Blog

Katherine Paterson on Ideas

“The writer of an article about Dr. Seuss reported that at the end of an interview Theodore Geisel congratulated him for not asking the one question that people invariably ask. When the writer asked him what that one question might be, Dr. Seuss replied, “Where do you get your ideas?” “Well, all right,” said the reporter. “Where do you get your ideas?” “I’m glad you asked that,” Dr. Seuss said, and pulled out a printed card. On the card was spelled out the secret that the world pants for. It seems that on the stroke of midnight at the full moon of the summer solstice, Dr. Seuss makes an annual pilgrimage into the desert, where an ancient Native American hermit and wise man has his abode. That old Indian, Dr. Seuss declared, is the source of all of his ideas. But where the old Indian gets his ideas, he has no notion.

“Where do you get your ideas? I suppose the people who ask this question are expecting a rational, one-sentence reply. What they get from me is a rather stupid stare.”

~ Katherine Paterson, “Ideas,” October 1983

*

Katherine Paterson. The Invisible Child. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2001.

*

Image via Pixabay.

Amahl and the Night Visitors

“Adoration of the Magi,” Circle of Heironymous Bosch {{PD-ART}} 

“This is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood. You see, when I was a child I lived in Italy, and in Italy we have no Santa Claus. I suppose that Santa Claus is much too busy with American children to be able to handle Italian children as well. Our gifts were brought to us by the Three Kings, instead.

“I actually never met the Three Kings—it didn’t matter how hard my little brother and I tried to keep awake at night to catch a glimpse of the Three Royal Visitors, we would always fall asleep just before they arrived. But I do remember hearing them. I remember the weird cadence of their song in the dark distance; I remember the brittle sound of the camel’s hooves crushing the frozen snow; and I remember the mysterious tinkling of their silver bridles.

Gian Carlo Menotti. Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“My favorite king was King Melchior, because he was the oldest and had a long white beard. My brother’s favorite was King Kaspar. He insisted that this king was a little crazy and quite deaf. I don’t know why he was so positive about his being deaf. I suspect it was because dear King Kaspar never brought him all the gifts he requested. He was also rather puzzled by the fact that King Kaspar carried the myrrh, which appeared to him as a rather eccentric gift, for he never quite understood what the word meant.

“To these Three Kings I mainly owe the happy Christmas seasons of my childhood and I should have remained very grateful to them. Instead, I came to America and soon forgot all about them, for here at Christmas time one sees so many Santa Clauses scattered all over town. Then there is the big Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza, the elaborate toy windows on Fifth Avenue, the one-hundred-voice choir in Grand Central Station, the innumerable Christmas carols on radio and television—and all these things made me forget the three dear old Kings of my old childhood.

“But in 1951 I found myself in serious difficulty. I had been commissioned by the National Broadcasting Company to write an opera for television, with Christmas as deadline, and I simply didn’t have one idea in my head. One November afternoon as I was walking rather gloomily through the rooms of the Metropolitan Museum, I chanced to stop in front of the Adoration of the Kings by Hieronymus Bosch, and as I was looking at it, suddenly I heard again, coming from the distant blue hills, the weird song of the Three Kings. I then realized they had come back to me and had brought me a gift.”

 —Gian-Carlo Menotti, from the booklet with the original cast recording of Amahl and the Night Visitors

 

 

from Katherine Paterson’s “The Child in the Attic”

“This past fall I spent an afternoon talking with a group of persons who work with children at risk. The question I had asked them to help me answer was this: Why do our children turn to violence? It was a question many of us have struggled with this past year.

“These professionals were very concerned about the Internet. Today, they said, when a child behaves aggressively at school, the routine solution is expulsion. At the very time when a child is most vulnerable, most reachable, he is further isolated. Often he goes home to an empty house and spends time with violent video games or on the Internet, desperately seeking out connections, and whom does he make connections with? All too often with other desperate, isolated, self-hating individuals who confirm his belief that all his hatreds are justified and that violence is the only way to relieve his mortal pain.

“Access to the Internet is not the answer for these attic children. They need much more than that. They need much more even than access to good books. Fortunately, what they need is precisely what you can give them–and that is yourself. ‘Every child,’ said the director of the program, ‘needs a connection with a caring adult.'”

“Last month I was asked to speak to a group of teachers who would be taking their classes to see a production of the play version of Bridge to Terabithia. I spent more than an hour telling them about how the book came to be written and rewritten and then how Stephanie Tolan and I adapted it into the play their classes would see. There was the usual time of questions, at the end of which a young male teacher thanked me for my time and what I had told them that morning. ‘But I want to take something special back to my class. Can you give me some word to take back to them?’

“I was momentarily silenced. After all, I had been talking continuously for over an hour; surely he could pick out from that outpouring a word or two to take back to his students. Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut long enough to realize what I ought to say–it is what I want to say to all of you.

“‘I’m very biblically oriented,’ I said, ‘and so for me the most important thing is for the word to become flesh. I can write stories for children, and in that sense I can offer them words, but you are the word become flesh in your classroom. Society has taught our children that they are nobodies unless their faces appear on television. But by your  caring, by your showing them how important each one of them is, you become the word that I would like to share with each of them. You are that word become flesh.'”

“What I want to say to that isolated, angry, fearful child in he attic is this: You are not alone, you are not despised, you are unique and of infinite value in the human family. I can try to say this through the words of a story, but it is up to each of you to embody that hope–you are those words become flesh.”

~ Katherine Paterson, “The Child in the Attic,”
Ohio State University Children’s Literature Festival, February 2000

*

Paterson, Katherine. The Invisible Child: On Reading and Writing Books for Children. New York: Dutton’s Children’s Books, 2001.

*

Image of boy by Pexels, via Pixabay

 

The Recipe–But Nothing to Do With Cooking

Several years ago, during my annual physical exam, my doctor asked, “Do you drink?” He always asks that.

I like to give doctors accurate information, so I said, “About three glasses of wine a year.”*

He said, “You don’t drink.”

This year when asked I said, “I don’t guess I can drink since I’ve had chemo.”

He said he thought I could get away with a little.

I said I hoped so, because when I have the respiratory miseries, a stuffy head, sore throat, and heavy chest, I take a mixture of bourbon and sugar.

“Does it work?” he said.

 

Oh, yeah. It’s the only thing that works.

So I asked my oncologist’s assistant if I can have alcohol. She said Yes, and the guidelines say the acceptable amount is fourteen drinks a week.

Mercy, I thought, that’s more than I expected.

I thought about the Recipe today when I woke with a budding case of the miseries but I didn’t act on it. When the miseries increased, I thought of it again and decided to act. But having had nothing to eat today, I was reluctant.

In addition, the thought of eating three inches of sugar was off-putting. I didn’t want it, and I don’t need it, but it’s impossible to send perfectly good sugar down the drain.

So I poured the bourbon over a small bowl of frozen cherries. I didn’t cover them, because that would have been excessive. I didn’t want this post to trail off before I’d said what I have to say.

I thought about setting them on fire but David wasn’t here to extinguish them.

Cherries aren’t as sweet as I’d like, but they aren’t bad. I’m eating slowly, so the only bourbon I’ve had is what has soaked into the fruit. It’s not bad either.

As my good deed for the day, I offer the Recipe. I call it the Recipe it as an homage to the Waltons Baldwin sisters, Miss Emily and Miss Mamie, who made the Recipe, pronounced Recipi.

Ingredients

  1. 1 small mug
  2.  pure cane sugar
  3. bourbon
  4. 1 teaspoon

Directions

  1. Spoon or pour three inches or more of sugar into mug. More is better.
  2. Pour bourbon into mug until it’s about 1/4 to 1/2 inch or more above sugar. More is better.
  3. Sip bourbon.
  4. Eat sugar with teaspoon.

Result

Your throat and chest, and possibly your head, will feel better.

If you use more than the Recipe calls for, the rest of you will feel better. If you like bourbon, don’t use sugar. I don’t like bourbon.

If you have a problem with alcohol, don’t take this medicine. So far I don’t have a problem. If I drank enough of it, I would, and that’s the truth, and I know it. That’s why I drink only three glasses of wine a year, if that.

If you have a problem with sugar, don’t take this medicine. I do have a problem. That’s why I’ve switched to cherries.

Many people who have a problem with sugar also have a problem, or are likely to develop a problem, with alcohol, which my ophthalmologist calls a supersugar. I throw in that tidbit as my second good deed for the day.

I don’t know what the white specks on the cherries are, but they’re not sugar.

____________

*That’s a little more than accurate, since some years I don’t drink any, but I also like my doctor to have all the information.

**I wasn’t happy about the prospect of having unmedicated miseries.

***

 

Image of sugar from pixabay.

Image of cherries from me.

William and Ernest Make America Great. For the Second Year in a Row. In Dallas.

David and I are in Dallas for What the Fest 2 at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre, and we are officially chuffed. David’s “Invisible Men Invade Earth,” which was named Judges’ Pick in the 2017 WTF, was screened last night, first on the program–and will be shown again tonight.

What the Fest highlights films that don’t fit into any particular genre. (An understatement if there ever was one.)

Last night’s fan favorite was “Deletion,” the story of a psychiatrist who specializes in erasing patients’ memories. My favorite was “Toasted,” a look at what appliances, including a Scotch tape dispenser that handles tape about as well as I do, get up to when the master isn’t home.

Everyone in the audience received a raffle ticket for door prizes. If you let them stamp your forehead, you got an extra raffle ticket. Well, why not? David won a tote bag. Or maybe I did. I gave him my tickets to care for, and we don’t know whose number was called.

At the second intermission, girls* came around with a black light thingy and took pictures of our foreheads. Results are under Well, why not, above.

Pocket Sandwich Theatre is little and cute and specializes in melodrama, as you can tell from the carpet of popcorn on the floor.

What the Fest is my favorite of all the festivals we’ve been to, in part because little and cute also means informal–the principals say they’re a family, and they act like it. They have fun. So does the audience.

They also like David’s film. When they introduced it, they said they’d watched nine hours of submissions, and to keep themselves going throughout the arduous task, they periodically played “Invisible Men,” because it made them giggle. When we were leaving, a couple of the guys said they watch it a lot and also quote some of the lines (“Well, that sucks,” and “It is not a coincidence.”) One of the girls said she watches it with her mother.

In Austin, “Invisible Men, the story of two cats who save Earth by facing down a horde of space aliens,” and David’s other films are called weird.”** The folks in Dallas speak of “purity” and “a place of love.” In other words, it’s the kind of film you can take home to your mother, and that says a lot.

Once again, stars William and Ernest chose to stay home under the twice-a-day supervision of Charla, who feeds them, pets them, and gives William his insulin injection. They don’t like the carriers or the car, but they like Charla a lot. Charla emailed us that they’re playful.

We’re now using the wi-fi at the Denny’s next door to our hotel. The hotel’s wi-fi keeps slipping off the Internet and refuses to let me upload photos, but Denny’s is excellent.

In about four hours, we’ll head back to Pocket Sandwich Theatre to see “Invisible Men Invade Earth” and several new films. Last night, the audience started laughing before the first scene ended. I’m sure tonight’s viewers will be just as discerning.

***

*A purist would call them women, but where I come from, women that age are girls unless you’re trying to make a point.

**In Austin, weird is a compliment. I don’t know who decided Austin is weird, but “Keep Austin Weird” is right up there, or maybe above, “The Live Music Capitol of the World.” Weird may have started when Jim Franklin drew that armadillo. Oh. I just looked it up. Here’s who decided Austin is weird.

Further note: Lone Star used to be the National Beer of Texas, and I guess it still is. I haven’t seen the commercial in a long time, but there’s a video on youtube extolling its virtues.  (See link above.) According to the expert, It’s got a perfect taste that’s hard to describe.

***

 

The Maven

2018-10-20 ttm pixabay poe cc0 pd writer-17565_640Why? Because–A friend, calling to confirm David and I would meet her and her husband the next day for the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center, reported her house was being leveled for the second time in three years: “There are thirteen men under my house.”

I hooked up Edgar Allan Poe with the number thirteen and house with Usher and wrote the following verse. Halloween approaches, so I’m posting it again.

Note: Tuck and Abby are my friends’ dogs.

Another note: Maven means expert. I looked it up to make sure.

THE MAVEN

To G. and M. in celebration
of their tenth trimester
of home improvement,
with  affection.
Forgive me for making
mirth of melancholy.

 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a rapping,

As of someone gently tapping, tapping at my chamber floor.

“‘Tis some armadillo,” said I, “tapping at my chamber floor,

Only this, and nothing more.”

 

 

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the dry September,

And my house was sinking southward, lower than my bowling score,

Pier and beam and blocks of concrete, quiet as Deuteron’my’s cat feet,

Drooping like an unstarched bedsheet toward the planet’s molten core.

“That poor armadillo,” thought I, “choosing my house to explore.

He’ll squash like an accordion door.”

 

 

“Tuck,” I cried, “and Abby, come here! If my sanity you hold dear,

Go and get that armadillo, on him all your rancor pour.

While he’s bumping and a-thumping, give his rear a royal whumping,

Send him hence with head a-lumping, for this noise do I abhor.

Dasypus novemcinctus is not a beast I can ignore

Clumping ‘neath my chamber floor.”

 

While they stood there prancing, fretting, I imparted one last petting,

Loosed their leashes and cried “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war.

As they flew out, charged with venom, I pulled close my robe of denim.

“They will find him at a minimum,” I said, “and surely more,

Give him such a mighty whacking he’ll renounce forevermore

Lumbering ‘neath my chamber floor.”

 

 

But to my surprise and wonder, dogs came flying back like thunder.

“That’s no armadillo milling underneath your chamber floor.

Just a man with rule and level, seems engaged in mindless revel,

Crawling round. The wretched devil is someone we’ve seen before,

Measuring once and measuring twice and measuring thrice. We said, ‘Señor,

Get thee out or thee’s done for.'”

 

“Zounds!” I shouted, turning scarlet. “What is this, some vill’nous varlet

Who has come to torment me with mem’ries of my tilting floor?”

Fixing myself at my station by my floundering foundation,

Held I up the quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

“Out, you cad!” I said, “or else prepare to sleep beneath my floor,

Nameless there forever more.”

 

Ere my words had ceased resounding, with their echo still surrounding,

Crawled he out, saluted, and spoke words that chilled my very core.

“I been down there with my level, and those piers got quite a bevel.

It’s a case of major evolution: totter, tilt galore.

Gotta fix it right away, ma’am, ‘less you want your chamber floor

At a slant forevermore.”

 

At his words there came a pounding and a dozen men came bounding

From his pickup, and they dropped and disappeared beneath my floor.

And they carried beam and hammer and observed no rules of grammar,

And the air was filled with clamor and a clanging I deplore.

“Take thy beam and take thy level and thy failing Apgar score

And begone forevermore.”

 

 

But they would not heed my prayer, and their braying filled the air,

And it filled me with despair, this brouhaha that I deplore.

“Fiend!” I said. “If you had breeding, you would listen to my pleading,

For I feel my mind seceding from its sane and sober core,

And my house shall fall like Usher.” Said the leader of the corps,

“Lady, you got no rapport.”

 

“How long,” shrieked I then in horror, “like an ominous elm borer,

Like a squirrely acorn storer will you lurk beneath my floor?

Prophesy!” I cried, undaunted by the chutzpah that he flaunted,

And the expertise he vaunted. “Tell me, tell me, how much more?”

But he strutted and he swaggered like a man who knows the score.

Quoth the maven, “Evermore.”

 

He went off to join his legion in my house’s nether region

While my dogs looked on in sorrow at that dubious guarantor.

Then withdrawing from this vassal with his temperament so facile

I went back into my castle and I locked my chamber door.

“On the morrow, they’ll not leave me, but will lodge beneath my floor

Winter, spring, forevermore.”

 

So the hammering and the clamoring and the yapping, yawping yammering

And the shrieking, squawking stammering still are sounding ‘neath my floor.

And I sit here sullen, slumping in my chair, and dream the thumping

And the armadillo’s bumping is a sound I could adore.

For those soles of boots from out the crawlspace ‘neath my chamber floor

Shall be lifted—Nevermore!