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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Notes on Sabrina

This morning, I dropped Sabrina off at school early at 8AM to a room full of much older kids. It was the first meeting of the Student Council, for which Sabrina is her class' representative.
She explained to me on the way to school, "When you do different things, there's lots to do." This on a day when she also had Brownies and swimming lessons.
I only found out later that not only is she the youngest member of Student Council, but the next youngest student is in second grade. Yes, she's the only representative from both kindergarten and first grade.
Six-year-old Sabrina can barely write, so the notes she took during her first Student Council meeting this morning read as follows: "tolit trees" for "toiletries"; "close" for "clothes"; "baht rob" for "bath robe"; and "swetshit's pants" for "sweatshirt"? "sweatpants"?
Some sort of "drive" is being organized by the Student Council to help needy people. Sabrina isn't sure who these "needy people" are, only that they need the stuff the kids are going to gather. Apparently, she has already solicited the donation of items from specific classmates, but seems familiarly tongue-tied when asked how she managed to obtain these donation pledges. I can't determine whether she made a presentation to her class, or what. She seems to neither understand the question nor remember how it all came about. It all seems a bit like magic. But then, everything about Sabrina is a bit magical.
During bedtime, she suggested the idea of "incentives" to encourage classmates to follow through on their pledges. Then, she second-guessed herself: "Or maybe I shouldn't do that...." She trailed off, looking very uncertain.
"Oh, you definitely should," I encouraged.
How did all this happen? How did she get to this place, and how will I ever know exactly what she's doing? She doesn't seem to understand it herself.
The enigmatic Sabrina strikes again.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Secret Lives of Children

One day, my child comes home from school, and to all appearances, it is a day like any other day. She cries for snacks, she fights with siblings, she trashes her corner of the house, she picks at dinner, and she eludes doing homework with a creativity that would make Tony Soprano blush.

On this particular day, I look through my child’s “take home” folder, and a stark white piece of paper catches my attention.

“Dear Parent…..”

Ah crap. My brain starts to tune out; please not another desperate plea for volunteers, or money.

“……Your child has been chosen as their class’ representative for the [Insert Name of School] Student Council.”

Well! This is a surprise! This sounds important! Lofty! Political! Where on earth did this come from!? My child said nothing to me on her bee-line to the Goldfish crackers upon our return home, but, darn it, she’s going places! THE STUDENT COUNCIL! Next, the Presidency! (Actually, I wouldn’t wish that on any child of mine; perhaps just a modest seat in the State Senate…..)

Yes, the child in question is my first grader, Sabrina. My second born, my enigmatic star/unicorn-catcher, chemist-in-training is on THE STUDENT COUNCIL. (Honest to God, you have to have known her since she was a toddler to understand the significance of this.)

What the hell!?

So, after signing the permission slip, passing it around to Sabrina’s father, and her paternal grandparents, I finally confronted Sabrina. We had just sat down to a decadent dinner of red king-crab purchased from New Sagaya for $9.98 per pound.

“So, Sabrina, I hear you’re going to be on…… THE STUDENT COUNCIL!”

Sabrina looked appropriately embarrassed and humble. “Yeah,” she admitted.

“That’s wonderful! I’m so proud!” I checked the faces of Sabrina’s siblings and grandparents for expressions of awe. Visions of a socially-responsible young person making-a-difference in her community ran through my head.

“Yeah,” blond-haired, blue-eyed, Meg-Ryan-as-a-six-year-old, grinned, “I just wish I remembered what it is.”

Cough. Hack. Clearing of throat.

“Well……” I didn’t bother explaining to Sabrina right then and there what THE STUDENT COUNCIL is, mostly because I have no clue either. I guess she’ll find out when she has her first 8am meeting on November 28th.. (And then, after school and a brief inquisition, so will I.)

What she was able to tell me was that she is the only person from her class that’s going to do it. She also had to be approved by her class and teacher.

And thus, why I am most proud: she didn’t follow anyone’s lead; she wasn’t a lemming; something struck her as being important to do, and even without fully understanding it, she is pursuing it anyway.

That makes me want to cry.

God bless the children! (And I don’t mean that as a shallow cliché.) May she eventually have some idea of what she is doing for the good of mankind!!!!

It is at moments like these that a parent is laid low; humbled; and overwhelmed with a joy that is almost irrational.

Stay tuned!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Let's Get Excited!

I can count on one hand the number of times a work of fiction has got me really excited. I mean really excited (though, let's be perfectly clear, I don't mean "excited" in a sexual way).

I primarily read fiction; I love fiction. When asked for fiction recommendations, I usually have a list kicking around somewhere. Some I like pretty well; others I love. But very, very few fiction books make me truly excited as both a reader and a writer.

Some recent examples from the "like" department (keeping in mind "like" implies an above-average book):
"The Twentieth Wife" by Indu Sundaresan
"Abundance" by Sena Jeter Naslund
"The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield
"The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova
"No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy

Some recent examples of fiction from the "love" department (i.e. you really should read this book in the next six months, because it will change how you look at the world):
"Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry
"Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison
"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak
"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte
"The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth

To reiterate: these are fiction books I'm talking about. Nonfiction affects me in a totally different way. With really exciting nonfiction, there is this wonder that the recounting could actually have happened in real life. It's the old adage "truth is stranger than fiction" and most often this is very much the case.

Fabulous nonfiction from the past few months:
"The River of Doubt" by Candice Millard
"Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder
"Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer
"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larsen

So, back to the original idea - really exciting fiction is a rare thing. But, I am RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT reading a book that is blowing my mind. It is "White Teeth" by Zadie Smith and it was published in 2000 when Smith was a dewy 24-year-old.

I'm not sure what initially compelled me to buy this book, other than glimpsed excerpts of hymn-like reviews, and its inclusion on many "must read" book lists. It has been on my personal "To Read" list for 2006 since January; and with 2006 drawing to a close, I finally decided to dive in.

The first page put me off sufficiently to take a 2-day break to read "Is Sex Necessary" by E. B. White and James Thurber (circa 1929 - how graphic could it be?) which I picked up the library book sale. But rather than start something else after "Sex", I went back to "White Teeth" and am so glad I did. Each paragraph is an epiphany of writing, as decadent as a bowlful of Costco tiramisu.

Recounting the plot line is pointless - if I did so, you'd probably never pick up this book. And it's not great one-liners that have me running for my highlighter pen. It's the book as a whole - its characters, its dialogue, its intelligence and saavy, it subtleties and turns of phrase; quirky characters like John Irving, but more accessible. Tons of humor, but completely authentic. This woman is a literary genius; so much so that it's hard to be jealous of her.

In the review-excerpts, she's compared to John Irving, Charles Dickens, Thomas Pynchon, and Mary Shelley. (Imagine them all combined!) But ultimately she has her own very distinct, unforgettable voice. Pure literary bliss!

The only other book I've ever read that has been more emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually satisfying was C. S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles. In the mere 74 pages I've read thus far of this 448-page book, there has not been the slightest misstep. Yes, I'm this excited after only 74 pages. As a writer, I rejoice in her control of the human language. Her work is an epiphany, because she captures the spirit of some undefinable thing that I long to create myself, but probably never will. I can hold this book up and say, "This is it. This is the voice I've wanted to find in myself."

So, there you have it.

Now, I will be embarrassed if I get to the end of this book and decide I hate it. The other really embarrassing thing would be for someone to read it and completely hate it.

On librarything.com (where my personal library is catalogued in its entirety; see www.librarything.com/alaskabookworm), there was at least one review by a reader who "didn't get it". Well, those of you who love Tim LaHaye and Dan Brown probably won't get it. But those who love John Irving and Christopher Moore probably will.

Well, enough. You're probably sick to death of my gushing. And, I've got a book to read.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

You Should Know...

A watched pot really does boil.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Just Something

Last night I felt my muse sit up and blink in the bright light of day. It had been asleep a long while. We, my muse and I, stayed awake until after midnight writing with an intent and purpose that I haven't felt in months. It was wonderful and encouraging.

However, this morning I am reminded why for five months I have found it so hard to write: children. No sooner do I start to get meditative and in a literary groove, than my two youngest are swirling around my ankles screaming and hitting, pulling on my clothes, and the appalling odor of a soiled diaper asserts itself.

And so, out of my meditative mood I pop, irritated and snapping. How did Madeleine L'Engle and my other mentors do it? Where did she find the reserves of energy and motivation? I feel like crying.

Should I actually be able to keep my muse awake for awhile, I should point out that the work I'm embarking on is not blog-able. I am re-working previously written essays in a bold-faced attempt to assemble a manuscript. Should that ever come to pass, then with the utter conviction it would be a waste of time to actually find a third-party publisher, I will probably self-publish.

Meanwhile, the TV is on from dawn to dusk (this time of year in Alaska that is not such an unreasonable amount of time) to "sit" the kids. My kids, as a side note, are fast becoming incurable nerds. I shovel books and writing on them, and refuse to enroll them in sports and other activites.

In the middle of the night last night it occured to me that writing may be the ultimate expression of self-love. And this from a woman who is trying very hard to be less self-conscious. This is something I'll have to ponder to make sense of.

Meanwhile, if you've already read this, then you have had a chance to see the embedded picture. Don't be deceived by the tortured looks on the kids' faces. They were very excited to trick-or-treat and not remotely unhappy. I'm not sure how we managed to capture expressions of such boredom and pain. In any case, it is the best shot of the night, so enjoy.

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