Monday, July 22, 2013

The 100th Post

Dear Readers,

This is an ending and a beginning.

When I started this blog, I wanted to express my opinions about children's literature. Being close to finishing my MFA in the subject, I was eager to prove I knew something. At the time, I was volunteering in a rare books library, collecting more books for my personal shelves than I'd ever need, and feeling hopeful about being published and maybe seeing my stories on the Barnes & Noble shelves someday. I went to conferences. I made contacts. I traveled a long way for bookish and writerly reasons. I even had business cards made.

I was, in short, enthusiastic.

For the first time in a long time, I had something that defined me--I had purpose. That was a great comfort because growing up had done to me what it does to many: stripped away the old comfortable definitions of self and left me alone to fill in the blank space. I read, I wrote, I even started to appreciate poetry. Then another beautiful thing happened: I got a teaching job. Finally, I was in the university classroom teaching others to write, and being pretty damn good at it for a beginner.

That's about the time things went slightly askew. If you know anything about life, you'll know slightly askew is all it takes to throw a train off its tracks. It happened when I tried my hand at being a critical children's literature scholar and failed. Not because I couldn't do it if I tried hard enough, but because my heart wasn't in it. The fact is, the outstanding scholars of children's literature I've known have committed their lives to it. Inevitably, I figured out that was something I didn't want to do. The experience burst my already dangerously thin bubble. I had been asked to join several critical projects but eventually asked to leave them. In the meantime, my creative work had gotten so many rejections, it refused to go back outside until it rested a while. And in a last sad sign of the times, I started getting rid of books in my collection.

But I still loved stories. And I still felt like a writer deep down. One evening Jonathan and I talked about how writing hadn't worked out for me and whether or not I should give it up. Tears came at the thought of losing the one thing I'd found to stand on, but I didn't know how else to respond to all that had happened. In a last effort, I retreated to the north to see if, without distractions, I had anything left to say on paper. To my complete surprise and delight, I did.

By November, I'd finished a lovely mess of a fantasy novel for middle grade readers, and in December, grace found me sitting in an auditorium full of kids and their parents listening to my favorite childhood author speak to his fans. Watching the children react to his stories helped me remember why I wanted to write children's literature in the first place, before school and the attraction of success and the expectations of others muddied the waters of my enthusiasm.

After that, things started to realign. At the beginning of this year, I purged the little critical work I'd done, posting some on the blog as a kind of testament to having given it a shot, and made peace with what had and hadn't worked out so far. Since then, I've been slowly getting back to writing and books, right up to the 99th post which was in honor and celebration of children and children's literature. In response to my plea, friends and family joined me in raising enough to provide <insert drumroll> 127 books to kids in need! Fantastic and far more than I expected.

So, then: Thanks for hanging around. I know I'm long-winded. I know I'm not light reading. So if you've read a post or two, commented, skimmed, shared, silently watched--whatever--thanks for your time. I hope you'll stick with me for 100 more posts, wherever they lead.

Happy reading. Happy writing. Happy making mistakes, brushing yourself off, and continuing on knowing more than you did before.