May 28 2011

Vertigo and Goosebumps, Racing Hearts and Butterflies

A month and a half ago, I got my first tattoo — a quill on the top of my right foot.  Most of you know by now that I took a major leap of faith recently in deciding to resign from my job and commit more time to my writing.  The tattoo felt like a good benchmark; a visual reminder about the pledge that I was making to myself.  In a lot of ways it’s also paying homage to an integral part of my identity. 

I’ve been a writer my entire life.  And I believe that I will be a writer for the rest of it.  So it was a surprise when, about a year ago, I had my very first experience of sheer vertigo while writing.  In all of the years that I’d spent writing novels, poetry, short stories, journal entries and blogs, I’d never felt so moved as that moment.    

I’m a planner, so I believe in outlines.  I don’t live and die by them, and I regularly improvise in my writing, but having some structure up-front does help me.  Still, it’s fun when my characters end up in an un-planned scenario.  In this particular case, I found my protagonist in a surprising and terrifying situation.  And the experience was similarly enjoyable, except that it became considerably more intense.  It was as if I was reading someone else’s novel.  Like I truly had no idea what was going to happen next.  I’ve heard writers say this before:  that they’re consistently surprised where their characters and stories take them.  But this was a first for me.  I felt initiated. 

Even more dramatic was my deeply emotional reaction.  Goosebumps raised on my arms; my heart raced; tears sprang to my eyes; butterflies fluttered in my stomach.  I almost felt dizzy, and wondered if the room was spinning for the other coffee shop patrons, too.  (And yes, it was bizarre, having this happen in a decidedly public place.)  I felt like I was watching someone else write, or reading someone else’s work.  I would explain it as an out-of-body experience, if I knew how that actually felt.  I was in the room with my characters, on the edge of my seat, even as my fingers frantically plugged away at the keys on my laptop. 

Was this a preview of the direction that my writing life would take?  Was this one of many moments to come that would lead me to step out of my comfort zone and be a writer for real?  Just yesterday a friend and critique partner told me that almost every successful artist that he knows became so in the midst of a major life crisis.  I’d like to think that I’m not quite in crisis, per se, but I’m certainly in a position to mine some serious material from my own circumstances.  A year ago my life was stable and predictable; right now, not so much.

My life isn’t following an outline, and clearly my characters don’t really give a damn what I have planned for them, either.  This is a great time to pick up my quill and scribble away.  To seek and celebrate some more of those butterflies.


May 23 2011

This is What Happiness Looks Like

Last weekend I went to the wedding of two good friends.  It took place at a beautiful ranch just southwest of Austin, with rolling hills providing the backdrop for their ceremony and reception.  (The reception notably centered around a large pool.  Many people desperately avoided falling in, while others eventually did back-flips into the water later in the night.  The bride’s father, in lieu of a speech, performed a massive crowd-soaking cannonball into the pool himself.  But this is all beside the point.)

As the night went on, I found myself deep in conversation with another dear friend, Amanda.  I’m not really sure what we were talking about—but we were apart from the group and clearly in serious discussion.  The ranch happened to feature a lit tennis/basketball court a short distance away from the reception, down a rocky path, just within earshot of the music.  So Cara cut into our shared whispering  with a proposition:

“I know that you two are having a Serious Talk right now,” she began, “But would you be interested in playing a game of tennis with me and Tessa?”

Did she even need to ask?

The three of us stumbled down the hill, over the rocky path, and on to the dilapidated court.  Cara and I teamed up against Amanda and Tessa.  We were all still wearing our dresses and heels, the balls were weathered and ratty, and clearly none of us were ever tennis masters.  But we managed to rally a few times, and most of our serves landed in-bounds…or close to it.  At one point Amanda hiked up her dress and tucked it into her underwear, and in between serves we wiggled and swayed to Michael Jackson’s “PYT” and Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance.”  (Cara would later say that it wasn’t so much a game of tennis as a game of “dancing with racquets”.)

When we tired of tennis (or perhaps when we’d hit all three balls out of the court, I can’t quite remember), we moved on to the flat basketballs and very low hoops.  We managed a weak lay-up drill, and several of us attempted to dunk.  (Something that we’d later regret when we realized how painful the rim would feel on our hands and that landing barefoot—or in heels/sandals would aggravate whatever athletic injuries plague each of us respectively.)  We only retreated back up the hill when we heard Amanda’s husband whistling to us that the bride and groom were leaving and we should see them off.

In looking back, there was a moment on those courts when I felt perfectly, completely happy.  Maybe it was the late-spring chill in the air, or the feel of the old court on my feet.  Maybe it was the way that the game reminded me of spring break in Jamaica circa 2000, when my friend Kelly and I spontaneously jumped into a pick-up basketball game (also in our skirts and heels) in the parking lot of Margaritaville at midnight.  Maybe it was the fact that those girls know me so well, and I know that they will see me through any storm, or the way that I laugh with them in total reckless abandon.  Maybe it was the fact that we were dressed to the nines but playing sports—always a beautiful juxtaposition in my mind—or maybe it was the fact that I felt entirely at home with them. 

I’m not sure, but I knew this—this—is what happiness looks like.  Four grown women in party dresses, running around a tennis court at midnight, like girls at play.


May 17 2011

Is Love a Pop Song?

One of my favorite songs is “Mystery” by the Indigo Girls.  It was released in 1994, and for a year I listened to it on repeat while lounging in adolescent angst on my bed.  But even as an adult, seventeen years later, I still go back to it again and again.  One of my favorite parts of that song reads, “So what is love then? / Is it dictated or chosen? / Does it sing like the hymns of a thousand years / Or is it just pop emotion? / And if it ever was there and it left / Does it mean it was never true?”

It would be so nice to believe that love is permanent and un-wavering.  That when you find it, you know without a doubt that it will last a lifetime.  That it’s strong enough to carry through years, distance, and hardship.  But the human heart is so much more complicated and ever-changing than that.  What if some love—most, even—is temporary? 

I don’t think that makes it any less real or significant.  It doesn’t change how all-consuming it is in the moment, or how far you’ll go to protect it.  It isn’t false or deceitful or unhealthy (necessarily).  It’s still love.

But if it was there and it left, it’s a one-hit wonder, like “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners or Hanson’s “Mmmbop.”  You still adore those songs in their heyday.  You blast them in your car, learn all the words, and gleefully dance to them at weddings.  They have a place in the musical canon; a legacy, even.  But those aren’t the songs that you reach for when you’re looking for answers in a world full of questions.  They don’t make you emote or reflect on your life in any profound way.  They don’t give you strength, or motivation, or a sense of peace.  They don’t speak to your soul.  And so, eventually, you leave them behind, seeking something deeper.  More complex.  Believing that it’s out there somewhere.

It doesn’t matter how many years pass.  Every time I hear “Mystery,” I’m moved.  It resonates with me.  It endures.  The best songs—those meaningful, poignant pieces—put a knot in your throat.  You hear something new every time you listen to them.  You understand a lyric better, or you notice the cello in the second verse, or you hear a harmony more clearly.  They’re special and powerful; as multi-dimensional as a person that you know completely…and yet sometimes not at all.

I could name a few of these songs for me—“Defying Gravity” from Wicked, Ani DiFranco’s “Both Hands”—but they’re far less common.  And maybe that’s the way love is.  Maybe that kind of raw, multifaceted love exists, but it’s a lot harder to find.  It’s the kind of relationship in which people are stripped to the core of their beings and completely vulnerable.  They look into each others’ hearts and meet there.  Connect.  They know each other completely and honestly; they understand and accept each other.  This kind of love persists because it has reserves.  It has supplies on hand—no matter how hard you have to look for them—even as people change and grow and life gets in the way.  It’s love with an arsenal.  With backup.    

But maybe that kind of depth and complexity is more exceptional than we’d like to think.  Maybe most love is a pop song.


May 13 2011

“Open to Grace” Addendum: Time

I recently wrote about my yoga instructor’s reminder about being “open to grace.”  I determined that for me, being open to grace is about balance, truth, and love.

And that was all true.

But I’d like to add something to the list:  Time.

I have a tendency to rush.  I like things to happen now.  Or, better yet, yesterday.  And this is in distinct opposition with my writing, where I need to be patient and thoughtful, deliberate and critical.  Maybe my impatience has something to do with being an athlete.  I’ve always been a sprinter, not a distance runner.  But as I face a miasma of change in my life, I’m going to give myself time.  Take it day by day.  Remember that this isn’t a race.  Breathe like I do in yoga:  Slowly, calmly, in and out.  Sure, I may be in a hurry to have this bad day end, or that one, but maybe the next will be better.  And it’s not going to get here any faster if I tap my toe and drum my fingernails on the desk in frustration.

Because if there’s one thing that I do know about myself, it’s that I embrace emotion.  When I’m angry, I’m angry.  When I’m hurt, I’m hurt.  And so on.  I know how to be in the mess.  I accept the necessary evil of sitting, however uncomfortably, with your feelings.  Sometimes I feel the need to apologize for that.  But I’m not apologizing any more. 

The things that I’m facing right now won’t be settled in an hour, or a day, or a month, for that matter.  But if I can take it a minute at a time, I’ll get there.   To grace, that is.


May 6 2011

Pullover Daydream Journal Breaks

A friend of mine recently said that he nearly drove—at 70 mph—head-long into a detour sign.  Twice.  Deeply lost in daydreaming, he narrowly escaped disaster only due to the frantic shouting of the passengers in the car.  He’s a musician (as well as a writer, a filmmaker, and a “cave-drawing” doodler), so I asked him what he was daydreaming about.  “There could have been some good material in there!”  I argued. 

The Muppets,” he told me. 

I really don’t know what to do with that

But I suggested that he make a point to pull over and write down some of his musings during those deep-daydream moments.  In the interest of avoiding certain death, of course, and harvesting whatever creative juices were flowing at the time of said space-out.  He didn’t receive this suggestion well, pointing out that “Pullover Daydream Journal Breaks” were just as likely to get him killed…by his friends.  Now, I respect everyone’s right to pick their poison, but to me these creative time-outs are a win-win.  I mean, you jot down some of that fodder and preserve your life.  Unless, of course, you run with my friend’s buddies, who would apparently make you pay for that kind of touchy-feely hippie crap.

I’m prone to the same kind of lost-in-thought distraction.  I often find myself so consumed with planning and writing in my head that the world around me falls away.  I, too, have nearly missed the occasional stop sign, or—for that matter—waited at stop signs as if they were red lights, staring blankly and patiently into the intersection.  Sometimes I get so lost in thought that it’s an irritation when the phone rings and it’s my mother calling, or when the noise of the mailman at the door startles me back to the real world.  I write every day, be it scribbling down a thought or two or journaling in the car after ultimate practice.  But the times when I’m most prolific are when I completely disappear.  When I’m submerged in the work; blocking out distractions; hiding away in my stories. 

Maybe Pullover Daydream Journal Breaks aren’t the most realistic option in the world, but wouldn’t it be great if they were?  If mundane things like eating and showering and—hell, avoiding disastrous car accidents or getting pummeled by your friends—didn’t get in the way?


May 1 2011

Celebrating Libraries: Installment #3

Who Says Librarians Can’t Have Fun?:  Reflections from TxLA 2011

Guest Post from friend and awesomely energetic librarian Christy!

 

It’s disheartening to see librarians stereotyped on TV, such as the ones in popular shows like Glee and Greek. We are not old, prim, bunned, shushing spinsters as commonly portrayed in the media. We are a tech-savvy, fun-loving, information-seeking oriented group of professionals who love what we do! 

April 12-15, Austin hosted Texas Library Association’s annual conference with pre-conference sessions being held on Tuesday. It was very gratifying to attend a cocktail dinner Tuesday night with local author Cynthia Leitich Smith as she celebrated the release of her third book, Blessed. On Wednesday, after greeting conference attendees arriving on buses from area hotels, I was able to join local librarians from Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville, and other surrounding areas in a flash mob to welcome conference attendees from all over the state of Texas to Austin and TLA. We were up out of our seats and having a great time, making the 4th floor of the Austin Convention Center vibrate with energy and enthusiasm! That was just to start it off…

Jamie Lee Curtis, author and actress, was our opening general session speaker and was eloquent with the way she was wearing her red kerchief around her neck… a symbol of the guillotine (or rather our government chopping our heads off within the education system)!  She went on to say how, through testing and top-down administration, we are no longer using our greatest assets… our minds, our intellect, our creativity. Our students, teachers, librarians, and those who work directly with students are not expendable; the government should be doing what they can to keep those who work directly with children.  Red was the color of the day, for after that day’s sessions, librarians traveled to the State Capitol to rally in protest of the funding cuts being made to libraries across the state and the K-12 databases that equalize the playing field for all Texas students.

From a personal angle, it was a lot of fun to volunteer for a few hours during the event, catch up with fellow Austin ISD librarians throughout different sessions, and support my AISD colleagues participating in the Book Cart Drill Team. I’m very proud to say that after a tie with Austin Public Library, AISD was able to pull off the win with audience support! It was also great to see fellow graduates and professors from the University of North Texas where I recently earned my Masters of Science in Library Science. Then there were the friends from other school districts such as Round Rock and Pflugerville who we rarely get to visit with as professionals. As librarians, we are typically the sole person on our campus in our profession and when we get time to meet with other librarians, it’s so incredibly rewarding!

Throughout the conference, I attended sessions that applied to my position as a middle school librarian and had fun downloading curriculum documents posted via QR codes. Sessions included:

  • Learning Commons for School Libraries
  • Cutting Out the Cutting Edge: Stories of Censorship
  • Let’s Talk Books! Middle Grades Book Clubs
  • Lone Star Authors Shine
  • Maverick Authors Get Graphic
  • Graphic Novels and Comic Books in the Library
  • Librarians and Teachers Collaborate for Student Success
  • YA 2.0: Marketing Your Library through Social Media (#YA2.0 on Twitter)

I was able to walk away with something from each session and was motivated to go back to the Matador Library and start making plans. One of my favorites was where authors of Lone Star books sat and talked about their writing, their ideas, what inspires them, and how incredibly rewarding it is to write for ‘Tweens. I was also inspired by David Loertscher and his concept of learning commons, where libraries are no longer storage spaces for books, but areas of learning and collaboration. A handful of us were fortunate to have dinner with him later that evening where we were able to discuss his ideas further.

Nothing can really compare to being in a place with 6000+ other librarians who love what they do and continue to show enthusiasm and interest in the ever dynamic field of library and information science. The atmosphere was buzzing, the sessions were relevant, and the synergy was unbelievable! It might just be the geek in me, but I couldn’t get enough, even with the information overload. For a recap of conference events, search #txla11 on Twitter.

Flash Mob:  Danced to “I Gotta Feeling”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg-kcLS-yTc

AISD Book Cart Drill Team Performance:  A political take on the song “I Will Survive”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzlFWcgx-gE

Austin Public Library Book Cart Drill Team Performance:  A fight for intellectual freedom and rights

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tHeUEWCpu0&feature=related

Round Rock Book Cart Drill Team Performance:  Breaking stereotypes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJQPa9NwTRc

Texas Library Association Conference Coverage:

http://txla.org/annual-conference

Matador Library on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Matador-Library/205667736117997

Matador Library on Twitter:

http://www.twitter.com/MatadorLibrary 

 

THE SCHOOL LIBRARIAN SURVIVAL SONG

Lyrics by Shannon Pearce

 

First I was afraid;

I was petrified

school librarians would be cut,

and then just cast aside.

But I knew deep in my heart

we could prove that would be wrong,

because we’re strong,

and we know how to bring it on!

 

We won’t sit back

and let it be.

We will speak out and then we’ll mobilize

the whole community.

And those who just don’t get it

can go sit down and shush,

if they think for just one second

they can close the book on us!

 

Oh no, we won’t

walk out the door!

It might save money,

but all our students need us more.

Aren’t we the ones who teach the skills they really need

for the future?

So if we want them to succeed,

 

We will survive.

We will survive.

We’ll teach those research skills

and keep the love of books alive.

We’ve got campus goals to reach,

We’ve got every kid to teach,

and we’ll survive.

We will survive,

Hey, hey.

 

They tried to say librarians

are obsolete –

That eBooks and the Internet

are all you need.

And we’re not keeping up

with technology, they say.

No we’re not keeping up –

we’re the ones leading the way!

 

Now you see, we

are something new!

We tweet and blog and Facebook,

and we have tattoos.

And yes, we still tell stories,

and we love the printed page,

but we’re the superheroes

of the Information Age.

 

So no, we won’t walk out the door!

It might save money,

but all our students need us more.

Yes, we’re the ones who teach the skills they really need

for the future,

and we help them to succeed.

 

So we’ll survive.

We will survive.

We’ll teach those research skills

and keep the love of books alive.

We’ve got campus goals to reach,

We’ve got every kid to teach,

and we’ll survive.

We will survive,

Hey, hey.