The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

The cunning worlds rippling out

What’s in a move, anyway?

One of my author friends, who is sorting her office, points out that after the obvious things are put here and there, what’s left could be called The Dregs.

If there was an obvious place for the dregs…for this doo-dad or that file or the piece of paper over there…the doo-dad or file or piece of paper would already be IN that place.  I have certain little piles on my desk that I shuffle through, from time to time, and then get up and walk away from, smiling vaguely, because I can’t figure out any categories that would help me do anything different.

But moving?

Moving forces a person to deal with The Dregs–unless a person wants to give in to throwing unsorted things into a box and hoping the box will fall off the truck on the way to Oregon.

 One problem is that as I sort and toss and move things from here to there, my feelings keep getting in the way.  Feelings get jangled when people decide to move–because feelings attach themselves to places.

When we first moved to Lawrence, I stood downtown and watched a bike race with my granddaughter and her Hilltop friend.  How is it even possible that my granddaughter is now reading Lanie and other chapter books…and that she doesn’t even live in Lawrence anymore?  This week, I washed the place where she took a marker and wrote her name on the back seat of the car, so proud of those fat, bold letters she could now shape, and I mourned something that once made me irritated.

I’m lucky that my son is a photojournalist and takes lovely pictures that give me glimpses into that little family and their lives.  I’m lucky that words connect all of us, still, even though we don’t live in the same town anymore.

I didn’t actually know my own grandmas very well and had only letters to connect me to them.  When I was growing up in Ethiopia, I watched my mom write letters–and sometimes I added my own letters–but I don’t remember that I even tried to imagine the grandmas reading them.  It wasn’t until I was all grown up with my own family that I learned how much my grandma Kurtz loved to play basketball.  Or what a tough, sad childhood my mom’s mom had, growing up in a foster home, never adopted.

I never knew how much one grandma laughed when she told a story and the other grandma dreamed of writing something that someone else would read.

This week, I’ve left the sorting and packing and thoughts of moving for the writing residency at Vermont College MFA in children’s and YA literature.

Boot Camp for Writers.

It doesn’t make any sense to leave our comfortable homes and sleep in non-air-conditioned dorms and eat cafeteria food.

It doesn’t make any sense for a group of introverted people to fling themselves into a swirling mass that talks about setting and characters and plots and other agonies over breakfast and lunch and dinner and in workshops and through lectures.

It doesn’t make any sense for people to take huge chunks of their lives and devote all their mind’s energy for something as frustrating and difficult as the art of writing a novel.

Or a picture book.

Or even a blog, for that matter.

Author Laura Salas writes, “There are children’s writers who make a living solely off their book sales. I think there are 4. Which leaves the other 9,996 scrambling to put together an income off this crazy, wonderful, unreliable world of children’s publishing.

OK, maybe there are more than 4. But most children’s writers I know who actually make a living  off of writing do it by cobbling together an income from many different sources.”

Money, safe to say, is not the reason we do it.

Why do we choose to love something so tough, so frustrating, so demanding as art?  I really have no idea.

I do know that John Donne wrote that “a sentence is little world, cunningly made.”

Somehow, when I was young, I came to love books ferociously.  And when my children were young, I found my way to a library all full of those cunning little worlds.  As I read the books out loud, I wanted, more than anything, to make such a world.

Somehow for all the agony I get no greater pleasure than doing this work…and watching the worlds ripple out everywhere.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.