What Writers Can Learn from the Seahawks

I’ve had a real slump in my writing life recently. And not one that people see. On the surface everything looks great. I’ve got a fantastic picture book out, reviews are excellent, and I’m having a blast doing school visits and helping young children with their stories.But in my daily life I am struggling. Despite many drafts that I love, I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I only had one really good book in me.

I watched with incredible dismay on January 18th as my team fell apart. Russell Wilson could neither run nor throw a pass. Correction, Wilson could throw a pass to the Packers defense without any problem. I’m not sure that the Seahawks even made a first down in the first half of this crucial playoff game.

After the third quarter and another interception, I thought, okay, we’ll be back next year. Even a great team can have a horrible day.

Then I thought about my writing. Why wasn’t I giving myself the same break? Sometimes the day-to-day setbacks of the writing life — rejections, meandering plots, and flaccid characters — stop me cold. I won’t write for weeks. How stupid is that? I have dozens of stories in my head demanding to be written.

The Seahawks, unbelievably, turned the game around.

And this isn’t the first time that they’ve pulled a win out of their ****. (Okay, I can’t think of a substitute for a rather rude but accurate description of where the Seahawk’s often bizarre victories appear to come from.) The Seahawks have a pattern of winning games they shouldn’t. Often the other team looks better. It drives my California relatives, 49’ers and Packers fans all, into red-faced rages.

The truth is that the Seahawks never give up. Richard Sherman playing defense with an injured elbow may have been one of the stupidest moves in pro football I’ve seen, but it speaks to heart. He wouldn’t leave the field when his team needed him.

Forget that you are down by 16, that your quarterback has just thrown another interception, and that your fans are saying goodbye on Twitter and filing out of the stadium. Do you want to win the game? If so, forget the yard markers and the calls that go against you. Ignore the score and keep playing with all you’ve got.

No matter what the outcome this Sunday, or what your team, the Seahawks are a great example of how to keep working when the game becomes impossibly tough.

seahawk 12

The Dancing Girl and Life’s Lottery

I was very frustrated with my cat, Simba, this morning. Despite a shut door, a squirt bottle, and a German Shepherd for a guard, Simba snuck into my office and attacked a copy of Maddi’s Fridge.

IMG_0265

That is his third copy this week. I now have a three picture books that I can’t sell or give away because of teeth and claw punctures in Vin Vogel’s beautifully illustrated dust jacket.

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, then I drove past the Issaquah Food Bank. A three-year-old girl was dancing in the line forming outside. She doesn’t comprehend the hardship her family is going through to get to this point. She is happy to be with her mother, to be in a line, and to be going in with a bag to get food.

Despite living with a neurotic cat, I have won life’s jackpot. I was born into a large, boisterous, book loving, church going, and socially involved family. We never had a surplus of money, but we never lacked for food either. And even though we have different football teams (they are 49’ers fans) and political opinions, I love them all.

IMG_3034

Others, as we know, don’t win the lottery. They are born into poverty or tough family situations. I have never been able to explain or understand these great inequalities. Yes, personal decisions do make a huge difference, but we also play the hand we are dealt.

My dad had a phrase to sum things up, “There but for the grace of God go I.” He said it when volunteering with prisoners at San Quentin, he said it as he gave his tithe to the church, and he said it while helping those who stopped by his business.

Some of where we land in life is beyond our control.

So today I’m taking a break from work to remind myself how very fortunate I am. I have a great family, a supportive writing community, and am not worried about food for myself or my children.

And I am being led to this thankfulness by a three-year-old girl dancing outside of a food bank.

What are her prospects? Some families dip into poverty. Some face disaster after disaster and can’t climb their way out.

When she starts school will she arrive with a full belly, ready to learn?

Will her parents have read to her?

Are there books in her house?

When she begins to realize how little her family has, will she give up or will she study harder?

Will she still be dancing?

That, in part, will depend on those of us who won the lottery.

Issaquah Food Bank

Feeding America

Laughter, Misty Eyes, and Maddi’s Fridge

A few weeks ago I was responsible for tears shed in Washington State, Connecticut, California, and cyberspace.

Don’t be alarmed; kids do not cry when they read Maddi’s Fridge. I was very careful to ensure that the story gently entertains children. Elementary school children respond to the friendship between Maddi and Sofia.

Always

They laugh at eggs in backpacks and Vin Vogel’s great illustrations.

eggs and backpacks

And have you seen that dog looking at the fireplug?

took all of the colors with it

It is true, though, that Maddi’s Fridge leaves some adults misty-eyed.

The same week that a librarian in Connecticut and a reviewer on Goodreads had tears in the corners of their eyes, a woman in Washington State couldn’t even finish Maddi’s Fridge because of personal experiences with hunger.

Years ago this woman was a single mom with two young girls. They ate nothing but pancakes for 6 months as she worked, paid rent, and struggled every day to provide food to her little girls. She called her now-adult daughter to talk about Maddi’s Fridge and had to hang up. She was crying too hard.

She, like so many other American parents, had been thrust into a situation – a single parent supporting two young children – that she had never imagined. She’s fine now. Her daughters are fine. But the weight of her story stays with her, along with the knowledge that not everyone makes it out.

It is this weight that some adults feel when they read Maddi’s Fridge.

Why don’t kids cry when they read Maddi’s Fridge? Kids get that there are problems, but each child’s heart contains unlimited hope. They respond to Maddi’s Fridge messages of friendship and community.Stories of hope are the focus of my school visits. We talk about friendship. We talk about promises. We talk about helping our friends who might have empty refrigerators.

All smiles at school visit

We also explore the importance of sharing stories. Kids write, draw, and tell their own experiences of when they helped someone or were helped.

helping stories

The fourth person who cried was a 2nd grade teacher in California. Tears in her eyes, she told me that two of the boys who read their ‘helping stories’ with me were special needs kids and had never before volunteered to share in class. Maddi’s Fridge had touched their hearts.

Our community is strongest when we explore the stories that move us. Laughter and tears are the sweet and sour of life. They are the parts we remember. They are the heart of our lives.

To those adults who get misty-eyed reading Maddi’s Fridge: Thank you for caring and being touched by this story.

To those who have experienced hunger: You are not alone. You are part of our community and we are listening.

Over fifteen million stories of childhood hunger are happening in the United States at this moment. We can honor these stories by taking action.