If I were the president’s speech writer…

(…for a different president. Note: This is a fictional post based on facts.)

VIDEO FEED FROM THE WHITE HOUSE RESIDENCE. PRESIDENT (I’m imagining Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren) BY FIRESIDE WEARING BUSINESS CASUAL.

My fellow Americans. We find ourselves in the middle of national emergency, but as with past emergencies, our strength and generosity will prevail. First, I’d like to thank all of the health professionals and scientists who have harnessed their years of experience and education to provide knowledge, care, and comfort to all of those affected by COVID-19. In order to help health professionals succeed at their jobs and to support their efforts, all industries who are capable of manufacturing and providing health equipment have been ordered to do so. The National Guard, Army Corp of Engineers, and SeaBees have been deployed to build new hospitals. Military medics and nurses have been deployed to the areas hardest hit. I’ve also asked Congress to provide monies to NIH as well as other public, educational, and private labs to continue their work on fast and effective testing, cures, and vaccines.

Unfortunately, that is not enough.

We are the United States of America and while the Governors of each state have been performing to the best of their ability, the experts in the field tell us that there is more we could do.

For the next twenty-one days, everyone must stay at home. We will reassess this order regularly. The only exceptions to this order are those who work in the medical field, grocery, grocery or pharmaceutical delivery, first responders including police and fire-fighters, and grid workers including internet, gas, electricity, and sanitation.Those who fail to follow this order will receive a ticket equal to one month of your current rent or mortgage and will be sent home.

To all of those who have been self-isolating, I thank you for your sacrifice and your service. It is frustrating to see others out and about conducting business as usual when you are at home. It is not business as usual. To those of you who have not been self-isolating, I call on you to put people before profit. Close your business and go home. To help workers and businesses, I’m instituting a 30 day pause on all rental and mortgage payments and ask people to conserve rather than consume.

We must put the long-term survival of all Americans of all ages and ethnicities ahead of temporary pleasure or immediate gratification.

If we do not, our spirit of hope and potential will be killed as the number of fatalities increase. And they will. I do not have time the twelve minutes it would take to read the names of all 588 people who have passed away, 183 in New York alone, but I do want to tell you about just a few.

Oliver Stokes, Jr. who was New Orleans Bounce DJ. He was 44 years old.

Four members of The Fusco Family in New Jersey ages 55-73.

Dale Joseph Witkowski of Fond du Lac, WI who was 55 and worked making outboard motors.

Dez-Ann Romain, the school principal at Brownsville’s Brooklyn Democracy Academy in NY. She was 36 years old.

We mourn their passing and honor their lives by proceeding with compassion towards our fellow Americans of all cultures and creeds.

I will continue to speak to you regularly about how the virus is affecting legislation and security but from now on, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has the most up-to-date and factual information about the spread of COVID-19, will provide all daily updates via live feed from his home.

Doctor…

Holiday Selling at the Bookstore

Yesterday’s Christmas holiday was a great time to relax after four crazy days on the bookstore sales floor. I love customer service and enjoy every minute that I get to use my experiences as an educator, parent, and writer to inform people about the developmental, pedagogical, and entertainment value of quality books for children.

Here are a few take-aways from the last week:

Parents:

  • Graphic novels are valid reading! I can’t stress this enough. The world we live in today (and the world that children inhabit) is filled with a range of text and images that work together to create narrative. Sequential art and narrative follow complex rules and patterns. The form takes years to master and each title takes years to create. For more on this please take a look at Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. ETA: If you need some suggestions, the “THE 2019 NERDIES: GRAPHIC NOVELS” is a great place to start.
  • It’s okay for kids to read on or below their reading level. I know we are all obsessed with “challenge” and “progress,” but reading something that is “easy” also provides text comprehension and analysis. Moreover, it provides enjoyment and entertainment. Ultimately, we want reading at home to be fun. Your child will be challenged in school. Don’t worry. And remember, plenty of adults crave an airport mystery or romance from time to time.
  • On that note, give your kids the tools they need to pick their own books. Teach them to read the flap copy, read the first page (or a random page) and see if the story is engaging. Help them remember the books that they’ve enjoyed. Encourage them to try other titles by that author or look for other books on a similar subject. Is it too hard or too easy? Kids can use the five finger test—if they have a hard time decoding five times on the first page, it might be too hard. If they want the challenge then let them move forward. Regarding content: people will self-censor. Unless the book is assigned, if a person doesn’t feel comfortable with the violent or sexual content of a literary work, they will often stop reading.

Editors and publishing professionals:

  • Thanks for the diversity that we’re seeing on our shelves!
  • We need more black boys in picture books and middle grade novels.
  • We need more positive representation of black and brown bodies in books generally.
  • We need diverse stories about creators and problem solvers.
  • We need more middle grade and YA books about contemporary teens who play instruments, sing, dance, and are in theater.
  • We need more middle grade and YA books about sports. All kinds of sports for both boys and girls. Gymnastic, lacrosse, baseball, bowling, rowing (hey, I’ve got one of those manuscripts!).

Scaffolding

Sidewalk sheds that support scaffolding in NYC are ever-present due to a facade inspection and maintenance law. (Law 11) While contractors fix bricks, mortar, frames, and flashing many stories up, the sidewalk sheds below provide temporary shelter from summer thunder storms. For the homeless, they provide more regular protection from the elements.

The other day, as I climbed the subway stairs to Union Square, it struck me that something was very different. I stopped and took in the space, circling in place, before I realized that scaffolding had been removed from the building with a ground-level PetCo. Had that store been there for the past ten months? The Square felt lighter and brighter. I’m sure the PetCo owners are relieved too.

The Proper Way to Celebrate a Poet

My dear friends, in January I got a job as the Special Events Coordinator at the children’s book store Books of Wonder. I love the work I do, creating book events for authors and illustrators for both our 18th and 84th Street stores. In the first two months I’ve been there, we put on a successful birthday party for Dr. Seuss that celebrated early readers, picture book bonanzas, launches, and middle grade panels. It’s been very satisfying and extremely busy.

I’ve been so immersed in presenting the work of other authors and artists that I’ve completely failed to celebrate my own work. This week, the poetry anthology, The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-to Poems from Candlewick launched! The beautiful book with illustrations from Richard Jones is now in the world with two of my poems included. I’m grateful to be listed in the table of contents with poets I’ve long admired.

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Our editor, Paul B. Janeczko, passed away just before publication and I wasn’t sure what it would look like to celebrate this book in the face of his death. Watching others on social media, I realize that selling the book is a celebration of his life and work. I hope you’ll support your local poet and local independent bookstore with your purchase.

If you are my Mom (hi, Mom!), or my sister, or a past roommate, and you’d like me to personalize your book, order the book from Books of Wonder and write in the comment section of the order form that you’d like Anna Jordan to sign it. I’d be honored.

Until then, perhaps everyone could write a poem or find one you love to keep in your pocket—a few words that you can take out on the subway, or while waiting in line at the grocery store, or before a test at school. A small slip that takes up space to remind you that there are poets and poetry all around us and that you are one too. I think that Paul would like that.

New Year 2019! #grateful

Happy New Year one and all. After the election, during the months of November and December, I started to post from time to time and then was drawn away by other responsibilities.

As December dawned warm and windy in Brooklyn, I was grateful for all the new connections I made. During November, I found the NYPL Business library with career counselors, workshops, database access and much more. I met smart, strong women at the Morgan Stanley Her Way event and saw Times Square from 26 floors up. I shared my goals with an accomplished woman in Bloomberg LP’s C-suite, experienced the high-tech facilities there, and expanded my network. (I’m still giddy about the numbers of salt-water fish tanks and snacks in the Bloomberg LP welcome area.) 

In the good news column, after submitting a blind essay I was accepted to the HarperCollins “New to Publishing” event. This January networking event promises to be a wonderful way to meet the leaders at HarperCollins.

I’m thrilled that my newest magazine article published in the online LGBTQ+ magazine INTO from Grindr. I got to work with wonderful editors who pushed me to make the article, The 40-Year-Old (Lesbian) Virgin, the best it could be. (Click for all of my publication and freelance credits.)

I took work substitute teaching at a private school in Brooklyn. I’ve enjoyed being with students again and meeting the librarians who connect kids and books.

I spent the holiday season at a high-end paper store in Rockefeller Center. With lines to the women’s room that stretched on and on, I was grateful for the key to Shangri-La (the secret employee’s bathroom). If you haven’t waited tables or worked in retail you are missing an understanding of how we treat service employees. Reread Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and if a retail person asks if they can help you, don’t say you’re just browsing. Throw them a bone and ask what’s new in the store, or what’s on sale. They spend every day with the stock. As I leave the store, I’m grateful for the wage I got, for the increase in the minimum wage that workers in NY will get in 2019, and my awesome co-workers.

Still, November and December were filled with economic anxiety. I ended up using some retirement money to pay off credit card debt from my move. After laboring over the decision for weeks, having a clean slate has been tremendously freeing. I’m thankful for my apartment as it has given me a solid foundation to build my new life. I enter 2019 grateful for my health, my children and my family, reconnecting with cousins, and finding new friends.

On to new and wonderful writing and work!

#GivingTuesday Suggestions

It’s #GivingTuesday and I don’t have any money to give away. In fact, ironically, (sadly) I’m going to be canceling some of my month-to-month giving. If you follow me, then you might be interested in stepping in to take my place. Many of these organizations have matching donors helping out today. Here’s where I would give if I had a job:

NPR: support your local National Public Radio Station in its efforts to give us independent, fact-based, unbiased news reporting.

PEN America: supports first amendment rights and advocates on behalf of writers, reporters, and other artists at risk and supports awards for writers.

ACLU: this organization has been instrumental in challenging the anti-constitutional policies of the current government. Support them and support LGBT… issues, women’s rights, immigrant rights, voting rights, and the rights of us all.

Maine Women’s Lobby: corporations have their lobbyists at the state capitol and so should you. Donate to fund a voice for all Maine women in Augusta and celebrate the 40th anniversary for this important organization.

Eagle’s Nest Foundation: your donation helps provide scholarships for students and campers who would not otherwise be able to attend this loving, outdoor-based, experiential-education community in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.

NAACP: works to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.

ADL: The anti-defamation league fights anti-Semitism and all forms of hate.

Books:

WNDB: We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry. Their aim is to help produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.

First Book: provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to children in need. They have donated 175 million books and resources in 30 countries. They currently reach an average of 5 million children every year and serve one out of every three classrooms and programs in need.

Some writing groups I love:

VCFA: Vermont College of Fine Arts is my alma mater and an amazing low-residency MFA program with a focus for Writing for Children and Young Adults. Check out any end-of-year “best-books” lists and you’ll find a significant number of graduates there. Donate or if you’re interested in visiting the January residency as a prospective student call 1-866-934-VCFA or 802-828-8600 or contact the Admissions office via email.

Highlights Foundation: Classes for writers and illustrators, newbies and veterans alike; the instructors are out-of-this-world (many I’m lucky to call friends), the food and lodging are out-of-this-world too.

Hedgebrook: provides residencies and classes for women writers of all backgrounds and various writing genres including poetry, songwriting, playwriting, fiction, and nonfiction in the cutest cottages you’ve ever seen.

Your synagogue, university, hunger prevention, housing assistance program, environmental organization? Where will you be donating today and throughout the year?

Weeks 8 and 9: one step forward, two steps back

Along with the rest of the country, I have been mourning the loss of life in Pittsburgh. If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend this video by Mayim Bialik the actress from Big Bang Theory. Her raw emotion captures how many of us are dealing with the fear of anti-semitism and the frustration of being Jewish in this time in history—a time filled with hate (racial, gender, sexual, religious) we and our parents had been working so long to overcome. I also want to amplify Stacy Mozer’s “My Thoughts on Pittsburgh” from her children’s writing blog It’s All About the Journey. 

I’ve been “shopping” synagogues the whole time I’ve been here, so I did #showupforshabbat last Friday night and a lovely new group of people welcomed me. We wrote letters of condolence to the Tree of Life and other congregants. During the amazing service, with my back to the door, my spine tingled with the fear of violence. Later in the weekend, I found out that the synagogue where I attended Yom Kippur services saw anti-semitic vandalism.

One of the songs we sang on Friday night was Heneni or Here I am with a melody by Julie Lipson. The chanted call and response was powerful and sad in the well-attended service. You can hear it here. The experience inspired this poem.

Heneni—Here I am

Heneni
Here I am
scared
insignificant
inadequate

Heneni
Here I am
all I know
all I have to offer
all I have to learn

Heneni
Here I am
walking in peace
finding the light
leaving things better

Heneni

Of course, when one is on edge emotionally anything can topple you. The enormity of my transition, past pain, current family illness, and the fact that two months ago I kissed my kiddos good-bye. The excitement of NY had allowed me to push aside my empty-nest feelings but that sadness rushed in with the grief of the shooting.

In other news (or the same news really)…tomorrow is Election Day. I spent some time phone banking yesterday and have been posting regularly to remind people to vote. I think hope lines will be long. Stay with it folks. Dress appropriately, bring a plus one, and find a way to have fun. Don’t even watch or listen to the polling numbers. Every race is a tight race and your vote matters!

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As my savings decrease, I’ve been working on a freelance article and pursuing some retail and some teaching opportunities. I’ve been accepted to VIPKid, a company that provides an online platform and lessons to teach English to Chinese children. There’s a lot of hustle required, but at this point, I need something. I also had a phone interview for a substitute teaching position at a local independent school.

My end game is still a job in children’s publishing. I’ve been looking into industry organizations and following up on leads that come from friends and family. Thanks to everyone who has been emailing and calling.

Thanksgiving is coming. Take time to hug your loved ones. Try to find common ground. If you can’t…just hold each other in silence. See you in a few weeks.

Weeks 6 and 7: Finding my people

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been nesting a lot more. I finished emptying the last few boxes and bought a kitchen table, bookcase, and bed/futon bunk for my boys from Craigslist. A tickle in my throat turned into a full-on nose drippy mess and I spent a few days in bed. I started having in-depth conversations with Phyllis, Spike, Ginger, and Lucky (l-to-r below) and knew that as much as I loved these new members of my family, I needed other people in my life.

When my sons were small, I met other grown-ups at story times. I waited on playgrounds with other parents as our kids donned backpacks and zipped zippers at the end of the day. We discussed our joys, our pains, our lack of sleep. Some of these relationships took root, and I still have them today. Moving to New York has meant finding ways to meet friends without children in tow.

In Maine, my longest relationships are with the women in my book club. Luckily, the book club meeting for the nearby, feminist bookstore Cafe con Libros was quickly approaching and they were reading Americanaha book that has been on my TBR list for far too long. The day of the book club, with only a quarter of the book read, I wiggled into the small space, bought tea and a scone, and started to introduce myself. I met a few other people new to the area who also had been drawn by the promise of intelligent conversation and diverse thinkers. It is true that independent bookstores build community! Thanks to my subway rides I’m almost done with Americanah and ready to pick up our next book, All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. And…my old book club approves of my polyamorous book clubbing.

While I was very involved in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) from 2001-2011, my participation dropped off after my VCFA graduation. Over the last two weeks, I attended a few events including a first-pages critique where I volunteered and a write/sketch night. Both events helped me make new connections that I hope will grow.

As the camp song goes, “make new friends but keep the old…” I was so pleased when my camp friend, Adam, called with an extra ticket to the play Usual Girls. This amazing drama, that follows the life of a Korean-American girl from third grade to young adulthood, is a raw portrayal of the all-too-familiar  microaggressions faced by women of color and girls/women in general. On the heels of the Kavanaugh hearing, the play was especially powerful. I’ll be watching this playwright, Ming Peiffer, and the wonderful young actors for whatever they do next.

I also found my way to Anastasia this week. The Disney musical includes digital technology to make the staging almost cinematic but the new songs and villain they added for the musical are less engaging. People I love would be upset if I didn’t mention that Christy Altomare’s kindness shines through in her portrayal of Anya/Anastasia. And, ooo-wee that girl can sing!

Most of my time has been filled with researching open job positions, networking, and applying for work. A massive headache, throat pain, and runny nose didn’t help my spirits so I’ve definitely felt defeated. My spreadsheet shows that I’ve applied to 35 positions since June. Recently, some of those are retail and restaurant jobs. Cross your fingers for me!

Finally, I turned in my absentee ballot last week. If you haven’t already, please make your voting plan for Tuesday, November 6. Make an appointment for you voting time on your calendar. Or if Tuesday, November 6 doesn’t work for you, request an absentee ballot or vote early. Not sure where, when, or how to vote? Here’s a link to the US Vote Foundation that will answer your questions about registration, absentee ballots, and more. VOTE!

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I’ll be back to remind you in a couple of weeks! (Did I mention… VOTE!)

Week Five: bio-rhythms and budgets.

It’s been a busy week, so please excuse my late posting.

This week I’ve been venturing forth in search of fun and friends–from Broadway to the Bowery. Some of you may know that one reason I felt comfortable coming to NYC is that I have friends from various parts of my life who live here. My childhood-summer-camp friend Adam is a Broadway connoisseur who knows the ins and outs of ticketing. He turned me on to a resident discount program. I used it the first time to see an off-off Broadway show called “Stop Kiss” which was up a steep and very narrow stairway to a tiny black-box theater or the Upper West Side.

The play, about an attack on a lesbian couple was very moving and the structure was intriguing. The play moves from the beginning to the climactic scene and then works its way forward and backwards at the same time. So in one scene the two women are meeting and developing their relationship and the next they are in the hospital after the attack. This goes on back and forth which must have been emotionally dizzying for the actresses but they pulled it off very well.

My long-time Maine Bookclub friend, Kim boarded a train and came for a visit. We found two-for-one tickets to “Waitress” (which I’ve been dying to see.) We started the evening at a little bar nearby with the best Cosmopolitan I’ve ever had. Not cheap but very fun.

The next day I used my new Brooklyn geographic knowledge to navigate from my apartment through the Prospect Park trails all the way to the central Brooklyn Library branch. They have a culture pass that offers limited numbers of free museum tickets to card holders. Unfortunately, they are often snagged at the beginning of the month. I’ll have to figure this out.

In the evening, we went to the book launch for Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad about women’s anger and political change. VOTE!

Yes that is Samantha Bee interviewing Traister! VOTE!

All of these evening events have been changing my biorhythms. In Maine, I woke regularly at 6 a.m., got up to care for children and Lucy dog, and got my day started. Bedtime was rarely later than 10 p.m.

NYC is just timed differently. Events don’t start until 8, 9, or 10. Now, I can easily stay up till one in the morning which means waking between 8-8:30. That throws off eating times (which leads to eating out, $$$) and messes up my productivity. I’m trying to figure it out and find my calm away from the noise and stimuli with walks in the park.

Luckily, book launches tend to be free because I have a lot of author friends. I was so happy to go to the launch of The Splintered Light by New Hampshire author and fellow VCFA alumnus Ginger Johnson! Parents and librarians take notice, this beautifully written book has the tone of DiCamillo and the adventure of Lowry. I’m lugging my hard cover copy with me on the subway all over NY.

Also from VCFA my dear friend Kathy who also came out to support Ginger.

Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody…so I took to Twitter where one can search for free events. There I found pop up comedy at a bar in the Bowery. The set list was short which left me wandering. I got seduced by a discount ticket to the New York Comedy club and then blindsided by a two drink minimum. Yikes. I took the non-alcoholic package but still ended up paying handily. The belly-laughs were just what the doctor ordered.

This week I’m trying to establish a budget for time and money, and, you know, still get a job. Cross your fingers for me.

Week Four: a home and a new city

This week I left the lovely pup I was dog-sitting. I spent two full days on hands and knees with a sponge, cleanser, and a razor scraper removing filth and paint spatter from the bathroom and kitchen—tile, cabinets, floors, you name it—in my new apartment. I rented a car and drove to Princeton to help the movers retrieve my things and then I moved in!

Having a place to live has made a world of difference. I’ve been able to explore Brooklyn and enjoy New York City. I saw the play The Nap which was both hilarious and unpredictable. (NYT review here.)

I ate delicious pizza on 5th Ave in Brooklyn, walked Park Slope, and popped into the children’s bookstore Bookshop + Storytelling Lab.

I watched the spectacle in the Senate live with my new internet connection and then—sad, angry, and frustrated—went to The Brooklyn Museum to refill my spirit with activist art of the Black Power movement.

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Wadsworth A. Jarrell (American, born 1929). Revolutionary (Angela Davis), 1971. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 64 x 51 in. (162.6 x 129.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of R.M. Atwater, Anna Wolfrom Dove, Alice Fiebiger, Joseph Fiebiger, Belle Campbell Harriss, and Emma L. Hyde, by exchange, Designated Purchase Fund, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, and Carll H. de Silver Fund, 2012.80.18. © artist or artist’s estate (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2012.80.18_PS9.jpg)

I took refuge in the room specially built for Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party and the 1,038 women honored there. Even though I’ve owned and read the catalog for this exhibit since college, I was still unprepared for the glow of the gold—the writing on the floor, the thread in the runners, the glaze on the plates—which was magical and calming.

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Judy Chicago (American, born 1939). The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Ceramic, porcelain, textile, 576 × 576 in. (1463 × 1463 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation

This morning I pumped my bike tires and explored the 3.2-mile Prospect Park loop road which is closed to traffic on the weekends. I ended up at the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market! It felt so much like the Brunswick Mall in Maine that I almost expected I might see my old friends. Instead, I found new kindnesses…a vendor who spotted me 50¢ until I could purchase my wooden tokens (good for all farmers markets in NY and worth $5 each!) and a man who paid $1 of my egg purchase because the vendor didn’t have the right change for my tokens.

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That’s a lot of beets!!!

Here’s my little haul (cooking for one)…

and my kitchen. Window cleaning is on my list of things to do. They are replacing the stove today because the gas company deemed it hazardous. Luckily I brought my electric griddle for just such a situation.

I’ll admit that with the cleaning, moving, and exploring my stats are down, but I have a whole slew of job apps that are going out this weekend. Also, I’m happy to report that I’m back to writing my morning pages and opening my fiction works in progress.

Miles Walked: 14.5

Miles Biked: 5

Jobs applied to: 1

Networking meetings: 2

Overheard: Two men running shirtless talking about their midlife back-hair growth…”Just put me in the zoo and call me a bear!”

Subway moments:

A man cutting fingernails on subway train and letting them fall to the ground. Ick.

A woman in a drugged stupor who everyone ignored even when she almost fell off her seat. I shook her to find out if she needed medical attention and then told the train driver. I realize there are too many of those situations to help all the time, but it didn’t hurt me to help her in that moment.