I haven’t posted anything in awhile because I have a new website coming. Please be patient until it’s here. Thanks!
In one of my favorite novels, E.M. Forester’s A Room With a View, a father tells the protagonist to help his son, not by falling in love with him, but by showing him that next to the eternal question of WHY, the universe is writing an answer: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
This past week, I worked hard to secure a full-time tenure track position at a community college where I already work. I didn’t get the job. I would be lying if I didn’t admit my pride was a little hurt or that I was a little disappointed.
In the end result, I’m glad. Before each interview, I spent a lot of time sending the message out to the universe: Whatever is best for me, my writing career, and my family.
I honestly thought that the universe would favor the what is best for my family part of that phrase and thus give me the job so that I had a more secure salary that is twice what I currently make. Not because I honestly thought that was best but because I figured that’s what everybody else would think was best.
Yes, yes, yes, I was sending messages out to the universe. Sometimes I call the universe God and sometimes I call God the universe. I realize this makes me sound like a fruitcake. So okay, I’m gonna be a freaking fruitcake! I don’t know what else to be anymore!
Here is what I realized: the universe has rewarded me with the what is best for my writing career part of the phrase. No full-time tenure track position equals more time to write for me.
Dear Universe, I am sitting up, taking note, and I will comply. I will use this opportunity to focus on my writing career.
All week, I have been thinking about the sangoma at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban (Westville campus) who told me that my big sister—the one my mother miscarried, the baby that a random sangoma in South Africa couldn’t possibly have known about but in fact, she did know about it—was watching out for me, was sitting right beside me (she sits exactly the way you are sitting, she is that close to you), and “she wants you to own yourself, own your own time. When you get up in the morning, she doesn’t want you to belong to somebody else, for somebody else to have ownership of your time.”
Yes, I am a fruitcake who lives in northern California who believes what a sangoma in South Africa told me. But I knew that sangoma was telling me the truth. And I knew what she meant instantly. Because that is the job of a writer: to own your own time. It’s what I’ve always wanted.
Thank you, Cosmic Yes. I’ll embrace this gift you are sending me.
This past weekend, I was on a panel about children’s literature and war at the United States Board on Books for Young People’s bi-annual conference. The talk went well and I met with lots of great people who love kids and love books. Couldn’t ask to be among better people!
I always have a hard time coming home from conferences. For one thing, just getting my suitcase unpacked always seems hard to do. It shouldn’t be, right? I should be able to throw the clothes in the dirty clothes hamper, put my makeup bag and hair dryer in the bathroom, shut the suitcase, and be done with it. For some reason (sigh), it never seems that simple. I’m always overwhelmed with the sheer amount of paper that one conference generates. These include pamphlets, business cards (often with notes scribbled on them), postcards, and receipts (since these are always business trips and I need the receipts for tax purposes). All the paper usually means that I don’t get “unpacked” for one conference until the next one rolls around and sometimes not even then. Right now, for example, my desk is a sheer mess of papers, some of those papers dating back to the Texas Library Association’s annual conference from last April. Geez louise.
But I had a great time on my panel with Nancy Bo Flood, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Juanita Havill, and Marge Pelligrino. I loved meeting Alma Flor Ada and Beverley Naidoo, catching up briefly with Ed Sullivan and Uma Krishnaswami, and meeting lots of great other folks.
This week, I’m doing two school visits in San Francisco with Beverley Naidoo, giving a reading at Stanford’s weekly Africa Table, and giving a talk with Beverley Naidoo at Stanford. Feels hectic….and great!
Yesterday, Nesta and I returned from 3 weeks of traveling in Texas and Louisiana to promote This Thing Called the Future. And before that, we spent some time in New York and Austin, Texas and Tucson, Arizona and San Diego, California. Traveling alone with a baby is hard. Traveling alone with a baby when doing booksignings is even harder.
I was lucky to have kind hands to help me along the way. In New York City, Chris’s cousin Katrina watched Nesta (and her own baby) in my hotel room. In Houston, my aunt babysat during my events. In Austin, friend and fellow writer Lindsey Lane watched Nesta during my reading at Bookwoman–he mostly slept in her arms. In Grand Coteau, my friend Jason Saracino took care of Nesta during a performance, soothing him to sleep outside in the muggy night air. And in New Orleans, during the ALA, I was fortunate that another good friend Holly McGee stayed with us at the hotel room and took care of Nesta whenever I needed to be gone. Holly thoroughly enjoyed taking Nesta around the city to see street performers, listen to music, and eat beignets at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. Holly is African-American; Nesta has an olive tone to his skin (probably from his Cherokee heritage–dad’s side–or his Black Irish heritage–my side) but he doesn’t look black. Nevertheless, people kept stopping her and saying, “Your baby is soooo cute.” She responded, “Why, thank you,” with a gracious smile, each and every time.
I’m glad she was able to enjoy some of the beneficience bestowed towards folks with babies. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Having a baby has restored my hope in humankind. Holly told me that people who would never have spoken to her stopped to coo at the baby. “I got on the elevator once,” she told me, “and some straight up thugs, I kid you not, were making gaga faces at him.” This has been my experience. People get doors. They carry luggage. And they all smile at Nesta. He’s never met a stranger. I hope he never does.
Book Brahmin/Shelf Awareness did an interview with me. You can read it by going to this link.
Sometimes, it seems like life is about slogging through all the spam and junk mail.
A couple days ago, I got a call from a telemarketer. As soon as he started his spiel, “Hi, I’m Matt from a home security systems company—,” I interrupted.
“STOP,” I said. “I want you to take me off your call list.”
“What?” he said.
“I want you to take me off your call list.” I spoke slowly and carefully, as though I was talking to an idiot. But really, it was because there was an echo in the call so I kept hearing my own voice coming back at me, repeating everything I said a second after I said it.
“What?” he said.
“Take me off your call list,” I demanded. I enunciated each word clearly. Due to the echo, I got distracted halfway through and had to start over. “And if you can’t do it, put me through to a supervisor.” And if you can’t do it, put me through to a supervisor, echoed back.
“No,” he said.
“Okay, put me through to a supervisor.”
“Okay,” he said.
There was a little click, and then the same guy I’d just been talking to said, “Hi, I’m Matt, how can I help you?”
“I was just talking to you! I want you to take me off your call list!”
“No,” he said.
“No, you won’t take me off your call list?” I was sputtering by now. Yes, taken by surprise.
“No,” he agreed. “I won’t.”
“I’m going to report you to the Better Business Bureau,” I said, except I think it came out “Business Better Bureau” because I was so flustered and everything I said to him was still echoing back.
“Fine,” he said.
“Fine?” Now I was echoing him. “What’s the name of your business?” I asked, realizing I didn’t actually know.
“That sounds like a great question for the specialist,” he said.
“Put me through to the specialist,” I snapped.
“Okay,” he said, and hung up on me.
What a complete and total asshole.
Since he called me on my cell phone and I was able to see the number he’d called from (a number that had been calling me every ten minutes since 7 a.m., and which I’d already called back and tried to get my number removed from their call list), I did report the call to the FCC. And I’ve never had to put my cell phone number on the National Do Not Call registry, but it’s listed there now.
About twice a month, it takes me an hour or more to shred all the junk mail that comes. That’s three or four hours of my life, gone. You people out there who think all that advertising is working…it’s just annoying.