Posts Tagged ‘son’

The Post – A Sidetrip to Essays – But the Bus NEVER Came Up This Far on the Curb Before!

February 16, 2008

Before I start talking about the Under the Pier process, I need to address the one side that calls to me in a big way – essays. I’ve sold a couple already and I yearn to do more. While this blog is a collection of all the bits of me, perhaps the one area of my soul most fed, is the ability to “speak in essays.”

I have spent most of my time over the last 12 years calling myself a children’s writer, though I have noticed that a lot of my focus is geared toward adults. Is this a contradiction or betrayal of a certain writing path? I don’t think so. Perhaps Madeleine L’Engle handled it best. She used to hate it when she was referred to as a children’s writer, as if that was all she was or it was a special category considered “not quite a writer.” She insisted on being referred to as a writer and considered her children’s writing just one aspect of her career, though certainly not the easiest or least important. Her observation there was: “If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children.”

So in the same vein, I am first drawn to writing for children as there is the very alive open child within me who wants to speak. However, like everything else in my life, I do not fit neatly into categories. The label “children’s” writer is not totally accurate because I find, I just write. Who it fits, I leave for the readers to determine.

As to my essays, they run the range – spiritual, humorous, nature-based, flippant. One current essay is a list I keep of irreverent things to put on my tombstone: “But it was HER fault, really!” “But I had the right of way!” or “But the bus NEVER came up this far on the curb before!” – the last one from a moment at Colonial Williamsburg where my husband and son expressed concern at how close to the bus stop curb I was standing. When I reassured them the bus never comes that far up, they offered to put that one on my tombstone. 🙂

I love to write essays because my right brain revels in being able to take a single quote or line of dialogue, a comic, photograph, painting or a life question, and just write. Something that starts in the specific and ends up at a universal truth. A journey where I start with the concrete and wander around always surprised where I end up, usually someplace emotional.

In a lot of respects, though I’ve started this blog in the midst of writing a novel for upper middle-grade/Young adult readers, a lot of it so far has been more essays, journaling, unearthing the soul of the writer, rather than a lot about the Children’s Writing business. That’s okay. I need to have that soul of the writer to do that novel. The reality is, that novel has been a journey to answers in life. Maybe in a way, novels are just one long essay because the characters in those fictions worlds still ask the same life questions we all do.

This blog is also my “raw material” that I can mine at will for whatever projects come along. It’s my toy box of thoughts that I can spin into something for adults or children. Truth, is truth.

My “internship of the essay craft” has involved continuing education classes at nearby Duke University, as well questions. Always, questions. They are the catalyst for life, for growth, for wisdom. At least to me, if I stop asking questions, I stop growing. I lose the path to peace

The internship has also included reading countless books. Fiction, philosophy, spirituality, nature guides, and of course, books on essay writing. One in particular is my favorite, and has been the most useful for seeing how to first collect, then transform life experiences. I recommend it highly:

Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal – The Art of Transforming a Life into Stories, by Alexandra Johnson. She teaches memoir and creative nonfiction writing at Harvard and has been published extensively. The book is divided into three parts. It’s possible to only use one of the three at a particular time in life, or ever. The first is about having a journal – creating one, the various types, what raw material to collect; the second part is about transforming your life – finding the patterns and meaning in what you’ve collected; the third section is called “Crossover: Moving a Journal into a Creative Work.”

Whether you just collect raw material, mine it for meaning, or use it to create fiction and nonfiction works, the process changes you. Like that overly used cliched example of a rock thrown in a pond, change one thing and it touches places unseen. Even keeping a list of favorite phrases over a lifetime does something deep inside to your soul and alters your outlook on life.

So I am a writer for all ages. I love to write essays, whoever reads them. They are my journey to answers. They are the playground of the right brain, and the compost pile that fertilizes the rest of my works.

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The Post – Caring, is catchy

January 30, 2008

Probably the most interesting thing in the fiddler crab experiment is my family’s reaction to them. My son came home from college at Christmas and initially looked at me like I was crazy because I talked so much about the crabs. In fact, my independent college student complained I was paying more attention to the fiddler crabs. He kept laughing at me as I talked to the crustaceans in that high-pitched mommy voice previously reserved for my toddler son and pet poodles. My husband just kept teasing me about the total amount we were up to on fiddler crab expenditures.

Within of day of being home, my son started watching them, and within a few days he was keeping track of who was doing what and telling me to check on Melanie Hamilton or Rhett Butler. In fact, I think he was the one who first noticed that Rhett Butler was dead.

My husband was the one who spotted Scarlett O’Hara molting and eagerly called me over to see her when I came in from grocery shopping. Last night, he came in from work and before he even said hello to me he stopped, peered in the tank and said with great concern, “There’s something wrong with Admiral Byrd! I think he’s dead!” As it turned out (after I poked Admiral Byrd with my latest acquisition, a 25 cc plastic pipette and bulb from Science Safari that I use to siphon out excess food), I think Admiral Byrd was just sleeping – they kind of hang there, their claws floating above their heads, and don’t react to much. But my husband walked away and said very seriously, “I think you’d better keep an eye on him.”

What I realized is that caring, like a cold, is an occupational hazard of sharing space. When you share space, even with a creature who has a brain the size of a pinpoint, it starts to get personal. When it’s personal, you start to care, even when you didn’t mean to.

I think the same thing happens with people. So often you hear people say, “I don’t like this group or that.” Then they meet someone from that group and find out they really are okay . . . maybe even . . . nice. It’s hard to share space – sit across the table from someone, hear their humanness, see it in their eyes – and not care. That’s the real risk factor I suspect . . . contact . . . sharing space. The minute you share the space, you start to see the real person. Once that happens, it’s personal. And once it’s personal, you’re done for because caring is catchy.