One-day workshop on picture book writing, this Saturday, November 20

typewriter-have-a-wonderful-dayDo any of you local Twin Citians harbor a secret desire to write a picture book? I’m teaching a one-day workshop on “The Puzzle of Picture Books” this Saturday, November 20, from 12:30-4:30 p.m. at the beautiful Loft in downtown Minneapolis.

Picture books are usually written with children in mind, but not always – for example, I think of my own book Someday as being for adults more than children. And So Many Days and Only a Witch Can Fly are as much for grownups as children, too.

In fact, I’d like to see a new bookstore section – maybe the size of a goodsized bookcase – devoted only to picture books for grownups. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a few pictures along with the words?

There’s still room in the class and I’d love to see you there. If you’re interested, click here for all the details.

Is This Where We Are?

little-luke-and-devUntil about half an hour ago I would have responded, had you asked me if I kept a journal, “No. I don’t keep a journal.”

Because I don’t.

If you had persisted, and asked me, “Did you ever keep a journal?” I would have said, “Yeah, when I was in fifth grade. It was one of those tiny little diaries that you lock with a tiny little key, and every entry was about a) the boy I had a crush on from kindergarten through senior year, or b) my tiny little baby brother, just born that year, whom I adored.”

I might then have followed it up by saying,  “But as an adult? No. I never kept a journal” –

forgetting entirely about the years when, in fact, I did keep a journal. They were what I think of as the years of blurred-ness, back in the nineties mostly, when I had the three tiny little kids and I was trying to do a million different things at once. Which I still am, but in a slightly less blurred fashion. Or so I hope.

Anyway, back to the subject. Which was what? Oh yes, something to do with keeping a journal. I was looking through old files, of which there are perhaps thirty trillion or so on my computer, and which I figuratively drag from one computer to another computer as soon as the old one breaks down, which, if you’re me, is a maximum of every two years because I am to computers what some people are to watches. They stop working in my presence, possibly because they know I need them so damn much.

Back to the subject again, which is the fact that I do have journal entries, quite a few, dating back many years, journal entries that I had completely forgotten about. And I’m here to tell you that it can be simultaneously horrifying and comforting to see how much you haven’t changed, deep down, lo these many years.

Have my children changed? I’m talking about inside, way down deep, from the beings they used to be, housed in those tiny little bodies that now are bigger than mine.

I’m guessing not. I remember being tiny, and wondering about the same things that I wonder about now, a lifetime later. These are the wonderings of my son, then age six.

“Mom, somewhere in the world, right now, a ship is sinking, a house is on fire, and a person is being robbed.”

“What if there was no time?  What if there was no past and no future?”

“I feel short.  I feel very, very short.”

“What kinds of things haven’t been invented yet?”

“I feel nothing.  I feel as if I weigh nothing, as if I feel nothing, as if I can think of nothing.  Nothing.”

“Mom, what if we’re all, all of us, just characters in a book, and someone is writing us right now?”

“Where do spirits live?”

“How high is heaven?  Does it come before outer space?  Is it lower than the clouds?”

I wonder how I answered him, back then. Did I answer at all?

Or did I just listen and then, late at night or at dawn the next morning, write it all down.

Let Us Begin with Coffee

mexican-mug-with-coffee-filter Do you like coffee? Excellent. We have French Roast available for your drinking pleasure.

Should you prefer add-ons, we have heavy cream, half ‘n half, and 2% milk in the refrigerator to your left. Sugar can be found in the baking supplies cupboard directly above the counter where I am carefully pouring boiling water through the small camping coffee filter positioned above your mug.

Notice that I am giving you the very first cup. This is hard for me, because I myself prefer the very first cup –after all, I drink but half of one small cup of coffee per day— and yet I am magnanimous and am giving it to you. That is because you are my guest.

And how happy I am to have you here with me, in this quiet kitchen at dawn. Because it’s November, the sun has yet to come up. This is a situation which is only going to get worse until we reach the end of December, at which point the days will — thank God— start to get longer again, but we shall not think about that now.


Half ‘n half?

2% milk?

Sugar? Or perhaps some blue agave nectar?

None, you say? None at all? Interesting. Would you characterize yourself as ascetic, that is to say, a disciplined, semi-monastic type of person?

Come, sit with me here at the kitchen table, which was purchased at a garage sale some years back, along with four matching chairs, three of which have subsequently broken. Perhaps they were not intended for the large heft of the modern American, or perhaps they were cheaply made out of inferior wood and glue.

At any rate, nought but one remains, and there it is, right there next to the stairs, serving as a way station for items which need to be brought up to the second floor of the house. You may sit instead in one of these four wicker chairs originally intended for outdoor use, but which to my mind work perfectly well as indoor kitchen table chairs. Not to mention that all four were purchased at a season-end clearance sale, always a plus.

Let us first give thanks.

Thank you for this day. Thank you for this life. Thank you for my family, and my friends, and my students, and thank you also for the animals.

You can fill in your own thanks above. I will not write down what you say, as we here at the garage sale kitchen table believe that some things are best kept private.

Notice that we do not speak of regret, here at the kitchen table at dawn. There is plenty of room for regret in a day, not to mention a life, and yet just for this day we will keep regret at bay, the reason being that if later, later in this very day which has barely begun, an airplane or other large, airborne mass such as a giant mutant raptor with enormous talons suddenly swept down out of the sky and obliterated you from existence, would you want your last feeling to have been one of regret?

No, me neither.  Enjoy your coffee.

Why I Started Writing for Children (instead of just grownups)

pinky-on-scooterWhen I first moved to Minneapolis, I took a job teaching Chinese at a big public city school. I was new to teaching, and teaching–especially grades K-12– is wonderful but exhausting. I would power-teach three to four days a week and then ease into the weekend by reading aloud to my students for the last half hour of every class on Friday. I rationalized this activity by choosing only books–novels, memoirs, collections of stories and essays–that had something to do with China.

I had made a bunch of giant pillows out of corduroy and foam, and every Friday these big old teenagers–the hockey players, football players, cheerleaders, loud kids, shy kids, street kids, rich kids, kids who barely spoke English–would arrange themselves on the floor, and I would begin to read. There was never a sound in the room, but all eyes were on me and everyone was listening.

Those were peaceful, happy Fridays. I sat on my desk swinging my legs and reading. There were no windows in the room, and I had brought in lots of lamps so as to avoid the overhead fluorescence, and the lamplight pooled on my students’ faces, which in that light and that time were beautiful, every one of them. . .

(The above is part of a guest blog I wrote for Pippin Properties. For the full blog, please click here.)