Traditional new year’s photo of the park:
It may not look as inspiring as it has other years, featuring neither snow nor sunshine, but after the nasty cold that consumed a week of my life, I was happy to get out on a walk and see it.
I pulled together my 2019 reading list yesterday, and my favorites were all kidlit:
I read Mao and Me again, last night and this morning. It’s a picture-book memoir of the Cultural Revolution, seen through the eyes of a boy age 3 – 13. I love the art, with lots of black ink and several images together on a page.
But most of all I love how somehow amidst the big events and big emotions there is room to sit there quietly beside the author with it all. The ending is part of this:
For a number of years now I have lived abroad, but I return to China regularly to see my family. My parents have not moved. The city of my childhood has changed a lot, yet my apartment building has stayed the same and the tree in the courtyard is still there.
I don’t know if this has explained it at all, but I’m not that much of a picture book person and I haven’t been able to bring myself to take this one back to the library. (I mean, I will. There are limits on renewals. So I will, eventually, buy a copy and take this one back.)
The view from my office window this morning…was there a backup at the airport, or what?
ETA: there was a backup, but at SeaTac, where fog necessitated spacing the planes more widely. Portland was the holding pen with-runways-if-necessary
This had been sitting on my bookshelf for a few months. I think I’d been passing it over because it looks like a standard-issue wacky middle-grade buddy novel, plus it’s a Disney imprint, so…
But then I saw it had six nominations in the Heavy Medal mock Newbery listings, and there was probably a reason it was on my shelf in the first place, so…
It was so good! It’s funny, and it kept surprising me, and something about the logic of it all reminded me of Daniel Pinkwater. Not directly in style, but if there were a Pinkwater Award for humorous middle-grade fiction, this would win it.
Catnip: arts magnet school, supportive families, alternate universes. Plus Miami Cuban culture and Type 1 diabetes representation. Thanks, Rick Riordan, for reading the author’s adult short-story anthology, calling him up, and inviting him to write for kids! I mean, that’s fantasy fodder all on its own.
And I love living in the future, because just as I got towards the end, I saw news of the sequel on Twitter:
Submitted my novel edits for Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe!
It was like playing Cow Clicker for a week straight, except, instead of clicking on a cow 7,000 times, I pressed “accept” on Track Changes 7,000 times, while thinking, ” @SOLurie must think I’m a frickin’ idiot.”
— Carlos Hernandez ???? (@WriteTeachPlay) November 6, 2019
Yesterday Sang and I went with a vanful of college alumni to the dump! It was a tour kindly provided by a chemistry alumn who’s worked for Metro for 28 years. First was the solid waste transfer station, where commercial haulers and the general public bring trash. Sang and I had been there in the 90s, when we bought our house and discarded its very gross old carpets.
They sort out what they can to reuse or recycle. (Curbside recycling is collected and processed elsewhere.) This is the woodpile. Painted and treated wood is ineligible, so it’s mostly pallets and tree limbs.
Then we went to the adjoining Hazardous Waste facility. Our host worked here until recently; we saw the little lab where he’d worked his first job, testing unlabeled stuff people had brought in by dipping test papers into it and maybe adding something and setting them on fire, until it was ID’d enough that they knew what to do with it. Outside was a grove of rescued (rather than hazardous) gnomes and statues.
The last stop was the MetroPaint facility where leftover latex paint is remixed into standard colors and resold, a process paid for by the industry. The machinery wasn’t running on a Saturday, but an employee obligingly started up a giant mixer so we could go up a ladder one by one and see an enormous vat of dark brown paint being stirred. All the equipment had lots of paint on it.
Many people have worked for decades to make a five- to fifteen-percent difference in our overwhelming local (yet globalized) waste stream. It’s not nothing, but in Star Wars terms it’s a very small resistance force in the context of the empire.
I think everyone in the van would agree that change will happen, if it does, at the policy level. Yet conversation on the way back kept slipping into individual purity, like where is the one place in one suburb that you can drop off your #6 plastic for recycling, or how someone managed to find a school that wanted his hundreds of yogurt cartons for a project, or how a startup is delivering certain brand-name products in reusable containers like milk was delivered in glass bottles in the old days. I passed around some leftover trick-or-treat candy wondering if it was a faux pas because of the wrappers, but that was ridiculous no one said anything.
Questions courtesy of f.riday5.com
I concluded that the alphabet is laminated and staff mark it up… but for awhile I pictured people shelving until all the letters looked weird and they forgot the alphabet and needed a cheat sheet.
Happy Labor Day! Being a little bit active in the AAUP is one of the few things I’ve done that’s felt usefully political in the Trump years—when elected representatives seem unlikely to keep or change their positions in response to my phone calls, and donations seem like a miniscule drop in the political-money ocean. Last week I sat in as an observer during bargaining; the union believes things go better when as many of the people actually affected as possible are in the room, even silently. (Even reading a book or typing away on a laptop. Donuts were also involved.)
We do interest based bargaining, so for the entire hour I was there, they were at step one of seven, framing the problem to be talked about. It’s easy to see why bargaining starts in the summer even though the contract’s not up til the end of November.
Not all chapters of AAUP are negotiating collective bargaining agreements; I enjoyed this account of guerrilla organizing by adjuncts in my hometown.
Unusual that two pieces in one week would make me think anew about dashes—
em dash compared to a semicolon in this one, as in
I thought hanging out would be great—a chance to finally see the city, just like Aunt Lillian wanted.
I thought hanging out would be great; it would be a chance to finally see the city, just like Aunt Lillian wanted.
And here, an en dash for a relation that isn’t numbers or dates or place names, like author–editor relationship or either–or, and how it differs from a hyphenated adjectival construction:
Amir was an Asian–British scholar and something of a polyglot.
Amir was an Asian-British scholar and something of a polyglot.
In the first example, with an EN DASH, Amir’s Asianness and Britishness have equal weighting. In the second, with the HYPHEN, ‘Asian’ is modifying ‘British’ and carries less weight.
Things to keep an eye out for in the wild, anyway.
I was fortunate enough to be able to take a long lunch break from work and go to Jacqueline Woodson’s interview for the OPB radio show Think Out Loud. It aired live on April 4th, the same day she read at the Portland Arts & Lectures series. The live audience was small and included students from Ockley Green Middle School, who appropriately got priority for Q&A. They had read several of Woodson’s books in their classes, over several years–a school experience I’ve envied since reading Vivian Paley’s The Girl With the Brown Crayon.
Host Dave Miller, like all radio people, didn’t look like I thought he would. Also he dressed up, in a jacket and orange silk tie. I’ve always liked his show–he excels at listening to an answer and asking a follow-up question that immediately seems like the very next thing you’d want to know, even if the answer sounded complete before he asked it.
Woodson was smiling and butch and luminous. I snapped a photo but unfortunately it’s terrible so I’m not posting it.
Before the show went live, Miller explained to us that it is difficult, but important, not to talk about anything of substance before the show starts, because it never goes as well if you try to rehash a conversation on the air.
“So,” he asked Woodson, “did you get breakfast?”
Yes, she’d had an omelette with arugula and mushrooms. She doesn’t like mushrooms, but tries to push the boundaries a little when she travels.
Miller told her about his friend’s “slightly different muffin” theory—even if you eat a muffin for breakfast every day, you should sometimes eat a slightly different muffin.
Then we were on the air.
All the reading was from her memoir in verse Brown Girl Dreaming, which led into talking about how her reading and writing life began. As a child Woodson read very slowly, so much so that by the time she finished reading a passage the class had left her behind for the next thing. She still reads very slowly–as though reading in a different way or for a different purpose than other people, taking time to feel how the letters and words and paragraphs are put together, and to inhabit them before moving forward.
“So when someone says something we usually think of as a compliment,” Miller asked, “like I loved your book so much I read it in one evening—?”
“I tell them go back and read it again, because it took me three years to write!”
Woodson wanted to write from the first time she wrote her name. She talked about the library she went to, the books she loved, most by white authors and all from the children’s section (because the librarian was strict about that). The thrall in which words and books have always held her was so apparent that Dave Miller blurted, “It’s like you were made in a laboratory to be a children’s writer!”
Now she writes adult fiction, memoir, poetry, young adult fiction, middle grade fiction, and picture books, which she loves for “the revelation that each line affords.” When she finishes a book, she gives it to the friends who are her first readers and asks them, “Tell me everything you love about this book.” Only that. Then she works on it again, gives it back, and tells them to ask her three questions about the book.
Her family was part of the Great Migration, South Carolina to Brooklyn. She talked about the code-switching she learned between home and school, and between the South and New York, enforced by her grandmother: “She wanted us to be able to survive in a country that didn’t speak our language.”*
Woodson is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, focusing on visiting Title I schools and juvenile detention facilities, which don’t get many author visits.*
*These asterisks stand in for stories that made my heart stutter and I don’t want to summarize them. The interview is available as a podcast at https://www.opb.org/radio/programs/thinkoutloud/segment/jacqueline-woodson-at-literary-arts/
I witnessed some White Women Behaving Badly at this event. Taking all the seats up front so kids had to sit behind them where it was harder to see. Asking questions that were…not tuned in to the conversation.
Three things about this that I’m still thinking over: