Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#EveryBrilliantThing SEPTEMBER Roundup

This year I am keeping a virtual gratitude list, inspired by the play Every Brilliant ThingHere's my post about it. 

And here is my list for the where-did-you-go month of SEPTEMBER.

Wrapping paper.
Upside down yellow maple leaf on the walking trail.
Birds on a wire.
Caterpillars turning into monarch butterflies.
Papa writing stories.
Internet shopping.
The audio version of ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan.
Sitting in Sandra Bullock's chair at historic, delicious Bright Star Restaurant.
Me, Paul, Daniel & Amalee sitting around the kitchen table.
Black cat in my lap.
New sculpture at BJCC.
How empty the streets during an Alabama game.
The Lebanese food festival.
Kantha quilts.
Fire hydrants.
The wet world.
Made-up words.
Drive-in theaters.
Jumper cables.
Little red wagons.
Claw-foot furniture.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Autumn: the Season of Ruin

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Please visit the indomitable Janet at Poetry for Children for Roundup.

I've been traveling, and I'm tuckered out, so I've just got something small to share with all you you.

Yesterday I found this wonderful quote in a little book I picked up at a thrift store: FLOWER THOUGHTS: A SELECTION, edited by Louise Bachelder with illustrations by Eric Carle.

See, I've been thinking I want to become a Master Gardener. So, suddenly, flower/tree/garden things are finding me EVERYWHERE. I mean, why not? I've got this amazing backyard that's just begging for some loving... plus it's just FUN to learn stuff about nature and hang out with passionate folks and spend time outdoors.

Any Poetry Friday Master Gardeners out there?? I'd love to hear from you!

And now the quote:

"Romance and poetry, ivy, lichens, and wallflowers, need ruin to make them grow." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

I love this idea of ruin as necessary... isn't it? (Yes, I'm working on a "ruin" poem!) What a wonderful way to reframe some life experiences. And how perfect for autumn, when the leaves are changing and crumbling, everything shedding and going quiet and still... such a beautiful time of year, because somehow the ruin holds deep inside the promise of SPRING. xo

Monday, September 21, 2015

Prejudice, Faith, Fathers & Daughters and GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

Newspaper clipping my father sent me
just after the book was released.
I had no plans to read GO SET A WATCHMAN -- partly because I can be really ornery when it comes to "what everyone else is doing," and partly because I am not enamored of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as many folks are. (Somehow typing that makes me feel downright un-Alabamian, and maybe even un-American. Alas.)

But all that was before I got this middle of the night email from my father, which he so generously gave me permission to share here:

September 5, 2015

Dearest Irene--
I just finished Harper Lee's new/old book and I'm so excited and thrilled by it that even though it's the wee hours of the morning I had to tell you.

I loved To Kill A Mockingbird. I love Go Set A Watchman. I may be in a minority but Watchman is fantastic! And the two of them together provide a wonderful complete story.

It's true that Atticus takes a slight fall from lofty heights but he becomes more human in the process and, in my view, remains a hero though less than a God. He does right as he sees it and becomes a greater man and father in the process.

And I have to tell you that touched me in a very special way.  Atticus raised Scout to be a fully functional, rational, thinking person
Sent from my iPhone

~Sorry, I got so carried away, I hit the wrong button~

...Capable of making her own way in the world based on values she was taught. The part that was incomplete was the examination of those values in the context of a very harsh often unfair world not of absolutes but of grays, not of blacks and whites (to make a bad pun) but of shades of gray. She could only come complete when she had to begin to see this world through her own eyes and begin to deal with it in a more engaged and realistic way.

I think I'm raving about this book for several reasons: (1) It completes the story in what I feel a very satisfying way; (2) it is insightful about segregation, not to justify it but pointing to the underlying cultural situation that caused the south to pull away from the union and how the south's defeat and experience with reconstruction encouraged segregation...and it concluded--rightly in my mind--both that some changes must be made because they're not only right but seriously overdue and that complex situations ought to be approached in multiple ways to permit and abet positive results; a and most important to me on a personal level, (3) it reminds me of what I was in my own bumbling way trying to do in raising you and Lynn.  I felt it essential that you be independent  persons equipped to make your own way in the world. I wanted you to have the values and abilities not only to be good people but to make world a better place and to be strong enough to be able to choose your own path and to be secure and successful whatever path you chose. I'm so very proud of you--a man of any character at all was to see his child grow to be strong and wise and successful. I was given the great gift of freedom to find my own way while always being loved--I felt that this should be passed along to you and that was the greatest legacy I could you. I did it the best way I knew how and I am so very proud of you--you are such a blessing to me!

So that's my take on the book. I hope they'll make a play out of it and produce it in Monroeville! If they do, getting you there see it is in my Bucket List!!!

I love you!

So it is through that lens that I reserved at the library GO SET A WATCHMAN. (Some context on how "big" this book is here in Alabama: at the time of my online reserve, our library system had 109 copies, and I was 23 on the wait-list. It only took a few days for the email to arrive saying the book was ready for me to pick up.) 

And you know what? I liked Jean Louise. I liked her spunk, her impatience, her fearlessness about her convictions. It's hard to grow up, and that's really what she does in this book -- little Scout becomes full-fledged Jean Louise. There are some disappointments along the way -- necessary ones, as my father points out. And ultimately the book speaks to me about the father-daughter relationship I've known, which, can certainly be rocky, but is also steadfast. At least that has been my experience! I'm so grateful to have had a father who taught me to question things, even though there were time when he made me so mad by "picking" at me. I know now it was part of my training -- he wanted me to be able to argue, to defend my position, to think, to empathize with others, to GROW as a human, become myself, whomever that may be. What a gift! And Atticus gives that to Scout in this book.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD it is not. There's hardly a plot, way too much conversation, not a lot happens at all. And the racism! Hard to read, acknowledge, accept. Yet there's some magic there, a bit of the south as I've known it (nearly all in the flashbacks to Scout's younger MOCKINGBIRD years), and some truths about life that I find powerful, as my father did.

My favorite quote is this one: 

"Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith,
 a clean one, have something in common: 
they both begin where reason ends."

Who but Harper Lee would put prejudice and faith in the same sentence?

My father and I actually came thisclose to meeting Harper Lee when we traveled together to Monroeville a few years back for Alabama Writers Symposium, where I was speaking about LEAVING GEE'S BEND, and Fannie Flagg was being honored with the Harper Lee Award, and lo and behold, Harper Lee attended the luncheon! While we were there we also saw the play "To Kill a Mockingbird," the first half of which is held outside on the courthouse lawn, and the second half of which attendees pile into the courtroom to hear the proceedings. It's wonderful, and that's what my father is speaking of in that last bit of his note.

The lesson for me here -- and isn't it appropriate that it should be my father (who reads a book a day) teaching it? -- is to be openminded about books, to give them a chance, allow them into my heart, however imperfect (or popular!) they may be. Reading is about emotion, and the best books (to me) are the ones that show me something about me and my life that I recognize, but hadn't been able to say myself. 

This book does that, and for that I am grateful. Thanks, Papa, for everything. I love you!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Poetry Potpourri for Poetry Friday

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Please share the ditty love and visit Michelle at Today's Little Ditty for Roundup.

I have not been at my best this week -- O change-of-season cold! Plus my father has been in the hospital -- he's doing much better at the moment, but it's been a stressful few days.. and might explain the this-n-that nature of this post!

Good news: I'm thrilled to be serving for the third time as a CYBILS judge for Poetry! Congratulations to all the other judges -- I look forward to talking poetry with all of you. We certainly have our work cut out for us this year, what with verse novels being thrown in with the other poetry books. I'm excited to read!

Earlier this week (before I lost my voice), I recorded a poem I loved called "A Little Girl's Poem" by Gwendolyn Brooks.

It begins "Life is for me and is shining!" Read the full poem here -- and here's the audio.   

As for my reading life, I'm nearly done with GO SET A WATCHMAN. I wasn't going to read it, but then my father wrote me a middle-of-the-night email about his reaction to it, and I simply HAD to read it. I rather like 26 year old Scout, I gotta say. More on this soon!

During my drive-time, I've been listening to ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan. I'm into the second story (set in Depression-era Pennsylvania), and I am really REALLY curious as to how all these threads are going to be woven together... loving the music! Thanks again, Ramona, for sending me to the audio version of this book.

Finally, I've been thinking about this article I read in Mental Floss magazine about Einstein's "genius tricks for clearing your mind" -- and, it should follow, enhancing your creativity:

1. Bust out the violin
2. Set sail  (not that he was the best sailor in the world... and he couldn't swim!)
3. Dress down (did you know Einstein hated socks?)
4. Keep up correspondence

And you know, those are really great tricks! My comps are as follows:

1. Bust out the cello
2. Take a walk
3. Wear pajamas all day (and flipflops when necessary)
4. Keep up correspondence (hey, email and texts count!)

What about you?? How do you clear the mind/enhance your creativity? Wishing you a wonderful last-weekend-of-summer!

Friday, September 11, 2015

My Artist's Prayer, A Movie You Need to See, & Two Poems

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Please visit red Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge for Roundup.

I'm in a bit of an introspective mood today -- okay, let's face it: I'm pretty must always in an introspective mood! Specifically I've been thinking about how nourished I have felt this year in my writing life. A big part of that, I think, has to do with how I started the year off by participating in an Artist's Way group. For 12 weeks we journeyed through THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron, and it was a transformative experience for me.

And now I am going through one of her other books, WALKING IN THIS WORLD. Walking has always been a wonderful practice for me, and now I am using that time to meditate on my creative life. I'm two weeks in, and it's been exactly what I needed and then some! (Speaking of walking in this world, if you haven't streamed the movie  TRACKS on Netflix, please do! True story of one woman's 1100 mile walk across the Australian Outback with 4 camels and a dog. Did you know wild camels roam the Outback? I didn't!)

So, today, I'd like to share with you the artist's prayer I came up with when, during the group sessions, we were asked to come up with one. As I read it now, I realize it's an affirmation for any human, whatever path.  And then I've got some links to some current favorite poems I've recorded recently on Soundcloud. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Eight 2015 Middle Grade Novels I've Read Lately

LOST IN THE SUN by Lisa Graff

Narrator Trent, who first appeared in UMBRELLA SUMMER, is kind of unlikeable at first, but he finds a friend in mysterious Fallon Little. This book got starred reviews all over the place, and like all of Lisa's books, it's worth reading. For some reason it's hard for me to talk about. I'm still thinking about it.

A HANDFUL OF STARS by Cynthia Lord

Another friendship novel! Set in Maine, it chronicles the friendship between Lily and Salma, who is the daughter of migrant blueberry pickers. Also, there's a dog who needs an operation, and a Blueberry Queen pageant. As someone who has written a whole novel about a migrant Florida citrus girl, this one was fascinating and enjoyable.

THE GREAT GOOD SUMMER by Liz Garton Scanlon

I was charmed by Ivy Green's quest to find her mother after she (her mother) ran off with Hallelujah Dave (love that name!) to the Great Good Bible Church. And guess what: it's also a friendship novel. :)


Another one with a zillion starred reviews... and it's a friendship story! This one is told in multiple voices, one of them mysterious who uses 2nd person, which was a strange experience for me. Everything else I loved -- especially Bridge's cat ears. :)

OLD WOLF by Avi, illustrations by Brian Floca

Two stories in this one: old wolf Nashoba's story, and young Casey, who loves video games and thinks he'll enjoy real-life hunting as well. The wolf-raven parts moved me. Beautiful.

CIRCUS MIRANDUS by Cassie Beasley

Micah Tuttle believes in magic because it's what his grandfather has been telling him since forever... and now that his grandfather is sick, and his awful great-aunt has invaded their lives, Micah NEEDS magic. HE also needs a friend. This one reads like a classic, and yes, it's also a friendship novel!

THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

This book. THIS BOOK. This is exactly the kind of book I love and love and keep on loving. (The other book so far this year that made me feel that way? RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnischen.) Girl with a club foot has been shut in her ENTIRE life until she follows her brother Jamie when he is evacuated out of London to Kent during WWII. The way the relationship develops between Ada and caregiver Susan... how Ada finds her power... beautiful! (I will now read every other book the author has written.)

GEORGE by Alex Gino

Finally a book for kids about a transgender kid! It's kind of a coming-out story -- a coming-out that is made so much easier thanks to a good friend. The world needs more Kellys!

(Like this one? Read for-adults GOLDEN BOY by Abigail Tarttelin about an intersex kid named Max.)

Monday, September 7, 2015

What I'm Listening To This Labor Day

...son Eric's latest super-fun single BEACH TRIP 
that he just released TODAY:

Is he a poet, or is he a poet?!


Thanks for listening!

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Visit with Janet Wong & A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely Linda at TeacherDance for Roundup.

I'm delighted today to welcome poet and publisher Janet Wong to share some poems from her book A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED: And Other Poems (McElderry Books, 1996). Buy the paperback edition here.

I happened upon this book at a book store on St. Simon Island (GA) earlier this year, and was enchanted by the poems that reflect Janet's Korean, Chinese, and American heritage. You'll find Janet's comments below in blue.  I particularly love Janet's last comment about identity - who we are vs. who we want to be. See below! Thank you, Janet, for sharing with us today!

JW: My mother was paralyzed from polio as a child. Her cure: acupuncture, hundreds of needles daily for a year. This was in rural Korea in the late 1940s. If you were to visit an acupuncturist in the U.S. today, you’d probably receive only a dozen needles in a session. But the way she described it to me as a child, poking her finger all over me, I imagined them turning her into a porcupine.

by Janet Wong

"Chook! Chook! Chook!"
Mother says each time
she digs her finger
into my skin
to show me where
the doctor stuck
hundred of needles
in her swollen, still,
fever-filled body,
when she was twelve.

I have a picture 
in my mind
of how she looked -- Chook!
My mother, once
a porcupine.

JW: I got my first acupuncture treatment after a severe ankle sprain, when I was a teen. Acupuncture, as it’s practiced here, is not supposed to hurt, but my mother believes that it’s only working if it hurts. My mother kept telling the acupuncturist, “More needles! More deeper!” I ended up with double the amount he originally had inserted. The pain was quite intense when he twisted the needles halfway through the session. I did my best for the next few days to hide my hobbling from my mom so that I wouldn’t need to return. 

by Janet Wong

She calls me tofu
because I am so soft,
easily falling apart.

I wish I were tough
and full of fire, like ginger--
like her.

JW: This is just one example of why I am “tofu” and my mother is “ginger." Tofu is not just soft; it weeps. (Put a piece on a plate in the refrigerator and the next day you’ll see what I mean.) I wrote a poem about this difference between my mother and me, but chose to call it “Sisters” since I don’t have a sister and could then tell my mother that it was totally made up. 

JW: About identity: Race matters, of course, but I worry when we overemphasize race and ignore other things that make up who we are; I’ve written many poems about the complex issue of identity. Now, at the beginning of the school year, the question for many kids (especially teens) isn’t “Who am I?” but rather “Who do I want to be?"

by Janet Wong

Two dresses hang
side by side
on the sale rack,
the tag of one so worn
it seems the price
was not believed,
but looked at, at least twice,
by many who might buy.

It is real: this
black velvet gown
overgrown with
lush, bright flowers
is cheap, dirt cheap,
even cheaper than
the simple chambray dress
some careless hand
has pressed up against its back,
the white plastic hanger
crushing one velvet flower.

Which one is you?
Wear this plain blue frock
twice a week and feel safe,
no one will talk;
but wear the other,
with its strange power
that makes you think
that boys will swoon,

and a second time
a season 
is too soon.