Monday, April 29, 2013

On inspiration

A friend recently asked what hinders my creativity and what helps. That's easy.

What hinders:

1. Too much time spent online
2. Too much time spent alone
3. Too much time spent in the same town with the same people
4. Stress
5. Mood swings
6. Fear and/or discouragement
7. Being a perfectionist
8. Being ill
9. Life
10. The view

What helps:

1. A deadline
2. An audience
3. A great idea (my own or someone else's)
4. New faces and places
5. New knowledge
6. New experiences
7. Practice
8. A good night's rest
9. Life
10. The view

Stuff that surprisingly doesn't usually make much difference:

1. Praise
2. Chocolate
3. The promise of publication

Because cat pictures are always relevant.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

World Book Night 2013

"'… from here that looks like a bucket of water,' he said, pointing to a bucket of water; 'but from an ant's point of view it's a vast ocean, from an elephant's just a cool drink, and to a fish, of course, it's home. So, you see, the way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from...'" ~ Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth


Last night, thanks to the World Book Night USA folks, I was proud to once again give away a box of books at the university where I teach. Most WBN Book Givers go into the wide world to distribute books to people they've never met. I'm lucky enough to personally know most of the people I give free books (and chocolate!) to.

The only stipulation for my being a Book Giver on campus is that I have enough books to give at least one to every student (don't worry--it's a small campus), so both years, along with the twenty books from the WBN people, I've given away children's books as well. This year, my WBN giveaway was Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, and my children's book giveaway was a pile of Scholastic's Bob Books for beginning readers, which went even faster than Tollbooth due to the students having lots of beginning readers in their lives.

By the end of the night, much chocolate had been devoured, and words and stories had been sent out into the world to do what they do best. A huge success. Many thanks to World Book Night USA and all the sponsors who make the event possible, and especially for my chance to share the love again this year with a bunch of people I care about.


(More quotes from The Phantom Tollbooth to convince you it's awesome)

"Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you're going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations."

"The Doldrums, my young friend, are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes."

"'I never knew words could be so confusing,' Milo said to Tock as he bent down to scratch the dog's ear. 'Only when you use a lot to say a little,' answered Tock."

"'My goodness,' thought Milo, 'everybody is so terribly sensitive about the things they know best.'"

"What you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do."

"'You must never feel badly about making mistakes,' explained Reason quietly, 'as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.'"

Monday, April 22, 2013

My brother

The earliest solid memory I have of my brother is him throwing me into the waves of the Atlantic off the coast of St. Simons Island, Georgia. That was probably around the time below--the 80s, as you can tell by the keen fashion sense of my siblings and me as we pose somewhere in Appalachia:

My second memory is of him getting into trouble during high school for doing any one of the many mischievous things he did in those years. Mom and Dad were letting him have it, as any caring parents would, and in my childlike wisdom (in one of the few brave moments of my early years), I spoke up (i.e. screamed) and demanded he be left alone. That . . . did not work. But it goes to show, I loved my big brother.

The thing about Bob in those days, and in these, was his confidence and determination, his intelligence and humor. But what I didn't know back then, what took adult eyes to see, was that Bob is also good.

I could tell you about how I've learned he's good. Oh, trust me, it's a television worthy tale. There's the corruption of the healthcare system, the loss of home and assets, lives and loves and liberties, the eventual gain of wisdom about how easily and quickly everything can change when a powerful and wicked person or body decides to make sweeping judgments. I could tell you about redemption and grace and help being available when most needed. And about all the voices who spoke out for him and all the people who rushed to help. About the fact that, however much support a person has, he still most often carries the load alone. And about sorrow: deep sorrow and regret and anger over grave lies and injustices. And about people being revealed for who they are when times get tough. And I could tell you the most private moments and the most powerful--the ones of wanting to give up but instead standing up straighter than before. I could tell you every little detail. And it would be a great story. But the details aren't mine to tell. And it's not a story. It's someone's life.

What is mine to tell is that through the fire, my brother has been good. He's been properly dragged through the mud and abandoned and abused and downright shit upon, yet stood with a dignity I don't understand. He's fought for his right to say that he is a free man and will remain in control of his life. And when control has been taken in spite of that strength, he's stopped, taken a breath, and said, Fine: I'll work this out somehow too. And by God, he has.

This Friday, Bob, my dear brother Bob, who just minutes ago, seconds maybe, was waiting for the next wave to throw me into that murky island water, is tying up the last loose ends of one of the hardest trials I'll ever watch anyone go through. I have no doubt anywhere in my mind that, as hard as Friday will be, Bob will keep walking. That's just the kind of guy he is.

So let's take a moment. Let's stop and look at the Bobs of the world. Let's look at those men and women who walk through storms, push through the blasting wind and the flash of lighting and the roar of the sky and the sting of the rain--those who make us think, my god, what's keeping them from falling? And then down the road, w
hen things get hard for us, let's think of Bob and say to ourselves: Whatever happens tomorrow, I can handle it. I'll be okay.


Love and respect and admiration for you, brother.
We're all right here beside you.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Another reason to love paper books

A few years ago, I started collecting books. I haven't read half of them, but I know how each book feels in my hands, how it looks on the shelf, whether or not it's got illustrations and if it's a first edition and if an edge is tattered and if there's a dust jacket and how the book smells. Book collecting, for me, is often about the package more than the story. It's about the physical thing itself.

People who love their e-readers love reading. People with books may or may not love reading. They might just love books. Don't get me wrong, stories are critical to my life. But I don't collect books for the joy of reading. I collect books because I love books.

One reason I got into collecting was because of something a paper book has that an e-book doesn't: The ink signature. Sure, a signature can be done electronically or scanned, but seeing it on a screen is like looking at a picture of the Grand Canyon. You can no more hang your head over the edge of the north face than you can rub your finger across the page and feel the groove where the pressure of the pen dug in. In high resolution, you could see the flecks of ink from where the pen spit as it glided, but you can't put a drop of water on to see if it will run. There's something real, something necessary about the physical contact that goes beyond what we experience with a screen. When we read from a screen, we certainly connect to the literature. But touching the page the author touched is a different experience entirely. And though a signature may look similar from book to book after years of practice, it's unique in each instance and will never happen exactly the same way again. For one of the Wal-Mart and internet generation, this type of uniqueness has become rare and precious.

Electronic books are amazing. They spread stories, and that is good. Paper books are amazing too. They spread stories, many are works of art, and they've given me the opportunity to make a connection I can't get anywhere else.

Here's my collection. This first set includes books signed by people I was lucky enough to meet but don't know personally:

This set is from people I've never met. Some of the authors and/or illustrators pre-signed the books for bookshops, and I found others online. Some are signed to someone specific.

But the really special collection is a stack of books signed by people I'm extremely proud to know personally.

These last two are especially special. The first is from my sister with a lovely dedication. I'd never had a book dedicated to me before! And the second is from my hubby's childhood days from his dear friend and cousin.


Links (when and where I could find them) to the authors & illustrators above, in order of their appearance: