Friday, July 13, 2018

Creative Joy Progress Report

As some of you know, my chief goal for 2018 is to have 10 hours of creative joy each month. I have strict standards for what counts as creative joy: it can't just be joy experienced doing something creative - too easy! It has to be joy experienced doing something creative with something EXTRA added: writing somewhere special, writing while eating something special, writing in the company of someone special, even just writing with a lit candle by my side, or a dollop of Cool Whip in my morning Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

So far this year I've totaled: 14 hours of creative joy in January, 14 in February, 15 in March, a whopping 22 in April, 14 in May . . . but only 9 1/4 in June. My average is definitely greater than ten hours a month, but according to my self-imposed rules, I'm not allowed to stockpile creative joy hours in lush months as a safeguard against leaner ones. The goal is to make EVERY month a creatively joyous one.

Those missing three-quarters of an hour of creative joy in June stand as a reproach to me. My hero, Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, faithfully logged his pages written every day, entering "day by day, the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour so that the deficiency might be supplied." He confesses that "a week passed with an insufficient number of pages has been a blister to my eye, and a month so disgraced would have been a sorrow to my heart."

So now my little creative joy log stands as "a blister to my eye" and "a sorrow to my heart."

Nor have I logged a single hour of creative joy thus far in July, consumed instead with taking two little girls to Tiny Town, to Sunflower Farm, to the Carousel of Happiness, and to a planetarium show at the Museum of Nature and Science - plus many happy hours at the pool where they bobbed about in their Puddle Jumpers like two buoyant little boats on a sunny sea. (I did, however, get to check off many of these items toward the goal of experiencing thirty different "summer pleasures" -  oh, how I love lists!)

Next week will be nonstop creative joy, as I'm traveling to Roanoke to reconnect with colleagues, former students, and dear friends at the Graduate Program in Children's Literature at Hollins University. I'll write in their beautiful library. I'll write curled up in one of the soft blankets thoughtfully provided by the library against air conditioning chills. I'll write in a rocking chair on a veranda. I'll write, and write, and write, and every minute of it will be joyous - and duly logged as such.

But I still wish I had made myself get just 45 more minutes of creative joy in June.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Finding Happiness Closer to Home

I'm back from the Children's Literature Association conference in San Antonio, where I had the usual exhilarating time listening to dozens of scholarly papers over the course of the conference's three days. For just a few:
  • Picture book portrayals of Mrs. Noah in Noah's Ark picture books
  • Patron statistics and written reports on librarian-patron interactions from the children's division of the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library 1907-1910
  • Nineteenth-century child-created cookbooks
  • Food and female community in early 20th century girls' college novels
  • Pioneering children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore's close relationship with (wrongly) convicted murderer Leo Frank
  • Visual representations of the state in picture books about children of incarcerated parents
  • Swimming as an element of progressive girlhood in early 20th century Girl Scout novels
  • Textual changes across numerous editions of Louise May Alcott's Little Women.
And so many more!

My own paper on child poet Hilda Conkling was well received. I caught up with beloved once-a-year conference friends, drank margaritas on the River Walk, scribbled down so many book recommendations, reconnected on such a deep level with a world I love, and even joined in a "Families Belong Together" rally in front of the nearby cathedral. I also walked alone every early morning past the Alamo and found a wonderful bakery/cafe, La Panaderia, where I sipped hot chocolate and nibbled on pineapple empenadas while writing poetry.

But. . . it's so hard on my family when I travel now, given health issues and other ways in which I'm needed and will be needed even more in years to come. As I noted in my previous post, conference travel is extremely expensive, too. Partway through the conference I thought: oh, I love this world too much ever to let it go! But by the end, I started to think: these twenty-five years of attending the conference have been blissful, but my life at home is pretty blissful, too. Anywhere that I can drink hot chocolate and write poetry is a blissful place to be.

My two little granddaughters are here now for their monthly ten-day visit. Today their father and I took them to Tiny Town in Morrison, where I used to take him and his brother when they were small. It's an old-fashioned, somewhat shabby and shopworn, dear sweet little place; the Tiny Town train (which we rode twice this morning) has been carrying children and their families since 1915. Here are the girls in their 4th of July finery:

Today at Tiny Town with them I was just as happy as I was last week, immersed in the world of children's literature scholarship. (Not happier, I have to say - but equally happy.) In an ideal world, I guess I'd have both: travel to fascinating academic gatherings all around the country (and the planet!) AND intense family time at home. But few people live ideal lives in an ideal world. It's enough to have a happy life, in whatever form it needs to take.

On this Independence Day, I'm remembering that, in the end, independence isn't everything. Pursuing happiness isn't as important as appreciating happiness when you already have it.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Is It Time to Hang Up My Spurs?

I'm off on Tuesday to San Antonio for the annual conference of the Children's Literature Association (ChLA), the 800-plus-member organization of children's literature scholars and professors. My paper this year is on child poet Hilda Conkling, part of two back-to-back panels on child artists. I spent the last week toiling mightily on it, even though it's less than 3000 words (barely nine pages). I gave it my best, but I know it isn't my best paper. I hope the attendees for our session will find it informative and engaging; few people seem to have heard of Hilda Conkling, although I found her widely anthologized poems everywhere I turned throughout my childhood years. But I know already that it's not going to be something I can develop into a publishable paper, as two other terrific papers have been published already on Hilda Conkling, saying everything I'm saying, only better.

I'm finding myself wondering, now that I'm supposedly retired as a university professor, whether I should keep on doing this: writing these little papers, to read to a few dozen people at an academic conference, papers that may or may not have any potential ever to be published, and if published may attract half a dozen readers at most.

I sat down and reviewed my past history with ChLA, an organization I love:

I attended my first ChLA conference, in San Diego, in 1990. I became a regular attendee starting in 1994, in Springfield, Missouri. Since then I have missed only three conferences, and I've presented papers at all but two of the conferences I did attend, and for one of those I was giving the presidential address instead, as I was ChLA's president 2012-13. Of the 20 papers I presented, I've published 17 of them - actually, every single one up until 2015. That year's paper is currently waiting for me to revise-and-resubmit it to the journal Children's Literature, which I've pledged to myself to do. The paper from 2016 may not have the potential to be developed into a publishable piece; ditto for 2017. As I said, I already know that this year's paper has no publication prospects.

Now, I do expect 2015's paper to be published. I'm good at revising-and-resubmitting; I do it all the time, and it always has a good a result for me. I may yet find a way of expanding and deepening 2016's paper, and even the one from last year. So maybe it's premature to conclude that my days as a regularly published member of this profession are behind me.

And yet . . .

It's so much work to write these papers! It's VASTLY more work to take a 9-page conference paper and turn it into a rigorously argued, literature-grounded 25-30 page article. And it's GRUELING work to revise an article after receiving two sets of sometimes scathing comments from the "blind" reviewers. It also costs $1000 to attend an academic conference: at least $200 for the conference registration fee, an average of $300 for the plane fare, upwards of $100/night at the conference hotel (this, if I'm lucky enough to have a roommate), meals (and drinks!), and more.

And yet. . . .

Every time I go to ChLA, I walk in the door and see so many dear friends, from decades of conferences past, and I have the same thought every single time: "THIS is my world. THESE are my people." When I look at my c.v. (not that anyone on earth really cares about my c.v. any more except for me), I'm proud to see that long line of articles, from all those years. When I first left my tenured position in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado, I took this as my mantra: "Do not go gentle into that good pasture."

And yet . . . is the pasture beckoning? Or rather, is the work of remaining an active "workhorse" too demanding?

Here's what I'm telling myself: I don't have to make any "forever" decision about any of this. Few decisions are "forever" decisions, anyway. I'll go to ChLA, present my own modest little paper, hear many dazzling papers from scholars I revere and adore, have long wonderful conversations with friends, and at least one margarita on the River Walk.

After all, there are worse ways to spend five days in June.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Inspired (and Humbled): Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR)

I'm back from a grueling and glorious week in Utah, teaching a course called "Getting Ready to Write the First Novel" at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop (WIFYR), now in its 19th year. I've taught at WIFYR several times before  (I've lost count of how many), and it's always the same: exhausting and exhilarating, where no one leaves without laughing, crying, and growing in our craft as writers.

My class met every day from 8:30-12:30, for the five days of the workshop: a total of 20 hours in the classroom, more than half the hours of a typical semester-long university class. My eight students had submitted 20,000 words (around 80 pages) of their novel-in-progress to me and the rest of the students in advance. Some chose to submit opening chapters and then skipped ahead to climax and resolution; others just chopped off the first 20K-word chunk and gave us a synopsis for the rest. In the weeks before the workshop we sat at home hundreds of miles apart, frantically reading, reading, reading, So when we finally met in person, we already knew each other well, just from dissecting our stories so intently.

I structured the class in this way.

On Monday, we introduced ourselves more formally, each writer sharing the origin of how his or her story came to be. Then we gave rapid-fire fifteen-minute overall responses to each manuscript, devoting half the time to listing the things we loved best and half to raising questions or concerns for further discussion throughout the rest of the week. Even though I knew from experience that reactions would change as we talked together - critique is best when it's interactive - there is value in getting a first reaction to one's work. After all, that is what future readers are going to be giving. Few spend an entire week in close analysis of a literary work before weighing in with an opinion.

On Tuesday, we focused on characterization. For each protagonist (and some books had two equally important main characters), we asked: what does this person WANT at the start of the story? It's often hard, even for the author, to figure this out, but without a clear desire/goal, a character tends to be passive rather than active, and the story fails to pose a central dramatic question that keeps readers turning pages. Then we asked (a question borrowed from the brilliant Kathi Appelt): what is each person's "controlling belief"? - i.e., their guiding principle that will be tested through the course of the story, climaxing in a "crisis of faith." What is their character arc? How does each one change and grow from the first page to the last?

On Wednesday and Thursday, we focused on plot structure and gave close a close reading to each manuscript's opening chapter. Was there an "inciting incident" that sets the story in motion? Did the chapter have a strong opening paragraph and a final line where the central dramatic question of the book clicks into place for the reader?

On Friday, our final day, we read some revised (and much improved) beginnings by those who offered them for additional critique. Then we turned to theme and imagery: what were the philosophical issues explored by each book? If there were more than one, which one was most important? Could any imagery be created to make this thematic material more vivid for the reader?

And then we said our teary farewells.

In case all of this wasn't enough, every afternoon there were four more talks and/or workshops to attend, by agents, editors, faculty authors, and other authors coming in to share their expertise. My workshop was "How to Write Morally Charged Stories without Teaching or Preaching." I have to confess that the biggest treat for me was the session by Charlie Holmberg, "Kissing Like You Mean It (Smooching 101)." I doubt I'll ever write a kissing scene, but if I do, now I'll know how to make it a great one! Over lunch and dinner, WIFYR faculty shared hours of intense conversations while sipping root beer floats and gobbling Fat Boy ice cream sandwiches (and meal-type food, too).

I learned so much from my fellow faculty members who gave these talks and conversed so passionately with me. But I learned even more from my students. Some have attended WIFYR over half a dozen times. Some have been rewriting their books for years, while raising families and working at challenging day jobs. Could I work as hard as they do? Could I care as much as they do? Could I give as much of my heart to my books as they do to theirs?

All I know is: I'm going to try to write the best books I can to be worthy of having been their teacher.

I'm going to model their dedication and commitment.

And I'm going to have myself another root beer float, too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Funnest Summer Ever?

Summer has always been my least favorite season. When I was younger, summer ranked last among seasons because I loved school and so pined mightily from June till September, even going so far as to hang a calendar on my closet door where I could cross off the days until the school bell rang once more. Nowadays it's mainly summer's weather that I dislike. I want weather that invites me to curl up by a fireplace, beneath a blanket, a mug of hot chocolate by my side, and write. Give me a blizzard any day over blazing sun and temperatures in the 90s.

But the other day, I heard from the mother of granddaughter Kataleya's best friend, Danielle, that Danielle had said, with great joy, "This is going to be the funnest summer ever!" Admittedly, at age four, she doesn't have a wealth of past summers to serve as points of comparison. But still.. . it made me think. . . maybe I should give summer another chance. Could I make this the funnest summer ever for me, too?

So I sat down and made a list of possible summer joys. I came up with 40. Some are possible joys from the five days I'm going to spend in Utah teaching a class for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop (WIFYR), the five days I'm going to spend in San Antonio at the Children's Literature Association conference, and the six days I'm going to spend in Roanoke reconnecting with colleagues and former students in the graduate program in children's literature at Hollins University. Many are essentially guaranteed to happen, as I've already purchased the relevant tickets. But I still wanted to put them on the list; ditto for a couple that have already happened. After all, the most important part of having a fun summer is noticing how fun it is. The point of this list is not only to make sure I do a bunch of fun stuff, but to note as I do it, hey, this is FUN!

As I love counting things, my charge to myself is cross off at least 30 of these items:


In Utah:
1. Spend some one-on-one time with the incomparably fabulous organizer of WIFYR, Carol Lynch Williams.
2. Make a new friend on the faculty there.
3. Learn something new from one of the faculty talks.
4. Walk on a cool Utah evening in the shadow of the surrounding mountains.

In San Antonio:
5. Have a margarita on the River Walk.
6. Hear at least three wonderful papers.
7. Savor every minute of my last-ever meeting for my concluding three-year term on the Phoenix Award Committee.

In Roanoke:
8. Have breakfast in the Hollins cafeteria - yum, yum, yum!
9. Have a grilled cheese sandwich at Pops in the Grandin neighborhood - yum, yum, yum!
10. Work at my favorite table in the beautiful Hollins library.
11. Read at the Hollins library while wrapped up on one of the blankets thoughtfully provided.
12. Take an early morning walk past horses grazing in a meadow.
13. See fireflies (which we don't have her in Colorado, but which turn every tree into a fairyland in Roanoke).

At home in Colorado:
14. Attend the Colorado Music Festival (and I already have tickets!).
15. Attend the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (I already have tickets for Richard III!).
16. Hike on a new-to-me trail.
17. Attend a free concert in a park.
18. Visit a new-to-me branch of the public library.
19. Take my granddaughters to the zoo (DONE! but it still counts!).
20. Take my granddaughters to the free showcase by the Boulder Ballet (DONE!).
21. Hear my son Christopher and pew-mate Rebecca share special music at a worship service (I forced them to choose a date when I wouldn't be in Utah, Texas, or Virginia).
22. Have either breakfast at the Saturday morning farmer's market or dinner at the Wednesday evening one.
23. Ride the little "train" on Pearl Street with my granddaughters.
24. Hike to Chautauqua and then have breakfast on the veranda of the dining hall there.
25. Have a gin-and-tonic with lime.
26. Dine outdoors in a rooftop restaurant with a view of the mountains.
27. Have a drink on the patio of the posh St. Julien Hotel.
28. Go to a talk or reception for the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress at CU.
29. Ride the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland.
30. Attend a Rockies game down at Coors Field in Denver.
31. Go to any event at the Second Star to the Right children's bookstore.
32. Go to Tiny Town in Morrison (oh, how I love Tiny Town!).
33. Go to Grand Lake (oh, how I love Grand Lake!).
34. Go to Rocky Mountain National Park.
35. Go to Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
36. Go to Eldorado Canyon State Park.
37. Have a picnic with my granddaughters with picnic basket and red-checked tablecloth.
38. Star gaze.
39. Go on a naturalist-led nature walk.
40. Have an overnight trip to some mountain town (and savor the vastly cooler air at 8000-feet of elevation).

That's the list. I can probably find more things to add. But it's already a pretty swell catalog of possible summer treats. Anyone who experiences at least 30 of these can say - and SHOULD say - should shout it from the rooftops: "This is the funnest summer ever!"

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Pleasures of a Two-Hour Vacation

Yesterday was my day to collect my two granddaughters, Kat and Madi, for their monthly ten-day visit. Alas, for complicated logistical reasons, this time the pickup had to take place, not in our usual meeting place in Kremling (a four-and-a-half hour round trip for me), but in Steamboat Springs (a seven-hour round trip for me). Have I mentioned that driving is not my favorite thing?

I was dreading the long day behind the wheel when an inspiration came to me. What if I turned this from a dreaded chore into a VACATION? What if I left Boulder early so that I'd have two hours to myself in beautiful Steamboat for a just-for-me holiday?


The drive there, although long, is stunningly beautiful. The part past Kremling heads over Rabbit Ears Pass and then opens up into the green valley of the Yampa River.

The first stop on my vacation: a small, charming botanical garden right on the river.

I wandered on beckoning pathways past spring flowers (now past their prime here in Boulder, where spring comes earlier).

Tucked into one shady garden, the shy columbine, Colorado's state flower.

The next vacation sight to see - and what a sight to see it was: Fish Creek Falls, just a little over three miles from downtown Steamboat. It was only a half mile walk from the trailhead to reach the overlook for the falls.

I thought that was probably enough for such a short vacation. But then I couldn't resist the non-taxing hike down to the falls themselves, where I learned that, yes, it's sometimes - maybe almost always? - worth it to make some extra effort to see something truly spectacular.

Last stop: finding Steamboat's indie bookstore, where years ago I had attended a Harry Potter launch party when I was there to give a talk at a writing workshop.

Would I have time to write in its alluring cafe? Could I log a sweet hour of creative joy working on my chapter-book-in-progress (which I had with me in my ever-ready totebag).

Well, no. I would have had time had I not chosen to hike down to the falls, and I couldn't regret that choice. I did sit for a few minutes at one of these tables, however, and scribble a few thoughts about the day in my trusty little notebook (pictured there on the table). 

After all, 120 minutes is an extremely short vacation.

But it also turned out to be 120 minutes crammed full of delight.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Creative Joy at Big Sur in the Rockies

I had the great pleasure this past weekend to serve as a faculty member for the Big Sur in the Rockies Children's Writing Workshop hosted by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. The workshops were created (originally in Big Sur, California, and also held in Cape Cod, Massachusetts) to give aspiring children's book authors a chance to have their work critiqued both by professional authors and by agents and editors, in an intensive but intimate setting - and a setting of striking natural beauty as well.

Andrea Brown claims that "miracles" happen at Big Sur, as attendees revise their work from the first critique session to the second session on the day following. From my experience this past weekend I would say: she is right.

The Big Sur in the Rockies workshop is held at Chautauqua in Boulder, with its stunning views of the Flatirons.
Faculty were each given their own tiny rustic cabin for the weekend, so I had the treat of having what felt like a vacation while only having to drive three miles to get there.
Each cabin contained a small living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bath, as well as an inviting screen porch. The two different critique groups each faculty member facilitated (with two meetings for each group) were held in our cramped but extremely cozy living rooms.

Here's the charming bedroom of mine.
Of course, as soon as I saw it, all I wanted was to climb into bed and WRITE. And I did have plenty of time to do that over the course of the weekend, despite ten hours spent in the four critique sessions, shared meals, and other events that brought us together as a writing community.

I loved the four women writers who were in each of my workshops. They loved me, too, and loved one another, even as we posed tough questions about the manuscripts and sent everybody scurrying away to revise. And for those who submitted revisions, yes, miracles DID occur, with the rest of us sighing with pleasure at hearing the new and vastly improved version.

Each morning (Saturday and Sunday), I did have a good hour to write in my bed - hooray! On Saturday afternoon, while the workshop attendees were off frantically revising, I had free time to write some more. But the best writing I did all weekend - the hour of creative joy I'll long cherish in memory - was writing side by side, on the afternoon I arrived,with my next-door neighbor, fellow faculty member Melanie Crowder, who is as brilliant a writer as you'll find anywhere on this earth.

It was raining hard - a torrential downpour, complete with hail. We sat on her screened porch, safe and dry, as Melanie prepared for a writing retreat she's leading soon in Oregon, and I wrote part of Chapter 9 of my current work-in-progress ( the book where the kids are all writing their own comic books).

This was my favorite hour of creative joy since I starting keeping track of creatively joyous hours back in January. I now know that there is nothing more creative and joyous than to write with Melanie Crowder, on the screened porch of a small Chautauqua cabin, in the rain.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Should I Cut Corners on Creative Joy?

As readers of this blog may know, my main resolution for 2018 has been to have more creative joy in my life: to be precise, at least 10 hours a month of creative joy, where I have strict rules for exactly what counts toward the total. It can't be just an hour of ordinary joy in doing my ordinary creative work: I have to make some special effort to add joy to the process. This means I can't just write on my couch with my usual hot chocolate; I have to write in a cafe with a friend, or at the Denver Botanic Gardens, or with a special food treat (preferably Pepperidge Farm apple turnovers), or even just with Cool Whip in my hot chocolate or a scented candle burning on my desk. (The  only exception: writing poetry gives me SO much creative joy that no additional infusion of joy is necessary).

Oh, and final rule: I have to have 10 hours every single month. I can't stockpile extra hours in an earlier month to make up for fewer hours in a later one.

Thus far this year, I've met each month's creative joy quota with room to spare:

January: 14 hours
February: 14 hours
March: 15 hours
April: 22 hours - TA-DAH!

But now it's halfway through May, and as of two days ago I had zero hours of creative joy recorded in my little logbook: zero! I had plenty of joy when my granddaughters were here for their ten-day visit, but it wasn't creative joy. And I've done plenty of creative work this month, working on my chapter-book-in-progress (the one set in an after-school comic-book camp), and I experienced plenty of joy in doing it, but I didn't make any extra effort to enhance the joy, so these hours don't count toward my fixed monthly goal.

I found myself tempted to relax the goal a bit. After all, why NOT allow stockpiling of joy in lush months to allow me to take a little break from joy in skimpier months? Why ISN'T plain old Swiss Miss hot chocolate joyous enough? Who makes and enforces these dumb rules, anyway? (Of course I know the answer to that one.)


So I lit a candle for my hour of writing yesterday. I bought myself Cool Whip; a good dollop of it during my writing time gave me another hour of creative joy for the logbook today. I have a writing date with a friend tomorrow. At the end of this week I'll have a weekend absolutely bursting with creative joy as I'll be staying in a charming cottage at Chautauqua as a faculty member for the Big Sur in the Rockies Children's Book Writing Workshop, which has a good amount of free writing time built into the schedule. I have my heart set once again on meeting or exceeding my creative joy target for May.

No, I should NOT cut corners on creative joy, and neither should you. Nobody should try to rationalize the reducing of joy in their lives. It's fine to cut corners on tedium, drudgery, dreary toil. But when it comes to joy, I'm going to throw my whole heart into every minute of it.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bookstore to the Rescue!

Yesterday I was scheduled to give a keynote talk at an awards program celebrating the young readers and writers of Jefferson County, hosted by the Educational Nonprofit Corporation, in downtown Golden. Because Golden is so delightful, I arranged to have lunch there first with a children's literature graduate student who lives in Denver; we'd eat on the porch of a restaurant overlooking Clear Creek. Then I'd put finishing touches on my talk at the Golden Public Library, and perhaps write on my work-in-progress a little bit (creative joy!). The keynote address would be at four.

Great was my consternation, however, when I reached the library, stuffed full of yummy lunch and ready to ponder my inspirational remarks, and opened my totebag only to find that I had grabbed the wrong book to read from. I had planned to share a couple of the love poems I wrote in seventh grade (1966), one of which made its way into my middle-grade novel Write This Down, which was published exactly 50 years later (2016). I wanted to encourage these young writers to save their writing - and to see the joy that writers feel in taking their own heartbreak (that boy who spurned my love!) and turning it into art that could be shared with others, even half a century later.

But the book in my totebag wasn't Write This Down. It was Zero Tolerance. Both have red spines. It was easy for a careless person to get confused.

Now what was I supposed to do? Wait! I was in a public library. Maybe they had a copy of my book I could check out? I didn't see one on the shelf, though, and when I checked the catalog, they had Write This Down only as an e-book.

Well, an e-book might work; I already had Write This Down with me, as an e-book, on my phone (I have all the files for all my recent books in my Dropbox). I could read the crucial passage from the book aloud from my phone.

But oh, that is lame, lame, lame! I didn't want to read my book aloud from my phone. I wanted to read it aloud from the book.

Should I drive back to Boulder to retrieve the book from home? That felt like such a defeat.

Wait. . . I pulled out my phone and called Second Star to the Right, my favorite children's bookstore. It wasn't that far away. Might they have a copy on hand of Write This Down by Claudia Mills? Yes, they said. Would I like paperback or hardcover?

Hooray! I leaped into my car, put the address for the store into my phone, and 20 minutes later I had a copy of the book clutched close to my heart.

The talk went well: the love poems were a huge hit, first read aloud from the little notebook where I inscribed them back in 1966, then read aloud from a real, actual copy of the published book fifty years later.

I'm so glad I had my phone with me for calling the bookstore and navigating there.

But I'm even more glad I have a favorite bookstore that could sell me a copy of an actual, wonderful, beautiful, old-fashioned BOOK.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Pleasure of Contrasting Days

Yesterday my two little granddaughters finished their monthly ten-day visit to us - a period of exhilarating, exhausting non-stop activity with a four-year-old and a two-year-old, with me as their primary caregiver. Today begins the monthly twenty-day span of time without them, when I can immerse myself fully in my own work with uncluttered space and unhurried time.

I love both, and I love that right now I have a life that contains both. One of things I loved best about my quarter-century of teaching in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado was having a work life that alternated between time on campus and time at home. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I'd be on campus all day teaching my classes, mentoring graduate students, attending meetings (yes, even that could be pleasant once I learned how to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the fray of academic politics). On Tuesday and Thursday I tried very hard to arrange my schedule so that I could work at home - writing, preparing for class, grading (yes, even grading could be fun with enough tasty treats to energize me).

Now I'm loving the alternating rhythms of ten-days-with-little-girls followed by twenty-days-just-for-me. I value each one more because I know it's finite, although of course everything in this life, for all of us, is fast fleeting. The current arrangement with the girls won't last forever. Once Kataleya begins kindergarten in the fall of 2019, everything will change. I have no idea whatsoever what the shape of my days will be then. So I might as well savor what I have right now even more intensely.

In fact, savoring whatever one has, in the moment when one has it, is a pretty good plan for living a pretty good life.

Here, a few glimpses of springtime in Colorado with little girls in tow.

Touching a "cloud" at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

The view from behind NCAR

At Clear Creek in Golden

Mistress of all she surveys

Monday, April 30, 2018

Saying Yes to Fun

When I took part in the gala Festival of Stories back in March, one of the additional joys of the festival was the chance to be interviewed by Kristen Olsen for her radio program "Tunes and Tales" on station 88.9 KRFC. Kristen is a delightful conversationalist, so it was easy to forget I was being taped for a future radio broadcast and just enjoy chatting. In fact, it was easy to forget about the future radio broadcast altogether.

Then two days ago I got an email from Kristen saying that my segment was going to air on Sunday evening at 6:30, paired with a presentation by a group of elementary students who were coming to the studio to give a ten-minute book talk on my title Cody Harmon, King of Pets.
She added: "I know this is very late in the game, but would you be interested in showing up at the station as a surprise after they talk about your book on air? Maybe we could all get ice cream?"

It took me about 30 seconds to decide to say yes. I mean, going to a radio station? Ooh! As a surprise for children who had actually read and loved my book? Followed by ice cream?! This in a year where my chief goal for myself is creative joy and all the fun that attends being part of the world of children's book writing? When I agreed, I hadn't thought to ask where the radio station was. I just assumed it was in Denver, the site of the Festival of Stories (30 miles from Boulder). Instead it turned out to be in Fort Collins (65 miles from Boulder). Oh, well. Kids! At a radio station! Followed by ice cream! How could I not say yes?

I'm so glad I did.

I arrived in Fort Collins ridiculously early, but found the Alley Cat Cafe ("Always open") right near the radio station, where I sipped delicious ginger tea and outlined the next seven or eight chapters of Vera Everett, Comic Book Star. (I get serious about outlining a book once I have the first few chapters drafted, in this case, the first three). 

Then: time to go to the studio and meet my young readers: four second graders.They were already in the recording room with head phones on (so glamorous!). They hadn't known I was coming and all gave gratifying OMG reactions of happy surprise. We chatted among ourselves, with Kristen's encouragement, as the taped interview played, and then the children gave their report on the book, including what they had liked best.

Simon liked how the principal had an M&M dispenser in his office and how one of the characters shared his name "Simon."

Joie liked when the girls came over to Cody's house and planned costumes for the pet show. She especially liked how the pig was dressed up with a Charlotte's Web theme as she loves that book.

Forrest liked how, when the principal read out the winner for the pet show, he pretended not to be able to read the handwriting on the card that said "Mr. Piggins."

Zoe liked "the rough parts": when Cody's friend Tobit throws a rock at Stubby the Squirrel and upsets Cody, and when Cody and Tobit have a fight and have to go the principal's office.

I told the kids I loved writing all those parts of the book, too.

Here we are in the studio, the kids in their headphones (or other head adornments). 
Afterward, we had popsicles - yum! Mine was raspberry. 

If I'm ever asked again if I want to drive 65 miles to a radio station to hang out with smart, funny, fabulous second graders, I'm not even going to take 30 seconds before I say: YES!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Creative Joy in the Coffee Shop

Years ago, when my boys were young enough that I was the one who had to drive them to their music lessons (piano for Christopher, saxophone for Gregory), both music teachers lived east of Boulder in the town of Lafayette, fifteen minutes away. So I cleverly arranged for both lessons to be at the same time and found a comfy, cozy coffee shop where I could while away a pleasant hour every Wednesday afternoon. It was there at Cannon Mine Coffee that I first started making long lists in my trusty little notebook of everything I wanted my life to be.

Back then, as I remember, there was just one couch and a bunch of tables. It was very important to me to get the couch. One day, en route to a lesson, I told Gregory, "If I get the couch, the rest of my life will be good. If I don't get the couch, the rest of my life will be bad." He said, "Mom, I think you're putting too much significance on the couch." And, yes, I did get the couch that day and the rest of my life did turn out exactly according to my prediction.

Today I had a delightful outing in the early afternoon, talking to a class of third graders at Mackintosh Academy as part of my research on comic books for my work-in-progress. I interviewed the kids for a most productive half hour of their library time, asking them about their favorite comic books and graphic novels, and even better, asking them what comic books they were writing themselves. (I warned them first that some of these ideas might find their way into my book, but that didn't dissuade them from sharing.)

When I had finished the interview, I felt like going somewhere special to do some writing on Chapter Two of the book. After all, my new year's goal is to have 10 hours a month of creative joy, and it's extra joyous to write somewhere out of the ordinary. Then I remembered  . . wait. . . I'm already halfway to Cannon Mine. It must be a decade since I've been there. Oh, I hope the couch is still there! And I hope I get the couch!

It was, and I did.

I had started Chapter 1 at Union Station, and I finished Chapter 1 on my own cozy little couch at home. I started Chapter 2 at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and I finished it today on the couch at Cannon Mine.

Now: where shall I write Chapter 3?

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Writing the First Line of My New Book

Writing the first sentence of a new book is scary.

Even though you know you can change it.

Even though you more than likely will change it.

It just feels so . . . momentous, so significant, so "fraught with fraughtness" as my friend Brenda says.

I've developed a system for making this moment more jolly and joy-filled (extra appropriate for this year I'm devoting to the pursuit of creative joy). I write that first line someplace special, not all alone in my ordinary house, but Somewhere Else, with its own imagination-stirring energy.

Yesterday was the day I planned to start writing the second book in my After School Super Stars chapter book series: book one was set in an after-school cooking camp; book two is set in an after-school comic-book/graphic-novel camp. I've been consumed with intensive comic book research (see previous post). But I love to start writing as soon as possible, as so much happens - really, everything happens - when the characters start to come alive and interact with one another on the page.

I had already planned to take the bus to Denver in the afternoon for the Big Book Bash organized by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to celebrate new books out this spring by local members. The Big Book Bash was taking place at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in the LoDo neighborhood of Denver, right by Union Station.

A plan began to form. What if I went in a bit earlier and wrote my first line of the new book sitting in the grand, glorious Great Hall of Union Station, with its many couches, chairs, tables, and other inviting writing spaces, not to mention its abundance of eateries to offer writerly sustenance?


The bus from Boulder to Denver takes just over half an hour; I used the time to read a graphic novel from my research stack (Smile, by Raina Telgememeier, which I loved). At Union Station I bought a luscious muffin and chose the unoccupied corner of a long, comfy couch.

Now was the fateful moment. I took the cap off my trusty Pilot Razor Point fine-tipped black marker pen and wrote what might - or might not - be the first line of Vera Everett, Comic Book Star. I won't share that line here, as it's too new and tender for sharing right now. But words have been written! On the page! By me! To start a new book!

Once the first page was finished (as well as every crumb of the muffin), for extra credit I hopped aboard the free Sixteenth Street shuttle and went further downtown to the Civic Center, where a convention of indie-comic-book-creators was taking place: DINK (Denver Independent Comics & Art Expo). More research for Vera's story! The day's outing finished up with cake to celebrate new books by several dear author friends at the Big Book Bash. This is what I would call a perfect author day.

So if it's scary writing the first page of a new book, go write it Somewhere Else (and eat something Extra Nice while writing it). Take it from me!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Next Up: Comic Books!

My editor finally approved my fifth round of revisions on NIXIE NESS, COOKING STAR (admittedly, the changes requested for the last two rounds were just tweaking of individual sentences to avoid repeated words and other infelicities of expression). So now I'm turning to the second title in the series, VERA EVERETT, COMIC BOOK STAR, where the kids in the After School Super Stars program will have said farewell to cooking camp and now be immersed in a camp focused on the making of comic books and graphic novels.

This means that I need to start learning something about comic books and graphic novels.

I started with the place that most research these days begins for me: Facebook. Two days ago I posted this query: "Parent friends, teacher friends, librarian friends, what are your kids' favorite comic books?" Within hours I had dozens of titles for my list. Those with multiple mentions include the Dogman series by Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame, Zeta the Spacegirl, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, Big Nate, Babymouse, Bone, and anything by Raina Telgemeier (such as Smile). Yesterday I trotted off to the gorgeous main branch of the Boulder Public Library to confer in person with the librarian there and came home with as many graphic novels as I could stuff in my totebag.

With a small bit of Googling I found online syllabi for classes on making comic books,You Tube videos on how to draw cartoon characters and do the lettering for dialogue and thought bubbles, and Pinterest posts on fun drawing activities for third graders. (I can't have the kids in my book do nothing but sit still and draw for the whole month of the camp - I need lively, active, FUN art-related stuff for them to do! Stuff that will be funny! And relevatory of character! And able to advance a plot!) A friend told me about a comic book camp taking place right now at her child's elementary school right here in Boulder; I'll call them later this morning to see if I can come visit for one afternoon.

The most important part of the whole process, however, will be thinking of Vera herself, now that I've come to know her a bit from meeting her in Nixie's book. What does Vera want or need that the comic book camp will help her get? What obstacles lie in the way of her getting it? And how can all of this happen in 15,000 words (around 70 typed pages)?

Comic book camp, here I come!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Change of Plans

My two little granddaughters, who come to us for ten days a month, were supposed to go back to their mommy on Sunday morning. Their mother lives a four-hour drive away, in distant Craig, Colorado. Our point of exchange, halfway for each of us, is in Kremling. To get there, I have to drive through the Eisenhower Tunnel (elevation 11,000 feet); to get there, she has to drive over Rabbit Ears Pass (elevation 9400 feet). It can be sunny and warm in Boulder or Craig on a day when there is driving snow and "traction" laws (chains for trucks, snow tires for cars) in force at the tunnel or pass.

Saturday night at bedtime I saw a winter storm warning for the Colorado high country, so we switched the meeting time from Sunday to Monday. On Monday morning, there were still traction laws in effect at high elevations, so after much dithering and indecision, we decided to wait till my son, with better tires and better driving skills, was finished with his work and could make the drive in my stead; but then mid-morning the weather reports were favorable, so I loaded up Kat and Madi for a drive that ended up taking most of a day that was supposed to be spent meeting work obligations.

Oh, it's so hard to keep changing plans over and over again! I love when the girls come, but I also start to yearn for time to myself, or rather, time to do all the other kinds of work I need to do that I can't do when I'm a full-time caregiver for a two-year-old and a four-year-old: grope toward ideas for the next title in my forthcoming chapter book series for Holiday House, read installments of works-in-progress from my Hollins University graduate students and SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) mentees, even answer email - or write a blog post.

But that's what life is. We make plans.  Plans change. "Man proposes, God disposes." "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/ gang aft a-gley." "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Indeed.

I didn't plan for a winter storm last weekend. As far as that goes, I didn't plan for my son and his wife to get divorced. I didn't plan to be a ten-days-a-month caregiver for the two little girls I love more than anything in the world just as I took early retirement from being a philosophy professor at CU so I could devote myself full time to my writing. I didn't plan for any of this.

This month I'm doing the poem-a-day challenge again. Here's my favorite of April-so-far: a poem about the dog I didn't plan to have either.

Walking with Tanky-the-Dog

The only good thing about my son's divorce
was supposed to be that she would take 
the dog, but somehow – how did this happen? – 
here he is. We walk every day, the two of us.

Never has earth seen raptures to rival
Tanky's writhing with joy at the sight 
of the leash. He trots beside me, 
small legs churning, so pleased, so proud.

I'm surprised when other people stop
to tell me how cute my dog is. My dog?
Oh, that's right: they must mean Tanky.
If other dogs growl, he is sublimely indifferent. 

But if they don't, he does the obligatory
growling. After all, someone has to do 
whatever it is that needs to be done. And 
sometimes that someone turns out to be you.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Day before April

By popular request (well, my own request to myself), I'm re-posting my annual "Day before April" musings....

My mother was an elementary school teacher as well as a writer of a few published stories for children. Her love of reading and writing is where I get my love of reading and writing. My sister and I were raised on poetry. One of our favorite collections was Silver Pennies, edited by Blanche Jennings Thompson ("A Collection of Modern Poems for Boys and Girls" - modern, meaning at that time, published in 1925). The preface to the book begins with the lines:

You must have a silver penny
To get into Fairyland.

The premise of the book was that poems themselves are these silver pennies.

Of all the silver pennies in the book, this poem was the one we loved best, by Mary Carolyn Davies:

The Day Before April

The day before April
Alone, alone,
I walked in the woods
And sat on a stone.

I sat on a broad stone
And sang to the birds.
The tune was God's making
But I made the words.

My mother, my sister, and I long celebrated "the day before April" as a holiday, a Mills family women's holiday. A decade or so ago I hosted a "day before April" party, with my mother and my boys (who did think it was a somewhat strange party) as the only guests. I usually gave my mother flowers on that day.

I've dreamed of writing a book with the title The Day before April. Maybe someday I will.

Today is the day before April. I'm going to buy some flowers - daff0dils, probably. My mother is no longer with us; she left this world in May 2010. I think of her constantly, but especially on every March 31. The daffodils I'll buy todaywill be in memory of her.

Happy day before April, everybody.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Strangest Thing about Revising a Book

Here's, for me, the strangest thing about revising a book.

It always has to be done.

Or at least, I always have to do it. Whenever I'm the the one writing a book, I'm also going to be the one revising it, and revising it, and revising it yet again.

The reason this feels so strange to me is that I've written so many books now: 58 published ones, and at least a dozen that never got themelves revised into a form worthy of publication. I've been doing this professionally, as both a career and the work of my heart, for close to 40 years. Wouldn't you think that by this point I would have gotten somewhat good at it? Wouldn't I have learned a thing or two or three that would eliminate the need, if not for revsion altogether, at least for so MANY rounds of revision?

Apparently the answer here is: no.

My brilliant editor at my new publisher, Holiday House, just sent my chapter-book-in-progress back for a third rewrite. I thought I had done a bang-up job on the first rewrite, back in January, returning it to her with a confident "Ta-dah!" Then back it came to me again, with a letter thanking me for the revisions, but going on to say, "but I'm afraid I think this needs more work than you do." Ouch! WAHHH!! Because of course I wouldn't have sent it back to her if I had thought it needed one speck more of work at all.

Not only did it need more work, in her view, but the chief problem requiring further attention was one  I would have callled a "beginner's error." My protagonist needed more of a character arc: she does change and grow by the end of the book, but not until the very end; her development needed to be paced more gradually. In other words, my editor was telling me exactly the kind of thing I tell beginning writers whom I'm teaching, advising, or mentoring. Double ouch! Double WAHHH!

At first I was irritated by the comments. This time she was just plain wrong; the book was perfect as it was; hadn't Margaret herself pronounced it "darling" upon a first reading? But, as I sat down to rewrite, I had a total about-face. Margaret is an editorial genius and is truly never wrong. As I began to revise, at first with nothing more than grudging trust in Margaret's infallible judgment, I came to share her assessment so completely that I felt ashamed that I could ever have thought my book was fine the way it was. How could I - veteran author of so many books written and published over so many years - have written something so blatantly, egregiously flawed?

But this is just what it is to be a writer. A book can be darling AND flawed. And seldom can an author see these flaws herself. This is the whole reason editors - and critique groups and "beta readers" - exist: to see the flaws authors inevitably miss in our own work, however perceptive we may be at discerning these in the work of others. We never outgrow our need for editors. We just forget how lucky we are to have them.

My protagonist Nixie now has a lovely character arc. I'm thrilled with the changes I made in round two. Margaret told me the revisions were "great," and she was right. She now wants just a bit more tweaking in round three, and she's right about that, too.  So today I'm happily tweaking away, hugging myself with happiness over every small improvement made.

In the end, the strangest thing about revising a book is not that I still have to do it, even after all these years. The strangest thing is that I even found this strange in the first place.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Joy of Decluttering the Garage

When my little granddaughters leave from their monthly ten-day visit, I send them back to their mommy with a pang of sorrow but also - I might as well admit it - with some relief that I can now regain control of my own time and my own space.

The first thing I do is move all the toys from the living room (actually, from every available stretch of floor) to their bedroom, organizing as I go (all the toy tools back in the toy toolkit, all the toy medical instruments back in the toy doctor kit. etc.). Stray socks are dispatched to the laundry hamper, stray shoes to the shoe shelf.

This time, once started, I couldn't stop. I cast my gaze upon my home studio/office/writing space and saw much scope for improvement. I don't mind stacks of books on the floor if they are library books recruited for a project. But I don't want standing stacks of books lacking a permanent home. So I identified some that could go to someone who might love them, not more than I do, but with more active, ardent attention. Say, those books from my college days in German, a language of which I can no longer read more than two or three words. Duplicate copies of books by friends, bought to be doubly supportive of their careers. I managed to cull 45 books from my collection, grateful that now they have the chance of actually being read, which is what every book longs for most of all.

My files were next. Did I really need all my writing correspondence from 2005? Photocopies of articles used to research scholarly papers which are easily available now on the internet? I filled the recycling can to overflowing.

On my way to the recycling can, I couldn't help but notice . . . .the garage. I hadn't parked in it for years as, for some reason I can't quite remember, other family members park their vehicles there while I park outside and cheerfully scrape ice off my windshield every winter morning.

The night before I was to tackle the garage, I couldn't sleep, too excited at the prospect of all the decluttering I could do, which I might add, was mainly decluttering of OTHER PEOPLE'S STUFF. Advance notice had been given to the affected parties. They had promised to assist with the task after church that day. But on that 25-degree morning, I found myself out there in my threadbare nightgown, no coat, no gloves, starting to drag down duffel bags that hadn't been opened for a decade to see what I might find . . .

It was bliss.

Even greater bliss: sorting, washing, organizing, sweeping, and taking a few dozen trash bags, filled with items no longer needed or wanted here but potentially useful to others, to Goodwill.

My current favorite poet, Kay Ryan, who writes spare, exquisitely crafted verse, has a marvelous short poem on decluttering, "That Will to Divest," which begins: "Action creates a taste for itself." (Go right this minute and buy her Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection The Best of It).

Now that I'm done with the garage project, I'm thrilled with the results but also strangely sorrowful. Alexander the Great is said to have wept because he had no more worlds to conquer. I'm weeping because I have no more garages to declutter.

I guess I could offer to come declutter yours, but it wouldn't be the same. (Though actually, it does tempt me quite a bit . . . .). As Kay Ryan writes, once decluttering has begun:

it gets harder
not to also 
simplify the larder

not to mention - the garage.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Creative Joy: Travel Journaling

As part of my new year's goal for 2018 of providing myself with ten hours a month of creative joy, I signed up with my creative-joy-buddy Kate for a class at the Art Students League of Denver on "Travel Journaling," taught by Judith Cassel-Mamet. Kate had taken a class with Judith before and told me how wonderful it was. So off I went to Denver yesterday for a massive dose of creative joy.

I woke up joyous even at the thought of taking the bus to Denver - oh, I do love traveling by bus! During the morning rush hour buses run from Boulder to Denver every five or ten minutes. I didn't even have to check a schedule; I just presented myself at the Park-and-Ride and hopped on the first Denver-bound bus that came along. Then I gave myself the treat of a nice long-ish walk from the Civic Center to the old school that houses the Art Students League.
After being happy for every minute of my trip into the city, I was then happy from the minute I walked past classrooms of painters in front of their easels and found our studio, where Judith welcomed us and got us ready for the morning's artistic explorations. I loved her whole approach to travel journaling. For Judith, travel is just "mindful movement," so that "even a mundane activity can be an adventure," if approached with anticipation and openness: "What is this hour is going to bring?" Indeed, she opened the class by asking us all to share some memorable moment from our trip to the class today. Mine was seeing a middle-school student skipping along - literally skipping - violin in hand.

Once we began trying out Judith's journaling techniques, the class was pure play. We made evocative, illustrated maps of our trip into the city. We took half an hour to wander around the Art Students League grounds noting striking images to sketch. It was fine to sketch badly; the point was just to "capture the narrative"and "anchor the experience." I'm a terrible artist. Who cares? Here's my piece from the morning. I'm not in love with it the way I was in love with the poems I wrote last month. But I was just as much in love with the process of creating it.
During the class we worked with little sketching kits Judith had assembled for us, which contained a drawing pencil, Micron extra-fine pen, watercolor set, kneaded rubber eraser, and best of all, a Koi Water Brush (which could squeeze out water a drop at a time). She offered the kits for sale afterward and of course I bought one.
Just looking at it makes me feel more creative.

Now that I have a travel journal kit, I should schedule a magical trip for myself somewhere to use it. Judith is correct, of course, that there is plenty of magic in the everyday if we approach our ordinary surroundings as if we were visitors from a faraway land. But while I'm in a travel-journaling mood, I might as well sign up to go to an actual faraway land. Right? After all, if creative joy is my only new year's goal this year, why not provide myself with all the creative joy that I can?

Friday, March 9, 2018

What You Need Is What You Have to Find a Way to Get

I've just finished an exhilarating and exhausting ten-day visit from my two little granddaughters, Kataleya (who just turned four) and Madilyne (who will be two in May). When they come to us, I'm their primary caregiver while my son (their daddy) is at work, and he leaves for work well before dawn and often works a twelve-hour day. So I am charged with filling that time with all kinds of adventures: outings to the park and library, play dates with friends, baking, play dough, and most of all, voicing stuffed animals and other imaginary friends (the current favorite, for some reason, is Big Foot).

I love it more than anything in the world. And yet . . . . and yet . . . I do need SOME time just for me, especially as my editor returned my most recent draft of my chapter-book-in-progress to me for yet more revisions, which I hadn't expected. After the mandatory period of sulking and pouting over the call for more re-visioning of the story, of course I saw that that her suggestions are brilliant and the book will be a thousand times better once revised. But how could I find time to do it while also impersonating Big Foot during every waking hour for ten days?

I've now learned that I absolutely have to have two hours to myself each day - one to write, and one to walk. That 's all. Just two hours. But they have to be two dedicated hours, two guaranteed hours, hours where I know I won't be interrupted by any little voices summoning me (Kat now wakes up most days at 5:30 a.m. and refuses to nap; by the time she goes to bed at 8 p.m., I'm ready to go to bed myself at 8:05.)

Okay. I need these hours. So how am I going to get them? Because what you need is what you have to find a way to get. And you don't get what you need just by whining about how badly you need it.

I'm still working on this, but here are some ideas to put in place for their next visit.

1) Kat goes to school for four hours on three mornings during the week. During those hours I can find drop-in child care for Madi, or employ a babysitter. Madi sleeps reliably for three hours in the afternoon. During those hours I can find some other organized activity outside the home for busy, active Kat or hire someone to come play with her. This can be done! Or I can team up with other friends who are in the same situation and would like to exchange babysitting time.

2) I can leave the house when my son is home so that I won't have to harden my heart against Kat's entreaties to make Big Foot come and play. If I'm here in my (tiny) house, there is no real refuge. If I go elsewhere for an hour, that hour is mine, mine, mine.

3) For walking, I can line up friends who love to walk as much as I do and don't mind taking turns with me pushing a stroller or holding a dog leash. I can walk early. I can walk late.

This brings me to another point. I need what I need, but I have to make sure I'm not just making every slight preference into a non-negotiable demand on the universe. Yes, I need an hour a day to write and an hour a day to walk, but I may have to be flexible about when those hours come to me (within reason: I can't do any real work in the evening, and that is that!). But it's unreasonable to insist on having my hour be precisely between 5 and 6 a.m., or in my house while I lounge about in my nightgown. I have to be willing to experiment, improvise, and work with second-best - which may turn out to yield its own unexpected rewards and pleasures.

With careful planning, I can have the joy of  playing with little girls for ten days AND write my book AND meet my daily fitness requirements. After all, this is what I need. So it's up to me to make sure I get it.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Dangers of Writing Poetry

I have three more days left in my poem-a-day project for February. I am loving the prompts by the wry and witty Molly Fisk, loving the other poets in this online poetry group, and loving my poems and every minute spent writing them.

But here's the rub: I love them so much that once I've written my poem for the day and posted it to the group website, I'm so delighted with my poem that I have to go read it over a few dozen times, occasionally tinkering with it a bit, pruning a word here, adjusting a line break there, but mostly just admiring it on the page. And then I'm so pleased with myself that I find I have absolutely zero desire to accomplish anything else. After all, I WROTE A POEM TODAY! What more could the universe expect from me? Which would be fine except that I do have a class I'm teaching, students I'm advising, writers I'm mentoring, an article I'm supposed to be revising. But - but - but - I WROTE A POEM TODAY! Isn't that enough?

In fact, I even wrote a poem about how amazing it is to write a poem, about how each new poem that comes into being is one new small wondrous thing that now exists in the universe:

What There Is

Here's what's in the universe,
at least the part of it that we can see:
70 billion trillion stars.
And right here, 
in front of me,
these scribbled lines
that didn't exist 
ten minutes ago.
Because of me 
the universe
has something in it 
that wasn't there 
70 billion trillion stars - 
and this poem.

So it's good that the short month of February is coming to an end, and that I'll have to find new ways of generating creative joy for myself in March. But for now, I'll just say: hooray for poetry! And for the chance to write it! Here's one more poem because I can't resist. Prose is in my future. But today, and tomorrow, and two days after that: poetry. . . 

Talent Scouts

It's not that I even want to be a movie
star. I just want to be discovered,

to be in the self-checkout lane at King Soopers,
perplexed by how to find the produce code

for my ginger root, or putting my credit card
the wrong way into the gas pump at Conoco,

or picking up poop in one of the bags I carry
in a canister attached to the end of the dog's leash,

and then, in that moment, someone is there,
saying, "You! That way you wrinkle your

forehead! That slump of your shoulders!
The twist of your lips! The soulfulness radiating

from your haunted eyes! We've searched the
whole world over, but it was you all along

we were seeking. It was you, 
it was you, it was you."

Friday, February 16, 2018

To Be a Player, You Have to Keep on Playing

Last week there were not one but two huge book-related events here in Denver. CCIRA (the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association) had its enormous annual conference down at the Denver Tech Center's Marriott Hotel, and ALA (the American Library Association) had its gigantic mid-winter conference this year at the Denver Convention Center, especially exciting as the ALA conferences move around from city to city.

I attended events at both.

On Friday:
- "speed-dating" with teachers/librarians at CCIRA (a chance for authors and teachers to talk one-on-one in rotating five-minute conversations);
- a cocktail reception at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts hosted by my new publisher, Holiday House, for the librarians attending ALA.

On Saturday:
- another cocktail party jointly hosted by YALSA (the Young Adults Library Services Association of ALA) and SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) held at a bar/restaurant with the adorable name of The Greedy Hamster.

On Sunday: lunch with my brilliant editor, Margaret Ferguson, followed by a blissful couple of hours roaming past the overwhelming amount of publisher booths in the convention exhibit hall.

It was exhilarating and exhausting  (also terrifying because it snowed both Friday and Saturday, and I am the wimpiest of wimpy babies when it comes to driving in snow, after totaling my car on a slushy stretch of road a year ago). But mainly I loved every minute of it. I loved sharing my books with teachers at CCIRA and schmoozing with hilariously funny librarians at the elegant Holiday House reception. I loved connecting with another group of terrific librarians at the Greedy Hamster event. It was magical to have so much time to talk intimately with my editor. And as I wandered up and down the convention center exhibits, all I could think about was how much I love the world of books for young readers, and all the people - authors, illustrators, editors, teachers, librarians - in it.

I also realized that if I'm going to stay in this world - and BELONG in this world - I have to keep on contributing to this world. If I want to be a player in this magical playground, I have to show up to play.

Lately I've been finding myself losing interest not in writing, never in writing, but in publishing what I write. After keeping my commitment to myself for 2017 to submit something somewhere every single month, I'm sort of "over" submitting things. This year I'm loving above all writing poems just for me, or for a few friends, just for the joy of it. It matters less and less to me to see a book in a bookstore with my name on the cover.

But my time at CCIRA and ALA reminded me that if I want to be truly a part of this world I love so much, I have to keep on being willing not only to write, but to share what I've written with editors, teachers, librarians, and most of all, children.

I love this world. I love being a part of it. It's true that most of all I just want to have creative joy in my life, but I also love being part of a creative tribe. So I'm going to do what I can to keep my place in mine.