Monday, February 18, 2013

Tough Cookie.

When I was in high school, I took a pottery class. I discovered two things: I stick my tongue out when I'm concentrating very hard and I was not cut out to be a potter.

But I made one thing that had lasted until this day. It was a gift for my grandfather. It is a small tile, adorned with a pillow and a blanket. The tile reads: When the going gets tough, the tough take naps!

My Grandfather, for as long as I have known him, took naps. During our summers together we always had to play outside while Grandpa and Grandma were napping, to make sure the house was quiet. Grandpa Don thought naps were the cure to everything.

Recently, my cousin Kaela and I went to visit Grandpa Don and Grandma Ruth. We wanted to say hello in person, to be there for both of them, even for just a few hours. It wasn't an easy trip. We both knew it may be the last time we would see Grandpa Don. But we chatted and even laughed together in Grandpa's room for a while, and then Grandma took us to see their apartment. And there, sitting on the dresser, was the tile. It was smaller than I remembered, and I could tell it had been broken into several pieces and painstakingly glued back together.

Last night my Mom told me Grandpa Don was sleeping a lot; his congestive heart failure made it hard to do much else. It's tough, I thought, and he's taking his naps. And somehow that thought made it slightly better.

Early this morning my Mom called to tell me that Grandpa Don passed away during the night.

First I thought of his proud smile and how I would never see it again. Then I thought of the clip-on holly bow tie he wore every Christmas. And then I thought of the tile on his dresser. And I remembered  the last time I saw him. He was eating lunch in the dining room: chicken nuggets with BBQ sauce, and chicken noodle soup. I took Grandpa's hand, kissed him, and told him I loved him. He did the same, and I squeezed his hand for a time before I let go.

Sleep well, Grandpa Don.
I love you.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dreamy Conference Cookies

I contemplated joining SCBWI about 5 years ago. I had a beautiful little pamphlet that lived on my desk next to my laptop for about a year. Occasionally I would pick it up and pet it softly, turning it over and thinking about whether or not I belonged in SCBWI. Was I even a writer? Was I a children's book writer? And for some reason, 5 years ago, the answer I came to just wasn't yes. It wasn't no...but it wasn't yes.

I love writing. I've always loved writing. I've been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I have secret pride in my ability to tell a story. I studied writing in college. But 5 years ago I did not have enough confidence to say that I was a writer. Just having a dream wasn't enough for me to say: Yes, yes, I am a writer.

Then, a few key things happened. I had a child of my own who immediately became the one audience member I wanted to impress. And a very close friend went to her first SCBWI conference and came back with literal fairy dust poofing out behind her as she flipped her hair. Her eyes shone and her teeth glowed whiter. I could tell she was, in fact, a different girl. The day she got back she turned to me and said: "Next year, you have to go. It will change your life."

And then, even THEN, after seeing her fairy dust and white teeth, I waited. I waited until the last day of early registration for the annual NY conference. Before I registered I did a lot of thinking and soul searching (as an over-achieving, under-producing, full time mom, and full-time employee often does), asking myself: what do I really want? What is my dream? What is next?

Well, it's hard thinking about these meta-mega-questions every day, as life is happening very quickly around you. My answer came quite simply one of those evenings, with messy pots and pans and dishes and toys and cups piled everywhere on the counters. Grace and I had just finished dinner, and she ran back into the kitchen with a book, speaking her own little toddler language without punctuation, and handed it to me, saying "dankooo" (thank you). I sat down in the middle of the floor; she sat down in my lap, and we read the book together. She closed it when we were done, and handed it back to me, like it was a brand new book she'd never opened before and looked at me with her eyebrows raised. "Yeah!" (read it again) she said. And so I did. Despite the chores, despite the mess, despite the time ticking closer to bedtime, we sat and read together, because it's important, because she wanted to, because this meant more to both of us than clean dishes.

That night I stopped asking myself what I could do and started asking myself what I wanted to do. And that night I said. Yes, I am a writer. And I registered the next day--I was an SCBWI member!

So. I am a writer, and I just gained a whole society of other people who are writers and illustrators of children's books. Yes. Yes! All of a sudden, I began to ache--just ache--to achieve my dream. It was like by just acknowledging the little girl in the corner of my soul, she whipped out a megaphone and started shouting "Book! Book! Book!" with each of my heartbeats.

Now, I have alluded to this, but I should stop and say that my daily life is...really really really busy, much like every mother's life, like every father's life, like every good employee's life. But I have been personally struggling with it all--the privilege of being a new mom and having a full time job as a producer, plus being a wife, sister, friend, daughter, and homeowner. I was having a really hard time (and still am) holding all those hats, knowing when AND how to switch them, and having enough hands to hold all the others while they waited.

So...writing children's books? That hat seemed superflous, was just something I wanted, not something on the to-do list which was already way too long and beginning to smell and get moldy. Doubts began to settle in again. A writer? When?

And was conference time! I arrived to New York last Friday feeling late to the game but excited to see if this weekend would in fact change my life. I was excited to see and maybe even meet my heroes since childhood, hear them speak about something we actually have in common. And I did! Tomie diPaola, Jane Yolan, Meg Rosoff, Shaun Tam, Julie Andrews (Fraulein Maria!)--they all spoke so beautifully that even the little girl in my soul stopped chanting to take notes.

This weekend I said at least 35 times in 2 days that I AM A WRITER. I heard from a few editors what they like in a book and what is selling. I heard a few of the greats talk about the industry.  I saw just how many people (an obscene number) want to publish a children's book (or 10). I felt the collective love for childhood, for reading, for the magic of books, for two days. And how do I feel?

I feel really happy. I feel like my dream is valid. I feel like I CAN DO THIS. I feel like, someday, I will come to a SCBWI conference, see old friends, and give someone really good advice, maybe even from a podium.

I feel like, someday,  a child will run into the kitchen and sit on the kitchen floor with her mommy to read MY book. And she will close it and hand it back to her Mom and say "yeah!"