The Wondrous Nonsense of Childhood

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Early in the summer, when we were out on a walk, my daughter Esther said, "Look at that worm." "Yuck!" I responded.  "I've never thought they were yucky," said Esther. I began to tell her that I'd always thought so when I remembered how I felt as a young child. When I would find a dried up worm on the pavement I was determined to revive it. So I would create a couch out of cotton balls and tape and I would prop the stiff, lifeless worm on the couch. Then I would fill a bottle top with water and dip what I believed to be the worm's mouth (?) into the water, and I would pray for the worm to feel better. Thankfully my attention span was short enough that I never noticed the zero percent revival rate of my patients. 

Thinking about the lifeless worms I tried to heal as a child reminded me of the Roly Poly trees I planted. I loved Roly Polys (for those who aren't familiar with these, they are cute little bugs also known as Pill Bugs). I loved the way they crawled along on my hand and if I touched them much, they would roll up in a perfect little ball. Sadly, sometimes I was impatient, wanting them to unroll and crawl again, which lead to a few accidental Roly Poly casualties and a lot of tears from me. I comforted myself with the notion that if I planted the dead bugs, Roly Poly Trees would grow up and there would be lots of Roly Polys. I was always careful to mark the spot where I'd planted them, but later I still couldn't remember where they were and what I'd marked them with. 

And then there were all the salads I made for the squirrels. I would gather everything from the yard that looked squirrel-worthy: nuts, mushrooms, tiny blue flowers (for color) and all sorts of twigs and leaves. I can still see them in my mind— colorful, textured circles of nature-art. I bet the squirrels really did like them. 

I made leaf sailboats too. Where I grew up, Magnolia leaves worked the best. And I'd use a twig and a flimsy leaf or petal as the sail. Flower crowns, pillow forts, wishing stars… Don't you love the wondrous nonsense of childhood?!

 

The Day I Should Have Stayed Home (a retrospective tale of woe, part III)

Only a really silly person would venture out into community two days in a row when they are clearly in a super gloomy mental fog. I mean, if I'd personally found the end of the rainbow and a leprechaun had given me a pot of gold, I still might have been like, "Yeah, but I just feel kind of sad…" so I had no business leaving home that day. And especially when there wasn't even a rainbow or a leprechaun involved. 

In fact, my husband said to me, "Are you sure you should go? Why don't you just stay home?" And I said, "I should go. And besides, I don't think I could feel worse." Read back through that sentence and think about it. It's a terrible argument. I don't think I could feel worse? These are clearly the words of a person who needs to go for a walk by them-self and pray, and stare at trees, and listen to birds, and maybe call an oldest and dearest friend while drinking coffee. This is not a person who needs to go sit down with writing agents and receive critiques. No. NOT TODAY!!! But that's what I did. 

The first agent I sat down with was helpful and pleasant. But remember how I said in part II of my retrospective tale of woe, that when some people walk into a beautiful garden they only see the spiders and slugs? And remember how I said that I was in that terrible frame of mind? Well, that's why I came away thinking not about the first agent and how helpful and pleasant she was. No— instead I thought almost exclusively about what the second agent said to me that day. 

The second agent… hated me. You think I'm exaggerating. I am not. I very rarely believe someone hates me. But I'm telling you I believe she did. She didn't just hate my stories (though she very clearly hated them). She hated me because I wrote them. Okay, okay— I can't really claim a person hates me unless I can see into their mind, but I can confidently tell you that the word "HOSTILE" floated through my mind in big bold letters as she spoke to me. You may recall an example I gave in part II of my retrospective tale of woe— the way that some people are determined to assume the very worst possible meaning behind whatever is said to them. You might be sitting with them at the movies and say, "this should be interesting," and they will say, "What's that supposed to mean?" At which point your mind will start spinning as you wonder how your simple statement could have possibly meant anything other than…"THIS SHOULD BE INTERESTING." These are the people who, when you say, "I like your new haircut," they respond with, "So you thought I looked bad before?" 

This agent saw meanings behind my stories that I would never intend or imagine... since I'm not an Orc or an evil sorceress, or an oversized, three-headed rabid dog. I'm just a person who likes to write and paint, hoping to encourage others. But the hostile agent was clearly not encouraged…

Not every day is full of cotton candy and happiness, and if it were, we would all have stomach aches. But the truth is that if my head had been in the right place—if I had been focused on the way God loves me and the way he loves other people—including the hostile agent who (I believe) hated my books and myself—then I probably would not have been so thoroughly knocked down by this woman's opinions. Next time I'll stay home and go for a walk. 

 

The Day I Should Have Stayed Home (a retrospective tale of woe, part II)

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Have you ever known someone who assumes the very worst possible meaning behind whatever is said to them? You could be walking along through a department store with a person like this and when you say, "Ooh! Look at that blue skirt! It's so pretty", this person will assume you mean it as a personal insult  to them since they are wearing tan pants and not a blue skirt. Pretty extreme but I've seen it before. 

Similarly, there are some people who could walk into a beautiful garden and only notice the spiders and slugs. I've never actually known anyone to do this but I'm guessing it's happened at some point in history.

The truth is that we all have moments when we cease to see the beauty around us because we are focused on some imperfection. 

The day I went to the writing and illustration conference was one of those times. I met really nice people. Most of them said kind things, helpful things, instructive and informative things. And there were cookies. But because I was in a dark mental fog I didn't really focus on most of that. I did however zero in on a moment when this one person who worked for a publishing company said, "Have you ever considered using more modern clothing for your characters?" She must not have noticed that I myself was dressed a little like Mary Poppins. 

(Sadly there are not a lot of Mary Poppins type clothes currently being manufactured. Although, now that the new movie is coming out, maybe there will be a revival. Oh, I hope so! ) 

I also paid close attention when an illustrator leading a workshop I attended said, "Without fail, when I go to schools and ask kids to draw a character, there's always a little girl or two who draw a character in a fluffy dress with an apron on." She shook her head, and went on to ask, "When was the last time you saw somebody wearing something like that?" I wanted to say, "Yesterday. It was me." But I didn't. 

I also paid attention in a writing workshop when the teacher shared a formula for writing a great story. Part of the formula was that towards the end of the story the main character (the hero) needs to save them-self. It's very important that no one else rescues them. "Great," I thought. "I just wrote a book about a main character who's not the hero of the story and who has to be rescued by outside forces…"

And I paid really close attention when multiple people from publishing companies talked (and laughed) about the horrible rhyming picture book manuscripts they receive constantly. Apparently these are often the lowest of the low. "Great," I thought. "I just sent a rhyming picture book manuscript to an agent…"

Now I'll remind you, I met really nice people at the convention. Most of them said kind things, helpful things, instructive and informative things. And there were cookies. But… I came away remembering mainly the gloomy moments and feeling very disheartened.