Monday, May 20, 2013

Telling Stories

So, for one thing, Ann Bausum's splendid post this past Friday, inspires me to show you all my 5th grade picture. It's inspired giggles from many an audience of tactless schoolchildren, bless their hearts. 

For another, I'm compelled to inform you that on this day in A.D. 526, a big whacking earthquake in Syria ended the lives of some 300,000 people, about 230K more than have died in the current troubles, since the Arab Spring arrived in that ancient land. Over how many borders the troubles will spill, how many more will suffer, have their lives extinguished, taciturn Heaven only knows. And on May 20, 1768, savvy, rosy Dolley Madison (far the better politician than her brilliant hubby), was born. Exactly 94 years later, President Lincoln found time away from the abysmal war that was consuming his administration in 1862, to sign the far-reaching Homestead Act into law. May 20, 1927? Charles Lindbergh took off from Long Island, bound for Paris. Now imagine the lives, the thoughts, the contexts, the actions, the rippling after-effects, the stories represented by each of those little factoids! Doesn't that just knock you out? 
The glorious lake formed by many a long-ago eruption
of the Taal Volcano on the island of Luzon. 
And in the center of the lake? Vulcan Point, yet another island.

For yet another thing, in my post last month, I confessed my dire misgivings and oogly-booglies about traveling to Manila. So I did and did not, after all, wind up lost and alone, thousands of miles away from what little savoire faire I possess. I lived to tell the tale of my adventure in the Philippines - but not here. This ain't no travelogue, after all.  I'll confine myself to saying that what I saw was glorious (troubling too, of course, being that the divide there between those who have and those who don't is ever so much wider and deeper there than our American chasm between rich and poor) and being with the students at Brent Internat'l School was a tremendous joy. Unlike Ann B. and ever so many others, whose love of their children brought them to writing books for young readers, that bespectacled, introverted 5th grader you see above drew pictures and devoured children's books partly as a means of avoiding my parents' offsprings, i.e. my little brothers. As a grown up greeting card illustrator, I came to children's books because they were the ones that had the pictures!  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that a big part of the business of children's books was visiting schools, universally infested (in the sense that P.G. Wodehouse used the term - if you guys only knew how many hours I've drawn and painted whilst listening to Right Ho, Jeeves, about hapless Bertie Wooster and his butler) with little people! Further imagine my surprise when I found out how much FUN it was, visiting with kids - what a big fat, life-affirming, profession-affirming bonus! What it would have meant to my dorky ten-year-old self if a living, breathing writer of books had come to Mrs. Fadler's classroom at Bryant Elementary School!
Can you find me, roosting in the midst of a bunch
of swell kids at Effingham, Kansas the other day?

  Of course it's a blast, answering their many questions. Drawing pictures for them. Assuring them that their teachers weren't merely persecuting them when they insisted that revision actually is a key part of the writing process. Repeat after me, I tell 'em, 'All REAL writers/ if they have any self-respect whatsoever/ work on their writing some more. / Oh, baby!'  But beyond all of the theatrics (after all any REAL writer is an entertainer, too, and especially if you wish to get and keep the attention of a bunch of lively young squirts), what a large load of joy it has been all these years, talking with young Americans about the vivid, complex life behind each and every one of the famous names they're asked to remember, behind the multitudes whose names we'll never know. Asking them, wouldn't you guys be treated with more respect, be cut some slack if others understood what all you've done and experienced? Your history? Isn't it the same for a nation? A people? Would you not better understand why nations behave as they do, the more you understood those nations' history? Nations are more than borders and banners. A nation is a combination of all of the stories of all of the people who've lived in the land all through the years of the living past!  We are, by golly, a story-loving species and never have I been more grateful to have accidentally found myself among those who write them, than when I'm talking about books, these precious story-delivery devices, with a bunch of young readers. And grateful I am and still occasionally surprised that a crabby, shy, paintbrush-pusher like myself should be among these noble nonfiction-meisters, my fellow INKsters, who show and tell what we humans have been about, what we have come to understand about our world, infested with our bumptious species. 

Speaking of which, just for you to know, according to a story in Sunday's edition of the Kansas City Star, the Kansas legislature has banned the "spending of any money to implement the national Common Core standards for math and reading" lest the federal government further intrude its control into the workings of the state. (Nor has the KS Board of Ed. seen fit to implement the Next Generation Science Standards.) On the other hand, there's this story, in which some fine points are made concerning this thorny discussion.. In any event, certainly anyone with even a knucklehead's understanding of America's history knows our time-honored push-pull between states' rights/individual rights and federalism, but not since President Lincoln's time has the partisan chasm between Americans been so deep and dangerous. Where this will lead - well, I guess Heaven knows that, too. For now, we can only imagine. And tell the stories.

Read more here:


Gretchen Woelfle said...

A great way to start the week: seeing one amazing writer could get international travel, autobiography, writing, kids, history, politics, and P.G. Wodehouse all in one blog post!

Cheryl Harness said...

Thanks muchly, Gretchen. Happy Monday! don't you adore Bertie & Jeeves? I'll bet I've listened to Alexander Spencer's brilliant narrations of Right Ho, Jeeves and The Code of the Woosters at least a dozen times.