Tag Archives: adventures in Utah

in which I am raised as a Jedi

On this occasion of my favorite holiday, Star Wars day, aka May the Fourth, let me tell you about how I was raised in the Jedi order.

Not by my parents—everyone knows that Jedi are taken from their parents at a young age. Though they were always tolerant to supportive of my Star Wars obsession, they were not the people who raised me as a Jedi. My parents weren’t even the first people to show me Star Wars1.

I was raised in the Jedi order by the neighbors’ kids.

When I was in fifth grade, a new family moved not quite into our neighborhood, but neighborhood adjacent. There was a boy my age, and a girl my sister’s age2. Our friendship was unlikely—I was right at the age where Boys and Girls Can’t Be Friends Because that Means You Have  Crush on Him and That’s Gross. And all four of us were just a very unlikely combination. They were from the south, abrasively polite, and said “Yes ma’am” and “no sir” to the adults, while I called all my friends’ parents by their first names and had a smart ass streak. They were not Mormons, like most people in my Utah community. They thought the mountains that I had grown up with were the most amazing things they had ever seen. I thought those mountains were pretty average. They had a hyperactive Labrador and an above ground trampoline, while we had a borderline comatose malamute and parents with a fear of dangerous fun.

But they also loved Star Wars as much as the MT and I did.

And so Star Wars became the first common language of our friendship.

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Look at the tiny jedi! And get a load of MT in those Yoda ears.

For the better part of two years, the MT and I saw them most days, tumbling through an elaborate universe that was partly George Lucas’s, partly of our own making. We bought lightsabers and coordinated Halloween costumes and Legos and action figures. While our parents hiked behind us or walked through an amusement park or a convention centers, we ran ahead, just a little too old to be playing pretend this aggressively in public. We even wrote a brilliant musical parody, The Sound of Blasters, which ran for one magnificent night in their backyard4.

I spent two years living as a Jedi knight with this family and the boy I will always think of as my first best friend.

And then the next year, they moved away. As quickly and mysteriously as they came.

It was a delirious, wildly happy two year period for me, and when I look back on my younger self, I can point to this time with them as one of the many reasons I write books for young people. Because I spent those two years more in love than I ever have been since, both with Star Wars and with these neighbors next door. I loved Star Wars like I couldn’t love anything anymore because at some point in your growing up, you get told you can’t love things *that* much anymore, and I loved those kids like I can’t anymore because even the most vanilla life will give you some well-earned trust issues. But when you’re a kid and a teen, no one tells you not to love things that much.

And that’s why I love young people, and why I love writing for them. Because they love things. I think of the way I loved Star Wars. And the way I loved those neighbors who lived in Star Wars with me. I want to write for people who are that open and willing to love.

  1. Though I have a distinct memory of going to Media Play, back when people bought music at stores, and sitting at one of the tables with my dad and watching Empire Strikes Back for the first time.
  2. And then they also had a middle son who fell awkwardly in between us.
  3. If you would like to talk about magnificent parents who never forced gender norms on their kids, when I said I want to be Queen Amidala one year and then Anakin Skywalker the next, they never batted an eyelid at either of these things. I have excellent parentals.
  4. And included the legendary YMCA parody, YODA, of which the first line was “YODA! Been living eight hundred years, I say YODA, he’s got them big old green ears.”
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in which I do book-related things

First and foremost, THIS MONSTROUS THING is now available for preorder on Amazon and also from the HarperCollins website! What!? My book is a real thing you can exchange money for now and get an actual copy of in nine months! It will be a delightful surprise when it shows up on your doorstep. Or you can do what I would do, which is wait a few months longer, at which point I will be doing a signed preorder campaign through my favorite indie bookstore and then you will get a SIGNED copy AND support your local indies. Win win. Plus I might just draw a dalek in it.

So yay preorder! And yay book!

And now more stuff about the weird books I write!

First of all, let’s establish something: by nature, writing is very solitary.

It is mostly you, the writer, alone in a room with your computer, or your paper and pencil, or you stretched animal skin and fingerpaint1. Sometimes you get to have email conversations about your work with other people, like your editor or your agent. Occasionally these conversations are in-person and extremely uncomfortable for you, the writer, because nothing is more awkward than saying your weird ideas out loud. But mostly it’s quite lonely, and is mostly a relationship between you and a paper/screen/tanned animal skin.

So I was very lucky over the course of the last two weeks to get to expand my sphere of writerness into two different places.

First: I got to do some very fun research2. A few days after Christmas, which I spent with my family in Utah, where I’m from, I got to shoot antique firearms with a friend of my father’s who also happens to be an avid collector of guns, many of which predate this century. He was kind enough to let me run my grubby little hands all over his priceless collection and ask a slew of really stupid questions. And then I got to shoot some of the guns Annie Oakley would have used3 and learn all about how to load, fire, and care for your antique firearm. I also learned that my father’s crack shot gene was not passed on to me, though I did turn heads when I hit a moving clay pigeon on my second shot. I did not try again, for fear that I had just written the book on beginner’s luck.

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Second: we made a book trailer4! When I lived in Salt Lake, I did some theater and film, and I am lucky enough to have a friend who is an incredibly talented indie filmmaker who is still based there. And I am luckier that when I said, “Want to make a steampunk Frankenstein book trailer with me?” he said yes5.

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And then I basically called in every favor I had. Can you help me find costumes? Could you hold lights? Could you let us paint gruesome bloody wounds all over your naked body and then lay still on a table for two hours? And amazingly, because they are all crazy, my friends said yes, and last Saturday, we packed up and headed to a freezing, abandoned mill in the foothills of greater Salt Lake and filmed a steampunk Frankenstein book trailer.

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my lovely trio

And, I might add, we had a marvelous time. In spite of the frigid cold.

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the steampunk workshop.

I am very lucky to have friends who, in spite of only seeing them once a year when I come home at Christmas, are willing to give up their time and their beards and the feeling in their toes to help me out. My takeaway from the Christmas holidays has been how many exceptional human beings I have in my life, and how very lucky I am for that.

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The crew, clustered around the dead monster. Who was not yet allowed to move.

  1. I don’t make assumptions or judgements about how other people write.
  2. Which I spent all break steadily and consistently avoiding.
  3. At targets she would not have used, like a Diet Coke can, though I’m now the proud owner of a Diet Coke can full of bullet holes I put there.
  4. A book trailer being a short video pitch of your book which can be used to entice readers into picking it up, if they’re not really into that whole synopsis on the back thing.
  5. Blooming Studios—check them out! These guys are exceptional human beings and extremely talented artists.
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in which I hike Angel’s Landing

You may remember that a few months ago I came to the end of my 101 in 1001 list. The 101 in 1001 is a list I made about three years ago of 101 things I wanted to do or accomplish in the next 1001 days. It’s a bucket list for people who fear commitment and/or buckets.

Upon finishing my 101 in 1001 list, I sat down and made another one, because the only thing I like more than self-reflection is lists. On this list, I wrote “Hike Angel’s Landing.”

What is Angel’s Landing, you may ask? Angel’s Landing is a legen1dary trail in Zions National Park that offers a startling rise in elevation, a precariously narrow trail that involves scrambling on narrow red rock fins, and what I had been told was a very worthwhile view.

I completely forgot I put this hike on my 101 in 1001 list until my family arrived in Zions National Park last week and were discussing trails we could take. It was my dad who mentioned Angel’s Landing, and I said I had always wanted to and they should do it with me. Cajoled, may be the best word. I cajoled my family into hiking it with me.

And the fools followed me blindly.

We were not prepared for Angel’s Landing.

We moseyed over to the trail head about ten in the morning and were greeted by a sign warning that since 2004, six people have died on the trail. We shrugged that off. “They must have been stupid, or hiking in a blizzard, or died from a lightning strike or a random but vicious squirrel attack,” we thought. Surely no trail would claim the lives of innocent hikers who brought proper hydration and sturdy shoes. And so we began casually climbing with no notion of what waited for us on the last mile of the trail.

This. This is what waited for us:

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Yes, that is a trail. A trail they let any old moron hike on.

Friends, I consider myself a pretty good hiker, but this trail was hard. And steep. And involved rock scrambling and chain holding and clinging to slick rock canyon walls like a gecko. I also consider myself pretty fearless, and while I wouldn’t say I was afraid on this trail, I was, shall we say, very aware of my own mortality as I peered over the edge at the thousand-foot fall waiting for me if I miss stepped2.

But the view at the top…not to wax poetic, but this was a super ultra mega awesome view.

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However, much like the rest of the trail, the ledge on which you soak in said view is both narrow and thousands of feet off the ground, so my dad’s parent instincts came out in full force as we walked along it. He kept a tight hold on the MT and my collars, resulting in us ending up like those leashed children at Disney World that keep scrambling for a better look only to be jerked backwards by anxious parents. The anxiety was merited. It was a long way to fall.

By the time we reached the bottom and were again by the “six people have died” sign, we had an entirely different attitude. As we walked away, my dad murmured under his breath, “Only six3?”

But Angel’s Landing has been hiked. It has been conquered. It has been crossed off the 101 and 1001 list.

  1. Wait for it.
  2. Hiking is significantly less fun when you’re pondering your own mortality the whole time.
  3. It is a remarkable low figure when you consider how many college-aged boys riding a spring break high and trying to show off for their friends hike it. Also boy scouts.
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in which I take a trip

This past week was very likely the last spring break I am ever going to have. In a little over a month I will become a master and my seventeen years of school will end1. And in the real world, you don’t really get a spring break.

So the family decided to do something proper to mark this rite of passage, namely head down to southern Utah for as close as we ever come to doing a road trip2. It was really a thoroughly marvelous vacation. I turned my brain and my internet off for six days and basked in natural beauty and sunshine, both a far cry from the polar vortex of a city I’m currently living in.

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Southern Utah is very special to me. We used to go there a lot when I was a kid, and I never feel so connected to my heritage as when I’m down among the red rock canyons. I love it so much I even set my ill-fated Mormon hook-handed zombie hunter novel down there (you remember that monstrosity, don’t you?). It feels strangely spiritual to me, like a sacred and secret place, though it’s hardly either of those things. 

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I will perhaps have other stories from this trip to share later in the week, but right now I’m am trying to recover from turning my brain off for six days and get everything in order before it all starts back up again tomorrow. So while you’re waiting, enjoy the view.

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  1. NO! NO! NO! PANIC PANIC PANIC!
  2. None of us are particularly fond of cars, small spaces, or spending long periods of time in small spaces with each other.
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in which December comes and goes

Every day for the past month, I have woken up with the same thought: Today will be the day I update my blog.

But that didn’t happen. December is not a great month for blogging. December’s not a great month for doing anything other than eating yourself sick and pulling your hair out over Christmas gifts.

So here’s a super quick recap of some of the things I did in December that did not involve binge eating or stress shopping:

–The MT and I explored Boston together. And let me tell you, you have not explored Boston until you have explored it with the MT.

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Seriously, friends. It was a time. We committed treason (see above), skated in a cemetery, wrote on museum walls, went to a Speakeasy, ate food in weird places,  wore strange hats, and were transcendental. Among other activities.

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–Flew home and celebrated Christmas with my family in Utah. Which included my mom giving us a knitted sorting hat from Harry Potter. We also got a Darth Vader voice changer mask. Not knitted.

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–Blind taste tested 13 sugar cookies on a quest to find the most delicious sugar cookie in the Salt Lake Valley.

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Seriously, it was a blind taste test. As in we were blind folded.

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The best sugar cookie in Utah, in case you were wondering, can be found at One Smart Cookie.

–Attended a Renaissance-themed murder mystery party dressed as Shakespeare.

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The  MT also came along, dressed as an Irish mercenary/Hamlet/Ronan Lynch.

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–Ate at my favorite Utah restaurant, Cafe Rio, multiple times with 14, fresh from her Norwegian adventure. No picture. Because I don’t believe in taking pictures of your food.

–On that subject, I ate too much good food.

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This is one of many examples. Resisting posting all of them.

–Read some great books out loud with the MT. Then made sweaters based on them, a picture of which was then retweeted by the author of said books. (MY LIFE IS NOT SUPER EXCITING, OKAY!? THESE ARE THE BIG MOMENTS OF MY LIFE!)

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–Saw friends.

–Saw my dog.

–Saw my mom holding a bowl for water so my dog would be more comfortable when she drinks.

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–Was given a Norwegian Christmas troll to protect me. I think he’s actually meant to cause mischief, but he loves me, and so I have trained him to be my guardian.

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His name is Chainsaw.

–Was given some excellent fan art by the MT. Bonus points if you can name either of these characters. 

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And I think that was December. I’m gonna be better about blogging from here on out. I made a pact with myself. I said, “Self, you should be better about blogging.” So that’s gonna happen. I’m even gonna go out of my way to do strange things that will result in good stories for the blog.

It’ll happen. Just wait. You’ll see.

Happy 2014.

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in which some days are perfect

A few days ago, the MT and I were texting. As we do.

And we started talking about a day we had the weekend before I came back to Boston. The family, along with 14, went to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. The MT and I traded a few texts with quotes and memories of funny things that had happened that day, and it ended with one of us1 saying, “That was a perfect day.”

Except it wasn’t.

It was really hot that day. I was really tired because we had to get up early and the drive was long. The chairs we had to sit on were super uncomfortable. Our sandwiches were squished. I’d just got my haircut and my bangs looked weird. I think my mom and I got in an argument at some point.  

But when I look back on it, even remembering all those things, it was still a perfect day.

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This is a photo of 14 from said perfect day. It is one of two photos I have of this day, and the other one is blurry.  

Most days are not perfect. Most days are not even good. But still, at the end of most days, when I turn off the lights and go to bed, the first thing I think is, “Today was a nice day.” Even after a lot of shelving at work and even if my knees hurt and even if the T was slow and I didn’t get as much done as I needed to, usually when I look back on the day, I realize it was nice. Even on the bad days, there are good things hidden inside them.

I know this world is far from perfect, and most days further still. But I’ve been thinking a lot about perfect days, and how they are possible. They happen in spite of everything.   

  1. Can’t remember which but it was probably me.  
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in which I bid farewell to the Friend

Before we begin, don’t forget to read the Four Book Friday Wrap Up and enter my very first GIVEAWAY where you could win one of the Four Book Friday books and a $10 gift card! Click here to enter. 

As of last Tuesday, I am back in BOSTON!

It’s taken me a while to get this news on the blog because I have been occupied by the actual act of moving to Boston and getting things in order here. But I’m officially back on the east coast and excited to be here.

But before we talk about the return to Boston, we have to talk about what happened before the move back to Boston.

So you may remember about five months ago, I posted my “big news” about getting an internship with The Friend Mormon children’s magazine. And if you’ve been hanging around the blog at all this summer, I’ve told a few stories about working there. A few, but not too many. When I was first offered the internship, I was pretty excited, mainly because it meant I could save money while living at home and not have to cook for myself all summer, and I wouldn’t have to battle the humidity in Boston. That’s it. Sure, it would be cool working on a magazine, but I’m not a super churchy person, so I wasn’t excited about that. Honestly, I didn’t think working for the Friend would be particularly different than my other internships I had—a few months of some interesting work that doesn’t leave much of an impression. I especially didn’t think it would be life changing.

Surprise—it was.

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Part 1 of the amazing parting gift the staff made me–a fake copy of the magazine with my picture on the cover!

Working for the Friend ended up being the most all-around amazing thing I’ve ever done. I got to do real work—not just usual intern work that could be screwed up with minimal consequences. Every day I got to throw myself into projects that directly contributed to the on-time publication of a magazine with over one million readers worldwide1. And I got to work on them with the most talented group of people I have ever worked with. I was in daily awe of these people, and equally amazed by their intelligence and their dedication to quality children’s literature.

I did not have a bad day at the Friend. I hardly had a bad moment. I had four months of hard work and happiness that I would never have guessed were coming my way on that rainy night five months ago when I got a phone call from Salt Lake City.

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Part 2 of amazing parting gift–the back cover!

I’ve been staring at this open Word document for like ten minutes because it really is just impossible to put into words my experience at the Friend. All you have to know is that when it was all finished, I went home and just cried for a while. I’m crying a little bit now as I write this because a part of my heart is still back in the corner cubicle on the 24th floor. The Friend gave me so many things, some of which are too personal to write about here, but mostly confidence in myself and my work, validation that I am in the correct field, and an arsenal of people on my side to which I wish I could offer some eloquent gratitude, but the only thing I can think to say is “I’ll eat you up I love you so.” And I think they’ll recognize what that means coming from me.

Thank you to the Friend and its marvelous staff for an outstanding summer, for letting me work on things I was passionate about and allowing me to bask in your brilliance. Here’s hoping some of it rubbed off on me.

 

  1. I also got to spend a fair amount of time on Pinterest and read a lot of picture books. Seriously, dream job.
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in which the MT goes to college

When I was twelve years old, my birthday present was new paint, furniture, and carpet in my bedroom. After we cleared all the old furniture out and my dad painted, we had one day between the installation of the carpet and the moving in of the new furniture. And I had an empty, empty room.

So the MT and I did what any two kids would do. We took our Star Wars action figures, separated them between good guys and bad guys on opposite sides of the room, and had the Epic Action Figure Battle of the Century.

It was our longest Star Wars game ever, which is saying a lot. We played for hours. I think my parents actually consented to delay moving in the furniture so we could keep playing1.And towards the end of it all, I remember lying on the floor in the center of the room, me with Anakin and the MT with Yoda, listening to our voices echo against the empty walls and come back to us. And the MT said, “Can we do this forever?”

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Look at the little MT and the little Mackenzi Lee.This is probably the cutest we ever were. Also the last time we touched each other.

But we didn’t. The next morning, the new furniture got moved in. The Star Wars game ended. And we didn’t play with the action figures too much after that. I got older, and pretty soon the MT did too. We put the action figures in the basement, and we grew up.

This past week, the MT and I were driving around Cottonwood Heights doing some last minute shopping to prelude her move to Logan, Utah, where she’s going to be starting college on Monday. We were talking about dumb stuff2. But as we drove down Fort Union, I looked over her and all I wanted to say was, “Can we do this forever?”

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The MT is my only sister. There really hasn’t been a time when we weren’t close. For the past eighteen years, I have never been in our house without her. Even when I’ve gone away, I could always count on her being there when I came back, sprawled in the green Lazy boy, sketching with her big blue headphones and her grunge band t-shirts. She would look up at me and say, “Oh, you’re here.” And then go back to her drawing like I’d never left.

But on Saturday, the MT packed her life in our Subaru, and she drove to Logan. And in all likelihood, the MT and I will never be in the same place at the same time again for a summer or a year. The most we’ll have is spotty weeks of vacation and Christmas. We’ll grow up, we’ll move away, we’ll have our own lives separate from each other.

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This was a while ago. The MT was still a blonde. And those sunglasses died years ago.

It’s very rare in life that we know something is the last time. We don’t know the last time we’re going to see someone or the last time we’re ever going to visit a place. Usually things just disappear without warning. But last week, I was so acutely aware of the fact that the MT and I were living out the last days of our lives thus far.

I was pretty blue about it on Sunday. I kept saying things like, “If the MT were here…”

But I realized sad is the wrong thing to be. Sad is a waste of time, and totally misplaced. Because there are so many amazing and cool things that are about to happen to the MT, and too me too, I suppose, and this is just a step on the path towards them. And it’s funny how sometimes you can’t imagine things changing, but as soon as they do, you can’t imagine ever going back to how they were before. Mostly because it’s just time to be different.

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So here’s to the MT. Here’s to all the things she’s done and a whole new set of adventures ahead of her. Here’s to the things she’ll learn and the people she’ll meet, to the totally wonderful things that will happen to her and the really sucky things too, and to how she’ll deal with them—with grace and courage and kindness. I know she will, because she’s my sister, the only person I know as well as myself, and I know that she is extraordinary.

I don’t always know what to believe in, but I know I believe in her.

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Our relationship in a picture.

Good luck at college, MT. And whatever you do, be good or be good at it.

  1. My dad joined us at one point to be all the bad guys, and pulled what is maybe the sneakiest move in the history of Star Wars action figures. He took this random snowman figure from our doll house and sent him as a representative from the bad guys to parlay with the MT and my good guys. As the snowman walked across no man’s land, he said, “Don’t hurt me! I’m just a snowman!” So the MT and I called a cease fire. Then the snowman whipped out a machine gun and massacred us. Nefarious.
  2. We mostly we communicate in Doctor Who quotes and trivia.
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in which I discuss the thoroughly modern woman

Allow me a moment to muse on female heroines. I am not a bra-burning feminist and my opinions here are pretty mild, so I hope no one runs away.

This past weekend, I went with some friends to see Thoroughly Modern Millie, one of my favorite campy Broadway musicals. I saw this show once when I was around twelve and loved it. The dancing, the flappers, the 20s music—but the thing I really remembered loving was Millie. Twelve year old me loved Millie as a character. Even at twelve, before I understood what sexism felt like, I recognized that Millie was different from most of the women that populated musicals. She was sassy, smart, and brave, and I carried Millie with me for years as a heroine with something to hold onto.

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Millie as played by Sutton Foster on Broadway
Is she not the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen!?

So then I saw Thoroughly Modern Millie again this weekend, and it was exactly the same delightful show I remembered. But about halfway through, II found myself thinking, “I don’t remember this show being so much about marriage.” Little me had not registered that Millie, brave and driven as she is, was all the time driving towards finding herself a husband. But as I watched the show, I realized that her goal in no way destroyed my image of her as the feminist icon that I had carried from my tweens. Millie was still, in a lot of ways, everything I wanted to be, despite the fact that marriage is pretty low on my priorities list and I don’t usually associate feminist icons with a strong desire to settle down with a man.

Which got me thinking.

I read a really great article last week called “Why I Hate Strong Female Characters” by Sophia McDougal. Though I don’t agree with everything she says, I liked the main take away, which is that the idea of a Strong Female Character is a damaging one. First because it creates a differentiation between the genders that we are trying to fight. No one every praises a book for having a strong male character, but we say it all the time about women.

The article also pushed back against the idea that a strong female character is one who wears trousers, cuts her hair short, and knows how to fight. So many books and movies today say, “Look! Woman fires a gun! Woman punches snarky man in face! She is strong! She is independent! She is sexy! Aspire to be her!” In my experience, these are the women that usually come off as violent and volatile, but they lack their own drive in life. And when the moment comes for them to actually take a stand and take care of themselves, they fall apart.

Millie doesn’t throw any punches. She doesn’t go into battle. She doesn’t hold a gun. She does bob her hair, but that’s all in pursuit of fashion. What she does do is set her sights on what she wants, move actively towards it, roll with the setbacks that come along the way, and adjust her plan to fit them. And in the end, she recognizes and lets go of her flaws. Which are all things I want to emulate in my own life.

It didn’t matter that she wanted to get married and I don’t. I’ve been laboring for a while under an incorrect idea that a desire to fall in love and get married is a defect in a woman’s character, and I’m trying to let go of that. Millie showed me otherwise. She is an example of a woman who is fine on her own but better with someone else. It doesn’t make her weak. It doesn’t mean she needs a man to complete her. It just means she knows what she wants, and she goes, and she finds it and she gets it. And I freaking love that.

To me, what makes a compelling heroine is a woman who is actively in pursuit of what she wants. Whether that is marriage or a career or a perfect cup of tea, that is what I want in my heroines. A woman who is active in her own life rather than acted upon. Wanting love and marriage does not make a woman weak any more than kicking ass and taking names makes her strong.

That is what I want in my friends, male and female, and in my own life: people who find what they want and they go for it.

And that is about as opinionated as I get. Carry on, and happy Monday.

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in which I solve a Maurice Sendak mystery

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a detective.

I think every kid goes through this phase at one point, and I remember mine very distinctly. I read detective books. Played detective games1. Had a detective club2.

But I was never good at solving mysteries. Not even the really obvious ones that all my friends claimed they had figured out from page five. I combated this by mostly reading mystery books that were billed as unsolvable, like Westing Game and And Then There Were None, so I didn’t feel so stupid when I couldn’t figure them out.

I’ve always loved mysteries, but real life mysteries are not like books. The clues never appear as conveniently or fit together as neatly as they do in books. And mysteries, contrary to what Nancy Drew led me to believe, do not happen every day.

But this week, I got to solve a real-life mystery. And not just any mystery—a kid lit mystery!

The story of my kid lit mystery begins yesterday morning. I was very grumpy yesterday morning. The hard drive on my work computer died, and thus I couldn’t do any work for a while. The only non-computer assignment I had was one my editor had given me a few days ago: a man had called and asked us to find a song he thinks was maybe in the Friend sometime between now and forty-five years ago, and he didn’t know the title, just the first line3. Seriously. So my job was to go through old copies of the Friend from the sixties and find the song.

I was not looking forward to this job, so I grumpily pulled up a stool in our archives and started grumpily going through copy after copy after copy of vintage Friends.

And then I found this:

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The cover of the November 1969 issue.

And I immediately thought to myself, “That looks a lot like Maurice Sendak art.” And I opened the cover and found this. Image

And then I freaked out. Maurice Sendak, my favorite artists ever, one of my favorite kid lit writers, had done a cover for our little LDS children’s magazine! I immediately ran to tell my editor, who shares my passion for children’s books. We had a moment of surprise and celebration, and then she said, “What else do you know about it?”

Nothing, I said. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know if the painting was commissioned by the Friend. I didn’t know where it was now. I didn’t know how a Caldecott-winning artist and outspoken atheist had come to do art for a Mormon magazine.

So I decided to solve the mystery of the lost Maurice Sendak painting4.

I started with the Google, and found exactly one other place that the painting appeared: there was a grainy iPhone photo of it accompanying a Sendak obituary. I tweeted the author of the article about it, and he directed me to the Rosenbach Museum, where all Sendak’s art and papers were collected after his death.

The curator at the Rosenbach was very helpful, and emailed me back in minutes. He said:

“I know only a little about that piece, but basically I think you’re correct that Children’s Friend (as it was called at the time) commissioned the art from Sendak.  His usual process was to do an unknown number of doodles or sketches, then compose them in pencil on tracing paper, usually using a light table.  I believe we have this preliminary drawing at the museum.  The “final” artwork…is privately owned in the hands of Sendak collector Justin Schiller.”

To Justin Schiller’s website!

He replied this morning:

“I purchased the original watercolor for “The Children’s Friend” magazine (as it was then called) directly from the artist in early 1970.  All I can recall was that Maurice told me at the time he had a friend associated with the magazine who asked him to illustrate a cover design.  I do not recall the name of the friend ever being mentioned.”

Dead end, it would seem! But I had to know who on staff of the Friend had known Maurice Sendak! What ties did he have to my weird little Church. So I took a different approach.

One of the many strange things about the LDS Church is that they really keep tabs on their members. Not like CCTV or hidden camera tabs or anything creepy like that, but they know where you are and what you are doing and how to contact you at all times through pretty comprehensive membership records5. The benefit of this is that I was able to take the staff names from the table of contents in the November 1969 Friend and send them to our secretary, who was able to get me their records. Turns out they were almost all dead. But I had their posterity’s phone numbers and addresses. So I swallowed my crippling fear of talking on the phone to strangers6 and began to call.

I called probably ten people. No one knew anything about their parent’s work with the Friend, and less about a connection with Sendak. I was starting to despair. Perhaps I just would never know the origin story.

Then I got a phone call on my lunch break today from a man in Virginia. “You left a message for me,” he said. “About the Friend.”

I told him my problem. “I’m trying to find out who on the Friend staff would have known Maurice Sendak,” I explained. “Do you have any idea?”

And he said simply, “It was my mom.”

So here is the story. It’s maybe not novel worthy, or really that dramatic at all, but I solved it. I followed the trail of clues and I found my answers7.

In the 1960s, Gladys Daines was the managing editor of the Children’s Friend. In 1962, she had bought herself a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and fallen in love with its boxy, whimsical art. So, bold as brass, she called up Maurice Sendak and asked to visit him. She flew to his house in New York and they had a good chat and hit it off. She then asked if he’d be willing to do some art for the Children’s Friend. Apparently, he was more than happy to do it. They collaborated on the initial ideas, he sent her sketches, she approved them, and then in November 1969, the cover was published. Though at the time the Friend kept most of the art they commissioned, Sendak kept his painting because he was such a prominent illustrator. He sold it a few years later to collector Justin Schiller, who owns it today. The sketches Sendak sent to Gladys are in the Rosenbach.

And this is now featured prominently on my desk.

Image

My first real mystery—solved. Ten year old me would be so proud, and current me is ecstatic.

  1. Which did not work, because I was both creator of the mystery and solver of it.
  2. Which did not work because there were no mysteries in my neighborhood, though books led me to believe that if I had the intention of being a detective, mysterious things would start happening. Children’s lit lied to me.
  3. This is not the mystery I solved. Just FYI.
  4. Not technically lost. I sort of hoped it would be, and I would have to crawl through the bowels of the Church Office Building, fight some corrupt art dealer, and then eventually would have a write up in the paper after the painting was recovered with my photo under the word “CHILDREN’S LIT HERO.” None of those things happened.
  5. Don’t think too hard about this or it all starts to feel vaguely 1984.
  6. FOR SENDAK! *raises sword and charges into battle*
  7. You really do get a rush from detecting. This must be how Sherlock Holmes feels all the time!
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