On Ruling the World (and other worthwhile endeavors)

About a year ago, I sat on the couch with my eleven year old. She had a book on her lap, I had a laptop upon which I was furiously typing the final chapter of my next story. All of a sudden she closed her book with a slap and chucked it – without comment – across the room. I looked over. Her face was set with exasperation and rage.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“Why,” she asked, “do evil villains insist on incessantly trying to rule the world? Can we have another plotline, please?

http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSkxkQw04UUg6Y093HHnAV-ryUlSmO-GxTpfljNUu3t9pdVVEM7csJCj4bttQ

“What about evil villains who try to rule the multiverse?” I asked, giving a surreptitious glance at my own work-in-progress, thinking more critically about the motivations of my own evil villain.

“Same thing,” she said.

Drat, I thought.

“Is it just that writers themselves are power-hungry megalomaniacs? When writers write villains, is it just because they’re living out their fantasies?” She gave me a sidelong glance. “Do writers secretly plot to rule the world?” She gulped. “Do you?”

I had to act fast.

“Let’s have ice cream,” I said, changing the subject. Next I knew, she’d be asking about my alter-ego, or my secret lair, or my army of steam-powered automons with laser-beam eyes that I have in the garage.

“No,” she said. “I don’t trust it. And I am so on to you.” She narrowed her eyes. “Princess Barnhill.” She flounced away (though, I noticed, she picked the book back up, and took it to her room to read.)

Yup.I thought. She’s onto me, all right.

Because it’s true: I’m a total megalomaniac. And a power freak. That’s why I write fiction.

Incidentally, that’s why I like teaching as well.  Now I’ve blogged before about my passion for corrupting the youth of America, and I stand by it. But what I haven’t written about before is the rush I feel – both in teaching and in writing.

Take this picture for an example:

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2634/3885203060_9dae58f12a_z.jpg?zz=1

A classroom full of bright-eyed, fresh-faced minions! What’s not to love?

Because it’s true: In my classroom, it is my land, my kingdom, my realm. And I am Princess. When I was a classroom teacher, I had a hundred and twenty kids refer to me as Princess Barnhill. Now, every once in a while, I show up at a school to do a week-long residency wearing a crown.

Just because.

When I stand in front of a classroom – when I have every eye, every mind, every heart tuned to what I’m about to say – I’m creating a singular, insular, perfect world. I make the rules; I guide the thinking; I can make it wonderful or scary or boring or fun. And when I get a room full of kids thinking about stories, and talking about stories, and imagining new stories…..and THEN, preside over that same room with thirty kids bent over their desks, spinning stories on the page, when the only sound to be heard is the sound of pencils scratching and papers rustling and open-mouthed breathing…..

Honestly, there’s nothing, nothing better.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b4/Landaff_1940s.jpg/350px-Landaff_1940s.jpg

I love teaching. I love pulling kids into the world of story-making. And I love, love, love being Princess for a little bit. It’s not exactly ruling the world. But it’s close enough.

CURSE YOU, J.K. ROWLING!

Yeah, that’s right. I said it. Do you realize, J.K. (if that’s your real name) how much your books have hijacked the brains of my (I’ll admit it) utterly addled children?

I know I’ve written about this before, and I’ve certainly thought about it often, but today was bloody ridiculous. It began when I asked my son to choose his breakfast.

“EXPELLIARMUS!” he cried, pointing at my chest with a chopstick.

“That’s very nice,” I said. “But what I want you to do is decide between Cheerios-“

“EXPELLIARMUS!” he yelled again, giving the chopstick a jaunty flick.

“or oatmeal,” I continued.

“EXPELLIARMUS!”

“Or, if you want-“

“EXPELLIARMUS!” http://digilander.libero.it/orteip1/harry%20potter/potter43.gif

“I could boil you an egg.”

“EXPELLIARMUS! EXPELLIARMUS! EXPELLIARMUS!” He vaulted forward, somersaulting across the kitchen floor, zapping me with his magic spell over his shoulder, then from under his leg, then upside down. He shouted the disarming spell while leaping, lunging and flying through space. He was joyful, intent, and unbridled. He was magic personified.

My eight year old – always a cool customer – was not amused. She extracted her spoon from her cereal and licked it clean. Then, shutting one eye, she pointed her spoon squarely at her brother.

“STUPEFY!” she yelled. Leo froze in mid-air, his face a mask of shock and horror, and fell, senseless to the ground. Deedee humphed, twirled her spoon, blew the tip, and resumed eating.

“It’s so easy,” she said with her mouth full, “to be in charge of boys.”

Leo still didn’t move. “Will someone,” he mumbled with frozen lips, “please un-stupefy me?” Deedee didn’t budge.

“Hermione wouldn’t’ve done, so I won’t either.” Deedee tucked into her breakfast and re-opened her book, a barely-concealed, un-uttered snicker uncurling across her lips.

I asked Leo later why he didn’t just get up – why he waited for his sister to finish eating, brush her teeth, and then un-stupefy him. Leo looked at me like I was nuts.

“How could I have?” he asked. “It’s not like I could just break the spell.” And he sat down and ate his breakfast and no more magic occurred that day.

DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU HAVE DONE TO US MS ROWLING? Granted, my kids are crazy, but I think the evidence clearly shows that you have made them crazier. And a bit of a challenge to parent.

Perhaps, it’s time for me to return to my copy of Defensive Magical Theory and my Standard Book Of Spells (vol 1-7) just to brush up.

http://nicegirlstv.com/images/goblet-of-fire.jpg

On Solidarity (and why it matters)

So here’s the thing: I’ll never, ever hide my political stripes. I’m a pinko-commie, education-loving, outdoors-protecting, tax-the-rich-and-give-it-to-the-poor kind of liberal. I think that the people who sweat and labor, the people who keep us safe, the people who heal us and who care for us when we are dying, the people who put their bodies and lives in harms way, the people who care for our most vulnerable populations – they ALL deserve a fair shake. And even more than that – they deserve to share in this country’s wealth and prosperity JUST AS MUCH as the folks in Wall Street who do nothing more than move numbers around.

(and secretly, I think they deserve more)

I grew up listening to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and Pete Seeger and the rest of them. I read The Grapes of Wrath and Bound for Glory in sixth grade, and re-read it every year thereafter to calibrate my soul.

I believe in sweat-equity.

I believe that the folks doing the work know more about a business’s operations than the folks who own the business – and that the two sides should listen to one another, and treat each other as equals.

Which is why I believe in unions.

I was a card-carrying union member for only a short time in my life – but the symbolism, the poetry of it was important to me. I grew up in a family that honored strike lines. I remember as a little girl going with my dad to the supermarket and passing by the place we normally shopped. When I asked about it, my dad said simply, “In this family, we don’t cross strike lines.”

It’s a policy I’ve kept, even to this day.

I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified by the situation in Wisconsin. Thrilled because the forces on the Right (or, more specifically, the ridiculously rich backers of the media outlets that fuel the rage on the Right) have been working for the last four decades to slowly dismantle the power of unions and the protections they offer to working people.

I’m thrilled because the world can now see the impact that unions have – and the terrible price that thousands and thousands of people would pay if they were dismantled. I’m thrilled because people of all incomes, education levels and walks of life are coming together and standing as brothers and sisters. I’m thrilled because when people join their voices together they are great, they are powerful, and they are mighty.

But I’m scared of the power that the Koch brothers and the rest of the bozos funding the Tea Party and the Prosperity Foundation and the rest of the hysterical half-truth generators that have more money than they know what to do with and more media access than they deserve. And I’m worried about the virulence of lies.

In any case, I stand in solidarity with the Wisconsin workers – and with all workers around the world who have found it necessary to agitate for their rights, and to remind the owning classes of the wondrous and thrilling power of the people. To that end, I encourage all of you to visit Tom Tomorrow’s blog for some ideas of what you can do to help the strikers.

I bought pizza. Because strikers gotta eat.

Incontrovertible Proof That My Kids Are Wierd (and awesome)

This morning, my son came downstairs, sat on my lap and breathed a reeky cloud of morning breath on my face. I coughed, gagged.

“Only the people we truly love ever get to smell our morning breath,” he said hugging me. “And I LOVE YOU. You’re the cutest mom.” So, sweet, annoying, adorable and random all within about fifty seconds. Not a bad start to the day.

We walked into the kitchen. My son held up his hands.

“WAIT!” he said. I waited. “Before I have my breakfast, I have to do my push-ups.” He dropped to the floor and did ten, his little muscles cording from his neck to his shoulders and down his arms. He stood.

“Just ten?” I said.

He nodded. “You’re right.” He did ten more.

“What would you like for breakfast,” I asked.

He thought about it. “A black bean burrito,” he said.

“For breakfast?”

“Duh,” he was mystified that I would ask. “It’s breakfast time.”

“All right,” I said. Who wants a black bean burrito for breakfast? I have no idea. But once I had heated the pan and assembled the various accoutrements for his breakfast, Leo came running back into the kitchen.

“WAIT!” he shouted.”ONE MORE THING!” He held his hands in the “stop” position.

I waited.

“Chopped kale,” he said.

“What?”

“In my burrito. Chopped kale. Mixed in with the beans.”

I stood silently. The pan started to smoke.

“Please,” he added.

“All right,” I said. “One black bean and raw kale breakfast burrito coming right up.”

Leo leaped into the air, punching his little fists towards the ceiling. “YESSSS!” he shouted. “Today is gonna be AWESOME!”

And he ate the whole thing. I’ll let you know whether or not today was, indeed, awesome.

On leaps of faith. (And falling.) (And flying.)

I read an article over at Salon.com about the financial perils of the Mommy-track. (It’s called “Regrets of a Stay-At-Home Mom” , by one Katy Read, and it’s absolutely worth the read. Then, if you happen to be – as I am – a stay-at-home mom, then get down on your knees and pray). Essentially, the author examines her own decision to remain at home with her two sons, now teenagers, and how that decision (in conjunction with her divorce) has landed her in a financial pit of despair. She’s a freelance writer (which means that she makes close to nothing), and was out of the newspaper game for fourteen years, which means that she missed fourteen years worth of promotions, pay increases, seniority, 401k employer matches and what have you.

And her situation is bleak. (And not just for her. This economy really sucks for anyone who’s been out of work. Still. She’s paying for her choices and paying hard, and the comments on her piece have been anything but kind.)

I read that article, and I immediately called my husband.

Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t call him immediately. I cleaned my house and thought about leaps of faith. Because, in the end, that’s what I did. I leaped – into love, into marriage, into motherhood, into stay-at-home parenting, and into the writing life. All of those decisions required tremendous faith in things that are not me. And I believed in them for no reason, except for hoping. I’m very, very good at hoping for the best.

As I got my house in order, I became incredibly appreciative of my husband. Look, I’ll be honest: I’m not an easy person to be married to. I’m sensitive, needy and sometimes irrational. I’m a terrible money-manager. I make horrible financial decisions. I’m a rotten gardener. I’m a miserable housekeeper. And I have temper. And I’m sometimes loud.

And yet. Ted loves me anyway. We were so young when we married our fortunes together, and so young when we married for real, and so young when we brought a new person into the world. We had nothing. Just a little bit of hope that we’d keep eating and building and growing.

It’s a little easier to leap when someone is holding your hand, but it’s a leap all the same. We closed our eyes, bent our knees and jumped skyward.

So, after cleaning the house, I called him at the office. Ted, like me, is a do-it-yourself type when it comes to his job. A few years ago, he took his own kind of leap into business-ownership, starting a small architectural design firm with a partner, called Design 45.

“I just wanted to tell you that I recognize that I’m not an easy person to be married to,” I said to him, “and I appreciate you and I really really really love you and I think you’re marvelous.”

Ted sighed – a slow, long-suffering sigh. “I think I’ve mentioned before that you really need to knock off the mushy phone calls when I’m trying to get work done,” he said. I could hear him shaking his head. I could hear him smiling. “But I love you too. You dork.” And he’s right. I am a dork.

And just like that, I flew.

The thing is, though, when I made the decision to choose stay-at-home parenting instead of returning to the classroom, I was absolutely making a leap of faith in regards to my marriage. I was also making a HUGE leap of faith in regards to my potential as a writer. Because I knew – I knew! – that I wanted to be writing fiction. I knew that I did not want to be in the classroom full time. I knew that I wanted to be with my children every waking moment and writing stories when they were sleeping, and I wanted to be building books.

I never thought to really analyze the tremendous faith I was putting on the stability of my marriage to make that happen. It never even occurred to me. I trusted in my marriage in the same way I trusted that my next breath will have enough oxygen in it and that the ground beneath my feet won’t give way to a sinkhole.

If we have faith without thinking, is it still faith? Or, conversely, if we calculate the risk, if we weigh the possibilities of failure, and then leap – if we leap after first making sure that the other side is stable enough to hold us – is that faith?

In any case, it doesn’t matter. I leaped. I stayed home with my children. I was mostly good at it. And I loved it. I wrote books. Most of them I threw away. Some of them I sold – and by doing so, helped to keep my family financially afloat. My husband leaped too. He left the stability of a firm and struck out on his own. It worked. The one time when his business slowed thanks to the financial melt-down, I had sold the novel, and we were able to live on that exclusively for a while. And my kids – they have two parents who have built a life on their wits – and a combination of duct tape, twine, sticks, tissue paper and chewing gum. It’s not for everyone, but it’ll do for us just fine.

We closed our eyes, held hands, and flew.

 

On Forgiveness, Grief, and the Book I Cannot Write

There’s a book (there’s always a book), that I cannot commit to paper. I haven’t scrawled a word of it on a notebook or a cereal box or a sheet of toilet paper or a bunch of wadded up receipts. And yet. It is written all the same. I know everything there is to know about this book: I know the shape of the narrative, the faces of its inhabitants, the dark, hidden places in the story. I know the texture of the language, the mournful cry of the wind through the trees, the rhythmic pulse of the trains that skirt past the scrubby bit of land at the stump of the dead-end street. I know the tragic inception of the story, how it winds around the hands and feet of my characters. How it pulls into tight, hard knots.

I know there is redemption too. And love. But the loss at the beginning – the grief. It stops my hands every time. And maybe it’s because I’m superstitious (do I hesitate to write about the loss of a child because I fear losing my own children? Do I hesitate to examine the role of grief in realistic situations because I’m afraid to do so without the distance of fantasy? I honestly don’t know. And I’m too scared to find out.)

This story is already written along the folds of my heart. I feel it on my skin, I hear it whisper in my ears in the moments before sleep and in the rush of waking up. It crowds my eyes while dreaming. But I have not written down.

I’ve refused to do it.

Because I’m afraid. And I left it at that.

But something happened this weekend that made me rethink it.

I went to church, and this woman spoke the congregation: http://www.visitationmonasteryminneapolis.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Mary-embracing-Oshea-300x200.jpgHer name is Mary Johnson and she started an organization called From Death To Life – a group that brings the families of murder victims with the families of murderers, into circles of forgiveness, repentance and love. That woman there – and believe me, you have never met anyone so full of love, so full of the spirit as that dear, dear lady – is embracing the young man who, many years ago, took the life of her only son.

I’m just gonna let that sink in for a moment.

Okay, you with me? Good. His name is Oshea Israel. He was sixteen when he shot Laramiun Lamont Byrd, Mary Johnson’s son. She said that in the aftermath of the murder, and then the trial, and then Israel’s imprisonment, she felt only rage, hatred and hurt. She wanted him to suffer. She wanted him caged. She said, “I didn’t realize that anger and hurt are a cancer in the soul. I didn’t realize that my rage was a prison worse than any prison that the boy who killed my boy could ever be thrown in. I was a prisoner. And I needed to be free.”

The path to forgiveness wasn’t an easy one, but one of the things that really got me in her story is that her path was incited by a poem – “Two Mothers”, by an anonymous poet, which she read by accident after opening to a random page in a book. It arrested her, pinned her heart in place. She decided she needed to meet the boy – now a man – who killed her son. She decided she needed to meet his mother. She decided that she needed to love them both – to forgive the son and to grieve with the mother – and by doing that she would be free. And maybe they would be free too.

After a TON of restorative justice work – with the family, with social workers, with church members and community members and with all sorts of folks who involve themselves in the tough and important work of restorative justice – they met. She asked him to come and work with her when he left prison to heal their community. She told him that he had an opportunity to do something good and brave and beautiful that would help to heal the world. He believed her.

She said: “I took him in my arms and hugged him. And I felt something deep in my body – starting at my feet and moving upwards through my belly and my chest and the top of my head. And I felt it burst forth and fly away. I felt my hurt and my anger and my rage leave my body. And just like that it was gone. And only love remained.”

I sat in the congregation. I shook. I wept. (Seriously, I made kind of an idiot of myself.) She said that the young man is now out of prison – has been for over a year. He lives next door to her and works with her. “I lost a son,” she said. “And God gave me a son. And he gave me his mother, my sister. And then we got to work.”

It was an amazing, thrilling and life-affirming story, and proves to me once again that love really is stronger than hate, and stronger than death, and stronger than revenge. Love has the capacity to do good, to change a community and a country and a life, while revenge and hate can do nothing except to perpetuate themselves. Love is tougher, braver and more resilient than revenge on its best day, and it’s our only hope for a better future.

She could have chosen hatred. She could have chosen rage.  She could have chosen revenge and animosity and isolation. But she would have changed nothing. Instead she loved, and that changes everything.

And she has inspired me to be brave. And she has inspired me to be hopeful and loving and vulnerable and alive.

And maybe I will write that book after all.

Second Story!

Well, not that kind of story. It’s the Second Story Reading series at The Loft – a literary arts organization in Minneapolis. If anyone’s available, you should come. Phyllis Root is reading. Phyllis Root!

She’ll be reading from this book: http://www.boydsmillspress.com/media/hfc/bmp/coverimages/medium/978-1-59078-583-6.jpg Doesn’t it look marvelous! Don’t you want to purchase it instantly? Of course you do.

Though you may know her work already from this book: http://www.neatsolutions.com/Images/Products/JKL/kiss_the_cow.jpg

or this book: http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1179122658l/878261.jpg

or this book: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51CQDV0G7HL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

In any case, I think she’s marvelous. I never knew she wrote a book for middle grade readers, and I’m excited to hear her read. You should come!

Here’s the details:

Second Story, the Loft’s reading series for writers of young adult and children’s literature, curated by Swati Avasthi and Heather Bouwman, presents authors Phyllis Root and Eileen Beha.

Eileen Beha spends summers vacationing on Prince Edward Island, where she has a cottage near the quaint village of Victoria-by-the-Sea. A former middle school principal, Eileen lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and two terriers, Tango and Louise. Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog (Bloomsbury, 2009) is her first book for middle grade readers.

Phyllis Root has been writing for children for thirty years and has published over forty books, including picture books, middle grade novels and non-fiction, including Big Momma Makes the World, which won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award.  She teaches in the Hamline University Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

Recent books include Big Belching Bog and Lilly and the Pirates

Target Performance Hall
Open Book
1011 Washington Avenue South
Minneapolis MN 55415

More Bad News in Education

Apparently, biology teachers are afraid to teach biology. Here’s a nice little study published in the New York Times. When teachers are afraid to tackle basic principles in their field of expertise then we have a big friggin problem on our hands.

It’s one thing that I had some run-ins with parents when I had the audacity to teach Harry Potter, The Crucible, Holes, or a few different short stories by Kelly Link or Jeff Vandermeer. Literature, by its nature, is subversive. I get that. And I was prepared for it.

But this is bigger than the bible, and it sure as hell is bigger than Darwin. This is basic information about how cells work. We can see evolution happening. Right now. Kids can do experiments on algea, mold, bacteria, yeasts, and even fruit flies. Ever heard of disease-resistant bacteria? Evolution. Ever learned about the effects of industrialization on certain breeds of Eastern moths? Evolution. Or the changing flora and fauna in response to invasive species?

Organisms change. We live in a dynamic world. To deny children access to the fundamental principals upon which life operates, perpetuates and thrives is nonsense to the point of criminality. And it’s one thing to do this because of one’s own religion. I absolutely understand the difficulty in separating the religious self from the professional self – we still have to do it, but I get it that it’s hard. But to deny children the fullness of their education because you’re afraid of religious conservatives? Because you’re afraid of controversy? Or because you’re reluctant to have to bother with unpleasantness? Sorry, but that’s cowardice.

Education is no place for cowards. We need to believe in our subject matter. We need to prepare children to know more than we ever thought possible – not give them mean skimpings and hope for the best.

To you biology teachers who are avoiding talk of evolution: Knock it off. Be brave. Be thorough. Be clear. Teach.

P.S. My kid is doing a project on the Scopes Trial for National History Day right now. Have we really made THIS LITTLE PROGRESS? C’mon, people. Let’s get to work.

Everything I Know About Writing I Learned From Reading Fairy Tales

All right fine, that’s not exactly true. But it’s a little bit true.

When I was a kid, my dad had a book of fairy tales. It was a huge thing – phonebook sized. We struggled to haul it to my parents’ bed for bedtime stories. The cover had long since been worn away to nothing, so my dad re-bound it, using a checkerboard cut to size. We called it The Checker Book, and my dad read to us out of it night after night.

Later, I couldn’t get enough fairy tales – Grimm, d’Aulnoy, Perrault, Lang, Anderson, collections from Russia, Vietnam, Persia, Scotland and Norway. I gathered stories in my arms. Sucked them dry.

Later, because I was SUPER GROWN UP, I turned to more sober fare. I learned to parse language, analyze, make connections, dissect. But there was something about fairy tales. Something that wouldn’t let me go.

I return to fairy tales – in my thinking, in my dreaming, in how I organize the world, in how I operate with others, and in my writing. Take this for example:

(the actual fairy tale starts in the middle of the second minute)

The servant shall be king. Good prevails. The world is both dark and light – the light needs the dark, just as the dark needs the light. There are rules – and we break them at our peril. There are rules – and we follow them at our peril. True love exists – it is instant, revolutionary and life-changing. Those who think they deserve success achieve none. Those who presume nothing achieve all. The princess shall be rescued. Greed is punished tenfold. Kindness is rewarded beyond all imagining. Our perceived weakness hides the key to our triumph. The mighty bear the weight of their own destruction – and they can’t even see it.

Even though the thought of re-interpretations of Classic John Lennon Songs makes me Very Very Cranky

But this is friggin’ beautiful. And maybe it’s the exception to the rule.

I’m not really one to shove video onto my blog – and really, to be honest, the video itself kinda ruins the song (I suggest looking at pictures of ponies or kittens or baby beluga whales)- but this one got to me. In particular, I thought the interpretation of the line about religion struck a peculiar resonance. In Lennon’s original version, his voice pulls away – just slightly – when he sings “and no religion too”, and I always felt that as the voice of a man who did not believe – imagination, in this instance, being stronger than belief. Indeed, in his interpretation, imagination trumps belief. And it always seemed mournful to me – cold and empty and alone. But in this version, the soulfulness of the line – and the deliberate slowing of the rhythm, the close, resonant harmonies – leads me to believe that their intention was quite different. In this case, imagination deepens belief. If one is to imagine a world without religion, then a relationship with the Divine becomes the responsibility of each individual. Or, in other words, it’s faith anarchized, democratized, internalized, and therefore free to all.

Now many of you know that I’m a practicing Catholic (practice? Ha! I don’t need no stinkin’ practice!), and while I’ve had my differences with many (all?) of my church leaders over the years (angrily, vociferously, while still believing in the ability of people to change) and have had my share of doubts over the years (like, every blessed day) I take a great deal of joy in my faith. Being in church moves me to tears, the person of of Jesus the Revolutionary spurs me to action, and I believe in the call of scripture to radically change the world.

But now I have to wonder if I sometimes abdicate the responsibility I have to love God and love the world to the comfortable momentum of my church. Perhaps I do. I have a responsibility to love the world. I have a responsibility to seek the Divine in my life. Do I do it? A little bit, I guess. Do I do it well? Um…..not so much.

One of the things I’ve loved in reading about mystics – both Christian mystics and mystics in every religion – is that sense of immediacy and urgency and wonder in which they imbued into their day to day life. When you operate under the assumption that the physical world and the spiritual world are as close to one another as the breath and the mouth, it lends a certain shimmer to the world around you.

The mystic sees God in the wind. The mystic feels God in the ground under her feet. The mystic has no need for fussing over heaven or hell, of the rightness or wrongness of one religion over another, because, as far as the mystic is concerned, God is here, heaven is here – and God is in the faces of the people demonstrating in Egypt and in the bodies of those struggling for a basic existence in Haiti, and in the hands of the doctors and nurses in hospices all over the world, gently ushering the dying from one world to the next. God is you. And me. And the world. And in the end, whatever religion any of us are doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

Sometimes, this work really messes with your head.

I had a dream that I caught up with my main character – exactly where I left her. She was in an alley, next to a dumpster, in between two brick buildings. The building on her left was vacant – and had been for some time. Plywood covered the windows, metal panels blocked the doors. The building on her left housed a furniture maker, but it was closed on Mondays. There was no one to help her.

http://news.sky.com/sky-news/content/StaticFile/jpg/2007/Nov/Week4/1616474.jpg

She was in mid-run- caught, and still, like a photograph. Her lead leg extended outward, her back leg curled behind. She hovered over the ground. As I approached, though, her eyes glimmered, her skin rounded, and she peeled her body away from its spot. She wobbled a bit, found her balance, and then narrowed her eyes on me. She crossed her arms across her chest and stuck out her chin.

“Oh,” she said. “It’s you.”

The girl she was running with didn’t move. She remained pinned in time. Her eyes were wide and livid, her mouth open, her bandaged hands oozing blood. One drip had leaked free and was floating, immobile – midway between her hands and the ground.

A pack of dogs hovered at the corner in suspended animation – frozen mid-leap. One of the dogs wore a tee-shirt that said “Math Camp.”

I knew who that dog was. Poor, poor Brian. I hope I can save him.

My character crouched on the ground. Gave me a grin. “WELL,” I said, exasperated.

“Well, what?” Nika said.

“Are you going to just sit there?”

“Yup. Can’t do much else.”

“Aren’t you mad?” I jammed my hands into the back pockets of my jeans. I knew every detail of where we were – the damp pavement, the rough bricks, the deep shadows. I knew the exact smell of sawdust and cat urine and spilled propane and old trash. I knew the shape of the graffiti, the position of the old boxes and empty bottles and blowing paper on the ground. Where I left her – it wasn’t a nice place. It wasn’t nice at all.

“No time to be mad,” she said. She cleared her throat and spat on the ground. “In fact, there’s no time here at all.”

“Aren’t you going to tell me what happens next? You’ve been telling me what happens next from the get go. This is a hell of a time to clam up.”

She shrugged. “Figured it was your turn.” She stood. “Better get cracking.”

And then she put herself back into position. Mid-run. Hovering over the ground. Waiting. Counting on me. Of all people.

And I have no idea what happens next.

On Networking (and why I kinda suck a it)

There’s a reason why I wouldn’t be able to survive in Corporate America. First of all, I look terrible in blazers. Second of all, I don’t wear heels. And third of all, I can’t network. Like at all.

(Oh Working Girl! How you’ve imprinted yourself upon my imagination forever!)

Even the word “network” makes me go all heeby-jeeby and flop-sweaty and I can’t do it. Not only that, I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to get out of networking. Gigs? New best friends? Award nominations? I have no idea.

Instead, I chat, eat food and get the heck out of there before someone sees that I don’t know what I’m doing.

Still, despite the fact that I’m communication-deficient, I decided to go to the Minnesota Magazine Publisher’s Association’s yearly freelancer and editor Mingle. Essentially, it’s like those parties that we went to in college when people wore stickers indicating if they were interested in men or women (or both), or if they were in a committed relationship and just wanted to hang out and have fun. I always thought that the parties that color-coded its attendees were more fun than the usual fare, because it eliminated confusion or crossed wires and everyone could relax and enjoy themselves. This was a similar concept, except, we were coded according to Writer or Editor or Publisher or Photographer, or whatever.

Now, unfortunately, that meant that, from time to time, some folks saw the W on my name badge and took it as an opportunity to give me the good ole fashioned brush-off, but on the whole, I had a nice time. I got to show off my Luddite-special super old cellphone to people (it sorta looks like this one: except that mine is bigger), and talk about new projects, and mostly it gave me an opportunity to get a better understanding of the landscape of magazine publishing in my state. And let me tell you: there’s a lot. I was stunned. I have some experience with the magazine world around here from my work with the (sadly defunct) Twin Cities Statement magazine, but the nature of that work consisted of the editor calling me up and asking for stories on various topics. I never had to pitch stories. I’m not entirely sure I know how to do it.

In any case, I’m glad I went. It was nice to chat with grown-ups, it was nice to learn, and it was nice to pretend that I was doing something for my career (largely untrue, of course, but since I lie for a living, why not lie to myself).

Here’s me from the behind, my signature orange purse slung across my back, sans blazer, sans heels, my undyed, unprocessed, untamable hair wound into a clip, chatting to the lovely Kelli Billstein.

Maybe I can learn the ways of Corporate America – all I need is my boss’s rolodex, a can of aquanet and a pack of Virginia Slims. (Because I’m sure nothing at all has changed from the days of Working Girl, right?)