Category Archives: Reflections

Why I Write

In third grade, I noticed for the first time that I had a talent for storytelling and a command of words and sentences that my peers didn’t have. In pairs we had to read a short story to each other, something we’d written in response to a prompt. It had to do with a canoe resting on the shore of a beach. My story was epic, elaborate, about a shipwrecked boy who survived something like the Titanic, only in the Pacific. No icebergs. Basically I had the storyboard for Castaway some 15 years before that movie was made. I used the words startled, determined and collapsed. My reading partner didn’t know what those meant.
Throughout elementary school I was often called a liar. This had to do with me being unable to stick to one version of a story. It makes sense to me now, why I was like this. I didn’t have a name until I was 14 months old. I lived in three different foster homes before I was placed with the people who eventually adopted me. No one explained these events to me. Instead I was terrified to be alone in the dark and I told and wrote stories about stolen children, kidnapped in the middle of the night while they slept. Lost children, who moved through the world without adults to help and guide them. I wrote to try to make sense of the story I was living, the one in which I was dropped off with my parents by a stork who couldn’t tell them where I came from or why I was brown.
When I moved on to junior high and high school, I stopped writing to tell stories. At my rigorous college prep school, all writing was in service of the divine 5 paragraph essay. Thesis-evidence-commentary. Pink, yellow, blue. If it couldn’t be highlighted in one of those colors, it didn’t belong in the essay. It wasn’t worth saying. I mastered this style of writing. I can write persuasively to prove any point. As an undergrad, I got an A on every single paper I wrote across literature, history and theology courses. In the process, I forgot how to tell stories. I never did figure out how to tell my own.
Until a year ago.
At the prompting of a gifted writing coach, as part of a profound healing retreat, I put my origin story into words, evolved the story to include drawings, removed the words, and found the primitive, caveman art version of my early life story. This is the story inscribed in indelible ink on the walls of my heart. It’s the story hardwired in my brain.
Lest you think that’s it, that’s my story—let me stop you there. It’s the beginning of my story, like how cave paintings are the beginning of the story of humankind. I had to excavate that story, had to discover it. Now, understanding how I started, I’m retracing the path I took to get here, to this moment. And from here I’m creating my story. The story in which I’m a priestess in my own temple and anything is possible.
I write to reflect on the journey. I write to persuade you I’m not a liar. I write to speak your language, and to help you understand mine.

 

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Six Years

Five half marathons

One Master’s degree

100+ books

Three solo dance competitions

Permanent visual impairment

A teenager

2016 & #MeToo

I’m not the teacher librarian who created this blog to serve as a database for the YA, middle-grade and children’s literature worthy of your reading time. I’m several months shy of four-zero, coming-of-age as though I’ve finally progressed past my own adolescence, and inclined to listen to your stories rather than turning to fiction to satisfy my need for narrative.

Writing this post, and the last, is a bit like talking to myself in public. I’m self-conscious, not entirely convinced that no one will notice, taunting my cowardly parts to click “Publish.” I have a lot to say about important matters but I’m not ready to wade out into deeper water. I’m not a good swimmer. I’m afraid of sharks. I don’t want to drown. I’m hoping when I do venture out there, I’ll find a liferaft. Or maybe some other seafarer will haul me onto a boat. Even better, I’ll discover an island and my tribe.

For now I’m pacing back and forth on the shore of this island. The view is nice and I feel safe. I’m proud of myself for being here. That’s enough.

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Fears and Cravings

“Is this the journey I both fear and crave?”

~ Mark Nepo, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky

I fear sensations, like the nausea that ripples out from the knot in my stomach. Or the heat in my ears that feels like the wails of a desperate baby. I fear the sensation of my skin going cold, of my vision blurring. I especially fear the combination of these and so I step with lithe agility, cautiously, wistfully. I try to float above my own path.

Yet I crave groundedness. I want to dig my toes into the earth that deep roots might burrow. I crave an anchored existence, a history that extends into the past, beyond my lifetime. I crave my own blood, mirrored in warm flesh rather than cold glass.

This IS the journey. The one in which I’m pursuing the horizon of my life.

I fear judgement and rejection. I crave empathy and belonging. Though I know I am not alone–neither in these feelings, nor in the journey–mine is a solitary way. Is there a sweet spot between urgency and patience? That’s where I’m trying to be today so that tomorrow I can choose whether to stand still or take a step.

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My Summer of Reading

ImageI didn’t mean to create a book tower but earlier in the summer I stacked a couple titles on my nightstand after I’d finished them and I’ve been adding on over the past several weeks.  Total so far: 35. Now if I could just discipline myself to write about what I read this whole reading blog thing could really come together for me…

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Pleasantville Public Library

In the 1998 movie Pleasantville starring Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, David is a dorky high school student obsessed with an old black and white TV show called “Pleasantville.”  The show is set in 1958 and depicts a small town that proudly upholds family values, and has no homelessness and no inclement weather.  David and his sister Jen are transported into the show as the main character, Bud, and his sister Mary Sue.  The two must navigate this scarily “pleasant” world until they figure out how to return to the present day.  Jen in particular is quickly exasperated by the wholesome naïveté of Pleasantville residents.  She boldly invites the star of the high school basketball team to accompany her to Lover’s Lane, and after their evening together he starts to see in color.  Slowly, as a result of Jen’s and David’s presence, more and more of the townspeople begin to change from black, white and gray to vivid color.  The shift from black and white to color signifies an awakening for the character, and each character turns to color for different reasons.

The librarian in Pleasantville is significant by his/her absence.  On their first day in Pleasantville, David and Jen attend school and Jen ends up in the library only because she “got lost.”  Once there, she discovers that all of the books are blank.  The implication is that no one in Pleasantville has need of information, nor for a librarian.  Certainly, Jen’s classmates lack curiosity about the world outside of Pleasantville; their geography class focuses onMain StreetandElm Street, Pleasantville’s two major roads.

The books begin to fill in once more young people start to change into color.  They are suddenly more inquisitive and demonstrate critical thinking skills.  In one scene, the young people are queued up outside the library.  Jen (as Mary Sue) changes into color as a result of reading.  Some of the townspeople remark incredulously, “Now they’re going to the library!” and one man even responds, “Someone ought to do something about that.”   A town council of black and white people decides that “the area known as Lover’s Lane and the library are closed until further notice” while the elementary and high schools will teach the “non change-ist view of history.”

Once things start to become colored in Pleasantville, the library represents change and intellectual freedom, which some characters feel is inherently dangerous.  A book burning is depicted, with black and white characters looting the library and tossing the books into a bonfire in the street outside the building.  The characters who participate support the mayor who is the most resistant to any changes in Pleasantville.  The mayor argues that the values that make Pleasantville great are threatened by such scandalous acts as “thinking.”

Ultimately, the Pleasantville library is a positive force in the town; it is seen as a center of civilization and culture from which beauty springs forth.  By the end of the movie, the entire town ofPleasantvilleis in full color, and even with an uncertain future looming before them, the residents are happy.

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Albus Dumbledore is a Censor

In honor of Banned Books Week 2011, a reflection on censorship and Harry Potter:

For more than a decade, discussions of children’s literature, libraries and censorship inevitably mention Harry Potter.  However, those discussions rarely—if ever—feature an analysis of the library and incidents of censorship within the series itself.  J.K. Rowling offers much to consider on both counts:

Madam Irma Pince, the librarian at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where Harry Potter receives six years of magical education, is described as a “thin, irritable woman who look[s] like an underfed vulture” (CS 163).  Forever “suspicious” of the students (CS 164), she “has been known to add unusual jinxes to the books in her care” (QA).  J.K. Rowling characterizes (and even names) Madam Pince with the stereotype of an old maid librarian whom the students think is “barking mad” (HBP 307).  A guardian of “her” books (QA), Madam Pince is often “breathing down [students’] necks” (SS 198).  She “brandish[es] a featherduster” at Harry during his very first visit to the library and demands, “What are you looking for, boy?” (SS 198).  Years later Madam Pince bewitches Harry’s own school books to whack him repeatedly over the head when she discovers Harry eating chocolate in the library (OP 655).  Though Harry and his friends frequent the library during their school years, they never ask Madam Pince for her help in their research.  Rather, they avoid her and discover information on their own.  They approach her on only one occasion, when they need her to retrieve a book from the Restricted Section.  Thus, as a character, the information professional is superfluous to the Harry Potter story, and Madam Pince ultimately reinforces the negative stereotype of a librarian.

The Hogwarts library, however, is essential to the plot of the entire Harry Potter series.  On two occasions (SS & GF), Harry uses his invisibility cloak to sneak into the library after hours to do research, and Harry’s best friend Hermione Granger spends more time in the library than any other main character.  Hermione, the best student in Harry’s class, utilizes the library not only for schoolwork, but also to research issues of personal interest and to help Harry as he confronts various challenges.  Indeed when Harry and Hermione, along with Ron Weasley, prepare for their most dangerous challenge in the final book, Ron jokes that the three will be “hunting down Voldemort in a mobile library” (DH 95).  By continually referring to the library (or books retrieved from the library) as a source of key information, Rowling highlights the significant contribution of a library to one’s formal and informal education.

The most referenced and quoted incident of censorship in the Harry Potter series occurs when Ministry of Magic representative turned Hogwarts professor Dolores Umbridge instates “Educational Decree Number Twenty-seven,” banning an alternative magazine called The Quibbler which features a controversial interview with one Mr. Harry Potter.  As Hermione points out, “if [Umbridge] could have done one thing to make absolutely certain that every single person in [the] school will read [Harry’s]  interview, it was banning it!” (OP 582).  Rowling reveals the ineffectiveness of censors and the shrewdness with with young people circumvent them.

Another, less noticeable incident of censorship serves as a significant plot point in the series:  Rowling reveals that Tom Riddle, who becomes the dark wizard Voldemort, learned a great deal of dark magic from books in the Hogwarts library.  In the case of Horcruxes, which involve murder, “Voldemort g[ets] all the instruction he need[s] from [a library book]” (DH 102).  Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore removes all of the Horcrux books from the library, but not until well after Tom Riddle has attained access to them.  Here, Rowling illuminates an ethical dilemma for librarians in regard to equal access to information:  when he is underage, Tom Riddle uses information he found in the school library to commit crimes against other people; Dumbledore makes the choice to censor that information by removing it from the library collection, yet Harry and his friends have no hope of defeating their foe without access to that same information.

Considering the psychology of the censor, Dumbledore’s decision merits deliberation:  Dumbledore consistently demonstrates wisdom and is widely believed to be a talented educator and leader, yet he freely admits to weaknesses, to the capacity for grave errors in judgment.  Certainly Dumbledore has his critics.  Does this example make a case for some censorship being acceptable?  Moreover, the Hogwarts library contains the aforementioned Restricted Section (which is where the material in question was shelved in the first place):  is this, in effect, a form of censorship that is acceptable? 

Key:

SS=Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

CS=Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

GF=Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

OP=Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

HBP=Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

DH=Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

QA=Quidditch Through the Ages

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Ten Years Later

When I was a kid, one of my ambitions was to become famous and have my birthday declared a national holiday.  Not so much in the vein of Washington or Lincoln, but perhaps in the way that Theodore Geisel’s birthday is celebrated as Read Across America Day.  So on that Tuesday morning ten years ago, in the midst of my dismay, I thought, “This is not what I meant at all.”

Where were you?

My older relatives tell stories about where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination or Martin Luther King, Jr’s.  For a brief period of time the only vaguely similar experience I had was the news of Princess Diana’s fatal accident.  I didn’t know what it felt like to live with such an indelible before and after.

My roommate Velika woke me up that morning after having taken a phone call from my husband (then my boyfriend of two years).  He was on campus for his weekly ROTC muster and called to tell us to turn on the news.  Velika and I were are not morning people.  After she relayed the (wildly understated) message that a plane crashed in New York, we both went back to bed.  It was probably at least two hours more before we were functional enough to begin to take in the scope of the tragedy.

The night before, I had been in a multicultural literature class and the professor had emphasized the importance of viewing the world from varied perspectives, especially those that clash with our own.  “There are only so many stories,” she insisted, “but infinite points of view.”  In our first post 9/11 class meeting, she simply stated, “The world has changed.”

Where are you now?

My husband and I have been married for eight years, parents for six.  We lived on the east coast for four years.  I was a teacher for three.   Yet that journey seems more like a big circle than a straight road that stretches out behind me.  Maybe I feel this way because my house is 7 miles due east of the apartment I was living in ten years ago.  For all the experiences I’ve had in the past ten years, how much have I changed?

I just finished reading an NPR article discussing American life in the aftermath of 9/11.  The article raises the same questions—has the world changed?  Has American life changed?

Freelance journalist Alex Chadwick feels, “since Sept. 11, Americans are ‘more angry, more sorrowful, as though we’ve gotten about 20 years older — or even more — in a decade, but without any of the wisdom or grace that comes to some with age.’”

In many ways, I feel that I’m much the person as I was back then, for better or for worse.  And it seems the same may be said of our nation.  Older?  Definitely.  Wiser?  To be determined.

Where do we go from here?

9/11 is at once distant and personal for me.  My mom and her family are New Yorkers, but no one connected to us was directly affected by the tragedy.  In San Diego, CA, I was about as far away from Ground Zero as I could have been while still within the continental US.  Yet it is always with me.

Today is my 32nd birthday.  I feel neither old nor young.  Ten years from now I think I will have figured out what I want to be when I grow up and achieved a few more of my life goals.

Today, the thought of the people who died ten years ago still brings the sting of tears to my eyes.  Ten years from now I hope it still does.  As much as I may wonder at the unaltered aspects of American life, I would never deny the irrevocable way in which so many American lives were shattered by 9/11.

Today is Patriot Day.  Ten years from now I hope I finally understand what that means.  Or, at least, what being a patriot means to me.  Because for the past ten years, I haven’t felt particularly patriotic when I’ve tired of the solemnity of the memorials overshadowing one of the few days of the year that I really want to celebrate.  In fact, I haven’t felt particularly patriotic for much at all of the past ten years because I was one of those people who, in 2001, agreed with Arundhati Roy’s controversial post-9/11 essays “The Algebra of Infinite Justice” and “War is Peace” in which she harshly criticized my country and its government.

Still, every year the wish I make when I blow out my candles isn’t for me, but for our world.  You know I can’t tell you exactly what my wish is…but if you had a birthday wish today, what would it be?

 

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