Lois Lowry's Blog
Two photos. One I just took off the internet, of a coyote; the other I just took of the coyote roaming the city park across the street from my house. At first I thought it was a dog, of course. Oh dear, someone's dog has gotten loose, I thought. I wonder if I could go lure him into my yard and check his collar for a name and address. (I did that once some years ago and discovered that I had a Lab belonging to the then governor of Massachusetts)
Then I could see that he had no collar. Then, as I watched his behavior - long loping circles of the park - I realized it wasn't a dog but a coyote. Checking the photo and description on the internet confirmed it.
It's early morning, still...it was 6:30 AM when I first saw him. He's still there now, at 7. So there are no moms with their toddlers or people walking their dachshunds, not yet. And I suppose when Saturday-morning life begins in earnest, the coyote will lope off and disappear. Still, it is a little disconcerting having him there.
Not, however, to the Cambridge police. I called them to alert them to it and got a big yawn in reply.
OKay, so I was just in New York for a couple of days. Went to a glitzy black-tie dinner at the Museum of Natural History where we ate dinner under the dangling great blue whale, and listened to Tina Brown and Gore Vidal and Tim Russert and others. A lovely once-a year event which raises money for PEN, the organization that promotes and supposts literary freedom and fights on behalf of oppressed writers everywhere.
But that has nothing to do with the "where do you get your ideas?" question. It just explains why I was in New York.
On Monday morning I was walking on Broadway, between, oh, 79th and 83rd...(okay, so I'd been to the Barnes & Noble. So I can't live a day without going to a bookstore. I bought a book for my grandson) ...headed back to my hotel... when suddenly I saw a very small boy, maybe two or three...toddling out in the street. Just wandering, in the way of little ones, headed south on Broadway, in the cars-going-north side of the street, where luckily, at the next corner, traffic was stopped for a light. But the light would be changing in a few seconds, and there was this little guy, waddling along in his Pampers and OshKosh overalls, just happily making his way down the center of the street.
So I ran out and scooped him up. He yowled and kicked me, and I didn't blame him. When I took him back to sidewalk and looked around, I could see a panicky mother...with an empty stroller...frantically looking around. "Ive got him!" I called. I delivered him back to her, she heaved a sigh of relief, the traffic rumbled past, she thanked me, and I went on my way.
But here's what I began thinking. What if...heh, heh, isn't that always the key phrase?...as I stood there holding that yowling child, his mother had yelled, "Grab that woman! She took my little boy!" So now I am grabbed by a beefy passerby, a concerned citizen, while the woman dials 911 on her cell phone, and next thing I know, a black-and-white car comes up with sirens going, and in seconds the police have me in plastic handcuffs....
An e-mail from a kid says, in its entirety, "U look scary."
Without more explanation from him, I can only assume that he was looking at the photo of me that appears on this blog.
But it could have been any head shot of me. Because here's the thing: I have light blue eyes.
Once, years ago, an artist friend asked if I would sit for her, for a portrait. She needed one to use as advertising. I agreed, but asked why she had asked me, in particular. I think (I was young then) I was hoping for a compliment.
She replied, "Long neck. Spooky eyes."...
Another wet morning, and Alfie is outside trying to decide (I just peeked through the window at him; that's how I know this) whether to walk through and fracture all my new-blooming tulips, or to concentrate on the muddy patch over by the hydrangeas, so that he can come in and run through the house leaving footprints.
My late son's late golden retriever had been trained to pause in the doorway and lift each paw to be wiped clean and dry in turn. Alas, one cannot train a wiggly, exuberant Tibetan puppy to do that. It is more a matter of grabbing at him as he dashes through the door.
I am back in Cambridge after spending Tuesday and Wednesday in Maine, finishing up book revisons and mailing them off; then, after seeing a weather forecast that predicted heavy rain starting Thursday night, I drove home Thursday afternoon and am now working on the book illustrations here instead of there. (Just pen and ink sketches to decorate each chapter)
When I left the farm, I turned off the water pump as I always do, and set the security alarm. On Friday, starting at 7:50 AM, the alarm went off, the police went up to the hsoue; and then, over the course of the next four hours, the police were dispatched four more separate times. Clearly something is wrong with the system, and I have finally reached the people who imstalled it, and they have deactivated it and will go up and take a look to see what's wrong. (Burglars take notice: this is happening as I speak.)
But in the meantime, the local police force now hates me, I am certain; and when an ax murderer is creeping up my stairs some night, and I stealthily call them from my hiding place under the bed, they will say to each other, "Oh, her. Don't even think about going up there." They will pour another cup of coffee and put their feet back up on their desks....
I wish I'd thought to bring my camera this trip because though it is gray and bleak here today in rural Maine, (and snow still in the woods in places) daffodils are bursting forth and blooming; the yellow is especially vibrant in this colorless weather. Mt. Washington is still snow-covered and cruel looking in the distance. A friend of mine died on Mt. Washington, in 1994, when he was hiking, and caught by, and unprepared for, bad weather. It has happened often, sadly, on that mountain. Yet it is breathtaking in its stark, hard beauty.
I have a very old (1940) home movie...now transferred to videotape.... of me on the beach in Honolulu, playing with my grandmother who is visiting from Wisconsin. Idyllic scene. Water lapping gently. Cloudless sky. Toddler laughing, holding her hat in the breeze. Soft sand. Smiling grandmother.
And behind them, on the horizon, moving slowly, inexorably, is the outline of the USS Arizona. It carried 1200 young man. They all died at Pearl Harbor a few months later.
What would the world be without such contrast? Or literature? What would we write about, or read about, if there were no tragedy against which to measure joy?
Would we gasp at the sight of daffodils, if we had not come through a winter?
Once again, thanks to all those who have submitted comments. I do read and appreciate them all but as I've explaned, I can't post them. Those kids who have asked for a reply...go to the "email" section of my website and send an email through there. Those are the ones I can reply to, not comments submitted to the blog. (Oh my, all this technoogy!)
Two days ago I received a DVD showing a group of actors in Milwuakee seated at microphones, reading the script for the stage adaptation I've done of "GOSSAMER." Now I must go at the script again, usng what I've learned from the reading: what doesn't flow well, what needs cutting, what is distracting, what is extraneous. The actors, too, and the theater director will send me their notes, and next week I'll go to Maine where I am completely isolated and undistracted, and I'll write the revised script.
In August I will go to Milwaukee, as will the theater director from Portland, Oregon - it is a combined commission from the two theaters - and the play will be professionally read again, this time with us all present, and then I will once again fiddle with it.
Ironically, when I took the 14-hour train ride overnight on Sunday, heading home from Richmond, I borrowed a nice thick book from a Richmond friend...a biography of Edward Albee. So I have just been reading about Albee going through the same process. (Well, not exactly the same; I'm not going to have Sir John Gielgud saying, "Sorry, old chap, that soliliquy is too long for me!")
But certainly his pre-production process was much the same: readings, revisions, more readings, more revisions. Cutting and adding and tweaking and honing....
Well, after Logan Airport virtually closed down last night, and I was in Richmond, VA, hoping to get home, I went to Richmond's train station and boarded an Amtrak train at 6 PM. All night I hurtled (okay, it wasn't really hurtling; it was stopping at every small town) up the East Coast through rain and wind. I ate a microwaved hot dog for dinner at some point and I dozed a bit from New Haven to Providence, even though the guy in the seat behind me was talking endlessly to his girlfriend (hearing only half a conversation, one imagines the other half. What I heard was frequent "So now you're questioning my sexuality?" What might she have said to prompt that from him? Many possibilities occurred to me) At 8 AM, groggy, I emerged at South Station in Boston, took the subway to Cambridge and then from Harvard Square a taxi the short distance home, where there was fresh coffee waiting in the kitchen when I walked through the door.
In Boston, today, they ran the Marathon through the wind and rain, and there were a lot of stalwart fans along the roadsides, wearing raingear and watching and cheering. I was not one of them. I curled up under a quilt on my bed and slept most of the morning.
Now the storm has ended here but it is still raging farther north and my Maine caretaker just called to say that high winds apparently set off the alarm system in my house there. He checked and found no evidence of burglars. What burglars would be out in this weather? Any self-respecting burglar would be home, cozy, enjoying loot from some previous crime.
The Holocaust Remembrance Service in Richmond...the reason I was there yesterday...was moving and solemn, held in the very fine Virginia Holocaust Museum; and I was glad that I was able to make it despite not-very-pleasant trips each way.
And now I am glad to be home, and Sunday's NYT crossword puzzle is finished, and I have just mailed my tax stuff; and though I missed The Sopranos last night, I can still catch its re-run this week. All is well.
Well, after several cold and now-and-then snowy days in Chicago (and wonderful meetings with kids in bookstores as well as the Chicago Latin School) I flew home late yesterday in order to have one day to catch my breath - and finalize my taxes - before leaving at dawn Sunday for Richmond, to speak at their Yom Ha Shoah Holocaust Remembrance ceremony Sunday afternoon.
But once again weather intervened. The forecast calls for a real Nor'easter here tomorrow (Sunday) with little likelihood that my smallish plane, headed to Philadelphia at dawn, for a change to Richmond, was going to get off the ground. US Airways confirmed that they would not be flying out of Logan Sunday morning.
So, late last night, the chair of the Richmond event and I tried to find ways to get me there. I balked when she wanted me to go to Providence this afternoon, from there to Detroit, from Detroit to Charlottseville, from Charlottesville to Richmond. I'm just too old and too weary for such an undertaking.
But now I am booked to leave home in a couple of hours, fly to New York, then from New York to Washington, and from Washington by car to Richmond. I will speak in Richmond tomorrow afternoon. Then: what are the chances of my getting my flight home tomorrow night? With the predicted storm underway? Probably zilch.
What are the chances, now, of my getting my taxes - still at my accountant's office - signed and mailed on time? Miniscule....
I am writing this from a hotel room in cold, damp, foggy Chicago, where I have been for several days and from which I am headed home tomorrow. Right now I have an hour's free time before a lunch engagement...and then a trip to Naperville for a bookstore event at Anderson's this evening.
I spent yesterday at the Chicago Latin School. I don't usually visit schools any more (too old, too tired, too busy) but for various reasons had accepted this invitation some time ago. And it is always a treat to be in a school...to be with librarians! and kids! and teachers! and to see the excitement that books still bring. It always makes me a little sad about my own childhood recollections, my years in a small town public elementary school that had no libraryand no books except textbooks. Fortunately my town had a wonderful public library not far from my home, and fortunately I had a mom who took me there by the hand when I was probably five, and then let me go there alone from the time I was six or so. So there was never a shortage of books in my life or in my home...but there must have been in the lives of so many of my classmates. And today it is schools that fill that void for so many children. I love the brightly lit, colorful feel of school libraries, the way librarians greet each child by name, the eagerness with which the kids discuss what they're reading.
But I was saddened this morning to hear of the banning of "The Chocolate War" in Harford County, Maryland. To read about it: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/harford/
....and saddened, too, to read of Kurt Vonnegut's death.
Cormier and Vonnegut, both of them gone now; both of them monumental literary figures in the lives of young people for several generations. Bob Cormier was a friend of mine. A soft-spoken, intelligent, and thoughtful man. I remember that just three weeks or so before his death in 2000, he sat in my living room sipping wine and describing his wife's wonderful gardens....
Tomorrow I head off to Chicago (where, incidentally, for anyone who is interested, I will be apppearing at The Bookstall in Winnetka tomorrow night at 7 PM, and at Anderson's in Naperville at 7 PM Thursday night)
Preparing for a trip made me pause, in my daily browsing of poetry, at a poem called "At the Airport" by Howard Nemerov. I know I once quoted an airport poem by Billy Collins...and more reently, one by Mary Oliver. Here is Nemerov's contribution to the oeuvre:
AT THE AIRPORT
Through the gate, where nowhere and night begin,
A hundred suddenly appear and lose
Themselves in the hot and crowded waiting room.
A hundred other herd up toward the gate,
Patiently waiting that the way be opened
To nowhere and night, while a voice recites
The intermittent litany of numbers
And the holy names of distant destinations.
None going out can be certain of getting there.
None getting there can be certain of being loved
Enough. But they are sealed in the silver tube
And lifted to be fed and cosseted,
While their upholstered cell of warmth and light
Shatters the darkness, nether here nor there.
People ask about Alfie. He turned one year old on April 1st, and here he is, four days later, this morning at 6:30 AM, in the mud of my garden (April IS the cruelest month). It is hard to tell his size in a photo; he weighs about 26 pounds, the size of, oh, a large cocker spaniel. He needs a good combing and I should have waited before taking his picture and made certain he was clean and fluffy and photo-worthy. But this is how he usually looks: a little scruffy and unkempt. He is a sweet and affectionate dog; also mischievous and exuberant...still chewing things, though I think he's getting a little better (or maybe we have just gotten better at keeping closet doors closed and most things out of his range).
Recently someone told me about her dog named Elvis. They called his crate "Graceland."
Alfie doesn't have a crate. He had one, and hated it. But he does have a lair, a dark place behind the couch in the TV room, and he goes there to hide out or to take a snooze. But he can be sound asleep in his lair, and wake instantly at the sound of someone taking ice cubes out of the freezer. Ice cubes are among his favorite things. Among his other favorites are the hedgehog he got for Christmas, the only toy that has remained intact....it must have been an especially well-made hedgehog; it still squeaks after all these months.
He still hates being left alone, though he understands, "No, you stay" when we are at the door with coats on and car keys in hand, and he turns back with his tail drooping in disappointment, and makes me think, always, of the last line of the Dorothy Parker poem:...
Your last two posts are of great interest to me. Is it perhaps The People's Light And Theater Company that is doing The Giver? If so, it's nearby and I'll try to see it, Also, I have cousins and friends in Slovakia, so I enjoyed your "monk" question. It's an unusual country, I think! My grandmother left there between the World Wars. I think communism made it even more backward a place.
Yes, that's the theater! I've forgotten the dates of their production but you can find it out from the theater, I'm sure.
.... we've started Gossamer and have just gotten to the first "infliction". The room was very quiet - another reason I read to classes - it's the one time I know they'll pay complete attention! Sadly, we have to return to grammar and standards requirements, which they don't seem to care for quite as much. Fancy that!
And again from Dawn (thanks, Dawn, for clarifying):
It was the "what if..." comment that caused me to think about THE GIVER. You had made the statement at a conference once that I attended when you were telling us your motivation for writing the novel. "What if..." there wasn't such a difference in the "have" and "have nots"? What if there was no such thing as poverty? What if we could do away with illness,disease, grief, and all the misfortune and ugliness in the world? What if Utopia was actually possible? Jonas shows us that it is not. Even within the safety and protection of his utopian community, he was willing to sacrifice it all for the freedom to choose and live life as he had learned it should be lived. I wonder, would the ones living in the 5.03 million dollar house give up their "utopia" in order to save someone as Jonas did and escape to "Elsewhere"?
...and here, from a theater director in Pennsylvania who will soon do a performance of THE GIVER, an excerpt from his program notes:
....Listening does not seem like a brave act. There are no medals given for empathy. It appears to take no courage to be curious when someone begins a sentence with “I remember…” Yet these things can take us to some unpredictable, even scary, places....
After I wrote my last post, in which I was musing about the rich guy asleep in his house across the street, a few yards away from the homelss guy sleeping in the park... I got a response from Dawn, who writes:
"What if.... Oh no, I must stop thinking that way; and Mark Twain already WROTE that book."
As did you! :)
I was thinking of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, in which the two trade places for a while. Dawn says I already wrote that book, too...Hmmmm. I am trying to think what book she might mean....
A couple of weeks ago I commented on the New York Times article profiling Gregory Maguire, overall a fine piece, but I thought something he purportedly said had been taken out of context or misquoted. Yesterday I talked to Gregory and he confirmed that indeed it had been misrepresented. No surprise to me because I knew he would not have said something that sounded demeaning to the field of children's literature.
I told him about the time...this was probably 25 years ago...when I was interviewed for an article in a newspaper somewhere. The journalist asked my opinion of the work of Judy Blume. I scrunched up my face and jokingly said, "Judy Who? Never heard of her.." Laughing, of course, because at the time hers was the best-known name in the field. But the published article said, to my embarrassment, "When asked about popular YA author Judy Blume, Lowry professed never to have heard the name."
One of my favorite letters from kids, incidentally, during that time, was one that said, "In my class we all have to write a letter to an author. We had to draw straws to see who would get Judy Blume. I did not win so I am writing to you."
This morning there is a homeless person sleeping in a park across the street, a sure and sad sign that spring has come. Curled up in an a raggedy sleeping bag, this person is probably 20 yards from a house that is listed on Zillow.com at 5.03 million. Inside that house, someone is sleeping as well. The distance between the two people is so small, and so huge. What if.... Oh no, I must stop thinking that way; I have enuogh work in front of me already. And Mark Twain already WROTE that book.
As I've explained in the past, I don't post replies on this blog. I decided on that policy after I discovered that it was very easy for the casual reader to obtain the email address of those who responded. Many of those are kids, and I didn't want to make them accessible to strangers.
But I do receive the replies, and read them with great interest. Thank you to the surprising number of you who have written to express support of the 6th grade teacher whose Holocaust project was described here.
As one respondant said: It takes a caring teacher to give an idea a try.
PAPER CLIPS is the name of a documentary film. This is the description that Netflix gives for it: Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee is the setting for this documentary about an extraordinary experiment in Holocaust education. Struggling to grasp the concept of 6 million Holocaust victims, the students decide to collect 6 million paper clips to better understand the enormity of the calamity. The film details how the students met Holocaust survivors from around the world and how the experience transformed them and their community.
I mention it because it was the inspiration for the teacher who emailed me recently, and whose email I posted here, telling me of the project he'd designed for his 6th graders. Paper clips are a pretty prosaic object and he chose something similarly, ah, pedestrian: shoe laces. Six million shoelaces. It could have been jelly beans, I suppose, or erasers: any small object that kids could collect that would show them, in the aggregate, the magnitude of 6 million, a concept that is hard for all of us to grasp.
http://www.hbook.com/blog/2007/03/six-million-what.html is the address of Roger Sutton's blog, which he kindly sent to me to let me know that he had commented acidly on the mindlessness of such a project. And a number of his blog-readers have responded with their comments, most of them simliarly critical.
I'm fond of Roger, whom I've known for a good many years...(I would tell you the number of years but you would have to go out and collect M&Ms or - better - malt balls - in order to perceive the magnitude). But I don't really agree with him or his intellectualizing readers on this one. I don't think the teacher's project is mindless or silly or lazy. It may not WORK for all kids. Some of them will look back and wonder, in years to come, "What did we tie all those stupid shoelaces together for?" But heck, nothing works for all students. I myself look back and haven't a clue why I memorized the binomial theorem in 1954.
But there will be others on whom it makes a huge impact. And if you rent and watch the film...which I recommend...you will be quite convinced that there is a large group of former children in Tennessee who will not ever forget six million paper cliips and what it taught them....
One of the best things about the commuity of children's authors is the quality of the friendships I have made, over the years, with wonderful people who do what I do, love what I love.
Yesterday, in one of those coincidences that no longer surprise me. I heard from two friends of many years.
Lois Duncan and I have shared some uncanny coincidences over the years, and neither of us has forgotten the time we both spoke at the same conference—both of us more or less the same age, with many things, (including lawyer ex-husbands) in common, the same color hair, and on that particular day, wearing almost identical yellow dresses, so that as we sat together on a panel, no one knew to which Lois questions were being addressed. We would receive each other's fan mail from time to time. When, in 1989, I received a puzzling letter of condolence from the California Booksellers, I realized with distress what the mistake might be. When I called Lois, she told me that her eighteen year old daughter, Kaitlyn, had been murdered.
Six years later, in 1995, it was she who called me after my son, Grey, had been killed in a plane crash.
Yesterday I received in the mail a book from Lois Duncan. Over many years she had chronicled her own life in poetry and now she has published it as a unique kind of autobiography called "Seasons of the Heart." (She points out in a note to me that if you look for it on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com, you should accompany your search with her name, because there are a number of other books with the same title.)...