Tuesday, November 24, 2015

7:30 BELLS: The Best of the Bells

I occasionally run The Best of the Bells--favorite 7:30 BELLS posts from the past two and a half years. This one is from last summer. May you all find your hearts full of praise this Thanksgiving. 

In the field southeast of our house, daisies grow wild. Last night as I walked through them in the moonlight they shone—luminous, white-skirted, acres of them kicking up a can-can in the windy moonlight.

Enchanting, yes. Bells, bells, and more bells.

Then, the next morning, I walked through the field in the sunlight. Dazzling, bright, the daisies still kicked up their skirts in the wind, but now I saw their golden hearts revealed.

There’s a time to be luminous and mysterious. A time to be bright, bold, and flash your heart at the world. Sunlight and moonlight together, two things we never see at the same time, create the whole story. Look and keep looking, at every hour, in every light, for parts of yourself you can’t see all at once. Then knit them together in the wind to see your whole rich story.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesdays of every month. Join me on December 8 for a guest post with children's book author, Suzanne Williams.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Liminal Bells

This morning I woke to the first heavy frost of the season, and the first frost since we’ve moved to the river. I hurried out, crunching over crystal grass. I stopped, transfixed by the spectacle of these lingering maple leaves white-limned with frost. 

Outlines, borders, frontiers, thresholds—anything liminal always rings with mystery because it speaks of transition. And transitions are often tortuous to manage. But as I looked at these frosty maple leaves, I saw a clue to managing transitions.

Keep one foot in the known and one foot in the unknown. Hold and honor them both. Then wait. Wait for your world, outer and inner, to unfold its weather. Wait for the sun of a new day.

It will surely come.

7:30 BELLS  Posts run every Tuesday.
7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Guest Post by Author Jim Whiting

I'm so pleased to share this guest post by Jim Whiting, prolific author of many non-fiction books for kids.

Like most authors, I read voraciously as a kid. Perhaps unlike many if not most of my colleagues, my reading often leaned heavily toward nonfiction. By the time I was 10, for example, I had devoured a multi-volume history of WWII in the Pacific.

I was so absorbed in the account of the Battle of Okinawa one evening that birds singing startled me. “Why are they singing in the middle of the night?” I wondered. It was dawn. I read the entire night without taking a single break!

While I read my share of fiction today, my love affair with nonfiction continues unabated.

About 15 years ago I turned this love of nonfiction into a career. I’ve taken on topics with which I was already quite familiar. Others have broken totally new personal ground.

I especially like the latter. That’s because the thing that more than anything else rings my chimes about writing nonfiction is the constant learning it entails.

Perhaps the best example is a hip-hop book I wrote several years ago. It was about No Limit Records, founded by Percy Miller, aka Master P. I don’t like hip-hop and never listen to it by choice. So I needed something to grab my interest and provide a way into the material.

As a longtime sports junkie, I found that opening with the knowledge that Master P had been an outstanding basketball player. At the peak of No Limit’s popularity he nearly made the roster of the Toronto Raptors of the NBA.

Snoop Dogg cut several albums for No Limit. Prior to writing the book, I thought Snoop was a wretched thug as a result of reading newspaper headlines and little else. My research revealed that he played high school football. He felt the sport had played a crucial role in his development. So he founded a football program for kids 8–14 with hundreds of participants and underwrote all the costs. He encouraged fathers to become involved with their sons’ teams. I now had a totally unexpected admiration and respect for Snoop Dogg.

The cherry on top of the Snoop Sundae came when I discovered that every year he flies a team of all-stars from his league to the Super Bowl host city. For many if not most of those kids it’s their first time on an airplane. On the day before the big game his team plays the host-city all-stars.

It’s called the Snooper Bowl.

Kids enjoy hearing this story when I tell it during author visits. It also provides a useful teaching moment. I tell them that research can provide an entirely new perspective on something they previously thought to be “true.”

On many occasions, my research turns up a nugget of knowledge that compels me to want to find out more about it. I happily follow internet links to delve more deeply into this new topic. Sometimes I can incorporate my findings into the manuscript I’m working on, sometimes not. But it’s never time wasted, because it adds to my store of knowledge.

I love sharing this knowledge. Like other people who write nonfiction, I consider myself as much of a storyteller as my fiction counterparts, penning lively narratives to pique interest and make my readers want to find out more. The only difference is that my tales are true.

Since Charles Schulz, Bainbridge Island-based Jim Whiting has written more than 180 nonfiction titles for young readers. His ambition is to write a stack of books taller than he is, with the current level at about his collarbone. With nearly 50 more titles in various stages of production, he anticipates reaching his goal by 2017. It’s one of the few times he’s glad that he’s short.

He’s also the leading contributor to the Nonfiction Minute, a free daily fascinating aspect of the world around us that finds its way into thousands of classrooms throughout the country.

He’s also edited more than 400 titles, the majority of them nonfiction. Several of his clients have gone on to garner a variety of honors.

7:30 BELLS  Posts run every Tuesday.
7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Would Merlin Ever Take a Selfie?

I’ve been thinking this week of Merlin, specifically the Merlin in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlin. White’s Merlin walked around with creatures living in his hat and hair--and their droppings. 

So if Merlin were alive today, do you think he’d be taking selfies and posting them on social media? He’d probably go viral—as a laughing-stock. And then be locked up in an institution.
But I suspect Merlin would be indifferent to selfies and the social imperative to be a constantly-connected-cyber-drone. Merlin had kings to train. Voices to hear. Visions to follow in the deep woods. Magic and history to make. Certainly he heard bells ringing all the time, because Merlin was alive from the tips of his toes to the tip of his pointy wizard’s hat. To do all that, he had to be connected to the real world.

I’m not Merlin. But what if I wanted to walk around with wild birds nesting in my hair? I don't know if I could face the consequences.

Have you ever been afraid to live in the way that is most fundamentally yours because it's not hip, fashionable, or (God forbid) current? When that happens, you keep yourself numb. You're afraid to hear the bells ring because they're a sign you need to change something huge. And if you made that change, you wouldn't dare dare post selfies anymore.

On the bright side, you'd probably be too busy being alive to take or post selfies anyway. And you'd certainly be too busy to care. Kings take a lot of managing.

7:30 BELLS  Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 10 for a guest post with children's book author Jim Whiting.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Wind Ballet. Review

Last night I used my free ticket to see the Wind Ballet.

Theater: The Field.
Seat: Front Row Center--the Adirondack chair on my deck.
Star: The Full Moon.
Choreographer: The South Wind.
Corps-de-ballet : High Strata of Moving Clouds.
Soloists: Lower Rushing Clouds. 

I settled in to watch. The clouds leaped and whirled around the moon, creating an ever-changing chiaroscuro. Sometimes they hid the moon. Moments later they rushed apart, bedazzling her in golden streamers. The fir trees conducted like a forest of maestros. The bells rang.

The tickets to the Wind Ballet may be free, but they’re extremely hard to get. (Connections in high places might help, try weather gods Horus or Zeus.)

First we need a full moon—so that limits us to twelve possible nights per year. Then we need just the right weather. If the clouds are dense—no show. If the night is clear—no show. If the night is still—no show. (Two layers of wind and clouds are ideal). And, worst of all, if you don’t make the time to go look—you won’t see the show even if there is one.

So last night was the perfect confluence of calendar, weather, and fortitude for one of the most spectacular Wind Ballets ever. I’ve seen only one more spectacular—one night on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, at the Villa Scarpariello Relais on a cliff above the sea. Come to think of it, the Wind Ballet that night was one of the prime inspirations for 7:30 BELLS.

7:30 BELLS  Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 10 for a guest post with children's book author Jim Whiting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Moon Over Metal Shed

Everything begins as a glimmer in the dark. All that’s needed is the spark, the light of some luminary—be it a celestial object like the moon, an idea, a startling image, or a numinous connection with our deeper self. Something comes forward from the unknown place.

I’ve trained for this. Part of myself is always watching now, always waiting for the spark. True, sometimes they come without watching—big blazing meteors across the sky. But what about the tiny sparks, you have to coax? The quieter, deeper ones, there and gone like dreams? Often the sparks I breath on gently, fan to flame, and feed, feed, feed, conflagrate into brighter, bluer fires than any flashy meteor.

Sometimes I’m simply walking out to the metal shed at ten p.m. to get a hammer. And then I see something like the moon shining on the metal shed and forget the hammer. Because I know some spark is arriving. Because I know I have only a moment to greet and make it welcome.

7:30 BELLS  Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 10 for a guest post with children's book author Jim Whiting

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Ninjas and Flying by Lois Brandt

Lois Brandt is the author of Maddi's Fridge, Winner of the 2015 International Literacy Association Primary Fiction Award. I've lately had the privilege of getting to know her as a friend and colleague and am pleased to share this wonderful guest post. Get ready to fly!

On a school visit last year I read to a group of about thirty kindergarteners. As I was answering questions, a little boy in a black t-shirt raised his hand high in the air. He had pulled the neck of his shirt up to cover his mouth and nose. I thought he was just being shy, so when I called on him I asked him to pull his t-shirt off of his face so I could hear him clearly.

Instead, he raised himself high on his knees, fixed his eyes on mine, and shouted “I AM A NINJA!”

The school librarian was mortified and aides rushed in to have a little chat with our friend. I couldn’t bodily throw myself between the disciplinarians and the ninja, but I thought about it.

I loved that little ninja. I love that ability in kids to ignore reality – no, not ignore it – to change reality. Young children inhabit a space where the imagination rules and the laws of physics don’t apply.

When I was about the same age as the ninja, I flew down our town’s Main Street with a group of my friends. It was lovely. We stuck our arms out wide and whoosh! The four of us soared above the rooftops with a warm breeze in our faces.

The next day at school I eagerly spoke to my friends about our flying adventure. To my huge disappointment all three of them told me that we had not gone flying and I had been dreaming.

I wasn’t convinced. For the next few days, when my mom wasn’t looking, I launched myself off the arm of our couch. After the first splat I put pillows down on the floor, but I still believed. I knew that if I just held my arms in the right position I would fly. Then I would zoom around my house once to show my brothers, who were at this point teasing me mercilessly about my ‘dream,’ how wrong they were. After that I’d soar out of the house, free to fly anywhere in the world.

When my mother caught me jumping off the couch, arms spread-eagle, she calmly sat me down and tried to explain, once again, that flying down Main Street had only been a dream.

There is no “only” in dreams.

It’s been a long time since I flew down Main Street, but the memory of flying under my own power has informed some of the best decisions of my life. Those decisions range from joining the Peace Corps, to learning to kayak, to becoming a writer. (Writing, by the way, is a great way to fly.)

And when adult worries begin to drag me down to earth, what keeps me going, what makes the bells ring for me, is the living example of dreaming big that I see during every school visit. Children, especially kindergarteners, remind me that the only limits in my life are the ones I have built myself.

Long live the ninjas!

Years ago, Lois Brandt peeked into her best friend’s refrigerator and found empty shelves and one small carton of milk; her friend’s family didn’t have enough money to buy food. Maddi’s Fridge, Lois’ first picture book, is the result of that moment. Maddi’s Fridge is the recipient of a 2014 Christopher Award and the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Primary Book Award, among other honors. You can read more about Lois Brandt and Maddi’s Fridge at LoisBrandt.com

7:30 BELLS  Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 10 for a guest post with children's book author Jim Whiting.