Thursday, November 20, 2008

the beauty of the blog

This morning on NPR (and let's face it, if I don't hear it on Morning Edition between 5 and 7am, it's not news) I heard how Maxine Hong Kingston, winner of a special award at the National Book Awards ceremonies last night, had tried to get her essay on the election of Barack Obama, a fellow Hawaiian, published in a number of newspapers and magazines and failed. Her response, of course, was to turn to the Internet, and with the click of a "Publish" button, her essay went live.

Also this morning I heard from a friend, the one who moved to the gigantic mansion in Texas; we always knew she was the Erma Bombeck of this decade, and now her blog, Marge Ponders, proves that she has been a blogger-in-waiting since before we knew what a blog was. She writes today that her daughter will turn 10 on Friday and become a "zero-teen." Now here is a concept I had not encountered, nor did I realize that the only gifts for a girl of this age are pricey electronics or pricey American Girl dolls.

This is ever so pertinent, since I informed Daisy just a week ago that there will be no tweenage in our household--you are a child until you are a teen, I said, (just like I said in 2000 that we would never eat in the car, in 2002 that no one would play computer games until they learned to read, and as recently as 2007 that our family would simply never have a video game system, and guess who now has a Wii?)--and then I let her buy the American Girl body book. (Thank the stars she has no interests in the sissy I mean historical dolls or their clothes, and in my defense, I made her buy the book with her own extensive stash of tweenage allowance money.) Anyway, now that Marge is blogging, I can keep up with her family, have a laugh, and get some advice on the state of the economic bailout at the same time--a beautiful efficiency.

Another friend is using her blog to make sure that people like me, whose only news source is early morning NPR, have easy access to the alternative media. At A Nice Gal's Guide to Online News and Politics, she makes it simple for me to keep up not only with her battles against chronic sinus infection, but with the new discourse of the Internet. She and I probably don't agree on everything, but we agree on enough about the world that I can trust her to point me in the right direction--an invaluable public service from my least public friend.

And then there's Sylvia Vardell, more of an acquaintance than a friend, who keeps me up to date on events in the world of shadowy world of children's poetry. I read, I write, I publish (very intermittently), but I do all this in a kind of vacuum, not having time to read all the children's book journals etc etc, so I'm grateful that there's somewhere to go for digestible tidbits of news and more than occasionally a poem to enjoy.

Finally, as a recent convert to Facebook, I appreciate the blog-spirited Status Updates from people I see regularly and those I haven't seen since high school, and let's face it, some of those updates are more worthy of the literature label. It all contributes to the possibility of contracting TMI disease, but this is more of the beauty of the blog--I go get it when I want it and not otherwise.

But le plus beau here is this: I'm sure I don't have anything as meaningful to say as Maxine, and I don't have the financial nouse of Marge or the political savvy of A Nice Gal, nor the connections that Sylvia profits from--and yet I too can set myself a purpose, set up a blog, and click "Publish." If nothing else (and if no one reads but me), it's a way to think, to write, to craft, and to have my say. Without bending too many live ears.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

birth pangs

Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

~Sylvia Plath

I’m aching in couple of unusual places right now--I just raked and dragged 13 loads of leaves from my front yard using a rake with no handle (it had already lost half its handle in an unknown incident, and then I reversed over it in the driveway and completed the amputation). Working away in unaccustomed positions may be what got me thinking about birth pangs, or maybe I was already primed to recall the anguish of childbirth by the arrival on Monday, in PDF form, of my fourth child I mean second book.

Now, I have not experienced any of the shock or grief of parents whose baby arrives premature or sick or disabled. Compared to that, my own surprise at discovering, after all those years of living with my Child-Bearing Hips, that I wasn’t going to be able to push a baby out, and then my distress at finding that, according to the cosultant at the hospital my bosom practically screams “inadequate lactation”—I’m certain that these count as minor traumas.

So I don’t know if the feelings I’m having at the first glimpse of my newborn book fall into the category of major trauma, but it feels that way at the moment. This book had an unsteady start in that I didn’t understand for a couple of agonizing months that the publisher had already informally accepted it for publication—which is the opposite of eagerly peeing on a stick and seeing the thrilling or crushing response within 3 minutes. (I first announced the happy news of Daisy’s existence to a friend in the middle of a crosswalk at 15th and Q Streets—why wait until your actual partner gets home?) The gestation period of this book has been elephantine and then some; it has been 25 months since the process began and the book will not actually appear until Fall 2009.

Along the way there have been long periods of no movement at all, leading me to panic in the same way that every pregnant woman worries now and then that the baby may be—it’s hard even to write it—dead. And recently, even with a relative flurry of correspondence regarding a possible illustrator, a change of title, a possible cover sketch, copyeditor’s queries and a request for flap copy (author bio and front flap blurb, the writing of which is like preparing a birth announce- ment with a personality description instead of the simple facts of date, length and weight)—even with all this afoot, I was not ready for my bundle of joy to arrive in my inbox all at once with a note from the editor informing me that this was my last chance for text changes and that it would ship to printer ON THURSDAY.

Even so, this should be exciting news, right? The poems are as good as I can make them, the illustrations are lovely, things are really happening now—except that the illustrations don't always match my vision for the book. “Oh, woe is me!” I wailed yesterday to a friend who casually asked how I was at the bus stop. “After all this working and waiting, this book is like a fourth child, and I want it to be beautiful!” And then I realized that to an outside eye my book probably IS beautiful, and also that I don’t care exactly that it’s beautiful—but I do want my baby to look like me. That is, I was hoping that the illustrations would match the ideas in my poems and then go on to develop the ideas in my poems, make more of my words, rather in the way that anonymous genes have created unexpected richness in my two actual children—and (with no offense to the artist), I’m afraid that hasn’t happened here.

It's almost always true that love is the best response, but what kind of love works in this delivery room?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

un beau jour/a beautiful day

Ce matin, Duncan crie ses applaudissements. Daisy danse somnolente-réveillée. Fiona embrasse tous ses proches virtuellement. Et moi, je pleure. Je pleure car aujourd’hui je peux avouer que toute ma vie, j’étais embarrassée, j’avais honte de mon pays, meme en croyant fortement en les idéals de notre démocratie. Nous, du « greatest country on earth , » nous n’étions pas un nation de liberté, pas un nation d’égalité, pas (et peut-etre pas encore) un nation de fraternité.

Mais aujourd’hui nous récupérons le droit de dire que nous sommes quelque chose de spécial dans le monde. Il n’existe pas un « greatest country on earth, » mais hier nous avons choisi d’essayer etre grand dans un sens généreux, et d’etre responsable de faire le travail qui accompagne ce défi la.

Donc je pleure. Les larmes sont de la relève, de la joie et oui, de l’espoir. J’adore les mots de Barack Obama, mais pour l’instant, c’est (avec un touche de bizarre) un voix irlandais, c’est Bono de U2 qui chante mon cœur :

The heart is a bloom, it shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room, no space to rent in this town
You're out of luck and the reason that you had to care:
The traffic is stuck and you're not moving anywhere.
You thought you'd found a friend to take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand in return for grace]
It's a beautiful day, the sky falls
And you feel like it's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
You're on the road but you've got no destination
You're in the mud, in the maze of her imagination
You love this town even if that doesn't ring true
You've been all over and it's been all over you
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
Touch me, take me to that other place
Teach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out
It was a beautiful day
Beautiful day
Don't let it get away
Touch me, take me to that other place
Reach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case
What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now
You don't need it now, you don't need it now
It’s a beautiful day

Today, Duncan cheers. Daisy dances, sleepy wide-awake. Fiona’s virtually hugging everybody she knows. And me, I’m crying. I’m crying because today I can admit that my whole life I’ve been embarrassed, I’ve been ashamed of my country, even while I believed to my depths in the ideals of our democracy. We, “the greatest country on earth,” have not been a nation of liberty, not a nation of equality, not (and maybe not yet) a nation of brotherhood.

But today we reclaim the right to say that we’re some kind of special in the world. There is no “greatest country on earth,” but yesterday we chose to try to be great in the most generous sense, and to be responsible for doing the work that comes along with the challenge.

So I’m crying. The tears are of relief, of joy, and yes, of hope. I love the way Obama speaks, but for the moment, strangely, it’s an Irish voice, it’s Bono of U2 who’s singing my heart.