On Play-Doh.

six containers of play-doh in different colors

My therapist prescribed Play-Doh to me this week and I complied, buying six tubs in neon colors: orange, purple, pink, yellow, blue, and green. Play-Doh appeals to all the senses. It has a unique feel under the hand, it has the distinct smell of childhood, the colors are bright, it even makes a pleasing sound when it’s squished. I’d say something here about the taste but I can’t bring myself to put it in my mouth. Did you know that it contains wheat?

I needed to find a photo I thought I had lost and, in the process, I discovered all of my receipts, ticket stubs, and notes from my last trip to New York City in 2007. Next to every landmark or museum visited, I jotted down how much money I spent and how much money I had left in my checking account.

 

I was twenty years old and didn’t have a credit card, and all of my spending money came from the paychecks I earned at various jobs on campus: checking out required textbooks and DVDs in the library’s reserve room, hosting prospies for the Admissions office, doing data entry. I learned that there was no limit to the number of hours you could work on campus, and no limit to the number of departments you could work for.

I leave for my next trip to New York City on Tuesday and I will fill pages and pages in my journal about the woman I’m seeing, the coffee shops in Queens that serve Stumptown coffee, and the new exhibit at the Whitney, but I’m not keeping a ledger to make sure I don’t overspend on my cafeteria lunches. In a bizarre twist of events that twenty-year-old me could not have predicted, I’m flying first class using airline miles from a jointly-held credit card with my second spouse.

 

The Play-Doh is supposed to help my anxiety, the nauseous pit in my stomach when I think about working on the book I’m writing.

“I’m interested in helping people connect to the process of making,” my therapist said. She told me that most of her clients are artists, writers, and musicians, many of them full-time professionals. They get obsessed with the product and lose sight of the process, so she tries to pull them back, to help them get fascinated again with art-making.

“Sounds like a good metaphor for life,” I said, and she nodded as I scribbled notes in the padfolio spread open across my lap.

When I left for college, I moved from Portland to Ohio and broke up with my boyfriend, since we both decided that we didn’t want a long-distance thing. Then my parents immediately announced their separation once I was safely on the other side of the Mississippi. Understandably, I was a bit upset and lonely. I wrote long letters to my ex-boyfriend every day for almost two months, until it finally sunk in that he was never going to write back, even though we exchanged messages daily on AOL Instant Messenger.

That ex-boyfriend? I married him seven years later. And two years after that, we got divorced. In one of our last conversations as a couple, the kind where you’re both surveying the wreckage and holding nothing back, he told me about those letters from college.

“I only opened some of them,” he confessed. “Most of them, I didn’t read. I kept them but couldn’t open them.” He cried telling me this, about how he was so overwhelmed by my love and didn’t know what to do with my feelings for him.

I’ve thought about those letters more than once, wondering what happened to them. He lives in Portland so I imagine he did the environmentally responsible thing and put them all in his recycling bin, then wheeled them to the curb one night. The next morning, they were gone.

I was seventeen when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released Fever to Tell. I listened to that album every day in college, the CD spinning on repeat in my discman long before I had my first iPod.

My favorite song has always been the second-to-last one on the album, “Y Control.” Karen O growls, “I wish I could buy back the woman you stole.”

I wish I could buy back the woman you stole.

I can’t buy back the letters. I can’t buy back all the words wasted, the dozens of letters in the archive of my teenage desire and pain lost to the City of Portland’s Waste Management.

So I buy Play-Doh.

I’m sure it will help.

Once I open it.

On writing for children and young adults.

What is true: I don’t have children but I read a lot of books for children.

What is also true: I want to write books for children but I don’t know how (yet).

What I do know: It helps to read a lot of books written for children. Hundreds of them, if possible.

What I believe: Writing books for children and young adults is the hardest. It is so difficult to get it right, and so easy to get it very wrong. Too many people assume it’s easier to write for young audiences when the opposite is true. A children’s book editor said to me once, with a very wry smile, I read piles of books that never see the light of day.

What I’m trying to write: A contemporary young adult fiction novel set in present-day Tacoma, where a 15-year-old lesbian copes with the violent death of her best friend by becoming close with his older brother.

What I’m stuck on: Plot, structure, character-building, how to move forward when I feel stuck and doubt myself, what to do with a messy pile of words.

What I ask when I want to get to know someone: What was your favorite book as a child, the one you can’t forget, the one you can picture in your hands, the one that comes alive completely in your imagination?

What I loved reading as a child: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, Wayside Stories by Louis Sachar, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

What impresses me as an adult: the way Brandy Colbert moves a plot forward with something as simple and burning as a secret, the laser-sharp dialogue by Angie C. Thomas, the depth of the characters in Robin Benway’s stories, the heart-pounding pacing in Britta Lundin’s scenes, the creativity in Adam Silvera’s world-building, the deep blue moods in Nina LaCour’s books.

What I think when I meet someone small-minded and unkind: I’m so sorry you didn’t read enough books as a child; I’m sorry that no one took the time to read to you.

What I’m currently reading: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy, Puddin’ by Julie Murphy.

What I just finished reading: Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves.

What I’ll read next: Leah on the Offbeat by Becca Albertalli, White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma.

Featured image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

On hiatus.

I know you from Twitter.
Aren’t you the one who tweets all the time?
I just wanted to say hi, I follow you on Twitter.

I was ten years old when we got our first home computer.

It had a 14kpbs Internet connection. I have sentimental feelings about the static hum and screech of dial-up. I could sing it for you now, like a song I know all the words to. I remember that the connection was tenuous and dropped frequently. I would clasp my hands together in hope that the connection would hold, and I silently willed my family to keep from picking up our phone off the hook.

My first chat room was The Space Bar, a black-and-white Telnet box. It was 1996. Most ten-year-old girls weren’t on the Internet talking to strangers. But that was fine with me. I wasn’t like most girls anyway. The following years brought all the good and bad the Internet can bring. I filled out FAFSA and college applications online, and I learned everything I could about where I wanted to go to school. I wrote all my thoughts and feelings on OpenDiary, then on Livejournal, where I met my first husband. And sometime after I graduated from college, I joined Twitter, but I didn’t know anyone who used it then.

It’s been almost two years since the election, since my Twitter use turned from casual observation and friendly banter to anger, despair, and breathless, paralyzed scrolling.
I’ve been holding my breath, waiting for the breaking news that would somehow change everything, reverse course, undo what has been done.
It never came.

It’s why we go to the movies and watch TV and read books. The comfort that, when things seem the darkest, the story will change, the narrative will shift, and the tension will be relieved. We’ll talk about it excitedly later over coffee or frozen yogurt, examining the foreshadowing in the plot, the layers of the characters’ motivations.

But there are no rules here. This is not cinema or fiction.
While theatrical, this is not theater.
Catastrophe strikes and other people tweet about it.
People die and other people write clever protest signs about it.
With every new relevation, I think: No one is coming to save us.

When I was four years old, the first song I ever tried to memorize the lyrics to was “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel. It was always burning since the world’s been turning.

What I’ve been looking for is hope. But there’s no hope in BREAKING NEWS, the rage and the outrage about the rage, the endless headlines and the ensuing hot takes. I find comfort in artists, writers, queers, librarians, all of them fighting and raging and loving and living, too. It feels good to remind me that they’re here, that we’re all still here, somehow.

This is what comforted me about chat rooms when I was a lonely, awkward teenager: there was always someone there, no matter the distance.

And what is distance now? I measure it in time, not in miles. How long until I see you again? Time zones are a function of the shape of the Earth but not a reflection of my feelings about you. Can you hear me? I’m still here.

Featured image by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash

Back to the scene of the crime.

Last summer I got hit by a car while riding my bike outside the Colorado Convention Center. I was headed home from work when a car started to pull toward the curb – and into the bike lane. My left hand collided with the car’s passenger side view mirror. The mirror was smashed, my hand was cut, and I toppled over.

I watched bright red blood drip from my fingers onto the sidewalk. I had a white kitchen towel in my backpack, so I wrapped my hand in it. The driver asked if I was okay. I asked for her license and insurance. Strangers put my bike in their minivan and took me to the hospital.

The nurse in the ER frowned at me. She asked why I hadn’t washed my hand right away.

“Uh, I got hit by a car. And then I came here.”

She made me wash my hands thoroughly. I sucked air in through my teeth.

Once my hand was clean, another nurse came in and examined the wounds. No stitches necessary. He smiled. “Skin is the best band-aid,” he declared, delicately placing my flayed flesh in bandages.

After I was released, I went to the bar near my apartment and ordered a whiskey soda. I wiggled my mummy fingers at the bartender and showed off my ER admission bracelet. We laughed. Eventually the lacerations healed and left scars.

I later learned from the insurance company that the driver was an exhibitor. She was unfamiliar with the area. She didn’t see me.

The week after I got hit, the city installed a barrier between the car lane and the bike lane to protect cyclists.

I guess I just had bad timing.

Life must be a circle because I’m headed back to the Colorado Convention Center this weekend for ALA Midwinter. As a member of the 2018 Stonewall Book Award Committee for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, I’ll be sequestered all day Saturday to deliberate titles under consideration for the award. I expect it will be a less traumatizing experience than the last time I was there. I hope. The winners will be announced at the Youth Media Awards on Monday at 8am Mountain time. You can watch the livestream here.

(Unsolicited advice: if you are lucky enough to serve on a book award committee, get a PO box. Thank you, publishers. I’m sorry about all the books that never reached me because I moved three times.)

As I prepare to head back to Denver, I’m stuck thinking about the shape of things. About lines and intersections and parallels. About where I was and where I am.

I left Tacoma. I lived in Denver for a year. Then I moved back to Washington. Sometimes I call it a slingshot move. Or a boomerang. A bounce.

When I lived in Denver, I rode my bike and got hit by a car and got scars.

This weekend, I know I won’t be able to stop myself. I’ll circle back. I’ll check the sidewalk for my blood stains.

I’m going to a conference for librarians. But I’m not a librarian anymore.

I work at the same college where I was a librarian for four years. I have the same e-mail address, the same employee ID number. But everything else is different.

What is the shape of the universe?

Is it a circle, or a triangle, or a spiral?

My ex-husband e-mailed me out of the blue last week. He’s selling the house we bought together when we were married.

Part of his message said, “I’m sorry.”

When we were married, I got a job as a librarian in Puyallup. But we owned a house in Portland, two and a half hours away. So I got an apartment in Puyallup and I drove 392 miles every week to go home on the weekends. I spent a lot of time on Interstate 5. After a year of my weekly commutes, I got a tenure-track job. We got divorced.

Now I live in Seattle and I work in Tacoma, at the same college that hired me six years ago.

I spend a lot of time on I-5.

But now it’s different. I come home every night to my husband. We eat dinner together. He makes pasta sauce from scratch and listens to jazz. After dinner, I read The Odyssey out loud while he drinks Coke floats with vanilla ice cream.

Sometimes when my husband holds me, he says, “I like your shape.”

It always makes me laugh. What is my shape, exactly?