In Uncategorized on October 29, 2014 at 10:30 am
In recent weeks I’ve been struck by my son’s speech development, which appears to be in one of those periods of warp-engine overdrive. He’s expressing opinions, making jokes, displaying stubbornness, asking the big, meaning-of-life questions, and generally blowing my mind with the startling beauty of his unique and constantly changing persona. He’s so beautiful, you know? I don’t say that in the easy, obvious way, with regard to physical appearance – when I talk about his beauty, I mean his generosity of spirit, the unstinting way he shows affection, the essentially sweet and gentle child he’s been from the start. He possesses an internal beauty that knocks me clean off of my feet, every single day.
The other day he was excitedly telling me the plot of an OCTONAUTS book we’d checked out from the library – the Octonauts are his current book series of choice – and during a pause for breath I impulsively said “I love you.” He went rocketing right back into his plot description, but then visibly applied the mental brakes, paused for a beat, said “I love you too” in an only slightly rushed voice, then picked up the Octonauts thread once more. I didn’t hear much of the plot description after that, however. I was too busy feeling love for this kid roar through me like a tropical storm.
Miranda and I worried about our capacity to raise two children, and I can’t say those worries were unfounded, because it’s been a howling rollercoaster of effort and emotion. We feel overmatched much of the time. But this boy. This sweet, kind, loving boy, with his fascination for sharks and trains (holla, Chris Barton!), his fondness for bacon, and his tendency to narrate every kiss and every hug we share with an emphatic “there’s your kiss, and there’s your hug”…I can’t even vaguely remember why I thought life could be complete without this boy, who turns 4.00 years old today.
In Uncategorized on October 25, 2014 at 3:45 pm
It’s Day 2 of the #SupportWNDB IndieGogo campaign, and we’re about to hit 25% of our funding goal. It’s the SECOND DAY. Four $1,000 donations have been made to fund the Walter Dean Myers Award and Grants. Three hundred and twelve funders have driven a stake into the ground and run up the #WeNeedDiverseBooks flag. For an extraordinary hour this morning, a fabulous agent who we all know as Literaticat matched every single donation that was made. Mr. Camp Half-Blood himself, Rick Riordan, stepped up to the plate and hit a scorching line drive over the centerfield fence. The generosity and commitment shown by this community has been stunning, overwhelming, and utterly glorious. I have never been prouder to be a member of the children’s literature community than I am today.
In Uncategorized on October 9, 2014 at 10:53 pm
My teens and twenties were not eventful or active in terms of life experience, a fact that has often pushed me into a place of regret, and sometimes into a place of genuine despair. There’s nothing I can do to change that; those years remain mostly empty, and will always remain so. It’s a difficult thing to live with, but all I can do is try to move forward. Thankfully I’ve managed to do so. The past ten years, in fact, can honestly be described as the most engaged, meaningful, complex, and fully lived years of my entire life. Miranda Hoffman and I got married on October 9, 2004, after much deliberation and anxiety, which is probably unsurprising to those of you who know us. It hasn’t been an easy time; there are ways in which these ten years of marriage have been far harder than the years of depression and isolation that preceded them, in fact. They’ve been harder in better ways, however, if that makes any sense.
We’ve had our ups and downs as a couple; we’ve suffered our share of personal and professional setbacks; and we continue to stagger through the unending minefield of childrearing, not always with the most stoicism or grace. But we’ve also had our share of triumphs, our moments of discovery, and bursts of emotional growth that I probably wouldn’t ever have experienced on my own, simply because I lack the capacity to drive myself to the kinds of extremes that are sometimes necessary for such growth.
We’ve worked hard to build a life together, sometimes at the cost of more effort than we thought bearable, but we’re still standing, still moving forward, still living. It’s been ten years of highly intense, endlessly challenging, fully-realized life. Those years of emptiness can’t be erased, but neither can these past ten years of profound fullness, and if the fates are willing, we have more years ahead of us, with experiences and emotions that can’t be foretold. Happy anniversary to my wife Miranda, whose impact on the quality of my life simply can’t be overstated.
In Uncategorized on August 21, 2014 at 5:02 am
Birthday parties were a mystery to me for a very long time. I was rarely invited to them, so in a way I was simply low on experience, but I have a degree of incomprehension with regard to social dynamics in general, and I think that was the bigger issue. Who plans these parties? Are birthday parties always surprise parties? Isn’t that complicated? If someone doesn’t plan one for you, do you plan one yourself? Wait, really, people just throw birthday parties for themselves? How do you convince people to actually go? What if no one shows up? Will anyone notice if I just hide in this closet for the rest of my life? No one will, right?
I experience a constant torrent of anxiety about parties in general, which also doesn’t help. So for me, birthdays have never had a default celebratory setting – in fact, I’ve spent many of them alone, often with feelings of sadness or bitterness. That kind of emotionally difficult birthday experience is behind me, although I won’t bet against it reasserting itself in the future, but even now my birthdays are still more about reflection and self-assessment than merrymaking.
Thankfully, that process of reflection is very different today than it’s been in years gone by. I still possess a calamitous variety of personal frailties; I still spend the wee hours fighting off the same merciless churn of psychic turmoil that’s always plagued my nights; I still feel like a wobbly, bent-spoked wheel of a human being. But I no longer feel isolated, friendless, and without purpose. I no longer feel like my dreams are foolish and beyond my grasp. My birthday is no longer an occasion to internally debate the validity of my existence. It hasn’t been for quite a while, in fact. I’m 45 years old today, and I’m probably as fully engaged with the intricacies of life as I’m capable of. It’s complicated and hard, but eh, I think it’s the way to go.
In Uncategorized on August 8, 2014 at 11:25 am
I’ve struggled with the experience of friendship throughout my life. I don’t understand all of the reasons for it – lately I’ve been considering the possibility of undiagnosed neurological conditions – but whatever the reasons might be, finding a circle of friends who I love, trust, and feel a true sense of belonging with has always been difficult and painful for me.
I’ve had something like that experience a couple of times, but it’s been much more common for me to try and force that feeling of belonging when in the company of the wrong people – not bad people, but people with whom it was probably impossible for me to truly connect in the ways I need to. And so I’ve spent time as a hanger-on with groups of friends that didn’t always treat me well; I’ve attempted to push my way into groups that kept their doors closed to me; and I’ve attempted to deceive myself into thinking that my feelings of belonging in some groups were stronger and more meaningful than they actually were.
I suppose it’s possible I’m doing that now; my ability to perceive and gauge those dynamics is a sputtery and broken thing, which of course has contributed to my lifelong social troubles. I don’t believe I’ll ever be free of that specific difficulty. However, I have circles of friendship within the world of children’s literature that are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and I don’t believe my trust and faith in those circles are misplaced.
I don’t know if that’s because I have a better understanding of where to place my trust, or because I’ve finally found the right community of people for me. Probably both, right? I think I truly am starting to live as a social being in a way I’ve always wanted to. These still relatively new friends who I love and trust so much? I think I can let myself feel that way about them. I think that might be okay.
In Uncategorized on July 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm
I spent the weekend with my brother and his family, which (as always) got me thinking about our different life trajectories. Both of my brothers and I are pursuing creative lives to some extent; my older brother, who was the most creatively disciplined of us all in our youth, has yet to break into any of the creative profession fields; my younger brother, who initially didn’t seem to have any plan at all, is a wealthy Hollywood screenwriter, and is clearly the most accomplished of the three of us, at least when applying the traditional measures of success; and then there’s me, the early prodigy who stumbled, fell, nearly stayed down, and ended up becoming the late bloomer.
I try not to play the comparison game, which of course is nearly impossible, given the fact that I’ve had these two brothers for nearly 45 years now. The old psychological dynamics and triggers are hard to escape without severing the connection entirely. Still, I may finally have grown and matured enough to feel more securely anchored in my own life, my own pace, my own experience. My life is far from perfect, but then that was going to be true no matter how events unfolded. I haven’t scaled the mountaintop in some of the ways my younger brother has, but I managed to scrabble and claw my way out of the crevasses I’ve occupied in the past.
My life trajectory seems to point up, at long last. I may not measure up to the standing and benchmarks of other people in the world, but my many “failure to launch” years finally seem to be over, and no matter how complicated it is to have those thoughts and feelings agitated (as they inevitably are in the presence of my brothers), I’m moving forward now. It’s a relief to be able to maintain an active awareness of that, rather than watch it sink miserably into a big old cesspool of anxiety and regret.
In Uncategorized on July 21, 2014 at 1:56 pm
I don’t constantly post stuff that’s political in nature, but I’m not terribly shy about it. People respond, of course, and it’s been interesting to discover who among my FB friends disagrees with the things I post, and in what way. That should be expected, I suppose – my FB friends collectively skew in the politically progressive direction, but it’s a big old world. People have lots of different opinions. So I’ll discover that specific people I already like, respect, and previously knew only in a writing-related context have ideological differences with me, sometimes in ways that I’d probably have to work very, very hard to get past if I wanted to try and establish a NEW friendship. But in these cases, the friendship is already there, and thus far the newly discovered differences in opinion haven’t affected my feelings of friendship and affection for the people who hold those opinions. It’s not a large number of people, but it’s not zero either. That’s a good thing, right? I think that’s a good thing.
In Uncategorized on July 19, 2014 at 8:21 am
I’m not naturally tough in the way our society tends to define it, which has been a complicated thing throughout my life. I’ve experienced plenty of moments in which an ability to step up and be confrontational, respond forcefully to aggression, and not turn the other cheek would probably have been a good thing. These days I worry about it most in relation to my son – he’s a sweet, gentle, affectionate boy, and we live in a society that does not value those qualities in boys and men. Our society celebrates and rewards the alpha male who takes what he wants without asking, conceals emotion and stiff-arms vulnerability, and stands with a fist. I’ve never even come close to being that kind of person. I believe I can teach my son kindness and generosity, at least in the flawed and sputtering way I do everything, and I believe we need more men of kindness and generosity. However, I don’t know how to teach him toughness that intersects with kindness and generosity in a way that mirrors my values; I really don’t know how to teach him toughness in any way. That worries me.
In Uncategorized on July 15, 2014 at 10:18 pm
The very first time I met Jay Asher was at the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2010. We were in a big crush of people in the banquet hall, it was chaos, I introduced myself on the spur of the moment, and I’d be shocked if Jay remembers. I remember thinking he seemed a bit withdrawn, and wondering if it was because he faced a constant stream of random people like me saying “OMG YOU’RE JAY ASHER” and whatnot.
We met in a more substantial way two years later at my first-ever faculty gig, at the 2012 Kansas SCBWI conference. We had a couple of real conversations, and I thought “oh, he’s an introvert! Which is awesome because I AM TOO!” I hadn’t suspected that before just because, you know, Disco Mermaids, eighteen bazillion speaking gigs, etc., am I right? It’s easy to overlook the truth in the glare of the lights, I suppose.
We keep running into each other here and there, and something I like about Jay is the fact that he appears to truly grasp the gigantic scope of what’s happened to him. He’s clearly grateful and happy about his career, but he also gives the distinct impression of a man thinking “dude, this $*%& is intense and out of control!” Which seems like an eminently sane and human response. It seems real, you know? I like people who are real. I’m glad I get to hang out with Jay every so often, even if it’s usually just for a short while.
In Uncategorized on July 9, 2014 at 6:13 pm
Moment of gratitude: I accepted an offer of representation from the fabulous Ammi-Joan Paquette back in 2010, and I’ve yet to feel anything other than slobberingly good about that decision. However, signing with Joan was the culminating moment of an agent search process that showed me what a kind, generous, and encouraging community of professionals I was about to join, because I received so many offers of help in my agent search.
I didn’t ask anyone for a referral because I felt really, really uncomfortable with the idea of imposing on anyone like that, but luckily for me people offered me those referrals on their own. More than one of them were from EMLA clients, which played no small role in my final decision, but they weren’t the only ones. Pretty much all of those referrals came from people I’d only communicated with online, although I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many of those people face-to-face, and I consider all of those people my friends, whether we’ve met in person or not.
Here’s another one of those moments in which I suppose I could take some credit for myself, because it’s true that I’ve always tried to be a positive, supportive, and emotionally honest member of the kidlit tribe. I try very hard to maintain the belief that people deserve to be lifted up, even in the relatively small ways that I’m capable of. However, that kind of effort isn’t received well in every professional arena. It can be met with suspicion, dismissal, or scorn. It can be perceived as weakness.
The kidlit tribe doesn’t appear to see it that way, however. I’ve tried to be kind and generous, but the reason I’m able to keep trying is because this business is filled with people whose kindness and generosity far surpass my own. I’ve benefited enormously from that collective spirit of kindness, and every so often it knocks me into a state of slack-jawed amazement. It did during my agent-seeking years, and it still does today.