Instagram for Dave, my guide dog

 

I haven’t blogged for a while because I’m becoming so addicted to posting on Instagram, I don’t have time. I’m actually speaking for Dave, my guide dog, who astoundingly communicates his thoughts and wishes and his needs and obsessions very clearly.   For instance, he stretches intensely on the sidewalk to greet a fellow canine, even a female canine. He actually stretches toward many things he wants to sniff, ladies, for instance, flowers, garbage. He stretches like a pointer dog toward anything he wants—a ball underneath a chest, and today–the ocean waves. He actually didn’t simply point, he pulled himself loose and had a quick body surf in the cold waves. He was pretty surprised by the northern Atlantic’s temps. If he wishes to play ball, and if he’s indoors with his harness off, he always wants to play ball, (a few Pirate baseball players need his obsession), he thumps his tennis ball at my feet. If I pretend I haven’t heard in order to do some of MY work, he squeaks it intolerably, so that I have to snatch it and toss it to kingdom come. If thumping and squeaking don’t work, he whines. You get the idea.

So, I can really channel Dave in my Instagram posts. And that’s my explanation for the blogging silence. Somehow Instagram seems more addicting, at least at the moment. I’m channeling Dave in the obsession department, actually. I’m counting my followers. Honestly, the loss of one or a dozen followers is a rejection I hardly can cope with. But I’ve found a cure or at least a coping mechanism. I unfollow those who’ve dropped me with a gusto reserved for revenge criminals. “Ha, take that!” I hear myself yelling. And I do really think technology is bringing down the human race! But if you’re in the vicinity, drop into @davetheguidedog and say hello. Better yet, follow Dave.

 

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Children’s Literature Author, Richard Peck

 

 

Sadly, author, Richard Peck, has died (May 23, 2018). The author of over 40 books, he won a Newbery Medal for A Year Down Yonder in 2001, a Newbery honor in 1999 for A Long Way from Chicago, and a National Humanities Medal in 2002. Fifteen or twenty years ago Richard Peck came to Pittsburgh for a Western PA SCBWI conference, and my husband and I along with my friend and author, Colleen McKenna and her husband had the pleasure of taking him out to brunch. Bob and I then drove him to the airport for his return home. He was a delightful, kind guy. In 2013 he spoke at the LA summer conference of the SCBWI, and Bob and I went to his workshop on first sentences. He said that often he’d written 250 pages before finding his title and first sentence, but he thought that these two elements were critical steps to discovering the books’ main themes. At the end of the workshop, we joined the many going onstage to greet him. Richard came forward and hugged me, remembering our brunch and car ride together. Although the conspicuousness of blindness is a perk in being remembered, I also think Richard was the sort of person who truly registered his interactions with others. His head hadn’t been turned by success. I found him bright and funny, sensitive, respectful, dignified, a person who exhibited the finest qualities of the human spirit, as co-head of the SCBWI, Lynn Oliver, said in her remembrance of him. Fortunately, we can still connect to him through reading his many books. Thank you, Richard Peck.

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Figure of speech

I love to learn new literary terms, like paraprosdokian. Paraprosdokians are figures of speech where the latter part of the sentence takes an unexpected and often humorous turn. It can play on double meaning and can be anticlimactic. Comedians love paraprosdokians.

Examples:

“If I could only say a few words, I’d be a better public speaker.”

“There but for the grace of God goes God.”

“If I am reading this graph correctly, I’d be surprised.”

“On his feet he wore blisters.”

“Take my wife,please.”

“I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”

 

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Love one another.

I go to a church every Sunday, a church I love so much that I may sound as “Pitchy” about it as I am about a book I’ve written. It uplifts me, the way a beautiful book or piece of music does. The church is Christian, interracial, multidenominational. Despite many years of study and reflection, many of the Christian tenets remain mystery to me. I have no certainty, except that love, Jesus, forgiveness—all are wonderful models for a life. When I struggle with the concept of resurrection, for instance, I feel completely overwhelmed. But something much simpler such as forgiveness or loving one’s neighbor as oneself seem also close to impossible.

Our minister spoke of love, and not the squishy, Hallmark card kind of love necessary. She talked of valuing everyone, really seeing everybody’s worth. That, she said, was one of the qualities under that “love” umbrella. In loving one another, we, second, had to be moved by these people, to feel compassion for them. Third, we had to love them despite their faults. Imagine! There are people I truly love, but just hate their faults; their faults push all my buttons and make me crazy. Finally, she said we have to value and care about their flawed selves and not worry about how they change our former identities, neighborhoods, countries, our globe. Wow! Maybe resurrection is easier to achieve!

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picture book conference

 

The Music in George’s Head by Susan Slade is a picture book about George Gershwin and is the spark for a Pittsburgh literary conference. The WPA SCBWI invited the author, illustrator, art director, editor, and agent to speak about the book and about writing the simple, but beautiful genre of the picture book. It begins tonight at the Airport Hyatt and has drawn regional published and aspiring writers to attend the many workshops and have their writing critiqued. The book represents biography for the 5-7-year-old reader, giving a bite of history that can leave her wanting more with each year. The publisher, Calkins Creek, and editor, Carolyn Yoder are Pa treasures, associated with the familiar magazine, also a gem, Highlights. Children’s writers in Western PA are blessed by the volunteer efforts of the trio of organizers in our WPA chapter. Thanks Marcy, Kate, and Nora.

 

 

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Dialogues on Disability

 

 

ON April 4th I joined two other speakers in a Dialogues Conference at Chatham University on disability issues. One of the presenters was a deaf English professor from Gallaudet and the other, a woman dealing with chronic pain, also an English professor and head of an MFA program at Fairfield College. After a dinner where we interacted with the many students, we each read from our work, then held an hour-long panel discussion.

We discussed obstacles and opportunities our disabilities brought to the literary and academic world, changes in attitudes, technology, and quality of life over the years, experiences in a publishing world trying to increase the number of authentic voices, and books that were getting it “right.”

Chris Heuer who seemed equal stand-up comic and professor and writer, argued for deafness being no more a problem than baldness. He spoke, too, of paternalism, still a problem. Sonya Huber pointed to our inattention to language, calling something a lame proposal. She suggested that often the nondisabled unconsciously see our disability and expand its power to include a slower functioning brain. People without disability casually tell us how to handle our disability. I spoke of progress, giving my days as a grad student, taking exams on a ladies’ room floor, because no professor ever managed to find my requested empty room so I could use my reader and, ahem, typewriter (which I’d carried 8 blocks) without disturbing other class members.

Chatham students, several dealing with disability personally, then asked many questions, and the moderator, the associate director of Chatham’s MFA program, asked what universities could do to be more helpful. We supported so much that is done today, on-campus centers for disability awareness and accommodation, and special opportunities for discussion, like this one. Simply ask questions to find out if your students have specific needs. One professor said a student with hearing impairment asked after class if she could use caption for the power point from then on.

“Just bringing disability to the forefront is important,” I said. “A famous history of blindness, The Unseen Minority, describes a difficulty still experienced today. Among the minority groups, the disabled are more overlooked. Publishers still produce books with stereotypes and mistakes.”

And as Sonya said, the general public still uses careless language, “deaf to his faults” or “blind to her needs,” continuing the unaffected negative connotation of disability.

 

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First Encounters with Death

Our son-in-law’s mother died last week after a prolonged illness, saddening the whole family and her many friends. Our grandkids understand that they will never see her again, but our six-year-old granddaughter is really struggling with it. Her reaction reminds me of my son’s response at the same age to the death of my mother.

Joel suddenly began to think he’d broken a bone if he merely bumped his arm or leg. He concocted slings and crutches and seemed very preoccupied with his body’s intactness. When he carried these concerns into his elementary school his first day back, we decided to confront it. Joel must think he is going to die, and sooner, not later.

“When Nonnie died,” I began, “it made me really face that I was going to die someday, too.”

Six-year-old Joel burst into tears. “And you’re going to die before me, Mommy.”

Aha. He wasn’t fussing about his own death, but my husband’s and mine.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I’m not going to die till you’re 35.”

And like magic, his symptoms disappeared.

Our granddaughter seems shaken up, too, by her first experience with death. She’s asking lots of questions, pointing to photos of my parents and my husband’s parents. “Do you miss them, Nini?”

But she’s also as cranky and fearful as she is curious.

And I find myself wondering if I’m so different from these six-year-olds as this senior person confronting life’s major challenges, our big mysteries.

 

 

 

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