Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Strike a Match

Until you’ve had a mentally ill child, you can’t understand the isolation and fear and sadness that the parents of the mentally ill endure.

We all know the saying, “The Buck Stops Here.”  Well, that’s parenting.  And all the it-takes-a-village rhetoric is very nice indeed, and in many ways true, but the village can only do so much.  The village of neighbors and teachers and friends and health care professionals can only do so much.  Because at the end of the day, the parent is the one who tucks that child into bed at night … or wrests the sharp nail scissors from his hands at bath time when he suddenly and unexpectedly threatens to injure himself or, worse, his siblings.

While the rest of the “village” sleeps, the parent stares, dreamless and panicky, into the dark and begs the god who created this child to help him, help her, help all of us understand what’s going on ….

One very brave parent, Liza Long, has written an essay called “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” about her struggle raising a mentally ill son. It’s gone viral, and sparked countless comments, and hopefully will move us forward in the conversation not only about violence in our society but about mental illness:


“She’s describing our lives,” one woman commented to me, when we discussed this essay.  “No one understands what this is like.”

“It’s like groping in a dark tunnel with no lights,” another woman once described to me, about their frustrating, heart-wrenching journey toward a “diagnosis” which would explain their young son’s antisocial behaviors.  An entire “village” of professionals tried to help, but ultimately, they could always walk away at the end of the day and go back to their own warm suppers and not-nearly-so-dysfunctional lives, because treating this child was, for them, a job.

But for the parents of the mentally ill, it’s day in, day out, and all night.

One line in Long’s essay really struck me:  “You’ll do anything for [health] benefits.”  Families of the mentally ill know exactly how profound that statement is.  Because health benefits are the keys which unlock the gates to the “village.”  Treating mental illness is staggeringly expensive, and most families cannot begin to pay out-of-pocket for treatment.  And without treatment … meaning doctors, evaluations, therapy, possibly medication …  there truly is no hope for a mentally ill child.  They don’t “outgrow” this stuff.

I know that many advocates for the mentally ill have been angered by Long’s essay, and feel she’s stigmatized her son by writing this.  But I’ve got news for them:  the stigma is already out there.  We see it in the unfair, and dangerous suggestion floating in the news that Adam Lanza might have shot twenty innocent children because he possibly had Asperger’s (which has been described as a mild form of Autism.) 

People with Asperger’s are not sociopaths.  The New York Times had a good column about this today:

We need to shed light on the reality of mental illness, and Liza Long has struck one solitary match in the dark tunnel.  And found, I believe, that she wasn’t in there alone.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stuff My Mother Says

I’ve been thinking about why kids read.  Actually, why some kids read … a lot … and some kids don’t.  

In the New York Times on Thursday (12/6) there was an article about how even though Latino students make up 25 percent of the school population in the U.S., Latino characters in children’s books are markedly absent.  And the “experts” say that’s a problem.

“Education experts and teachers who work with large Latino populations say that the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character,” the article asserts.

This got me thinking, not only because I write for young people (teens, not little kids) and did happen to include a Cuban character in one of my books, but also because it made me recall by own bookwormish childhood.  I don’t remember “relating” to the characters.  If anything, I loved being plucked out of my own world and transported to another.  Then again, I grew up in a predominately white, upper middle class town, so maybe that’s why books like “Charlotte’s Web” resonated so deeply with me.  I mean, a white girl is a white girl is a white girl, right?  Even if one lives in Jersey and spends Saturdays cruising the malls on Route 17 and another one lives on a farm and raises a pet pig.  There are certain basic, cultural “things” we just “get.”  It’s like knowing the secret handshake which allows you into the club.

The comments following the Times article were interesting.  One in particular snarkily noted that there are hardly any Asian protagonists in children’s books, but “Who are all the valedictorians in American high schools?  Asians.”

Okay, snarky point taken.  But these were, after all education experts pointing out this problem for young readers.  So I decided to consult my own expert:  a bona fide “Latino.”

This gal grew up in an apartment in New York, in the Bronx.  Spanish was her first language and Spanish was spoken at home.  Her parents did not go to college … actually, her father drove a bus down Riverside Avenue.  She grew up far from the upper middle class world of homes stocked with books and newspapers, weekends playing tennis at the club, adults chatting about their work at “the office.”  Yet she was a voracious reader as a child, and continues to be a lifelong reader and learner.

In other words, I called my mom.

“That’s ridiculous,” she said when I told her about the article.  “I read everything I could get my hands on, and I didn’t care what color the characters were.  I just loved stories.  Kids want a good story.”

“My mother,” she went on, “knew that if we were going to make it in America we had to learn English.  So you know what she got me?  A library card.  And the Encyclopedia Britannica.  This guy came to our door, and he said, ‘Mrs. Morales, with a dollar down and a dollar every month, you can have the encyclopedia right here in your home.’  And she went for it.  I remember my brother and I spending hours on the floor reading the encyclopedia.  It was wonderful.”

When I asked her how she recalls turning me on to reading, she says, “That was easy.  For starters, we were the last people in America to have a color television.  Second, if I saw you laying around I’d say, ‘Either read, or help me clean.’  That got you all reading, let me tell you.”

I remember that.  As long as my nose was in a book, mom left me alone.

I know this issue boils down to more than “get a library card” and “clean your room.”  It’s more complicated than that.  But maybe … not that much more complicated.  Maybe we don’t have to reinvent children’s literature, although having more Latino characters (and I mean authentic characters, not just stick figures celebrating Cinco de Mayo) would certainly benefit all readers, especially kids who don’t know any Latinos.

But maybe there’s something to being the last family in America to have a color television.  I know my kids were the last in our town to have cable.

Recently I was at a gathering in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, which, in case you don’t know Maine, is probably the area with the highest per capita income in the state.  The schools are notoriously good, and when I say “notorious” I mean people talk about how tough the public high school is and how high the expectations are.  Anyway, at this gathering I met a fifth grade teacher who talked about how concerned she is about her students, especially her boys, because they aren’t reading.

“I mean, this is Cape!” she said.  “If they aren’t reading here, what’s up?”

We talked about our own kids, all in college now, and how they cut their teeth on the Harry Potter books.  They grew up with Harry, built their reading stamina on those loooong books (and really, what did they have in common with British wizards, anyway?) then moved on to “The Lord of the Rings,” C.S. Lewis, Dickens ….  

The teacher from Cape said she asked her current students who had read “Harry Potter,” and barely a third raised their hands.  However, when she asked how many had seen the movies, virtually every child had seen every Harry Potter movie.  Multiple times.

When the power goes out, we light candles, sit around the table, and play cards.  Pull out the board games.  Talk and laugh.  When the lights go back on, we retreat to our screens.  Our laptops and iPads and televisions and cell phones. 

Maybe, even if the electricity is on, we should abandon the screens and open our books.  Stretch out on the floor with the Encyclopedia Britannica and criss-cross the globe.  Lift our heads every once in a while to comment to the person across the room, “Hey, listen to this,” and read a few lines out loud.

I think that’s how my mother did it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Go Blue Devils

‘Tis the season.  Political lawn signs are sprouting, trees are dressed in their seasonal gold, and my neighbor’s chimney is sending out smoke signals.  In the world of high school sports things are coming to a crescendo, as the fall teams wrap up their regular seasons and move into their conference, regional and state finals.  Farmers’ markets are winding down, Halloween decorations are going up.

Who knew it was time to hatch a little hate speech?  But like locusts, which stay underground for years before emerging, angry words have been flying this season in Lewiston, Maine.

You have to wonder if an uncanny ability to stir public outrage is a precondition for the job of mayor there.  Because like his predecessor of a dozen years earlier (Laurier T. Raymond, Jr.) now-mayor Robert Macdonald has single-handedly reignited the fires of resentment and racism in this community thanks to his … dare we say … “inelegant” comments about its minority Somali population.

In a recent BBC documentary about the resettlement of some 6000 Somali refugees to Lewiston over the last ten years, Macdonald said, “You (immigrants) come here, you come and you accept our culture and you leave your culture at the door.”  And in an earlier column on the topic, which he penned for a local newspaper, Macdonald wrote:

“I’m sick of hearing the Somalis don’t feel welcome here.  I’m sick of hearing Lewistonians must understand their culture and make exceptions toward them if their actions clash with American customs and laws. I’m sick of hearing about their lack of employment. I’m sick of hearing about phantom victimization.  But what frosts me the most is these complaints are coming almost exclusively from boo-hoo white do-gooders and their carpetbagger friends.”

Needless to say, white do-gooders have been a bit “frosted” after reading that.  So petitions were signed calling for the mayor’s resignation (hasn’t happened); a small protest was held; folks both black and white and Muslim and Christian asked the mayor to apologize during a hearing at City Hall (he didn’t); and both the national news and the usual racist bloggers have picked up the story.

Meanwhile across town, at Lewiston High School, the boys varsity soccer team led by a front line that includes players called Mohamed Ali and Abdibaari Hersi and Yusuf Yama have been racking up a near-perfect season against their competition in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.  At their games, blond mamas in L.L. Bean jackets cheer on the same side of the field as black mamas in body-masking hijab: “Go Blue Devils!” Theirs is a team that has, over the past decade, steadily improved its record, and fielded rosters that include names like McDonough and Jacques and Abdirahman: a melting pot of players that reflects the Irish-Franco-now-Somali immigrant waves to wash up on Lewiston’s shores.

These boys are too busy practicing together and attending pre-game pasta parties together and worrying about homework and girls and college applications and after-school jobs to get knocked off course by the rhetoric that keeps twisting so many of the adults in this community into knots.

When I wandered into Lewiston several years ago to begin research on my young adult novel, Out of Nowhere, I was struck by this disconnect between the hair-trigger anger reflected in the grownup world, and the live-and-let-live, “Whatever, dude,” attitude of the kids.  True: teenagers are no strangers to hate speech and resentment, and “Go back to Africa!” has been scrawled on the girl’s room wall.  But for the most part, this generation has done a good job of reacting to each other with curiosity and getting on with the business of life.

“They eat goat, I eat bacon,” one boy said to me, shrugging.  He was looking forward to being invited to a post-Ramadan celebration known as Eid, hosted by one of his team members.  The food, he assured me, would be great.  Sambusas in particular.

Maybe it’s because they eat in the same school cafeteria every day, while in the adult world we have to arrange formal cultural events to break bread with strangers.  Maybe it’s because as adults we are segregated not only by neighborhood, but by our educational backgrounds and jobs and our routines and our places of worship, while kids in school walk the same hallways and change in the same locker room and wear the same team jerseys. 

They actually get to know each other.  And that’s when the angry rhetoric begins to sound stupid and beside the point.

Ten years ago, Larry Raymond’s letter to the editor, urging the Somalis to stave off further immigration, brought national media attention crashing down on this community and prompted the biggest police action in the state’s history when the Many and One Coalition held a massive rally the same day as the World Church of the Creator.  I remember that bitterly cold afternoon in January:  all those cops on hand “just in case,” but there was no violence.  It was a good day for Maine.

Today, despite Mayor Macdonald’s seemingly repeated efforts to out-do his predecessor, the controversy seems to have fizzled and the competing headline is the trajectory of this public high school soccer team. 

Go Blue Devils.

Out of Nowhere, a young adult novel set in Maine about the friendship that develops between a Somali boy and a white boy who play on the same high school soccer team, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House, in February 2013.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Saying Good-bye and a Poem for a Monday

I’ve had the most amazing conversations lately with, of all people, my mother.

The fact that I speak with my mother is nothing unusual: we’re on good terms, and both tend to be chatty. It’s the nature of the communication that’s extraordinary. One of us … or perhaps both, I can’t tell … has crossed the Rubicon, so to speak, and I find myself in a whole new place with her.  It’s an unexpected joy, and comes at just the right time.

See, my husband and I have just “launched” our youngest child.  Our daughter joined her brother in the ranks of young adults living away from home and attending college, and we are now so-called Empty Nesters.  This has come with the usual amount of flurried activity and stress and angst and unexpected expenditures and bittersweet moments and long hugs … followed by arrival in the now-quiet house where the impatient dog continues to make demands.

Nothing about this transition surprised me, until I called Mom.  Granted, she tends to say surprising things.  Annoying things, actually.  Comments which, in the past have, shall we say, “rubbed me the wrong way.”  For example, when my son was a little guy I remember confessing some ongoing worry I had about him, and after she was done patiently listening to me she summed up the conversation with, “Yup. Kids.  It’s a lifetime sentence.”

Or, how about when that same little boy got his license, and I called her the first time he pulled out of the driveway and drove off, alone.  “I know,” she said.  “I haven’t slept a wink since you got your license.”  “Mom, I’m a 50-year old woman,” I exclaimed, to which she shot back, “Let me tell you: it’s a long time to go without a good night’s sleep.”

Sometimes I ask myself why I continue to telephone my mother at my most vulnerable moments, but what I realize is that the apple has not fallen very far from the tree and, like her, I am a consummate worrier.  Not a “helicopter” parent, mind you.  I’m truly happy to see them pack their bags and take off and live their lives:  I remember that stage myself, and it’s so necessary and exciting and wonderful.  But I worry about safety.  Tractor trailers on I-84 while he’s driving to college. Strangers lurking in dark corners while she’s walking back to her dorm late at night. When they are three years old and holding your hand crossing the street, you can put your body between them and the oncoming vehicle … but not anymore.

Which is something I now share with my mother.  For some reason a huge gulf has closed between us, and I find myself toe-to-toe with a fellow parent who is practicing the art of “letting go and letting God.”  Ironically, I’ve caught up with her, and now we both have adult children who live far from us.  Suddenly, her wry observations about children are rather amusing, and wise, so when we deposited our daughter at college this past week, Mom was my first call.

“Just wait,” she said, after I filled her ear with descriptions of every shade of emotion I had experienced.  “You think it’s hard leaving your kids?  Try leaving your grandkids. You’ll love them like your own, but then you have to leave them with these people who don’t know what they’re doing!”

As the incompetent implicated by that remark I suppose I should have been irritated … but instead I found myself laughing out loud at a moment when I might otherwise have been crying.  And I marveled at my mother’s gift for redirecting me and putting things in perspective.

In all honesty, we didn’t cry as we drove away from our daughter’s college last week, but this poem got me. 

Waving Good-Bye
By Gerald Stern

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Poem for a Monday: Normal

Two weeks ago our town held "Cuba Week," a wonderful exploration of Cuban culture and celebration of the sister city relationship we have with Trinidad, Cuba.  I'll confess that in the past most of my "Cuba Week" participation has been limited to eating black beans and rice at Henry and Marty's Restaurant, but this year I found myself salsa dancing with friends to the rhythms of a great band, and also spent a fine afternoon at The Little Dog Coffee Shop on Maine Street, where the oh-so-irreverent Gary Lawless read Cuban poetry.

This poem is from an out-of-print collection, which you probably couldn't sell in the United States even if it were still in print.  Gary's copy is profoundly dog-eared and yellow, and flaps open loosely to his favorite poems:  a well loved book.  A Velveteen Rabbit of a book.

This poem he read, translated from Spanish, received the loudest applause from the audience.  It made me wish I could dog-whistle.  You know, two fingers in the mouth, eardrum piercing whistle?  It was a good poem for me to hear on that particular day.

How Lucky They Are, The Normal Ones
by Roberto Fernandez Retamar (b. 1930)
(for Antonia Eiriz)
How lucky they are, the normal ones, those peculiar creatures:
The ones who didn't have a crazy mother, a drunk for a father, a delinquent son,
A house nowhere at all, an unknown disease - 
The ones who've worn all the seventeen smiling faces and more,
The ones stuffed with shoes, the cute ones,
The Rin-tin-tins & their secretaries, the ones who "Sure, why not?" this way,
The ones who make money & are loved up to the hilt,
The flautists accompanied by mice,
The hucksters & their clientele,
The gentlemen just a touch superhuman,
The men dressed in thunder & the women dressed in lightning,
The delicate ones, the prudent ones, the ones with taste.
The courteous ones, the sweet ones, the edibles & potables,
How lucky they are, birds & manure
& stones.

Just let them keep out of the way of the others, the ones who make
Worlds & dreams, illusions
& symphonies, words that tear us down
& rebuild us, crazier than their mothers, drunker
Than their fathers, worse delinquents than their sons,
More eaten at by loves more corrosive:
Let them leave these their stations in hell, & forget it.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Poem for a Monday and a Crush

I have a new "poet crush":  Wesley NcNair, the poet laureate of Maine.  Be still my beating literary heart ... he's wonderful ... !

Even the spouse agreed.  I know, that sounds strange, but hey, it's a literary crush. We've just wrapped up Poem in Your Pocket week in Brunswick (all sorts of fun poetry events, culminating with McNair speaking/reading at the local library on Friday night) and I corralled a small group of friends to come with, including the spouse, who usually has no energy for socialization on Friday nights. When he learned poetry and dinner out with friends was on tap for the evening, he growled from the grossfaterstuhl (that's what we call his Big Daddy Chair, in faux German):

"Oh god.  What sort of poetry are you dragging me to hear??"

I took umbrage with the verb "dragging," and accused him of all sorts of high crimes, including becoming a curmudgeon.  Which, it turns out, is a badge he wears with pride. 

Anyhow, off we went (the spouse grumbles, but usually comes along for the ride) and we were treated to a magical evening.  I'm one of those who doesn't "get" the sorts of literary highbrow poems published in places like The New Yorker, where it feels like the poet is speaking, in code, to three of his closest friends who  know the code.  So McNair's poetry, which is so relatable, which had us all laughing out loud, or wiping our eyes, or breathing a collective "Ahhh," at the end, was simply wonderful.

Here's one from his latest collection, Lovers of the Lost, published by David R. Godine press. The cover art (above) is Edward Hopper's Cape Cod Morning. As someone who spends a lot of time weighing the various attributes of particular words, I loved this rumination on a common pronoun. (note: The spouse purchased this volume and had it signed following the reading: from curmudgeon to convert in one night.)


Don't fall for it.
Don't scratch it.
Don't spoil it for everyone else.
Don't take it for granted.

It's not anything to play with.
It's not the end of the world.
It's not brain surgery.
That's not it.

I used to have cravings for it.
It's the last thing I need right now.
I wish it would just go away.
I can't take it anymore.

Why is it so important to you?
Why did you laugh about it?
Why can't you just be quiet about it?
Is it all about you?

It's all sticky.
It's giving me the creeps.
It's worse than I thought.
You're getting it all over yourself.

This is no place for it.
There's no excuse for it.
Take it outside.
Get over it.

Wesley McNair's volumes of poetry include seven collections and two limited editions. He has also published books of prose and anthologies of Maine writing. A recipient of Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, he has received two NEA grants and has twice been awarded Rockefeller fellowships for creative work at the Bellagio Center in Italy. His honors in poetry include the Theodore Roethke Prize, the Eunice Tietjens Prize, the Jane Kenyon award, and the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal. In 2006 he was awarded a United States Artists Fellowship for poetry. He lives with his wife, Diane, in Mercer, Maine.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Follow on a Friday: Your Heart

I remember my first encounter with Kit Smith.

I call it an “encounter” because he was three years old, and you don’t really meet a three-year old.  Especially not this one.  I had escaped from my own young children for a blessed hour of peace at a local coffee shop where I often went to get some writing done. Halfway into my first cup of strong coffee, I realized I couldn’t string together one coherent thought. That was because there was a three-year old under a nearby table, crashing giant legos and bellowing in exuberant play … while his parents, enjoying their own coffee and crumpets, blithely ignored him.  I waited for the parents to do, say, something, to their tiny terror, but … no.  They obviously didn’t think there was anything unusual about this din.

They were used to it.

Two decades later, I’ve learned that extraordinary children are often not politely quiet. They don’t color in the lines. They say outrageous things at inappropriate times.  They are hard to raise. Sometimes they crash and burn and all we can do as parents is pray that they’ll emerge, phoenix-like and wiser, from the lessons they’ve learned.  I’ve noticed that those that do, that pull off merging their amazing talents with common sense and discipline, can realize their dreams.

They live a Plan A life.  The first choice, the dream life.  Not the backup plan: the job you’d be willing to live with and pay the mortgage with.

Plan A can be pretty much anything, but what all Plan A’s have in common is the odds.  Low, practially impossible odds of success.  Like, becoming a professional actor.  Publishing a novel.  Singing with the New York Metropolitan opera. Competing in the Olympics.

Or becoming a professional athlete.  Like Kit. Who recently learned he’s made the cut to play lacrosse with the Boston Cannons.  He’ll suit up for his first game tomorrow and I hear a fan club’s worth of folks from our little town in Maine are heading to Beantown to cheer him on:

Granted, Kit has talent, but so do many people who don’t achieve their Plan A dreams.  So what’s the difference between those who “make it” and those who don’t?  Yes, yes, I know, hard work, determination, faith in yourself … we’ve heard it all before.

I had reason recently to “poll” a few of my writer friends about this topic, and novelist Alison McGhee said it best.  I knew Alison back when we were in the same creative writing seminar in college.  Since then, she’s published some 20 books, and achieved a wonderfully satisfying career.  Besides emphasizing the importance of always having enough income to pay for health insurance, here’s what she said:

I myself never had a Plan B. I wanted only to be a writer, and a creative writer, not a journalist or academic. … I wanted to write short stories and poems and novels. So I have never had a real job, really, in my life, besides part-time teaching (health insurance!) Writing those novels and poems always, always was the priority, and I organized my schedule around it from day one. When my kids were born I got up at 4 a.m. so as to get the writing done before they woke up.  Many, many sleepless years.

Eventually, 20+ years down the road, I was/am living the life I always wanted to live. There were many years, decades, when I worked in solitude and without any sort of public affirmation (e.g., 13 years of writing every day before I sold a novel, mostly because it took me a long time to become a good writer). It’s very scary for me, as a mother and as a caretaking sort of human being, to advise anyone to put all their eggs into one basket and never veer from a certain path. But that’s how I did it.

Yes.  It’s as simple, and as terrifying, as that:  No Plan B.  No backup.  No other vision for yourself.  You live Plan A because it’s who you are, and you’re willing to make little or no money doing it, endure long years without outside affirmation, and resist pressure from people who suggest you get a “real” job. Or go to law school.

Like my childhood friend, David, the kid who always had the lead in the school musicals. He was in a lot of denial about himself for a while and told everyone he was going to law school.  At some point he had a reckoning and threw caution to the wind and has gone on to have a wonderful career as an opera singer.  It’s not an easy life: he’s had to find other work between “gigs,” and he travels a lot. But one year, when he was performing with the New York Metropolitan’s traveling company, I got to hear him sing, and I wept.  He was fabulous, this boy I used to know.  Living his Plan A life.

And now there’s Kit.  The Tiny Terror, not so tiny anymore, hurling lacrosse balls like miniature cannons into a goal.  Plan A life.

A few weeks ago another boy I used to know (my 20-year old son) decided to make a few Plan A plans of his own, and auditioned to attend an acting conservatory in London in the fall.  He described the audition itself as surreal:  the folks he performed for registered no response, just stared blankly and scribbled notes as he sang and strutted his stuff in a classroom.  He had no clue what they thought, or how he did, which is unsettling for a stage actor who feeds off the energy from a live audience.

“Whatever,” he told me.  “I didn’t hold back. And in my written statement, I just said I don’t want to be an actor.  I will act.  Anywhere, for whatever money, it doesn’t matter.  I absolutely will do this.”

I didn’t see his audition, but right then I knew:  he got it. 

He’s headed to England in September.  Meanwhile, I’m calling Blue Cross this afternoon to make sure our policy covers him while he’s abroad.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Poem for a Monday: Real Work

At some point we start to learn, really learn, from our children.  I don’t know when it begins, or when it began, for me, but my teenage daughter teaches me every day.

This Monday began her spring break week.  It’s her senior year in high school, and while she’s got some pretty big fun planned for the end of the week, she didn’t have many plans for the beginning.  Unbeknownst to me, she called our local food bank and scheduled volunteer hours for herself. 

She chops vegetables, sorts donations, cooks, cleans, and serves food to the clients who come for a meal and free groceries each day.  She’s been doing this all year, and when I asked her why she chose to spend her spring break this way, she shrugged and said, “I love working there.  It’s so real.”

It made me think of this Marge Piercy poem, which I’ve loved for a long time.  Never, over all the years that I’ve turned to it, did I imagine this would be my daughter.  But, there you have it.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy is the author of 17 novels, 18 volumes of poetry, a memoir, articles, essays, and criticism.  She was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1936 and currently lives on Cape Cod.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Poem for a Monday

Happy National Poetry month! I've been having Google problems lately (grrrr .... ) so this blog is late and it's already nine days into National Poetry Month. Ah well.

In honor of a MONTH of poetry I wanted to call attention to a wonderful initiative by Maine Poet Laureate, Wesley McNair: Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry.

Each week a poem by a Maine poet is published in two dozen newspapers across the state.
My local paper doesn't participate in this (grrrr .....) but the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance archives all the selected poems, which you can check out here:


So, thank you, Wesley McNair, yay for the MWPA, and yay for National Poetry Month!

A few weeks ago I posted on this blog a poem called Transportation by Maine poet Kristen Lindquist. Last week Garrison Keillor read it on The Writer's Almanac, and this week, as I was looking for a Monday poem, I came across this one by Billy Collins. Like Kristen's, it's set in an airport, where the narrator feels a sort of communion with his fellow travelers.


At the gate, I sit in a row of blue seats
with the possible company of my death,
this sprawling miscellany of people -
carry-on bags and paperbacks -

that could be gathered in a flash
into a band of pilgrims on the last open road.
Not that I think
if our plane crumpled into a mountain

we would all ascend together,
holding hands like a ring of skydivers,
into a sudden gasp of brightness,
or that there would be some common place

for us to reunite to jubilize the moment,
some spaceless, pillarless Greece
where we could, at the count of three,
toss our ashes into the sunny air.

It's just that the way that man has his briefcase
so carefully arranged,
the way that girl is cooling her tea,
and the flow of the comb that woman

passes through her daughter's hair ...
and when you consider the altitude,
the secret parts of the engines,
and all the hard water and the deep canyons below ...

well, I just think it would be good if one of us
maybe stood up and said a few words,
or, so as not to involve the police,
at least quietly wrote something down.

Billy Collins served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003 and Poet Laureate of New York State from 2004 to 2006.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Follow on a Friday: The Neurotic Parent

We recently had a ceremonial burning at our house. In the backyard, one of those fire dishes: into it we dumped Fiske's and Barron's. US News and World Report's Guide to Colleges. Stacks upon stacks of glossy brochures featuring picturesque campuses across the country. Yeah, I guess we could have recycled all that paper, but it felt good ... it felt necessary ... to burn it.

Because our last and youngest child, a senior in high school, has been accepted to college and is bound to leave the nest come September. And all of us in our family can now breathe a collective sigh of relief as we leave the oh-so-fraught-and-stressful world of college admissions behind.

If a backyard fire isn't in your cards, you might want to check out this book by J.D. Rothman. The Neurotic Parent's Guide to College Admissions, and this author's blog, have provided me with a few of the best laughs I've had in a long time. It's a much-needed antidote to the INSANITY which surrounds the current college admissions process ... and Rothman should be applauded for her honesty and self-deprecating sense of humor.

She's been on a book tour recently (The Neurotic Parents Guide only just launched) and shared with me a few answers to questions about her work and her experience as a college-touring parent:

The Neurotic Parent started as a blog. Did you plan from the beginning to write a book about your experiences as a helicopter mom?

I never thought of myself as a helicopter mom. In fact, I was usually the one who forgot to pick up the entire carpool. And I have still never checked my kids’ homework. But when my son was a junior, I discovered the website CollegeConfidential, where most kids who post have invented an antibiotic by the age of 15. That convinced me that a little hovering was in order, and when one of the soccer moms heard that we had planned an eight-state college tour, she encouraged me to blog. But I never imagined that the blog would become a book…or even that anyone would read it at all. It went viral on the day I posted about the ugly bedspreads at Cornell’s hotel school.

How did you find the time, given your demanding day job as an Emmy-award winning writer and lyricist for children’s programs?

Blogging is actually a fantastic form of procrastination – once you figure out how to insert hyperlinks, you get to enjoy the process of writing – no deadlines, no page one rewrites, no wacky network executives giving notes. It does cut into my online Scrabble time though.

How much of the book is based on real-life experiences?

Everything about my obsession with linens for the college dorm is 100% true. Other parts might be somewhat embellished.

You’re a Brooklyn native who now lives in Santa Monica. Do you think the process differs from one coast to the other? And in between?

Luckily, as far as I know, Kumon for preschoolers does not yet exist here. But we do have plenty of community service. Just about every high school student I know has founded an orphanage in Fiji.

Who’s more neurotic: New Yorkers or Angelinos?

A recent task force has determined that a city’s level of neurosis is proportionate to a) the percentage of kids who wear hoodies to alumni interviews and b) the cost of the SAT and ACT tutors. New York kids all own a presentable outfit. And top tutors there are $1200 per session, while L.A’s are a mere $990, so that gives New York the edge in neurosis.

Both of your sons are in the book (as CJ, Cerebral Jock, and GC, Good Conversationalist). How do they feel about being discussed publicly?

CJ is unconcerned about all the anecdotes because like most kids, he doesn’t read, and hasn’t yet gotten through the blog or the book. But GC went to a journalism camp last summer, then poured over the galleys, instructing me to remove all references to him and his friends. For that reason, I focused mostly on the meals during his college tour, rather than his adverse reactions to smug tour guides we met on the trip.

What is the single craziest thing you encountered while researching the book?

Other than the factoid that George W. Bush had a higher SAT score than Bill Clinton, the most mind-blowing discovery was about the college prep centers in China...prep for American colleges, that is. One company will market, brand and package your child for $15,000. They create fake awards, change kids’ grades and even write their essays, making sure to leave in a few spelling errors so they’ll look authentic.

What sanity-preserving advice do you have for parents who have teens going through the admissions process?

Love thy safety. Help your kids find a school they’ll be happy to attend that will definitely admit them - even if their essay is about killing cats.

You’ve become quite an admissions expert. What are your Top Ten Admissions Tips?!

1. Lots of Mozart and flash cards in utero.
2. Drive over the border to Mexico to give birth.
3. Start your child in an unusual extracurricular, like organic kale farming or atom splitting, before preschool. Don’t even consider piano or T-ball!
4. Move to North Dakota or Montana before middle school (or just rent a trailer) so you can have a zip code from an under-represented state.
5. If your teen doesn’t mind getting up at 5:00am, and likes icy water, consider crew – a favorite sport of college recruiters.
6. If your teen hates a school because of the tour guide’s shoes, don’t force her to apply.
7. When colleges say they like to see an “upward trend” in grades, they’re not talking about going from C’s to B’s.
8. Have several extra T-183s around the house, so you don’t have to go calculator shopping the night before the SAT.
9. Don’t use the word “heretofore” in the essay – a dead giveaway that an adult helped….and please avoid the pronoun “we” throughout the process.
10. Make sure the development office is aware of your great uncle’s foundation.

Do you have plans for a follow-up project? Any hints on topics?

I doubt if I will find any humor in empty nesting, so instead I’m working on the Broadway musical version of the book. Or if I can make a deal for an edition in Mandarin, I won’t have to work again.

J.D. Rothman (The Neurotic Parent's Guide to College Admissions) is the blogger at The Neurotic Parent; her blog posts also appeared in I'm Going to College, Not You (St. Martin's Press). A New York native and Santa Monica resident, she is also an Emmy-winning screenwriter and lyricist specializing in children's literary adaptations. She has successfully guided two sons through the college admissions process, and they're still speaking to her.

Poem for a Monday: Happy Birthday, Robert Frost

When I was a 20-something student attending college in Vermont, Robert Frost wasn't just another poet on the syllabus. The "road not taken" guy. JFK's inaugural poet.

No, he was a demigod. We made pilgrimmages to his cabin in the woods, lounging about on the grass and taking turns reading aloud to each other. Birches. Mending Wall. Maple. Those were the poems I remember loving and rereading when I was young. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening was also a great favorite, especially when sung to the tune of "Hernando's Hideaway."

Thirty years later, I choose different Frost poems. The Draft Horse really spoke to me not long ago, but I've moved past that now, thank goodness. I still love Directive. And I'll confess that when I was 20 I didn't appreciate The Oven Bird; now it's a favorite.

So today, in honor of Robert Frost's birthday (March 26, 1874) I'm reading Hyla Brook. And wondering at the miracle that it was my daughter who reminded me that today is the poet's birthday. She'll be heading to that same mountain in Vermont come fall, to discover her own favorite poems.

Hyla Brook

By June our brook's run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh bells in a ghost of snow) -
Or flourished and come up in jewelweed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent,
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat -
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.

Robert Frost 1874-1963

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Follow on a Friday: Kate Egan

There must be something in the water in my town (Brunswick, Maine) because you can’t throw a stick without hitting a writer. Seriously, there are sooooo many writers in this town! And I’m lucky to know a few of the very coolest … including Kate Egan, who, in addition to being a prolific writer (she’s authored about 50 books for kids) is the editor of The Hunger Games.

Yes. Imagine it: Kate worked directly with author Suzanne Collins and was on hand, advising and commenting, as Suzanne revised and improved her drafts of The Hunger Games. Then, when the book was turned into a film, Kate was hired to author The Hunger Games: Official Illustrated Movie Companion and The World of the Hunger Games, which has just made the bestsellers list!

Hard to imagine that she’s also a mom in sleepy Brunswick … but being a mom has led to further creative endeavors, because her first picture book, Kate and Nate are Running Late! (a humorous tale about getting ready for school in the morning) is due out soon.

I had a chance to ask Kate a few questions about her work and, of course, the movie:

You’ve just returned from The Hunger Games premiere! What was that like?

The premiere was just amazing. I don't know how else to put it! It was the first time I'd seen Hunger Games fans up close, really seen their dedication to the books and the characters, really felt their excitement. The night before the movie, there were hundreds of kids camped outside the theater, hoping to get the handful of free tickets that would be available for them. They were curled up in sleeping bags, reading battered copies of the books, wearing t-shirts declaring their dedication to Peeta or to Gale. The Hunger Games logo kept coming up on giant video screens around the theater, flaming mockingjays everywhere... it was bigger than anything I'd imagined. It was astonishing to see the throngs of people waiting to see the stars next day. Just like in the movies! After seeing the film, I know that I will always picture Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss now. She's that good.

How did you feel the filmmakers did creating Panem?

Because I wrote the Official Illustrated Movie Companion (a New York Times bestseller!) I'd had an advance peek at many of the scenes. But seeing still photographs was very different from seeing it all come to life on screen. I was really moved by the way District 12 is portrayed in the movie. It is desperately poor, but it's Katniss's home, and it is wrenching to see her leave it. The Capitol scenes are dazzling and weird, which I mean in the best way. Every detail shows that the place is twisted and baffling. Like Katniss, you don't want to spend too much time there.

What’s it like to work with Suzanne Collins?

I'd say that my job is to ask Suzanne questions, to probe for details that might be in her head but haven't yet made it onto the page. She is a phenomenal writer, and sometimes she pushes back on editorial suggestions, and I trust her judgment. I have learned an enormous amount about writing from her. And Suzanne and I worked very closely with Scholastic's David Levithan on the books. He is a phenomenal writer and editor himself.

Tell us about your new picture book.

It's my first original book -- the first that wasn't assigned to me as a writer for hire. It took me a while to make that leap! It's a picture book called Kate and Nate Are Running Late, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (an artist my kids have grown up loving). It's a funny story about a family scrambling to get out the door in the morning. There will be many back-to-school books out there this fall, but this one shows what getting ready for school is REALLY like. At least at my house...

Kate Egan has worked in publishing for almost twenty years, both as an editor and a writer. The first book she edited was 99 1/2 Animal Jokes, Riddles and Nonsense (which still makes her laugh), and the first book she wrote was Pony Party (featuring My Little Pony dolls at a celebration). More recently, she has edited the novels in the Hunger Games trilogy, and her first picture book, Kate and Nate Are Running Late!, will be published this fall by Feiwel and Friends. Kate lives in Brunswick, Maine, with her husband, two kids, and two cats.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Poem for a Monday

Poems surprise me with unexpected details. A few carefully chosen words can evoke an entire scene in my imagination.

"The Catfish" by Matthew Beacom does this so beautifully.

The Connecticut Review awarded "The Catfish" the Leo Connellan Prize, and published it in their Spring 2010 issue.

note: The artwork featured here, "Pisces," is by fiber artist Catherine Worthington of Brunswick, Maine. http://www.earthtonesandfishbonesart.com/

The Catfish

After Sunday Mass, with nothing
in my stomach but the Eucharist
and a couple crackers, we went
up the new highway to see the dam
across the Missouri at Gavin’s Point.
Dad drove the ten of us in the red
Ford wagon, the one that had a golden
letter B on the door before we bought it,
second hand, from Braunger’s Meats.
I had to sit between Mom and Dad,
since I was the smallest and hadn’t
been good in church that morning
(I hid under the pew during the sermon.)
We drove along the top of the dam.
A pile of earth and chalk and concrete,
it was as wide as a country road
and almost two miles long. Bluffs rose
high above the water, and power
lines from the electric dynamos hung
above low, grassy hills dried brown.
The dam stopped the river to make
a lake that drowned 30,000 acres.
I’d never seen so much water before.
We took a tour of the turbine room
and aquarium. There was a glass wall
with the lake behind it, and in the water
I saw a catfish as big as a man looking
at me—its whiskers as long as my arm.
I couldn’t speak; I could hear nothing;
and darkness constricted around me
like a camera’s aperture shutting.
I fell—like Jonah swallowed by the whale.

Matthew Beacom was born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, and has lived in Connecticut with his wife and children for over 20 years. He is a part-time student in the creative writing MFA program at Southern Connecticut State University and is employed as the Head of Technical Services at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Follow on a Friday: Donna Gephart

I first met author Donna Gephart at a Random House "It's a First" reception in Philadelphia. Both of us had debut novels coming out that spring, and our publisher had hosted a lovely party during the ALA convention to introduce several of us new authors to each other, agents, staff, etc.

It was definitely an opportunity for pretention: but Donna is one of those refreshingly real, down-to-earth women you like right off the bat. Her novels reflect her genuine kindness and humor, and based on their runaway success, it's pretty clear that kids love them!

OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN is her latest middle grade novel, and just launched this week. Her other books include AS IF BEING 12-3/4 ISN'T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT!, which won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award and a Florida State Book Award, and HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL, which received starred reviews from both Kirkus and School Library Journal.

I checked in with Donna this week (launch week!) and she graciously answered a few of my questions about OLIVIA:

How did the idea for OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN come about, and are you by any chance a JEOPARDY! fan?

My dad, 84, is a huge Jeopardy! fan. It's so much fun to watch the show with him because he yells the answers at the TV. I wrote Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen as part of the National Novel Writing Month initiative, and finished the book in 29 days. It took months, however, to revise it. The title came to me and the rest flowed from there.

Your middle grade books are laugh-out-loud funny. Did you intentionally pursue writing humor for children, or did it just ... happen?

Thank you. That's just naturally how I write, how I talk, etc. Life has so many bumps, I figure we should get in all the laughs we can when we can.

Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?

I am working on a new funny middle grade novel that I'm super excited about, but I can't share details this early in the process. Again, it began with the title and mushroomed from there. I love when that happens!

I'll confess, I'm so impressed that Ken Jennings of JEOPARDY! fame "blurbed" the back of your book! How did that happen and, more importantly, have you met him?

I sent him a copy of my book, autographed to him. The character in my book is a huge fan of his (page 123). Ken Jennings has been so generous to not only blurb my book, but to endorse it on his blog. I haven't met him . . . yet. But when I do, he can expect a great big THANK YOU from me (and Olivia)!

Donna Gephart's new book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, came into the world Tuesday with a starred Kirkus review and an endorsement from Jeopardy! champ, Ken Jennings. To learn more, visit Donna at http://www.donnagephart.com/

Monday, March 12, 2012

Poem for a Monday

I love poetry. Love love love it. Volumes of poems teeter dangerously on my bedside table. I purchase mini-books of poems to carry in my shoulder bag so I'll have a few to read whenever I'm waiting on line somewhere. Old poems, contemp poems, laugh-out-loud poems and devastatingly dark poems (think: Robert Frost's "The Draft Horse." Yeah, even that one.) I can't get enough.

So I guess it's one of the tragedies of my writing life that I'm an AWFUL poet. Really, no false modesty here: my poems are abysmal. Unless you count limericks (which I don't, even though I can spin out any number of limericks on demand; a strange but useless gift) I am poetically-challenged.

Combine my enthusiasm with my lack of talent and you have: Poems for a Monday. Something new I plan for my blog. Every Monday (hopefully every Monday) I'll post a poem here with a little something about the extremely talented person who wrote it.

So here it is, the inaugural Poem for a Monday: Kristen Lindquist's "Transportation," from her collection of the same title, published by Megunticook Press, cover art by Eric Hopkins.


Everyone in O'Hare is happy today.
Sun shines benevolently
onto glorious packaged snack foods
and racks of Bulls t-shirts.
My plane was twenty minutes early.
Even before I descend into the trippy light show
of the walkway between terminals,
I am ecstatic. I can't stop smiling.
On my flight we saw Niagara Falls
and Middle America green and gold below.
Passengers thanked the pilot for his smooth landing
with such gratitude that I too
thanked him, with sudden and wholehearted sincerity.
A group of schoolchildren passes on the escalator,
and I want to ask where they're going.
Tell me your story, I want to say.
This is life in motion.
A young couple embraces tearfully at a gate;
she's leaving, he's not.
How can I bring this new self back to you, intact?
He yells to her departing back,
"Hey, I like the way you move!"
Any kind of love seems possible.
We walk through this light together.
So what if it's an airport?
So what if it won't last?

Kristen Lindquist lives with her husband Paul in her hometown of Camden, Maine, where she works as development director for Coastal Mountains Land Trust. She received her MFA from the University of Oregon. Her poetry and other writings have appeared in Down East Magazine, the Maine Times, and the Bangor Daily News, as well as various literary journals and anthologies. Her chapbook Invocation to the Birds was published in 2001 by Oyster River Press. An avid birder, she writes a monthly natural history column for the Herald Gazette.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Never Done

Last week I received fabulous news: my editor is happy with my latest revisions to the manuscript-in-progress, considers it “accepted” and is sending it off to copyediting, which means another pair of editorial eyes will look it over for grammar/typos/inconsistencies, etc. So while it’s not completely finished, it’s mostly finished. Thoughts have turned to covers, acknowledgements, book jacket copy … all the parts that spell: Done.

Prosecco was poured, cheers ensued, dancing about the office happened (which was very confusing to the dog) and this morning … I’m channeling Anne Bradstreet.

Here’s the thing: it’s never really done. Even when I spy one of my books on the shelves in a bookstore, I’m tempted to leaf through it with a pencil in hand and change a word or two. Or cross out an entire chapter. Or add an entire chapter.

And this latest book, in particular, unsettles me. I’m so not sure I’ve got it “right,” and when I pass it off to a reader I’m more anxious than usual. It’s as if I’ve sent my child out into a winter storm dressed only in her pajamas. I took some risks in this book. It scares me. I suspect it will never be ready.

Which is where the poet, Anne Bradstreet, comes in. Amazingly, this woman born in Northampton, England in 1612, who sailed with her husband and other Puritans on the Arabella in the 1630s and lived out the rest of her life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, tapped me on the shoulder this morning and said, “I know, right?”

Mother of eight, survivor of smallpox, a “Pilgrim,” to boot, she was also a writer, and one of her friends got hold of her poems and bundled them off to England, where, unbeknownst to her, they were published. She wasn’t … pleased. She felt they weren’t ready. They needed more work. And she wrote this poem about the experience of seeing her unreadied child exposed:

The Author to Her Book

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,

Who after birth did'st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i' th' house I find.
In this array, 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

I know, right?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Getting to Whoa

A dear friend just accomplished a remarkable thing. She finished writing her dissertation, an original, hundreds-of-pages long scholarly paper. It’s a work that’s taken more than two decades to complete, and an effort that spanned multiple jobs, the births of three children, the care of aged and ailing family members, and all the rest life throws at you.

When she was finally done and typed that last word (at least, I imagine her typing some last words … I need to ask her, did she actually write “The End”?) she posted on Facebook: Whoa.

Yes. That’s it. That’s the feeling and that’s the moment. Whoa.

It’s completely personal and solitary and surprising and exhilarating. The whoa, when you’ve given your last bit of effort to some creative endeavor, and finally seen it through to completion. It’s done, it represents the best you can do, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s published or well reviewed or applauded by anyone. It is a perfect thing in that moment, like reaching the top of K2 or holding a newborn. You stare down from a dizzying height and feel: whoa.

Getting to whoa is so hard. It’s not just the hours and the actual work you have to put in. It’s the distractions, all the Life that keep popping up and keeping you away from the desk or the studio. It’s the self doubt (“Who am I kidding? I can’t write/paint/sing/dance!") and it’s the mortgage (“I need a real job; screw the novel I’m going to law school.”) and it’s the nagging Why? that kills the whoa.

Why am I bothering to do this? Especially on days when the work doesn’t go well and I have nothing to show for it, wouldn’t I have been better off vacuuming the car? Tangible results and all that?

It takes a lot of courage to get to whoa, and to my friend I say: Yay for you! You are amazing.

But she’s not the only one.

I have a father who, at age 75, has finally given himself leave to pick up a paintbrush and create. He’s always loved art and he’s always had a gift, but he always had a million distractions and other responsibilities. Still, he never let go of his dream to paint, and these days, not for profit or praise but for himself, because he loves it, he creates wonderful landscapes. The painting at the beginning of this post is one of his.

I look at it and think: whoa.