After the Election: On Widening the Circle of Light

This morning, I am angry. Angry, frustrated, sick, with an outright fire burning inside of me. This morning I have to explain to my daughter that the bright hopes for the future she went to sleep with last night are now gone. I try not to write about politics—this a blog about children’s books after all—but the politics are personal now. Because how do I explain that the person who will take over the reigns of this country in January is someone I would not allow her in the same room with? Someone who talks gleefully about deporting her friends who came here from other countries, and mocks the ones with disabilities. Someone who thinks our LGBTQ friends and family should be stripped of their rights. Someone who believes that anyone who doesn’t share his skin color or a single religion is beneath him. Someone who thinks she and I are both lesser because we are female.

For her sake, I will bury the fire inside me for a little while. I’ll be calm and talk to her about the election results so as not to panic her. And I’ll tell her—and genuinely believe—that the lessons I’ve always gleaned from my personal Good Book, Middlemarch, are truer and more necessary now than ever. Like that book’s estimable Miss Brooke, we will work to widen the circle of light. We’ll strive to be among the many people who work to make the world better by living our lives faithfully. And we’ll look out for the people around us—the ones we know and the ones we’ve never met before.

Then today and in the days that follow, I’ll work to keep editing and writing books for young people. I’ll know deep in my heart that creating literature for kids will be its own means of widening that circle of light. And I’ll take comfort in that.

But I don’t want to lose the fire and the anger and the frustration I feel right now. I don’t want to grow complacent and have the outrageous become the everyday. Months ago, when my daughter asked if we’d move to Canada if the election didn’t go the way we’d hoped, I told her calmly but firmly that no, we’d stay and we’d fight for what’s right.

Here’s hoping that this is something we can all that do in our own ways, large and small. The next few years are going to be a bumpy ride. But I’ve got my seatbelt fastened. And I’m ready to face whatever comes.

Boston, Like Donna Summer, Feels Love

Boston's City Hall Plaza, lit up for Pride, was the backdrop for the Donna Summer Roller Disco.
Boston’s City Hall Plaza, lit up for Pride, was the backdrop for the Donna Summer Roller Disco.

Last night was the third annual Donna Summer Roller Disco Party, Boston’s start of summer celebration on City Hall Plaza. I missed the first two disco parties. I do not plan to miss one again.

It wasn’t just that it was a fun night—it was heaps and hoards of fun. I danced for hours with a group of friends, spouses/partners. My voice is hoarse this morning from all the singing I did as we danced. Donna Summer’s music was the music of my youth, and I belted out her hits with rest of the crowd.

I think part of me forgot how unbelievably joyful a night of dancing can be. It’s easy to get caught up in the details—and stresses—of everyday life. Sure, I sing and dance around the house, but it’s not communal dancing—the kind you share with people you love and complete strangers. Communal dancing is awesome.

So was last night. Donna Summer’s family was there, performing on stage, dancing in the crowd, and having what appeared to be a wonderful time at this event to honor her memory. City Hall Plaza—normally a bleak wasteland surrounding Boston’s seat of government—had a roller rink, flashing lights, loud music, and a packed crowd (thanks, Mayor Walsh).

There was a memento to sign as well as a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting at Pulse Orlando. But in the end, it was a night to celebrate. City Hall was lit up for Pride, and even the Government Center T stop was flashing rainbow colors.

The crowd consisted of folks of all ages, ethnicities, and of the whole rainbow of the LGBTQA spectrum. Being Boston, we bumped into people we knew in the crowd, but also danced with strangers. It was supposed to rain, but somewhere out there Donna Summer had words with the weather gods and it held off until after the party ended.


And I had a moment of all-encompassing love this city.

There’s a time for mourning, and the need for it has been too strong of late. But there have to times to celebrate, too. And when Boston decides to put on a party, it does it up right.








When You Reach “The End”

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent hour upon hour absorbed in the deeply unhappy task of clearing out the home of someone I loved very dearly. This task fell largely to my sister and I, and we did it because that’s the way life works. It gives you unpleasant tasks from time to time, and you do your best to complete them.

So we’ve sifted through old books and clothes. Through what amounts to a history of her life as a teacher. Through quilts and notebooks containing the careful sketches of all the quilts she designed and made for members of our family. And as the sifting went on and on, I kept finding myself, as someone who thinks a lot about story in general, in the midst of stories about her.

There are stories about when she cooked a particularly awful meal, but still met with a whole family’s groaning about it with good humor. About the times when she brought my sister and brother and I to her school for the day, with us dressed to the nines—because that’s what one does. About the time she took me to a Color Me Beautiful consultant to have my colors “done.” I was thirteen at the time and stymied by the request to bring all my make-up (which consisted of one Wet N Wild eyeliner and some lip gloss). About the composition notebooks full of lists and advice she used to give us (for real) and the Vogue magazines with dog-eared pages with looks she thought we should try (also for real). About her joking that the wig she wore during chemo looked much better than her real hair.

But it wasn’t just thinking about these stories that got to me—it was dealing with the realization that these were the only ones I was going to have of her. These old stories that we’ll tell and retell—that we’ve already spent considerable time retelling—are the only ones we’re going to get. There are no new ones to come. Cleaning out the house made that more finite for me.

I sometimes joked, while she was alive, that she was a real character. We all are, in a way—the protagonists of our own stories and the secondary characters in the stories that belong to other people. And she was one hell of a character. None of which makes it any easier that her story has reached its “The End.” But like a well-worn edition of a favorite book, I’ll reach for these stories again and again, for comfort, for laughter, and to remember the importance this particular character played in my life.


Open to the Magic (in Whatever Form it Comes)

SAM_3568Periodically, as we traveled around Iceland in July, we’d see small houses—elf doors—built up against the side of slabs of volcanic rock. They’re built for the elves—the huldofolk or hidden people—who live in the rocks. Because in Iceland, even if you don’t believe in elves and fairies outright, you likely don’t want to take the chance that they’re hidden somewhere close by—and that you haven’t treated them with your very best manners.

I was mesmerized by these little elf doors and by the idea that the huldofolk might be hiding in plain sight, if only you had the gift to see them. We even went on an elf tour to see some of the hidden folk’s favorite hangouts while we were there. When our tour guide told us that some people could actually hear the elves at one large rock, my kiddo and I immediately put our ears to it to see if we could hear anything. Because you never know. As my husband put it, we had no idea if we could see or hear the elves yet. And who doesn’t want to be open to the possibility of magic?

As an editor and a writer, you have to be at least a little open to letting magic in. There is something, call it what you will, about reading a pile of submissions and finding one that sings to you or persistently putting words down on the page in the hopes that these might be ones that work. And as a parent there’s a certain level of magic built in, too. We play and imagine, paint and create, write and laugh.

But it’s too easy to set aside the magic and get mired down in the more mundane details of life. I’ve tried my best to embrace the hygge this winter, but it hasn’t always been easy. There are still deadlines and stress, clutter and chaos, grief and loss no matter how many candles I light at night. The feeling of coziness can slip away all too easily.

Last night, I worried that it was slipping away again. With a kid getting over a stomach bug, our New Year’s Eve plans went out the window and we were home together on the sofa as if it was just any old night—which it was, after all. Then we made some decisions. I picked up some fancy cheese to munch on. We watched a live stream of Reykjavik’s fireworks and celebrated the New Year on Iceland time before our tired kiddo went to sleep. My husband indulged my love of the X-Files by watching some of the first season with me for the first time as we drank mulled mead and ate tarts filled with apple butter I’d made myself. It was a nice night.

Magic can seep into life in so many different ways. For me, it can be a book that sets me on fire, or watching the new Star Wars movie on opening night with a couple of hundred of other crazy fans. It can be my kiddo giving me two albums she hates for Christmas (Frank Turner and One Direction) because she knows they’ll make me happy. It can be a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea on the first morning of 2016.

What matters isn’t when the magic slips away, but the decision to keep trying to let it in, in whatever form it takes. So, as my little family welcomes this new year, I’m determined to keep putting my ear to the elf rock—and to try to be open to whatever I might hear within it.


Celebrating the Light

Our mantle of candles (along with some kid-made masterpieces).

This has not been a great fall. Or, let me take that back: in some plain, everyday ways, it has been a lovely fall. The weather’s been great. My kiddo has hit some new heights. My husband is, as always, my rock. My friends and whole family continue to amaze me with their love and generosity of spirit. So, there’s all of that—and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

On the flip side, there’s been the enormous grief of watching someone I love dearly slip away and then mourning her loss. There’s been stress and worry and exhaustion and an ever-intruding sense of sadness. These are also nothing to sneeze at. As the days get shorter and darkness becomes more present in all of our winter worlds, I was feeling a little glum.

Which brings me to celebrating the light. I read this BBC article about the Danish concept of hygge, vaguely translated as coziness, but meaning much more than that. It’s lighting candles and fireplaces, eating and drinking tasty things, welcoming friends and family into your home for warm times together.

And, as I interpreted it, it’s not letting the darkness get to you.

I’ve thought a lot about this idea over the last month, and finally—just this past week as world events took another grim turn—decided to take action. I lined our mantle with every candleholder I could find in the house and stocked up on firewood. Each night as the sun goes down, I light the candles. It’s oddly comforting to have that glow filling the living room as I spend time with the people I love most. My husband has gotten in on the act by buying us mead to mull and lighting a fire each night. My kiddo, always a first-class snuggler, is all about the warm blankets. We’re walking and reading and enjoying meals.

These are all very small things to do, but they’re really helping. Somehow just the resolution to be cozy and welcome what the winter—and what life in general—brings is helping.

So, as the days get shorter and weather colder, at our little, yellow house we’re getting cozy like the Danes. We’re celebrating the light, one small step at a time.

Time Out: Iceland (Roving Around Edition)

SAM_3061Iceland is not a huge country, though it feels vast. Part of that is the volcanic mountains everywhere. Part of it is that there aren’t that many people—we’re talking over 300,000 but not much more. And the ones who are there mostly live in cities in towns, not strewn all over the country.

Of those roughly 300,000 people (I was assured that sheep outnumbered people to the tune of 500,000 more woolly animals), it’s really hard to tell who’s related. That’s because surnames there don’t go by family names the way they do in a lot of other countries. Here my last is Platt. In Iceland, it would be my dad’s first name plus the suffix dottir. My brother, on the hand, would have my dad’s first name but son. So siblings don’t have the same last name, let alone cousins and more distant relatives. Sound confusing? Try dating in Iceland.

As with all things, there’s an app for it. I honestly didn’t believe it when and Icelander informed me that folks at the University of Iceland had created an app—using the Islendingabok, a comprehensive tracking of the lineage of almost everyone who’s lived in Iceland since 873—where you can bump phones with someone you’re interested in romantically to make sure you’re not closely related, but lo and behold—there is, in fact, an app for this.

So, if you’re one of the nearly 94% of the Icelandic population who lives in urban areas like Reykjavik, you can easily find out if you’re about to hook up with a cousin. If you’re not, you can still use the app, of course. But you also get to feast your eyes on this on a daily basis.

Recently melted snow cascades in a lovely trickle down a lava hill.

Or, you know, this.

And over these lava hills in a slightly more powerful way.

We were only in Iceland for ten days, but it was long enough to make lava fields seem almost normal.

Just outside the Blue Lagoon, you get all of the beauty and none of the nearly naked people caked in silica mud.

Occasionally, it didn’t even look like we were on this planet anymore, and we were smilingly informed that astronauts have trained in Iceland for extra-planetary missions for this very reason. And Hollywood has been known to use Iceland as a backdrop for movies set somewhere other than Earth.

Take away the snow, and you’ve a pretty otherworldly landscape. Heck, even with the snow you do.

There were even occasions when the landscape defied anything that could be described as Martian.

Sadly, we weren’t really on Mars. But sometimes it felt like the Curiosity rover could motor its way around any corner.

And on those occasions, you could find both a bad smell—my kiddo insisted the sulfur stayed in her nose long after we visited these places—and boiling mud. And let me just tell you: boiling mud is awesome in every sense of the word.

No one in my family was as excited about the mud pits as I was.

Mud pits aside (if you can put something like that aside), almost the moment you leave the city, you realize that Iceland is one of the single most beautiful places in the world. Whether you’re horseback riding down a fjord, hiking up lava, or exploring one of the seemingly endless waterfalls, the land is changing and vibrant and stunning.

The view across the fjord during our exhausting trek on horses.

Plus, boiling mud.


Time Out: Iceland (Hanging in Reykjavik Edition)

Leif Eriksson, looking like his bad self, towering over the city.

If you go to Reykjavik expecting to find one of the grand cities of Europe, you’re going to be disappointed. If you go expecting a city that’s young, fun, vibrant, and utterly welcoming…well, you’d be pretty much spot on.

One of the first things you notice in Reykjavik is that nothing is built from wood. This is unsurprising, really, since there aren’t a whole lot of trees in Iceland. But as New Englander, being surrounded by a sea of corrugated tin, plaster, and stucco was odd. Not bad, of course. Just odd.

Then you start to look closer. It turns out that plaster and stucco can provide a perfect canvas and the good folks of Reykjavik are clearly not ones to pass up a good canvas. So there’s art—lots of lots of it—all around the downtown area. Some of the art is the type commissioned by the city itself—statues in all shapes and forms dot the streets and parks.

A solemn cello player outside of the prism-like Harpa concert hall with a gorgeous vista behind him.

A lot of it, though, is painted directly on the buildings or created using the fences, fountains, and other pieces of the city.

Just a random house. A random, awesome house.
SIngle gloves looking for a mate. As gloves do.
Single gloves looking for a mate. As gloves do.

Did I mention that this place is a lot of fun?

Jaunty mustache. Jaunty ties.

In the summer time, it’s also a lot of light. Like a lot of it. The sun “sets” after midnight and “rises” again at around 2:30 a.m. So while people are always saying that New York is the city that never sleeps, I’d argue that Reykjavik in summer the summer more literally is. The sun is up, people are out—eating, drinking, and generally having a really good time.

The view from our hotel room on the gloriously hip Laugavegur at 1:30 a.m. It got darker during a midday rainstorm than it did in the middle of the night.

And you know what? We had a really good time, too. I loved walking through the streets and finding little creative surprises in nooks and crannies. I loved to see the water and the mountains at the end of a street—a glimpse of the natural world (and the volcanoes) that surround and indeed created the land we were standing on. I loved that everyone we met—tourists and Icelanders alike—were warm and friendly. I loved that waffles are a thing and that rhubarb jam is ubiquitous.

Really, I just loved Reykjavik. Sometimes trees and wood are grossly overrated.

Rate my experience in Reykjavik? Yeah, it's a smiley face for me.
Rate my experience in Reykjavik? Heck, yeah, it’s a smiley face for me.

In Which Storytelling and Character Defeat the Dark Side

Seriously, though, would you mess with Leia?

My husband has, on occasion, told people that our greatest failing as parents was our inability to get our kiddo interested in Star Wars. For her, it all seemed to boil down to: parents’ love of the movies + stubborn resistance to things parents love = disinterest in Star Wars.

Fair enough—we’ve all been there with our own parents and our own personal Star Wars.

But this past weekend, we finally sat down and watched Episode IV: A New Hope. The next day, I got a request to doozy up her hair in Princess Leia buns. I’d love to say this was a parental victory, but it had nothing to do with us. In reality, the conversion happened because of the power of story and character.

It was an interesting exercise watching the movie through someone else’s fresh eyes—and through the eyes of the person who matters most in the world to us. It also was interesting talking to her about characters like Han Solo, who seems like less than a good guy at first (and who maintains that delicious edge of scoundrel even later on)—and about Darth Vader, whose back story my kiddo doesn’t know and whose role in the story remains mysterious. It was amazing to hear things like, “Don’t mess with Princess Leia!” afterward and to see how this character captured my kiddo’s attention just as she did mine when I was a girl.

Because who doesn’t get caught up in a bold, brave, problem-solver like Leia—someone whose dedication to her cause is unstoppable, but who is completely human (and more than a little sarcastic) at the same time. Or Han, who is more than he believes himself to be. Or Luke, who yearns to do something important and change the world. And don’t even get me started on the layers upon layers that make up Obi Wan.

So, it wasn’t dedicated Star Wars parents who changed my kiddo’s mind—it was the story and the characters. And it served as a good reminder that these two things aren’t just to be found in books. They’re on television and in movies, in video games and in plays—and they’re important in all forms. So as much as this one movie opened my kiddo up to new possibilities, she (and the movie) reminded the die-hard book person that I am that my chosen story format isn’t the only one. Star Wars: blowing my mind since 1977.

Just don’t get me started on episodes I-III….

Mad-libbing it with The Bachelor—Because the End of the “Journey” Is Near

Will you accept this rose?

This week the Bachelor takes ____________________ (female name) on a date to ________________________ (place name). They travel to their romantic date on a _________________________ (mode of transportation). It’s so beautiful there! The Bachelor and __________________________ (same female name) can’t believe that they get to visit such a place. They can talk about nothing else. (No, really, they have nothing else to talk about).

____________________________ (same place name) is the perfect place to fall in love. But just as they begin to get comfortable, a ___________________________ (different mode of transportation) arrives to whisk them off to ___________________________ (different place name). Believe it or not, it’s the perfect place to fall in love, too! This is the best date of their entire lives. It really seems like they’re both here for the Right Reasons.

To prove it, though, she’ll first have to tackle her fear of _________________________ (common phobia). Because the only way you can show that you’re truly ready for love is to overcome her greatest phobia.

But even with that behind them, the Bachelor begins to have doubts. Will her _________________________ (noun) get in the way of her making a serious commitment? There’s only one way to find out—spending time alone together in the Fantasy Suite. They both claim they’re looking forward to a whole night of talking and getting to know each other better, but viewers know that the Fantasy Suite is really a code for _____________________________ (verb ending in -ing).

Soon it will be time for the final episode, but will the Bachelor choose ____________________________ (same woman’s name) or will _______________________________ (different woman’s name) win his heart in the end and receive the final __________________________________ (plant or flower name)?

Tune in next week for the most _______________________________ (adjective ending in –ing) episode of The Bachelor ever!

[image via ABC/Craig Sjodin]