Monday, October 31, 2011

Last Day of October

For some, the most salient thing about today is that it is HALLOWEEN! And its being Halloween does make me want to reread Harry Behn's wonderful poem that begins, "Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly/like witches on switches across the sky."

But for me the most salient thing about today is that it is the last day of the month of October. Tomorrow, November first, I will begin a NEW LIFE, as I do on the first day of each month: I will leap into new regimens of fitness, frugality, and productive work, regimens that will most likely (if the past is any predictor of the future) peter out in a few days, but will still leave me with all kinds of accomplishments I would never have had otherwise.

The last day of the month is significant for me, too. This is the last hurrah for October, the last chance to accomplish whatever I can of all that I meant to do when that new life began thirty days ago. October can still be salvaged! It is not too late!

So today I am going to:
1) Do the FINAL revisions on my paper on the teen novels of Rosamond Du Jardin and send it off to the Children's Literature Association Quarterly
2) Put finishing touches on the talk on "Truth and Children's Literature" that I'm giving this afternoon as part of DePauw's week-long Arts Fest, whose theme this year is "Art and Truth"
3) Make some notes for myself in the aftermath of my talk on artistic integrity at Marquette last Friday so that I can have another frantic burst of revision on the talk before I give it again in some other venue
4) Write up reviews of three children's picture books for the Children's Literature website
5) Deal with accumulated emails and otherwise clear my desk for tomorrow's NEW LIFE!

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I have wanted to go to Milwaukee ever since I read Betsy, Tacy, and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace, as a little girl. In the book, Tib's Aunt Dolly is from Milwaukee, and the girls decide that Milwaukee has an evocative magic as an imagined destination. Betsy writes a poem that begins, "We're off to Milwaukee, Milwaukee. Milwaukee, Milwauk, MilewakEE." And then in one of the Betsy-Tacy high school books, Betsy in Spite of Herself, Tib's family has moved away to Milwaukee, and Betsy goes to visit Tib and her family in Milwaukee for Christmas. "It's practically a foreign city," Mr. Ray tells Betsy in preparation for her trip, which will immerse her in German-American culture of the turn of the last century.

And now here I am in Milwaukee!

The beauty of the city is taking my breath away. I'm staying with beloved former-grad-student Theresa, who lives ONE BLOCK off Lake Michigan in a charming old neighborhood; we're just back from a long stroll along tree-shaded streets with stunning lake views. As this trip is in part for me a Betsy-Tacy literary pilgrimage, I've requested that we have lunch at an old-time German restaurant, Karl Ratzsch's, and then we'll go to the Milwaukee Public Museum, which has a much-visited recreation of an old-time Milwaukee street scene from precisely the era of Betsy's Christmas visit to Tib.

My talk yesterday at the Marquette Philosophy Department went well, a talk on the concept of "artistic integrity": how best to define it, how to recognize when it has been compromised. The central feature of all my philosophy talks is that the thesis is false and the argumentation for it bad, but the questions explored are fascinating and I address them in an engaging, lively, and thought-provoking way. The falseness of the thesis and the badness of the argumentation invariably become glaringly apparent the moment the first person asks the first question in the Q&A period, the question that poses the inevitable counter-example that destroys the entire argument from start to finish. But everyone joins in helping me to make the paper better, and we all have a most intellectually jolly time.

And then last night I got the post-talk reward of a legendary Wisconsin FRIDAY FISH FRY for dinner, complete with polka dancing - followed by a tour of the Whitefish Bay pumpkin festival's display of hundreds of grinning jack o'lanterns. And now I get my Betsy-Tacy pilgrimage to boot. So it's worth giving a mildly embarrassing talk, with its grave but not utterly unredeemable philosophical flaws.

It's all part of getting to be off to Milwaukee, Milwaukee! Milwaukee, Milwauk - MilwaukEEEEEE!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hooray for Grad Students

The single best thing about my job teaching philosophy at the University of Colorado - and I think all my colleagues would agree - is having grad students. Grad students are wonderful. They are amazingly smart, knowledgeable, motivated, funny, fascinating human beings. They are also extraordinarily generous and helpful to faculty.

Over the course of my twenty years at CU, I am indebted to graduate students for:

- teaching my son Gregory to ride a bike (Sara, of course)
- going with us to Lakeside Amusement Park so that I wouldn't have to be the one to ride the rollercoaster with my boys (Sara, of course)
- co-authoring a paper with me on environmental justice (thanks, Rob!)
- creating with me a summer philosophy camp for high school students (Sara AND Rob)
- driving my boys various places when I couldn't go
- providing catsitting employment for my boys over university breaks
- letting me have the privilege of reading some amazing dissertations
- serving as my research assistants on projects ranging from assembling a Rousseau bibliography to critiquing my book-in-progress on parenting ethics.
- serving as my TAs in class after class
- acting out the play No Exit with me in those classes
- and so much more!!

It's always heartbreaking when grad students "grow up" - get their Ph.D.s and go away to their grown-up tenure-track jobs. But then - and this is the point of my post today - they invite me to come places and give talks. Thanks to Sara, I've been invited to speak at the Philosophy Teaching and Learning Organization (PLATO) conference last summer in New York. Thanks to Jen and Rich, I was invited to speak at the Undergraduate Ethics Symposium at DePauw, which led to my being invited here for this magical visiting year.

And thanks to Theresa and Kevin, I'm heading to the airport momentarily to give a talk this afternoon at Marquette and spend the weekend playing with them in Milwaukee.

Oh, grad students, I owe you so much!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Getting It All Done

As we're heading into the busy, stressful portion of the semester, I thought I would write a post to remind myself of a few of my core time management principles that I seem to have temporarily forgotten. I'm feeling overwhelmed with all I have to do right now: prepare the talk on artistic integrity that I'm giving tomorrow (!) in Milwaukee, prepare the talk on truth and children's literature that I'm giving Monday (!) for the week-long Arts Fest extravaganza here at DePauw, do final revisions on my Rosamond du Jardin paper that was just accepted (hooray!) by the Children's Literature Association Quarterly, do a ton of planning for my winter session course on children's book writing, for my spring course on feminism and the family, for my spring reading group on the work of philosopher Cheshire Calhoun, for a spring event on the ethics of life writing. How can I possibly get it all done?

The first thing to remember is that I CAN'T get it all done. Trying to "get it all done" is the best way to ensure that I don't get any of it done. Facing a massive and endless to-do list is paralyzing, not empowering. What I need to figure out is how to get SOME of it done, preferably the things that need to be done sooner rather than later.

So my goal today (well, for what's left of today) is simply to focus on that paper I'm giving tomorrow at Marquette. I've located a previous draft of the paper that I had lying around, plus a bunch of very very helpful comments from various people that I saved from when I last gave the talk a year or two ago. I need to remind myself that the worst-case scenario, not even such a terrible scenario, is that I just give the talk the way it is. That IS a possible option. Having accepted that as an option, I can move forward knowing that anything I decide to do to the talk between now and tomorrow is likely to be at least a partial improvement.


I'm going to finish writing this blog post, then I'm going to go get a late lunch at the Blue Door Cafe while I read through my notes and make my revision plan. Then I'm going to go out to my peaceful serene office at the Prindle Institute and spend at least an hour making what changes I can. I may find some leftover wine from last night's reading group to assist in this process. And then I'll just give the talk tomorrow and hope for the best, comforting myself with the thought that my argument may be weak, my conclusion may be false, but at least the paper isn't boring. It really isn't.

On the plane tomorrow I'll start reading the two books I need to skim-read to do my final revisions on that children's literature paper. I don't need to worry about my truth and children's literature talk until Monday. Heck, the talk isn't until 4:15 on Monday, so I'll have all day to work on it, fortified by French toast and hot chocolate at the Blue Door.

The long-term planning can wait until Tuesday. Or maybe even Wednesday.

I don't have to get it ALL done today. Just some of it. And now I'm off to do it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revise and Resubmit

I just got back the two reviewers' comments from Children's Literature in Education on my paper, "'Better Times Are Coming Now': Wartime Dreams and Disenchantment in Rufus M." The verdict? The paper has promise, but it needs to be MASSIVELY revised before it can be deemed publishable.

Why am I not surprised? This is the story of my life as a writer and a scholar. In fact, if I were to write an intellectual autobiography, Revise and Resubmit would be an excellent title for it.

It's always a TAD disappointing, of course, to read through the LENGTHY comments pointing out all that remains to be done. But I have to remind myself: this is my PROCESS. I always send off a paper too soon, before it is as good as it needs to be. And I always send it off too soon for a very good reason. Because on my own, unassisted, I don't know how to make it as good as it needs to be.

The suggestions I received this morning are invaluable. I now have a list of books to read, points to develop, arguments to expand. I have a plan! It will take a TON of work to do all of this, work that I may well need to defer until next summer, but it's all work that I know how to do and will enjoy doing. And then I'll have a vastly stronger paper. No: I will have the definitive scholarly paper on this book. A paper written by me, but with lots of help from two brilliant anonymous reviewers (well, one brilliant anonymous reviewer and one VERY brilliant not-really-anonymous reviewer, because I can always recognize the particular pattern of this scholar's brilliance).

So now I'm to write on my list of "Nice Things and Accomplishments" for October: "Revise and resubmit comments on Rufus M." Getting these IS a nice thing. And it's going to lead, in time, to one heck of an accomplishment.

Monday, October 24, 2011

From Home to Home

I got home to Greencastle, Indiana, last night, after a week of being home in Boulder, Colorado. I'm home from being home.

I don't remember ever feeling this way before in my life, as if I had two homes, both equally MY home, both dear familiar worlds with a house that is my house and a bed that is my bed and even with a stuffed animal that is my stuffed animal. (Though only Boulder has a cat that is my cat.)

This morning I had breakfast at the Blue Door Cafe, where Shelley and I squealed with happiness to see each other after our week of separation. I dallied over my beloved French toast and hot chocolate, and then walked my usual morning constitutional up and down Seminary Street, before heading out to my office at the Prindle Institute to exchange fall break stories with Linda and Nicki. Now I'm puttering at my computer here, getting geared up for my busy happy week back home, after my busy happy week away, or rather, my busy happy week back (at my other) home.

Two beloved homes, equally home, a thousand miles apart.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brownie Hubris

Today, my last day home in Colorado for fall break, is the day of the church chile cookoff. The three categories for judging are chile, cornbread, and brownies. Christopher and I are three-time winners for our "Scrumptious Cream Cheese Brownies" in the brownie competition, the undefeated champions. Actually, the first year of the cookoff the brownies were not actually judged for a prize, but everyone agreed that if brownies HAD been judged, we would have won.

So a lot is at stake for us this year as we defend our title.

But then I fell prey to brownie hubris. I decided to submit, in addition to our award-winning cream cheese brownies, a new kind of brownie as well. I found a recipe online for s'mores brownies: graham cracker bottom crust, then brownies on top of that, then a marshmallow topping with little bits of broken graham crackers and broken Hershey bars sprinkled in.

I felt like Mary Lou Retton, who after scoring an unprecedented 10 in the first of her best-of-two-tries on her Olympic vault, ran back and did a completely unnecessary second try and scored a second 10. Would there be a two-way tie in the brownie category this year, between Claudia and . . . Claudia?

No. Hubris proved for me, as for so many others, a tragic flaw. When I put the s'mores brownies under the broiler for a minute or two so that the marshmallows could brown, instead, in a few SECONDS, the marshmallows burst into flame. My oven was engulfed with fire.

As my adoring audience stood gaping, I called 911 and the fire fighters arrived. By that time, the fire was out, the marshmallows just ashes. No permanent damage was done to my kitchen. But the s'mores brownies had to be removed from competition.

I'm off now to frost the cream cheese brownies, a wiser and humbler baker. And maybe this year it IS someone else's turn to win.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Quantifying Revisions

I was just talking to a writer who has participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for two years running, generating a 50,000-word novel each time during the month of November. I asked her if she was planning to do it again this year, and she said she's inclining toward spending that month this time around revising one of her previous novels. The only problem is that it's so motivating to be counting up words toward the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo total and there doesn't seem to be anything comparably satisfying along quantitative lines for revision.

So I started thinking about how I quantify revision for myself, as I'm also someone who adores meeting visible/tangible goals and crossing them off my to-do list.

For revision I have two quantitative ways I proceed. One is to quantify revision in terms of time spent. I tell myself that I have to revise this book for ten hours, say, and then cross off each one.

The other approach relies on my having comments given to me by my writing group or my editor. There I assemble a huge master manuscript made up of every page with writing group or editorial comments, removing every page with no comments. My revision task is then to go through the master manuscript and deal with 50 comments, or 30, or whatever. I usually keep track by removing the pages from the pile as I have dealt with the comments on that page.

In the beginning I can make amazing progress, as many of the comments are just marked typos or other tiny things. So on my first pass through the manuscript I might get rid of 50 pages. But then come the hard things: Does Sierra express too much anger toward Ms. Lin too soon? The three pages that have comments related to this one issue might take hours to revise.

But I do get to count. And counting definitely motivates, at least for me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How to Sleep, How to Wake

Here is the best way to sleep:

1. Make sure the air in the room is very cool.
2. Make sure the blankets are very warm. It's best to have at least one big puffy comforter and at least one hand-sewn quilt.
3. Wear a Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown.
4. Position yourself in the bed with one leg straight and one leg bent.
5. Have Snickers the cat position herself in the crook of your bent leg.
6. Proceed with sleeping and purring.

This is guaranteed to give you the best sleep of your life.
Warning: it will make it VERY hard to wake up the next morning.

So here is the best way to wake:

1. Force yourself out of bed at six because you have a scheduled date to walk with Rowan.
2. Throw on your clothes.
3. Gulp down some Swiss Miss hot chocolate.
4. Force yourself to start walking in the pitch darkness at six-thirty.
5. Recognize Rowan walking toward you only by her yellow hat in the darkness.
6. Turn east and walk together toward the rosy brightness on the horizon.
7. Continue walking as the sun rises "a ribbon at a time" (Emily).
8. Continue walking until the sky is ablaze with pink and gold.
9. Continue walking until it's really truly morning.

So now you know how to do it!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Next?

I just finished my massive revisions on my novel for FSG, the book about the perfect goody-goody girl who takes her mother's lunch to school by mistake, a lunch with a knife in it for cutting her mother's apple, and then finds herself facing mandatory expulsion under the school's zero tolerance policies for weapons. I emailed it off five minutes ago. The changes I made from Margaret's suggestions were so terrific! I cut out 30 pages, motivated Sierra's change from perfect girl to rebel much more effectively, fixed many tiny inconsistencies and other puzzling holes in the formerly sprawling story. Hooray!

But now, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I have no new book lined up to write after this one. I've groped toward some ideas, written huge chunks of one possibility that I'm not sure I like, written an entire chapter book that still isn't right but maybe could be made to be right. But I have no next contract right now, no definite "This is going to be my next book" plan.

I'm trying to feel excited rather than stressed about this. The writing world is wide open for me right now. Should I write the memoir I've been thinking about? Maybe now's the time? Or return to poetry? Or something completely different, utterly unlike anything I can now even imagine?

Watch this spot!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Soul Is All But Out of Me

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote this wonderful poem that I memorized as a child and can still quote by heart:

God's World

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart. Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

This is what it feels like, being home this mid-October week in Boulder, at the peak of autumn brilliance, as I reconnect to the life and world I left behind two months ago to head to Indiana. Every day is so filled with emotional intensity. At church this morning dozens of people not only hugged me, but held on to me, as I held on to them. We stood there in the pews holding each other, close to tears. And that was only one hour of my visit home!

I've been so happy in Indiana - I had almost forgotten this, forgotten home - and now it's all come back to me, with a passion that is stretching me apart, my sweet life too beautiful for me to be able to bear it. I feel like Emily in Our Town, come back from the grave for one day, marveling at how earthly people are able to endure the intensity of each ordinary moment. “Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?”

Only I've come back not for one day, but for one whole week.

Friday, October 14, 2011


It's fall break at DePauw, starting today; I flew home to Colorado this morning, so here I am for an entire week of reconnecting with my old life.

So far: hike on the Shanahan Ridge trails with Rowan on a perfect crisp fall day. Tonight: Gregory's jazz band concert at CU. Tomorrow: farmers' market breakfast with Rowan and then a matinee of Swan Lake in Denver. Sunday: seeing dear friends at church as Christopher plays in the bell choir; walking around Viele Lake with Elizabeth; dinner with Diane.

Somewhere during this week I have to find time to revise a novel, grade papers, get my teeth cleaned at the dentist, check in with the philosophy department, and CUDDLE WITH SNICKERS. But it's all off to a good start so far.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Tempest and Me

This is the week that the Actors from the London Stage are here on campus to do their performance of The Tempest, as well as to work with student actors in a number of classes, including the interdisciplinary team-taught class on the play that I've been attending. There is an article about our class on the university website this week, and of course, who is prominently visible in the first photo for the article, but the oldest, stoutest, most awkward, but also most enthusiastic student: me. Here I am practicing courtly manners in a class exercise. Note the kindly amusement on the faces of my fellow students.

The performance by the Actors from the London Stage, which I saw Tuesday night, was distinguished by the fact that the entire play was performed uncut with only five actors playing multiple roles, sometimes in the same scene, a tour de force of getting instantly into character with only the most minimal of props and costumes as well. I might go see it a second time tonight just to figure out "How did they do it?"

But in case you wanted to know how I did it, you can see it here!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Only at DePauw

Here is my latest "only at DePauw" story that explains why I am so happy here.

Yesterday I was having lunch with a colleague in the English department over at the Two West restaurant at the Inn at DePauw, right on the edge of the campus. This is the restaurant that has the CAKE BALLS that I blogged about a few weeks ago. As I finished lunch, I saw other colleagues/friends eating there as well, members of the Janeites book group. And then at the table next to them sat the president of the university, Brian Casey.

Although he had only met me once before, at a new faculty orientation dinner at his home, he greeted me warmly and asked me how everything was going for me at DePauw. I did my usual gushing about the wonderfulness of the Prindle Institute and my happiness in the philosophy department.

Then he said, "Wait, you're the Blue Door Cafe person, aren't you?" This is the cafe I've come to love - oh, that hot chocolate! oh, that French toast! oh, the coziness of the couches! oh, the warmth and kindness of Shelley who presides there.

"Yes, I am," I told President Casey.

"Well, they love you there," he told me.

"Well, I love them!" I told him.

So I think it's pretty cool that the university president not only remembers a new faculty member so warmly but also keeps track of her love fest with the Blue Door Cafe. Don't you?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Scuffling through the Leaves

My first-ever job was a part-time job in the junior clothes department at Sears, back when I was in high school. To show you how long ago this was: THREE young women worked in that ONE department. One of us worked the cash register, one of us attended the dressing room, and one of us tidied up the clothes racks and made furtive runs over to the chocolate-and-cheese department to bring back provisions for the others (that was me). It was tons of fun working there, as I remember.

The customers were always interesting, like the teasing man who asked me in all apparent seriousness if we took "federal reserve notes" - I told him I had to go check with the manager to see. Or the man who wanted us to try on a bunch of different outfits so he could see which one would look best on his girlfriend. (Actually, forty years later that seems creepy to me, but at the time it made for a jolly evening of fashion show.) And we also spent an unconscionable amount of time on the Sears phone line talking to our boyfriends.

Still, when October came I wanted to quit my job, because it was cutting into the time I could have been spending scuffling through the autumn leaves. I yearned for the pleasures of that kind of aimless idleness, strolling along through ankle-deep heaps of maple and oak leaves. So quit the job I did.

Over the years "scuffling through the leaves" has become a sort of mantra for me, reminding me of the pleasures I don't want to crowd out of my busy workaday life.

Now it's autumn in Indiana, and fallen leaves are thick everywhere I go. I'm busy busy busy with my job, but luckily I can walk to work at the Prindle Institute through the DePauw Nature Park, and scuffle happily for a full half hour each direction. I get to keep my job and scuffle through the leaves, too. Which is how I like my life best.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Getting a Grip

It's the week before fall break here, and everyone is stressed, or has a right to be. Students are buried under the weight of all the papers they have to write; professors are buried under the weight of all the papers they have to grade. And when my students tell me all that they are doing in addition to writing midterm papers and taking midterm exams, I feel exhausted just listening: one student is playing the bass in the pit orchestra for the musical Urinetown AND spending two hours a day in Ethics Bowl practice; another is on DePauw's swim team; another is plowing through an enormous book for one of the Prindle reading groups in addition to the enormous books she's reading for class, and much much more.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking about the significant revisions I need to make on my longest-ever novel, the paper I need to submit for the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics conference, the paper I need to write for a Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) volume, soon-due student recommendation letters. Plus the enormous books I'm plowing through for the FIVE Prindle reading groups I signed up for at the start of the semester when I really thought I'd have time here in my new life for EVERYTHING.

So we all need to get a grip. Here's how I'm doing it today.

Step one: get a good night's sleep - DONE!
Step two: get up and do at least an hour's work on the book revisions - DONE!
Step three: go to the Blue Door Cafe and spend an hour drinking hot chocolate, eating French toast, and reading the Sunday New York Times - DONE!
Step four: church - coming up next!
Step five: spend the afternoon at my peaceful Prindle office dealing with those recommendation letters and finishing the final chapter of one of the reading group books
Step six: attend the Prindle second-Sunday-of-the-month film series - today's film is a documentary called Deliver Us from Evil
Step seven: Ethics Bowl practice from 6:30-8:30
Step eight: home to get in bed and read a book I need to review
Step nine: go to sleep!

Will this make a dent in all I have to do? Yes, but only a dent. But a dent is still something. It is still so much better than no dent! I'll be able to cross at least a few things off my master list: the recommendation letters, that Prindle book, and most of all, the hardest thing on my list, "face those book revisions." And I got to have French toast, too!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Me and Belle and Donald and Daisy and Cheryl

So here I am at the Epcot Center at Disney World on a perfect Florida October day, as we ate our way around the world at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. In the photo of Belle, note how much better she looks than we do! For some reason not a strand of her hair was blowing in the strong breeze, and her eyes weren't closed, and her mouth was curved into a perfect smile, and she was standing right in the middle of a shaft of sunlight, too. When we told Belle that we were glad she hadn't ended up with Gaston, she gave a small shudder: "I don't even like to hear the NAME Gaston."

Donald and Daisy probably look better than we do, too. But they weren't having any more fun than we were having.

Friday, October 7, 2011


The FAME conference (Florida Association for Media in Education) truly lives up to its name, at least from an author's perspective. Here authors of books for young readers are celebrities. Dozens of media specialists have asked to have their picture taken with me so that they can take it back to their eager students who reportedly will be wild with excitement at this glimpse of me. People act flattered if I sit with them at lunch or walk with them through the gorgeous hallways of this posh Hilton resort. People treat it as a huge honor to be able to collect an author - an actual author! - from the airport.

Here is what I've been telling these wonderful dedicated media specialists (whom I still want to call by the honorific title LIBRARIANS).

These students who are so excited about books and reading and who are thrilled by the sight of an author? Do you know why they are so excited? It's because of YOU. It's because of YOUR love for books, and YOUR love for kids - your contagious enthusiasm - your creative energy and excitement. We authors would be nowhere - unwept, unhonored, and unsung - if it weren't for you.

So thank you, thank you, thank you, Florida media educators. You are the best!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Multiple Worlds

As if I didn't have a wonderful enough time at the Epcot Center's International Food and Wine Festival yesterday with Cheryl and Carey (I'll post my photo of us with Belle of Beauty and the Beast when I return home to Indiana), now I'm having nonstop bliss at FAME, the Florida Association for Media in Education conference.

I loved being on a panel late yesterday afternoon with four other witty and sparkling children's authors, including two terrific Lisas: Lisa Wheeler and Lisa Yee.

I loved signing books - lots of them, too! - in the exhibit hall.

I loved sitting by the pool sipping white wine sangria with a new writer friend as the moon rose over the palm trees.

Today I know I'm going to love giving my talk and signing more books. And then I'm going to love lying on a chaise longue by the pool, writing.

Being here at FAME makes me think: THIS is my world, THESE are my people. Why do I ever do anything other than write children's books? The only trouble is that when I walked into the FEAST conference two weeks ago - Feminist Ethics and Social Theory - I felt the same way. And maybe I feel this way most of all when I walk into the ChLA conference - the scholarly Children's Literature Association. These are ALL my worlds. These are ALL my people.

So I'm lucky to have a lot of different worlds to visit.

Especially ones with moonlit palm trees.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Perfect Timing

Tomorrow morning, very early, I'm off to Orlando because my book How Oliver Olson Changed the World is on the master list for the Sunshine State Young Readers Award. This means that children around the state will be reading my book, and the others on the list, preparatory to voting for their favorite title next spring. And it means that I was invited, together with the other nominated authors, to speak, sign, mix, and mingle at the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME) conference, held this year in Orlando. My participation in this totally wonderful event will include an author panel Wednesday afternoon and talks on both Thursday and Friday, as well as other jollities.

Now, that would be fun enough, one would think. But it also happens to be the case that my sister and her husband made a last-minute decision to go on vacation in Orlando this week. And that I had already booked an extremely early-in-the-morning flight to Orlando, as there are very few nonstop options from Indianapolis, leaving me hours to spend all by myself before the opening of FAME at 4 p.m. So now Cheryl and Carey will be meeting me at the airport at 9 a.m. tomorrow, and the three of us can play all day at the Epcot Center during their International Food and Wine Festival.

How fun is that? Could timing be any more perfect than that?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rapid Results

As part of my current project to make my life in every way as wonderful as possible, I've been subscribing for the first time in many many years to The New York Times, sharing a subscription with my friend Keith. I pick it up first, trotting over in the morning to get our copy from the pile outside Asbury Hall on campus, and then I give it to Keith when I'm done with it. At first this worked out great, because I would force myself to read at least some of it every day and then simply pass it on to Keith, either way. But then I fell behind, and he fell behind, and now there are piles of them everywhere. And I know that every single issue is more worth reading than many books. I can't let myself get stressed by this, however. I have to say: whatever little sparkly thing I pick up from any given issue makes it all okay.

This morning I spent a lovely hour at the Blue Door Cafe, with hot chocolate, French toast, and just one section of the Sunday paper, my favorite section: Sunday Review. There was a terrific article on compassion fatigue, another on whether Gov. Christie of New Jersey is too fat to be president, another on the proliferation of super-people among college applicants, and the best one of all, for me, one called "Deadlines Get Results" by Tina Rosenberg.

She writes about the successes brought by the Rapid Results program, where people come together to pledge to solve problems in 100 days: HIV testing in Ethiopia, boosting infant mortality in Rwanda, digging wells in Sierra Leone. Things that hadn't been done in decades were accomplished within 100 days, because time-concentrated efforts pay off.

Ooh! Now I want to think what projects in my own life I could decide to tackle in 100 days. Just one, of course, for each 100-day cycle. After all, the article didn't say you could increase HIV testing, boost infant mortality rates AND dig a bunch of wells all in 100 days. It said, or implied, that you pick one thing, and then do IT. Plan to get it done in 100 days, and then see what happens.

I think I'm getting ready to make my 100-day plan....

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Master Class

The big big big excitement here at DePauw: YoYo Ma has been here for the past two days, suffusing the campus and community with his abundantly infectious creative and musical joy.

Thursday night he gave his public lecture - "YoYo Ma: A Life in Music" - where the best part was the clip of little boy YoYo playing with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic with JFK and Jackie in attendance - and then a couple of decades later, playing with Elmo on Sesame Street.

Friday he played an impromptu concert in the student center at lunchtime to a capacity crowd - and played to an audience of 25 at a Greencastle nursing home - and played a sold-out evening concert with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

The high point for me was attending the master class he gave in the morning. Two brave first-year students played first for him, a Brahms piece for cello and piano. Then three advanced students played a delicious Beethoven trio. To my surprise, YoYo Ma focused less on technique than on having the students understand what it was about each piece that they wanted most to share with their audience: "If there was one thing you wanted others to understand about why you love this piece, what would it be?"

He had the first pair of students play the piece with exquisite slowness: "Now I can feel the listening between you - you had all the time in the world to say what you wanted" - "Don't rush to the next note - let us HEAR it - MAKE us listen."

He talked about trust: "You can rely on the music to do most of the work for you you. You're just joining in."

He asked the second group if they had any questions or concerns about the piece they had just played so beautifully: one mentioned timing, one color, one unity at the conclusion. He said that lazy as he is (ha!), he likes to try to find the common denominator solution to resolve as many problems as possible, and suggested that the players conceive of each measure as one "beat" in a larger four-beat measure. The results were noticeable even on one playing.

So what can I apply from this to writing? I'm still pondering that. At the least: focus on what I most love about my story and most want to share with my readers. And write it with joy.