Empathy vs. Evil, Bonk!

Lois Lowry recently published her 4th and final book in a loose collection of YA novels called the Giver Quartet. The Giver is the most famous and beloved of the four and the one which most frequently appears on middle school required reading lists (including mine). Many people credit The Giver as being a more subtle and artful predecessor to more violent dystopian novels like The Hunger Games.

Regardless, she’s been interviewed a lot lately with the release of her new book. And she had this to say about the main character of her new book who fights evil with empathy.

“The ability to understand other people’s feelings,” Lowry said. “As an encompassing gift that a kid could have — or a human — that could be the one that could save the world. If we could all acquire it to the extent that boy had it, no one would go into a movie theater with a gun.” It’s a powerful lesson, and one that I’m eager for my children — so often so quick to think only of themselves — to learn. It’s surely one I still need to learn. Perhaps these books are for adults after all.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot because empathy is such an important thing to have and such a difficult thing to teach. Sometimes, like last week –when I had to deal with a group of girls who were being mean to each other — I wish I had a giant foam empathy hammer and I could just bonk them over the head with it. So that they could see that the crappy way they feel on the inside is a direct result of the way they treat each other. Until such a tool exists I’ll keep listening and talking and being the best grown-up-type-person I know how to be.

Patience and Balance

Patience and balance are two things I actively seek in my life.  And at this point I think seek is an appropriate verb because though they are reached at different moments, the quest is on-going.  The only thing that has reinforced the importance of patience more than my experiences with the publishing world, is my experience as a mom.  No matter what I do, my daughter shows me again and again that she will do things in her own time. I can be supportive or throw temper tantrums of my own. I can try sleep interventions or potty interventions or picky eating interventions, but the only thing that is guaranteed to work consistently, is patience and time.

I’m thinking about balance because I’ve just declared myself done with my first round of revisions for my first ever editor of my first (soon to be) published book. Over the summer I completed a solid second draft of a new book. I’ve gotten feedback from beta readers and I’ve been sitting on that feedback while I worked on the revisions for Go West.  I could have jumped right in this weekend. I’ve had opportunities to begin. I’m blogging right now, when I could be revising my way to 2nd book greatness. But I’m not. In fact, I’m enjoying not writing for a few days. I’m taking a breath.

School is back in full swing, and by this I mean we’re done meeting and greeting and I have actual papers to grade and lessons to plan.  The days are shorter and my outside time is getting more and more limited. I’m taking a breath and it feels good. I know what I need to do on book two and I’ll get there in a reasonable amount of time.

I recently read parts of the NY Times magazine on inspiration. I especially liked the interview with Junot Diaz who, in addition to being a great writer, swears a lot. The interviewer compared Diaz’s writing process to trying to distill the ocean down to a glass of water. These things take time and patience.  Which reminds me of one of my favorite Rilke quotes.

“In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.” (You can read the whole thing here)

So I’m trying to not force the sap, take a breath, be silent and vast.

Okay, maybe not silent and vast. It’s not really my style. But the rest sounds good.