Thankful Thursday – Why Bother Writing?

Recently I had a conversation that addressed this question:  Why bother writing a blog?  There are so many blogs out there, and will mine really be able to make a difference?  My voice is tiny and will never outshout the cacophony of the blogosphere.  Plus, there are always writers who are funnier, smarter, more popular than I could ever hope to be.  It takes quite a bit of time and energy to write something passably articulate and meaningful, and when there are zero comments, it can be especially discouraging.  Blogging often feels like a futile task.  I might as well go the way of Emily Dickinson and store all my scribblings in a locked trunk that will be discovered only after my body has been buried in the ground.

There is a good answer to “Why bother writing a blog?” and it’s the same answer I tell myself when I’m completely down and ready to give up writing fiction, which happens more often than I would like to admit.

Why DO I bother?  I’m writing to reach my Audience of One, my Dearest Reader, who is searching for a perspective just like mine.  I’m writing for someone who feels like they never quite fit in, someone with a love of words and music and whimsy, someone who feels, sees, hears deeply and is just a little, or overwhelmingly, shy (like me).  I’m writing for someone who will probably never leave a comment (because shyness), but someone who finds a true pleasure reading this blog.

So even though it feels like I’ve created a sink hole of a blog, there’s still that tiny speck of hope.  My hope is that you, my Dearest Reader, my Audience of One, have found me.  Every week I am writing for you.  Thank you for reading.

Crossing Cultural Borders – American Girls Educated Abroad

Crossing Cultural Borders, a weekly blog series exploring multicultural children's literature from the United StatesOriginally, when finding books about children traveling from the United States to other countries for Crossing Cultural Borders’ Stranger in a Strange Land, I was looking for the arc where the mainstream American travels abroad for the very first time and must redefine her own American identity while immersed in a foreign culture. The breadth of experience lends itself better to the novel format than the picture book format, and a safe foreign setting for a young female protagonist is a boarding school, where the character does not need travel around but stays in one place.

Blow out the Moon by Libby Koponen is the first book that fits under the criteria.  Based on the author’s own experiences in a London boarding school, this book stars a spunky American girl named Libby who initially struggles with conforming to English culture but eventually adapts and learns proper English etiquette. Great photos of actual letters, book illustrations, and objects of the author’s childhood related to the trip add another layer of depth to the reading experience. My favorite aspect of the novel is how the girl Libby is steeped in literary references. For instance, when she first learns how to ride a horse, she keeps thinking of scenes in Black Beauty. She falls in love with the archness of Pride and Prejudice, and she has a discussion with her British friend about which character she would be in Little Women.  Connecting to new experiences as a child through reading is something I can deeply understand, especially since these were also some of my favorite childhood books.

The other example I want to highlight is Bloomability by Sharon Creech. After her sixteen-year old sister became pregnant and her older brother was jailed, Domenica aka “Dinnie” is “kidnapped” with her mother’s encouragement to go the Switzerland boarding school run by her uncle and aunt. Though her family tells her it’s a wonderful opportunity, a homesick Dinnie’s struggles to learn how to speak Italian with a smattering of Japanese and how to ski. After growing through her lessons and friendships with students from Spain, Japan and America, Dinnie leaves Switzerland with a strong sense of hope and seeing bloomabilities wherever she goes. Also, while learning Italian at boarding school, Dinnie discovers her grandmother originally was born in Italy.  Therefore, this story also has an element of reclaiming one’s cultural heritage, which aids in her discovery of self.

It’s interesting how the young female protagonists are sent to boarding school against their will. Why are they all going to boarding school? One answer would be that the authors themselves have experienced attending boarding schools and are simply writing what they know. Addressing it on a story level, for the child protagonist to really come into her own and truly face the otherness of a foreign culture and herself, she must experience the country without the safety buffer of her parents. A boarding school is a great setting that gives the child a social structure and protection without the need for the parents to be physically present. Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library wrote a great post about American girls at English boarding schools.  Also, special thanks to Alvina Ling for providing recommendations on the original blog series.

Next post in the Crossing Cultural Borders series: American Boys Abroad


#NotYourAsianSidekick Trending on Twitter

It’s Multicultural Monday, and I will update this blog later today for Crossing Cultural Borders.  But first I needed to write about #NotYourAsianSidekick.

I’ve recently returned a long hiatus from social media and I started slowly, dipping my toes into the vast ocean that is Twitter.   I’m so glad I did.  Sunday morning, thanks to retweets from Saira Ali, I discovered #NotYourAsianSidekick, the top Twitter trend.  Led by Suey Park, thousands of people Tweeted about Asian-ness, sharing their experiences and debunking stereotypes.  Yes, there were tweets from trolls and people dismissing the trend, but their voices were drops of drizzle in comparison to the deluge of people, Asian and not Asian, truly participating in support of #NotYourAsianSidekick.

The range of topics discussed was huge, so I cannot possibly summarize it all, but here are some that stuck with me:

  • Asian Identity — so many people consider only East Asians as Asian when there are South Asians, Southeast Asians, and Middle Eastern people who also are Asian
  • Debunking the myth of the model minority (Asians are not naturally smart. They have to study hard), and how Asians truly are People of Color
  • Alienating statements from strangers that one often receives as an Asian-American or Asian living/traveling in non-Asian countries (“Where are you from?” or “You speak English so well” or “Are you Chinese or Japanese?” because they’ve never heard of Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, etc.)
  • Language and speaking with accent issues
  • Asian women being fetishized, overly sexualized, and therefore dehumanized, while Asian men are often portrayed as weak, feminine, overly nerdy OR a martial arts expert
  • Body Image issues — Asian women modifying their faces (esp. eyes and skin) to look more white and less Asian, not all Asians are a size zero.
  • Media representation of Asian – whitewashing Asian characters in film, yellowface makeup on white actors, demonizing of darker skinned characters
  • Asian people of mixed heritages, some who can pass for non-Asian, some who cannot
  • Asian diaspora experiences that include family immigration stories, legal and illegal, and Asian children who are adopted into non-Asian families
  • Damaging internalized identity issues resulting from white imperialism that are especially prevalent in previously European colonized countries like India, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, etc.
  • Queerness — how is it never discussed yet it exists, dating challenges
  • Asian-American & People of Color feminism — If you belong to one minority group, that does not give you automatic understanding/acceptance/support of another minority group.  While you are both minorities, the actual experiences are vastly different.

A lot of this was rather obvious to me, since I’ve lived a lot of it, but much of it was new to me.  So I read more than I Tweeted.  I was so immersed in #NotYourAsianSidekick that I was even a tiny bit late to my choir’s pre-concert rehearsal.  After my choir concert finished hours later, I checked Twitter again and saw, much to my delight, #NotYourAsianSidekick was still going strong.  Then I discovered that Twitter has a virtual jail because Suey Park was put in Twitter jail almost 12 hours into #NotYourAsianSidekick.  I still don’t understand why.  Then others like Juliet Shen and Jaymee Goh continued leading the trend.  It’s kind of amazing how much people have to say.

Here are my own top contributions to the Twitter discussion:

1)  Ang Lee said to his son: If you want to act in better Asian-American roles, you need to create those roles. #NotYourAsianSidekick

2)  #NotYourAsianSidekick b/c my childhood Asian-American friend had double eyelid surgery to make her eyes rounder & bigger.

3)  I write an Asian character in each of my stories b/c everywhere I go, there’s always an Asian person in the room (me). #NotYourAsianSidekick

The first line was a gem I learned from an interview with Ang Lee on NPR.  The second was something that always bothered me, since my friend had double eyelid surgery when she was 13.  This last line, though obvious, was a recent revelation, a quotable gift from an author friend Suzy Morgan Williams, who had heard a similar saying from her author & filmmaker friend Craig Lew, who always included an Asian character in every screenplay that he wrote.

I’ve thought long and hard about the importance of including at least one Asian character in every story I write. While I do try to write mostly Asian protagonists, it doesn’t have always to be the protagonist because some characters that speak to me are not All Asian All the Time.  But it’s important to have representation. And Ang Lee is right.  We need to write the characters we never see and want to see.  We need to be in charge of our own companies and publish the stories and produce and direct the movies, TV shows, Youtube videos that reflect who we are.  We need to create the roles we want to play.

A huge thanks to Suey Park, Juliet Shen, Jaymee Goh, Saira Ali, Alyssa Wong, and many, many others I’ve met through this amazing movement.  As I write this blog post, #NotYourAsianSidekick has been a top 10 trend on Twitter for over 24 hours! Amazing!

Now that so many complex internalized issues have been exposed and explored in #NotYourAsianSidekick, it’s my hope that we can start solving them.  To achieve this, it’s important for Asians to continue to speak out and create new art.  Let’s celebrate diversity and redefine Asian for ourselves.

Read more about the impact of #NotYourAsianSidekick:

Blogher – Asian Women to Twitter: I’m #NotYourAsianSidekick
Buzzfeed – #NotYourAsianSidekick Unites Thousands To Discuss Asian American Feminism And Stereotypes
BBC News – #NotYourAsianSidekick goes global
The Stream – #NotYourAsianSidekick lashes out at stereotypes
Salon – #NotYourAsianSidekick ignites massive conversation about race, stereotypes and feminism


Gunn High School Choir Sings 3 Pentatonic Moon Songs

Under the direction of William Liberatore, Gunn High School has an over 20-year tradition of choral excellence, and their winter concert took place on Thursday, December 12, 2013.  I was introduced to conductor Bill through his wife Holly, who sings with me in choir. Yes, the Liberatore is a musical family.  Bill especially liked my set of songs A Pentatonic Moon.  So he programmed three songs (Moon, Moonlight, Pavilion) for this December concert.

The Gunn concert choir has 100 young women and men.  The chamber singers have 35, and their treble choir consists of 32 girls, all freshmen and 14 years old.  While my Pentatonic Moon songs are simple, it’s not always easy to tune the dissonant chords, and a cappella, which means without accompaniment, can be a challenge to sing well at the age of 14.  But the girls did a wonderful job.  I was so impressed!

Here’s the Youtube video taken by a parent

Sharp & Fine Dances Neil Gaiman’s “Queen of Knives”

A few years ago I met Megan Kurashige at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, where we were both students of some of the world’s best speculative fiction authors, including Neil Gaiman.  Megan has a magical way with words that reveal a true artist’s way of looking at the world, with a sense of sharpness that is still imbued with wonder.  Though she is a fine writer, Megan’s primary passion is dance, and she works as a professional contemporary dancer and choreographer.  Her dance company, Sharp & Fine, which she co-founded with her sister Shannon, is the embodiment of the sisters’ combined dance aesthetic.  The name says it all.

This weekend Megan, Shannon, and their troupe are performing a dance interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s poem “Queen of Knives,” which can be found in his collection of short fiction Smoke & Mirrors.  I’ve heard about this project for years, ever since it was a dream spark in Megan’s mind. Though this is my busiest weekend of the year, there was no way I was going to miss it, even if it meant sitting in traffic for almost two hours en route to Z Space in San Francisco. It was totally worth it because the dancing was so gorgeous.  I was lucky to secure a seat in the front row, and here are some photos from the live performance on Friday night.  Please excuse the blurriness of my camera phone photos.

Glitter Ladies

During the pre-performance, the four Glitter Ladies (Shannon Kurashige, Shannon Leypoldt, Carson Stein, Megan Wright), dressed in white sleeveless leotards and tulle skirts, step, pose, and dance in the center of the stage.  Not only is there glitter on their clothes, but their white caps are studded with rhinestones that sparkle whenever they move.  Though their primary role is to act as a chorus, much like the core in a ballet company, each dancer breaks out throughout the show to dance a solo.

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The three principal characters of Grandpa (Eric Garcia), Grandmother (Katharine Hawthorne), and Child (Megan Kurashige) dance wonderfully. Grandpa & Grandma have an interesting duet around the kitchen table that repeats throughout the show, and when Child arrives, her dance insertions into the duet provided a counterpoint to their movements.  This is a family that clearly love each other but also struggle with fully embracing each other, something that becomes even more evident in the second half.

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When the magic show begins, the principal dancers become the audience. Grandfather is constantly scooting his chair closer to get a better view of the Glitter Ladies, while Grandmother and Child are keeping their distance, initially resisting the show within the show.

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Yet the allure of the Glitter Ladies is irresistible, and eventually Grandmother and Child join them on stage.

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And they move.

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And they kick.

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And they leap.

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Grandfather tries to bring Grandmother back in the audience.

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But Grandmother resists him.

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To continue dancing.

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Grandmother even steps into the box, and the Glitter Ladies Dance around the box while Grandfather, Child, and we the audience wonder what will happen.

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Grandmother emerges from the box like a phoenix to dance some more, with complete abandonment and joy.  Then she returns to the box and disappears.  This is not a huge spoiler because at the beginning of the show, Megan said that Neil requested that there be a big box on stage and that someone should disappear in that big box.  I especially loved the narrative twist at the end, which I will not spoil.  Grandfather and Child never knows what happens to Grandmother after the magic show, but the audience gets a clue.

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It’s not too late to experience the divine that is Sharp & Fine.  They have two more performances left this weekend, and there are still seats available.  Tickets can be purchased online, so get yours now!


Guest Blogging for The Pirate Tree

I feel so fortunate to have been invited to be a guest blogger for The Pirate Tree, a wonderful group of authors dedicated to social justice and children’s literature.  They regularly post thoughtful reviews of children’s and YA books that deal with progressive issues.  When they heard about my blog series Crossing Cultural Borders, they invited me to contribute.  So once a month for the next several months, The Pirate Tree will be cross-posting an article from my blog series Crossing Cultural Borders on its blog, and my first post is up today.

Read my first article, Writing Crossing Cultural Borders – An Introduction, on The Pirate Tree.

Thank you to the authors who have welcomed me to The Pirate Tree:  J.L. Powers, Nancy Bo Flood, Ann Angel, Terry Farish, Varian Johnson, E. M. Kokie, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Peter Marino.  It’s my honor to join a great group of people who are passionate about social justice and children’s literature.

Thankful Thursday – Indies First – My Day as a Stealth Author Bookseller

In September 2013, Sherman Alexie encouraged authors to be superheroes for their local independent bookstores and volunteer to hand sell books on Small Business Saturday, November 30, 2013, which is Thanksgiving weekend.  This movement to support local independent bookstores has been named Indies First.  According to NPR, over 1,000 authors signed up.  I was one of them, unofficially, since my first book Summoning the Phoenix won’t be published until Spring 2014 (as the debut title for Lee & Low’s new Shen’s imprint!).  To celebrate Indies First, I had a plan to visit five independent bookstores located in San Francisco and its Peninsula, even though I was only committed to selling at one.  In the end, I only could visit four, and I had an absolute blast.

My first stop of the day was Borderlands Books in the trendy Mission District in San Francisco.  Borderlands Books is a particular favorite of mine because its entire selection consists of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Mysteries, and its wonderful, friendly staff have all been hand-picked to be extremely knowledgeable about these genres.  Borderlands is constantly hosting events for authors, and can accommodate up to 300 people its bookstore and cafe.

The official Indies First guest author bookseller for Borderlands was Sofia Samatar, author of A Stranger in Olondria, published by Small Beer Press in 2013.  A wonderful fantasy whose main character has a passion for words and for reading, A Stranger in Olondria is Sofia’s first book, and I had the privilege of listening to her read from this book at her first Worldcon reading.  I’m a fan of her elegant prose style, and I highly recommend reading her book.

Sofia currently lives in Southern California, where she works as a professor, so she and her family drove for eight hours to San Francisco just for Indies First.  Sofia is also the poetry and nonfiction editor of the wonderful new online journal Interfictions, and she published my “A Pentatonic Moon” translations and song set in their very first issue.  We all met up for a quick lunch at Borderlands Cafe before migrating to the attached bookstore next door, and we had a wonderful time chatting.  With her permission, here’s a pic of Sofia and me with her awesome kids, who are also avid readers.  It was a delight to talk to them about children’s books and manga, too.

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We had a great time selling books at Borderlands and several of the customers came to the bookstore actively seeking recommendations for Christmas presents for their loved ones.  Perhaps the most memorable customer was the woman who came dressed entirely in San Francisco Giants gear.  She was looking for the fifth book in the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin and didn’t even know its title (A Dance of Dragons).  She insisted that the book had to be the paperback version because the book was for her brother, who is homeless in Las Vegas, and he did not want to carry around the heavy hardcover.  So if you see a homeless man hanging around the Vegas strip reading A Dance of Dragons, you’ll know that book came from Borderlands.

My second planned indie bookstore of the day was Booksmith in the popular Haight Ashbury District of San Francisco, where Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown were hand selling books.  Their picture book The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming is a fun twist on the winter holidays. I had met them earlier this year at the SCBWI Golden Gate Conference, so I thought I would drop by and say hi and hear about their favorite books.  Unfortunately I spent 20-25 minutes circling Booksmith and looking for parking before I gave up.  I would have tried longer except I had informally promised Kepler’s that I would be a stealth author bookseller for them, and it was at least a 40-minute drive south of San Francisco, even without crazy holiday shopping traffic.  So off I went!

Before I went to Kepler’s, I dropped by The Reading Bug.  It’s one of the newer independent bookstores in the area and it was my first time visiting.  I love the ambiance of the place, whimsically decorated to be an enchanted forest populated with bookshelves.  The staff were quietly friendly and supportive of local authors.  What impressed me the most was that they had two or three bookcases completely devoted to bilingual children’s books, mostly Spanish-English and Chinese-English.  Very cool.  Unfortunately, I missed seeing their Indies First bookselling author Jenni Holmes, author of the popular Babymouse graphic novel series.

After The Reading Bug, I made my way to Kepler’s Books, the oldest local bookstore on the San Francisco Peninsula, and a sentimental favorite.  I was most recently there for the release of Betsy Franco’s Naked, her first novel for adult readers. Out of the four independent bookstores I visited for Indies First, Kepler’s had the most local authors hand selling for them, ten total, and the official list included several authors who write for YA and children: Betsy Franco, Kristin Elizabeth Clark, Jeanne DuPrau, L. Tam Holland, C. Lee McKenzie.  And I also volunteered as a stealth author bookseller.

As soon as I entered Kepler’s, I immediately spotted SCBWI friend Kristin Clark, author of YA novel Freakboy, which features a transgendered teen protagonist.  Kristin is so fun, and it was great catching up with her and meeting some of her friends, one of whom took the picture below:

Kristin Elizabeth Clark & Emily Jiang at Kepler's

Other local authors who were also hand selling books during this time were: L. Tam Holland (The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong), C. Lee McKenzie (Alligators Overhead), and Keith Raffel (A Fine and Dangerous Season).  They were all so friendly and Keith even took a cart full of books to sell to people at the nearby Cafe Borrone.

After meeting the authors, I was led by the Kepler’s staff to their secret door (a rolling bookcase!) which hid their unofficial office/break room at the back of the bookstore.  Oh, so cool.  I was invited to help myself to a generous spread of snacks and drinks prepared especially for their Indies First authors.  Then I was given an official red guest bookseller badge and a name tag that mentioned my book Summoning the Phoenix.  Yay!  Here’s proof:

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They asked me which books I wanted to hand sell at Kepler’s, and I asked if I was allowed to choose YA & children’s books.  My picks were The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente, Goblin Secrets by William Alexander, and Eleanor & Park and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  But I only had time to write one Shelf Talker, which was for Cat’s book:  “This Victorian style adventure story is the love child of The Wizard of Oz and The Phantom Tollbooth.”

The most interesting customer I helped at Kepler’s was not the right buyer for any of these books. She was a 60-something-year-old woman who was looking for comic books for someone who was in the hospital and doesn’t really like to read.  When I asked her the age of the non-reader, I heard “six,” so I instantly thought of Babymouse by Jenni & Matthew Holmes.  Then the customer explained that the book was for her sister-in-law, who was sixty years old (not six) and had trouble reading books with too many words.  So I recommended The Arrival by Shaun Tan, one of my all-time favorite wordless picture books.  When she did not respond positively to that book, I showed her the beginning of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a wonderful hybrid novel whose narrative is divided into alternating sections of only pictures and only prose.  It’s a different format from a graphic novel (aka comic books), where the words and picture are integrated on the same page.  She liked it, but did not think it was right for her sister-in-law.  In the end, the woman left with a graphic novel of Pippi Longstocking, which she found on her own.  Even though none of my suggestions worked for her, she left the store happy with her book, and that’s what matters the most.


Finally, even though I was quite tired, I dropped by Books Inc. in Palo Alto.  Books Inc. is the largest independent chain of book stores on the West Coast, and every store I’ve visited always has a nice children’s section.  I had arrived too late to meet their Indies First authors, but I had fun browsing.  Right next to the entrance they had a gift wrapping section with a gorgeous selection of wrapping paper.  My favorite display can be found in the center of the bookstore: a tower of Doctor Who books and gifts to celebrate the show’s 50th year!

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Volunteering for Indies First was a lot of fun, though it wasn’t always easy.  It’s fascinating to have a taste of what professional booksellers do everyday.  I had a wonderful time talking books and helping people find the right kinds of books for very specific readers.  Even though I made it to four, almost five, independent bookstores in one day, I wish I could have visited more, especially those that are completely devoted to children’s books, like Linden Tree in Los Altos, Hicklebee’s in San Jose, and The Storyteller in Lafayette.  They are all worth visiting.  Because each indie store is different, with a unique ambiance that reflects the personalities of the people who work there, people who are passionate readers with a wealth of knowledge about books.  While Sherman Alexie encouraged authors to be superheroes for Indies First, it’s truly the independent booksellers who are the unsung heroes of the literary world.

Thanks to all the awesome booksellers for sharing your passion for books!

Crossing Cultural Borders – Stranger in a Strange Land: Americans Traveling to Other Cultures

Crossing Cultural Borders, a weekly blog series exploring multicultural children's literature from the United StatesI love to travel, and I’ve had many opportunities to travel internationally, often with one or more companions who are also from the United States. It’s comforting, that shared experience of exploring a new-to-us culture, sampling the same new foods, navigating unfamiliar streets together, and gazing with wonder at the same breath-taking new landscapes. Plus there’s a sense of safety when traveling with others, especially for wanderers like me, who can get hopelessly lost even when given a map, a compass, and a GPS.

Therefore, when I planned my very first solo international trip just a few years ago, I was quite nervous. Not only would I be a woman traveling alone in Mexico for almost two weeks, but my knowledge of Spanish was minimal, even after three years of classes in middle school. Yet somehow, much to my surprise, I managed. After two weeks, I had visited the gorgeous Mayan ruins in Tulum, Coba, and Chichen Itza. I got lost exploring the streets and beaches of Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, and Puerto Morelos. I had swam in fresh underwater reservoirs, snorkled for the very first time, and saw a place where seawater swirled with fresh water, a rare natural phenomenon. Plus, I could order a simple meal entirely in Spanish!

These new experiences, while fun, were definitely challenging as well, requiring me to constantly act outside of my comfort zone. By the end of my trip to Mexico, I had discovered that I was stronger than I’d ever thought I could be. As a result of my travels, I felt like I had found a piece of myself that I never knew I had lost.

Such a journey of self-discovery lends itself easily to the typical coming-of-age narrative so popular in children’s and young adult fiction. It’s why I’m surprised there aren’t more realistic tourist-travel narratives in multicultural literature for younger readers. At the same time, the trope of the young explorer is extremely popular in fantasy, where magical lands offer more potential for exciting adventures than our non-magical world. If I had to choose between visiting the United Kingdom or OZ, just give me a tornado and a house or a hot air balloon and you can keep the Wicked Witch of the East’s silver slippers (they’re ruby red in the movie because the director wanted to show off Technicolor).

For this first topic of Stranger in a Strange Land, Renee and I discussed books where the American protagonist journeyed to other countries. All the books she listed were about ethnic American children traveling in search of their family’s cultural roots. In contrast, I was looking for stories of a white mainstream American child confronting a completely foreign culture, a child’s version of the Lawrence of Arabia story.

So we’re combining our interests. With each new weekly post, I’ll update the list below.

Next Post:
American Girls Educated Abroad

Thankful Thursday – Be Joyful

Thanks to a serendipitous exchange of emails with Sharon Levin, I recently met in person the acclaimed poet Naomi Shihab Nye at a private lunch attended by college students and Sharon’s special guests. I’ve long admired Naomi’s poetry for adults and her fiction for younger audiences, and because she lives in Texas, it was an exciting opportunity for me to hear her speak.

Naomi is a very petite woman, wearing her hair in a loose side braid, from which whisps were constantly escaping.  Her light brown eyes sparkled whenever she spoke.  Naomi said so many wonderfully wise quotes, many of which I scribbled down. I was taking more notes than the students.  My notes from Naomi’s talk are full of sayings that I once believed and fully committed to, but over the years I had forgotten. The biggest one for me is:

“Be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts.” (Wendell Berry)

What does this mean?  “Be joyful” seems relatively straightforward, at first glance, so let’s go to the end of the phrase and look at “you have considered all the facts.” This implies to me the act of planning and thinking things through, which often requires the ability to look at a scenario and imagine all possible outcomes, good and bad.

Let’s look at the beginning career path of a writer. The fact is that a small percentage of people who want to be published actually become traditionally published. The fact is that while there are thousands of traditionally published and self-published authors, only a handful make enough so they don’t have to rely on another income. The fact is that even though you might get published, chances are good that most people will never have heard of your book. Considering all the facts can be a truly depressing experience. So how in the world can one “be joyful” after considering all the facts?

“Be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts.”

The key phrase in this sentence is “even though.” It’s the phrase that connects two seemingly differing statements (“be joyful” and “you have considered all the facts”). It’s what makes the statement balanced. The kind of joy that’s encouraged is not a blissfully ignorant nor delusional kind of joy. It’s a joy that is actively chosen, “even though” there are so many other reasons not to be joyful.

Yes, being joyful can be a choice. How do I find joy in writing? Finding that phrase that serves and sings its purpose. Hearing the voice of a character whose dialogue and interior monologues make me laugh, and sometimes cry. Immersing myself into my manuscript and resurfacing back to the real world only to discover hours have passed by and my stomach is rumbling. Re-reading something rough that I had written long ago and knowing now that I can fix it.

“Be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts.”