Monday, March 24, 2008

things that have changed

I have a five hour layover before getting on my flight to Taiwan and the airport seems to be bringing out the melancholy in me. Somehow, airports contain the key emotions of life and death. It is the place of joyful,loving greetings and painful, tearful farewells. And in between both is the helplessness of waiting.

And because so much of my travels used to happen with Robert or away from him, I can't help sit at an empty gate without thinking of him. It has been over half a year since his actual death, but in reality I had been grieving him for many. So, the finality of his last breath was in many ways the finality of an existence I had, the end of a person I was. For better or worse, his death transformed me.

Perhaps it is those changes that fill me with an unusual fearlessness. I find myself embracing happiness that might not be easily understood, working on projects without worrying about reviews, and losing interest in promotion. And I begin to grasp that my ideas for a successful life have been redefined--I no longer pine for movie deals, 6-digit advances or even the glory of a gold sticker. The success of colleagues with better toys, larger homes and fancier cars somehow leave me cheerfully indifferent. It might be temporary, but it is strangely freeing to realize that suddenly I do not care.

Don't get me wrong, I love my work, truly appreciate accolades and still strive for greatness. But as the days go on, I find myself redefining greatness as well. Perhaps greatness is connecting to people, not impressing them. Because admiration is an emotion one rarely sees at an airport.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ed Emberley Inspiration

Last week, Anna and I had the treat of attending Elaine's North Shore Reading Council dinner and seeing Ed Emberley!

For those of you whom the name does not ring a bell, Ed Emberley is an icon to children's book illustrators, creating books like :

as well as his famous drawing book series like:

I'm a huge fan. To me, he embodies so many of the traits of what I aspire to professionally-- a career of longevity and quality books that always make a connection to their intended readers. Of course while my attempt to reach his pinnacle is mainly for his creative accomplishment, when he spoke of his two houses, his boat and his schedule of leisurely drawing in the morning and then choosing his afternoon activity of either biking, boating or skiing, I have to admit the motivations became a little stronger!

But he deserves it. Not only was he completely charming, his talk was inspiring. His theme was "Anyone can draw, at least the Ed Emberley way!" and it was easy to see how kids--usually so scared to make a mistake--would find their courage, both artistic and personal, from his books.

He drew the whole time he was speaking, which is why my photos are blurry! Never kept still for a minute, that man.

His talk was so good, both Anna and I began to reevaluate our own school visit programs. Were my presentations boring in comparison? I have to admit, I began to feel a bit of a panic. But luckily, both Lucille Beeth (Hi, Lucille!) and Pat Keough, librarians at the Weston School that I visited, were there and calmed my fears by mentioning their plans of inviting me again. Phew!

I'll try not to disappoint. Maybe I'll be better then ever--I would think so after seeing Ed Emberley as an inspiration.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

back to work

So my sabbatical from work has ended, in reality it ended a while ago, but it was only recently that I returned to school visits. My first one was at 4 day event in the West Bloomington area of Michigan, where I am honored to say I was the official "Pine Tree" author. The Pine Tree program is a district-wide reading program, where students are challenged to read a specially selected book titles. Lucky for me, Year of the Dog was one of the titles which is how I wound up in West Bloomington.

But since it was a district wide program, that meant there were a lot of students. Let me repeat that, there were a lot of students. Really. The photo below only shows half the room, my camera did not have a wide enough lens to capture more than that. As I watched the students come into my presentation room, all I could think of was a quote from Homer Price (when the doughnut machine malfunctions): "they just kept right on a comin', an a comin', an a comin', an a comin', an a comin'."

And it's about at this point I realize that West Bloomington is kind of an intimidating place to make my inaugural return visit.

Nonetheless, I entered the gauntlet. And it wasn't too bad. Performing a school visit is like riding a bicycle-- but if you haven't ridden in a while the bicycle chain might be a bit rusty. For example, I presented a slide show to the fifth graders with this image:
Ah, I can still hear the tittering. The last time I presented that lecture it was to adults...and I forgot the middle school mentality when reviewing ahead of time. Oops. Needless to say, that slide was deleted before the next group.

Which went smoother; and by the second day I felt back in the swing of things. Confidence in full gear, I now only felt bad that I did such a mediocre job for the first group.

But the best thing about the visits really were the kids. Creating books alone as well as reading and experiencing discouraging industry news by myself makes me forget that my books are actually read. And that is a nice feeling.And truly makes it worth it to go back to work.