Monday, November 21, 2016


The wildfires are better now, though not entirely gone. Yesterday's local Air Quality Rating, mid-afternoon, was 18, and I celebrated by riding my horse and then going to yoga. For the past two weeks, due to wildfires in the nearby mountains, we've had terrible air quality--I'm not exactly sure what the scale is based upon, but 1-50 is "good," 51-100, "moderate," 101-150, "unhealthy for sensitive groups," and anything above that unhealthy for everyone.

I'm a canary in a coal mine; I'm affected by poor air quality fast. I've proven this over and over in my lifetime, never more drastically than the past few weeks. Anything over "good" air just flattens me, lays me out with my asthma, and according to the information I read, being inside a sealed house cuts the pollutants in half, which meant, on the day our AQI hit 180, that being inside my house still made it hard to breathe.

So I did nothing to make my breathing more difficult. I stayed inside. I didn't ride, do yoga, do any sort of exercise at all. It was weird and a little crazy-making at first. I also fought feeling like a wimp. I mean, wouldn't a person with a stronger personal drive just not HAVE asthma? (Wouldn't a person with a stronger personal drive just not GET cancer? No, I know it's nuts to feel ashamed. I'm working on it.)

What I did mostly, was learn to be still. I hung out with my novel. I hung out with books I read. I took medicine and I was careful, and I avoided the ER and survived NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English conference, which was in Atlanta, which was also affected by the fires. So overall it was weird, and I did well.

I'm sure there's some sort of personal lesson in all this, but I can't find it right now. If you see it, let me know. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Acting Like An Ally (When Safety Pins Aren't Enough)

Over the weekend a whole wave of safety-pin advocacy swelled and burst within my kidlit community. First came some blog posts about "allies" of marginalized people wearing safety pins on the outside of their clothing, to identify them as "safe" to the marginalized. Then came a whole bunch of really lovely illustrations from prominent children's book illustrators, incorporating safety pins with well-known book characters. I retweeted some of these images without thinking too hard about the whole idea.

Then Carole Boston Weatherford, a writer I greatly esteem, shared a post that said, basically, white people, stop it. It pointed out that perhaps teaching children they could trust any stranger who stuck a safety pin on his or her clothes was ludicrous, and that also the safety pins were mostly just a tool to make the wearer of them feel a little bit better about him or herself.

You know, I'm not a racist/misogynist/homophobe. I'm an ALLY. 

The problem is, we don't get to label ourselves allies. That term is something other people grant us, once we've earned it. When the whole VOYA magazine thing blew up (go here if you don't know what I'm talking about), one of the VOYA editors defended her discriminatory actions by saying, "But I'm an ally!" and pretty much the whole LGBTQ teen lit community called her out. Saying "I'm an ally!" while acting solely from a place of privilege is pretty much like saying, "Some of my best friends are black!" when you've never once invited those black friends into your home.

What we can do is act like allies. We can aspire to become allies. And here, from the Reading While White kid lit diversity blog, is how to do it.

Safety pins are easy. Dismantling oppression is hard. Do the hard thing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

There is No Them.

So this morning my Facebook page is busy having all the feelings. All of them at once.

Also there are wildfires here in east Tennessee, and while they're not threatening any property that I know of, they're making the air quality so poor that today I won't dare ride my horse or do yoga, because my asthma's acting up, and I have to say, it's pretty bad timing on behalf of the wildfires.

What I would like--this may be wishful thinking--is for everyone in America today to realize that both sides of this political divide are partially right. Both represent a legitimate point of view.

I know, I know, YOUR side is right. Of course it is. The other side are all ignorant sticks. Racist, deplorable, whatever words you want to use.

Except that they aren't. They're our neighbors. They're our friends. And in this incredibly ugly election both sides had big issues neither candidate could fully resolve.

Last night my husband kept pulling up maps of the states divided into counties, with the counties colored red or blue as election results came in. It was astonishing: over and over, the population centers went to Clinton, the rural areas went to Trump. I live in a rural area myself, in Appalachia in fact, and I went to Smith, for heaven's sake, so I actually understand both sides of this divide pretty well. The people who voted for Trump don't all love Trump. The people who voted for Clinton don't all love Clinton. In the end, a slim majority of the American people wanted things to be different than they are, and Clinton looked like more of the same. So now things will be different. It's up to us to figure out how.

Our country did not change overnight. Our perceptions may have changed. Our perceptions right now may be correct or incorrect, who knows? We are all in this soup together. We need to take a big deep breath (indoors, away from the wildfires), and think about the kind of country we really want, and then love each other, and listen to each other and do our best from here forward. Just like we tried to do yesterday.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Voted

I voted. Then I posted a voting selfie, because that's a thing. It's as somber as my selfies usually are--somehow I can not take a selfie and smile at the same time--but honestly, this time it mostly reflects my feelings. I'm a little anxious today.

In Tennessee we were lucky; the only positions open were president, a state rep with a decent and strong incumbent, and two uncontested local positions. The rest of my family, in Indiana and Tennessee, gets to vote for some particularly unsavory governor and senate candidates. Though it's hard to be less savory than our presidential candidates this year.

I don't care who you voted for. I don't care how passionately you did or did not support them, or with what reluctanceor eagerness you cast your ballot. This election cycle was a hot mess and I hope we can do better in the future.

Here's what made me happy about voting: when I went to the polls, I signed my name in the local registered voters log. Above my name was my daughter's name. Below my name was my son's. Both had the signature lines blocked with VOTED EARLY, because they both did.

I may not like the candidates and it remains to see how well I or any of us will like the results. But I voted, and I raised two children who voted too. That's what we've got for now.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cubs win!

I have a bit of a Cubs hangover this morning. It's not because I was drinking while watching the game--I wasn't, because I was desperately, futilely, trying to stay up for the end of it.

I am not a night person. I am very much a morning person, and I do love my sleep. I usually head to bed around 10, or, in baseball parlance, about the bottom of the fifth.

Sheesh those games were going on forever. All of them. The Cubs were the last holdout against stadium lights--I remember watching the first Night Game at Wrigley from the living room of my college dorm--and that's because God ordained that baseball should be played in the day. Or at least early evening, for the love.

Still. This was the first time the Cubs played in a World Series in not only my lifetime, but my mother's lifetime. It was historic. How could I miss it?

"I can't marry you," I said to my fiance, "until I've seen a game at Wrigley."

He knew I meant it. We spent the night in my grandparents' apartment on the outskirts of Chicago, him in the tiny guest bedroom, me on the hard black couch, and then we sat in the outfield and watched the world's most boring baseball game. The second guy up for the other team hit a solo homer and the final score was 1-0. But I watched it from the bleachers, which rocked.

Last night's game was not nearly boring enough. Started off well, but then suddenly, eighth inning (ok, not suddenly--approaching midnight, eighth inning) it was tied 6-6. You could see the Curse of the Cubs climbing the outfield wall.

We took our children to Wrigley when they were very small. Day game. A very nice usher brought them Cubs coloring books and crayons. I remember my son staring at her in amazement--did she HONESTLY think he wanted a COLORING BOOK at a BASEBALL GAME?

All tied up through the 9th. My husband, who had to wake at 5:30 to put knives in peoples' eyeballs (true story) had gone to bed long before. He loves the Cubs but he cares about his patients more. I was fighting sleep, wondering if I should set my phone to ring every three minutes or something. I thought about calling our son, who was watching the game at school in Indiana.

Rain delay. I couldn't do it anymore. I went upstairs and crawled into bed. My phone beeped. It was a text from my son. Still watching? No. Soft, he wrote. I turned the volume off and slept.

I woke to exclamations of joy ricocheting all over the internet. My son posted a Facebook photo of himself at around age 5--even younger than when he made his first trip to Wrigley--a baseball bat on his shoulder, wearing a Cubs hat and a huge grin. My sister posted a photo of herself and my son at Wrigley perhaps ten years ago. They're both wearing Cubs shirts and hats.

Man, oh man, am I tired today. I slept in and I'm still worn out. Oh, am I happy.
Cubs win, Cubs win, Cubs win!

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Smallest World

Sometimes the craziest things happen.

For example, last week I got asked to do a Skype visit with the International School of Ulaanbaatar. That's in Mongolia.

In Mongolia schoolchildren are reading something I wrote.

(Of course I'm going to Skype with them. Although if they wanted to pay for me to visit them, I'd be up for that too.)

Then Saturday an even cooler thing happened.

Years ago, when my husband was a medical resident, my son was a baby, and we lived in Indianapolis, I had a friend named Jane. Jane and her husband were physicians from New Zealand; they lived in Indianapolis for two years while Jane's husband did a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology. Jane was a radiologist, but INS screwed up and gave the work permit to their 12-month-old son Richard, so Jane had way more time on her hands in America than she expected, which worked out happily for me.  I taught Jane the American traditions of iced tea and chicken salad; she taught me proper scones and to always twirl a teapot three times before pouring. Our sons were each other's first friends. Twenty years ago today they went trick-or-treating in matching Puff the Magic Dragon costumes that Jane and I made from felt, sequins, and hooded sweatshirts we bought at the dollar store.

Jane and her family left Indianapolis to return to New Zealand the same weekend that I and my family left to move to Tennessee. We both had baby girls.  We both tried to stay in touch--it sounds odd, but  it wasn't really possible to email New Zealand back then. I blame myself for not communicating better; she blames herself. At any rate, twenty years passed, even though I can remember days spent with Jane as though they were yesterday. (Standing on a New York City subway platform eating apple strudel with bare hands. We went to New York for a weekend, just the two of us, right before we moved away. I went into a fancy chocolate store and asked for free samples and we got some and Jane nearly died. We spent hours on Ellis Island.)

Anyhow. Jane's son came home from the bookstore last Friday with several books--a John Grisham, a Robert Balducci, and The War That Saved My Life. He didn't know I'd written i--had no idea his mother knew me--until Jane saw my name on the cover.

 My book in the hands of an old dear friend. In New Zealand. As far away as Ulaanbaatar.

We live in the coolest world.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Orange is the New Grey

I'm having my barn thoroughly repainted and repaired, dicey boards fixed, the whole bit. Yesterday when I went there, early in the morning, one of the work crew asked if I could move the horse that was standing next to the Dutch doors on the pasture side. "I'm going to start power-washing that side," he said.

The horse in question was Pal, our 29-year-old Quarterhorse; my mare Sarah was in the same field, father down and out of sight. I yelled, "SARAH!" which startled the workman--should have given him warning--and Sarah came galloping up, eyes bright. Sarah can be annoying in a hundred different ways, but she always looks happy to see me.

I moved Pal and Sarah into the small field behind the barn. We call it the pony paddock, but it's really a sacrifice lot, which is to say a plot of land so small that the horses will completely destroy the grass and make it look like heck. On the other hand, they've got room to move and they can't eat so much that they make themselves sick. Gully and Hot Wheels are very, very good at overeating, and the grass this time of year is super-sweet, so they were already in the pony paddock.

Pal was happy enough to move, because he's always happy enough. Sarah was DELIGHTED, because Hot Wheels, our red pony, is her special friend. She loves being around him; she moves him, she shares her hay with him, and she just generally enjoys his company. For a long time I felt rather sorry for Hot Wheels, being on the receiving end of so much affection, but gradually I could see that it was not unrequited. Hot Wheels also likes Sarah.

I went off and did my things, which mostly consisted of brooding about the fact that it was Wednesday, and my editor had promised to get back to me about my book on Wednesday, and she hadn't yet--maybe I'd better check my email again--and in late afternoon went out to feed the horses and check on the work and take the garbage down to the curb. The workmen had made big strides on the barn, repainting the repaired front, powerwashing the side, and replacing the section of wood fence between the two fields. It's next to the water pump, and the water troughs, one for the big field and one for the pony paddock, sit on both sides of it.

"Thanks," I said, pointing to the fence. "Sarah keeps knocking the top boards down. Whichever field she's in, she wants to drink out of the water in the other."

"That the big grey horse?" the man asked. I nodded. "Man," he said, "that horse is crazy. She got her feet in the water trough and was splashing and kicking."

I sighed. "She does that. It's why I've got the trough in the big field up on blocks, so she can't get her feet in it. The other horses don't like drinking muddy water."

"I tried to run her off," the workman said, "but she just ignored me. She got herself as wet as she possibly could, and then she laid down in that orange dirt and rolled."

Of course she did. "Sarah!" I yelled. She yanked her head up from the far corner of the paddock and came flying toward me, streaked with orange clay, her friend the red pony at her heels.