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Epiphany

animecon
I get these little insights sometimes -- kind of frequently, these days. The kind of insights that almost make me roll my eyes at their obviousness, except that the new understand is so welcome that I can't roll my eyes, only get a little excited that I *finally* get something that is probably as plain as the nose on my face (intentional cliche.)

This morning I woke up a little too early, which was terrific because most mornings last week I woke up a lot too early and was then stuck, bored, and tired. Today I just got to do a little thinking and of course a touch of hoping that I wouldn't get suddenly drowsy when it was time to get out of bed.

I was thinking about the feedback that I received from my critique group on some pages I recently shared, and how I read through their comments yesterday with only minor discomfort. I was wondering what changed from 13 and 14 years ago when I would get comments at the group and read through them later and become so uncomfortable that I would usually stop writing.

Critiques for me have generally come in one of two forms: "This is great, do more," or "I don't understand this."  Then there are line edits -- comments on spelling, punctuation, and grammar. To "this is great, do more," I usually had the response "I don't think I can, I probably just got lucky there."  To "I don't understand," my response was usually "okay, I can fix that," or about equally often, "I don't know what to do about that."  But, the line edits really did me in. Pointing out errors or possible errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation caused me to feel shame, or anger, or both. Probably because "English" was my best subject in school, and "English" was really about those things. I wanted or needed to be above reproach, I guess. I still was a little uncomfortable with it yesterday, but not to the extent that it made me feel shame.

It was laying in bed this morning that I was finally able to give a name to that emotion -- shame. Shame is an intense, unpleasant emotion. Guilt says "I have done something wrong," and leaves room for making amends. Shame says "I am bad." There's not a lot of room, there. You can turn it around, get angry at the other person, decide that instead they are bad (therefore making yourself above their reproach), but it really doesn't leave space for "this can be amended." And as soon as I was able to name that feeling, "shame," I understood what happened next -- the long break before I could write again. I had to spend a good bit of time and energy getting past "I am bad," and all the self-doubt or self-loathing that came along with it,  to sit down and take that risk again.

Knowing that feelings of shame may come up as I look at my writing and people's responses to it is, I think, going to be really helpful. 




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May. 5th, 2014

animecon
We saw a mallard, a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I, out for a walk on a day when it wasn't raining. The mallards have been flying around, acting kind of crazy. One day two of them, about three miles apart, landed on the road less than 300 feet in front of my car. They worried me.

This mallard that we saw was in our neighborhood. He came out onto the sidewalk, then walked back into the mulch in the yard between two houses. He seemed troubled, like the others, and I made a joke about the wild mallards getting all up in peoples' lives. We came closer, and he lingered near the sidewalk, taking a step or two away but allowing the distance between us to close.

On the ground between him and us was his mate. Her neck was broken, her entrails strewn on the mulch. There was nothing we could do.

We had been chattering, my husband and I, but our talk quieted. Dog or cat, I said. Eric thought a car.

We walked on, and now were silent.

I found myself wishing I'd said something to the male. Offered comfort, sympathy, condolences. I felt he was hoping we could help. I wanted to apologize for not being able to. I thought he would appreciate the acknowledgement. I felt we were rude to just walk away. There was a sort of palpable grief there.

We're all so closely knit together. It all seems to matter, now. How we treat our fellow creatures. They'll keep dying, and so will we, but that's no reason to be cold about it, to deny grief or love, to pretend we can erase the existence of what was there and isn't.

I feel we failed. But mostly that's not about the mallard. Most creatures have -- a skill? an instinct? -- for grieving and moving on that we humans have developed the capacity to subvert. Our desire for reasons, explanations, understanding, can keep us in grief for a long time.

I feel we failed.

Because one month ago today, a smart, talented, beautiful little girl in our community ended her own life, and none of us saw it coming. None of us knew of her pain, her sickness. None of us stopped it. And though I can with clear conscience say to her parents "this wasn't your fault," because I know about mental illness and depression and the tricks it plays, and though I myself hadn't even seen this child since November, still I feel that somehow I was part of the problem, or at least should have been part of what stopped it.

I feel like we failed, all of the adults of this community, all of these good people who love our own children so dearly that our love bleeds over to their classmates, we who are so dedicated to protecting these bright lights and yet one went out, and I am so so so afraid of failing again.

If they knew how much we loved them, really knew, I believe it would be a terrible burden to them. We have to bear our love for our children because the weight of it is too great for their tender little legs and arms and souls to carry. We willingly bear that love, but we depend on it to carry them through.




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animecon
I'm going to start this with the tweets I started this morning, intending at that time to both explore and explain something, then soon realizing that I needed to go in deeper than either Twitter or my empty stomach would allow.

At some point in my life I became possessed of the notion that it was my responsibility to solve all the problems. That wanting to "make the world a better place" meant in fact to "make the world a place with no big problems." And I believed that, somehow, this was achievable. If only I could figure out how to do it. First I tried majoring in Philosophy in college. But I discovered that philosophers often lost themselves in minutiae, ridiculous convolutions like determining the meaning of "of" in a particular sentence of a particular treatise. So I didn't go on to graduate school, but I did what people have to do like get a job and pay the bills. But I also got depressed and felt helpless that slitting open envelopes and distributing papers wasn't making the world a better place.

There endeth what I began in tweets. Now to explore the rest of it. In the interest of brevity I'll just say I've had a number of different jobs, attempted a couple of different careers, and have come full-circle in the past 5 years back to my first love, storytelling, which I recognized very early in life. I'm now focusing on making a career out of writing, and in particular writing for children. And if you're not aware of this, writing for children gets much more particular than that, though the particulars, like young adult books, picture books, chapter books, nonfiction chapter books, etc etc., are not mutually exclusive.

Where I wanted to go with this in short form, was, I think, someplace like this: my desire to solve big problems has gotten in the way of much of my progress in careers. When I've seen conflicts between my path and the ability to affect the kind of change that will make the world into a problem-less utopia, I change paths.

It looks a little absurd, written out like that. But it's true. I wanted to make it ALL better. Pollution, the polar bears, depression, high-stakes testing, guns, drugs, Taco Bell, mean people, poverty, you name it. At some point I recognized a Unified Solution of Bad Stuff probably didn't exist, but I continued to believe that something I could do could make a big difference. So maybe I had to choose which thing to go after.

Again, in the interest of brevity, because this is LJ and I still have to finish doing the taxes, I'll skip a lot of stuff and say that I've glacially slowly come to recognize that while wanting to solve all the world's problems sounds crazy, it actually isn't. But there is a problematic piece, and it's this: being stopped or sidetracked by the understanding that whatever it is you are doing isn't going to solve all the world's problems. I did that, a lot.

I write books for kids now. I hear amazing things from authors about the lives they have touched, in big and little ways, by putting their stories out into the world. I think "wow, that sounds great. I remember being changed by books I read as a kid, and I'm so grateful I want to pass that on. But don't I have to do it bigger?" Some people are motivated by fame, money, sex, power. Put me in the power category. I want the power to make sure that bad things never happen in the real world. So I haven't been able yet to dispense with the fantasy that I might write the One Book That Will Put an End To All That.

For quite some time I've been a fan of author Laurie halseanderson, who writes, among other things, novels about teens having to deal with terrible things. In recent months she's begun referring to this body of work as "resilience literature," a label I absolutely love. These are novels of contemporary kids in times we recognize, dealing with problems that are culturally current but also on some level timeless and universal, like the desire to be acknowledged, understood, respected.

My own resilience has been tested a lot this year. In January I had to quit a job that was right for me in some ways but not right in others, a painful but necessary separation. In February my grandmother, the matriarch and center of my extended family, passed away. In March my aunt and uncle decided to relocate from the city that has been my geographical center throughout the dozens of moves I've made through my life. These events were all unsettling, causing me to examine and redefine my place in the world, and I'm still in the process of doing so. What occurred to me recently, though, was to observe my own resilience in the face of these changes. Rather than change my path, they've helped me more clearly define it. I know I want need to keep writing and editing. I know I care deeply about readers and literature connecting, and I need to keep doing things to make that happen.

I've long had an adversarial relationship with what is known as "acceptance." It's not surprising, really. Resistance is the zeitgeist these days, in popular culture and in the news. We love battles and warriors and defeating evil and winning. Acceptance is weak, right? Acceptance means being defeated, quitting, it means nothing will ever get better. Acceptance is for losers. That was my thinking. As critical as I am of so very many ideas, I utterly missed for years how this one was limiting me.

People hurt. People do bad things. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. Sometimes the bad thing is a side-effect of something else, neither intentional nor accidental, just something done that leads to an unforeseen thing that hurts someone. I didn't want to accept my limited ability to control that. Because that would mean I am weak, helpless.

I
can't
stop
bad
things
from
happening

Not all of them.
But maybe some of them.

I
can't
stop
people
from
hurting

But maybe I can show them a path through.

This week a possibly avoidable tragedy struck a family very close to us. My husband and I, and other parents in the community, have wept and wondered alongside our friends. We have all struggled for understanding. What happened? Why? What can I do about it?

How can we feel less helpless?

But none of that can undo what has been done. We also have to accept.

I thought a lot this week about ways to decrease suffering. About ways to prevent heartbreak. I thought about how bad things happening despite everyone's efforts can feel like failure. But that not doing them to avoid that failure is helplessness. And it seems to me now that the real choice isn't between acceptance and success, but between acceptance and helplessness. Because no one can stop all the bad things. But so many of us working together, each of us changing a few things, touching a few lives, we can make a lot of differences.

I am sad that I can't end suffering in the world. But I can accept it, though I suspect that at times it will require a lot of effort to accept it. After all, I've lived with the belief that I can and that I should "make it all better" for most of my life, and that's been kind of a long while. But because I accept it, I can work differently, with the understanding that even the small differences I make may matter to one person, and to someone that one person is the world.




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Avocado

animecon
"Did you get the beer?" Hank pulled taco shells and salsa from the grocery bag and set them on the counter. Taco shells go in the pantry, salsa in the refrigerator. Is that so hard?

"The beer's still in the car," I said, creating an opening for him to get get it and, if I was lucky, maybe some other stuff.

No luck. He threw himself on the sofa and grabbed the remote. "Thanks, sis," he said.

Keith came in from the backyard. "Grill's fixed," he said, "did they have the pork?"

"Yep, pre-marinaded and all. It's in the cold stuff bag."

My perfect son found the cold stuff bag and started emptying it. Beef and chicken in the meat drawer, orange juice on the shelf. He put the pork on the stovetop to get it ready for grilling. I hope he doesn't start learning how to be a man from his uncle.

Hank didn't used to be a stereotype, but when Kate left him he decided to go "old school." He bought a rifle and started shooting on the weekends. He got a football injury. He started drinking Coors. It's weird.

"Hank, we need to talk about your identity crisis," I said when Keith took the pork outside to the grill. I could see the back of his head. The front of his head seemed to be staring at the golf course featured on my widescreen TV. "Hank, you're watching golf on TV." I may or may not have heard a grunt. Something ached in the pit of my stomach. Letting him into my house was supposed to keep this from happening.

I filled a glass with water and sat down at the table and started at the back of my brother's head and the TV. Behind me the screen door opened, hesitated, closed again. Keith threw away the pork wrappings and washed his hands. Grocery bags rattled as he emptied them. The water wasn't helping the ache in my stomach.

Keith folded the last grocery bag and tucked it behind the trash can under the sink, then went to the counter and grabbed something. "Hank, think fast," he said, and Hank turned, held up his hand, and perfectly caught the avocado my son had thrown. Keith looked at me, "you, too," and he chucked an avocado at me. I'm terrible at catch, but I was so surprised I snapped it from the air without effort. "Come on you two slackers," he said, "I'm gonna teach you to make guacamole."




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Okay here we goooooooooo!

animecon
I've got 9 weeks before the start of the next editorial cycle. Let's see how close I can get to the end of the first draft of this novel! Follow me on Twitter (same handle, @dampscribbler) for word count updates. :) 

What are your goals between now and -- ack!  -- Tax Day?  




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Where good writing comes from

animecon
Good writing doesn't come from MFA programs. It doesn't come from interesting stories. Good writing comes from a profound love of the truth, and from the understanding that no matter how much you love truth, most people find it overwhelming, and therefore anything as clear and beautiful and delicious and powerful as truth must be wrapped up, packaged, surrounded with and delivered by a story that charms, delights, and distracts.




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Voted

i voted
This one's got me biting my nails. I wish that thinking this election may be stolen by the right-wing felt like a paranoid delusion, but based on considerable evidence from reasonably credible sources, it feels very possible. I'm worried, too, that no matter who is President for the next four years, we're going to be facing deeper and deeper divisions in this country. We really need to do something about that.




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Oct. 3rd, 2012

animecon
Sometimes one little friend request on Facebook can totally make your day. :)




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On writing

animecon
I'm not sure how I'm ever going to manage to finish this book when I get approximately 30 minutes a week to write and every time I do get a chance I can't find the notebook I left off in so I just grab whatever is closest so as not to waste time. 

I have GOT to get organized. :-/

Tags:





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Thank you, Livejournal

animecon
for still being here.

I've got a lot on my mind, I've only had a couple of hours of sleep, and now it's time to get my day started. But I think I'll be back, in a few hours or a day, to think some of this stuff out, to share, and to come back and read your words, to listen to my friends here, as well. I'm sorry for being neglectful. I see most of you other places as well, and that passes for contact, much of the time. But it's not the same.




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My sweet, smart kid

animecon
This morning on the way to school M said "I feel good. Today I'm not even bothered that we're going to lose our specials and librarian next year. I mean, I know it's going to happen and I don't like it, but it doesn't bother me today."

Lovely wisdom. :-)  




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Note to the universe

animecon
I did my part, and got a lot of helping hands today. Let's keep this alive, okay?




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animecon
It came to my attention this morning that Beaverton School District is planning to cut ALL of its school Librarians -- aka Media Specialists -- next year as part of the many adjustments it needs to make to meet its budget. This is a huge mistake. The Media Specialist  is one of very few teachers at a school who has regular contact with every child in the school each
and every year that the child attends the school. The Media Specialist develops and delivers curriculum to help kids to use not only the physical library but the technology resources that are critical for information gathering in today's world. The Media Specialist guides students *and* teachers in acquiring, evaluating, and using the information required to meet their educational goals both in and beyond the classroom.

I am aware that Beaverton School District is facing a serious reduction in budget this year, and as a result has no choice but to cut staff positions and instruction days. Next year, teachers will face classrooms that are more crowded and will have fewer days to teach the required curricula to their students. With the loss of the Media Specialists, the classroom teachers will also have to add media training into their crowded curriculum, *and* they will be lacking the in-school resource that they turned to for help with media in the first place, resulting in a double-burden. The long-term result will be less guidance and instruction in the use of a variety of media resources for all of the kids in the district. The Media Specialist is a trained professional who provides necessary support to every student and staff in the school. This function cannot be fulfilled by volunteers from the community.

Eliminating the position of Media Specialist district-wide now means that when the economic environment finally improves the district will have to essentially create a "new" job class in order to begin hiring Media Specialists
again. This will likely pose a huge, perhaps insurmountable hurdle to getting these important professionals back into our schools.

Tomorrow evening, May 1, at Sunset High School at 6:30 PM is the ONLY public comment meeting for the school budgets. It's the families' and community's one opportunity to publicly address this issue, and I hope you will show up to
support our schools and our Media Specialists.

If you cannot attend but want to register your concern, please fill out the following form and submit it or email a school board member as soon as possible.

http://www.beaverton.k12.or.us/pdf/bus_off/bus_off_bus_off_Budget%20Suggestion%2\0form.pdf





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animecon
...but I just found out that our school district budget as it stands cuts EVERY school librarian -- aka "Media Specialist" -- in the district next year. Every one.  Class sizes will increase by 15-25% and up to 10 days will be cut from the calendar. The latter two I already knew about, but now I find that the classroom teachers will be expected to try to fill in the lessons that the school librarians provide (and at the elementary level there is a lesson at least once a week from the librarian on how to use media and resources as well as guidance about staying safe online) while still covering all the material they're covering now, with more kids and less time.

The ONLY listening session for the budget is tomorrow night. I've got the public speaking skills of a four-year-old. I cry when I talk about things that are important. I've got about 30 hours to try to prepare a statement on a subject I know next-to-nothing about (the budget) and then I have to go talk in front of what, with any luck, will be hundreds of people about the huge mistake of letting the librarians go. In addition to doing everything else that I needed to do in the next two days.  

I'm already feeling paralyzed.  




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Mortality Day

animecon
March Ninth is always a day of remembrance for me.  Twenty-six years ago on this day one of the best friends I've ever had left this world, far far too young.  He was an amazing presence, an artist, a non-conformist, an explorer, and a really fun person to be around. He not only tolerated my teen angst but helped me bear it, while experiencing spiritual confoundedness of his own. The time that we spent as friends left a permanent imprint on my life, which I'm deeply profoundly grateful for, and while sometimes it's overlooked because it's been there so long, when Spring comes and the redwing blackbirds trill in the trees I can't help but remember my old friend, and also to some extent feel even now that pang of loss. 

And today my husband got word that a cousin of his is in a coma.

And today my mother tells me that her neighbor has leukemia.

As the Beatles said, "Tomorrow never knows."  




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animecon
I have never regretted discontinuing my German studies the way I have regretted it since reading this news.  I am, shall we say, excruciatingly impatient for the translation.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/05/five-hundred-fairytales-discovered-germany




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Feb. 24th, 2012

animecon
After overcoming a printer problem and wondering which was the best salad bowl to toss the names in, I've at last allowed the Universe In All Its Randomness to select the winner of the Terry Pratchett 2012 calendar -- eshakespear!!  Erin (not Elizabeth), please send me your address via LJ private message and I will dispatch your new calendar on Monday. Just in time for the third month of the year! :)

And now I find myself disappointed that I don't have a calendar to send to each of you! :-(  For the runners-up, and me: a virtual brownie sundae party! Woot!   



Mmmmmm!






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Do you like Terry Pratchett?

animecon
I'm doing my first giveaway!  Woot!

I got an extra Terry Pratchett Discworld 2012 calendar from Amazon.co.uk last month, due to a shipping mixup, so I have one to give away. Since I know that several of you like Pratchett I thought I'd just let anyone who is interested enter by posting a comment here, then I'll randomly select a name using the slips-of-paper-in-a-bowl method. (Unless I get way too many comments, in which case I'll find some online randomizer to help me pick a winner.)  Limitations: You must be in the US or Canada. Post a comment no later than 11:59:59pm Pacific Time on Thursday February 23. 

It's a nice calendar, this year's illustrations are by Paul Kidby, I like it even better than last year's calendar. I'm excited to share!

Image:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Terry-Pratchetts-Discworld-Collectors-Calendar/dp/0575094400/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1329856433&sr=8-2








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What no one is talking about

animecon
When it comes to this Republican primary, there's not much attention given to who is voting.  Guess what? Almost nobody is voting.  Which means each and every vote counts. A lot. 

There are approximately 240 million voting-age Americans. So far the primaries have counted votes from just about 3 million people.  In Colorado, where Santorum won, only just over 1% of the population of the state (including kids too young to vote) voted in the Republican primary.  I can't help but wonder whether we would get less-crazy candidates if more people were expected to vote.  

I'd really like to see more attention to this in the news. Why are so many of us letting so few choose who will have a chance at the most powerful position in the land? 




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Starting . . . again

bird on it
Hey, writers! 

I've been "working" on this thing for a while, and I worked on it some more yesterday, and I've noticed something about my process.

Most of us know by now that writers throw all kinds of roadblocks in their own way, usually blocks created by some sort of doubt. "This is boring." "No one will care." "I'm not doing anything new here." etc etc etcetcetcusw

Well, I've discovered one in my repertoire that I hadn't before realized existed. It has several names --

"I can do this better."  "This isn't good enough." "What if I tell it this way instead?" "Well, that's okay, but I see twelve other ways it could be done, I should try something else."

Identifying the beast for what it is -- another form of doubt -- feels like an achievement, because it helps me take it less seriously, shove it aside and move on, but this one's still a humdinger at the moment. I figure the best way around it is through it, so instead of starting over again (and I think I've started this one close to a dozen times in the past 3-plus months) I'm going to just keep writing forward, telling myself the story, and get that first draft out.  

I hope.

Have any of you noticed this tendency in yourself? Does it have other names/messages I should be watching out for? 

Happy writing, everyone!




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