“Extra Yarn”

As someone who aspires to be a “real” writer when I grow up, I try to be an avid reader as well – to enhance my vocabulary, experience a variety of writing styles, and maintain a general awareness of what is happening in the literary world. However, since my book club has not exactly taken off here in Austin yet, and since my children occupy SO MUCH of my time, the authors on my recently-read list are more reminiscent of Silverstein and Seuss then Steinbeck and Salinger. Although, I still need to get some more mature materials back into the rotation, I’m not entirely disappointed by the deluge of picture books that flood my home after every trip to the library. I love children’s literature. I always have. As a matter of fact, the story I have been working on for longer than I care to admit is a children’s story – one that took me years to even begin writing because I didn’t want to start with an idea that had been written a hundred times before. I wanted something unique and subtle and surprising. A story with hidden layers that keep revealing themselves even after the bazillionth read (since that is how many times children usually ask you to read their favorite stories… every week). As surprising as it may seem, I think I’ve got the idea that meets this tall order, and one day I will finish it. Until then, I will leave you all to wonder about it in suspense, since this post is not about my story. (Hows that for a tease?)

This post is about another story I recently discovered that has so many of the qualities I aspire toward when writing, that it immediately became a source of inspiration and set my creative juices flowing. It is simple and beautiful, clever and subtle, and has layers upon layers of lovely messages for young people. Or it can be taken at face value and seen as just a cute little story that is accessible to even the smallest of readers. After the first time I read it, I liked it so much I was buzzing as I looked at my son and said, “That is what children’s stories are meant to be! I love it!” But I didn’t have to tell him that. He seemed as taken with it as I was – with wide eyes and a deep grin at each turn of the page. And don’t even get me started on the illustrations! So perfect.

The story is called “Extra Yarn” by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

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It is about a young girl who finds a magic box of yarn that never seems to run out.

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And she uses it to make herself and others happy.

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She presses on in spite of teasing and doubters…

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and even bribes.

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It tells how happiness cannot be bought or taken from someone else, but is something that you have to make for yourself – and definitely something to be shared.

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It is about self-assurance and contentment.

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And most of all beauty.

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If you have not already read it, please go get this book and read it to your children. If you don’t have any children, read it to yourself. What have you got to lose besides fifteen minutes of your time. Because, in my opinion, we could all use a little extra yarn.

Fighting For Fulfillment

A few minutes ago, as I was reading to Aiden before bed, I fell asleep between one page and the next. There was a long pause and Aiden asked, “Mama, why’d you stop?” My only response, “Oh, sorry, where was I?”  That is the state of exhaustion in which I find myself tonight while trying to write something insightful. I was discussing with a friend recently that every decision we make as adults seems to involve some amount of sacrifice. The question we face when making these decisions is, does the gain outweigh the loss? While in the early months of pregnancy, I find that the sacrifice for maintaining my personal goals and sanity seems to be utter exhaustion. Obviously, I believe the benefits of a stimulating conversation with a greatly missed friend till the wee hours of the morn outweigh the crushing fatigue that faces me the next day. Clearly, I think it is more important for me to keep writing consistently even when my bed is calling my name like a siren, than to wait for a refreshed and inspired moment to enlighten my readers with witty repartee. And it is certainly beneficial for me to continue reading for my book club even when sleep is crowding my vision.

But, while considering these things, I realized that this is not a unique problem of early pregnancy. My current battle may be with exhaustion, but there is always something that is encroaching on our time, energy, and commitment. We always have to fight for personal fulfillment and growth even when the activities that cultivate them sometimes feel like chores. Because without them, we stagnate. We sleep. We waste. If we are not striving to be better, even while sacrificing a certain amount of ease and comfort, then we become millstones around the necks of those we care about who are trying to grow. So keep fighting for the things that make you a better person, even when you would much rather be doing something else, because in the long run, you will find yourself changed, with a greater capacity for understanding, challenge, and new growth.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I have just finished reading an extraordinary book entitled, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” I read it for a book club that I lead once a month, but I did not select it. It was chosen by a friend of mine and I must admit, I was sceptical at first. As a matter of fact, I was still sceptical a quarter of the way in, much like one is sceptical of an odd new acquaintance that they just might like to befriend, but they’re not quite sure. Yet the story and the characters so richly developed as I made further progress, that I could not help but be swept away by the poignance, beauty, and humanity that was exhibited in it’s pages. As I began the book, I felt that there was a pervasive cynicism that would be hard to overcome for someone as deliberately optimistic as myself. The two main characters were so isolated in their own minds, that they themselves had a hard time overcoming it. But it was this change from cynicism to hope that gave the book it’s depth. It was utterly beautiful to walk beside, and actually in the very minds of these two women as they learned to believe in humanity and the endless potential hidden in some people that we are fortunate enough to really see and call friends. The story is saturated in philosophy and psychology, which can make it a bit burdensome at times, but also intellectually stimulating and enriching. Because it ends with such a worthy example of what I am trying to accomplish here in my blog, finding beauty in the little thing and using those beautiful moments as building blocks of our happiness, I thought I would share the book with my readers along with my definite stamp of approval.

“In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Renée, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated “super” to avoid suspicion from the building’s pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Renée’s observations and Paloma’s journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together. A critical success in France, the novel may strike a different chord with some readers in the U.S. The plot thins at moments and is supplanted with philosophical discourse on culture, the ruling class, and the injustices done to the poor.”
Review by Heather Paulson found on Amazon.