illustrators

A post on gratitude

It is almost Thanksgiving, and two weeks have passed since an election that made me feel less secure in this country. When I think about gratitude this year, these events cannot be separated.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for my immediate family. They keep me grounded, and make me smile and laugh every single day.

I am grateful for the friends and family in my life that are expressing their outrage over the president-elect’s dangerous appointments and calling their congresswomen and men to ask them to take a stand against individuals who represent prejudice and hatred.

I am grateful that people who voted for Trump number among these friends and family making calls to protest Stephen Bannon’s appointment, grateful that they mean it when they say they are concerned, they are listening, they are trying.

I am grateful that people who didn’t vote for Trump who said “let’s wait and see” number among these friends and family making calls, because they have seen enough and do not want to wait to see the policies that follow such harmful appointments.

I am grateful for government employees and members of congress who speak out against racism, xenophobia, religious prejudices, homophobia, sexism and the appointments that would carry representation for all of those prejudices into the White House. Who refute or dismiss those that say, “white privilege is imagined.” Thank you for being ready to fight for and with us.

I am grateful to live in a country where dissent is allowed, where it is tradition, where it is a right. I remind myself of the many places around the globe where this is not the case and appreciate the ability I have to speak out and be heard.

I am grateful to live in a country where the people have a say in the government. Yes, it’s a democratic republic, and not a true democracy, and no, the election outcome was not the outcome I wanted, and there is a lot of fear for good reason right now. But still, I am grateful to live somewhere that there is a process in which the people have the right to be heavily involved.

I am grateful to live in a community that cares. I spent yesterday speaking to over 20 businesses in Bangor, and almost all of them contributed to a care package to deliver to an individual, a person of color, who was assaulted last week. I am grateful to live somewhere that comes out in force to say, “This is not okay.”

I am grateful for theaters and performance spaces. Theaters have formed the safest of spaces in so many people’s lives, including my own: the space where you can make yourself uncomfortable and step out and speak or sing or play or dance, and know that you are supported, the space where you can make your audience uncomfortable and it is expected and appreciated. It is part of the unspoken agreement, the invisible contract between an audience member and a performer.

I am grateful to teachers: those in my life, those in my children’s lives, those in my readers’ lives, and those all over this country, this world. I am grateful that there are people who fulfill that most precious of tasks, educating our children, and do so eagerly, willingly, and lovingly, despite the amount of time and energy involved, which goes far beyond the realm of other jobs. I am grateful for teachers who do not view the use of that time and energy as a sacrifice, but as an opportunity. I am grateful to those teachers and professors who taught me to push at the seams and pull at the strings of the narratives that pad our history, to ask, to listen, to respond, to create, to read, and read, and read.

I am grateful for libraries and librarians. I am thankful there are places I can go, more safe spaces, to seek out information and stories that help me undo those narratives and build my understanding of our society, our world. I am grateful to those librarians who actively build their collections and set out displays to allow me to do that, and to read, and read, and read.

I am grateful for children’s books. I am thankful I can return from the library with bagfuls of books to share with my children. I am grateful those books show brown and tan and pink and yellow and rainbow people making peace, making friends, making music, making signs, making rebellions, making adventures. I am grateful for the mirrors and windows and empathy in those books. I am grateful for nonsensical, nonhuman, fantastical books, too. They also offer mirrors and windows, but perhaps those mirrors came from a funhouse, and maybe the windows from a moving high-speed train.

I am grateful for the children’s book community. I am grateful to belong to a community that creates stories children and young adults (and let’s be honest, adults, too) can disappear into and/or absorb into their skin, after which they feel more visible. I am grateful for We Need Diverse Books and the conversations they push, and for The Brown Bookshelf and the commitment they’ve cultivated “toward the goals of equality, justice, and peace.” I am grateful to belong to a community that is able to self-reflect and critique and revise.

I am grateful for readers. Oh readers, I am above all thankful for you. You give us our purpose. You move our goals. You inspire us every time we type a word. You bring our stories to life. Your voice matters. You are powerful. We care. I care. Thank you for keeping us accountable.

 

 

(Re)invented: Lessons from NESCBWI 2016

NESCBWI 2016 artwork by Julianne YoungI returned from my very first NESCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference two weeks ago. I went into the conference excited and nervous, feelings not unlike those I experienced before going to summer camp or a new school. I expected to learn a lot, and I did, although not always the things I expected. Here are some of my overall take-aways.

  • An author’s an author, no matter how small. Okay, so this was a joint Dr. Seuss and NESCBWI lesson. I heard some fabulous authors and illustrators speak. I felt daunted by their success, their ever-growing lists of publications, their awards, their name recognition. But by the end of the conference I noticed a common theme running through their speeches: they’ve all experienced self-doubt at some point in their career, and often in between books. Whether you’ve just published your first book or your ninth, you start all over again on the next one. At some point that new project will try to break your heart, be it at the writing, querying, revising, or post-publication stage, or possibly (but hopefully not) at all of them! That doesn’t mean you’re less of an author. It means you ARE an author.
  • It’s all about balance. It was tempting to attend only workshops on subjects I already love. However, I realized through trial and error that balancing those close-to-home workshop topics with ones less familiar kept my creativity sparking and my wheels turning.
  • Get uncomfortable. Likewise, whether attending a workshop on a topic that was out of my comfort zone or doing something like reading at an open mic event, I felt most energized and excited in the places I felt the least comfortable.
  • Be kind. One keynote speaker mentioned he tries to be kind. The conference in general made me remember, for the thousandth time in my life, what a big difference kindness makes. Whether it was fellow writers telling me how much they liked my book or manuscript, or friends and hotel employees helping me find places to pump (fist bump to all the working nursing mamas out there!), those moments that glowed as they happened still glow now. I tried and am still trying to make some of those moments for others, too. That reminder to be kind never grows old for me.
  • Make stories, not mistakes. At the end of a long first conference (and travel) day I realized I’d been walking around with a lint sheet stuck to my bottom for the entire day. It was at that point I decided to laugh and said, “I make stories, not mistakes.” So let me tell you about the time I walked around with a  lint sheet stuck to rear end for an entire day…
  • Drink water. Lots of it. I thought I’d learned this years ago, but I battled a migraine after an accidentally dehydrated first afternoon. All that excitement! Oops.
  • Kidlit authors and illustrators are fun. Enough said.
  • Take the energy and run. After I returned home I could have just collapsed. Well, no, I couldn’t have. My supervisors (ages 3.5 years & 18 months) would not have allowed it. But all that travel time and conference adrenaline caught up with me fast once I walked back in my door. I count myself lucky that I happened to have a school visit coming up one week later. It kept me motivated to open up my conference notes and get to work right away. I wanted to incorporate some of the fabulous ideas and information I’d learned. As soon as I cracked that binder open my to-do list grew. I had e-mails to write, events to plan, and stories to write. Plus that presentation to fine tune and practice. (I knew all those years of public speaking contests and theater classes would come in handy some day!) If I or my boys had allowed my collapse, I might have let a lot slide. Instead, I have a presentation I feel great about, new connections online and in real life who make my writing gig feel a little less isolating, schemes afoot, and stories simmering.
  • (Re)invent yourself. The conference theme, “(Re)invention,” struck a chord with me. Beforehand, I had this vague sense of an impending comeuppance. Even before the conference I noticed that a new writer friend and I had both thought the other belonged in some way that the other one didn’t. I soon learned that “imposter syndrome” is a common symptom of being a writer. My (re)invention was just that, a re-identification, recreation, and recognition of myself as an author, a writer, and a member of a particularly fabulous and quirky group of people.

Thank you to all of the conference organizers, especially co-directors Josh Funk, Heather Kelly, and Marilyn Salerno, as well as speakers and workshop presenters, including Anna StaniszewskiJane YolenWendy Mass, Jen Malone, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Patrick CarmanZaneta Jung, Tara Lazar, Jarrett J. KrosoczkaMary E. Cronin & Bonnie Jackman, Colby Sharp, Matt Forrest Esenwine, and Amitha Knight. And to the hotel employee who opened a locked door for me rather than making me trudge back to the jam-packed elevator. You all inspired me! Here’s to an imaginative year ahead!

What are some favorite events or sources of inspiration in your professional life? What have they taught you?