Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Reading to Teach

Cover of the book hidden

Thanks to Facebook friends who posted the link, I read this article, "Holocaust Remembrance Day 40 Mighty Girl Books About the Holocaust" on the site A Mighty Girl. Thanks to the DC Library system, I was able to quickly request one of the books recommended for smaller kids, hidden: a child's story of the Holocaust written by Loïc Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and colored by Greg Salsedo.

And I do mean to repeat my thanks to many people, because I have wondered for years how I would ever introduce our child to the Holocaust and the events surrounding it.

I was caught off guard on the anniversary of 9/11 when our child, walking home hand-in-hand with me, told me he knew about "the towers that fell" because his teacher had read him a book. We found the book they'd read, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein, and read it together. I had wanted to tell him about the Towers and my memories, but I never knew how to start that conversation. Thanks to his teachers, the author and the availability of books, we could continue the conversation at home. Knowing I could talk about 9/11 with our child made me feel braver about continuing hard discussions with him.

I cried while reading hidden this morning with our five year-old. He sat close, his head on my shoulder, and was very attentive. We paused at times to discuss the text and images. Not everything was directly described, but some basic facts, fears and questions were addressed in the book. I practiced being quiet and giving him space to ask questions. He didn't, but I imagine he will one day and we can work to find answers (that is, where there are answers.)

Mr. Rogers says, "look for the helpers." hidden does just that from a child's perspective. But how do we explain the others who did even worse than not helping? I don't know and I'm not sure that there's a book that shares the answers, but I do know that we will keep reading and learning about how to best grow into a helper.

The luxury of choosing when and how to discuss these hard subjects is a great privilege. We didn't earn that privilege and we owe it to the world to keep learning and working to make each human as safe as possible.

My partner and I pledge to continue to educate our child as well as we can, no matter how hard it is for us. Thank you to the many authors, teachers, librarians and friends who make that possible.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Drafts & Feedback: Heartache and Progress

Writing Table (American,  1795 - 1805) The Metropolitan Museum of Art

You write something. You're excited about it. You decide to share it with friends. You have different friends who reliably offer a variety of encouraging feedback - one friend always writes back enthusiastically that she loves it. Another asks you to write more! because everything you write is so great! Another one corrects your commas and a few verbs before declaring it done!

But there are the other friends, teachers or classmates who offer feedback that stings at first. Someone suggests you change the point of view. Another person recommends changing the verb tense. Someone else suggests that the story really starts to emerge at the end, meaning that you need to cut a lot and probably write even more.

It stings. Your heart hurts. Your ego hurts. You thought you were close to done and now you are feeling all mixed up about what you meant to write, what you did write and what to write now. You start to think of excuses (You never really wanted to write this anyhow. What a stupid topic! Why put any more time that you don't even have into this piece that can't possibly go somewhere?)

Congratulations! You're now in the middle of the process. It is hard - so hard! - to get the gumption to write something and share it with friends. But you shared it with certain readers because you really, truly, definitely wanted their feedback because you want to make the writing as strong as possible.

I know, it is hard to swallow the feedback sometimes. Sometimes the feedback feels right and you follow the advice. Sometimes it doesn't feel right, but you realize you can't exactly stand behind what you wrote and you need to make some edits even if you're not sure which ones yet. Sometimes a draft really is a part of the overall writing practice and isn't something that needs to be edited, but you learned a lot during the process.

To use some friendly cliches, writing takes a very thin skin to create and a very thick skin to manage the editing process, feedback and submitting. I'm here to remind you that you can do this. You can stick with it - you already have for this long, right? - and keep trying.

Continue to write, share and consider the feedback. And write, revise, edit and write some more. Read a whole lot, too, and think about what you've read in terms of your own writing.

True and personal story: I fell in love with my husband when he gave me some honest feedback on a poem. He didn't know why something didn't work, but he noted which section of a poem fell flat for him. Sure, my ego and feelings were hurt, but I knew I could trust him to both be honest and honor my work by taking it seriously.

Keep sharing your writing and value all the readers - the ones who love you and your work unconditionally to encourage you to keep going and the ones who give you more concrete, sometimes difficult feedback that makes you a better writer. They are all a part of your tribe.

And keep writing!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Writing in the New Year

Close up of a small tree's roots in the woods. The above-ground roots criss-cross
each other and there are leaves, moss and dirt around the roots.

Happy new year! I hope that you had a wonderful holiday season!

As we start a shiny new year, it is a good time to take stock of your goals and think about how you will work towards meeting them.

Overall, think about what you want to write and when you will make time to sit down and accomplish the task. Remember to give yourself time to research (including reading), draft, edit and, if you are interested in publishing, submit. If this first step feels daunting, you might take Dorothy Bendel's online class Balance Your Needs: Launch Your Project in the Time You Have through The Loft.

Maybe you want to read more in the new year. You might start by reading my posts Three Major Questions To Ask When You Read or Read Like a Writer. Andi Cumbo has written an insightful piece for this blog about her personal library.

I will be teaching a memoir writing workshop at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., this March: Narrative Memoir Workshop (register directly through the bookstore.) I am also available to work with as a writing coach with a couple of new writers starting in early February. You can learn more about my writing coach services here.

For more, here are some earlier posts that you might find helpful as you work on your goals and concrete writing plans for 2019:
New Year & Improved Writing Goals
First Day of School and Patterns
Happy New Year! Ok, Now It Is Time to Write
Happy New Year! Setting Writing Goals

I have worked to collect resources for writers, locally and virtually, on this blog. If you are looking for something in particular or hoping to learn something new, you might start by scrolling down the right side of this blog for outside links to resources such as Selected DC Area Resources, Literary Journals Focused on Health.