Wednesday, July 25, 2007

sideways glance

One of my oldest and closest friends told me a while back that had we not known each other since middle school—had we just met now—we probably wouldn't be friends. She had also said the same of another mutual friend—a shallow, right-leaning, money-loving, prestige-seeking mutual friend, mind you. She didn't mean any harm in saying this to me or to say that she didn't value our friendship. Neither was she implying that either of our lives was better than the other. Just different...and a bit incongruous. That stung a little.

I recently watched Sideways and the relationship between Miles and Jack got me thinking about this again.

My friend is probably right. Our lives are different, our priorities are different, many of our values are different...but different to the extent that as strangers we'd repel or at least not recognize something in each other's personality that we'd like to pursue? Probably not the former. Probably the latter.

If this is the case, then how do such unlikelihoods happen and what makes them stick?

The hodgepodge that is your cohort in middle and high school and college is definitely a factor, but the friendship incubation clinches it. The friendcubation. If you're lucky enough to stay in one place for a good chunk of time in your life from puberty on, and if you're lucky enough to have one or more people along with you to wade through that sludge, you've likely picked up one or more friends that got special consideration. A second glance and second chance. (And, in some rare cases such as the mutual friend mentioned previously, a third, fourth...or twenty-eighth chance.)

There has to be some measure of mutual appreciation, some glint of goodness recognized between you and another person in order for a friendship to have any odds of taking off. But for all the distractions and deflections of life, and individual perceptions and realities, you may not glean this from an occasional encounter.

In the midst of madness, though, with these individuals you discovered loveliness:
A brilliant mind.
A new perspective.
A kind, compassionate heart.
A good sense for nonsense (the importance of which can hardly be overstated).
A guaranteed, tell-it-like-it-is opinion.
A penchant for mischief.
Good company for lounging.
Good company for cutting loose to play and explore.
An appreciation for good humor (more specifically, your humor).

Loveliness like this makes you want to be better or take a chance on something you might not otherwise try. It can also provide respite from feeling like you have to be anything other than who you are. It draws out your own loveliness.

For all of these and more reasons, these are friends to hang onto when you can--when distance or diverging life paths don't drive too much of a wedge between you and them. The best friendships are those that are unexpected. The ones that beat the odds.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hi, Steve,

[I've responded here instead of in the comments because I'm glad to hear back from you and I don't know how many would ever fish back that far to read this exchange.]

I didn’t realize until your reply that my “I hear you clucking, big chicken,” could be misconstrued as name calling, though I can see why it could be. I really didn’t intend that, so please read that as an unrefined “I concur”—so as to say that I agree with your basic premise. Also, I’m the first to admit that I can go whole hog after an issue, and in the process overlook the reality that another’s priority-of-the-moment may not necessarily jive with mine. I’m sure that you have a life off line. I’d also moved on, but I’m really glad you came by to talk after all.

Since starting this blog and sorting through my own motivations, I’m realizing that one means for the intelligent interaction that I’d been starving for is out here with you and others who are thinking and processing and sharing. So, to some degree, you’re right: “So what?” We’re all wending around, spinning wheels, trying to both find and impart meaning on and between lines. Sometimes we hit on something good; sometimes…not so much. I know I’ve written some stinkers.

At the same time, I’m a little surprised that you downplay your written “wanderings” when they’ve obviously either inspired or are inspired by enough conviction to creative generalism to coin the concept and spawn a lengthy manifesto. In my mind, it would seem that all of this pushes past hobby blogging and implies intent to...what? I don’t know. That was the cloud I was trying to pin down.

I could have been clearer about the intent of my rant.

My librarianship semantics example was more to illustrate the value of moving beyond philosophizing. So you clearly can move to action beyond philosophy in the off-line world. I can appreciate your accomplishments, and I’m sure you’re very successful and productive. I'd love to hear more about the nitty gritty of your efforts in publishing or other struggles or triumphs...and a lot less belaboring the legitimacy of creative generalism.

I lean more toward expression and discussion that present something raw or new or that rummages and plucks out gemstones to show them in a new light. The nonsensical is also very much appreciated. I prefer revelation to regurgitation.

CG is your baby. Go on and nurture it. If I was throwing stones, it was in the hopes of hitting upon something more of substance.

Exit Sign

Another by Liz. I cannot read this out loud with out coming close to tears. Ok, sometimes they do sprout, depending on my frame of mind. It's just beautiful.
It's because so many want it.
Some small endings make hearts
beat like helicopter wings,
forgetting the sense of things
as wicked, devastating, heart-wrenching.

It's because so many see endings
as originating beginnings;
think they'll be survivors.

Lounging hopefuls in the hall;
faces blazing in the light of the exit sign.
Someone actually said it...
it would be a massive disease,
a modern plague, no cure.
She'd be a survivor, so said her dreams.
She'd rebuild society,
was looking forward to it.

These were her dreams.

And I dreamt of silence,
of pure and isolated ending.
I woke up, not a survivor,
not a savior,
but a cave of uselessness,
and the morning was red
and vacant.
Both this and the cow poem are ca. 1995, but she's still putting out great things. Not the least of which is a squash-banana-pistachio-green bean rhinoceros.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

misfit dinner companion

aka: me, a couple of weeks ago.
I attended the Caldecott/Newbery/Wilder awards banquet, and because a colleague graciously pulled some strings, I landed a seat at the dinner table with important people from a heavyweight imprint in children's book publishing. In the grand scheme of things, I honestly don't know how or why this happened for me, but considering my social skills in such situations, and a number of other factors, it was a bit of a blessing and a curse. Maybe the universe decided to all at once cash in a chunk each of my good and bad karma. Maybe someone up there likes to see me squirm.

Factors that did me in:
My career path is apparently either too enigmatic or unorthodox to entertain.
I suck at small talk and BS. (These are useful skills that I somehow cannot master.)
I know about children's literature, but the bulk of this knowledge is somewhat dated.
The seating arrangement was unfortunate.

For your entertainment, I will provide some of the lowlights of the evening.

Conversation with important publishing person (IPP)--the one whose strings were pulled:
IPP: So when did you know you wanted to be a children's librarian?
Me: [Long pause. How to spin? How to spin?!?] Well, the job I have now involves working with children and I enjoy it. It also has a lot to do with outreach which I really love. Before this job I worked with people in correctional facilities, and that was pretty interesting, too.
IPP: [Long pause coupled with blank expression.] But when did you know you wanted to be a children's librarian?
Me: I guess I'm interested in a lot of things, and don't see myself solely as a children's librarian.
IPP: ...
Me: [Losing ground...think of something!] I do enjoy my work, though, and I think that children's brain development is fascinating--especially how it ties in with early literacy.

I don't believe IPP even responded to that. I can't help but wonder what sort of preface IPP was given about me that she was so dumbfounded by my response to her acute questioning.

Anyway, soon after (mind reeling), I was introduced to an up-and-coming author seated next to author I'd never heard of, of course. That conversation dead ended real quick.

My next foray into small talk was with the woman to my right. I scoped out her name tag which listed the imprint name, so I asked what she did for them. She replied, "I'm an author." I then apologized for not knowing...feeling at the same time that this could easily be construed as an insult. She was actually very gracious and continued to converse with me and learned that I hadn't been in this gig long. [I looked her up when I was back at work. She's written over twenty novels for children. I think I’ll check some of those out.]

Another wicked twist was that the one author I did know, whose books I had read, who I'd connected briefly with earlier that day, and who was by far the most chatty and friendly person at the table...was seated the farthest away from me.

Also, for good measure, though I was up close to the stage, I had to turn my back on my dinner companions for 80% of the evening in order to see the speakers. Not good for side conversation.

I don't know that anyone else at the table that evening has given a second thought to my ineptitude, but I left feeling both elated and deflated. A little more of the latter...but the last bits of this are finally shaking off.

It was far from a complete bust; there were highlights. It was incredible just being there. I did go over and talk to the outgoing author during a break and that went really well. She even invited me along to talk to and meet an eccentric editor of a review journal. Also, the brief acceptance speech given by James Marshall's partner was so simple and apt and lovely that I had to jot it down: "Thank you for indulging the triumph of his monumental silliness."

Oh, yeah, and I looked good that night. Every little bit helps.