Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jabber Reads (sort of...)

Elissa:  So, I understand you and your little brother have been reading some books this summer that are about brothers and sisters.  So far, what books have you read?

Jabber:  Two books.  One book is called Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and the other book is called Beezus and Ramona.

Elissa:  Did you like the books?

Jabber:  Kind of and kind of not.

Elissa:  So...you have mixed feelings about the books.  Well, I always like to start with talking about what I like about books, so can you tell me something that you enjoyed about reading these two books?  What were your favorite parts?

Jabber:  I liked it when Beezus finally got her cake for her birthday.  But I didn't like it when Ramona destroyed the first two cakes because I don't like things getting destroyed.  I felt glad that I wasn't Beezus.

Elissa:  Did it remind you of your brother?

Jabber:  It reminded me of my model of a car that my dad bought me.  Monkey banged it on the floor, and then he took off the wheels on purpose, and then he took out the axles and lost them, and cracked the model.  And all of that was on purpose.

Elissa:  When you were reading these books about little brothers and sisters, did they remind you of you and your brother?

Jabber:  Fudge sort of reminds me of Monkey, and I feel sort of like Peter because sometimes I want to leave because my brother is about to kill me here.  He really is.  Did you know that Monkey is crazy just like Fudge is?  When Fudge pretended to be a dog and eats under the table, that's just like us.  Except I like eating under the table, too.

Elissa:  Anything else that you liked about the books that you want to mention?

Jabber:  I really liked the party at the Quimby's because all the kids were jumping up and down and they did a parade around the house, and I really liked that.

Elissa:  Earlier you said you kind of liked them and kind of not.  Why would you say kind of not?

Jabber:  Well, there are scary parts.

Elissa:  Scary, how?

Jabber:  I get really scared when they get into trouble.  Like OH I remember one of the really scary parts!  When Ramona called all those people over!  I'm so worried that she's going to get into trouble.  I also get scared when Fudge and Peter get into trouble.

Elissa:  Do you get into trouble like that?

Jabber:  Sometimes, but my mom and dad don't give out real spankings.  Probably the biggest trouble I've ever gotten into was when I pulled my brother out of the chair by his legs.  Remember that?  He hit his head on the floor and cried.  It sounds like something Peter might do because Fudge broke something of his.

Elissa:  What's your favorite part of listening to these stories with your brother?

Jabber:  I use my ears and I see like a movie in my head.  Sometimes it's a good movie, and sometimes it's a bad movie.  And it goes as long as someone's reading.  I like listening to Mama read to me, and I never want to stop.  Sometimes I pretend to be Fudge or Peter or Beezus or Ramona.

Elissa:  Who's your favorite character to pretend to be?

Jabber:  Fudge, because he's silly and he has a funny voice.  I know his voice because of your voice.  I like it when you read with different voices because I only know how to read with my reading voice, and you have a couple of reading voices, like Fudgie and Dad, and Peter, and Ramona, and Beezus, and you also have two Mom voices.

Elissa:  When I read, is my voice different from when we're just talking?

Jabber:  Sometimes they are, and sometimes they're the same.  We're reading Superfudge now, and I like it a lot!

Elissa:  Would you like to give each book a rating now, and a reason for your rating?

Jabber:  I giv Fuj 9 STARS becus I like that carecter. Ramona gets 6 STARS becus sumtimes she dusint get into trubel.

(ETA: Jabber has been really resistant to reading and writing practice, and this post is a way to trick him into doing a little of both.  Thanks for reading!)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

insert post here

Jabber: Mooo-oooom!  Monkey keeps saying our spaceship is a doghouse!

Monkey: It IS a doghouse!

Jabber: It's a spaceship!

Monkey: It's a space-doghouse!

Jabber:  (stomps feet, raises voice)  It is NOT a space-doghouse.  It has WINGS.  It's a spaceship!

Monkey: (draws on wing) I'm coloring this wing purple.

Jabber:  AHHHH!  (tears purple marker away from Monkey)  NOT LIKE THAT.  IT HAS TO MATCH.

Monkey:  No!  (grabs marker back, screeches shrilly)


Elissa (through the window, staring at editing notes with hopelessness):  Siiiiigh.  How about if you draw on the left wing, and Monkey draws on the right wing?  That seems fair.

Jabber (in a voice that can be heard several blocks away):  MOM!  WHAT GOOD IS A SPACESHIP IF IT'S NOT SYMMETRICAL?

I know, I know.  This happened like a week ago.  And yes, shortly after this I sent the kids away to their grandparents' houses for the weekend.  A weekend which unexpectedly stretched out into four days.  Yes, I missed them.  No, I didn't blog.  Yes, I've been ensconced in editing thoughts.  No, I haven't blogged.  Yes, I have read like five books in the last week.  No, I haven't blogged.  Yes, I began the tedious project of painting my back deck in the hot sun.  No, I did not get a tan on my legs. (Yes, I did get a smattering of freckles on my nose.) 

Yes, my editing has brought me to tears.  To driving my husband to yard work.  To throwing things.  To giving up.  To starting over.  To getting excited.  To tears again.  To inspiration.  To throwing things again.  To emailing my agent with my crazy showing.  To meeting an amazingly sweet and kind writer who shares my wonderful editor.  To appreciating all the wonderfully supportive people who make it possible for me to even contemplate doing any of this.  To tears again, these of a different sort.  And now to work.

(And no, I didn't blog.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Itchy McItchers

I promised a post about my office filing/shredding adventures, and I do try to fulfill my promises, at least when I have some suspicion that the person I made the promise to might remember, so here we go.  (I believe I also promised that it would be a "super exciting story", but I'm sure I meant it sarcastically.)

Anyway, I am prone to exaggeration, but I am telling the absolute, non-hyperbolic truth when I say that I had a stack three feet tall (okay, okay! 30 inches, maybe?) of paper that needed to be sorted through--bills (most of them paid), birthday cards, pay stubs, brochures from nice people who offered to paint our house for like thirteen thousand dollars but we said no thanks we can do it ourselves but really who are we kidding our house is never getting painted, and other assorted trash and treasure.

I have a filing cabinet.  Filing tubs.  A nifty paper shredder that claims to be able to shred those credit card offers with the fake plastic card inside but which I have managed to overload on numerous occasions.  What I don't have--a desire to fill my hours with drudgery--caused me to designate the area underneath the desk in the office as my "file pile" for the last, um, six or seven  years? 

So. Anyway. (Note: this post has escaped its point in a completely unbridled, parenthetical sort of way. *wrangles*) In the middle of this precarious archeological dig through my financial life, I discovered a large manilla envelope which contained a form rejection ("Dear Writer: Please excuse the form letter. While we do read all submissions...") and the manuscript of my first (and only) picture book, PRINCE ELLIOT AND THE INCREDIBLE ITCH. Look!  I wrote the page numbers on the bottom with a Sharpie marker! I also included a color photocopy of this, my sample illustration. 

On the one hand, this submission kind of embarrasses me--I cringe to think about how I sent all this weird stuff out to editors--I'm pretty sure my letter said something about how all my friends loved my story and how I wrote it for my son, I had a goofy email address, I had no idea how illustrators were chosen, etc.

But in addition to the reminder of how far I've come in terms of understanding publishing (and I'm still so clueless, believe me!), what this discovery really brought back to me is the memory of writing the story, the absolute frustration and agony and worry and shame and confusion that I felt for three months of my son's life when at age 9 weeks he suddenly erupted in what I thought at first was cradle cap...what progressed into a full-body itchy, oozing rash, a staph infection, elimination diets, compresses, bath oils, steroids, an immuno-suppressing cream that I used daily on my tiny child, only to find out several months later that it had been found to cause cancer--all of the chaos that came with the discovery that my little Jabber has a pretty severe case of eczema.

I did a search here and was shocked to see how little I've talked about Jabber's eczema.  Those first few months were basically awful: when both sides of Jabber's little jaws were covered in open sores that oozed and itched him so much that he couldn't sleep but spent hours whimpering and rubbing his face against his shoulders, when strangers looked at my precious baby and blurted out, "What's WRONG with him?", when David and I were only able to keep him from clawing his skin off in his sleep by placing him between us in the bed and holding his tiny arms all night long.  We almost didn't have any more children simply because we couldn't handle the thought of watching a child suffer like that again (luckily, Monkey did not have eczema like this!)

Just look at his eyes!  There's such a "Mama, why the hell is this happening to me?" look in them.  And I remember being up all night with him, calming and holding his hands and bathing his scalp and crying and he couldn't even nurse because he was trembling with itchers and around dawn, he fell asleep at last, twitching in the middle of the bed with his skin so angry and red, and I was crying and I couldn't sleep...and I went into the living room and wrote this story--the story of a little prince with an incredible itch that moves all around his body, who tries every remedy he can think of (and makes a huge mess in the process!) and finally the itch is cured when he hops into bed between his Mama and Daddy.  It's a sweet story--all silly rhymes and messy situations.

Prince Elliot fills up the tub to the top,
And begins adding soap to the water, Plop! Plop!
The bubbles pile up, up, up,
UP to the ceiling!
"I'll wash off this itch!  I'll scrub off this feeling!"

Now there's nothing a good bubble bath cannot cure,
Be it headaches or ulcers or warts, I am sure.
But this itch of Prince Elliot's really is trouble,
for it just keeps on itching him, bubble for bubble.

It tickles his tummy,
It bothers his back--
It rankles his ribs
Like an old burlap sack!

He rubs with a washcloth,
He scrubs with a sponge,
But the itch won't wash off
Like the regular grunge!
It seems like this would be a story that I would read to Jabber growing up, but the truth is, I can't.  As silly as the story is, I cry when I read it, and I think it would make him miserable, too.  Even now, six years after I finally discovered (despite directions to the contrary from a pediatrician and dermatologist) that eliminating dairy from my diet at least allowed the open sores to heal, Jabber still struggles with his eczema.  We still have sleepless nights.  We still try every new "cure" we hear about (this miracle lotion and that gut-flora method), and the itch still itches on.

Friday, July 9, 2010

"I better go through all my stuff..."

My family likes to hang onto stuff.  We went for an afternoon hike this week, and Monkey picked up these two large, flat river stones.  And wouldn't put them down when we left the riverbank and got back on the trail.

As we hiked farther and farther, and he went longer and longer without a nap, he began to whine and plead with us to carry him.  "I'm not going to carry you while you're holding those heavy rocks!" we told him.  But he wouldn't put them down, even as he was crying with fatigue, until we got to the next river stop and he forgot about them in the moment--and we neglected to remind him.

I admit to collecting wayyyyy more books and journals and art supplies and books than I know what to do with, but every so often it comes over me all in a rush, and I just want to drag everything out into the yard and set it on fire.

I remember how difficult it was to pack up my life and fit it into the trunk of my car (and sharing that with D. besides).  I remember having to choose--which books?  which journals?  could I manage without any paints?  Deciding how many pairs of shoes was necessary, and choosing the small objects that would make our tent into a home, like the mandala rug that belonged to D's parents.  It was a daunting task.

But today I woke up yearning for those days where every one of our possessions is in some way essential.  And also, where every one of our possessions has a specific place it can be tucked away when it's time to move on.

I wake up on a day like this, feeling weighted down by all this stuff.
So there it is--the results of a morning of feverish clawing through closets and drawers, shoving THE STUFF into bags and boxes.  All these old clothes and toys and diapers, goodbye!  And it's funny...it was just one room (I also made a significant dent in my office but that was more filing and shredding, a super exciting story for some other day, some other post...I promise!), but it made me feel so much better.  (Ask me if I still feel better one week from now when the stuff is still piled there by the door.  No, wait.  Don't.  We will ignore that pile if it is still there in one week.  We will pretend it never happened.)

Tomorrow:  we organize the camping gear!  or...we lounge about on the floor, gasping in the heat.  I mean, it could either way, really.  But I am NOT carrying the rocks, no matter what.

(Title is a quote from the poem, "Dream: Us Kids Swim off a Gray Pier" by Jack Kerouac.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

a rare weekend

My weekend was so amazingly rare and enjoyable--a hot day with a breeze that kept the humidity from squishing us, kids playing in the riverwater pool, throwing a hatchet at zombies wooden targets, washing the cat, shooting at things, walking by the river in bare feet (was that a snake?), forging through the ferns and forest in sandals, fireworks and mosquito bites, parades and grilled food and running races and bicycles and family.  And sun, so much sun.  I still feel a bit lightheaded.

A butterfly in my mother-in-law's garden had all of us snapping photos and consulting guidebooks. 

I was fascinated all day with this tipping tricycle that just sort of epitomizes the headlong way in which Monkey approached everything he did all weekend long.
David's mom wanted to arrange the kids into a posed picture--a shot of the three of them being "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"--and of course Monkey, being a willful 3-year-old, completely refused to pose.  We did eventually get a shot, which I won't post in case she's got plans for it, but Monkey spent some time sulking in the daisies with  me.

The next day was full of parades and barbecues and baby cousins, but our personal photographer abandoned us for his day job, so you'll just have to trust me.  And now I should stop procrastinating and get back to editing!

Friday, July 2, 2010

my first time

So this week we've been doing some shuffling around of furniture in order to get me a more ergonomically sound writing space (specifically, we've shuffled a much-loved but ugly-as-sin couch and chair to the dump and shuffled in a brand new set of chairs and side table...), a process which involved hauling an old desk downstairs to the living room.

The point?  Oh, yeah.  So the process of cleaning out my old writing desk has been a lovely trip down memory lane--I haven't actively used this desk for about ten years, and the drawers were chock full of nostalgia!

Among the treasures I found was this--evidence of my first time ever sending out a piece of my writing, in this case a tribute poem I wrote for the beat poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

You have NO IDEA how thrilled I was to receive this (and to find it again after all these years!)  The paper is a form letter from City Lights Books, and it says the usual kind of thing:  "Lawrence Ferlinghetti appreciates your asking for his comment on your work but he has found it impossible to keep up with such requests, and must decline.  Good luck with the publication of it," but I was thrilled beyond belief to see the signature of one of my idols along with the personal message, "Thank you for the tributes!"  He also signed the back of the postcard ("For Elissa"), and let me tell you, this made me fangirl almost as much yesterday as it did ten years ago!

I never expected a response from him at all.  I mean, the man is a legend.  At the time, I was as entranced by the beat writers as Anna and Kat in my novel, Kiss the Morning Star, and the thought of the man signing a note for me, no matter if he read the (bad) poems or not, was enough to make me weak in the knees.

Anyway, all of this has made me think about how far I've come in this journey of becoming a writer in the last ten years, and how deeply in debt I am to so many writers--those who have come before me and those who read my blog and talk to me on twitter and those who are in my middle school classes, wowing me with their amazing words at an age when I was still mucking around with angsty rhyming poetry.  It also reminded me again that even though it's a little embarrassing at times to think that I sent this awesome poet my little tribute, it's just possible that it actually made him smile, and in any case, the act of contacting him impacted me--and continues to today.

The poem I wrote, by the way, was a riff off (not a rip-off, haha) of Ferlinghetti's own poem, "I am Waiting" from his amazing book, A Coney Island of the Mind.  I'm not sharing much of it (it's looooonnnng.  and bad.), but I'll give you the opening stanzas.

A Renaissance of Wonder

I am waiting
     in fact I am quite impatient
     and there are weeks when I lose faith
     and crumble off bits and pieces of my
     belief in the goodness of people.
I am waiting, and I tell you there are weeks,
     weeks where I can barely contain
     my optimism--
     my hope has no restraints.

I am waiting for these weeks to grow in number.