Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Why I'll Probabably Never Join a Cult

because I'm skeptical about pretty much everything.

The other day, for example, I got an email with my name and an old password in the subject line (which, okay, did freak me out momentarily) and then I read the email that basically said that I'd been doing something embarrassing online and they'd caught me on my computer camera and if I didn't give them three thousand dollars, they'd show all of my contacts, and don't go to the police and hurry up send the money now, the clock is ticking--

and I thought, Wait, 

what embarrassing thing was I doing? Did walking around in my office in my underwear count? To make a long story short, I forwarded the email to my tech savvy son who told me it's a new phishing scam going around, probably using hacked passwords from a data breach (thank you, yahoo mail),

so no worries, but maybe use this opportunity to change passwords on all of my accounts. Also, it wouldn't hurt to cover up my laptop camera. 

So, I did that, thinking about the people who might be right now freaking out for real and sending money to this joker, which got me thinking how I have never been one of those people.

Even when I was a kid I was skeptical,

like the time I received a handwritten chain letter in the mail from a friend instructing me to write out ten letters exactly like that one and send them to ten other friends, or the chain, which had been circling around the world for twenty-five years, would be broken and bad things would happen to all of us,

and halfway through writing out the first letter, I wondered if I really wanted to curse ten more people with such an inane task. And surely I couldn't be the first person to break this dumb chain in twenty-five years.

Around the same time I read a story about the Jonestown Massacre in a magazine and I couldn't stop looking at the picture on the cover, all of the dead bodies laid out in rows in the jungle, all of those people who'd followed a cult leader down to South America and then, all of them-- over 900-- willingly drank the poisoned kool aid when he told them to. 

Which stuck with me over the years because I couldn't get over it. What would make a person suspend all critical thinking and nod along as some mad man ranted and told you to kill yourself? 

Even as I kid I couldn't fathom being so gullible. 

Maybe because I was living in a house where bad things were going down and we all had to act like those things weren't happening, but I kept thinking, wait, no. This IS happening, and I told a bunch of people (who didn't do anything about it) but whatever, I knew what reality was, and no way was I going to act like I didn't. 

That kind of thing tends to stick with you too.

Something interesting I learned recently about the Jonestown Massacre is that all 900+ people did not willingly drink the poison.

Three hundred or so of that group were children and were given the drinks by trusted adults. Another 300 were elderly people, sick people, people who tried to resist but were made to drink at gunpoint by soldiers at the camp. 

Meaning that when people talk about crazy cults and use Jonestown as an example, it's important to note that only one third of the people followed the madman until the end. 

Still horrifying and impossible to understand, but better than imagining the entire group shuffling up together with their cups. And making me feel somewhat more hopeful about the state of the world this morning.

I guess what I'm saying is that if some present-day madman does end up shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, in all probability two thirds of his followers might toss away their kool aid cups.

If you want to know more about what happened at Jonestown, this book is illuminating:











  

Monday, July 9, 2018

I didn't notice her foot was raised

The one time I visited the statue was on an eighth grade class field trip. We took a choppy boat ride to the island and climbed the windy stairs inside. I wasn't thinking about the statue, the history, the symbols, or give me your tired and poor, I was thinking of my own feet on the stairs because those stairs were scary, steep.

Each step, a grate you could see through with no back to it, so it felt like your foot could slide out the other side. Only room for one person, climbing single file, and once you were on your way up, there was no turning back.

I gripped the railing, kept my eyes on the person in front of me, tried not to look down, but every so often caught a dizzying glimpse of the space around me, the contours of the statue's body, the dress.

I just wanted to make it to the top. I was imagining the spacious crown, the view of the city (my first time visiting New York even though my hometown was less than a two-hour drive away) but when I finally made it, it turned out the space up there was cramped too, the windows in the crown too small to see much of anything. As we filed past, I peeked out, caught a flash of a green arm, the one holding the torch, the rivets holding it together,

and then we were filing our way down, this time scarier than going up because the person behind me kept knocking his knees into my back, threatening to tip me over the rail.

We saw other things on that trip. The stock exchange. The UN building. A stroll around the roof of one of the Twin Towers. I think you could see the Statue of Liberty from up there. But still, I never noticed the raised foot. There's a new book about it, a kids' book that we've been featuring at the bookstore where I work, but one I hadn't picked up until the other day.


A fun story about the statue and who came up with the idea and how it was built, some facts I knew, and some I didn't, like, for example, that for the first thirty years, the statue was brown (it's made of copper and it took that long to oxidize); that the statue was assembled in Paris and stood there for a year before it was taken apart and reassembled in America. 

So, the statue is, in a sense, an immigrant, someone in motion, if you remember her raised right foot. The author of the book makes us think about why that might be so.  

If you stop by the bookstore, I will push the book into your hands. I will also hand you a tissue.



Saturday, June 30, 2018

I don't remember how many people were protesting

ten? Twelve? The group was in the center of campus and I was walking past on the way to dinner. They carried signs and shouted but I didn't stop to hear what they were saying or do more than glance at the signs. Something about Apartheid, which I knew was a Thing in South Africa.

Something bad. But I knew this on an intellectual level only. I want to tell you I felt something more than mild curiosity, something more than Meh Whatever, as I continued walking by. But I can't remember feeling anything. The truth is I didn't care. I was going to say it was because I was twenty,

but the protesters were the same age, so that can't be the reason. Maybe it's because I was a mess, too wrapped up in my own problems to imagine other people's pain. Not a good excuse, but it's all I have.

I don't know when that changed. After having my children? After years of teaching hundreds of kids? Reading books? Studying history? Writing stories and living inside made-up people's heads?

growing up?

Who knows. But back then, there was probably nothing anyone could say to make me veer off the sidewalk and join the group who cared about the suffering of other people.

So I am not going to try to explain to you why you should, except here's a story:

one day, I was picking up my four-year-old son from his darling little church preschool, a place he went to play two afternoons a week.The classrooms opened into a large hall and after the kids raced out, waving their still paint-drippy art projects, the moms would often linger,

chatting, holding our napping younger children, while the four-year-olds darted around our legs. Oh my God I loved those brief conversations with the moms, a moment of adult conversation after hours of incessant high voices, the whining the wailing the crying, the endless making and cleaning up of meals, the never-ending scooping up of strewn toys,

but for those precious few minutes after school, a connection, and this one day, a few of us got to talking, absorbed in who knows what topic, slowly walking along the whole time toward the door and out the door,

onto the edge of the parking lot, our kids still scampering around us, except at some point, I realized that my son wasn't there. (This is not a story of kidnapping or gruesome injuries requiring stitches, okay? So don't worry.) All that happened was

I stopped my conversation and walked back inside the building where I saw my son and he saw me at the same moment, and he ran toward me, hysterical, and I stooped down to hug him and he flailed in my arms and hit me,

which would have been embarrassing for the other mothers to see, except I didn't care

what they thought. All I could think about was what I'd just seen on my kid's face. One moment, terror. Then a moment of pure relief. And then a whoosh of rage, at me, for allowing us to become separated. It couldn't have been more then two or three minutes that we'd even been apart from each other

but my little boy cried all the way home.

Now, twenty years later, I can still hear him crying, still see his terrified face, and I don't know why. I don't. I don't. But here it is, that face and somehow it's imprinted on other faces, 2342 faces and counting,

the children taken from their parents at the border, but those kids have not been reunited (yet?) with their parents, and if, when, they are, their suffering will not be over.

I am not so naive to think that holding a sign will make a difference, but I sure as hell know that walking by without a glance is no longer an option. 





Monday, June 25, 2018

Four bookstores in four hours in New Orleans

The one where Mardi Gras beads dangle from the tree branches outside and across the street's a cemetery with white and gray tombs, which you'll wander between in a moment, 
but first you thumb through the vampire books you were obsessed with in college. 

(Why are the books stacked like this? Who knows?) 







The one where all the books are French children's books. (Fun fact: there are several French immersion schools in this city.) 

A porch swing inside. A loft. Small tables, each one set with paper and markers and while your friend buys a Harry Potter book in French, you sit doodling in every color. 


The one that used to be a boarding house where Faulkner lived for eight months and wrote his first novel. This store is small but the books reach up to the ceiling. The only clerk tells you stories about New Orleans in the 1920's, which somehow leads to a political discussion because isn't everything a political discussion these days.

The one where the books are stacked in teetery tottery piles and you can only wind between them single file, afraid a quick turn could lead to a domino-toppling disaster. But the guy working here, buried behind books, somehow knows where everything is.

Outside, a band playing in the courtyard. You wade with your bag of books through crowded humid streets, already planning your escape. 





Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Every day I walked across the bridge

to the castle on the other side, the orange roofs, the towers, the church steeples. Sometimes I touched the blackened statues, angels, saints, the guy who was thrown off in chains--

he's the oldest statue on the bridge, his body gold from people touching it for luck. I don't believe in that kind off thing, but still, I admit, I touched him, stopping to look out at the river, imagining for a moment the man hurling toward the water, and all of the people over the years doing the same thing I'm doing,

strolling, rubbing statues, wanting to believe.

(The St Charles Bridge, Prague, one year ago today)
Around me tourists ignored the beggars, examined jewelry for sale while musicians played The Moldau or Mamma Mia, and I was thinking how weird it was to be moving in a crowd but feeling apart from them at the same time. Maybe it was all the different languages,

none of them mine, alone with my own loud thoughts. On a mission to explore the place on my own, wander through hidden gardens, eat street food, poke around churches.

No pictures, said the signs, but I sneaked one anyway. Some ancient church and inside, another church, and inside that one, a beam of wood that my guidebook said came from the house of Mary. Yes, that Mary. The mother of God. It looked like an ordinary piece of wood but for some reason I was teary-eyed.

And choked up again watching the people in wheelchairs bless themselves at the altar under the Baby Jesus of Prague, basically a china doll dressed in a poofy ornate gown and why would anyone think this would work, but still I take my turn and kneel. No one gives to the beggars on the bridge. They have a particular stance here, crouched, face down, their arms out, so no one has to meet their eyes.

Some of them have puppies. In a garden I find what I think is a good place to write, tucked behind bushes on a stone bench, but apparently, it's a popular wedding photo spot and two by two, the brides and grooms troop by, pose, set up their shots, the red roof backdrop, blue sky.

One of the photographers takes my phone, snaps a picture. We arrange this transaction without speaking. It's amazing, when you think about it, how we much we can understand each other when we want to.

Back across the bridge, the sun setting, the boats in the river, the statues, some of them 600 years old, a teenage boy drops a coin in front of a beggar, so quickly even the beggar seems surprised. A young couple dances past, the song lovelier than any I have ever heard.



Thursday, June 7, 2018

Both Summers Someone Drove Me To Work

the summer I was twenty, on the verge of turning twenty-one, and living, as some said, "in sin" with a boy-- an archaic and silly rumor because we were always only friends, but whatever, people are going to think what they're going to think--

and what I was thinking was great relief at being one thousand two hundred fifty miles away from home, playing the part of a grown up with my best friend, living in a cool apartment (okay, the apartment was filthy and infested with flying cockroaches and I had to sleep on a futon where I tried not to think about them landing on my face in the middle of the night)

and working two jobs,

an internship downtown at Memphis Magazine, fact-checking articles, talking on the phone with PR departments, fetching coffee for editors and writing a few of my own articles (one was about flying cockroaches. Shockingly, they did not publish it.)

and a waitressing job at Perkins Restaurant where I always had way too many tables and for some reason the trend was to tip the waitresses with religious pamphlets instead of money, and one of the most ridiculous pamphlets said: WHAT DO JANICE JOPLIN AND JIMI HENDRIX HAVE IN COMMON?

THEY'RE BOTH ROCK STARS AND THEY'RE BOTH DEAD!! JESUS IS THE ONLY TRUE ROCK.

But I digress. The point is that someone drove me to work.

The boy I was living with is the unsung hero of that summer, basically acting as my chauffeur because I had no car and he was a nice guy, dropping me off at my internship downtown promptly at nine and picking me up at noon and then driving me to Perkins at four and picking me up after midnight, and in between he drove around delivering pizza,

so maybe he enjoyed driving? I don't know, but I do know that I hated that ride to Perkins, how we'd listen to the same cassette tape every afternoon, Best of the Moody Blues, and we'd only make it to song number three "Ride My Seesaw" before I'd have to lurch out of the car, tightening my side ponytail, bracing myself for my collection of quarter tips and inane religious tracts that promised I'd burn in hell.

That summer was a kind of hell, now that I think about it.

But I am digressing again, because what I really wanted to write about is this summer and how it is exactly thirty years later and someone else is driving me to work each afternoon, but this time the person is my daughter, who is twenty, on the verge of turning twenty-one, and my job is in a lovely children's bookstore,

something out of You've Got Mail, but hopefully not like the one that Tom Hanks will put out of business because I really love working there, touching books and talking about books and chatting with customers and my co-workers, one of whom, at least for a few weeks, is my daughter,

home for part of the summer before heading off to Rome. We don't listen to the Moody Blues when we ride together into work and I don't have my hair in a side ponytail (not sure what that was about. A possible clue to the religious pamphlets?) My daughter wouldn't be caught dead with her hair in a side ponytail.

She is way cooler than I was at her age. Possibly not having to sleep on a futon and whack at flying cockroaches in the middle of the night will have that effect on a person,

or who knows all of the things that add up to who we are, what makes some of us condemn frazzled waitresses to eternal damnation and others drive them to work,

what makes time fly so fast that one moment you're twenty-going-on-twenty-one and the next

you're not.






Thursday, May 31, 2018

One True Way: An Interview with Shannon Hitchcock

I am so happy to have Shannon Hitchcock back On the Verge!

I'm a huge fan of her work. Her debut novel The Ballad of Jessie Pearl is a favorite-- a girl's coming of age in 1920's rural North Carolina after a family tragedy, and Shannon's take on school integration in Ruby Lee & Me is heart-breaking and thought-provoking. Her new novel, One True Way, skips forward in time to more recent history, 1977. It's a story of friendship and first romance-- between two girls-- set in a period when the country was nowhere near ready to accept, or even acknowledge, homosexuality.

The subject can be touchy for some people even today, but Shannon's a pro at creating three dimensional characters and believable, compelling plots, so I knew I would love the book. And I did!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jody: Shannon, something I've learned working at a bookstore is how important it is to be able to sum up a book in a sentence or two in order to grab a potential reader's attention. What's your ten-second pitch for One True Way?


Shannon: From the moment, Allie Drake meets Samantha Johnson at Daniel Boone Middle School, she knows there is something special between them. But Allie never knew a first crush could be so wonderful—or cause so many problems.

Jody: I love that. It perfectly encapsulates the book. Your other novels were inspired by events in your family history. Is that the case for One True Way as well?

Shannon: The idea sparked at a National Council of Teachers of English. I was attending a diversity panel and the librarian/moderator said what she really needed were more middle grade books that deal with homosexuality. She went on to say that’s the age same sex feelings emerge, but there were very few books available.

That resonated with me because many years ago a person I love came out to me. Because we’d both been raised in conservative churches, it was gut wrenching for both of us. I knew immediately I wanted to tell that story.

Jody: There's been a pretty big shift, I think, in the last decade, on how we as a society talk about and view homosexuality. I've noticed that there was a shift even between the years my own two kids (who are four years apart) were in school. When my older son was in college, several kids he knew came out and it was without much fanfare. Only a couple of years later, kids were coming out in my daughter's high school. Now, kids are coming out in middle school.

Your book feels essential for those kids who are thinking about their own sexuality-- coming out or on the verge of coming out, but also for their classmates, and let's face it, for adults who haven't caught up yet with the kids! Were you thinking about any of these issues when you were writing One True Way? Have you gotten any push-back from readers or gatekeepers (teachers, parents, etc.)?

Shannon: The problem with writing a novel with LGBT content is you’re never sure if a negative review is because your writing stinks or the reviewer does. I suspect lots of the push-back for One True Way will be silent censorship. Educators who simply won’t buy or use the book. I agree with you that adults haven’t caught up with kids on LGBT issues.

A recent article in the NY Times reinforced that for me:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/books/george-alex-gino-controversy-oregon.html6.

Jody: I haven't read George by Alex Gino yet, but I know exactly what you mean. A few years ago I teamed up with a librarian to present on silent censorship at an American Association of School Librarians conference. We called our presentation "Two Boys Kissing Is Always Missing" because my librarian friend realized that while she carried that novel by David Levithan in her school library, no child every officially checked it out.

Still, the book was never where it was supposed to be on the shelf. Kids were slipping it out of the library to read. David Levithan himself spoke about that. He acknowledged that kids might be afraid to check the book out or buy it, but just that fact that it existed, that it was on a book shelf, made them feel less alone.

Which is what I think homophobic people are most afraid of when they hear about books like that, and like yours. There's an element of If we pretend homosexuality doesn't exist, then it won't, or something like that.

Shannon: This is true, sadly. In my experience, the prejudice many homosexuals face stems from religion, so if I really wanted my book to make a difference, I needed to examine the source of it. Three books were invaluable to me: Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of love Shook the United Methodist Church by Franklyn Schaefer, Crooked letter i: Coming Out in the South by Connie Griffin, and When Christians Get It Wrong by Adam Hamilton. I also worked with my minister, the Reverend Vicki Walker.

Jody: I'm glad you brought religion up. It's a huge part of many kids' lives but it's rare to see characters in children's books going to church or talking about church. You do a great job depicting different kinds of churches in the story. There's Sam's church-- a fundamentalist church, and there's Allie's, a more progressive one.

Shannon: That was something I worked on and thought about a lot. The readers I am most trying to reach are the kids being raised in conservative churches. I want those kids to know not everyone interprets the Bible the same way, and that it’s important to be true to who they are.

Jody: Something we haven't talked about yet is the setting. This book takes place in the 1970's and reminded me of books I read in the 70's -- books by Paula Danziger and Ellen Conford, books about divorce, friendships, gentle romantic relationships, school interactions...

Did you read those kinds of books when you were growing up in the 1970's? Did you think about books like that when you were writing? What other kinds of research did you do before/when you were writing the novel?

Shannon: Yes, I read those kinds of books, but I didn’t really think about them in writing One True Way. I started by reading YA LGBT books and making note of what content was appropriate and inappropriate for a middle grade audience. I read Boy Meets Boy, Two Boys Kissing, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Annie On My Mind, and many others.

What those books taught me is the emotions are the same whether the relationship is between two boys, two girls, or a boy and a girl. The difference is in the way society reacts to it.

Jody: I've read those books too and they do what the very best books do-- drop the reader into another person's shoes and get them walking around for a bit in a different life. And now we can add One True Way to that list.

Before I let you go, Shannon, I'm excited to hear what you are working on now.

Shannon: I’ve been revising a novel called Callie In Color. I had decided it would never see the light of day, but then received feedback that Callie needed a subplot. I don’t know whether Callie will ever be published, but adding the subplot has reinvigorated my enthusiasm for it. That old adage about not revising in a vacuum turns out to be true.

Jody: I have no doubt that you will figure it out! Thank you, Shannon, for joining me today! Dear readers, if you'd like to learn more about Shannon and her books, see below.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Shannon Hitchcock is the author of the critically acclaimed One True Way, Ruby Lee & Me and The Ballad of Jesse Pearl. Her picture book biography Overgrown Jack was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. Her writing has been published in Cricket, Highlights for Children, and Children's Writer magazines. She lives in Tampa, Florida.


You can find her online here:
www.ShannonHitchock.com
Facebook
Twitter
Cover to Cover Bookstore
Barnes & Noble
Amazon





Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

The air in the southwest is nowhere near as humid as it is in central Ohio (and as a person with normally out-of-control/mad woman in the forest curly-hair, I appreciate that).

The Grand Canyon is a must-see in real life. (Pictures do not even begin to capture the view). But here's one anyway:


I like the contrast of red rock against bright blue sky. Georgia O'Keeffe knew what she was doing, living out in New Mexico, painting red rock formations and bleached animal bones and skies so blue they make your eyes burn.


She also painted churches.


There are tons of old churches in the southwest and one of them, the Santuario de Chimayo, has a special room tucked away behind the altar where you are invited to scoop out sacred dirt.

Which I did. Into an empty pill bottle.


Because you never know when you are going to need some sacred dirt.

And speaking of old churches, they are not nearly as old as the Native American towns you will pass through. Pueblos carved in mountains. Multi-storied adobes. Mud-brick foundations dating back to the 1000s, some still occupied by nations you've never heard of, and you think as you wander through some of these places how ignorant you were,

thinking that old places like these exist only in other parts of the world. Europe, for example, where you've see the foundations of Roman walls and all of those ancient churches, the bones of saints behind glass or buried under the slate floors.

Ignorant, because you didn't remember the civilizations here, in America. Ignorant, because you thought most of these people were gone. But here you are at one place where the people still live, their homes situated around buildings their ancestors made one thousand years ago.


You haven't read or looked at the news all week, but somehow it leaks in anyway. Another mass shooting in a school. More corruption in the administration. Something about yanni and laurel. Oh, and the president of the United States of America called immigrants animals.

The sky is so blue and the landscape is so red and you know the terrible things that have been done here to other human beings, that are still being done, this moment, and how very lucky you are to have passed through this world mostly unscathed,

to be on vacation.

Later,

when you are walking by what looks like a bookstore/barbershop in Durango, Colorado, and the bearded clerk asks you what book you are looking for and you start to walk away because the place looks super sketchy, with its two barber chairs and only one bookcase filled with dusty books,

but your husband walks closer and says, "Young Adult novels?" and the clerk says, "We have that for you right here," and then he opens the bookcase...

and there's a room glowing on the other side.

Go in.



You'll be glad you did.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Favorite Children's Books This Week

(in no particular order) 

Brand new by Mac Barnett: Square

It's hard to create something perfect but Square is determined to try! This is a fun read-aloud with a lovely message about friendship and creativity. 

(side note: Mac Barnett visited Cover to Cover, the bookstore where I work, and we all adored him. Somehow 100+ people packed themselves into our very small store and Mac read stories and held babies and was an all around awesome author guest.) 


Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. 

Twelve year-old Amal dreams of being a teacher, but when she accidentally insults a powerful man in her Pakistani village, she's sent away as punishment. Basically, she's given to the wealthy family to pay off the debt and expected to serve in their household forever. But Amal is resourceful and figures a way out. 

Riveting and inspiring story of a young girl finding her voice and fighting back against injustice. 




The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 

This book won the Newbery Honor a few years ago but came on my radar because the sequel is now out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. 

Ten-year old Ada is neglected and abused by her cruel mother and hidden away in an apartment in 1940's London. When war is imminent and transports of kids are sent to the countryside, Ada sees her chance to escape. Taken in by a crochety older woman, Ada finds happiness--  making friends, learning to ride a horse, and experiencing real nurturing for the first time in her life. 

But will it last... or will she be sent home when the war is over? 

The sequel, The War I Finally Won, is up next on my TBR list.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

High school junior Jade knows she lucky. The honor roll student and artist has a scholarship to attend an elite private school in the suburbs of Portland. But it's not always easy navigating her different worlds.  

Watson does a masterful job exploring class, race, and sex in 2018 America. What does it feel like to be a black girl in a mostly white school? To be the smart girl in the neighborhood? To be an artist?

This book blew me away. A must-read. 














Sunday, May 6, 2018

Assisting the Re-Sisters

I am not entirely clear what this get-together actually is, but when I hear the name Re-Sisters, I am intrigued enough by the invite from a friend of a friend to quit my revision work for the day and venture out of my comfort zone to attend.

The group's already assembled when I arrive, late, and peek through the doorway, a group meeting in a private room in a bar. They're talking loudly, laughing, drinking wine and writing... postcards?

They look up and I have to laugh. I know half the people in the room.

They're teachers at my kids' schools, writers in my SCBWI writer group, regular customers at the bookstore where I work. I have a weird thought that here I've been interacting with these people all along and had no idea what their political opinions were, that they even knew each other, never mind that they've been meeting up regularly since the Women's March in DC. Actively resisting. Making phone calls for candidates, raising money for progressive causes, working on schedules to drive voters to the polls.

An agenda on the table shows that they'll be "decompressing and venting" for 20 minutes and then, a visit from Rick Neal, a Democratic candidate for Congress hoping to win the primary next Tuesday so he can run against incumbent Steve Stivers in November.

I am All In with this group already (not with the venting part. I am tired of venting) but with the ordering a glass of wine and grabbing a stack of postcards to fill out part. The gist of the postcard (which I copy out multiple times) is a reminder to vote on May 8 in the primary election because the Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted likes to remove people from the roll if they don't vote in every election. (Not cool,  Jon Husted!)


I drink my wine. I write my postcards. I chat with the women around me while they decompress and vent. Did you hear what [fill in the blank with the name of a corrupt Administration member] did today?!

Yeah, oh yeah. I heard.

And then Rick Neal strides into the room. He tells his story. How he's never run for office before because he's been busy being in the Peace Corps and fighting humanitarian crises overseas and standing up for marriage equality in Ohio and raising his two adopted little girls with his husband. How angry he was at the tone of the new administration, their attack on healthcare and their huge tax break for the wealthy that will widen the income inequality gap even more.

And how ticked off he is at our congressperson, Steve Stivers, who's not only standing by while Ohioans are hurting, but who is refusing even to meet with his constituents. I squirm a little in my seat because I voted for Mr. Stivers, one of the dumber things I've ever done in my life-- throwing away a precious vote on a guy who later called me a paid agitator.

Okay, he didn't say that to my face. (Because he doesn't meet with his constituents, unless they also happen to be big donors.) But he did say it in the Columbus Dispatch. 

I could vent more about this, but, noooooo, I am past the venting stage. I am in the Action stage. The stage where I drink wine and write postcards and attend meetings and make plans to campaign for the guy who --even if he can't take Steve Stivers down-- can at least give him a solid run for his money.

The guy, Rick Neal, has a plan to make healthcare affordable for all, ideas on how to combat the opioid crisis, (Ohio is currently ranked number three in opioid deaths out of all states), how to improve education, and how to make pancakes.

Just checking to see if you are still reading. Yes, Rick Neal can make pancakes.

I'm voting for him on May 8th so the Secretary of State Jon Husted won't remove my name from the voting roll. If you happen to live in Ohio, I highly recommend that you do so too.

But first, watch Rick Neal make pancakes.



And if you live in the Columbus area, come visit the next ReSisters meeting. We'll drink wine and write postcards and decompress together.



Monday, April 30, 2018

May sneaked up on me

today when I was walking the dog and noticed that many of the trees on my street have those yellow buds, the ones that usually last only a few days before unfurling into full-blown green leaves. Most years I miss noticing the yellow bud stage.

Writers are supposed to be more aware of what's going on around them. I am not that kind of writer. I am the kind that takes a walk with my dog and makes up stories in my head and the next thing I know I am rounding the corner toward home. Sometimes I stumble over a bumped up sidewalk square or get yanked off my feet when my dog darts unexpectedly after a squirrel. Life can be dangerous for the live-inside-your-head writer. 

Today I liked looking at the yellow buds for thirty seconds and then I thought of the line from Robert Frost's poem where he says "nature's first green is gold," and that got me trying to remember the rest of the lines of the poem, ("her hardest hue to hold, her early leaf's a flower, but only so an hour")

which, naturally, I heard in Ralph Macchio's voice, because he was the actor in the movie The Outsiders who read the poem out loud before he got third degrees burns trying to save the kids in the fire, which reminded me how I used to teach that book to my tenth grade students and then we would watch the movie in class and the boys would snicker when the poor kids roamed the street at the end, punching their fists into their hands and vowing that they would Do it for Johnny. 

Do it, meant "go beat the crap out of the rich kids," I guess. Not that that would make any difference. The poor kids would still be the poor kids and the rich kids would still have everything even if they did lose a fight in a playground one night, and that is the saddest line in the book, I think. Sadder, even than the part where Ralph Macchio dies from his burn injuries after reciting the Robert Frost poem about how nothing gold can stay.

I need to do a better job staying in the yellow bud stage. Do what the poet I heard yesterday at the library say about capturing the moment. Slow down, he said. 

Look hard.

Look slowly. 

This weekend my daughter is coming home for a few weeks before heading off on another adventure and I am busy dusting her room and making up her bed. Only a few moments ago, it seemed, she was packing up for her first year of college.

Today she is finishing her junior year. 

I turn the corner down on her bedspread. Fluff her pillow. Fill a vase beside her bed with yellow flowers. 



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Natalie Richards is in my head

okay, not literally, but it feels like that this week as I delve back into the revision I've been working on since last summer.  Natalie, for the record, is my critique partner, and how critique partners work, for those of you not blessed to have one, is they read your manuscript and offer suggestions for how you can improve it.

Natalie knows that I am a big baby when it comes to taking criticism, so before she sends me her notes, she calls me. You've totally got this, she says. Don't get nervous when you see the number of comments.

Um, how many comments are we talking? 

Pause. Maybe 400?

400?!

But most of them are tiny things. And the rest sort of boil down to three slightly bigger issues. But you're totally going to be able to whip it into shape. It will probably take you two, three weeks at the most...

And then she launches into the slightly bigger issues, which honestly sound a tad bigger than she is suggesting. For a few days I am afraid to peek, (also, in my defense, I was out of town. See: Adventures Getting Coffee in Connecticut) but Monday, I take a breath and scroll through.

I have a five stages of death and dying thing going on with my approach to revision. First stage, I deny I have to do anything. The book is good! Exactly how I wrote it! I'm sending it to my agent today!

Second stage. WHAT DOES NATALIE EVEN KNOW? SHE PROBABLY DIDN'T EVEN READ MY BOOK CAREFULLY! SHE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND MY BRILLIANCE! I AM NOT CHANGING A WORD!

Third stage: Okay, what if I just take care of the tiny things she was talking about first?

Fourth stage: This whole book sucks.

I call Natalie. I explain to her that I think my whole book sucks.

Stop being a baby, she tells me, and go back in there.

So I do. Which leads to where I am now with it. After a few days of timid fiddling, I am moving right along. This is the thing about a good critique partner: when they know what they are doing, their comments and suggestions are a guide.

Natalie asks me questions in her comments.

Why would the character do this here?
Wait, who is that person again? You haven't mentioned her in like, fifty pages.
Would the mom really say something like that? It doesn't sound like her.

She leaves smiley faces when she likes something. Adds an occasional LOL. Whenever I read one of these comments, I smile and lol myself.

Moving through the story with these notes scrolling along on the side, something weird begins to happen. I am not alone in my book. I am having a conversation. I argue with some of the points. I give up on others easily. How did I not SEE that? She's exactly right!

I call her and thank her profusely. Oh, shut up, she says, laughing. You do the exact same thing for me.










Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Riding in Cars for Coffee: (A pathetic comedy in four parts)

Part One

I am visiting my brother for the week,

and this morning as my niece and nephew head off to school and my brother heads off to work, I prepare to make coffee in his lovely newly renovated kitchen... and find, to my horror, that while my brother owns many small appliances, including a Crème brûlée maker and not one, but two juicers, he does not own a coffee maker.

On the plus side, there are approximately 543 Dunkin' Donuts in the area, and before my brother leaves for work, he throws me a set of car keys.

These do not look like any car keys I have ever seen. As in, they do not include keys.

Part Two

I go out into his massive three car garage and sit inside a massive red car with the keys on my lap,  knowing that I am supposed to push a button?

I push many buttons. Nothing happens. I consider going back into the house. But, no. I need coffee. I can figure this out!

I push more buttons. I wave the key-less key around. Nothing.

I call my husband. I send him multiple pictures of the steering wheel and dashboard. He offers advice. None of which works. But, one clue. I thought you said the car is a Range Rover, my husband texts me.

Yeah, so?

Well, the picture you sent me shows Ford Explorer written on the steering wheel. 

Part Three

My brother has two red cars!! The other red car is a Range Rover or Land Rover or some kind of Rover? It is tucked behind a wall on the other side of the garage!

I sit inside it. I push buttons. Nothing happens. I text my husband. I send him more pictures of the steering wheel and the dashboard. He offers helpful advice. None of which works. I text Natalie, my critique partner, mostly to joke to her that I am an idiot sitting inside a car with no idea how to start it. Also, I NEED MY COFFEE!!

Part Four

Natalie sends me a youtube video entitled "How to Use the Land Rover Ranger Rover Keyless Engine Start."

I watch the video three times.

And wah lah! The car starts!

Now, all I have to do is figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers.

The End.


(*note how many doofballs had to watch this video.)



Thursday, April 12, 2018

The World's Gone Mad but--

I am not thinking about it. Instead, I spend my days chatting with my critique partner about the notes she's given me on my manuscript --the muddied up character arc and the inevitable info-dump in the first few chapters,-- and working in the bookstore -- the story-times with toddlers, the unpacking of boxes of new book--

my mind mulling over pressing issues, like, what if I can't figure out this revision, and how do I keep my dog from letting herself outside and getting stuck in the muddy backyard while I'm at work, and what should I make for dinner tonight?

Meanwhile, there was a nerve gas attack in Syria and entire families died in a stairwell, men and women clinging to their babies, their eyes glazed over, their ashen faces, and how terrified it must've been for them in those final moments.

I can't make sense of it.

Last year I read the book A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45, because I am fascinated by how people grapple with the world during dark times. Lindgren, who wrote the Pippi Longstocking books, kept a diary detailing her experiences living in Sweden during World War II.


Most of the diary is day to day stuff like what she's making for dinner.

Which surprised me because when I think about people living back then, I imagine the war as being more present and all-encompassing.

Okay, Astrid Lindgren was lucky --and she knew it-- living in Sweden, a neutral country during the war, and therefore, mostly unscathed by the events. Sure, she read the newspapers and listened to the radio and was appalled, of course, by the atrocities, but for the most part, she was writing her Pippi Longstocking story and taking care of her kids and mulling over the food selection at the market, which wasn't bad, considering. She had a hard time making sense of it.

Yesterday I unpacked a box at the bookstore, a stack of new books, Indestructibles, they call them. A new invention to me. Books that your baby can crumple and chew. They're non-toxic! You can throw them in the dishwasher!

I marvel at these features, remembering my own babies chewing the corners of their books and there I was, clueless, allowing it, not worrying that the paper they were ingesting might be poisonous. Who knew this was even a pressing issue.


I wish I could ask Astrid Lindgren.

How is it that we live in a world that for some people ends with them clinging to their gasping terrified children in a stairwell, and for other people, the largest worry is the drooly bitten corners of a book?




Saturday, March 31, 2018

This week is the week I'm supposed to plant my garden

but I haven't even thought about it until today.

Other years, by this time, I would've been deep in my planning. Poring over garden design books, drawing grids on graph paper. Where to put the rows. How to arrange the pots and planters.

Not this year.

This year I haven't even been outside to pick up the broken branches or rake the blown leaves. The yard is a minefield of monkey balls and dog poop, mucky puddles and Dr. Seuss-looking weeds. It's the weird winter weather we've had. That creepy week back in February when the temperature hit the high 70's. Then the plunge back into the 20's. The mornings I woke up to snow I hadn't known was in the forecast. Watching flowers that shouldn't have bloomed, crushed.

Also, I've been busy. Working at the bookstore, my first job outside the home in ten years. And writing another book. It's done. Sort of. The draft in the hands of my critique partner.

Maybe it's the depletion that comes from finishing up a book, and balancing that with working, but lately, I'm not feeling very hopeful about my garden.

The reality is it doesn't get enough sun. Every year the trees in our yard stretch out farther, letting less light through. My husband says we should cut a few down, or at least trim them, but I have a thing about cutting down trees. The thing is called I Don't Want to Cut Down Trees.

Even if it means I can't grow as many tomato plants. Or any.

Today I went to a story-time at the bookstore. The author/illustrator Aiko Ikegami read from her new book Seed Man. The story is about a man who comes to town and plants a magical tree. Gifts grow on the tree instead of fruit. Books and toys and pets. There's a moment of potentially heartbreaking drama where one of the characters rejects the gift he's been given. But then he realizes his mistake and everything works out.

The story-time was very interactive. Aiko Ikegami played the cello while her friend played the violin. She brought a basket of seed packets to hand out as gifts.

I sat on the floor, cross-legged with the kids who came to listen. I got teary-eyed waiting for the story to turn hopeful. I'm not usually one to get teary-eyed. It might be a side-effect of "finishing" a book, a book that in all likelihood will go the way of the last four books I've written.

By which I mean, Nowhere.

After the story-time, I snagged a seed packet. I was as delighted as the kids to find that the packet contained smaller packets, each carefully labeled.

Seeds to plant if wanted to.

I know I know. I don't have to plant a garden. I don't have to write another book.

But on this rare sunny day, I know that I will.








Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Eight books I love this week

(In no particular order)

1. This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne

Bella takes her dog for a walk and it disappears into the crease of the book. On each page, more characters disappear as they search for the missing dog, culminating in a literal shaking of the book to release them.

(I have tested this one out on kids who have visited the bookstore, and they like shaking the book almost as much as I like shaking the book.)


2. Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence,‎ illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic

Eight-year-old Jasmine is tired of her older sister Sophie doing everything first. When it’s time to celebrate the New Year by rolling mochi balls, a tradition in their Japanese American family, Jasmine has the perfect plan to help—and to do something even Sophie has never been allowed to do.

(I love little Jasmine's voice. Kind of a cross between Ramona and Junie B. Jones. Plus, there's a recipe for Mochi included at the back of the book, which I appreciate.)


3. El Deafo by CeCe Bell

CeCe is starting a new school, trying to make new friends (and avoid a couple of not-so-good friends) and at the same time, she's learning how to be a deaf girl in a mostly hearing world. This is a graphic novel with a perfect melding of text and pictures (the book was a runner up for the Newbery Medal).

(It's geared toward 8-12, but it can be read as an adult memoir-- the author based the story on her own experiences. Also, I got a kick out of all of the 80's pop culture references--  Partridge Family, The Waltons, The Beatles.)


4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Will’s older brother was shot and now Will has stepped into an elevator in his building, prepared to shoot the boy he assumes is the shooter. Over the next 60 seconds as Will wrestles with his trauma, grief and need for revenge, the elevator stops, floor by floor, letting on the ghosts of Will’s community, others who have been destroyed by gun violence.

When the elevator doors open at the end of the book, readers are left to come to their own conclusion about what happens next. A gut-punch of a read.

(I read this in 45 minutes-- it's told in verse, so it's "easy" to read-- but oh my God, here I am three weeks later still stressing about this kid.)


5. Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce is a crotchety bear who just wants to be left alone to make his gourmet egg recipes, when one day, the free-range, organic goose eggs he's purchased (the pics show him shopping with a shopping cart in the forest) hatch. Fun fact about goslings? They imprint on the face they see first.

And that, unfortunately, for Bruce,

is Bruce.

(This is a picture book that adults may enjoy more than kids, although the pictures of the baby geese are darling.)


6. Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

I love this picture book so much I want to give it to every newly expecting parent I know. Jeffers wrote the book for his own two month old baby, as basically a Welcome to the World introductory love letter.

Gorgeous pictures of space and earth and water, people and animals, accompanied by a loving and humorous voice explaining everything you need to know as a new inhabitant of our planet.

(This first time I read this book to a child, he was mesmerized and I burst into tears.)


7. The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas by Tony Wilson, illustrated by Sue deGennaro

An update on an old classic. Our prince is skeptical that having a prospective marriage partner sleep on a bed of twelve mattresses with a pea hidden underneath is the best way to choose a mate. In fact, it's how his brother chose his bride and that princess is just a little too finicky.

Maybe the answer is one mattress and a bag of frozen peas?

(Laughed out loud reading this one. And glad to see that it broke gender stereotypes. Spoiler alert: the princess had a rough day playing hockey and appreciated the bag of frozen peas.)


8. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki, Illustrated by Mariko Tamaki

Story of two girls who've been friends at the same lake every summer, but now one is growing up a little faster than the other and struggling with some family dysfunction. I picked this one up on the advice of an editor and guessed (wrongly) by the picture on the cover and by flipping through it (it's a graphic novel, so it has a comic-book look to it) that it's a book for younger kids.

It is not. It's a complicated, moving, heartbreaking story about girl friendship, puberty, the growing awareness of how girls are perceived by men and how they often internalize that.. and hurt each other.

This one blew me away. A winner of the Printz Honor for the writing and a Caldecott for the illustrations. Give it to your older than 14 year old daughter. But first, read it yourself.



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

There is nothing funny about a car show and yet

I can't stop laughing.

Maybe it's because I didn't really want to go to this car show, but now that I am here, I am enjoying myself, inspecting every car, outside and in, the tires, the backs of mirrors, the dashboards, the leather seats, and the parts of cars I don't know the names of

the grill? the rim?

Whatever. I am not really interested in parts of cars. Or, to be honest, in cars. I am here, at this car show, with my husband, a man who is interested in cars.

He may be annoyed with me for telling you this, but for the past several years, he has been making plans to buy his dream car (as soon as we pay the last of our daughter's college tuition). When I say making plans, I mean he has created an excel spreadsheet, a detailed analysis of potential dream cars with their various attributes -- something something about the power of the engine? and...

I can't remember the other attributes,

although I should, because he's shown the excel spreadsheet to me. Multiple times. Last I've heard, he's narrowed it down to one dream car. I'm embarrassed to admit that I do not know what this car is. I am not a person who likes cars.

I am not a person who sees cars.

Okay, I see cars. If they are big or small and what color they are, if they have heated seats (I like those) and if they are reliable. But that's the extent of it.

Side note: when I was in college, a boy I didn't know well (and who obviously did not know me well) borrowed a Porsche to take me out on a date.

The gesture, needless to say, did not impress me, but I tried to act impressed, which was difficult because I didn't know what a Porsche was or why it should impress me. Also, I felt bad for the boy because he was clearly anxious driving this borrowed car, and the date went from bad to worse, when the boy got us lost on the way to the restaurant where he had made dinner reservations, and he was freaking out about losing our table, and I suggested he turn into a gas station and ask for directions, and he did, and then when he was pulling out of the gas station, he hit another car, and the back end of the Porsche fell off.

My husband, thank God, is not buying a Porsche.

We do, however, look at Porsches (Porsch-i?) at this car show. The outsides. The insides. The tires. The backs of the mirrors.

Did I mention that we are doing a scavenger hunt? When we walked into the enormous exhibit hall where they are holding this car show, the ticket takers gave us a sheet with items to find and if you find them all, you can be entered into a raffle where you might win a car!!

(I'm lying. You might win a large screen TV.)

I don't really care about winning a large screen TV, and I didn't think I would care about this silly scavenger hunt, but two minutes into this snooze-inducing car show, I discover a whatchamacallit on a random car that matches an item on the scavenger hunt sheet, and suddenly, I am obsessed with finding every single item.


I am so obsessed that at one point I wander away from my husband and get lost without even knowing I am lost. Until my husband calls me on my cell phone. And something about him calling me on my cell phone and asking where I am, and me, realizing I have no idea because all of these cars, truthfully, look the same, strikes me as hysterical,

and I can't stop laughing, even as my husband is telling me to stay where I am, and even as I don't stay where I am, because I want to check out the back of one more mirror and scour the rims? of one more tire.

We have to go! because the damn car show is closing! And I am still short two items on my scavenger sheet! But I spy a little boy scribbling on his own sheet and it turns out we are missing different items and the two of us agree to trade information, which leaves me with one item left.

The ticket takers will only take a totally completed sheet for the raffle to win the TV. So that's a big giant bummer.




Don't worry. I tell my husband. We are coming back here next year.






Monday, March 12, 2018

Someone pulled the fire alarm every day

when I was teaching in a high school, and everyone would groan because we knew it was a false alarm,

except for that one time when it wasn't, (a chemistry experiment gone wrong) and we all had to stand outside in the cold rain. And that other time, when there was a tornado drill, only weeks after a tornado blew the roof off the high school two miles away, and even the cool kids were freaked out, the alarm blaring,

they crouched, shivering, against the interior wall, their arms over the heads, one of the football players shouting at me, Ms Casella, why are you standing there? Get down!

I could handle the tornado drills and the fire drills, but my old childhood terror of fire, long buried, resurfaced when we had to practice the Lockdown Drills, because they were more likely to happen than a fire or tornado.

We all knew that any whack job with a gun could come strolling into the school. The administrators told the teachers lock your doors, huddle the kids into a corner. And in the unfortunate situation of a Lockdown happening during a class change -- grab whatever kids you could, pull them into a room, lock the door.

Whoever was left outside with the gunman would have to fend for themselves.

I could imagine terrified kids scurrying in the halls, searching for hiding places, and oh my God, what if it was your little boy or your little girl caught outside the locked door? Think of the nightmares you could have practicing that, the trauma of a drill, never mind the trauma of the real thing.

So, I've been going to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America meetings, even though my kids are long grown and I am no longer teaching. I'm like a lot of people, apparently, past the point of being horrified by gun violence and looking for a way to make it stop.

Things I didn't know: the group was started by a mother of five, Shannon Watts, after a 20 year old man shot 20 first graders and 6 teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and has grown to four million members. Things I wish I didn't know: there have been 1607 mass shootings in America since Sandy Hook-- 239 school shootings .

The only goal of Moms Demand Action is to end gun violence in America.

The group works to reach that goal by advocating for universal background checks and by opposing any legislation that puts Americans at greater risk of gun violence. They support the Second Amendment and actively recruit responsible gun owners into the group. They are not affiliated with a political party.

You don't have to be a mom to join.

Also, you don't really have to do anything to join, except show up. And speak out against gun violence in America.

For example, writing this blog post might make you remember the terror you felt when you were six years old, the first time you watched a fire safety film in school,

how scary it was to see the students in the film running instead of walking, the ones falling and being trampled, the ones trapped inside in the blazing building, and every time the fire drill rang, you were freaked out and you confessed your fears to the adults in your life, adults who weren't always so With It when it came to listening, but in this case, they did listen.

In this case they said, don't be afraid. We're taking care of this problem for you. You don't have to worry about dying inside your school.

Moms Demand Action can't say this yet to our scared children.

The kids who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have taken it upon themselves. On March 24 in 659 places worldwide, they will march to raise their voices against gun violence in schools.

The Moms will be there too. It is the very least we can do.














Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Nearing the end of a book

makes you believe in magic

how everything falls into place, all of those seemingly unrelated plot strands that meandered off in different directions, now twisting together, tightening, building toward the climax

somehow making sense.

The months of writing-- day after day after day--  the slow starts and gray mornings, the blank computer screen, the blinking cursor, the pathetic daily word counts, the sentences written and the sentences deleted,

now everything gathering speed, words spilling out almost faster than you can catch them, flashes of dialogue in the shower, an answer to a plot hole as you round the corner on a walk with the dog, and how perfectly serendipitous it is when you remember

that time when you were twelve, and you and your best friend made up a silly song and it had multiple verses and a chorus and hand motions and an accompanying dance, and you haven't thought of that song or that friend in years, but it turns out that how you felt that day when you sang it with her

is exactly the feeling you are trying to capture in the scene you are writing now.

And how weirdly serendipitous it is, when you switch on the radio and there's an old interview with Mr. Rogers playing (yes, Mr. Rogers of all people, who isn't even alive anymore) but here he is talking about childhood worries, and something he says makes you say Aha!

because basically it sums up your entire book, and now you remember why you wanted to write the book in the first place, something you forgot over the last six months when you were deep in the weeds of the thing and didn't know if you'd ever find your way out,

but you should've known you would, because you always do, when you're nearing the end of a book, wherever the book may go later, sold or unsold, read or unread,

you always do,



and that is why nearing the end of a book is magic.






Sunday, February 25, 2018

We didn't know about the shooting

because we were out eating an early dinner.

The owner of the bookstore and the events coordinator and the two visiting authors and the lovely librarian who'd set up the visit, tucked away in a corner booth, sipping our waters and making small talk, at first, but then slipping into a potentially stressful dinner conversation.

The week had been a bad one in the children's book industry

because several prominent male authors had been accused of sexual harassment and people were yelling at each other in the online comment sections, naming names and defending names and meanwhile, I was feeling physically sick, reliving my own crap and also, I knew some of the men, sort of, -- in the way that everyone does in the very small children's book community,

and I had been arguing in real life too, ranting at my best friend, trying to make sense of what I think about women speaking out and the men they are speaking out about and the growing feeling of hysteria, where it seems like no one is really listening to anyone anymore but only yelling at each other,

and the worst thing, for me, is the fear that in the end, after all of the yelling, nothing will really have changed.

But anyway, we were eating dinner.

The authors were Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, in town for a school visit, and readying, after dinner, to sign books at the bookstore where I work now. The topic came up about sexual assault and harassment and MeToo and the men being named (without naming them) and I could feel myself getting sick, how I tend to, when this topic comes up,

especially because Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds didn't agree with each other.

But they talked and listened and came to some kind of understanding of the other's point of view and we finished eating dinner.

At the signing they talked about the book they wrote together called All American Boys, which is about a police shooting, told from the points of view of a black teen and a white teen. Jason Reynolds, who is black, and Brendan Kiely, who is white, described how the book came to be,


how they were on the road together promoting their books, strangers essentially, traveling and trying not to talk about the things you know you're not supposed to talk about with strangers. Politics. Religion. Race. But there they were, on the road, and the verdict had come down in Ferguson about the police shooting Michael Brown and the riots and protests, and eventually

they ended up talking about it, the black writer and the white writer, talking and listening and trying to understand each other, and eventually, doing the only thing they knew how to do, which was to write.

So they wrote the book together and somewhere along the way, they became friends.

We took pictures and they signed more books and there was something about the conversation that made the world feel more hopeful, to think about the power of reaching out, one person to another, about friendship and disagreement and allowing ourselves to feel uncomfortable and being okay with uncomfortableness because that's the only way to listen, really,

but I lost the hopeful feeling that night, hearing the news about the mass shooting in Florida and then watching all of the yelling commence.

This morning I read Jason Reynolds' book Long Way Down.


It's a brilliant beautiful heartbreaking story about a traumatized boy, with an ending that pretty much killed me because it leaves the reader on a precipice with the boy, holding your breath with him, about to watch him do something terrible--

But now I've decided, after some thinking, that the ending is not what I thought. It's the opposite, in fact,

and I think the boy is going to do the right thing. He's going to be okay. 


Maybe we all will.