Category Archives: Journal

Look at the View

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island many years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless suffer in the winter months. He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule, panhandling the Boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amid the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now, even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them. And I asked him why. Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters? Why didn’t he check himself into the hospital for detox? And he stared out at ocean and said “Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.” And every day, in some little way, I tried to do what he said. I tried to look at the view. That’s all. Words of wisdom from man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. When I do what he said, I’m never disappointed.

Anna Quindlen

Larger Hearts

Heart

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Two weeks ago I posed a question that Karen Cushman had brought to her fellow children’s writers a couple of years ago.  How, in these confusing, troubling times, do you keep writing?

I may have responded to Karen at the time, but if I did, what I wrote is lost somewhere in the bowels of my computer.  What I found instead was a start at a response that seems to have dribbled into nothing after a few sentences.  So I set out to weigh the question again.  See Confusing and Troubling Times.

And I asked my readers to give me your answers to Karen’s question.

I received only three responses.  I suspect that this kind of request leaves many of us dribbling into nothing after a few sentences, but here are the ones I received.  Each is important.

Janet Fox said “I’m trying to write books that will reach deep inside to bring the beauty of the individual, trying to succeed against all odds, to the page. And to leave readers with hope, always.”

I agree.  That is the key, always, to begin with the beauty of the individual, every individual’s struggle, and to end with hope . . . for ourselves as well as for our readers.

Nancy Bo Flood said:  “Thank you for describing clearly how hard [it is] to hold onto affirmation about anything during these times. Even our own writing world is enmeshed with firing criticism and scorn rather than thoughtful comments and insights — or encouragement that yes, we can be better human beings. Yes, we can open windows, cross bridges, go around walls, welcome a stranger. Despair is the opposite of hope. Human history is repeating itself – the struggle between kindness and cruelty continues. I think of the Greek god each day pushing the boulder up the steep hill toward light. The darkness of night pushes the boulder back down. Morning means taking up the struggle again.

“And so we do. One kind word. One book. One poem. Crossing the street to assist, to include. If the birds are foolish and brave enough to sing, so must I.”

Nancy’s point about the vitriol that has come to be too constant a presence in our own small world of children’s literature is one I resonate with.  I certainly don’t long for a return to a “bunny nibble bunny” world in which all the bad words were kept discretely beneath the surface, but I do wish we could dial down the instant judgments, too often about books the ones judging have not even read, and the profound righteousness that seems to be infecting our conversation these days.  There is so much out there in the world that is soul destroying.  Am I naïve to wish those of us who write for the young could hold ourselves to a higher standard?

Nancy’s point about the necessity of starting again each morning pushing that boulder up a hill toward the light also strikes a deep chord for me.  How helpful it is to be reminded that I am not pushing alone.

And Deb Miller said:  “I for one of many will be watching and waiting for your book on Peace. Building love and empathy in the hearts of our children through story is probably the most powerful thing any of us can do. I keep at it because I have to think that someday some child will read my story (if it ever finds its way into the world, that is :-), and work out a more empathetic solution to whatever problem her world presents to her.

“Meantime, like you, I try to stay globally informed through reliable news sources, always fighting against the tendency for helpless despair by remembering the wisdom of Tolstoy’s Three Questions: What is the most important time? Now. What is the most important thing to do? What you see needs to be done. And who is the most important one? The one you are with. (simplified paraphrasing, of course)

“In my bookish life, that translates to acting locally— when I can, doing what I can, and for whom. And continuing to type away at my now ten year old manuscript that I have to believe will foster a measure of love and empathy in the hearts of at least a few children someday!”

A dream we all can carry, especially those who create books for children or create connections between children and books.

Because information frees us and stories enlarge our hearts, and in this perilous time more than anything else we need solid information and larger hearts.

Nature’s Imperative

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The only imperative that nature utters is: ‘Look. Listen. Attend.’

C. S. Lewis

Home

I’ve never felt so old!

Of course, I’ve never been so old, but then everyone can say that, even a six-year-old.  We are always, on any day, the oldest we have ever been.

The difference, I suppose, is that today I know I’m old.  I know it in my bones.  And I understand in a way I never have before what knowing something in my bones means.

The reason for this surge of new understanding?  I’ve just moved.

Age precipitated the move.  For most of the last decade I have been renting a lovely, two-story house with a tuck-under garage which made it a three-story house when I carried groceries or laundry up from the basement.

I’ve never had a problem with stairs.  I saw stairs as good exercise built into my day.  My partner’s and my bedrooms and my study were all on the second floor and the laundry room was in the basement along with the garage, so I was happily up and down those stairs many times every day.

Or at least I was happy until some stress in my lumbar spine began to cause occasional leg weakness.  When I found myself holding both banisters and pulling myself up the stairs very slowly, I began to reconsider.

We looked at senior residences, but I didn’t feel ready.  Yes, I know I’m eighty. I should be ready, but I’m not.  Even though I began my career in the corner of a bedroom, I couldn’t imagine giving up my study, and senior residences with two bedrooms and a usable study are almost impossible to find.  Besides, giving up a house is giving up having my own private patch of the outdoors on the other side of my door.  And that patch of outdoors feeds my soul.

So we began looking.  We began more than a year ago actually with a very patient realtor.  But we couldn’t get on the same page and nothing that we saw was quite . . . it.  Until, finally, it was.  The house we’d dreamed came onto the market in the afternoon.  We let our realtor know we wanted to see it now.  We spent twenty minutes walking through.  Then we leapt.

And we’ve been landing ever since.

We got the house, the loan, the movers.  We got the boxes and the tape and the enormous rolls of bubble wrap.

And we started packing.

And sorting.  I spent two days sorting through the files in my study, more than forty years worth of professional files and personal ones, too, such as a forgotten treasure-trove of letters surrounding my son’s death.  Then I spent more days sorting and culling books.

And packing.

And sorting.

And packing.

Until the day came when everything went onto a truck except for us and Sadie, our one-eyed sheltie.

It all came off the truck and we were here!

And we were so, so tired.

And I, at least, suddenly knew myself to be old.  Very, very old.

But today, at last, my study is up and working.  No pictures on the walls yet, but I sit here at my familiar keyboard with three yellow tulips in a purple vase at my side and a new yard yet to be explored stretching beyond my window.  And I am so glad to be 80 and looking ahead to the all-on-one-floor future, however long or short it may be.

And I am glad, once more, to gather words and see them appear on the screen before me.  This is it, my heart says.  I am home.

And I am.

I am.

Had I Gone Looking

Photo by James Forbes on Unsplash

Had I gone looking for some particular place rather than any place, I’d have never found this spring under the sycamores. Since leaving home, I felt for the first time at rest. Sitting full in the moment, I practiced on the god-awful difficulty of just paying attention. It’s a contention of my father’s—believing as he does that anyone who misses the journey misses about all he’s going to get—that people become what they pay attention to. Our observations and curiosity, they make and remake us.

William Least Heat Moon