Archive for March, 2011

And so…

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I’m in Chattanooga, TN this morning, after a whirwind  weekend, that included poetry and stories, teachers and students, workshops, and old haunts, and lost loves, and healed wounds, and inspiring conversations, and good food, and cheap beer, and nice wine, and thunderstorms, and late-night cab rides, and strangers, and books, and several languages.  Feeling deeply happy and overwhelmed to discover that sometimes, sometimes, sometimes…

You CAN go home again.

It was nearly 20 years ago that I turned up here, with my trunk-of-a-life and a handful of poems, and no idea how I wanted to live or who I wanted to be. I only knew that that I wanted to do it loudly, honestly, with a lot of energy.  Maybe too much. I was young. God, I was SO young.  There were no cell phones, or email addresses. I didn’t have a computer.  I didn’t have a clue.

But I found myself part of a community  here that read and wrote, and fought, and talked about words, late into the night. Staged plays, made paintings and sculptures, played music. The UTC Creative Writing Program and the Meacham Writers’ Conference are a huge part of what made this place so special in those years, but they’re only part of it.  I’m not sure how, or why, but the students here are more than a “program.”  They are such a community, and the range of writing is so great.  And the quality so strong.  Maybe it’s something about the isolation of it, the mountains and the river, the beauty of the place. Maybe it’s Rick Jackson and Earl Braggs, and the other newer faculty I’m lucky to be getting to know.

Probably it’s an alchemy of all these things.

But it is good to come back, and see that this place is, in fact, special. Not a memory I’ve washed over with nostalgia, but a real memory, of something unusual and memorable and worth it.

I love this place. I love these people. There is something about this town that is different.  I don’t live here anymore.  I guess I don’t belong here anymore.  I’ll probably never find a way to live here again.

But, I think.. there’s still a place for me, maybe, now and then. A small one.

It feels like that, anyway.

NOT quite the whole megillah…

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Two years ago, a group of friends and I got together with our kids, to bake hamentashen.  We had a superfun time, and I read my own version of the Megillah, specifically created for the three year old (child of non-observant parents) listener. Today, my friend Elizabeth reminded me of it, and suggested I post the whole thing online.

So here it is, unrevised! But please, don’t read it if you’re a purist.  This is NOT a translation, by any means.  If you start to poke holes in my limited rabbinical understanding of Jewish texts, you will find I am actually a sieve.

And  if you like this, you can link to it from your own site, or facebook it, or whatever, then pay me in cookies. Prune, please, or apricot or raspberry. No poppy!


One fine day, King Ahasuerus threw a gigantic party.   He invited all his best friends, made lots of guacamole, set up a chocolate fountain, and ordered many cases of wine.

But perhaps he ordered a leetle too much wine, because before the party was over, the King was DRUNK!   Drunk as a skunk. Drunk as a drunk skunk.    The king was so drunk that he did something odd.

He ordered his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear at the fancy banquet wearing ONLY her fanciest crown.

Now, of course, Vashti refused the King his request.  NOT because she didn’t like to run around naked (naturally she did like to run around naked. Who doesn’t?) But because Vashti did NOT like to be bossed around by anyone. Not even the king.

The king was very very angry, and he banished Vashti from the palace.  Forever!

This was just fine as far as the queen was concerned.  She left in a huff, and moved to a far away place, where nobody told her what to do, and where she was allowed to wear as much (or as little) clothing as she damn well pleased.  Things worked out for Vashti.

But her banishment left the king queenless. And that was a problem, because the king liked to tell very long boring stories at dinner, and without a queen to boss around, there was nobody to listen.

So Ahasuerus called for a beauty pageant, which was how fancy kings used to pick their brides, back in old Persia. You’ve heard of Cinderella, haven’t you? It was a little like that, but with halvah and hummus, and a twelve month purification period, and a sustained pregnancy watch.  Good times.

Of course, all the loveliest lovelies in Persia came to the pageant, dressed in shimmery gowns and heavy necklaces. But of all the loveliest lovelies was a lovely Jewish damsel called Esther.  She knew she had the pageant in the bag. But just to be on the safe side, she didn’t inform the king that she was Jewish.  It was a don’t ask/don’t tell kind of marriage.

After that, the king was happy.  He married Ester, which was nice, and  would have been the end of the story.

Except that there was a plot!  A terrible plot. A plot to disappear the king.  Two very nasty henchmen—Bigthan and Teresh—wanted the king gone, and they hatched a plan to get him gone.

But Esther’s uncle, the wise old Mordechai, who looked a little big like your grandpa, but with a great big beard, caught wind of the plot.  And he ran all the way to Esther’s house, so fast he forgot his sandals.  And told her what the nasty (and unfortunately named) Bigthan and Teresh) were up to, the sneaks!

Naturally, Esther reported this horrifying news to the king, and he king ordered the two henchmen to be disappeared themselves.  And that was nice for the king, and would have been the end of the story.


Since he was now without nasty henchmen, the King hired a new nasty henchman, a fellow named Haman, who was perfect for the job.   This was a dumb move.  If the King had been smarter he’d have thought to restructure his staff, eliminating the position of nasty henchman altogether.  But kings can be dumb, or at least they are wedded to the idea of tradition.

And what a nasty henchman he found in Haman!

Haman screamed when the soup was cold. He refused to let anyone else hold the remote control.  Mostly he insisted that everyone bow down to him, just because it made him feel tall.    And mostly, people did what he said.  Because people are a lot like sheep sometimes.

But when Haman bumped into Mordecai in the street, the old Jew refused, explaining very politely that “Jews don’t roll like that.”

This enraged Haman.  It got him so hot that he decreed the destruction not only of Mordecai, but of ALL THE JEWS OF THE KINGDOM.  This was madness, clearly, but he was prone to overreaction, Haman was.

To determine the day for carrying out the TERRIBLE decree, Haman cast lots (translation: PURIM), which is a kind of gambling game everyone used to do back before poker was invented.  The lot fell on the 13th of Adar.  Of course, that was SOON, and so all the Jewish folks flipped out. There were gigantic “oncoming destruction” sales at the mall.  Housing prices fell.  Many people fled in their underwear, ran over the hills and far away.

But the Jews had an ace in the hole. Or at least they had a Queen in the Castle.  Mordecai urged Esther to plead with the king to save the lives of her people, and Esther didn’t have much choice.  Plus, she was very pretty.

She was VERY pretty. She was so pretty that she was able to trick the King into granting her one wish.  Anything she wanted. Her heart’s desire.  Pretty girls are sneaky!

And even though she could have had buckets of money or piles of jewels, or an enormous banana split, Esther asked the King to save her people, the Jews, us.  And he did.

And everyone was happy, and they baked cookies and stuff, and things were fine.

And as for what happened to Haman—we’ll just say that karma’s a bitch.  And if you want to know any more than that, you’ll have to come back next year, when you’re four, and all growed up.

What I’m doing this month…

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

In like a lamb this year…

I am…

Slowly, slowly, starting a new book…  researching childhood ailments of the nineteen thirties, old Baltimore street maps, and MAGIC.

Making plans for minimal spring travel. Having to say no to a LOT, which is unnatural for me, but it’s for the best.

Gathering estimates for turning the crappy shed into a writing cottage!

Watching Mose learn to read.

Judging Letters about Literature with the good folks at the GA Center for the Book.

Reading the letters of Elizabeth Bishop out loud.

Taking lots of walks.

Skyping with lots of classes across the country for World Readaloud day.

Attending Meacham! (and yes, that’s a very yung ME on the website)

Okay, this made my night…

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

So, I’m pretty much lying on the floor over here…

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

I cannot believe it’s true, but I’ve now checked the site about 14 times, and the fact remains:

Penny Dreadful has been HUGELY honored by the ABA with a nomination for the EB White Read-aloud Award.

Don’t even know what to say. I love the other books and am simply humbled to be in such company. You should read them all:


  • Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
  • The Familiars, by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson (HarperCollins)
  • Penny Dreadful, by Laurel Snyder, Abigail Halpin (Illus.) (Random House Books for Young Readers)
  • The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone, Greg Call (Illus.) (Random House Books for Young Readers)
  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books)
  • A Tale of Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz (Dutton Juvenile)

To make matters even better, my incredible pal Mitali Perkins is nominated for both the YA award (for her great good book Bamboo People) and for the “most engaging author” award.  And another Atlanta author, Eric “Mr. Eric” Litwin was nominated for the picture book Read-Aloud Award!  My sons are huge fans of Pete the cat!

There are a lot of awards out there, but the EB White is selected by  booksellers. Smart, awesome, dedicated BOOKSELLERS.  Some of my favorite people are booksellers.  This makes it mean even more.  I feel like I might throw up.  Either that, or burst into blossom like the rest of this crazy wonderful early Georgia spring.

Thank you to anyone and everyone who had anything to do with this!!!  And if you happen to be a member of the ABA, you can vote here if you like, not that I’m trying to suggest you should vote for me or anything!  NO WAY!

Now.. back to sprawling on the floor, feeling baffled.  Maybe, just maybe, I will order a pizza for dinner. Somehow it does NOT feel like leftover-turkey-burger night.