Books, People

Little Man Reads – 10 months

We are getting back into the swing of things after our trip. It is wonderful to be on our home turf in our beloved city, San Francisco. Sometimes it takes going away to see your life with fresh eyes and realize how good you have it. We really do live in one of the best cities on Earth and I’m glad to be back.

One of my favorite things about this city is all the opportunities to meet authors and illustrators as they share their work at bookstores. We still have a number of excellent independent bookstores in the Bay Area and they are popular stops on book tours. Just this morning we went to see Nikki McClure at the Book Passage in Corte Madera. She is one of my favorite artists. I posted about her back when she had a local show of her amazingly intricate and beautiful cut paper pieces. Her subject matter is often a celebration of nature, simple things, and motherhood – kind of a modern outdoorsy Mary Cassatt. So it’s a natural that she also does childrens books, the latest being Mama, Is It Summer Yet?


She explained to all of us at the reading that she created this book in response to her son’s question. The illustrations show the clues in nature that the seasons are changing and getting closer and closer to summer. As someone who dreads winter, and gets giddy with the spring and arrival of warmer weather, I loved it, even though my son is too young to be into it just yet. I was also inspired to get out my art supplies and get back to work on some stories. She said when she was little she played pretend that she was an artist, but thought it was similar to being a princess, a make-believe wish. Sometimes I still feel this way, so it’s always encouraging to see someone in person who is making their art in real life, not in some magical castle far, far away. She even did a demonstration of her technique and wowed the kids (and me) with her X-acto knife wielding skills.

So, that’s my mom pick for the featured childrens book on my sporadic review of what Little Man is reading lately. I posted at around 6 months and now at 10 months he is into completely different things. For one, he rarely sits still in my lap anymore unless he’s very, very tired, so sadly, our storytimes are fewer than when he was less mobile. At around 8 months his favorite was Sing-Along Song, written by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrated by San Francisco local LeUyen Pham. He enjoyed the rhythm and onomatopoeia of the text, and would reach out and touch and smile at the pictures of the little boy exuberantly going through the routine of his day. Now, he’s as busy as that little boy, zooming around the house with a very short attention span.

So, at 10 months, he likes Go, Dog. Go! the board book version. It’s short, it’s fun, it’s action-packed. He’s also into books with texture and sounds and pop-ups, basically he needs bells and whistles to keep his focus now. And he wants to destroy them. Chewing, grabbing, tearing. Books have to be tough now for him to enjoy. So, I will be putting my signed copy of Mama, Is It Summer Yet? away until he’s ready, and letting him enjoy tactile books like Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings by Matthew Van Fleet.

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Little Man Reads – 6 months

One of the perks of parenting, at least from the perspective of an aspiring author/illustrator, is having an excuse to read childrens books every day, multiple times a day. I can’t get enough of it, and fortunately, neither can my son. Periodically, I will post on Little Man’s favorites.

He started showing interest when he was three or four months old, for books like First Words and the ABC book from the Bright Baby First Learning Box by Roger Priddy. He liked photos of real objects or babies on bright backgrounds with big, bold words. When he became coordinated enough to reach out and grab and put everything in his mouth, his preference was soft cloth, interactive books. An old hand-me-down copy of The Busy Book was his favorite, even though we have some newer, flashier ones.

Now, at 6 months, he’s really into board books that have a good cadence or noises when I read to him. He can pick Sandra Boynton‘s Barnyard Dance out of a pile and will do so every time. The illustrations aren’t as bold and bright as he was into before, but he loves that we bounce to the rhythm and I slap my thigh and call it like a square dance. He’s also into the First Book of Sushi, Mirror Me, and Toes, Ears and Nose.

He’s not ready for longer picture books, which I can’t wait for him to get into. His attention span is too short and he still wants to grab or eat the pages, but I’ve had some luck reading him One Is a Drummer by Roseanne Thong and illustrated by Grace Lin. The sing-song verse plus the gorgeous pattern-filled pages and lots of children in action keep his attention. I love how multicultural it is; it shows all kinds of kids enjoying typical kid activities like playing in sprinklers and riding a carousel, but incorporates many things from Chinese culture, like dragon boat racing, mahjong, and foods like eggs tarts and fish balls while it teaches the concept of counting to ten. My husband is Chinese so it’s great to find books that will help us teach our little guy more about his heritage.

I would love suggestions for what your 6 month to 12 month old is/was into, so we can expand our library. Happy reading!

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2009 – What a Difference a Year Makes

I hate to get all sentimental about it, but 2009 was a big year for me. Half of it was spent anticipating my first baby’s arrival and the other half learning what to do with him once he got here. Last New Years Eve I was at Bimbo’s swing dancing with my man and wishing I could partake in the champagne toast and this New Years I’ll probably be in bed by 10 pm praying that the fireworks don’t wake up my Little Man.

I am so grateful to be past the newborn stage. At six months, he is delightful – alert, curious, interactive, a roly-poly guy on the go – but there are things I already miss about his early months. Though at times if felt like I was inching through a heavy fog with only a dim light to reveal the next few feet in front of me, there was something so special and set apart about the beginning of his life from anything else I’ve experienced.

Time seemed to stop when he was born. In “A Circle of Quiet“, Madeleine L’Engle talks about the two words in the Greek language for time, “chronos” and “kairos”. When I went into labor, chronological time stopped and when they placed him on my chest, kairos started, that immeasurable kind of time that children get into when they’re deeply engrossed in play or how I get when I’m painting. Hours fly by like minutes. L’Engle says “in kairos, we are, we are fully in isness.”

Those first days and weeks when my husband and I were home together with this new, magical little being and we’d sit and stare in awe, the world ceased to exist, we were in kairos and we just were. And no one expected anything else of us. There will never be such a time again. Once we returned to work and the demands of regular life, we were thrust back into unrelenting chronos, always struggling to keep up.

Great things came with the passing of time, too, like longer stretches of sleep, glorious giggles, and the incredible joy of our baby’s recognition that we are his biggest fans and he ours. So, as I find myself looking forward to the changes to come in 2010 – his first steps, words, etc., – I know I will look back and miss some things about him at six months. Like taking naps together, with him on my chest. I remember when his tiny body could fit curled up between by breastbone and my bellybutton, and now already his head rests on my shoulder and his feet are on my thighs. These naps will be over soon and I will miss them.

I’ll miss his impossibly soft skin and how he likes me to run my fingers over his smooth cheeks and chin and forehead as he’s drifting off to sleep. I’ll miss the chubby rolls of his thighs and neck and especially the ones on his wrists that seem tied off like a balloon making his forearms plump up like Popeye’s. Surprisingly, I’ll miss breastfeeding. That was something I didn’t know I would enjoy so much; it always seemed so foreign and animal to me. Now it is my favorite time with him. Curled up against me, my body nourishing his, we are in kairos. There is nothing else but us, and nowhere else I’d rather be.

Happy New Year! May you have many moments of kairos in 2010 just enjoying your isness wherever you are.

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Contemplations on being a mother and an artist

This is supposedly a blog about “living creatively”, but it’s mostly been about surviving pregnancy and the early days of motherhood. Now that Little Man is five months old, we’re getting a bit more sleep and I’m creeping back into the creative swing of things with a couple of mural gigs (which I’ll post about later).  I feel like I’m coming back to life, but it’s a strange new one where time and space for myself are extremely limited. I had a hard time balancing my desire to create with marriage, a social life, and work that pays the bills before I had a baby, but now it seems like a nearly impossible challenge to carve out some “me time”. On the one hand, I want to be there for my son as much as possible. I don’t want to miss a thing and I want him to know I’m there for him. On the other hand, I hope to teach him that the best thing he can do in this life is find what he loves and pursue it with passion, and what kind of example will I be if I’m too busy/tired/afraid to pursue my own dreams?

The majority of famous women artists and writers I can think of (which are, sadly, not many to begin with), did not have children. It seems they had to make a choice between their career and kids, and career won out. I could go on and on about sexism in the arts and how men don’t have to make that choice and blah blah blah, but it’s been done (the Guerrilla Girls do a good job of it) and I’m not out to get famous in the art world anyway. All I want is a fulfilling creative life and a healthy loving relationship with my family. Can it be done? Are they mutually exclusive?

I’ll be thinking and writing more about this topic in coming posts. I’d love to hear more about how you do it if you are an artist and a mama.

In the meantime, here are beautiful excerpts from an essay on this issue which gives me hope. It’s called “The Divided Heart” and is by Ruth Whitman, a poet and professor (one I had never heard of before reading her essay in a collection of women’s art and writing called In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts).

“Writing for me was and is an assertion of my identity. I never feel so much myself, with a great sense of relief and release, as when I stop somewhere in the midst of my daily chaos with pencil and paper.”

[On becoming a mother] “I was afraid to lose my independence, my person-ness. But the whole experience of pregnancy, which I found marvelously mind-expanding as well as body-expanding, followed by the experience of viewing this beautiful piece of life for which I was responsible, gave me a passion for motherhood.”

“Perfection of life or perfection of work? Which would you rather strive for? My answer had to be – both. I began to see that life was not static. It changed continually. And one could guide the change: children could be educated to see the equality of needs and responsibilities; I could become less rigid in my view of my needs…”

“I don’t mean to imply for a moment that there were not tremendous pain and division in my heart. I didn’t want to miss companionship with my children…on the other hand, I felt resentful at having to delay my own creative development…my third child was born before my first book came out. But by that time I was beginning to understand that my libido was strong enough to make both books and babies and that in fact one strengthened the other. Both together were the real total of my life. Spiritually, so long as I insisted on my right to a private life, there was no real division. The division was in the distribution of time.”

“More and more I see the parental function – not authoritative, but educative – as the responsibility of every human being who has found out anything by living. If civilization means anything, it lies in becoming part of the great chain of learning from those who have gone before us, and of teaching those who come after us.”

“A private creative person lives inside each of us. It is one’s basic identity, with all the symbols, images, and language that each of us has stored up since childhood. It is in these universal terms that the poet and parent begin to come together, that the conflict begins to subside and the divided heart becomes whole.”

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Terry Tempest Williams

Did anyone else hear Forum this morning? Michael Krasny interviewed Terry Tempest Williams, a remarkably eloquent conservationist, political activist and author, who I previously hadn’t heard of, but will go out and read right away. Her new book is Finding Beauty in a Broken World, the central metaphor being a mosaic, taking something broken and making it whole. In the interview, she describes creating a memorial in Rwanda, and says that in these economic times, “beauty is seen as optional, art is peripheral”, but there in the midst of all that brokenness and suffering, she could see “art as essential, a strategy for survival. Eyes that were turned inward, turned outward, and art became a sign of a revitalized life.”

She was passionate, convicted, and inspiring. Listen to her on the second half of Forum, or if you’re lucky enough to be able to go, see her at the Herbst Theatre tonight for City Arts and Lectures. I am going out and getting her books Refuge and Finding Beauty.

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Crackup Collaborators – Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown

This Monday’s Kid Lit Salon featured guests Daniel Handler (aka – Lemony Snicket of A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Lisa Brown (Baby Be of Use series), hilarious husband and wife who team up once in awhile as the AC Institute to collaborate on projects. Their most recent was a Christmas story called The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, written by Daniel and illustrated by Lisa. Seated at the front of the room in matching white AC Institute lab coats, they went through a power point presentation of their humble beginnings as collaborators on a zine called American Chickens. It was easy to imagine how much fun it is in their household, which now includes a son ( I was excited to hear about that, since I just had my 18-week ultrasound and found out we’re having a BOY!).  They approach everything they do armed with wit and a healthy dose of irony and they make each other laugh. Which was Daniel’s main advice for those pursuing a literary or artistic career – it’s a lonely road and one wrought with frustration and rejection (yes, even he started out with only two people coming to his first book signing), so work on something that makes you laugh, or that you are obsessive about bordering on compulsion. Because if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll never be happy, published or not. And he and Lisa both clearly love what they’re doing.