Saturday, January 23, 2010


Working on my novel, I'm writing a scene where two of the sisters are discussing their Thanksgivings. They're talking about playing cards; my family nearly always played cards whenever we got together. The family game that we played at my grandmother's house was Schmier, a game that no one I've ever met has heard of, much less played. I was considering sticking it into my novel, and googled it--it turns out to be a regional card game, played primarily in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario. Who knew? I love the internet. Thank you,!

Not surprisingly, I grew up playing the northeastern Wisconsin variation, though in western Wisconsin--Eau Claire, to be exact. Maybe that's why we kept the two in the deck and threw out the seven and the eight; that's the western Wisconsin variation. The guy who submitted the northeastern Wisconsin rules also called it Smear. I never spelled it any way at all, but I think it's said with the schm. Though I'll ask family, and they may or may not agree.

My novel is more or less set in a variation on upstate New York, so I guess they'll be playing something else.

Now go write, Elissa.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A very minor rant.

My word of the day is poetical.

I looked it up, thinking "Is this even a word? Why not just poetic?"

It is a word: 1: poetic 2 : being beyond or above the truth of history or nature: idealized

It came up because I was having a hard time working on my novel this morning, so I started writing about my recent frustrations with coffee shop art and particularly the bird motif that will not die. This first took the form of suggestions for dinosaur art: Big scary dinosaurs, too—not cute little ones. Dinosaur mobils that have to be hung on foot-long spikes drilled into the ceiling with some kind of special high-tech device.

From there I decided: I want to see earthquake art, upheaval. Not the tragic kind we’re used to, with the cute kids, but bigger scale. I am tired of the scale of the coffee shop art. Photos can be amazing, but can we mix that up and go beyond the comfortable efficient print? Fill a wall.

Except then it looks like an advertisement.

So dinosaurs. Dinosaurs will solve this problem. Or how about crossword puzzles? Without clues? So you just fill in a word, as long as it is the right length, and someone else can fill in the next word, as long as it is the right length and has a letter in the right spot. Interactive art. Hopefully poetical somehow.

That's all I've got so far. Tired this morning.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I was trying to describe how a friend has been feeling lately--I wanted to say that she seemed like she was at odds with herself. But then I wondered if you can say that. Can you use at odds that way? And as happens when you think too hard about a word or expression, it stopped making sense at all, and I wondered if I really knew what it meant. So I googled it.

The first thing listed was from "If you are at odds with someone, you cannot agree with them and argue."

This reassured me that I did know what it meant. But I also took note: is not an ESL resource I'll want to recommend to students.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Estate Sale, Peacock Lane

Stopped by an estate sale today--it was on Peacock Lane, I couldn't resist.

It was much scarier than anticipated. I expected to see some Christmas stuff, but this woman had enough Christmas stuff to last year-round, and there actually weren't any dishes in the kitchen that weren't Christmas-themed. There were two life-size Santas (one "farmer Santa"--I forget who the other one was--I didn't start taking notes until I got upstairs) on the first floor, "Santa's chair" in the garage, and I don't remember everything else--though there were those original portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Santa hanging in the front bedroom.

This lady also collected Princess Diana memorabilia (on one of the beds upstairs was a copy of The Oregonian from the day Di died), Mickey Mouse stuff (my favorite thing in the house might have been the curtains in the stairway window, which were made from an old set of Disney sheets), carousel themed stuff (including a pair of mechanical toy horses that you'd pay a quarter to ride on in front of the grocery store), mannequins (there were maybe fifteen to twenty throughout the basement and upstairs, including many child mannequins, almost all dressed, and mostly from the sixties and earlier, I'd guess--all creepy, of course), and dolls. There were so many dolls, on the beds, displayed everywhere on countertops and dressers, piled in baby carriages and posed in doll beds... There were probably ten antique wooden baby carriages in the basement, all with dolls in them. There was also so much doll furniture, for dollhouse dolls and bigger dolls too. I remember at least four dollhouses, too--several Santa themed, but dollhouses nonetheless. Also in an upstairs bedroom was a lamp like the one in A Christmas Story: high heel, fishnets, and all.

It took me an hour to go through the whole house. The basement, first floor, and upstairs were all so full of stuff that I wondered how much junk they'd had to clear out just to hold the sale. I was nearly finished when a woman and I were speculating about how long she must have lived there to accumulate all that stuff--and another man told us he lived on the block, and the woman who lived there had been there for only three years. We decided she must have been waiting all her life to move to Peacock Lane.

More about John Proctor

Reading students' essays, I'm so fascinated by how they synthesize the material we read with their own experiences and corresponding points of view. This excerpt from a student essay on The Crucible by a student who is an English language learner (ELL/ESL) made me so proud of her. She understood and connected with the main character in a way that showed me not only how hard she'd worked to overcome language barriers, but also that she really made an effort to relate to him and understand the choices he made. I'm not saying this well--but yeah, her essay, and especially this line from her conclusion, made me very happy. “I admired John Proctor, because no one wants to die, because he didn’t maked the same mistake again with Abigail, because he preffered to save his name, and because after all, he had a stable family, and because he was the main character, and was a good man.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

Literary Analysis: Abigail in The Crucible, examined by a modern-day teenage girl

The assignment was:
Literary analysis of a main character in The Crucible, examining their conflicts, motivations, significant actions/decisions, changes and discoveries.

From a student's essay:
“Abigail has a lot of motivations and decisions to do with what she does. For example, John motivated her sexually, from having the affair.” The student goes on to say, “It made her fall in love with him, so that love motivated her to plan the killing of Elizabeth.”

I am especially fascinated by “John motivated her sexually." The way the sentence is constructed, the significance of the adverb... Also, it’s an interesting analysis/projection of the sequence of events in this relationship between a farmer and his housemaid in 17th c. Salem. By a 21st c. teenage girl.

Friday, January 1, 2010

More about families

In another post to the child lit listserv, librarian and professor Sarah Park brought up a book that sounded interesting to me, Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children's Fiction. My library doesn't have it, but I plan to track it down somehow. Park's work also sounded interesting to me, and I visited her blog, read through her recent blog posts (and watched this video twice, joyously),

then read what she had to say about depictions of adoption in children's literature and followed a link to her friend's Open Letter to Potential Children's Book Authors which I don't entirely agree with--I think many of the tropes she dismisses in children's fiction are not direct metaphors attempting to justify transracial adoption, but reflect more general ideas about nontraditional families--but which does make a lot of great points. And there were other things on her blog that I thought were completely awesome. She has a lot of ideas about adoptive parents' responsibilities, and this post on "Drive-By Culture" makes so much sense, as does her "Adoptive Parents - Be Our [transracial adoptees] Ally" post with specific suggestions. She also links to another blog written by the white adoptive mother of an Indian daughter, "why we go to culture school,", which I found very moving, funny, and thoughtful. Her self-deprecation and self-awareness are touching and inspiring.

So those are some things I'm thinking about, on this first day of 2010. Some topics affecting many people I know, whether as adoptees, parents, friends, teachers, neighbors... and more ways our questions about race and community and family and relationships manifest in this world we live in.