The Endless Now


The endless present. When I try to put my finger on what childhood feels like, those are the words that come to mind. I’m thinking of this now as my oldest daughter, the Book Princess, embarks on the next stage of her life, with her marriage. Some periods of life – childhood, even being the parent of young children – have that sense of being the endless now. And then you move out of that moment, and discover that you were wrong. No now is endless, all moments pass. It’s a strange thing to be at that place where you can see the story of life unfold, with all its ups and downs. But milestones like these tend to bring them on. And I guess that the rhythm of submerging in that endless present and then bobbing to the surface to look across at the waves and dips is why I like writing so much, and specifically writing for a young audience. That feeling of the now, that fragile fantasy of always and forever, brings with it so much pleasure and so much pain. It never ceases to fascinate me. So, to my Book Princess, who has so recently emerged from one endless present herself, congratulations. The story of life is a wonder, and I love watching yours unfold. 

Reading Aloud


Courtesy, “Book with flying text” by digitalart

Last week was World Read Aloud Day, which now that I’ve learned about it has got to rank up there as one of the best of all days. I was read to as a little girl, I read to my own kids, and now everyone in the family reads to each other. What is better than lying in bed and falling asleep to the sound of a good book? What’s better than turning a book into a live, moment-to-moment conversation when you’re reading to a small child and all her questions bubble to the surface sentence by sentence? Kate DiCamillo recently wrote about the pleasure of reading aloud, and the sense of community it gives. When you read a story out loud, reader and listener and writer all share the same room, the same journey, the same highs and lows. When I think about the pleasures I look forward to in life, reading to the next generation is at the top of the list. 

Let it Snow


It’s been a snowy winter in Washington, and a cold one. I often think of the relative connection/disconnection modern people have with nature, but winters like this remind me that no matter how disconnected we think we are, the natural world still makes itself heard – and loudly. And I’m not even talking about all the global-warming-induced weather disasters we’ve had lately, but just something as simple as a big snow.

As a science fiction fanatic when I was a kid, I loved reading Isaac Asimov, and in particular days like this remind me of his Caves of Steel, in which Earth has turned into a warren of underground life, so overpopulated that it’s just a series of giant cities in which everything is connected through tubes and tunnels. The main character in that book is a detective who’s almost never been outside, and suffers as a result from severe agoraphobia.  Part of the fascination of that particular novel was the horror it inspired in me when I thought of living without access to sunlight and the outdoors. Another, much more recent book that takes this on for kids is The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. In that one, an entire society lives underground, unaware that there is such a thing as outside.

Part of the genius of those books is taking a facet of modern society (how much time we spend indoors) and expanding it until it becomes something overwhelming and strange. While Asimov made me imagine the future, he also turned my attention to the conventions of my own society, and helped me see those with a new eye. This doubling of vision that science fiction and fantasy gives readers is one of the reasons I’ve always loved those genres. Which takes me back to all this snow, and to being in the midst of yet another snow day.  One thing I love about days like this is that they let your mind wander. The kids are home from school, the schedule is wrecked, and no one’s going anywhere. On my particular street, which is always one of the last to see a plow, we have this sense of the world having shrunk to block size. Everyone else feels miles away and mostly inaccessible. If they call in, it’s like a missive from another world. Meanwhile, the neighbors are all outside, shoveling or just enjoying the pristine view of bushes turned into plush toys and trees that have become charcoal drawings. Last big storm, I fell backward into a huge cushion of snow while talking to my friend across the street. There I was, lying on my back in the center of the road, not at all worried about anything but how long my coat would hold out against the damp. A few snow days a year, I would say, can be good for the soul.