Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Catching Up

First of all, thanks so much for your mail. My email inbox overfloweth... thanks for the votes of confidence about this blog, about continuing it, and thanks for all the kind words about all kinds of things. I wish I were better at responding to every note. I have taken to saying that I correspond with my heart. I do. Hope you can feel it.

I want to catch you up on many things, but before I do, I want to give a shout-out to my friends in Southern California, who are battling fires everywhere. I was just in Southern California on tour and saw how beautiful was that land -- scroll down to see some photos. Now I'm concerned about my Harcourt friends, my Writers House friends, and my bookseller, teacher, student, reader, and librarian friends... heck, I'm concerned about everyone in Southern California. I'm sending hope, strength, and love.

This week I'm teaching (and learning) personal narrative writing -- to 4th-graders and their teachers -- in the Highland Park area of Dallas, in public schools. Here's an article by Jonathan Kozol that echoes so much about what I believe and teach... Kozol gives the Opening Gala speech on Thursday, November 15 at NCTE in NYC. Oh, how I'd love to hear him speak. I am working at NCTE, but I don't arrive until Friday. Maybe I'll see some of you on Saturday... (Kathleen?).

Peg Bracken died today. She wrote the I HATE TO COOK BOOK in 1960, when I was 7 years old. My mother was nothing like Peg Bracken, who was three years ahead of the curve started by Betty Friedan when she wrote THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE. My mother was not impressed by Betty Friedan or those who came along with her, but I remember reading Peg Bracken's book as a young mother in 1975 and laughing at her way of debunking the '50s ideal of womanhood:

Start cooking those noodles, first dropping a bouillon cube into the noodle water. Brown the garlic, onion and crumbled beef in the oil. Add the flour, salt, paprika and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.

I also loved at that time Phyllis Theroux, Patricia Leimbach, Erma Bombeck and Jean Kerr, all of whom idealized living at home with children and loving the pitfalls of motherhood. I aspired to that life -- longed for it. I especially loved Kerr's PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES. She made me laugh. I had never heard of Joan Didion or Ellen Goodman, but I would know them soon enough, and I would be heavily influenced by them as well.

But at the time, it was 1975, I was only 22-years-old and I already had two kids, was working full time as a single parent, and believed -- still! -- in the romantic notion of being able to stay home and be a full-time mom (was also influenced by Betty MacDonald's THE EGG AND I -- she of the MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE FAME!) and be totally fulfilled by this herculean calling, was convinced it was the only life I wanted, at 22... and didn't yet know that I would be granted this life only at a great cost... but more on this later -- because I also want to say that, that life, once I got it, was also so very satisfying to me.

I admire those women who, in a time in which many women believed they needed to follow the status quo of being "only good housewives" and no more, told us that there was depth and breadth to that choice, and that there was also depth and breadth and meaning in incorporating and moving beyond that choice.

Judy Blume was one of those pioneers. How exciting that she declares herself re-energized at age 70 and is publishing new work! I hope to be publishing good work at age 70. I came late to the idea that I could be a good mother and good writer, both.

I don't think I told you that I got sick at Southern Festival of Books. (Here's part of the group that came to hear me read on Saturday, Oct. 13 -- I was thrilled to see baseball players!) It was a great festival, as always, and I got to present this year in the Old Senate Chambers at the War Memorial Plaza, which was a great venue full of character.

Here are some folks from Vanderbilt University in my session... I was so pleased to see them! I have a special place in my heart for Vanderbilt. They know how to admit it when they've been short-sighted. They expelled one of their students, James Lawson, in 1960 -- he was teaching peaceful, non-violent resistance techniques to Diane Nash, James Bevel and more, he was advocating the integration of lunch counters and more -- and came back to right that wrong. Lawson became a minister, a lightening rod, and a peacemaker for civil rights, and he was instrumentally important in keeping the peace during the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968. Lawson is one of my heroes, and a hero of Vanderbilt's as well... they recently hosted James Lawson as a visiting professor -- more of one of my heroes later. He is one of the peaceful revolutionaries who raised his voice -- and continues to raise his voice -- in a time of great change.

My host at Southern Festival was Gail Vinett, who works for Ingram Book Distributors. Gail and I met at Southern Festival 2 years ago and feel instantly in like during the LITTLE BIRD tour at Southern Festival. When Gail heard I was going to introduce ALL-STARS at Southern Festival, she brought this photograph of her grandfather (he's on the right with the bat) and his All-Star team of only 9 players, to show all of us that it's perfectly possible (or was) to have an All-Stars team made up of 8 players as happens in THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS.

Gail was great, the crowd was great, and if I hadn't been sick the day before, I would have been much more animated.

I did well on Friday at Central Middle School in Murfreesboro with Helen Hemphill (new book: RUNAROUND) and D. Ann Love (new book: PICTURE PERFECT), but knew I was getting sick on the way back to Nashville. Exhaustion. Too much touring and traveling was catching up with me.

It was the seeing-stars, tossing-lunch exhaustion. I excused myself from the evening activities and slept, and I was okay, although more subdued than usual, for my Saturday session in the Old Senate Chambers, which went well.

Here's David Gibson, "an old Winona boy" (Mississippi), who gifted me with speeches (on CD) by Willie Morris. Thanks, David. And thanks so much, Gail, thank you to Emily Masters who organizes the children's programming for Southern Festival, and a big thank-you to Humanties Tennessee, who manages to find the funding each year (thank you, funders!) to pull together this fabulous festival.

I came home from Southern Festival with just a couple of days before going to the Georgia COMO conference on beautiful Jekyll Island, where the trees all look like this:

I spent a day here, right on the beach -- here's librarian Trish Vlastnik (left) and Lea Ann Kelly (right), chairperson of this year's conference for Georgia school, public, and institutional librarians. What a great conference -- over 900 librarians! (Do you like my new red glasses? I do -- I can see!)

I returned home to pumpkins and candlesticks ($2.00!) I bought at Value Village...

...and to three days of eating miso soup and spinach salad and sleeping well in my own bed with my own husband.

And now, here I am in Dallas, having left my new husband behind yet one more time, having a blast in Dallas schools, and yet longing for the routines of fall and family. I'll be home on Friday night. Out again the following Thursday, to Austin. This is fall travel. Somehow, on this trip, I'm actually putting words to paper as well, writing the next story. More on this later, too.

I'm going to be keeping a close eye on the Southern California fires while waiting for friends to continue to check in, and I'll share with you my week in Dallas schools as well. I've been hired to teach writing workshops -- how does that work and what does that mean? Go back and read the Jonathan Kozol article. I want to be part of the revolution in education. At least I will raise my voice. I am in good company.