the screen, for the belief that I will sand and shove those unbeautiful clunkers into shape.

{gibney’s see no color is a good, hard book}

Sooo, I’m reading SEE NO COLOR, by Shannon Gibney, and I’ve already had to stop a couple of times and just… think.

This is a deeply personal book for me, because it’s about transracial adoptions – in this case, how a nonwhite person might feel in a white family. In my family, I worry a lot about my sister, who is Cambodian, in a black family. Not the same, no, and we certainly didn’t deal with her ethnic background the same way, either. She had supervised visits which as much family as we could find, frequently, when she was small, until she rebelled and said, “No.” We took her to Tet when she was small. We got her books from Lee & Low, story dolls, cut out pictures from magazines. Here is the country of your origin. This is where your birth mother lived until she was two or three. This is the fabric worn there, these are the foods, these are the faces… We took her culture, and served it up on a platter, garnished. And she was interested, as a wee tad, then, as she grew into tweendom, utterly indifferent. To our culture, too. Eventually, to family culture — family at all.

So, the familial juggernaut to acquaint our youngest with part of her cultural heritage ran into her teenhood and ran out of steam. Still, I find myself wondering what she, at nineteen now, feels about being a lone Asian face in a sea of dark brown. When she was small, she still chose a white avatar in any game we played – and then, those were usually the only options, black or white, and she was neither. How alienated have we made her?

And this book pokes me, and prods me, makes me uncomfortable all over again — as it should. What could we have done differently? What should we still do? I’m not even halfway through this, but I want to talk to my sister, and am having trouble waiting ’til her class is over. Read this book I text her. This is the mark of a successful novel; I want to press it into her hands.