Alone time and its treats

ice creamToday’s post, in lieu of an essay, is a set of notes I took during a two-hour lunch break last Saturday in the middle of the Children’s Literature Summer Institute (blog post here). It was sunny, after days of clouds and rain, and I wandered over to Jersey Street for Thai food, wine, dessert, and the solitude that happens on city streets and in restaurants. I sat alone at one of the three tables with umbrellas on the sidewalk out front, and the waiter did not rush me. I wrote — about the conference and what was going on around me. It looks like I made some thought or section breaks as I wrote, by inserting horizontal lines; I kept them in this transcript:


Everyone [speaking at the conference] seems fully to make their living from art — only Yee even used words having to do with money + employment.

I surmise though that speaking at these conferences helps writers/illustrators connect with school librarians who hire them to speak at their schools. In fact, the school librarians I met mentioned specifically that they were hoping to bring some of their artists to their schools. There seems esp. to be budgets for this in K-8.

For me, this kind of environment is really inspiring — gets me wanting to do this, to value it as important.

The YA novelists talk about themes in their novels that were themes in their teen years. They keep trying to work them out. How did I stop my YA novel so easily, worrying about neurosis? This is the territory — maybe writing is not the way of mental health. Continue reading

Hands down, the best literature conference anywhere

This past weekend, I attended the Children’s Literature Summer Institute 2013 at Simmons College, my graduate school alma mater. Among academic conferences, it is one of the best, managing to be smart and profound but not stuffy. As Lois Lowry, the keynote speaker, conveyed in her talk: We are all in this world of children’s literature together.

About 150 people – teachers, writers, illustrators, grad students, librarians, editors, scholars, and fans – attended. Strangers were instantly affectionate. The featured authors and illustrators were approachable. I made a conference friend, a school librarian who is also a Simmons alum, and I really enjoyed having one person with whom I could continuously share impressions and enthusiasm. I also loved being at Simmons again and remembering my professors, my friends, and my years of learning.

I gathered much good insight and advice from the many author and illustrator talks, which were all prepared and differently framed around the Institute’s theme for this year: Love Letters. I took notes. I hope it will all stay with me, motivating me to return to some projects I have set aside in doubt and helping me stick with them.

From my notebook: a list of the speakers, in order of their appearance, and ideas and inspiration I wrote down as they spoke. There are 13 of them, a baker’s dozen. Keep reading after the jump.

Shane plays; Jack records.

Shane plays; Jack records.

1. Shane Evans, illustrator and writer: website

He gives himself an assignment to journal on the same topic for 41 days. The topic might be truth or love or some other big idea. He does this “because I’m lazy.” Once, for 41 days, he asked a different person every day the same question and photographed him/her and then put it all on his website.

Interesting metaphor: mountain top vs. valley. “Nothing grows on top of a mountain; it can’t breathe. We have to go down to the valley; it’s where nurturing happens… We talk about highs and lows – what’s wrong with the lows?!”

He showed a slide of works from 10 visual artists who are his inspirations. I wonder: who would be my 10 inspirations? What would it be like to take a work from each of them and hang it over my desk?

Shane is also a musician – went to college with Taye Diggs – and got us to sing along with him… TWICE.

2. Deborah Freedman, illustrator and writer: website

She is a former architect. Looks at books (physical ones) as “a spatial problem.” She said, “a picture book creates a space.” She believes an iPad won’t do that, or can’t do that yet. (I wondered, “Why not?”) She likes things she can touch; she likes things that exist in space: “I like the book.”

Talked about balancing “intuition and rationality.” She does that in her sketchbook; she starts a new one for each project. Once she has an idea, the first thing she does is to “go to the library and look at every book about that idea.”

In picture-book making, pacing is very important. She works this out in a storyboard, and she’s constantly “pacing and re-pacing.” (I noticed that pacing is a quality of stories and books that several of the writers or illustrators mentioned in their talks.)

Tight limitations are a gift, she said, using those words exactly. I liked her.

Continue reading

All the dead and ruined young lives

Central Park Running Path, 4.15.2013

Central Park Running Path, 4.15.2013

On Monday, April 15th in the afternoon, Lydia and I were walking through Central Park from the Guggenheim down to Columbus Circle. It was the end of a two-day trip to the city to see a college that Lydia is interested in applying to.

I kept looking at my phone because the walking paths curved here and there, and we followed them and yet still wanted to be headed generally in a diagonal across the park, so I needed the Google map. In the Ramble, I got a text from Jimmy:

There appear to have been explosions at the finish line of the marathon. We are at the arboretum, far away.

I did not know enough to worry, and I ignored the text. Maybe “explosion” meant firecrackers launched by naughty kids.

Lydia got a message from a friend about the explosions, and she followed up. Perhaps she is more easily alarmed than me, by personality or age. “Mom!” she said something like this, urgently, and conveyed the seriousness of what had happened.

Our walk to Columbus Circle — to go to Whole Foods to get something to eat on the train before we headed to my sister Emily’s office and then Penn Station —  lost its power. The beautiful spring day seemed to be happening to other people. Lydia even remarked, as we passed New Yorkers, that they probably didn’t know yet.

I did stop to take this photo (above) on a bridge that looked over a playing field and what is called Central Park Running Path, according to the geographic locator in Instagram. Lydia discouraged me from taking more, claiming that our moment for picture-taking was gone.

I didn’t know what I felt: distracted, there-but-not-there, worried about our travel plans.

When we got to my sister’s office near Penn Station, we heard more. We watched videos on our phones and my laptop. We discussed. The word “amputations,” more than any other detail, provoked whatever it is I felt, and those feelings I could not name.

Continue reading

Same route, different thoughts

I took the same route back to my parked car today as I did last Monday afternoon: through the Common, down Charles Street, and across the Longfellow Bridge back to Kendall Square from Park Street.

This time, I took my own photo.

on Longfellow Bridge, nearing Cambridge, today at 4:45pm

I met no strangers on the bridge, but I did walk by many of them. One smiled.

On my walk, I thought for almost the whole time about the power of the words, “I’m sorry.” My shift on the GLAD Legal InfoLine was busy today. Lots of calls. So many of the calls I get have to do with gay marriage or immigration issues. Once in a while there is one that has to do with crime, and the caller as victim of one. Today there were two.

To one fellow, after he had told me a long yet coherent story about being beaten, I said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. It sounds very upsetting.” Until that moment, his voice had been measured and regular, sort of like the tone of voice a friend would use as you sat together at a coffee shop and discussed an incident that had happened to a third friend.

His voice broke. “It was.” That was all he said. I could hear the loosening inside him. I felt loosened myself, not crying but as though I could.

I got practical again and made some suggestions. He rallied. I’d like to think we both felt as though we were moving forward in solving a problem and that it seemed, for the moment, better.

Walking and talking

On the short train ride today between the Kendall Square and Park Street stations, so many conversations about our intentions — to be or make something, go somewhere, decide, give up, let go — were on my mind. As I walked up the stairs from the lower platform to the main one, and then up into the mid-day sun, I arrived at this:

Let’s no longer talk of the things we want to do. Let’s do them.

A four-piece brass band was playing at the mouth of Winter Street. The guys were older and paunched, all wearing yellow vests, and they enthusiastically tootled “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. It was wonderfully done. I looked, but there was no cup on the sidewalk collecting change. One song, and they left.

If you want to make music, make it.

art over Winter Street

On Mondays, I usually go to the Starbucks on Winter and get a cup of coffee and the fruit-and-cheese bistro box for lunch before heading up to GLAD. Walking there, I saw a man with a beautiful, muscled body walking up the middle of the street from downtown. Otherwise bare, he wore only tan shorts and flip flops, and as we neared each other I could see that his face had been burned and later treated with skin grafts — it was like melted wax, smoothed and cooled, but the eyes dark and liquid and still piercingly human.

Perhaps this is what you do when your face, your badge, is odd: you flaunt the body. Continue reading