Monthly Archives: March 2014


February 25, 2014


The Boy In The Subway

The boy is sitting at the end of the subway car.  He wears a coat with a ragged hem, a dirty knit cap and a sign: Down on my luck Please Help.  He carries a banged up drink cup in which a few coins clink.  No gloves.  It is 29 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stepping into the late night train, my friends and I grab hold of the center pole between the doors.  I set my 45-pound pack on the floor at my feet, groaning, flexing my shoulders.  My friend chats with the man from the show we’ve just seen.  We are flushed with a good time, sweet drinks, good food, and a brisk walk.

As the train jerks into motion, the boy stands up and ghosts through the car—hoping.  I keep my eyes on my friend.  I think she is talking about a scene from the show.  Or maybe where she lives in Queens, a lovely two-bedroom apartment full of light and comfort.  I want to give something to the boy; to look into his tired face and into his dull, brown eyes and say, “Hello;” effectively saying—“I see you.  You exist.  I honor the light in you as another human like myself.”

Maybe he hears my thoughts.  I look steadily into the face of the man from the show and answer his question as the boy pauses at the end of the car.  And then I feel him ghosting back through the car, passing behind me, brushing softly against my clean, bright blue North Face jacket.

I slide my eyes to the side and watch him slump back into his seat at the end of the car.  He sighs.  His hands scrub his face and then hold his head up as his elbows come to rest against his knees poking through his torn, crusty jeans.

I can feel the single dollar bills burning in my pocket. My heart jumps about like my dog when she wants to go for a walk.

The advice I’ve been given from my New York friends replays in my head:

“Just ignore them.  So many of them are just scamming…”

But, how do we tell the difference?

“I work hard for my money.  They don’t choose to.  That’s their choice. There’re plenty of jobs in this city.  They could get one if they wanted to.”  “But, maybe they haven’t the skills, or the opportunities, or the strength or the courage or the know-how to navigate this crazy system like we do?

“You have to be careful.  I mean, every day you run into these people—you get used to it.  You can’t help them all.”  But surely, we could acknowledge them?  Or we could give some change to a few every day, the change from dropping dollars into the cashier’s hand at the lunch counter? 

The presence of these dirty, raggedy, brothers and sisters of ours dredge up shame in us…robbing us of the pleasure of our blessings—accusatory as we gather our comfort and privilege like a walled fortress around us.

I brightly engage in the conversation with my friends, hearing not a word I will recall.  The boy, I will remember.  I leave the train without a backward glance while tears burn behind my eyes.


February 25, 2014
The 9-11 Memorial

Passing block after block of towering buildings, modern glass and steel mixed up with stone dragons and gargoyles, brick and marble, we come at last to the barricades.  The fence is high and covered with ad papered boards and blue plastic tarps.  Signs tell us we are here: the 9-11 Memorial.  Behind the fencing is a construction zone; diggers and dumpsters and pipes and piles of dirt surrounding half formed buildings.  I wonder who will work or play there someday?

Looking up I see a triangular building of glass stretching above all the others, its pointy tower trying to prick the clouds.  “That’s the Freedom Tower,” says my friend.  Officially known as One World Trade Center, it is now the tallest building in the western hemisphere, fourth tallest in the world, soaring 1,776 feet above the pools where once the Twin Towers stood.  It grew out of the debris of Tower 6.  Tower 6?  Just an insignificant 8-story building damaged in the 9-11 attacks and later demolished to make way for the reconstruction of the current One World Trade Center. 
We join the bunches of people being directed to line up and walk soberly between the ropes that guide us behind the plastic curtains out of sight of the hurrying pedestrians.  We offer our donations and wind our way down the sidewalk and through security.  Just like the airports.  Bags in bins, coats in bins, phones and cameras and computers in bins.  Really?  We are this afraid?
Huge signs tell us to be quiet; this is a sacred sight.  There—the two pools where once the Twin Towers stood.  Here—a pear tree struggling to make a come back after being blown apart on 9-11.  Across from us a memorial museum that will open soon.  And over all, the Freedom Tower.
I stare up wondering.  Is this a monument to the freedom we claim to possess and will fight to the death to protect?  At least we’ll send someone to fight and if necessary to die to protect “our way of life”.  I can’t help but wonder though if the real truth is that this is a monument to the fragile shell of our freedom, a freedom that broke apart disintegrating into dust and ash that morning a dozen years ago.  Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…he took a great fall…and not a one of us have been able to put him back together again. 
My friend is looking around; she sighs.  I look around at the people milling about.  I look at the signs.  I look at the names etched into the marble wall surrounding the pools where the Towers once stood.  A four-sided waterfall, the water falls down into a lower pool, and then disappears down a large hole at the bottom.  The walls weep eternally for those who died here.  I weep silently for those who were caught in the Towers that disappeared before our eyes; who never came home to kiss their sweethearts and hug their children.

I weep for the lies and the corruption and the Great Scam we have willingly allowed to be perpetrated upon us.
Why are we so unwilling to wake up?  I stand there in the center of the plaza thinking about the movie The Matrix—thousands of people going about their lives—none of it real—the people didn’t know the difference.  They didn’t want to know. 
I have told friends and family members about the research and information regarding 9-11.  They resist.  Now, as we stand in that very place, I tell my friend about the theories of controlled demolition supported by so many intelligent, educated men and women—engineers, scientists, architects.  I tell her about Judy Wood, the courageous scientist who has dedicated her life to researching what happened to the World Trade Center on 9-11…her impeccable, scientific research made public in a book titled, “Where Did The Towers Go?”   
My friend is silent. 

I trail my fingers along the marble wall of the South Pool, over the names etched deeply there.  I nod to the Pear Tree.

We leave the park and head for the Staten Island Ferry.  As we churn through the waters I gaze at the Statue of Liberty, imprisoned on her tiny island. 

Manhattan falls away behind us, the Freedom Tower looming above the skyline.   


February 27, 2014
Walkabout #2
My friend, Gina the Gypsy meets me at the hotel after the conference.  She has 24 hours to show me her New York City.  Tomorrow afternoon she will turn me over to my other friend, Jen, the actress.  Both young women are from Duluth where I live now.  Gina has traveled about from one adventure to another.  She lived in Puerto Rico for a number of years, eventually ending up in New York.  Jen came out here to pursue her dream to sing and to perform on stage and in film.  Gina continues to embrace the world and have adventures.  Jen has found her way into a few movies and commercials and after only two years, has woven herself into quite a network of interesting people.  I am excited to have this short time to get to know them both better—and to see New York through their eyes.
Gina and I head out into a sunny, 52 degree Fahrenheit afternoon.   
We walk toward the New York Public Library, the bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalk leading us toward the palatial, marble building. 

I’ve already been there, so we pass it by and head toward the High Line.  A former elevated railway, it has been turned into a lovely walking path with gardens and art along the way.  Of course, other than the evergreen trees, the gardens are naked, the grasses brown, some things still covered in snow.  There are benches to sit upon and watch the world stroll by.  No one is in a hurry here.  I can imagine that in the summer there are musicians and other street performers here.  The views allow peeks between the buildings into the harbor beyond.

We come to the end of the line and after a sweep through the Chelsea Market for something to eat, we head for the subway; my first New York Subway ride.  Once on the train, it looks and feels much like being on the L in Chicago…or even the Tube in London.  The stations though are different.  Closer, tighter, darker.  I keep imagining that I’m in a movie.
We head to the 911 Memorial…
then the Staten Island Ferry…and then another train for home.  

We are in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan—yet, there are hardly any people, and even fewer folk after we leave the Ferry landing for home.  Near empty streets.  Empty parks.  Only a few people on the subway.  I relax.  I can take it in now—deeply.  But it is too much still—all the stories, all the history, all this energy come together in this place, building up over a few hundred years.

Gina cooks up an amazing vegetarian dinner.  I heap my plate.  Having grown up in New York, Gina’s partner John tells me stories.  They talk about their amazing food cooperative that was actually featured on The Daily Show (he shows me the clip).  We talk a bit of politics.  It is late when we all finally find our beds.  Gina and John rent out space in their home through the AirBnB site, but their guests are still out on the town.  I go to sleep with my meditation music and ideas and images whirling through my thoughts.
Next morning Gina and I head for the nearby park to walk her sweet dog, Boo.  It is quiet and we meet only a few people.  The sun is shining and the birds are having choir practice—preparing for the Spring Festival, no doubt.  After breakfast, when I mistakenly eat all the delicious guacamole, we head for the Brooklyn Bridge.  We finally find all the people—and they are mostly headed for Manhattan. 
As we cross the bridge, I am fascinated by the people, the buildings, the water winding through everything.  The ships look like toys down below us.  
 My heart is light…I want to spread my arms and fly, even with the 45 lb pack on my back! 

We slowly make our way to the Quintessence Restaurant…an organic, raw food, vegan restaurant Gina used to work at.  The menu looks delicious.  “My treat!” I say.  It’s 2:00.  There’s no way we will make it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by 2:30 where we are to meet Jen.  So Jen comes to meet us just as we are digging into our Pave De Chocolate-Raspberry dessert.  I introduce them and they then discover that Jen went to High School with Gina’s sister.  Small world indeed. 
Our hunger sated, and time running short, Gina bids us goodbye and Jen flags down a taxi to hurry us off to the Met Museum.  We will only have about 45 minutes…what can you possibly see at a two block square, multi-level museum in 45 minutes?  But Jen insists—and I realize that the experience might be more memorable than spending an entire afternoon!
I am rewarded!  There in the Impressionists Exhibit I find some of my favorites—Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir…and my very favorite Renoir painting is on display!  When I was pregnant with my second child, I had a borrowed Renoir print hanging next to my bed.   I said if my baby was a girl, I wanted to own that print.  She was, and I do.  And strangely, my older daughter was brunette, my second daughter a blonde.                  I love this painting! 
Jen has secured free seats at a comedy improv show for us—Face Off.  We head over on the train to the neighborhood, looking first for some dinner.  I find an organic grocer and order a smoothie in a bowl.  It is delicious.  For $12 I would hope so!  When we get to the show, it is in the basement of a Japanese restaurant famous for their sushi.  We eat sushi and drink mojitos and laugh until our cheeks hurt. 

What a lovely finish to my stay in New York!


February 26, 2014

The SCBWI Conference Day 3

The Gala Dinner and Meet & Greet last evening were very pleasant.  I finally found my Regional Advisor and met some others from Minneapolis/St. Paul area, including a man who had been in my second critique group.  He read the opening of his wonderful Middle Grade novel he’s working on based on a painting he had seen called Vegetarian Vampires.

I met a woman who lives not far from this hotel and has been working for several years on her book for Middle Graders about the coral reefs with a cast of intriguing and hilariously fishy characters.  I ran into several women who I had met in the critique circles.  One of them, Doris, had such a great story twist on Goldilocks that I could easily see her the next Mo Willems.  I have a collection of business cards now in my briefcase.  New friends.

This morning I find a platter of GF bagels on the Bagel table and the Food and Beverage Manager is standing nearby.  I smile at him.  In his thick New York accent he says, “I thought of you this morning and even though I was told to only bring them out if asked for, I thought I’d put out this tray anyway.”  Just then a young woman comes up and sees the tray with its little sign and says, “Oh!  Oh I’m so excited!  I’ve been having to go out every morning to find my own food!”  The Manager and I smile at each other.

The first speaker is author Kate Messner on The Spectacular Power of Failure.  This has been the theme of my life the past several years: how to live with, release, or generally not be undone by the fear of failing. Actually, it might be more accurate to say it has been the theme of my life.  Like, forever my life.  And most of my life I failed spectacularly at overcoming my fear of failing because I was trying to overcome it.  You can’t overcome, i.e. win out over Fear.  If you try and land a punch it’ll beat the snot out of you.  If you try and run away, it chases you down and eats you up alive.  I learned some years back that the only way to not be controlled by it was to do the lion and the lamb thing and lay down and take a nap on it’s belly.  Except I was too scared to shut my eyes.

Learning to deal with the Fear of Failure that has controlled nearly every aspect of my life has been a long pilgrimage for me.  I guess I’m not surprised to meet up with it again here at the Conference.  Kate obviously said a lot of noteworthy things since I have five pages of notes from her address.  But a few jump out at me asking for stars and circles.

Be brave.  It’s okay to be afraid.  If you weren’t nervous about what you are attempting, it wouldn’t be worth doing.  You can’t have brave without scared.

As artists we set goals, and then we move the bar on ourselves…’I will write 10 minutes a day…finish the book by…get an agent…get published…win an award…if I could just.’  There is no end.  When we keep moving the bar, we cheat ourselves out of the pleasure of small successes.  Notice those small successes!  Celebrate them!

Athletes and engineers and children “fail” a lot and accept that as part of the process.  The only way to achieve what they’re trying to do is to try, fail, adjust, learn, keep going, do it again…over and over until they get it right.  We as artists need to have the same attitude.

Never, never give up.

Nikki Grimes, author of middle grade fiction written in verse is our final speaker of the day.  She speaks so beautifully, it is difficult to believe that once she was in the audience—new, hopeful, frustrated, scared.  She tells her story and she advocates for us to be patient with ourselves and our learning process.  Like anything beautiful, we have to be given time to grow, time to ripen, time to become—and so does our art.



February 26, 2014

The SCBWI Conference Day 2

Saturday morning the conference attendees have quadrupled—at least.  The Investors are gone; the writers and illustrators have taken over the entire floor.  We now have four ten-foot tables spread with bagels and coffee and tea.  No GF bagels.  I hunt down the Food and Beverage Manager for my personal plate of bagels I can eat.

Lin Oliver is our MC and she is very funny.  Sitting in this huge ballroom with hundreds of writers, I feel like I’m “home”.  All my tension ebbs and as Jack Gantos takes the stage to talk to us about his writing and the elements of writing and children and books, I am lost to all else.  Only this remains, this one thing I have wanted to be since I was a little girl of seven—a writer.

Jack is very funny.  We are laughing so hard some of us have to wipe tears off our cheeks.  As he tells us his secrets of how he writes his books, I hear the same core elements that I have heard before but Jack has adapted them to fit his style and personality.  And I receive permission to do the same—make these elements of writing work for me.  Develop good writing habits that work for me.

I am scribbling notes and ideas furiously.  But then Jack says something that causes me to go very still inside and I know this is a sacred moment for me.  He says, “The reason you read books is to change, to grow, to feel things, to learn.  This must happen in the story if it is to happen to you, the reader.  A good book is like an infection—it changes you.”  I am not sure why this is so important, but I write it down.

My morning breakout session is with an editor from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ‘s Books for Young Readers.  Within the first few minutes of her presentation she says, “Picture Books really matter!  This is when children fall in love with books for the first time.  Children are learning about the world, forming impressions.  Picture books stick with us throughout our lives…”  First Jack Gantos, now this editor, addressing the deep down doubt that has held me back from fully giving myself to my children’s writing.  I miss the next few things she says because I am wiping some tears from my cheek.

The editor goes through the essential ingredients of good picture books.  It is heartening to me to see that I have instinctively known many of these and incorporated them into my writing.  But I see lots of room for me to grow, to come alive and to bring that life into my books.

The final gift of the morning is the special privilege those of us are given who attended this Houghton Mifflin session: we may submit a manuscript and it will be given special attention—i.e. it will get read and considered.  No slush pile.  No agent needed.  Should I send my ducks waddling over to H.M.’s Books for Young Readers?

The afternoon is also full up with information.  I am getting tired, but I find a seat at the end of the day to listen to a panel talk about banned books.  One of the speakers is Ellen Hopkins, author of award winning YA novels dealing with tough contemporary and extremely relevant issues.  She takes the podium and lights the place on fire!  Do I know that over 75% of banned and challenged books are children’s books?  No.  Do I know that YA books are the most targeted and that there are increasing challenges to books in high schools in the advanced and accelerated learning classes?  No.  Do I realize that the intellectual freedom of children is under severe assault—look at standardized testing and NCLB policies and zero-tolerance policies, just for starters.  Yes!  That one I knew!  “Banned books,” says Ellen, “is one sliver of this assault!”

Ellen goes on: “Children deserve the right to read.  Books give you insight and knowledge.  Is it the truth?  Put it in!  Write bravely!   We know who we’re writing for—we have a responsibility to our readers!  We have a responsibility to the children!”

I came to New York with an intention: I wanted to resolve for myself whether or not it is my purpose and path to write for children.  I have had this desire in me for as long as I can remember, one that I have alternately ignored, played with, worked hard at and abandoned.  But always I have returned, like the night bugs to the light.  When I do, joy and pleasure wells up inside me.  If I go home from this conference with nothing else, having this nagging question answered for me would be enough.

I write for children because children matter, because books matter, because children need good books.  Good books open up our imaginations, help us process the world around us, stimulate creativity and critical thinking.  I write for children because they deserve good books.


February 26, 2014


The SCBWI Conference: Day 1

Friday morning I rise, refreshed, excited and hungry.  I do my meditation and some yoga stretches; take my shower.  Content that I look relaxed, refreshed and professional, I take up my binder with my manuscript and my notepads, my pens and pencils, my business cards, hotel key card, credit card, some money and my phone.  I descend to the Ballroom level and exit into a hive of busy conference attendees.

On one end are the SCBWI pre-conference attendees; hopeful writers and illustrators come to have their work critiqued by peers and the publishing gods—various and sundry book agents and editors.  On the other end is a conference of investors.  The investors have a 30 foot long spread of breakfast delights: fruit and meat and eggs and yogurts and custards and cereals and breads of all kinds, teas and coffees, juices and water.  On our end is a 10 foot long spread of bagels, coffee and tea.  Nothing is gluten free.

Ask and you shall receive, it is said.  I checked in and I asked, “Who can I speak to about providing a gluten free option for those of us who may need that?”  I was told there was supposed to be a gluten free option.  When we brought it to the attention of the Food and Beverage Manager, I was brought a gluten free bagel on a plate—just for me.  The fruit from the market in the lobby cost me $4.00.  I asked if please, the next two mornings would they have a platter of them out as I was certain in a crowd this large I wouldn’t be the only gluten free person.

The morning panel was so memorable I don’t remember a thing and haven’t any notes.

Critique session one I brought my story, Don’t Pick the Apples, Robert.  Written 30 years ago and pulled from my dusty files some 10 years ago, Robert and his apples have undergone so many revisions they’ve gotten shiny.  A little bloody too.  Robert’s story was chopped to in half some months ago following a Picture Book workshop in Minneapolis.  Apparently it was a wound worth suffering. The only critical feedback given was that I should think more like an illustrator and try to eliminate the descriptions in the text that will be shown in the illustrations.  That of course leads this non-illustrating writer to asking a dozen more questions.

At lunchtime I head for the entrance to the Grand Central Terminal and its Dining Concourse, joining the bustling crowd outside the hotel.  After yesterday’s walkabout I had written my author friend my impressions of NYC: “NYC is intimidating and SO crowded and busy!  I haven’t seen too much of it…  Won’t be sad to return home to the snow and forests and empty spaces.” 

She had written back a challenge:  “Just so you know, you are talking to a New Yorker who loves NYC.  So I hope you will see the beauty in all the bustle and boundless creativity of humanity that is on display wherever you turn.”

I find myself looking at the people through different eyes today.  I note the incredible diversity of face and style.  There are policemen and workmen; beggars and well-dressed men in expensive suits, women fresh from designer boutiques; mothers dragging noisy children; teenagers bopping to the beat only they can hear.  In the space of two buildings I quickly count 30 people.  All are moving purposefully and quickly, hardly breaking stride if a tourist suddenly makes an unexpected turn or stops dead-center.  The people and the traffic combine into an amazingly intricate dance of color and light.  I wonder about the stories each one of these people are living out.

The Dining Concourse is more crowded than the streets, everyone weaving in and out of each other’s space.  I imagine that I can see the trails of energy with each passing person.  I get some wild mushroom lentil soup and head back to the hotel.  It is quieter there.

In the afternoon I offer my little story Duck, Duck, Goose to another group of peers and an editor for their feedback.  I get a perfect 10 with the qualifier that I should drop the last four lines—they aren’t needed.  I sit quietly smiling; inside I am dancing on the table!  It has been a long, four and a half year journey to this conference in New York.

Later as I head up to my room with a salad from Grand Central—and a chocolate shake to celebrate—the doubts start whispering…the ones I came here intending to resolve.  So what’s the big deal about a silly little story about ducks?  Do you think writing stuff like this matters?  Don’t you think you should spend more time writing stuff that’s important?  You want to change the world…how you gonna do that with silly ducks and little boys who love apples?


February 25, 2014


My Walkabout—Part III

Somehow I seem to have passed through a portal to another planet—perhaps another dimension entirely.  I stand in the middle of Times Square, slowly turning in circles, gazing up as thin, sexy models 8 stories tall walk toward me purposefully and all manner of goods are paraded around the square from screen to screen, building to building.  On the ground there are hawkers of wares and beggars and food vendors and painted people; even the Smithsonian is running a game show.  Traffic rushes by on all sides of this little plaza I wandered onto.  Horns honk, police whistles shriek, an ambulance roars by siren screaming.  People are laughing and shouting and talking and walking; high heeled boots clip clopping like the horses on the cobblestones 20 blocks north.  Two men spray painted like twin Statues of Liberty, one green the other silver, are passing out advertisements.  I watch another 8-story model parading her bajillion dollar ensemble for us all to marvel at and think of Lindsey and her thin, shabby coat and her dirty duffle bag and her tired face.

I try to play the Smithsonian game show and might have won except no one told me to tap the green key on the pad after selecting my answer so all my answers come up wrong.  The woman smiles and tells me to try again, but I decide I’ve had enough.  Dizzy from the giants on the buildings I head down 42nd Street for the Library.  There’s still time to wander through before it closes.

Next to the Library is Bryant Park and another skating rink filled with hundreds of people, all of them skating clockwise, around and around.  What would happen if someone fell?  Pile-up!

The Library reminds me a little of the St. Paul Library across from Rice Park back home.  Just bigger.  I wander in and find the children’s section immediately.  It is large; about the size of the entire main floor of my library in Duluth.  But I am surprised that it is not more colorful and inviting.  There are some posters, a lot of books, little tables and chairs.  That’s it.  Nothing about it makes me want to stay and get cozy in the corner with a stack of picture books or a new YA novel.

The hallways are spacious, the stairways grand.  I get lost and find myself returning to the same spot from 5 different directions and as many staircases.  I finally settle down in a little coffee shop to eat my dinner.  It’s still hot and delicious—something with rice and kale and mushrooms and other vegetables and a sweet and spicy chili sauce.  After I am sated I go in search, once again, for the famous reading room.  I pass a display about how the library was built.  Other displays tell about all the magnificent treasures stored there.  I pass incredible paintings and murals and finally see the reading room.  It is all very grand and old and antique.  Like a museum.

The library is about to close.  It is dark outside now.  I walk the two blocks to my hotel, stopping along the way to investigate Grand Central Terminal (Station).  The  last thrill of my walkabout:  standing in the great, cavernous main concourse, imagining what it might have been like 100 years ago when the current building was only a year old.

Finally, nearly five hours from when I left, I am in my hotel room.  It is quiet, warm, cozy.  I look down at the street still funneling cabs and cars and buses and people between the towering stone and brick and glass and steel buildings.  Tomorrow morning my conference begins.  I have the feeling I have entered a world from which there is no return.  My feet may walk again the snowy, frozen paths of the Northland next week–but they won’t be the same feet that walked there this morning.


February 25, 2014


My Walkabout—Part II

Panic gradually subsides and I continue up boring 5thAvenue.  I need to see some trees and dirt and 0526f-img_1135flowing water.  I finally come to the edge of Central Park. There are about two dozen horse-drawn carriages parked along the streets.

I see a number of them clopping through the park—a nice way to explore the park if you want to spare your feet the trek.


There isn’t any dirt because the park is blanketed in snow.  I climb up a hill and enjoy a bit of a view into the park.

72abb-img_1128The “flowing water” is of course, frozen.  There is a flock of ducks skating on it.

I spot the zoo.  I think that would be a nice place to visit.  It will cost me $12 and they are only open for another hour.  Do they have large cats or apes?  No?!  Oh, they have a snow leopard…and a petting zoo…a few monkeys…never mind—I’ll visit Como Zoo in St. Paul when I get home.  Como has apes and lions and tigers and bears…even zebras and giraffes!

I wander along the path to a large skating rink.  It’s difficult to see the ice under all the skaters.  I wander out of the park, back into the hub-bub.  I head down 7thAvenue—David said it will hook up with Broadway and take me to Times Square.  “You’ve GOT to see Times Square,” he said.

It’s nearly 4:00 and I’m hungry.  I finally spot a restaurant advertising healthy, organic food.  A young woman is sitting on the sidewalk reading a book with a sign on the ground next to her: “Stranded Need Help Any kindness is appreciated”.  I walk halfway down the block to an art shop where I wander around for about 10 minutes, wondering about the girl.  I walk back to the corner.  I’m nervous.

“Hello,” I say, and she looks up, surprised.  She smiles.  She has a tooth missing.  She looks tired.

“Have you eaten?” I ask.  She says she had some breakfast at the mission.

“What time was that?” I ask her.  She says 7:00.

“I’m going inside.  Would you like to join me?  I’ll buy you some lunch,” I say.

“Well, that’s okay,” she says.  “But…well…I AM really thirsty…if you wouldn’t mind…ahhh…”

“Come on,” I say.  “What’s your name?”

“Lindsey,” she says.  I shake her cold hand and tell her, “I’m Mary.”  We go inside.

She chooses a vitamin water as I start quizzing the counter boy whether the soup has gluten in it.  Lindsey asks me if I’d mind if she also got a yogurt granola parfait from the cooler.  I say that’s fine.  The boy doesn’t know if the soups have gluten in them, so I begin asking about the rice bowl salad.  Finally I am satisfied it is probably safe and I order.  Lindsey brings me napkins and a fork and then points out to me that up on the soup menu board there is a code system indicating whether they are GF or not.

I ask her why she is stranded and she tells me about her old grandmother who lives upstate.

“I have to go see her as often as I can, you know–to help her out.  But I can’t stay there.  She lives in the country and has no plumbing and it’s really hard,” she says.  She looks wistful.  I can see she loves her grandmother.

I ask her about work.

“I get work where I can.  It’s hard in this city, you know?  It’s easier further south, but I’m trying to get back to my grandmother—you know, with this hard winter and all.  Sometimes I get jobs handing out pamphlets but you have to be there by 5:00 in the morning so I miss breakfast and it’s really hard to stand out in the cold all day and bother people.  Sometimes I get jobs in a kitchen.  Doing this, (she shakes her money cup) is a last resort.”

“How do you eat?  Where do you sleep?” I ask.

“Oh, there’s a church over there where I can go and eat and sleep.  It’s warm there.”

My food is ready and I pay for it and hand her the bag with her water and yogurt parfait.  She thanks me and shakes my hand and wishes me well.  By the time I reach the door, she has disappeared into the crowd.

I don’t feel like eating in the cramped deli.  I carry my bag down the street.  I notice several theaters, and pass Carnegie Hall.  There is construction happening in front of it—something with the sidewalk?  It doesn’t look particularly grand.  I wonder where people park.  Or do they all take subways except for the rich who take taxi’s?

The sun has disappeared now…setting somewhere behind the skyline.  It is colder.  Ahead I see lights, huge lighted advertisements—most of them videos.  Times Square.


February 25, 2014


My Walkabout—Part I

Headed for my first conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) I have arrived in New York City.  On our descent into the city I spot The Stature of Liberty, so I know this is it.  So much water.  So many buildings.  So many BIG buildings!  It is like taking the entire city of Minnepolis/St. Paul and turning it into one big downtown filled with IDS buildings!  I suppose that is slightly exaggerated, but only slightly.  There are a lot of freakin’ big buildings every way I twist about to look!

We land and an hour later I’m bumping along in a crowded shuttle van headed for various hotels in Manhattan.  It is lunch hour in New York, but it looks like rush hour in Minneapolis coinciding with a Vikings home game.  I wonder what “rush hour” looks like here?

Finally, downtown Manhattan.  Except, from what I can see, it’s ALL downtown.  They divide it up by calling it Lower, Mid, and Upper.  My hotel is on 42ndStreet, part of the Grand Central Terminal.  I walk in and know my credit card is in trouble.  It is a beautiful hotel.  My room on the 27th floor is sleek and modern with the most comfortable king sized bed I’ve ever slept on!  My window looks up 42ndStreet.  I can barely see the sidewalk for the people.

Unpacked and settled; time to head out for a walkabout.  It’s 2:00; the sun is shining and it’s 40 some degrees…ABOVE zero.  What a change from Duluth!  I head down 42ndStreet to 5th Avenue and per the suggestion of the concierge, turn north on 5th  heading for Rockefeller Center and then Central Park.  But, oh…there on the corner of 42nd and 5th is the famous New York City Public Library!  Oh my…I’m all about books…but, if I go in there, I won’t make it to Central Park which is 20 blocks away.

I head for Central Park.  I don’t know if I’ve ever walked on a street amongst so many people.  I’ve been at events where there were hundreds of people all crowding to get in or out but the event was never just about walking down the street, and up the street, and across the street…block after block.

There is a very tall, very thin woman ahead of me wearing a black floppy hat, an ankle length black coat of some material that allows it to billow a bit in the breeze—and red high-heeled platform shoes!  Her naked foot must be nearly a foot off the ground!  Maybe she isn’t really as tall as she seems.

I pass an old woman in a ragged coat and dirty tennis shoes hunched on the sill of a storefront step.  Yes, I noticed the plastic cup of coins she was shaking.  I keep dodging the oncoming human traffic.  My heart is suddenly as heavy as a stone and demands to know why I’m not keeping my promise.  Sighing, I steer toward the wall and stop.  After watching Change for a Dollar and helping my husband with his film, Sawubona, I promised myself I would never ignore the homeless and the beggars.  I turn back.  I drop some coins in her cup and look into her eyes as she smiles up at me.  She has two teeth missing.  I pat her shoulder and hurry on my way wondering why I get so nervous—what is so difficult about taking time to acknowledge someone who struggles?

There are a cluster of tourists on one corner all pointing their iPhones and cameras upwards at a building.  I look.  It is old stone with carvings and statues.  The building is surrounded by taller buildings of glass and steel.

By the time I get near the Rockefeller Center I am bored.  Being bored in New York City 45 minutes into my first walkabout triggers an anxiety attack.  Surely I must have made an unfortunate decision to come this way.  Surely I am missing out on something far more interesting!  I don’t have my map.  I call my husband.

“Honey, all there are are stores and more stores and tall buildings and lots and lots of people and I still have 12 blocks to go before Central Park so should I have gone a different route and am I missing anything because this is my only chance and I’m f’ing hungry and there’s only stores and…what?  I’m on 49th.  And 5th.  NO, the Rockefeller Center isn’t kitty-corner from me.  There’s just another big building.  The sign says…NO, I told you, there’s no Rockefeller Center…What?  Yeah, there’s some trees half-way down the block…OKAY, I crossed the street already, I’m over there—here…okay, walk down this plaza between the buildings?  A skating rink?  The one in the movies?  Oh…yeah, here’s the skating rink.  THAT’S the one in the movies?  Nah…it’s small and surrounded completely by walls and buildings…I don’t even know how to get down there.  And there’s like a couple hundred people skating.  Oh, what?  This is the Rockefeller Center?  What’s the big deal?  It’s boring…the skating rink looks pretty different in the photos and the movies…geesh!  So now what?  …okay… Do I keep going up to Central Park?  I know…I KNOW…I won’t have much time…but, oh hell.  I’ll figure it out.  Thanks…Bye.”