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. 



Courtesy, “Microphone Closeup. . .” by Stuart Miles


I love the sound of language. Beautiful words, powerful rhythms, and the passionate ideas that can unfold from inside them. Is it any wonder I’m fascinated by poets? I’d forgotten for a while how much I loved poetry until my older two daughters – the Book Princess and the Conductor – introduced me to spoken-word poetry. That art form has already produced some stars, notably Sarah Kay and Taylor Mali. But there are so many more yet to be discovered. I realized that when the Conductor recently took a poetry class, and brought home some of the poems a classmate shared. All I could say was, “Wow.” So I asked him if he’d mind sharing one of his poems with a bit of a wider audience. Thankfully, he said yes, so here is “Cindy” by up-and-coming poet Kevin Chen.

We are pendulums,
living on opposite sides of our father’s clock
you were born on midnight,
with both hands already
raised in a solemn surrender.
you were the 4th child of 6.
moved to the united states when you were 5
and met a familiar man who smelled like stir-fry cigarettes
who you’d later call dad at 6
became a makeshift matriarch at 15
Then a full time cashier for our dad’s carryout at 18
your hands have never stopped moving.
I remember that night
when you told me, that your whole life
felt like a fraction.
4 out of 6
Bottom heavy.
Like an inverted hourglass that nobody bothered to turn
they told you to keep your mind in the numerator
and your matter on the denominator
but you told me you were never good with math.
You preferred art,
growing up–in an empty house,
I used to watch your hands
hang like primary colors.
Your hands dancing
like kaleidoscopes across canvas
you were a cartographer,
mapping the intersections between blue
and red and red and blue,
you were painting a cross section of your chest
a sprawling metropolis of arteries and veins
it’s no wonder you left an “x” in the space between your lungs
as if you could solve for it by plugging in numbers and numbers and numbers
you told me you were never good with math.
I remember when you started painting black,
twirling on the axis of midnight,
When the rods in your eyes melted like cavities
when you too started smelling like stir fry cigarettes
you told me that the sum of all colors
would always be black.
I remember the day you stopped painting,
you told me you were looking for a rainbow
one that wasn’t anchored in pots and woks
behind kitchens at carryouts,
you were looking for a reason to believe
that rainbows could exist without the gold.
I remember the day you met a boy,
one that made you feel top heavy
so you fell head over heels
for a man with a prism heart
two partial fractions.
These days
I’ve come to the realization that
I was never good with math either
I could never get my order of operations right
I have this habit of subtracting before adding
taking and never giving
We haven’t said more than a word to each other in years,
but lately i’ve found myself wanting to be more honest,
no metaphor will ever be a suitable
for the three words i never said to you
when you needed me the most
So let’s start over,
Have I told you that I’ve given up trying to be an accountant?
these days I’d much rather be a stormchaser
like one of those guys on the Discovery Channel
I want to dive headfirst towards the nearest twister
and set a picnic in the eye of the storm
i’d like you to meet me there,
with rods and cones in hand
we will find that rainbow.
















The Book Princess Talks Shakespeare — Guest Post 2: The freeing mask

Frederick Richard Pickersgill painting of Orsi...

In part two of the Book Princess’s series on Shakespeare, she talks about how Portia and Viola, two of Shakespeare’s women disguised as men, react to the mask of maleness:

In my last guest post, I used both Portia and Viola as examples of women who, dressed as men, are freed from convention to be themselves, more powerfully than when they are dressed in women’s garb. But the truth is a bit more complex than that – they feel differently about their disguises, and thus, are freed in different ways.

The quote that I began the last post with, “Conceal me what I am,” (Twelfth Night, 1.2.50), makes clear what Viola feels about her disguise – it hides an essential part of her. Even in disguise, Viola acts fully as herself in the play: she confesses her love for Orsino more or less openly (so that when she is revealed as a woman at the end, he has no doubt about her acceptance of his proposal), and she refuses to pretend she is unafraid of a fight, telling Olivia, in a line that echoes Iago, “I am not what I am” (Twelfth Night, 3.1.141). Still, she feels that her disguise negates her in some way. Iago is the mask – he is an anti-person, a “not what I am,” and Viola feels that her disguise makes her not herself as well, a lie personified. Even when the truth comes out and she is revealed to be a woman, she cannot see herself as such while she wears men’s clothing – and neither can the others, as is clear when Orsino says, “Cesario, come — /For so you shall be while you are a man” (5.1.385-386). Freed by her disguise to be herself, she has created another identity, as a charismatic and powerful young man whom she cannot see in herself as a woman. Societal rules and norms of passive womanhood told Viola that women cannot be powerful, so when she is powerful, she believes there is something wrong, that she is not herself.

In contrast, Portia has no problem with her own power. Living in Belmont, with no living parents and no men to tell her she is inferior – for the only men she knows are wooing her – she is only constrained by her father’s written will. Though she formally grants Bassiano rule over her when they marry, she never really is subject to it. Almost immediately, she dresses as a male lawyer to help him and his friend, Antonio, and is herself again – unfettered, brilliant and eloquent, used to command. While in her disguise, she has Bassanio return the ring with which she granted him power over herself and her house, and thus becomes her own mistress again even when she resumes her women’s clothing.

Portia (Merchant of Venice)

While both Viola and Portia are more powerful, more free, and more themselves when dressed as men, Viola, who believes in women’s frailty and her own impotence even as that belief clashes with reality, and who wants only to return to women’s garb and marry Orsino, does not threaten the social order. By contrast, Portia, who is happy and at home with her power and her public role, who feels no need to be subject to male rule, very much does.

The Book Princess Talks Shakespeare, Guest Post 1: Disguise

  “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid for such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent.” ― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night The tension between appearance and reality, between who we seem to be and who we … Continue reading

The Book Princess on Shakespeare

English: Title page of the second quarto editi...

English: Title page of the second quarto edition (Q2) of William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet printed by Thomas Creede in 1599. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My personal experience of parenthood has been one of sustained surprise. First, there was the fact that, in my first pregnancy, I was having twins. That was unexpected. When I heard the news, I had a moment or two of being completely overwhelmed, in response to which someone remarked, “Well, you knew this was a possibility, didn’t you?” Actually, it had never crossed my mind. Thus, the first surprise. But after a couple of moments of severe panic at the thought of being responsible for not one, but two tiny new human beings. I settled down and really enjoyed the twin thing. And the ones that followed, as well.

The parenthood surprises I think of more often now are the surprises that come to most of use when we discover what people our children are, independent thinkers, creative human beings, endlessly interesting and fascinating. One of many welcome surprises that way came for me when the Book Princess got too big for us to continue one of our favorite rituals – reading together at night. From the moment they could understand the spoken word, I loved reading to my kids, and the pleasure only grew as their understanding did. But by the time the Book Princess was eight or nine, she read so quickly I just couldn’t keep up. I missed our reading time together so much that when she was about 12, I came up with the idea of offering to read Shakespeare with her, working on the theory that, number one, as a confirmed book lover, she’d at least be curious, and number two, she wouldn’t be able to do it on her own.

To my delight, she said she’d like to try it, and I pulled Romeo and Juliet from the bookshelf. Having read plays with friends in college, I explained to her that we could assign ourselves roles, dividing up the speaking parts. I figured she’d love the drama of it, even with the difficulty presented by the language. And here came my surprise. She had no difficulty. As I was deciphering Elizabethan English in my own head, my 12-year-old dove into the story as if it were one of her YA novels! Not only did she love it, she seemed unaware that anyone would have any difficulty. When I stopped to ask whether she understood what was going on, she seemed bewildered, and asked me what I meant. “Well, the language is a little hard, isn’t it?” I asked her. “What’s hard about it?” she wanted to know. She then proceeded to tell me what was going on in the story . . . in detail. So what turned out to be the end of my reading to her turned into a whole new beginning. She took that thick book of Shakespeare and zoomed through it, reading most of the plays by the time she finished high school. She even did a tenth grade book report on Henry V.

In college, she wrote some incredible papers on Shakespeare that earned her notice by both students and professors. So I asked her, as a change of pace, if she would do some guest posts here on her favorite subject. And another surprise – she said yes. Now, not only do I get to talk about my daughter (a favorite pastime, as you’ve probably guessed), but anyone reading this can see for themselves why she really does deserve the name Book Princess.

Girl Power

Madame Yucca, The Female Hercules, The Stronge...

Madame Yucca, The Female Hercules, The Strongest Woman on Earth (Photo credit: Vintaga Posters)

Shannon Hale recently had a fascinating blog post, on the continued perception that strong female characters are some kind of aberration, or that writing them is a political statement. She points out that she tries to make her characters realistic, that is, having both strengths and weaknesses, and that strength is not the default male position. I agree with her that we left that behind several years ago. Certainly I grew up reading about strong females, and I know my kids did. But I think the question reflects not so much the doubt that women and girls can be strong as much as the suspicion that society somehow isn’t ready to acknowledge that in public. Heroines from Antigone onward have been strong and even assertive, but the reaction to that assertiveness and strength in the context of the story’s society is very different than it would be to a man’s. Antigone’s on my mind because the Castle Builder is reading it in school. And Antigone is a fascinating character because she asserts herself and dies for it. Historically, that is actually the more typical prototype of strong female characters. She’s morally right, she’s the heroine, but she dies because society can’t accommodate her assertive strength. Shakespeare’s Juliet is another one. She defies her father’s wishes and ends up dead. Now, we all know – and even Elizabethan audiences surely agreed – that her father was wrong and Juliet was right. But who’s left standing at the end of the play? The Book Princess once pointed out that Shakespeare’s females are often only able to be powerful when wearing boys’ clothing. She offered Portia in Merchant of Venice, Rosalind in As You Like It and Viola in Twelfth Night as examples. (More on that, I hope, in an upcoming guest post from my resident Shakespeare expert.)

So we’ve always had “strong female characters.” But what happens to them? Are they considered, in the context of their world, anomalies? Sinners? Martyrs? Or are they, again in the context of their own worlds, unremarkable? I think in Shannon Hale’s books, they’re unremarkable, and that is likely what prompted that question in the first place.

Because the Book Princess is a Treasure Hunter

Because the Book Princess is a treasure hunter, I found this in my inbox this morning:

It’s worth a watch. First, because to hear books read aloud is a unique pleasure unlike most other pleasures in the world. Second, because it fascinates me that so many truly great books are banned by someone or other. But then, maybe that’s the point. And third, because it’s just so beautifully well done. Thanks for the wonderful find, Book Princess!