Sunday, April 29, 2007

Illogical Propositions Bankrolled by Love

Yesterday I attended my second Western Washington SCBWI Writing and Illustrating for Children Conference. An inspiring keynote "sprang" from author Bruce Coville, one of the most engaging and animated authors I've ever seen as well as a thrilling demonstration given by funny, grace-under-pressure illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky. This annual conference drew an impressive array of editors, agents, authors & illustrators to bestow the in's and out's of crafting children's books to 400+ aspiring writers and artists. (In my case: those who lack prodigal writing talent and need to try much harder than they currently are.)

If I'm lucky AND good, maybe children's writing will be something more than a hobby. But walk into a book store and go to the picture book section. Behold the 100's nay, 1000's of books that already exist in the genre. The selection is dizzying. So why in my right mind would I pour my heart and soul into such steep competition and slim revenue potential? The only answer that comes to mind is love. Love of children and the magic picture books bring into our lives. Stories that move, shape and deepen our connection to the world and each other. Love is the only logical answer to an illogical proposition. I try to keep this in mind as I slalom through inspired creative curves, stretches of bumpy self-defeat and moments of reality-induced free-fall.

Spanning all of those feelings in one single moment yesterday, I got to talk to an editor for 10 minutes about one of my manuscripts. She read it and had comments. Lots of comments. Comments that require some serious revision. Ms. Editor was brutally honest and I respect that. Because every bit of her feedback made sense but I just wish I'd figured it out first. She said I could send her the revised version--and thus begins my mission.

The most important thing I've learned is that writers write. It's so simple yet so intimidating. Could I have tried harder these past few years? Yes. Have I given it my full commitment and attention? No. Will I do better? Absolutely. To me, being a writer is a commitment and responsibility because like Deborah Noyes Wayshak of Candlewick Press said, "Nothing is lost on writers." Being a writer is peeling away assumptions and looking for universal truths. When you open yourself up this way, you see the world just like a child does and in that there is magic. Here is to finding the truths...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech Connection

Ken graduated from Virginia Tech in 1991.

While he doesn’t go back there nearly as much as we go visit WSU, it's still part of him, part of his history. I’ve been keeping an eye on him this week in light of the horrible event on Monday. In the mornings, he’s taken to hitting the snooze button immediately when our “NPR alarm” goes off because the predominant stories are about the massacre. He says “I’m just not ready yet.” In truth, how could anyone be ready for it? This story deserves and is receiving constant media coverage but it’s A LOT to take in, especially if you have a connection to the place. I can only imagine...

I’ve read the profiles of the fallen and seen the repulsive photos of the shooter splashed on the front page of the newspaper. I have also read the Washington Post's comprehensive summary of the details of that day, changing it from a unfathomable spectacle to a waking nightmare. I think the dead deserve our attention, not only to know them as the shining lights they once were, but to know how fragile life is and how the end can come quickly, brutally, undeservedly.


Hope for the future and realizing one’s potential are a major part of going to college, but now I suspect something persistent and seeded in distrust may creep into the college experience. Like flying on an airplane now, any room for exception or magic has given way to rules and annoyance. And it’s not what you want for the next generation(s). Freedom, spontaneity, openness and making friends is hard to do if you’re wondering whether the quiet kid in the corner is going to snap one day and go big with it. I can't help but wonder where the rage comes from?

Project Green Blog

Evidently… reader and friend, Megan, is blogging! See what she had to say about KSTW's program about being green and the difficulties of “walking the walk.”

Cat Trap, part deux

At 5 am Wednesday morning, Ken sprang from bed at the screeching of the cat trap’s tell-tale alarm. In my foggy state, I heard him throw open the kitchen door, looking for our furry counter-jumper. Predictably, Oliver bolted out the cat door before Ken could catch him. But the satisfaction and pure glee that the cat trap had worked lessened the crime-against-humanity-hour at which we’d been awakened. Kudos to Ken for an ingenious plan! Ken said he just wishes we would have put a webcam in there to capture the wondrous moment. I just hope after all this effort that Oliver has “learned something.”

Sunday, April 15, 2007

To Build a Better Cat Trap

Our darling cat Oliver has recently taken to jumping up on the kitchen counter and scrounging whatever edible food item is not tucked safely inside several layers of plastic. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to come home from work to a rosemary roll I really wanted with dinner in bits and pieces all over the floor. We were perplexed as to how to discourage this behavior because we can't bar him from the kitchen due to the house's layout, using upside down sticky tape (a previously successful method in Ken's apartment) warns him it's there with a distinct smell--not to mention it's very inconvenient for the humans using the kitchen--and electroshock is apparently out of the question. So my clever husband awoke me at 2:30 am the other morning to share with me his grand vision of how to teach our little cat that mommy and daddy don't take kindly to tiptoeing on the counter. Aside from the timing, it was quite good. Behold, the cat trap.... Can't see it? Here's a closer look: The idea is to create an unstable landing surface that will present an immediate consequence (he'll fall back) and to negatively reinforce jumping up again we have the Tattle Tale, a motion sensing alarm that emits a loud siren when jostled in any way. The beauty of this cat trap is that it's quickly moved aside when we need to use the kitchen and easy to set up before we leave. It also goes without saying that we'll make sure not to leave open or poorly wrapped food on the counter anymore. I'll let you know how it goes. But being completely metal, it could be electrified...I'm just saying.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Besides our mutual adoration of Radiohead, the painted houses in Burano and marshmallow Peeps, Ken and I have something fundamental in common: both of our mothers were raised Catholic. But once they were adults and had children, our moms felt the doctrine of Catholicism was too rigid to pass on. And they both decided to let their kids follow unmitigated paths to spirituality.

My extended family includes the faiths of Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism & Christianity. So growing up with multi-religious and multi-cultural influences proved wonderfully eye-opening. Because I respected and loved all of my family, it made perfect sense to me that multiple belief systems could co-exist and that all could be "right". But this exposure complicated matters of making my own choice.

I'll be the first to admit that finding your own belief system is a lonely road to traverse. I liken it to walking down a dark road in the desert at night with stars on all sides. There is a feeling of immenseness and smallness all at once. It is the never ending journey of asking why and having to answer the questions yourself. It's difficult and I can see why alot of people by the sheer weight of the questions would relent to a belief system with a safety net. Faith provides answers where there are gaps. And there are many gaps.

I certainly "tried on" organized religion when attending various church functions with friends in middle school & high school. At first, people at these events pounced on me when I mentioned I didn't have a religious affiliation. Believers (whom I now call "Churchies") can get downright scary when they want to convert you. So I eventually took to saying I was a Buddhist and they backed off.

I guess this is a bit glib, but I liken "organized" Christianity to clothes shopping. I found it always a bit short in the sleeves and too tight around the neck. It's not that the Churchies weren't well-meaning. I just didn't know why something supposedly so "right" was such a hard sell. This discouraged me and I abandoned trying to find enlightenment in a "pre-packaged" form once and for all.

As a result, my belief system pulls from the fundamentals of connectedness (read: "The Golden Rule") and realizing that doing harm to others or the environment is effectively doing harm to myself and all that I love. So the more positive contributions I can make, the better this world can be. But I have no interest in dogma and rhetoric that rolls out from interpretations of interpretations. And I certainly would never say there is only one true way. Because a reality structured with only one path to enlightenment would profoundly disappoint me. It's far too limiting.

So this past Easter Sunday, Ken and I were having lunch and reading an article in Newsweek called The God Debate. This insightful discussion pitted the faith-based certainty of a pastor against the incredulous clarity of an atheist. Rarely do you see such a bold and honest engagement in our tumultuous and polarizing times.

Of course, I can't help but comment on two ideas from the pastor that sparked some eye-rolls:

1. "Altruism comes out of knowing there is more then this life..." Rick Warren, pastor. So I read this as: Christian charity, selflessness, generosity and giving spring from the desire to get into heaven. There would not be any other reason to help people otherwise. I call this the "Ticket to Ride" aspect of faith and I've always detested it's use to threaten people to believe and act.

2. "I'm betting my life that Jesus is not a liar. When we die, if he's [Sam Harris, atheist] right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything." Rick Warren, pastor. What bothers me the most about "Ticket to Ride" is that believing is like an insurance policy, as opposed to something that truly moves you and infuses your being with a conviction of what is right. I'm a big advocate for taking responsibility for one's actions and "owning" them. Statements like this reveal that organized religion is "worn" instead of "woven" into one's being. And that is not true spirituality, that is social & moral control.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Highlights of Easter Weekend '07

1) Fun with Bunnies After much procrastination, I finally cleaned the floor of our closet and behold a family of dust bunnies. Disgusting, I know. But they've gone to a better place: inside the vacuum cleaner. Also, we played Rayman and the Raving Rabbids on our Nintendo Wii for hours. Addictive, hilarious and challenging. The best game on the Wii, if I may say so. Thanks again to the Vaslows for bringing Rayman into our lives. 2) Peeps Easter is not complete without Peeps.
3) Contemplation of religious origins So a pastor and an atheist sit down to discuss the existence of sounds like the start of a bad joke but it really is the basis of a fascinating article in the recent Newsweek called "Is God Real?" I'll detail some of the discussion Ken and I had over lunch about it later. But right now I have to go shower after a long day of Frisbee throwing and walking around Ballard--that is, before the torrential downpour.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Into the Rain Forest

Last weekend we ventured to Lake Quinault (not pictured in any of the blog photos--it's shy) on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State in the temperate rain forest. This is aptly named Lake Quinault Lodge where we stayed.
Here are the Vaslows readying for a sojourn into the rain forest. Dan took lots of pictures and Jill made sure we had plenty of snacks. It was an unexpectedly nice day and we couldn't believe we got so lucky!

Beware of Cougars in the Rain forest.

Ken finds out the trees are alive!

A 3-petalled forest flower captured with my new 7.1 mega pixel camera. Very nice!

Afternoon entertainment & snacks.

World's Tallest Sitka Spruce Tree (or second tallest, depending on who you ask). Ken is 6' tall so imagine being there...

Hanging out by the Sitka.


Originally designed to be a multi-couple event, we found ourselves traveling to the temperate rain forest of Quinault with just our dear friends Dan & Jill--who are no strangers to shepherding us in the great outdoors. From the get-go, they turned out to be much more prepared--I mean they even remembered to bring hiking boots to the forest. (I don't even know what we were thinking.) Thankfully it was sunny and our tennis shoes sufficed.

The lake lapped the shore in a way I've never heard before. Unchallenged by mechanical noises and the human hubbub of a city, the lake asserted a boldness that I'd never considered a land-locked water body to possess. It was a lake to be taken seriously: still, deep, sapphire blue.

After dinner each night we played games. Pass the Pigs, a sort of "dice" game, tested our skill at "rolling pigs" and point-management. Also, I'm pleased to report that Jill and I cleaned up in 80's Trivia versus our husbands. But Catch Phrase generated the greatest gut-busting hysterics when I tried to say "Low Flying Planes" but all that came out was every other permutation: Plane Fly Low, Low Plane Fly, Fly Plane Low, etc.

All in all, a wonderful time in the woods with none of that messy camping business. Now that's a getaway.