This is my week for drips-and-drabs-posts, I guess. Anyway, I’ll be at this event, speaking on the kids’ publishing panel and then hanging around hoping to meet readers and sign a few books. Hudson is a darling little town and the Learned Owl is a terrific indie book shop–I mean, terrific.
Just back from NYC , stopped in the grocery for some stuff for supper and found the April issue of CLEVELAND MAGAZINE with my personal essay on second chances. Click on This Month, then scoll down till you find the feature VOICE. (Have to say when I was home in New York and excitedly told my brothers about the essay, they said I was all wrong–our mailbox was THIRD base. I’m here to tell you those boys are full of chop suey).
In my neighborhood, spring has taken to the rooftops. The students from the college down the hill are up on the roofs of their rentals, soaking in the rays, while at the corner house, guys in big boots are stomping around tearing off shingles and flinging them to the ground. Both groups have their music playing, competing with the birds who have lost their heads in the heat, the green, the abundance of bugs and worms so early.
It is, officially, the mildest winter Cleveland has ever had. It’s warmer here than in Arizona, where the Indians are in spring training (those guys never catch a break!) It’s so warm that I’ve started weeding. In my front garden, the one I stare at from the window while I wait for the right words, I uncovered a soporific toad. In keeping with the records-theme, he was the biggest I’ve ever seen. Extravagantly hideous, the color of wet stone and rotten leaves, encrusted with warts, his feet tapering into sharp, fang-like points. His eyes were slits and he didn’t bother to open them as I admired, then addressed him. Regal despot, he ignored me completely.
Not so the little red salamander living among the lilies. He was a flinch-y, flick-y sort. Both of them made me wish a girl or two still lived here, so I could shout, “Come see!”
I used to feel you were supposed to earn spring, but bah. Spring in the air, spring on the ground, spring spring all around. And at night, Jupiter and Venus are twin lamps shining–yes–brighter than I ever remember seeing them.
Speaking of the wonders of Cleveland, here’s a wonderful, witty essay about the city, family and loyalty by my friend Mary Norris.http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/03/cousin-kucinich.html
Tomorrow we are off to New York, to visit my brothers, sisters and nieces, and then our two east-coast daughters. We’ll see a play, the Cindy Sherman exhibit at MoMA (her every photo a story waiting to be told) and maybe visit the Frick, where my husband’s favorite painting in the world, “St. Francis in Ecstasy”, is back on exhibit after being restored. I’m hoping all the work I should be doing will kindly keep its voice down, and not nag too loudly.
Yesterday I drove out to Hiram College to be on a panel called What Should Teens Read? I mean, not to play God or anything, but could you pass up a chance to answer that question?
Tiny little Hiram is one of a very few Ohio colleges to offer an actual major in creative writing, with creative nonfiction its specialty. The panel was sponsored by the Lindsay-Crane Center for Writing and Literature, housed in a story-book cottage on the edge of campus. Our panel was the second half a of two-day symposium. The night before, Chris Crutcher, whose books are among the most frequently banned in the country, gave what everyone lucky enough to attend said was an amazing, moving, hilarious and inspiring speech on censorship.
The temperature was in the 70’s and the stars were out, but a crowd of students resisted the lure of a perfect spring evening to sit in the library and listen to: me; Mara Purnhagen, author of the Past Midnight series; J.T. Dutton, author of Freaked and Stranded; and Angela Johnson, author of way too many award-winning books to begin to list (though I especially love The First Part Last).
Our jumping off place was responding to that by now infamous article in the June 4, 2011 Wall Street Journal, “Darkness Too Visible” in which Meghan Cox Gurdon deplored some current trends in YA lit and wrote, “No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives” (which pretty much makes families sound squishy and vulnerable as mud or marshmallows).
It’s funny because, when I published my two YA novels, back in the early 80’s, “problem novel” was what it was all about—Judy Blume, that fearless leader, had taken the genre into territory that alarmed/ thrilled lots of people. Back then, I worried that my books—which as always were kind of quiet and language-y—were not controversial enough! But they found their audience, the way any story told from the heart always does, and ever since, whether writing for four year olds or middle schoolers or adults, it’s the story that has guided me. It’s the story itself that dictates how it’s told and who the readers will eventually be. And maybe because I’m a squeamish person, not to mention a lunatic optimist, no story I’ve ever written, no matter who it’s for, has featured dis-membering or the triumph of evil. While we write in hopes of telling the best story we can, and in hopes of surprising ourselves, we also write out of a personal, intimate, inherent view of the world.
It was a great discussion. Angela said that her editor claims there are only two taboos left: cannibalism and beastiality. Mara talked about recommending The Chocolate Wars to her students, only to arouse horror in the school’s administration. Her solution: tell her students never, ever, no matter what they did, pick up that book. You can guess the result! Jen talked about how her favorite book as a teen was Huckleberry Finn, which she read over and over, blissfully unaware of the controvery its language sparks.
I paid tribute to all the librarians I know who would throw themselves under a bus to defend a child’s right to read any books she wants. But since I was the oldest, fogiest member of the panel, I also talked about how fiercely I once wanted to protect my own three children from anything that might scare or hurt them. A futile wish, for sure, yet at the root of a lot of censorship, I think, is fear. Granted, much of it is the “moral outrage” of people sure they own “the truth”, but some of it is also genuine concern for our kids’ innocence being snatched from them too early. In this society, it’s insane to pin the blame on books. And yet, as parents, I think we have responsbility for all aspects the lives of our own (no one else’s) children, and so my favorite audience comment of the night came from a mother who described how she reads what her kids read, as much as she can, and is always there to discuss or be a sounding board. By the way, this mother told me afterwards that she was a reluctant reader as a child, and can’t believe how many terrific books she’s now discovering, thanks to her avid reader kids. Amen!
I’ve been getting friendly with a new novel. We’ve had a couple of nice dates and only a few disagreements. We’re nowhere near the commitment stage, but I definitely want to get better acquainted. Maybe even snuggle up. We’ll see.
What got me started thinking about the new book was an article I read that said not only is 2012 a leap year, it’s also going to get a leap second. It seems there are people, AKA the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, who actually get to add an extra second onto our lives. They say they need to do this for reasons associated with cesium isotopes and atomic clocks and I say, Whatever! I’m all for it! They don’t have the power to subtract time–at least I hope not.
And one second is a lot. Witness the walk I just took to the P.O., about three miles round trip. In winter, when I can’t swim, I almost always go for a walk after writing, to digest and clear the palate (and, if I’m lucky, work out some brain kinks). All the better if my walk has a goal which involves talking to other humans, since I spend so much of my day alone.
This afternoon when I set out it was still balmy, almost as warm as yesterday. The wind was up so I took my umbrella and put on my big coat, fully expecting to be sweating and cursing my pessimism halfway through the walk. Instead, within what seemed a split second, things took a nasty turn. The wind went rogue. The temperature dipped. Rain spat then wept then busted the dam.
By the time I’d mailed my woefully wet envelopes and turned around, I was buttoned to the chin, had one fist burrowed in a pocket and the other wrapped around my umbrella, battling against a Mary Poppins lift-off. My legs and feet were wet and freezing. So not fun.
(As soon as I got home the rain stopped. I had all day to take that walk. I mean, I always get in the wrong line at the bank or store, too. )
How quickly things in life can turn, and turn again, for better or for worse. I’m thinking about it a lot right now.
From Tricia’s Big Book 0f Opposites: Tonight my husband and I are going to hear the Cleveland Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Ninth, complete with that Ode to Joy. At the same time, my daughter will be taking her final exam in Statistics.