Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Archive for the ‘Random howls into the world’ Category

I’ve Been Quiet Lately. Thinking.

Straight up. It has been a tough summer.

Three weeks ago, while I was on my annual beach vacation, my aunt, Tia Isa, collapsed.  Her legs had been weakening for a while, and now , at last, they stopped working just as she was being helped from the bathroom to her wheelchair. By the time I returned, she was also struggling with a deep cough I didn’t like. It rattled in her chest and made her wheeze. So, before I had unpacked a single thing, we drove to the hospital where we spent the next six days trying to stabilize her.

I’m ashamed to confess that for a good while I have nursed the fantasy that my aunt would simply go to sleep one night and not awaken.  I wanted a peaceful exit for a lady who has been so unfailingly kind and generous to her entire family over a lifetime. I wanted to spare her and me the fear and indignities that sometimes go hand-in-hand with a failing body.

But life isn’t fiction, even for a writer. And so, in the last few weeks, as I’ve canceled engagements and changed diapers and stared at the ceiling all night, I’ve had to face what’s really ahead.

Luckily, there is not a crisis I’ve had where the kindness of people hasn’t shone through.  Texts and supportive emails have come from the few people who know what’s happening.  Folks like Lin Oliver have graciously allowed me to cancel appearances that had been planned months ago. My husband and children stepped up in every way – beyond what I ever imagined. And most important, my Tía Isa and I have had the privacy to talk about what she really wants with regard to palliative care.

I am writing this from Maine, hours away from tia Isa, where I am a guest author of Island Readers and Writers. When it was time to decide whether to travel to Acadia National Park this week to work with children at the Blueberry Harvest School, I wavered. But as Tía finally stabilized a bit, my family, including Tia Isa herself, were adamant. Go. Rest.  We’ve got this.

Possibly the best gift came from my middle daughter, Sandra, who put me on the plane with a book in hand. It’s Being Mortal  by Dr. Atul Gawande (Thorndike Press, 2014), which she’s reading for her nursing program at VCU. How do we help the people we love exert control over this last act of their lives? How can we help them not necessarily lengthen their lives, but instead live the days that remain in a way that has meaning to them?  Using both research and personal story, it describes the history of how we have managed –or failed to manage– end-of-life care. Dr. Gawande draws the complexities, from finances to the actual burden on family members , and also offers alternatives to how we help people make decisions about their last days.

Here in Maine with Javier, I’ve read quietly, turning to this lovely book for solace. We’ve walked trails in Acadia National Park in contemplative silence and stared at the ocean, thinking about both his mom and Tía Isa. I’ve had the chance to behold nature at its most beautiful. I’ve thought a lot about love and family and death. I’ve given long hard thought to the irony of starting to lose Tía Isa in the weeks before I publish a book about having to lose someone we love.

And I’ve found a bit of peace with the uncertainty that’s ahead.

So, this morning, I’ll meet lovely students, young people at the beginning of everything . As often happens when I’m in schools, we’ll talk about how we write, about where stories come from, about the role of roots and family in our lives and in our work. At times, presentations lose their freshness for the author. We say the same things so often that we struggle to remember that it’s new for the audience who is hearing it.

But this time, the words won’t feel automatic. They’ll feel so deeply true because they come from the acceptance that loss is also part of love in the long game.

Tía Isa and I having lunch at the rehab center.

And so in this way, Tía Isa will be with me, today and, I hope, always.

 

 

This month at Pine Camp: Paintings by Salvador González Escalona

IMG_0186I’m heading over to Pine Camp on July 2 for the opening reception of “Two Seas Merging,” which features the work of Cuban artist Salvador González Escalona. The reception is 6:30 to 8:30 p.m, and the show runs until the end of the month.

FullSizeRenderFrom the press release: “A self-taught mixed medium master artist, González Escalona, with the help of campers enrolled in the Great Summer Escape camp at Pine Camp, just completed painting a mural titled Two Seas Merging, which symbolizes the cultural diversity of the Afro-Cuban connection.”

If your Spanish is strong, here he is in Cuba discussing his mural work in Callejón de Hamel , where he used African religious imagery on a community mural project – remarkable since it was initiated during a particularly repressive time.

Spotlight Gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. This exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information or to schedule a tour please call Shaunn Casselle at 646-6722. For more information about these projects, please call 646-3677.”

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My favorite MLK celebration: the Virginia way

MLK_Memorial_NPS_photoThis weekend I traveled from one corner of Virginia to the other – from the rural mountains of Farmville all the way to Arlington/Washington DC area. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated the spirit of Martin Luther King Day.

logoMy first stop on Saturday was in Farmville. I was invited by the folks behind the Virginia Children’s Book Festival to tour  the Moton Museum and other sites for the upcoming VCBF (Oct 16 – 17, 2015). The Museum, as part of its commitment to children in the Farmville area, is a founding partner in the festival.

The Moton is also an absolute gem. It’s the former Moton High School – and the historic site of a student walkout led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns and fellow students who demanded better conditions. Their case eventually got picked up by civil rights attorney Oliver Hill and became part of the five cases that made up Brown v. Board of Education. 

Justin Reid, the museum’s associate director for operations, led us through the exhibits, which are a visual chronology of Virginia’s role in the early civil rights movement. Many of the families who were part of movement – as well as those who wished to keep schools segregated – still live in Farmville.  Prince Edward County participated in Massive Resistance, of course, shuttering schools rather than integrating, so there is an especially poignant personal element to all the photos and artifacts. But there’s also a spirit of forward movement and strength. Places like the Moton are our best hope to forge reconciliation and understanding. They tell our most difficult stories as a country through the personal stories of the people who lived them.  If you haven’t been to the Moton, put it on your list.

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A.B. Westrick, Gigi Amateau, and me getting ready to take our seats in the theater. We were in the second row!

When we think of people whose rights have historically been ignored, we can certainly include young people with disabilities, too. On Sunday, I had the pleasure of traveling  to DC with my pals Gigi Amateau and A.B. Westrick. We went to see Mockingbird, a family theater performance at The Kennedy Center. I’d never been to the Kennedy Center, so that felt like a thrill in  and of itself. But even better, we were there to see our friend’s book performed as theater. The play, adapted by Julie Jensen and directed by Tracy Callahan, is based on Mockingbird, winner of the 2010 National Book Award, and written by our friend (and fellow Virginia author) Kathy Erskine.  We were crazy proud. Really, all we were missing were pom-poms.

The play captured the delicate balance of grief, hope, and healing that Kathy laid out in her novel. Told through the eyes of Caitlin, a girl with autism, the play allows the audience inside the  heart and mind of a young woman whose challenges can easily keep her isolated. It is by turns hilarious and touching – but also unerringly true about grief, families, and love. Everything from the use of technology in the set design to the nuanced performance by Dylan Silver in the lead role was absolutely perfect. I’ll tell you right here, bring tissues.  The play runs through Feb.1. Tickets are $20.  Highly recommended.

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The Candlewick Holiday Video

It’s not every day your publisher sings their holiday greetings. But here you go – another small example of why I love Candlewick.  (The bloopers especially give you a sense of their personality.) Enjoy! And if you are on Pinterest and want a list of the books they used, go here.

Remember to tuck in a book or two as holiday gifts for the little ones!

Underwater Dreams airing on MSNBC

I’m passing this on because I love an underdog story – especially one that shows off Latino kids with super-sized brains and grit.

The documentary Underwater Dreams will be airing on MSNBC and Telemundo this Sunday, July 20, 2014 1 PM, EST.

Here’s the blurb:  “Underwater Dreams, written and directed by Mary Mazzio, and narrated by Michael Peña, is an epic story of how the sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants learned how to build an underwater robot from Home Depot parts. And defeat engineering powerhouse MIT in the process.” Get the rest of the scoop here: 

 

header_logoI might not have heard about this if I hadn’t joined REFORMA as a community supporter this year. It’s a librarian association dedicated to providing services for Latino families, but you can join as a supporter or a corporate sponsor. You can flat-out just donate, too.

Anyway, I’m so glad this crossed my screen. Thanks, Reformistas for being such a great clearinghouse of information!

 

Check Your Drawers: My hopes for you in 2014

I was overpowered by New Year Mania and spent last week having my oldest daughter’s room painted, which somehow led  to an entire overhaul of my living room/writing lair.

In the process of digging out my old desk, I came across a few things that made the whole back-breaking process worthwhile.

Image 1Image 2The first was my mother’s plane ticket from Cuba, dated May 19, 1960 and her subsequent application for citizenship to the US.  I had stored them after discovering them in a box last fall when I was closing her condo in Florida. The documents made me wonder what she was thinking all those years ago on the verge of losing her country, and though it wasn’t known to her yet, on the verge of losing her husband, too. I’ve decided to have the pieces framed and put over my desk. My family’s story in this country began with what felt like a disaster to her, and my story as a writer and as a woman begins with her long journey to survive.Image

The second treasure has to do with dreams – and grit. Several years ago, when I wanted desperately to be a full-time writer but lacked the courage to do it, I found an exercise in one of those awful self-help books. I was asked to write a paragraph that described what I wanted my future “author’s life” to look like. I remember feeling embarrassed to jot down such dreams. I braced myself for the fact that I would probably never have the chance to “write from my desk at home” and “produce books that made me feel proud.” Who was I to want such grand things, and how on earth was I going to cobble together a career as a writer? When I came upon the exercise buried in one of my old desk drawers, I was shocked to see that a lot of what I once thought impossible has slowly come to be.

Meg's work space 2013.jpg-largeSo, here I am, writing from a newly moved and polished table in my living room, where I work on books that name the experience of growing up. I’m part of my city’s writing community, and my books are earning lovely honors. I don’t know if it matters that I wrote my heart’s true wish down. But somewhere along the line, I must have decided to get past my fears – just as my mother did all those years ago.

In 2014, I’m wishing you the same courage, maybe even the same cheesy exercise. I’m wishing you people who leave lasting, if imperfect, imprints. I’m wishing you the power of dreams.

Cariños de,

Meg

Lights, Camera, Censorship! NCAC’s teen film contest

imagesThis one is for teens who have a camera and wouldn’t mind winning $1,000 and a trip to New York.

1268848_300I got a note from the National Coalition Against Censorship about their annual Youth Free Expression Film Contest. If you’re 19 years old or younger, you have until December 13 to enter a short film about censorship on video games. This year’s theme: “Video Games in the Crosshairs.” Here’s the pdf of info: NCAC Film Contest 2013

The winners get a cash prize ($1000, $500, $250), a scholarship to take classes at the New York Film Academy and an all-expenses paid trip to New York City for the awards ceremony. All they ask is that you bother to make something with more pizzazz than just a headshot of you talking into your phone.

Spread the word and good luck!