Tag Archives: Karen Cushman

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.

Confusing and Troubling Times

Photo by Morgan Basham on UnsplashKaren

I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer.  My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them.  What’s a girl to do?  In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create?  Do you have the same thoughts?  If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?

This is a question Karen Cushman posed to her fellow writers in 2017.  I intended to respond to it then, but I find no evidence that I ever did.  The question seems even more appropriate, more urgent today, so I’m going to tackle it now.

How do I free myself to write during these confusing and troubling times?

I have one friend, an artist in a field different from mine, who keeps these confusing and troubling times in check by abstaining from news entirely.  And that works for her.  But while I honor her choice, it’s not mine.  I don’t see how I can be a responsible citizen that way.  I do, however, limit the amount of time I spend taking in the news.  In particular, I abstain from almost all news that comes by way of television.  Most of what is offered there is less news than it is high-impact entertainment, meant to sell the products that ride on its back more than to inform.

I do read my local newspaper.  I do get news from sources I trust on the internet.  (That last is problematic, of course, because the sources I trust are sure to support my own views of the world, and as more of us get our information from such radically different sources with such profoundly different truths to convey, we all grow less and less able to communicate with one another.)

But the issue here isn’t who has the truth.  It’s how we live—and write—with the truths we embrace.  With the lack of substantive hope those truths support.

My answer has been to attempt to reach, day after day, deeper, farther, beyond the news of the day.  My answer, for instance, to the ravages of our climate has been The Stuff of Stars.  I won’t say to our children, We adults have failed to keep out world intact, now it’s up to you to fix it!  Rather I say, Look!  See our universe!  See this incredible Earth!  See your own amazing self!  All magnificent!  All sacred!

And I dream that if my readers know in their hearts the sacredness of the Earth and of their own selves, they will in some small way live differently into whatever lies ahead.

I dream, too, of writing a picture book about Peace.  I capitalize the word, because I’m not talking about soft, squishy peace, the kind of feel-good stuff that all little old ladies believe in.  I’m talking about Peace as a vibrant force that has the power and authority to change history.  I have a dear friend who speaks of humans as both mammals, nurturers, and as predators, creatures who kill to survive.  I want to find the Peace that lies on the other side of that truth, and I want to write it in such a way that the very young—and the very old—can believe in it.

It’s not much of an answer, I know.  It certainly isn’t an answer that fixes anything.  But it is the best I have.

What is your answer, especially those of you out there who also write for children?  Where does your hope lie?  Surely we can’t speak to children without hope.  Surely we can’t live our own lives without it.

I would love to hear your answers, and I’ll post as many of them as I can.

Write to me.  How do you live your hope?  How do you communicate it?