Monday, January 30, 2012

Land of Dreams

At the beginning and ending of the movie, "Pretty Woman," a town-crier kind of character wanders the streets, calling out to anyone who will listen:

"Welcome to Hollywood!  What's your dream?  Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams.  Some dreams come true, some don't, but keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood.  Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'."

 I've seen that film at least 15 times since it came out in 1990, so I remember the gist of the quote by heart, especially the first three words, "What's your dream?"

 The words kept cycling through my mind all weekend, as I sat surrounded by 1000+ people

who, eerily, shared the same dream as mine.  We had gathered in another "land of dreams," called New York City, to learn how to make our common dream come true.   Granted most had traveled much further than my 12-minute ride on the #4 Express train from City Hall to Grand Central, then a 1-minute walk to the Grand Hyatt's conference center.  But once there, we were tethered together by a glittering cord, embroidered with the words, "We want to be published!"

- The 13th Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators  -

We toted our stories and illustrations around in tote bags, sharing them at Roundtable Intensives, listened to agents and editors talk about trends, "what we're looking for," heard predictions and best guesses about the future of children's publishing as e-books, enhanced e-books and apps continue to encroach on traditional territory. I began to feel Pessimism creep around the edges of my mind as I realized the steepness of the hill ahead, and I worried about my dream.

A dream is a fragile thing like a wispy, white cloud flitting hopefully above the dreamer's head.  It often suffers from limited self confidence. . . "What if I'm not good enough, strong enough, realistic enough?"  And heaven forbid, if a voice out there says, "You're not possible."  The dream's hopeful whiteness can suddenly turn into gray gloominess and, when I'm not paying attention, poof into nothingness.

My dream of being a published writer needs me.  She'll stick around only as long as I get up every day and actually write something.  When the rejections come, she needs me to say those comforting words, "You're important, just as important as the first day I realized that I wanted to be a writer." She needs me to do the hard work to keep her alive.

"Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'," the man said.

 "and keep showin' up to make it happen," I add.

What's your dream?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Turn Right at Mao, at the Met

"Modern and Contemporary Art?"
"Uh . . . sure," I replied to daughter, Katherine, and son-in-law, Andy's, suggestion of where to start exploring the Met.
Images of abstractions flashed through my mind - an eyeball here, a foot there, in Picasso-esk style.
Give me "Water Lilies" any day.
But it was one of those growth opportunities, "Broaden Your Horizons," "Learn Something New Every Day" kind of thing.  Plus, it meant more time with them.

As we walked through the galleries, I was polite to the Pollacks, pretended to understand the Picassos, and stood gazing at an oversized, slightly tilted, blue square with the most meaningful expression I could muster.  But it wasn't until I turned right at Warhol's massive "Mao" that I became enchanted.

It was a small room, just right for its small-framed occupants, ranging in smallness from a couple of inches to letter size.  I walked slowly from one to the next until a face stopped me.  A self-portrait, simply painted, unassuming, yet so personal, so authentic, that he could have been a lifelong, next-door neighbor.

             I read the artist's name.


From wall to wall I moved, until two more paintings, side by side, stopped me.  Their Grandma Moses style drew me into the scenes -- 

mis-matched chairs at quiet table, dressed up with freshly-picked wildflowers, proud

heads of children in shared bed, tucked in with quilted comfort, safe   

Who was Horace Pippin? 
What was his story?
I returned home and read.

Horace Pippin (1888-1946)
Self-taught African American painter
Grandson of slaves
Won his first box of crayons in a magazine drawing contest when he was 10.
Shot in the arm during WWI.
Used his "good" left arm to guide the injured right one as he painted.
The Met displayed his paintings for the first time in 1938.  
Died at age 58, leaving behind only 140 paintings.

As with Pippin's seemingly "primitive" paintings, the basic facts of his life merely hint at the deeper, more complex life beneath.  

A life I will explore; art I will savor.

"Modern and Contemporary Art?"  
Thanks, Katherine and Andy, for the invitation and the company.

Horace Pippin - National Gallery of Art (
Horace Pippin - (
Horace Pippin - Wikipedia (

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Who's Tripping Over My Bridge?"


As the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff goes, the ugly, foul-smelling, loudmouthed troll appeared from the depths of the bridge each time he heard trip-trip-tripping from above.  He bellowed, "Who's tripping over my bridge?" then threatened to eat each member of the goat family, who were innocently headed to the other side to eat grass. Being the ill-mannered fellow that he was, the troll never thought to invite The Gruffs below for a neighborly cup of tea, so readers can only imagine what his under-the-bridge home was like.  I picture swampy, cramped, littered with bones, infested with flies, and dark. . except for a flatscreen TV hanging on the wall above his unmade bed.

So, when I decided to change my morning exercise route from across to under the Brooklyn Bridge,  I did so with a healthy dose of caution.  What if even world-renowned bridges had their own trolls lurking in similarly inhospitable habitats?  Curiosity propelled me forward. . . and downward.

Gargantuan stone bases greeted me, rising from East River bedrock, effortlessly supporting tons of traffic and pedestrians on their shoulders.

The rising sun revealed a world of thriving activity along an inviting pathway stretching from the foot of the Brooklyn to the Manhattan Bridges and beyond in both directions.

People moved singly, in pairs, in groups, soaking in the morning's energy.


A fisherman waited patiently for his breakfast, or lunch, depending on his fortune.

Sea gulls gathered, perching as peacefully as doves, deep in meditation.

I come back morning after morning to find a community welcoming the day with a gentleness and a tranquility that nurtures me as I pass by.

Perhaps that's why the troll so rudely tried to eliminate the foot traffic over his bridge.  Why take a chance that those goats would discover the secret beauty underneath.  Any Brooklyn Bridge trolls with similar aspirations are long gone, their secrets discovered and enjoyed by many, including myself.

Please, come join us, and get there early!  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Flying Back to New York

I keep a gratitude journal. Each night before turning off the light on my side of the bed, I write down 5 things for which I'm grateful.  Since reading this idea in Sarah Ban Breathnach's book, Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy about 10 years ago, I've filled journal after journal with the good in my life.  It's a healthy habit which helps keep me focused on the positive, but lately I've wondered if I truly appreciate what I'm listing. When I write, "All our children, their spouses, and grandchildren are healthy and safe," I feel that I should throw a party, jump up and down, open the windows and shout it to the neighbors.  Instead I enter the words, close the journal, and go to sleep.

I needed Gratitude to grab me, shake me, and shout, "Don't you realize how amazing this is?"

She complied on January 1st, onboard American Airlines flight 350 from Chicago O'Hare to LaGuardia, although not in any way I had in mind.

All was going smoothly - connecting flight from Little Rock was on time, flight to NYC was on time, weather was fine.  We took off; I closed my eyes.  Then, about 15 seconds later, loud pops exploded from the right side of the plane.  Bumps, like turbulence, but heavier, jolted us.  I grabbed a fistful of Drew's khaki pants in my left hand, and said in a deceptively calm voice, "This can't be good."  He was quiet, listening. .  for the sound of an engine.  "I hear the left one," he said.  More bumps.

For five minutes, we sat. No word from the pilot.  The plane seemed to glide in slow motion.  I noticed a white mist, a cloud? smoke? passing by my window.  "Why aren't we turning around?" "Is one engine enough to fly, to get us down?" With each question, my grasp on Drew's pants grew tighter, my mind raced with imagined endings.  And yet, the reality of a crash was impossible to entertain.  We had family to love, friends to spend time with, sunrises to savor.

We waited.  The other passengers waited, all quiet, as if sustained concentration could guide the plane to safely.

"Ladies and gentlemen.  The compressor on the right engine blew.  Everything is under control. We will be landing in 5 minutes.  Flight attendants prepare the cabin for landing."

Not until the wheels touched down, did I release my hold on Drew's forever wrinkled pants.  The revolving lights of ambulances, firetrucks and other emergency vehicles flooded my window, a precaution, thankfully unneeded.

I shouldered my bag and noticed that my whole body was shaking.
"Yes, I do realize how amazing this is!" I thought, "as is every thankful word on the pages of my journal."
But that night, I got out my most colorful markers and threw a party on the page headed, January 1, 2012.






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