I did a guest blog today for BookReviewMama.com in celebration of National Ninja Day: 'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the village Not a pirate was stirring to plunder nor pillage. The wind 'gainst the windows was all one could hear 'Til at last came the voice of a wee buccaneer: (Read the full post here.)
When Samuel and I did our Central Park Playground Challenge (running through sprinklers at every Central Park West playground from 100th Street to 81st Street), I wondered why there was such a big gap with no playgrounds between 81st and 67th Streets. I found a map that indicated there had once been a playground just north of West 77th Street.
Like most Central Park playgrounds, it had been constructed in the 1930s by controversial city planner Robert Moses--some say as a way to keep kids within enclosed areas of concrete and chain link fence where they couldn't wreak havoc on the rest of the park. But there are enough people bashing Robert Moses that we don't need to pile on. Suffice it to say that there was supposedly a playground north of West 77th Street. Notice I said supposedly. I searched the city library archives to find a photo, and the only one I found was this mangled, spider-webby image:
I tried to mentally locate it and I couldn't. I recognized the church, the Kenilworth at 151 CPW, and the San Remo at 146 CPW. But something looked wrong. The problem: they were in the wrong order. Flipping the picture gave me this image:
Bingo. But that's not north of West 77th Street, as indicated by the map. It's south of West 77th Street. Here's what it looks like today:
Here's the old photo superimposed over the new:
Mystery solved. Long live playgrounds. Long live Central Park.
I needed a gift to myself. It's a Frank Lloyd Wright blueprint and elevation rendering from 1942. Not in great shape, so I'll have to figure out how to press and frame it. I have always loved the graceful lines of his architecture. But I think he was an arrogant a-hole. I wish for his sake that he had been a decent human being. "Am I going to be an artist or a human being?" It's not an either-or choice. Being a decent human being should be the price of admission, and any other accomplishments you layer on top of that.
There are a few stressful things going on in my life at the moment, and I won't bore you with details, but I needed some time and space to clear my mind and exhale. I spent the weekend at a writer's retreat in upstate New York. I saw some old friends and colleagues, got away from the rest of my life for a little bit, and just enjoyed the part of me that's a children's author. That's the part of me that is optimistic and idealistic, that believes in kindness and laughter and unconditional love. It is the well-lit side of my soul. I want the whole world to be that world.
The human heart is fragile. We need the things that anchor us to this earth to continue to anchor us to this earth. I am grateful, and I vow to move forward with an open heart.
First and most important, Samuel came home for the weekend. I splurged on a milkshake at EJ's in celebration. I love that brown-eyed boy.
An illustrator did a sample illustration for one of the manuscripts I finished last week, and it looks fantastic. So the manuscript and sample will start going out together to publishers this week. Finally, I just saw tonight that "Beep! Beep!" was named among the top 20 children's books since 2013, according to Early Childhood Education Zone. Not familiar with the site, but they must know what they're talking about.
I kept scrolling down to see where it was--top 15? Past "The Day the Crayons Quit." Past "Dragons Love Tacos." Top 10? Nice. Past Mo Willems. Past Kevin Henkes. Top 5? Surely not. I must have scrolled past it. Maybe it's not actually on here. Whoa. Cool.
Copies of the new Scholastic paperback version of "Beep! Beep!" (which is nice because it's like having a new book out). And a Bob Dylan biography I ordered from Amazon to see if I should give him another chance.
But I get so excited when I finish and submit a manuscript. I get so excited when we make a sale. I get so excited when the book comes out, and it has my name on it, and it's my words, my creative voice. And I get excited when I read it at story time at a bookstore and see babies and toddlers and new moms and dads and think of how great it is to be a parent and how great the world is with kids in it and how great picture books are and how great it is to be a part of that creative process.
I should spend my weekends looking for a permanent job, one that pays the bills and has a 401K and an annual bonus. And I am. I am. But not my entire weekend. I completed and submitted two final manuscripts this weekend. Two! They're good. They rock. They both took months to get through multiple edits and revisions. One was an idea I had literally two years ago and hadn't gotten down on paper until August. You have to make time for your creative passions. Otherwise your life just goes by, and so much of it is dedicated to simply paying the mortgage and putting food on the table (or, in our case, ordering it from Domino's, then putting the box on the table). The difference between a good weekend and a mediocre weekend for me is that at the end of a good weekend I can say I created something. This was a good weekend.
I've never been a Bob Dylan fan. Part of the reason is that I didn't come of age in the "Blowin' in the Wind" era. When I was 16, Dylan had nothing of interest to say to me. "Gotta Serve Somebody"? I don't think so. Let's be honest. Is there really anyone, anywhere, even on the 1980 Grammy committee, who thought "Gotta Serve Somebody" was a great song? Seriously. Listen to it. I've written previously about how I was backstage when he appeared on Letterman in 1984. He didn't show up for rehearsals, backed away when Letterman tried to talk to him, and when my colleague said, "Great show, Bob," gave us the silent F you. You don't want to be on TV? Don't be on TV.
I've also pointed out previously that when he won the Congressional Medal of Honor, he couldn't be bothered to take off his sunglasses. That's not being a quirky artist. That's being a self-absorbed butthole.
Two minor quibbles, perhaps cherry picked. But I'm just not a fan, okay? The fact that his major contribution to art over the past decade was being a Cadillac Escalante pitchman actually doesn't bother me. It kind of normalizes him a bit, like being in the Traveling Wilburys. But I still don't like him.
Look. You gotta separate the art from the artist. Otherwise you're going to be disappointed. Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright...doesn't matter. Idolize art, not people. I'm just saying he doesn't seem like the kind of guy I'd want to have a beer with, or who'd want to have a beer with me either.
As for the art...I get it. Good lyrics, aside from the minor quibble that saving, naming, raging and fading don't rhyme with a-changin'. Major influence on a generation. A self-absorbed generation, but a generation. Was it Nobel Prize for Literature good? I'll leave that to others.
She was maybe six years old. Her little brother was having a rough day. The mom gave him the crushed remnants of a cookie to calm him, which he promptly poured onto his face and clothes. His big sister dutifully wiped his face with her hands. The mom handed him a napkin, which he rubbed across his face, then wadded up and handed to his big sister. She casually accepted it like she'd done this before. As I left the train I whispered to the mom what a good big sister her daughter was. She smiled and nodded.
He took a bus from Hartford Friday afternoon, but there was traffic. He got here at 9--his first time home since we dropped him off at college a month ago. The dogs were happy to see him but acted like he'd only been gone overnight. It was rainy and late. We ordered Domino's. "How are your classes going?" (He shrugged. "Pretty good.") "Still getting along okay with your roommates?" (He shrugged. "Uh-huh.") "Are you making friends in your classes? ("Uh-huh. A few.") Aha. He's making friends.
"How's the cafeteria food?" ("Good. But the cafeteria closes at 7:30 so sometimes I forget to eat dinner by then.") I knew he looked thin in the face. Why on Earth would a college cafeteria close at 7:30 PM? Is it a retirement home? In New York 7:30 is an afternoon snack. Jen went to bed at midnight; Samuel, Ethan and I stayed up 'til 2--not doing anything, just on our computers, being in the apartment together. Saturday around noon we got croissants from the new bakery on Columbus & 81st. He spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with a friend-turned-girlfriend from high school, got up early this morning, hugged us, and caught the 7:30 AM bus back to Hartford. He left his pajamas on the bathroom floor and an unopened Nesquick in the fridge. He's a big boy. He's fine. Things will be okay.
I chose NYU for its film school, but I probably spent most of my time at Coles. My first week at NYU, in the Fall of 1982, I went to the student employment office to find a campus job. I saw a posting for a Weight Room Monitor, walked down to Coles, and was hired on the spot. My supervisor was the wrestling coach. He said I looked like a wrestler. I hadn't planned on wrestling in college, but I said, "Well, in fact, I was pretty good in high school." I invited a girl from my dorm to watch our season opener. I lost. But I ended the season with a 16-5 record. It helped that we wrestled schools like Yeshiva and Stevens Institute of Technology. The photos below are from late 1982, in Coles. Coach Peckett is standing in front of the bench.
I only recognize one teammate from the photo below: Constantine von Hoffman, standing behind the chairs.
One time in the off-season a guy came to the wrestling room and asked me to wrestle. I said sure. About two minutes into it I thought, "This guy is horrible. It's almost like he's never wrestled before." It later dawned on me that he was gay and just seeking a little physical interaction. My abbreviated wrestling career at NYU compelled me to continue wrestling after college, and eventually to move to Iowa to train with Gable and the Hawkeyes. That's where I met Jennifer. It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't taken the student job at Coles. So there is that. I should mention the skinny dipping incident. The statute of limitations has passed.
It was at the end of my senior year. My friend managed the equipment room and had keys. We knew some girls on the swim team. There were probably a dozen of us. We stripped down and giggled and shushed each other and splashed around in the darkness, even jumped off the high dive a couple of times before panicking about the noise we were making. Nothing bad happened. No one ever found out. But I can only imagine the insurance liability. Stupid kids. Goodbye, Coles. You were a good gym.
Okay, so this is the coolest "water park" ever, it's only 2 hours from Manhattan, and I'd never heard of it until a week ago, when I was looking for excuses to come visit Samuel at Trinity.
It's an old quarry in Connecticut (between New Haven and Hartford) that filled with water back in the 1930s and sat dormant until some folks decided about 10 years ago that it would make a cool water park. It makes a very cool water park: zip lines, inflatibles, cliff jumping, a water slide. Lines were short, and I liked the fact that it was in a natural setting and had an interesting history. Here's what it looked like as a quarry:
See the house at the top of the cliff in the photo above (just to the left of the pole)? It's still there in the photo below.
You can see it clearer here:
Here's a nice POV shot from the top of the slide...
...and from the top of the cliff jump...
This was the last weekend of the season, but we'll be back next year.
We rented a minivan on Wednesday evening, loaded it with Samuel's stuff: a new mini-fridge, new bike, new towels, suitcase of pants and shirts and socks and underwear, shoes, laundry bag, laundry detergent, desktop computer, laptop computer, desk supplies. Just as we were about to get in the car, I said, "Wait, Jen, take our picture. Samuel, get on my shoulders." He laughed. I said, "No, really." Jen took the picture. We laughed, got in the car, headed out.
We drove north past the GW Bridge, through the Bronx, toward the Merritt. We sang karaoke via my mobile phone: "Mr. Sandman" and "Johnny B. Goode" from "Back to the Future." I did "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" because I don't want him to forget what a great British accent I can do.
We stopped at Dunkin Donuts in Stamford, then back on the road and at our hotel in Hartford by 10pm.
It was rainy on Thursday. We moved him into his dorm room--a ground-floor quad, next to the soda machines. "Uh-oh, ground floor, you're going to have water bugs," I told him. He's going to need me to come stomp on them, I thought.
He has his own tiny room off a shared common area. "All right, photo op."
We unpacked and put everything away. Jen said, "We should get you a few more things from Target."
I think it was mostly a stall tactic. We drove to Target. We drove back. We ate lunch in the cafeteria. Samuel picked at his chicken. He's going to need me to help him find food he likes, I thought. We walked outside. The sun had come out. I saw a banner that said "Welcome New Students." I said, "Stand right here. Photo op." Then we looked at our watches, realized he had somewhere to be at 2:30, and we needed to get the rental van back. And...shit, this is it, isn't it? We hugged. He headed off toward his dorm. Jen and I watched him go. And just like that....
Samuel returned from his 4-day freshman backpacking trip late Thursday night. He and Ethan hung out in their bedroom on their laptops all day Friday and Saturday. Then, on Saturday afternoon Jen said, "Do we want to do anything tomorrow?" It is, after all, the final weekend before Samuel leaves for college. I meekly floated the idea of Hurricane Harbor, which was met with a tepid but not negative response. So we did it, and it was a nice way to spend our final pre-college weekend together. The lazy river was closed for "maintenance" (vomit? diarrhea?), so the wave pool was crowded and the lines were long. But it was together time, and I'm thankful for it.