Sunday, January 26, 2014


November 11, 2012
Thoughts from the Regular Life: Veterans’ Day

On this solemn day, I think about the men and women who have defended our country. Of the horrifying losses in the Civil War, the astounding numbers of dead and wounded in WWI. Of my friend whose uncle died in WWII and the many Veterans’ Day ceremonies we attended each year with her family on the shores of Lake St. Clair to honor an uncle she never knew.

In our living room is a small framed picture of my Uncle Norman in his Army uniform. Young, handsome, looking out as us as we look back at him each day. I think of him often now that he’s gone and consider how little I know of his service. WWII. France. He served with a tank unit, the obvious reason for his permanent hearing loss. But the experience itself? Details? Places? Feelings? Aftermath? In my memory, never talked about. What any of us today can gather from WWII is mainly secondhand, from diaries, documentaries, history books, family stories. Being human, we have the ability to mentally assess the destructive forces of war on mind and body. But as thoughtful and well-meaning as we may be, empathy and intellect are poor substitutes for the reality—the battlefields of that war and others—the direct effects of battle.

It is impossible to go to war and return unscathed. In the Civil War, what we now call PTSD was known as Soldiers’ Heart. Read Gary Paulsen’s book by that eponymous title, five years in the writing, about the wrenching changes that took place for the young men and the nurses and doctors who were part of that bloody endeavor. Consider the horrendous post-war treatment of our Vietnam fighters or the wide-ranging penetration of PTSD in the ranks of our Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers. And, at last, with civilians and those in the ranks and the medical profession is evolving a slowly changing attitude and understanding of toward reaching out and supporting the men and women who have served multiple tours of duty in faraway lands.

Living near Camp Pendleton, we hear heart-rending news of the injuries and deaths of young Marines and the effects on their families of long separations, terrible injuries, and, in many cases, loss of life. It’s remarkable how these brave returnees and other across the country do, in fact, soldier on. Witness the units on the east coast that have banded together, using their training, to help those hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. One, working with his former comrades, said that banding together and reaching out has been more effective for returning vets as a way of handling what they have been through than other means have been. We honor our veterans all, the living and the dead.

Since 1987, this day has, for me, had an added layer. Twenty-five years ago my friend Frannie was on her way out to visit us on a business trip. Her cousin discovered her, lying on her couch with a tall stack of books beside her, no longer with us. She was only forty-four and her death was shocking, close to unbelievable. We’d been pals since second grade, and our houses were close, a hop of the fence away, so we could have Social Tea cookies at my house and then go to her house to do homework. Such memories really never fade away. A recent Ted Talk on memory noted that memory is not static, fixed. Our minds reinvent things each time we turn mentally to certain events, which explains why my mother and aunt would argue vociferously and with absolute certitude about specifics: “That’s not what happened, sister, dear.”
But I feel with vociferous certitude that some things I remember are true. That my mom and Fran’s were co-leaders of Girl Scout Troop 940, how we worked on badges, caroled in the old folks’ home, ate rattlesnake meat on St. Patrick’s day (okay, that was my mom, not Fran’s), went on field trips, planted seedlings on hillsides to prevent erosion, learned to leave a place better than we found it and, on a deeper level, learned about friendship and doing the right thing and listening and caring. And we joked that we were going to rock together on the porch of the old folks’ home while Girl Scouts sang to us.

Thus, as with many of you, Veterans’ Day is both broad and encompassing, narrow and deeply personal.

The Regular Life: Paean to Cartoonists

You know I’m a life-long comics fan. I’ve come across such brilliant, erudite comics lately. The big question is this—how on earth do you cartoonists sustain the work of producing daily and Sunday strips and still come up with clever, funny twists and angles? You’re appreciated, you know, all of you.

Did you see the Argyle Sweater with C-3PO looking at a Sudoku that’s in binary? Nothing but ones and zeroes. Total hoot.
Fred Basset recently delved into math. It gives the problem and Fred’s owner solves it in 22 seconds whereupon Fred asks, looking right at us, “How about you?” So. How about you: 7 x 12 x (16 + 2 – 12) ÷ 2 = ?  Twenty-two seconds? (I made it.)
Love the play on words in a sign sporting a frog silhouette in a recent Bizarro: No Parking, Violators Will Be Toad.

I’m always on the hunt for cartoons related to my CryptoMania: Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids, exploring Greek and Latin roots.
Two Bizarro rhinos, one with a normal-sized horn and the other with a tiny horn, are chatting. The latter says, “Laugh all you want, but there a reason they call it “rhinoplasty,” bro. Har har, rhino being “nose” in Greek; plasty being “mold” or “form.”

A recent Sunday Baby Blues has the kids on the lawn, cloud-gazing and naming the clouds. Zoe points out an “altocumulus lenticularis.” Well, alto is high and cumulus is “heap” or “pile.” So think of a heap of laundry—flat on the bottom. And cumulus clouds do feature a flat base. But here’s the cool thing—lenti is lens. So go to Internet images. Round, flat clouds like a sticky bun or a UFO, or, well, a lens! Check out these others: “cirrocumulus undulatus” (there’s “undulate” so you can make the logical leap to wave/wavy). Zoe mentions “cirrus unicus,” also called mares’ tails—this one deriving from “curly hooks.” Hammie comes back with “cirrocumulus stratiformis”—meaning “stretched out.” They ask, “What do you think, Dad?” Darryl retreats inside, telling his wife, “Somebody invented knew kinds of clouds since we were in school.” Wanda adds, “Probably the same guy who keeps coming up with new ways to confuse me about math.” What a cool way to introduce kids to science-based Greek and Latin.

Elsewhere. Sun Rising in the West . . .
The Regular Life

Come October, the rising of the sun (well, our turning toward it) comes later. So that when I, often a night owl, woke early and headed to the pool at the rec. area, the world was still in shadow. Unlike many previous mornings—misty, grey, overcast—the sky was clear. I eased into the water (which, admittedly, seems colder and colder as summer fades), facing west, and began my routine of fast jogging (as fast as you can jog in water, which is slow), the brain going elsewhere. My quiet half hour that starts the day.

The view across the street turned into a stage set, complete with lighting. At the highest tip of the liquid amber tree, its foliage the elongated oval of a giant grapefruit spoon, two lone leaves turned from dull grey to copper as if a spotlight had been turned on. To the north, stand two huge old eucalyptus trees, the bark of their trunks smooth, tinted several earth-tone shades. Another spotlight flicked on, turning uppermost leaves golden.

Copper slowly painted the liquid amber leaves, save for a strange semi circle that remained the dull color of early dawn. And it dawned (uh-oh, little pun there) on me to turn, facing east, to study the shape of the big tree that had been behind me to see how it had blocked the sun from the section of the liquid amber I’d faced.

Instead of following my usual routine (ten minutes in shallow end doing press-downs with empty milk bottles, my uberly expensive exercise equipment, then ten with aqua-belt in deep end, then ten of laps), I kept up the run, jog, walk to watch the sun rise in the west and north. Hypnotically, majestically, more and more of the onstage tree brightened; color climbed down the trunks of the eucalyptus, until the sun kissed the deck, turning a nondescript faded pink to, hmmmm, the color of marigolds . . .

That half hour of nature’s theater took the place of my usual day-planning, plot unraveling, mental guinea pig wheel To Do list. Critic’s assessment? Golden. Riveting. Mesmerizing. Not to be missed.

Hmmm. Last post notes "Much going on here." Will just say "ditto" and fill you in. First, two big projects are in the final stages.

I’m excited to say that my Cryptomania Workbook on Greek and Latin roots has been copyediting and is now in the capable hands of my graphic designer and artist. Kim Doner, who illustrated my Cryptomania book, is creating the black and white spot art and just sent a fab drawing of Alphy the Microcyanosaurus in Greco-Roman garb. The dude has personality and his lively presence will brighten the pages.

My critique groups are now listening to parts of Jump, Froggies!, the eBook I’m writing for folks brand new to children’s writing. (I’m at the wrestle-it-to-the-mat stage.) Will post when both are available.

So honored to be included on the Advisory Board as UCSD Extension plans its new certificate program for writing and illustrating children’s books. What a great idea. We met last week—a bunch of bibliophiles all splashing about in ideas.

And now that 2014 is here, I only have four months (four months!) to wait for Random House to launch my Sleepytime Me. Christopher Denise’s art is breathtaking. Hop over to Christopher’s site and blog for sneak peeks of cover and interior art: christopherdenise.com and christopherdenise.blogspot.com

Busy February coming up. My friend Alexis O’Neill is coming down by train and staying with me—we’re both speaking at CSLA—CA School Library Association. Judith Josephson and I are speaking on writing biographies and ebiographies for young readers. And the next Saturday I’m at CATE switching between my Grammar Patrol hat and a laurel wreath to discuss common bloopers and Greek and Latin roots.