I packed three books to go to my parents for the weekend – really it was more like a 30 hour trip. I went to help out after my dad had a series of small strokes that followed a severe stroke a couple years ago. My mom is his caretaker. Is is a lot.
Before I left I checked the fifth Harry Potter book on audio out of the library for my daughter. She’s seven and loves audio books. Since I introduced her to the literary crack that is Harry Potter she’s been flying through them. I knew she was worried about me. And I knew if she had an audio book she was into she could squirrel herself away in her room and get lost in a story.
My mom calls it defensive eating -when we eat not because we’re so hungry but to prevent being hungry later on. (Did I mention we’re Jewish?) Anyway, sometimes I practice defensive library use. I check books out to avoid being without one at my fingertips.
I brought the following books:
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein -a re-read but one that is light and smart and makes me laugh.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi -my current YA fiction read. The story of Fabiola who emigrates to the US alone to live with her Aunt and cousins after her mom is detained.
Astrophysics for People In a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson – because I’ve never read anything by him and I heard him talk about it brilliantly on the radio. And because sometimes it’s good to get distracted by things that are a lot bigger than you are.
I didn’t pick up a single one -okay maybe a few pages of You’ll Grow Out of It before bed, but that was it. But I knew they were there. I knew if/when things got hard or painful that those books were there for me. I’m not a religious person but I imagine this is how it feels to have that kind of spiritual faith.
When I open the pages of a well loved book I know that the words will be in the same order they were before, that the plot will arc in the same direction. When I read something by a trusted and loved author I know I am investing myself in something that could show me the interconnectedness of all things, or a world wildly different from my own but that resonates with me emotionally.
“We read to know we’re not alone,” is a quote often attributed to C.S. Lewis but there’s some controversy around that. I’m not surprised I’m sure it’s one many people have said or thought. I know I have.
It’s been an insane 6 weeks since the book launch party and I’m very sorry not to write this sooner. Between crocheting my kids Halloween costumes and cleaning the baseboards it’s been rough. Okay really just regular life stuff but it’s nowhere near as good as the image of me crocheting anything.
Here is my favorite picture from the book launch party at Mechanics Hall Library.
I’m really hoping none of these children read my book before they’re in high school or at least that they have very permissive (preferably Unitarian or reform Jew) parents.
It was a blast. I’m so grateful to everyone who came out and made it fun and special. So thanks! I know I have more pictures somewhere but I can’t find them so here is a random pic from high school.
By the way, I so knew this picture was being taken. This is just me being cute and pretending to be surprised. Also, these white v-neck t-shirts were a major wardrobe staple for longer than I’d care to admit.
If you’re in the Boston area and you have a lot of anxiety the night before the election please come join me and 3 other amazing YA author friends to talk books at Porter Square Books in Cambridge November 7th at 7pm. Love to see you there.
Women in my family have a long history of not giving a care about mother’s day. There is one phrase that always irks me and it seems to come out in full force around Mother’s Day; that’s when people thank their kids for “making them a mother”.
It’s just not something I relate to and it seems to simplify and diminish a process of change and transition that lasts months and even years. Also, and I know this is my own hang up, but no one made me a mother except me. Simply reproducing does not make you a mother or a father. Growing and carrying another person inside your uterus for 9 months is pretty miraculous but it also does not make you a mother. Getting that baby out of your body in whatever way works is pretty badass but it also does not make you a mother.
Shortly after Eliana was born I felt like I had survived that scene in Aliens when the creature punches a hole through the human and emerges yowling at its new found freedom. I did not feel like her mother. I felt like the most under-qualified babysitter ever and I kept waiting for someone to show up and take her for a few weeks so I could read all those important baby books I’d been given.
When I think about experiences that made me a mother, I think about the first time I changed a blow out diaper in the back of my car. Or when I learned that I could nurse my baby in most settings and without the four hundred pillows I used at home to get us both comfortable. Until Eliana started calling me mama that word felt awkward to me. I hated when people used in a weird third person greeting when I was still pregnant. “How’s mama feeling?” Who are you talking about? I’m sure my face said it all. I’ve never been very good at hiding my thoughts.
To me the word mother represents nurture. It represents putting someone’s needs in front of your own, again and again and again. It represents a unique marinade of love and frustration, pride and fear. It is not something given to you, it’s something you show up for every day; a role you grow with and into sometimes gracefully, but more often covered in some sort of bodily fluid.
I spent a lot of middle school and the early parts of high school trying to be normal. In WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE my main character Ben is obsessed with the appearance of normalcy and doesn’t understand people like Ilona, the blue-haired skater girl, who reject it. (Who are these people I’m referencing? See last week’s post for character details.)
In order to write a whole book about something I have to connect to the material on a fundamental level. I distinctly remember experiences from elementary school, middle school and high school where I felt called out for being other than normal. In 4th grade I had friend ask the boy I liked what he thought of me. His response: “She’s pretty, but she’s kind of weird.” So for more years than I care to admit I tried really hard to be less weird. Something I understand now as a very typical part of adolescence -but what a waste!
As a middle school teacher I’m most in awe of those kids who seem to move through middle school with a strong sense of self firmly intact. Those kids who don’t try and be anyone but themselves. which in middle school this is not only an act of wisdom but one of bravery.
I have a weird name and weirder still -I made it up when I was 2. My family played the guitar and sang folks songs at Thanksgiving and went to nude beaches on summer vacation. I gave my stuffed animal monkey the name Harriet Irving because I couldn’t tell if it was male or female and I didn’t want to impose gender on it….I was nine. I was weird. And the only thing I regret about it is that I didn’t learn to embrace it sooner.
Next Wednesday I’ll be revealing the cover for WIRED MAN on the awesome YA Interrobang site -stay tuned!
Today a student asked me that. She was in the midst of an argument with another student, who I suspect was just trying to provoke her. But nonetheless I responded, “Do you want my answer as a science teacher, or a flaming liberal?”
I always assume my students can see my political flags flying a mile away but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about middle school it’s that you should never ever assume the students are actually listening to you. Most of the time you’re just that Charlie Brown teacher up there nattering away about something that is way less interesting than a snapchat from their friend about a chicken nugget that looked exactly like Harry Styles from One Direction.
But someone was listening because they asked me what a flaming liberal was. It could be that they’re truly interested or it could be that they smelled a way to get their teacher to go on a non-homework related tangent for the next 8-10 minutes while they snapchatted or texted under the desk. Regardless, I took the bait.
What’s a flaming liberal. Hmm, I thought about it for a minute before I began to rant.
“I’m a flaming liberal because I believe that everyone has the right to love and marry whomever they like, because I think all children deserve food and clothing and the semblance of equality in the quality of their education. I think everyone should make a living wage. I think the top 1% of our country should not control 35% of our nation’s wealth or that the wealthiest 85 people in the world should not have more resources than the 3.5 million poorest put together.* I think that everyone has a right to free healthcare and medicine and that older people should be taken care of regardless of their ability to pay. I think women and men should be granted a minimum of a year’s paid parental leave and I’m more than willing to pay loads more in taxes so that all this can be paid for by our government. And yeah, global warming is real.”
Seriously, that is what I said. The 8th graders looked at me a little bug eyed, at least the ones who were still listening. Then we went back to standardized test prep -because unfortunately, flaming liberals like me do not yet rule the world or the educational system.
*okay, okay I didn’t really have these facts off the top of my head but 51% of all statistics are invented anyway.
This is the sign that hangs above the door on the way out of my classroom. It’s also the most important rule (to me) governing behavior in the tiny microcosm of controlled space which is my classroom.
I care that students learn about science. I hope that they find the world around them as fascinating and exciting as I do. But if they learn nothing from me all year except the importance of being kind….I would be okay with that too. Kind to others and kind to themselves.
Over the weekend we were again reminded of the violence of the world we live in. The violent actions of those with guns who seek to make their point by cutting down the lives of others. Not just in Paris, but in Lebanon and in Syria and too many places around the world. I wrestle with the relative safety I feel in my every day life. Lucky? Guilty? Privileged? All of the above?
So what can I do? What can any of us do in our every day lives to resist, to feel less helpless, to inspire peace in others?
Here’s my short list:
- Be kind to others
- Be kind to yourself
- Read a book to understand the perspective of another
- Listen to someone else’s fears
- Give your time to someone else
- Find and do work that you love
Maybe it seems trite or cheesy but it helps me, and I do believe it matters. And that is the best I can do in the place that I am right now.
Ha, ha, ha if you though the first thing was going to be writing or some such other glamorous author activity.
- look up library books
- update goodreads progress
- read articles linked to twitter
- read articles linked to facebook
- consider entering online contests to win more books
- write emails
- write blog posts -sometimes about writing, sometimes about other ephemera
- look up meaning of word ephemera or other somesuch to avoid looking like idiot
- check craigslist for things I don’t really need
- online browse for things I don’t really need
- do consumer research for things I don’t really need
- Watch occasional video of people or animals doing foolish things
Now this could be a wild rationalization but I do think that all this computer jiggery pokery does actually keep me in the seat -which keeps me writing longer. I think. Maybe. I’d write more about it but I have to go google myself.