Feet First

 

The publication of my book was only the beginning. The hard part for me is the trek into marketing. When Seuss promised, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, he described my experience from first to last.

house

Congratulations!
Today is your day.

The journey began with a celebration at my cousin’s home in the Oakland Hills of California. I had memorized my thirty-minute presentation and outfitted myself in black-and-white with super-cool sandals. Surely I fit the description:

Your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet

My audience, in turn, was a group Seuss would recognize in a minute as both brainy and footsy. The Q & A brought forth stories and questions of spiritual journeys and nun memories, of the 1960’s power and disillusionment, of promises made and kept and broken, and of the desire for something greater than ourselves.

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At Ashland’s Bloomsbury Books and All Saint’s Church Hall in Portland, I felt like the high fliers Seuss describes. Whispering Winds and Forest Grove’s 55+ communities welcomed me. The audience at Cortland Village Apartments preferred discussion to snacks. What a surprise to reconnect with high school classmates, former students, Franciscan friends, and my family, both immediate and extended. But the seduction of success tricked me into claiming Seuss’ tongue-in-cheek lines:

You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

crumbling building

Except when they don’t.
because, sometimes, they won’t.

Ah, well to remember Seuss’ advice and make my way through the rubble. Among the bricks and mortar, though, I end up having to wait. Maybe, just maybe, book sales will rise; book reviewers will call; Amazon, Goodreads, and The Oregonian will praise my memoir. And those contests I entered? First place is too much to expect, but wouldn’t it be nice to be among the chosen ten?

In the meantime I need a head full of brains and shoes full of feet. One last admonition (a variation on the good Doctor’s words) as I practice my talks, don my paisley, and pull on my leather boots:

Be careful, nimble, and cleverly deft
so you’ll never mix up right foot from left.

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Oh, the Places I’ll Go:

  • July 9: Laurel Parc at Bethany
  • July 18: Mary’s Woods, Marylhurst
  • August 17: Art Accelerated Gallery, Tillamook
  • September 9: Beaverton Lodge Retirement Community
  • September 12, Book Group, Portland
  • September 22: Hillsboro Library Book Fair
  • October: St. Mary’s Academy Creative Writing Classes

Whiplash

As a middle school and high school teacher, I wanted my students to experience “the joy of learning,” through a study of illustrated children’s literature. You know, those blissful books meant for young people and philosophers. We explored ABC books, including the masterful work of Seuss, Van Allsburg, and Musgrove. During this unit, students laughed and remembered read-aloud times with parents. Joyful, stress-less classes led students to bring ABC books from home—a little battered, always beloved. The young people created their own bright, happy alphabet booklets.

My personal favorite was and remains Ashanti to Zulu. The 1977 Caldecott winner, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, is a festive celebration of African tribal customs and a colorful peek inside an unknown continent. The Gold Coast tribes alone are worth the experience: an Ashanti wears his silk-threaded kente. Ewe drummers signal to tribes far away. The Fanti host offers bubbly palm wine. An ABC book which might be a metaphor for joyful learning.

Some reading, though, is not meant to be fun. Some reading is like my visit to the intentionally angled Danish Jewish Museum: requiring involvement and throwing me off kilter, leaving me disturbed and yet wiser. At times I procrastinate tackling a book because of the pain that lurks in the pages.

homegoingSuch was my dilemma with Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a book Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “an inspiration.” The book is a multi-generational story that begins in Ghana with two sisters, one from the Fanti tribe and the other from the Ashanti or Asanti. True to my children’s book, palm is referenced as wine, but also as leaves slick with blood. The kente bright threads appear again, but in a story whispered by a dungeon slave.

Both books enrich me as a learner because the language is dense with gorgeous imagery and invaluable history. Ashanti to Zulu grants me magical escape and Homegoing won’t let me go.

For me, the child’s book is a treasure but the novel is a necessity. I need something more than the level in my life’s geometry. Angles force me toward the upside down and off-kilter. Maybe that’s why children somersault and adults climb Everest. Maybe that’s why I cannot forget a large room in Copenhagen, retelling the Jewish suffering through the Danish experience, and where I leaned to the right to keep my balance.