Thursday, May 26, 2011


For me, place is like a vine growing up through my life--the foliage is thick and it's always a tangle, but it's lush and constant, with the taproot anchored deep inside me. Other places can branch off the vine, but there's only one root. I think about place a ton, especially when I travel, even if it's only 100 miles from my house.

I live in Minnesota, and I love this place: awesome state to raise a kid, lovely scenery, great standard of living, etc. However, for the last six days I've been at the taproot--the edge of western Nebraska. It was time for my dad's auction, and that was hard but all right, but I didn't feel sad about him, at least not much. It was the place that made me hurt. What do you mean there's no reason to come back? Eeek. Tears. After all the stuff got done in my home town, I headed out to the west-West, the covered-wagon West. There was business to do, but it was mostly to return to the taproot of the taproot.

I discovered, way out there, that my great-great and great grandparents have the words "pioneers" engraved on their tombstones. Like covered wagon pioneers (btw, that's the Scotts Bluff National Monument in that photo, very cool, go visit). I've known this all my life, but it just hit me on Tuesday: people in my bloodline left their homes somewhere else to go live on a flat plain with these big, weird rocks sticking up. They yanked up their ivy and replanted it in Banner County, Nebraska. What the hell for? A new life. But what kind of life was it?

As I was sitting in the cemetery where my pioneer ancestors are buried, listening to the prairie dogs chirp at me to get the hell off their land, I pondered the space and silence. I wondered how many pioneers went crazy from all the quiet. I wondered how many of them re-read the two books they'd brought--or the 200, maybe, a covered wagon full of books. And contact with other people--how did anybody get mail (by Pony Express, I'd guess)? How many days did it take to get to a town, or to a neighbor's house? Those were strong people--a zillion times stronger than I am. No wonder the word "pioneer" means "groundbreaker" and "first of their kind". Even though I'm not that sturdy, I like knowing I'm descended from that stock. It gives me hope to be that brave.

Maybe it was the energy of the place that kept them there. The vibe in western Nebraska, even on the edge of it, where I'm from, is different. It's spacious and calm, almost like the atoms of everything are less connected. The prairie, where I live now, is dense and compact, and the atoms scurry around at high speeds. Out West, things are slower. More independent. More open. Maybe my relatives came for the free land and stayed for the fact that nobody bothers you out there. Don't know.

Love you, Minnesota, but I'm moving home someday.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pick up the joy

An actual phone conversation, me in Minnesota, other voice 485 mile away in NE:

Kirstin: Hi, my name is Kirstin, and I'd like an estimate on a whole-house cleaning plus carpet cleaning [for my dad's place, after his auction].

woman at Servicemaster, not in my hometown: Could we start with your name?

Kirstin: K-I-R . . .

woman: I know you.

Kirstin: You do?

woman: I used to work with your mother, and I used to babysit you. You sound just like your mom. I heard about your dad, and I'm so sorry.

The world is a small place--and this is the millionth time it's been brought to attention. This time around, it was me she knew. When it happened a couple weeks ago--when I called a *freaking 800 number* to change the gas payment--the woman who answered was a student of my dad's. Nebraska doesn't have a lot of degrees of separation, but still. What are the freaking odds with an 800 number?

So--after this kind woman helped me out, I talked to my husband, like really talked. We don't get to talk, because our lives are nuts. Then I saw an orchard oriole and his mate in my tree--not your everyday bird, and really beautiful besides. Then I planted flowers and filled bird feeders and ran on my treadmill (hope my boss doesn't see this post--I think today is a duty day). Other joyous things? I don't have to grade papers for three months! I get to be a writer now, and I have tons of great projects to work on. I adore my agent, my editor's thinking about my next book, and my fingers can type. My husband and child are healthy, I have amazing friends and family, and the world is still here (though it may end on May 21, beware).

It's so easy to get lost in the craziness. I do it too much. For today, I'll put down the problems and pick up the joy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Diversity in YA Fiction--smart people doing smart things

Malinda Lo is really smart, and she's an elegant writer besides. She and Cindy Pon, another brilliant YA writer, will launch the Diversity in YA Fiction tour tomorrow in San Francisco. What are they doing, exactly? Talking about how diversity works (or doesn't) in YA, talking about cultures, talking about whatever you'd like to talk about, most likely. Tomorrow's focus is Asian Americans in YA. Each tour stop highlights different cultural groups and really great books, which is the whole point, yes? YA books = flat-out awesome, and no, I'm not biased.

I wish they were coming closer to me than 8 hours away. If you're near SF, Austin TX, Chicago, Cambridge MA, NYC (twice), or San Diego, you should see them. Diversity in YA novels is something we should all care about, no matter our color or culture. There are YAers out there who care a lot, because they want to see their faces in the books they write. Can you blame them?