On Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown_Girl_Dreaming-200If you are a regular reader of this blog or you landed here searching for information about Brown Girl Dreaming, I probably don’t need to explain to you how stories can change lives.  Maybe you are a reader who has long been drawn to the power of story.  Maybe you’re a parent looking for books to instill that appreciation in your kids.  Or maybe you’re a librarian who has made connecting people with books into a career.  Whatever the case, I think you know what stories can do.

Brown Girl Dreaming was a story I had to read twice to really appreciate.  The first time I flew through the pages looking for familiar elements that I so rarely see in books.  You see, I spent my childhood learning the days of the week by their religious obligation, standing quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance, and sitting out of school holiday celebrations just like Jacqueline Woodson did.  Like other minority experiences, it is one that is not often reflected in books, especially books for kids.

For readers who have never had the experience, let me tell you how it feels to read a book about a person who shares something that sets you apart from most people: it is thrilling. I tore through Brown Girl Dreaming looking for what we shared.  There was much we didn’t share–Woodson is African-American and grew up in the 1960s; I am Caucasian and grew up in the 1980s–but so many of her words and feelings might have been mine when it referenced our shared childhood religion.

In the world of children’s books, we have been talking a lot about the need for books to reflect the diverse experiences, cultures, ethnicities, abilities, etc. of young readers.  I have always believed that, but Brown Girl Dreaming made me feel it.

My second time through the book was slower.  I wanted to read it again to see what others who don’t share my religious background were seeing.  In that reading, I saw an exquisite coming-of-age memoir that was about so much more than religion.  It was about the power of stories to shape who we are. Woodson wrote about the stories her family told, the stories she read, and the stories she wrote as a child, and how they all became part of her.  She concludes her memoir by describing herself as a person who believes in many things, who carries many worlds inside of her because of those experiences of listening, reading, and observing the stories around her.

If there is one idea I can share with others, it is the one expressed in the final poem: “When there are many worlds, love can wrap itself around you, say, Don’t cry.”  Seek many worlds for yourself.  Listen, read, observe.

Links of interest:

 

The difference a prosthetic can make

I am well aware that if I had been born in a different time or place my life would not be what it is.  I might point to my eyeglasses and reference my very poor unassisted vision as one way my life would have been quite different if I’d been born a few hundred years ago.  But I think that my prosthetic arm is the more obvious tie to the modern era that I rely on regularly.

I might argue that I can’t go without my glasses for more than a few minutes, and I can go without my fake arm for days if necessary, but the truth is that I don’t want to go without either.  There are plenty of one armed people who don’t use prosthetics– and most insurance companies will consider them cosmetic–but I can’t imagine my life without mine.

IMG_0140.JPGI wish I had a cool story like the girl in A Time to Dance who was able to live her dream of pursuing a career in dance even after losing her foot because of her prosthetic leg.  Yes, it’s fiction (teen fiction, to be specific), but there’s a real precedent there.  For Veda in the story, it is obvious how having a prosthetic leg changed her life.  It opened her to opportunities that were otherwise closed.  Sometimes I can forget that that’s possible.

My prosthesis is neither here nor there in my dreams, which revolve around books, libraries, and writing.  My story is nowhere near as dramatic as the usual inspirational novel.  And the truth is that if I’d never had a prosthetic arm, my life may very well be basically the same.

I have no idea what I would do with my hair without my prosthetic arm, but I’m sure I would have figured out something.

The real story is this: I have had my prosthetic arm since before I can remember.  It has always been a part of me.  I am not sure how much it has changed my life to have had it.  It simply is my life.  I could probably live without it if I had to, but I really don’t want to.  It does make my life much easier, and I definitely need it to put my hair in a pony tail.

My story isn’t an inspirational novel.  My story is set in a world where I haven’t had to consider “Ugly Laws” or other limitations.  I live after the Americans with Disabilities Act made accommodations available to those who needed them, and I’ve never need any anyway.  I was able to pursue whatever career I wanted, and I never had to worry if I would be barred from anything because of what I lacked.

I am very grateful that I live here and now. But even in the here and now, prosthetics are prohibitively expensive for many.

When I read stories like A Time to Dance, I am reminded of how powerful access to prosthetics can be, how it can truly change people’s lives.  I’ll never know how my life would be different without my prosthetic arm, if at all, but I am extremely grateful that my parents made it happen for me.  I would love to give someone else a chance to experience what prosthetics can do.  Perhaps it will be integral to their dream.  Or maybe it will be integral to their sense of identity.  Either way, I think it’s a worthy cause.

Consider a donation to the charity that made my prosthetic arms possible: Shriner’s Hospital for Children Twin Cities.  Or explore other options for limb deficient people who find that their insurance does not cover prosthetic devices or their repair such as Limbs for Life.

 

Note: This is not a sponsored post, and the book was a library copy.

 

The Rules of Summer

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“What did you learn this summer?” I asked my daughter on one of the last evenings before school started.  Her quick reply was her newest accomplishment: riding a bicycle without training wheels.  Her pride was still fresh, and I could hear it in her voice.  I hugged her close with a smile.

This summer has been quieter than last.  Mostly we’ve spent our summer peeking out the windows to check on our daughter as she played outside with the neighborhood kids.  Sometimes I sat outside on the front steps with a book as the kids played.  I listened to their games, stories, and ideas with interest as I flashed back to summers I spent with a pack of neighborhood kids.

I always seemed to be one of the oldest of the group, and I was the oldest child in my family as well.  I imagine my role wasn’t dissimilar from the older boy in The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan who imparts the wisdom of his years to a younger child, including rules like “Never leave one red sock on the clothesline” and “Never be late for a parade.”  The art is surreal and sometimes ominous, revealing the dark parts of childhood relationships along with the sublime.

I don’t remember any of the misinformation I passed down to the younger kids (whether mistaken or purposeful), but it seems it is part of childhood to “learn” some not quite right ideas from those who come before us.  Tan renders that so beautifully in his book; I think most adult readers will find something to jog a memory of childhood summers–perhaps a rule or idea from an older sibling that seemed true at the time but now is as fantastic as some of the scenes from the book.

Though my daughter is an only child surrounded by same-aged kids on our block, she doesn’t completely miss out on this universal experience.  She spends a lot of time with her eight-year-old aunt, who told her never, ever to touch a fire hydrant.  They are super hot from all the fire inside.  You have to be careful.

It seems some things never change.

 

Read more about The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan:

The book is also available as an app, and there is a teacher’s guide.

 

On the week’s events

SecretHum_cover_FINALIt has been a long and difficult week for many people.  My news feed for the past week has been full of difficult topics–stuff that we don’t often want to talk about.  Mental illness, suicide, race relations, violence.  A lot of people seem to be feeling raw and angry over these things.  I don’t blame them.  Parts of me are raw and angry too.

This week I read The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer.  It is a middle grade novel about a girl who is in her own difficult spot.  After years of living a here-and-there life with her mother, Grace is grieving her mother’s loss and trying to figure out where she belongs now.  It is a lovely story about grief and identity that made me tear up several times. Mostly I felt like the novel was about hope.

Whenever Grace had to start at a new school after yet another move, her mother would tell her, “You can do this.  You are brave, and you are loved.”  I want to repeat those words to so many people right now.

You are brave.

You are loved.

I can’t change the world with those words, but perhaps if we keep talking and keep changing our own small worlds, things will get better.

A Weekend in Chicago

On our way out of town on Friday, I was scrolling through my social media feed when I saw a headline with the words “This might be the biggest Twin Cities weekend of the summer.”  That is not what you really want to see when you’re leaving for a weekend getaway.  We already knew we were going to miss Northern Spark and the launch of the Green Line, but we kept our eyes on Chicago.

It seemed that city was also having a pretty big weekend, and we were right in the middle of it.  Most of our fellow commuter train passengers on Saturday appeared to be headed to the Blues Festival .  We were there to play tourist.  I grew up outside of Chicago, and a part of me will always consider Chicago to be “my city” no matter how Minnesotan I feel these days.  It’s always fun to share my memories of Chicago, especially now that my daughter is old enough to get excited about it too.  I love that she showed as much enthusiasm for some of the more iconic scenes as she did a random playground we happened by.

That evening we made our way to the Wicker Park neighborhood (after the six year old was safely deposited at Grandma’s) for the reason we were willing to leave town on one of the best Twin Cities weekends of the summer.  Braid and the Smoking Popes at the Double Door’s 20th Anniversary celebration.  As soon as we saw that these two old favorites were playing, we jumped on the tickets and made our plans.

braid2014I grew up listening to these bands.  I mean that specifically: I listened to them in my late teens and early twenties.  They were, along with a few select others, my coming of age soundtrack.  Braid, in particular, was perfect coming of age music.  With lines like “let’s stop clapping / let’s start doing / a dream for the teens and in-betweens / and twenties yet unseen” the teenage me was conscious of the fact that these were guys just a couple of years older than me.  They often sang about finding your way, and it had a strong impact on me as I sorted out my ideas about life and love.  I saw them live a few times before they broke up in 1999.

In 2004, I caught the reunion tour. By then, I lived in the Twin Cities, and I was dating my now-husband.  I was in my mid-twenties, which meant that the band members were pushing thirty. My youthful optimism never considered that the show might disappoint, and it didn’t.  It actually made my Top Ten Favorite Shows even though it made me feel older than my years to have a reunion show on my Top Ten list.  I still consider myself an optimist, but I have to admit that it did occur to me, how ever briefly, that ten years might make a difference.

They opened with a song I didn’t know–the new record comes out next month–and then launched into a series of older songs from Frame & Canvas and other records I know so well.  There was no need to worry.  Funnily enough, lines like “a dream for the tweens, and in-betweens, and twenties yet unseen” can still resonate several years past one’s twenties.

The show could have ended there, and it would have been worth the trip.  It was already on my Top Ten Favorite Shows of all time–no matter what having two reunion shows on my list might mean about my age or taste.  But the Smoking Popes were up next.

smokingpopes2014The Smoking Popes were the first local band I listened to. They were the first band I saw play live so many times I lost track of when and where I saw them, and eventually it became no-big-deal in that way that local bands can sometimes get even to their super fans.  After a while, they didn’t play as much, and I moved away anyway.  I did catch them at the Triple Rock a few years ago.  That was a good show, but it doesn’t compare to the one I saw this weekend.  Saturday’s show was a reunion of the super fans.  It seemed like every song was a sing along in a crowd that knew every word.  No one yelled out “Pretty Pathetic” even though we all wanted them to play it.  Probably because we knew they were saving it for the end of the show with the stripped down beginning and dramatic end.  It was far from no-big-deal.

Here’s to the past for the memories and the music.  And here’s to what is still unseen.  Let’s stop clapping and start doing.

 

Welcome home

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What makes a house a home? (Or an apartment a home, in this case, I suppose.) My daughter is nearing the end of her first year of Unitarian-Universalist religious education, and that has been the focus of the program for her age group: Creating a home.

Note: If there’s ever a good time to move, it’s when your child is immersed in a weekly lesson in creating a home.  That was a happy coincidence for us.  Each week she would spend her Sunday mornings immersed in the idea that we can be intentional about our homes, that our homes are safe spaces we journey from and return to every day.  I realized as I listened to her talk about what home meant to her that moving would be easy if we were intentional about it.

We have spent the last couple of months creating a home in a new apartment in a new neighborhood.  There are still items in boxes or in not-quite permanent locations, and there isn’t much on the walls yet.  But it’s feeling more and more like home every day.

What has made this place a home for me:

  • Finding a nearby Little Free Library to adopt as ours.  It’s far enough away to be a mini-adventure and close enough to be convenient.  We’ll make regular stops there now that it’s nice outside.
  • We met our neighbors.  It turns out we are surrounded by six year old girls.  My six year old is delighted.
  • We adopted a cat and named her Disco.

Last weekend, my daughter and I cuddled in a comfy chair to watch Cosmos, and Disco joined us, purring.  That’s home.

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Choose to Act

For many people, May 1st is a day of prayer.  For a growing number of others, it is a day of reason.  Sometimes it seems that no two groups of people are further apart than these.  But no matter our preference for prayer or reason on May 1st, we can agree that action is needed to make our world a better place.  The Week of Action (April 24-29) is designed to bring people together to celebrate our ability to make a difference in the here and now.

I plan to engage in small acts of kindness for the next six days.  I was inspired by a book, of course.  There’s always a book in my plans somewhere.  The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz is a feel-good novel about the power of good deeds.  Maybe the idea sounds cheesy to you.  But to me, it sounds do-able.  It might not seem like you’re saving the world when you’re planting flowers in someone’s yard or leaving small gifts for your neighbors, but you are saving little tiny pieces of the world with every action.

 

Hopefully this is just the beginning of my own personal sense of action.  Let’s all choose to act.

A weekend of solitude

Call me an introvert if you must–you wouldn’t be wrong–but I have to admit that there are few things better than a weekend to myself.  It’s been a busy couple of months (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts), and I was more than happy to spend a couple of days re-charging from all the goings on of late while my husband and daughter traveled for the weekend.

I decided to avoid planning too much, to just do whatever I felt like doing at the moment.  It felt like the height of luxury.  I highly recommend the experience if you have the opportunity.

My weekend consisted of books, art, and writing.  Here are some highlights:

  • 20140406-184336.jpgLive-tweeting my reading of Dangerous by Shannon Hale with the hashtag #dwoh (or Dangerous with one hand).  It is the only novel I recall reading with a main character with a congenital limb deficiency, and I couldn’t help but be excited about it.  Shannon Hale has some interesting things to say about why she chose to write a character who is differently abled, among other things, in this essay.
  • Exploring the meditative quality of writing with Karen Hering, author of Writing to Wake the Soul, at a Sacred Salon at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  The Sacred exhibit and the Salon were wonderfully inspiring, and I recommend both experiences to anyone interested in meditation or Buddhist ideas.  I’ve mentioned my interested in meditation here and here.
  • Turning up the volume on my latest musical obsession: Catbath.  What says spring more than opening the windows and playing the music a little bit louder?

How would you spend a weekend to yourself with no obligations?

6 Things I Wish I’d Known

Last year Minneapolis spoken word artist Guante posted his list of Six Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Getting Started as an Artist, and Minnesota Public Radio has taken the theme to several other career choices, like teachers, doctors, and journalism.  Now that I am over ten years into my career, I have a few ideas of things that I wish I’d known when I was a new librarian.  Here goes:

  1. Most people have no idea what librarians do or why they matter.  You will just have to get used to people saying different versions of “You need a Master’s degree to check out books?!”  Be ready to advocate for yourself politely.
  2. The library field draws book people, but it is a people job.  Learn to connect.
  3. It’s all about change.  The Internet didn’t kill libraries.  Ebooks aren’t going to do it either.  They just change things.  Be an early adopter when you can.
  4. Education matters, but experience is crucial.  Most people pursuing library science degrees have years of experience working as paraprofessionals in libraries behind them already.  Volunteer, if you have to, but get experience in a library before you graduate.
  5. The field is hugely varied.  People bring different backgrounds, skills, and interests to librarianship.  Get to know your colleagues, and learn from them when you can.
  6. Accept help when you need it, even if it’s from a vendor.  This is perhaps a somewhat self-serving comment since I currently work as a staff librarian at a library vendor, but when I was a public librarian I really didn’t know what kind of tools and support were available from book companies.  These services are often free, so take advantage of them.   We want to help. :)

Are you a librarian?  What would you add?

Keeping Christmas Simple

We’ve taken a step toward a more traditional holiday this year. Our DIY Christmas tree has taken several different forms over the last few years–some of which barely resembled a tree at all–but the same idea was behind them all.  We wanted to use what we had to celebrate.  We wanted a holiday that focused on creative reuse rather than consumerism.  This year we were given a hand-me-down artificial tree, and we have a small collection of ornaments that have been gifted to us, so our tree is pretty traditional.

In keeping with the DIY spirit of our holiday, we made a few ornaments out of wrapping paper glued to cardboard.  A pre-publication copy (F&G) of Holly Hobbie’s new version of The Night Before Christmas made for a few cute ornaments in the same way.  They were simple enough for our almost six-year-old to do with minimal frustration, and I think they look charming too.

xmastree

 

In all honesty, my favorite traditions are the ones that are different every year.  They are familiar without being tired.  They grow with us, but keep us grounded to our values.  That’s all I really want in a holiday.  More than elaborate decor or expensive presents, I want to spend time with the people I love, share what I have, and think about what we value.

May your holidays be full of love, hope, and happiness. :)

This blog will probably be fairly quiet this month, but you may check out previous years’ posts for more holiday related content: