Photoautotrophic Wisdom

Weed I Won’t Pull

 

Some hardship curved it into

a green ampersand. Tendrils sprout

along a resolute stem.

I want to lean close, ask

for some photoautotrophic wisdom.

Listen to the soil’s bacterial choir.

Convert to the worship

plants have practiced since the Beginning.

Laura Grace Weldon

Originally published in The Moon Magazine. Find more poems in my collection, Tending.

Keeping Playfulness Alive Into Teen Years

“When we play, we sense no limitations. In fact, when we are playing we are usually unaware of ourselves. Self-observation goes out the window. We forget…our potential foolishness, forget ourselves. We immerse ourselves in the act of play. And we become free.” ~Lenore Terr

Every other Saturday morning a talkative gaggle of 10 to 14-year-olds get together to create, stage, and film stories they’ve written. Today’s session is taking place on a rainy day in Hailey’s basement where the kids have plenty of room. Hailey’s cousins Dylan and Luke are the prop masters. The boys get what they need from a suitcase packed with hats, belts, jewelry, wallets, stick-on tattoos, sunglasses, a police badge, fake nails, and a few masks. A bigger suitcase will probably be necessary because they keep accumulating props.

Hailey’s dad, Jason, says he found the idea a few years ago in my book Free Range Learning and his daughter took off with it, inviting her cousins and friends to give a playwrights’ group a try. (Here’s more info on starting interest-based groups.)

The group didn’t start off all that smoothly. The kids seemed stymied about how to proceed and argued about whose ideas were best. The adults avoided intervening, instead leaving the young playwrights to their own devices. At first the kids decided to keep a list of proposed characters and plots, voting which to use. After a while they dropped the list because fresh ideas kept coming. They still argue sometimes while jockeying to better promote their opinions. (Those verbal tussles are actually an important part of gaining social skills.) Jason says they’ve learned to combine ideas and now more graciously share the glory with each other.

During their first year together the kids would agree on a rough story line, then act it out with improvised lines and actions. They’d climb up the backyard slide to elude kidnappers and perish in dramatically extended death throes, these scenes often mixed into incongruous plots like an underwater fashion show gone wrong. Their audience, mostly parents and grandparents, reliably applauded.

The last two years they’ve developed a more sophisticated process. They write scripts and practice them a few times, work on costumes and staging, set up lighting, then film their performances. They edit the videos to include music and credits. They’re so enthralled by devising and acting out stories that they’re frequently in touch with each other nearly between sessions, eagerly planning and honing their ideas. Recently their parents agreed to let them stay for longer sessions. Now all eight kids in the group arrive with packed lunches so they can work until through the afternoon.

Part of the pain of preteen and adolescent years has to do with a loss of playfulness. Too soon they leave behind the delights of play for a peer culture where being accepted often depends on superficial standards of attractiveness and popularity. Kids feel as if they’re under constant scrutiny by others in their age group; judged by how they look, what they own, what they say and do. When play is stripped away by the pressures of schoolwork and fitting in, something vital is lost.

Some kids manage to keep enthusiasm-friendly spaces in their lives where they’re free to be playful well into their teens. They may find the right circumstances in summer camps, school clubs, music groups, community theater, choir, volunteer programs, youth groups, and pick-up games. Sometimes they’re able to let themselves be playful when they’ve traveled to a new place. Sometimes they look forward to extended family get-togethers where they can hang out with younger relatives.

When I asked online for stories about play-friendly preteen and teen experiences I got all sorts of responses.

Many people said getting together with a specific intent enabled them to indulge in playfulness.

Jennifer Tejada: “My drama club was very helpful, assignments that required playfulness being the great equalizer among students.”

Malik: “There was nowhere to be myself until I started rapping with a few other guys. We let loose all our frustrations and aggravations, and it was like that freed us up to laugh like we’d never laughed before. I didn’t let it go at school or in the neighborhood but with those guys, rapping, I could be myself.”

Some describe a place that gave them the freedom to be playful and expressive. 

Cait : After school, in my middle school and high school years, I would go with my neighborhood friends (all ages, all different cliques) and walk in the conservation land that bordered our property. We would make forts, and as we got older we called them ‘nooks’ because forts were so passé. We would go on adventures, tell stories, climb trees…

And sometimes, play-safe places meant a break from daily routines.

Denise Bowman: “For me it was when I was away from peers, doing a trip with my mom. On vacation, away from home, with just us, I was much more able to engage in playfulness and not be so concerned on how I was ‘coming across.'”

Darren: “I lived for summer camp. For three summers, starting when I was 13, I went to a math camp at an urban college. I showed up nervous, acting like I didn’t care, wham, into a totally different world. I met kids from different countries, kids who were gay, kids who were aspies, all of us math geeks. We had fun I experienced nowhere else. When I’m down all I have to do is remember staying up all night to make a math tower (don’t ask) as a joke for our favorite instructor.”

Over the phone I can hear conversation and laughter spilling over in Hailey’s basement. The preteens have invited a few of their younger siblings to play roles in a production they’re calling “Clones, Inc.” Hailey’s dad Jason says the kids have coated Hailey’s toddler brother with lotion so he’ll look like a “freshly hatched” baby clone. Jason is surprised how eager the two-year-old is to comply. When he’s with the older kids, this toddler demonstrates far more patience than he normally does, even delivering the one line they’ve given him over and over till it’s just right.

Jason, who retreats upstairs to finish our call, says he can tell when they’re filming. The hubbub of enthusiasm gives way to expectant quiet that, even a floor away, sounds full of promise.

Interview: Math Is Child’s Play

One autumn afternoon, the kids who normally rush inside to participate in math circle activities with Maria Droujkova lingered outdoors instead. She discovered them sitting in a large pile of leaves under an oak tree. There the 5- to 7-year-olds were speculating how many leaves were on the ground. Counting them one by one proved futile. So Maria helped the children pile leaves into groups of ten, then measure out 100 piles of 10, fitting them into a small box. Filling that box ten times and then emptying the leaves in a pot gave them approximately 10,000. Ten of those pots filled with leaves fit into a recycling container, for an approximate count of 100,000 leaves. After the kids filled the recycling container 10 times (handily emptying it into a compost pile) they could reasonably estimate that about a million oak leaves had been on the ground.

Maria says the kids were expansive throughout, full of questions and theories, and “kept that first charge of joy from the sun and the leaves for the whole hour.” They never did get back indoors to take part in the activity she’d planned.

Maria is an innovative math educator. She is an expert in building natural mathematical understanding from the earliest years on up through hands-on, open-ended activities. The collaborative site she founded, Natural Math, is dedicated to sharing play-based, deep-inquiry math endeavors through all sorts of resources that empower parents, teachers, and kids to make their own mathematics. Foremost is a series of project-based books for families and math circles. The first title is Moebius Noodles: Adventurous Math for the Playground Crowd, aimed at children from toddlerhood to five years old. The book’s delights include robot commands and mirror books.

Now with eight titles published and more in progress, the newest book offered is Funville Adventures by A.O Fradkin and A.B. Bishop.  Funville Adventures takes readers along with nine-year-old Emmy and her five-year-old brother Leo to a magical place where beings have the power to transform objects. One never knows when something will be shrunk, copied, erased, even turned into an elephant. The sibling have fun creatively solving problems and learning a thing or two about themselves in the process. The book seems like a fairy tale, yet the powers of the Funvillians are a vehicle for introducing children to the concept of functions. Each power corresponds to a transformation such as doubling in size, rotating, copying, or changing color. The authors bring their own math “powers” to the story. Here’s a little about the co-authors.

Dr. Sasha Fradkin has loved math from an early age, and seeks to share that love of math with others. After receiving her PhD in mathematics from Princeton University, she worked for several years as a professional mathematician and taught enrichment math at the Golden Key Russian School to children ages 4-10. Last year, Sasha became the Head of Math at the Main Line Classical Academy, an elementary school in Bryn Mawr, PA. She develops their math curriculum and teaches children in grades K-5. She writes a blog about her teaching as well as various math adventures with her two daughters, and enjoys pondering about exciting and engaging ways to present the beauty of mathematics to young children.

Dr. Allison Bishop grew up with a passion for writing, and initially disliked math because it was presented as formulaic. She belatedly discovered the creative side of mathematics and science, and now sees it as a vital component of the curiosity that drives her life. She is currently a professor of computer science at Columbia University as well as a quantitative researcher at the Investors Exchange. She remains an avid fiction enthusiast and writer, and is always seeking new ways to expose young minds to creative mathematical thinking and fuel their scientific curiosity.

The paradigm in math education is shifting.

Let’s find out more in an interview with Sasha, Allison, and Maria.

Laura: Can you tell us a bit of your own story and what led you to this work? 

Maria: My story keeps changing. Growth requires better stories, right? It used to be about me, a little girl from a little Ukrainian town who wanted to be a scientist like the cool sci-fi characters, when she grows up. Now I am also a parent, a teacher, and a community organizer, and my story is about many people. It is a story about people’s access to real math and science.

I work on helping my young friends and their adults be mathematicians – not when they grow up, but here, now, in their own ways. Let’s say we make functions and functionals into fantastic creatures that five-year-olds find friendly enough. That’s what Funville Adventures is all about. What other groups of people now gain access to this abstract algebra? Maybe math-phobic adults, or those working in their second language, or people with learning disabilities? Maybe tired people who work long hours and only have a bit of time late at night? That dream of radical access to math is what’s guiding my projects.

Sasha: Growing up, I loved the math puzzles that my dad shared with me but found most of my math classes in school dry and repetitive.  I was determined to share the exciting and creative side of math with my children and their friends from an early age. My older daughter, who loves turning everything into a story, inspired me to think about presenting math through storytelling and that is how the idea for Funville Adventures was born.

Allison: As a young student, I loved creative writing and hated math because it seemed too formulaic. I want to help kids discover the creative side of mathematics and science at an earlier age than I did.

Laura: Let’s start with Moebius Noodles. In the introduction, math is described as an exciting and enticingly exotic adventure that’s too often simplified into rote busy work. “It is as tragic as if parents were to read nothing but the alphabet to children, until they are ‘ready’ for something more complex. Or if kids had to learn ‘The Itsy-Bitsy Spider’ by heart before being allowed to listen to any more involved music.” Tell us more about natural math.

Maria: Natural Math is about people making mathematics their own, by posing their own problems, pursuing their own projects, and remixing other people’s activities in personally meaningful ways. We believe that “learning math” means two things—developing mathematical state of mind and acquiring mathematical skills. The question of how to mix skills and concepts in learning programs is very complex, and the debates are hot among researchers, parents, and curriculum developers. The Natural Math path integrates the two in the following ways.

Within each context of mathematics, we start with open free play, with inspiring prompts and ideas that gently help children make patterns and rules. This is the stage where concepts are born, grounded in embodied experiences. When kids doodle fractal hands or stick their noses inside mirror books to peek into kaleidoscope wonderlands, they are playing freely at first. Then children begin to notice, tweak, remix mathematical patterns, and we help them formulate and name their math. Fractals have levels, and the number of objects at the third level is traditionally called “the third power”—but kids often name these tiny objects “grandchildren” of the first-level object. At this stage of “patterning” children hone their skills, because they need more precision and structure to carry on the patterns. You could ask a kid at this stage to show you 3 x 4 with the mirror book (possibly using kid’s own terms), and you’ll see mirrors at the 90-degree angle with 3 action figures inside.

The infinite road to mathematical mastery is in comparing, contrasting, and organizing these mathematical patterns, and building structures out of patterns. For example, could you connect fractal with mirror book patterns? You can, if you used two mirror books in front of one another to introduce scale into reflections.

Laura: Maria, you were featured in a popular article in The Atlantic titled “5-Year-Olds Can learn Calculus.” In it you explain that math instruction traditionally follows a hierarchical progression that, as you say, “Has nothing to do with how people think, how children grow and learn, or how mathematics is built.” You point out that the standard curriculum starts out with arithmetic which is actually more difficult for children than play-based activities based on more advanced fields of mathematics. You’re quoted as saying,  “Calculations kids are forced to do are often so developmentally inappropriate, the experience amounts to torture.”  How do books like Funville Adventures approach math differently?

Maria: Stories, pretend-play, and imagination! These are keys to growth. Let’s hear more from Funville authors.

Sasha and Allison: In Funville, kids will encounter math under the surface of an engaging story, which will naturally appeal to some kids who might not connect with the more traditional way that mathematics is often taught. Readers will see examples of problem-solving throughout the narrative, and will have plenty of material as a jumping off point to invent their own characters and stories. Since many kids love coming up with stories already, linking mathematical functions to “powers” that characters can have presents them with a new opportunity to interact with math through storytelling.

Laura: Bringing autonomy and fun to math is revolutionary in an era when parents feel pressured to push math on even the smallest kids via apps, educational toys, and academic preschools. Your books and Pinterest page offer wonderful ideas. Please give us a few examples of advanced yet playful math for kids of different ages.

Maria: Most parents we talk to, including the ones who work in STEM fields, tell us that their math education wasn’t satisfying. They want their kids to have something better: to see mathematics as beautiful, meaningful, and useful, and not to suffer from math anxiety and defeat. The two major ways the markets respond to these worries and dreams are via edutainment toys and games, and private early teaching in academic settings.

We suggest a different approach, centered on families and communities. We introduce advanced math through free play. Formal academic environments or skill-training software can’t support free play, but friends and family can.

Mathematics is about noticing patterns and making rules that describe and predict these patterns. Observe children playing in a sandbox. At first it doesn’t look meaningful. But in a little while kids make up elaborate stories, develop a set of rules, and plan for what’s going to happen next. In a sense, what we do with math is setting up sandboxes where particular types of mathematical play can grow and emerge.

Sasha and Allison: The concept of functions is very fundamental and can be studies/played with on many different levels, starting at a very young age. After reading Funville Adventures, children can play games such as “Guess My Power” where one person comes up with a power and others try to guess it by asking for outputs for given inputs and/or by asking questions about the characteristics of the underlying function such as: Is it invertible? What is the domain? Is it periodic?

Here are more examples:

  • Logic puzzles: Both of us really enjoyed engaging with problem-solving through logic puzzles when we were in elementary and middle school.
  • Sports math: A kid who likes to watch or play a particular sport might be encouraged to discover patterns in the many numbers and statistics surrounding it. Certain point totals in football are much more common than others – why? How many ways can one reach a score like 21? If two baseball teams are evenly matched and play n games, how close to n/2 do you expect the win totals to be and why?
  • Patterns in music and art: Older kids who like music can learn about the basic patterns of chords underlying popular songs. Children can learn the mathematics of juggling patterns, or how to make art based on fractals or tiling.
  • Estimation: Kids of many ages can learn through experiments how to estimate quantities like Pi, or how to guess how many M&Ms are in a jar. They can then learn how to extrapolate estimations to quantities they can’t test experimentally, like how many cars are in a city, or how many workers it should take to do a census, etc.

Laura: On NaturalMath.com, you write about a community of people sharing naturally math-rich and meaningful activities for children from babyhood on. We’d love to hear about math circles and what you mean by math communities.

Maria: It takes friendly local people to support mathematical free play: to provide inspiring prompts, to get the action going, and to know when to stand aside and let kids explore on their own. Making, collecting, and remixing patterns depends on other pattern-drafters even more. Parents and teachers need to meet like-minded people to share ideas and encouragement. That brings us to math playdates and math circles.

There are quite a few math circles for middle and high school students, for example, in the National Association of Math Circles.  It’s harder to find math circles for younger kids, or toddler and parent playgroups. Each circle develops its own flavor, and its own lore—the little patterns of play, sayings, and favorite activities. Some of these treasures have to stay local and intimate, but we believe the ideas, experiences, questions and answers could be shared more broadly. NAMC math circle conferences, Julia Robinson festivals, or the Natural Math network called 1001 Math Circles help local leaders grow together.

Laura: Tell us about the Creative Commons nature of Natural Math books.  

Maria: We need this openness, because families, math circles, and other groups in our community are very diverse. Some use the activities as is, but the point is to change, remix, translate, and modify everything to better fit each unique situation.

Storytelling and pretend-play are modifications almost everyone uses. We believe in compelling reasons behind each math activity, but what story is compelling depends on the child. Parents and caregivers change settings and characters: a function machine can be used to magically grow and shrink heroes in a fairy tale, or it can provide enough feed for animals of different sizes at a zoo, or it can fuel starships in a sci-fi setting.

Another modification is about tools and media. Our original activity might call for painting, but kids who don’t like to paint can use clay, or building blocks, or flower arrangements. We try to give specific hints for different media, for example that a symmetry activity requires a lot of folds, so you are better off with thin paper. But we want everyone to experiment on their own, like in this large crowd-sourced collection of multiplication towers.

After Funville Adventures came out, readers started to create fan stories and art about their own Funvillians. For example, Dylan has a tall hairdo and too-long shirt because his power is dilation. You can see some of fan works in the book’s web tour.

Laura: All sorts of projects are in the works through the community incubator, where teams of authors develop books with crowd-sourced input. Tell us more about this approach and other Natural Math books we can read, use, and share.

Maria: We developed a community support mechanism for producing Moebius Noodles. It boosted the book’s quality, and was a source of morale to us, so we kept it going to help other authors with their projects. The idea is to grow books in the nurturing ecosystem of people who care. Two to three coauthors, or else an author with a developmental editor, make the first draft. That stage is intense and private: brainstorming, building, bouncing ideas. Then a few more like-minded colleagues, who work on similar ideas themselves, join as advisors and reviewers. With their feedback, the draft is ready for “beta reader circle”—a more open field test of activities from the book by parents and teachers, sometimes combined with crowd-funding. More revisions, more discussions with other Natural Math writers and readers—and the book is ready to go out to everyone. We see publishing as a gradual, participatory, ongoing process where ideas grow more and more accessible to wider and wider public.

Our newest book created with this model is Math Renaissance: Growing Math Circles, Changing Classrooms, and Creating Sustainable Math Education by Rodi and Rachel Steinig. It is for teachers and parents of children ages six and up. The authors share their insights on how math experience might be improved at home, school, and math circle.

Check out other Natural Math books at the web site.

Funville Adventures by A.O Fradkin and A.B. Bishop

Avoid Hard Work! … And Other Encouraging Problem-Solving Tips for the Young, the Very Young, and the Young at Heart by Maria Droujkova, James Tanton, and Yelena McManaman

Socks Are Like Pants, Cats Are Like Dogs: Games, Puzzles, and Activities for Choosing, Identifying, and Sorting Math by Malke Rosenfeld and Gordon Hamilton.

Playing with Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers  edited by Sue VanHattum

Bright, Brave, Open Minds: Engaging Young Children in Math Inquiry  by Julia Brodsky

Camp Logic: A Week of Logic Games and Activities for Young People by Mark Saul and Sian Zelbo

Moebius Noodles: Adventurous Math for the Playground Crowd  by Yelena McManaman and Maria Droujkova

Here’s to more math adventures!

30+ Book Nerd Delights

book nerd, book bucket list,

How many of these do you want to do? Have many have you done? 

Create a hidden room behind a book shelf.

Take a photo of a book title that perfectly epitomizes your day and share on social media.

Read in a cozy retreat like a hammock, tent, yurt, tree fort, whatever sounds cozy to you.

Pay attention to Library Angels. This is the name given to reading materials you aren’t looking for that somehow appear in your life and turn out to be exactly what you need. Here’s a peek at the strange history of book synchronicity.

Regularly exult in the wonder of libraries. In case you’re not aware, library drinking fountains dispense magic water. Really, try it.

When traveling, make a point of visiting an area library. For incentive, here are some of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

Leave a Post It note to the next reader of a library book.  Maybe a simple, “Dear Next Reader, I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.  warmly, Previous Reader.”

Name a child after a literary character or author. There are plenty of lists online like FlavorwireMomJunction, and Babble but chances are, your name and the names of your family members have probably already shown up in literature. Just do a search for “name fictional character.” (My kids’ names are found in the classics, in Star Wars, and in video games although we actually chose names that seemed wise and gentle.)

Bestow literary names elsewhere in your life. When I was a kid, my pink bike was named after a fictional horse. Over the years we’ve given cows, chickens, and dogs some lofty monikers. I tend to name things around the house too, like our vacuum and our kefir starter…

As you read, drink what the characters are drinking in the book.  Local microbrew with Bill McKibben’s Radio Free Vermont, gin with Anne Patchett’s Commonwealth, locally made wine with any of the Inspector Bruno mystery series by Martin Walker, Prosecco  with Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series of novels, hot chocolate mixed with a hint of hot pepper with Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.

Start or join a book club. If you have time, don’t limit yourself to one.

Indulge in poetry-infused movies and movies about writers.

Savor quotes from your favorite books by copying them onto a plate or mughand printing them on a scarf, or writing them on a shirt using a bleach pen.

Go to book fairs. They’re available in every state of the U.S.  and around the world.

Reread a favorite childhood book to figure out how it shaped your life. (I’m pretty sure The Secret Garden saved me.)

Go to a workshop offered by an author you admire.

Go through a book shelf and donate high quality volumes you no longer want to your local library or an area women’s shelter. Or ship them to Books for SoldiersBooks for Africa, or Reader to Reader. (Huzzah, you’ve just given yourself space for more books.)

Try the read and release method with BookCrossings. Once you’ve read and enjoyed a book, simply go online to print out a label, then leave your book in a public place like a coffee shop, playground, or waiting room. The label assures others the book is free to anyone interested. The label also contains a code so readers can track and follow books as they are read, discussed, and released again elsewhere in the world. Currently, nearly 12 million books are traveling through 132 countries.

Make a composition book cover or try simple bookbinding.

Read under a tree or in a tree or anywhere in nature that inspires you.

Stay up all night to finish a book.

Buy a copy of a book you appreciated and send it to a friend, just because. Do this often.

Whenever possible, buy your books from local brick and mortar bookstores. And get to know the people who work there, they’ll have excellent book suggestions. (But beware. I was thrilled to see a bookstore open not far from me. Although it quacks like a bookstore, it doesn’t act like one. It has lots of local authors and locally made bookish crafts with a token array of bestsellers, but it turns out the owner charges “partners” a non-refundable application fee of $75 to have their book or products sold there for a limited period of time. I cannot imagine what will happen to authors if such a model becomes commonplace.)

When you buy books online, consider steering your dollars to an ethical business or non-profit like Better World Books  or Biblio.

Eat what characters are eating in the book. Thick inviting sourdough bread while reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan, hot fish and corn muffins while reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, authentic bird’s nest soup while reading The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang,  peanut butter bar cookies topped with chocolate while reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest  by J. Ryan Stradal, nachos with cheese sauce while reading The Nix by Nathan Hill, a hearty sandwich of the sort served at The Bistro, in nearly any of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache Series (sign up here to get a free download of Three Pines recipes).

Read in the tub. Or a pool. Or the ocean.

When you travel, read a book set in your destination. Heading to San Francisco? Try  The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: A Novel of Robert Louis Stevenson by Brian Doyle.  Off to a small town in Wisconsin? Read Jewelweed by David Rhodes. New York City? Try Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.

Shape snacks that look like books out of fruit leather, honey, and chocolate.

Or heck, help your area library or bookstore run an Edible Book Festival.  Here are some images from the annual festival at Cleveland’s own Loganberry Books.

Cancel plans, then read.

Make altered books.

Connect with your favorite authors on social media. Link to them with a meaningful quote or the way their work changed your outlook. Want more suggestions for showing authors your love? Here are 17 ways.

Let what you read inspire your own work. As Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist says,  “Read deeply. Stay open. Continue to wonder.”

Superhero Plunge

My mother was born much too late to be a Victorian but she never once, in all the time I knew her, wore anything but a dress. No pants, no jeans, certainly no shorts. An earlier era’s propriety had its grip on her. (She was also affectionate, occasionally hilarious, and a wonderful storyteller.)

Because of my mother’s preoccupation with politeness, I was raised in a family where anything related to human elimination went unspoken. (For example, intestinal gas was neither heard nor discussed. Only once, when behind a closed door we heard my father’s gas amplified by the toilet bowl, did my mother acknowledge it, saying, “Poor Daddy doesn’t feel well.” We all hung our heads to acknowledge misery so great it could be heard.)

Still, the shadow wants to be known. Perhaps that’s why our bathroom rebelled. Faucets leaked and toilets gurgled in the night as if ghostly hands pulled on the handles. And far too often, the toilet seemed unwilling to swallow our refuse. A few wipes, a flush, and suddenly the angry toilet’s water would rise in an increasingly threatening manner to tremble at the top of the bowl. Sometimes, sheets of water cascaded onto the clean tile floor. I developed a terror of mutinous toilets pretty early in life.

The plunger was of no use to me because, as a child, I didn’t have enough arm strength to create the necessary suction. I learned to grab the toilet brush and clear the toilet’s unwilling throat any time it seemed to swirl a moment longer than usual.  If that didn’t work, I’d cry out in desperation, “Mom, the toilet is overflowing!”

Keep in mind, before I was in first grade, my mother taught me to set a proper table with salad fork, entrée fork, table knife, butter knife, and spoon. She taught me to “sit like a lady” when company visited. She taught me to write thank you notes; always say “please” and “thank you;” and when treated badly, to “kill them with kindness.”

But she was no cliché. My mother broke records in school with her high grades. She broke rules as an RN to better serve her patients. And when our toilet threatened to overflow, my mother morphed into some kind of superhero. No matter where in the house she was, she responded to my cry before I finished the first syllable. I swear she flew through the air, arriving in time to grab the plunger and heartily convince the toilet to behave itself.

(In her last years, she used a walker to get around. Even then, my children were amazed to witness their grandmother levitate to their sides at the mere hint of trouble and unclog the toilet before a single germ-laden drop of water touched her floor. )

I grew up and moved out into a world where my mother could not unclog threatening situations for me. This became obvious when I took my own precious two-year-old to the bathroom in someone’s home. It was a lovely home, with a bathroom far more precious than bathrooms I normally frequented. Everything was stark and shining. I wiped my toddler’s adorable bottom to find that he had, somehow, crapped out a substance thick and unwipeable as tar. I ruminated on what he’d eaten as I cleaned him up, lifted his adorableness from the toilet and flushed it, then pulled up his tiny underbritches and tiny pants.

The toilet rebelled in a slow, menacing way. Water swirled. It rose. It made no gurgling digestive noises as toilets do to let us know our digestion is being taken care of. I felt the hamster wheel of panic start twirling in my chest. I looked for a toilet brush or plunger, but of course this fashionable bathroom did not display such utilitarian tools. Water rose even higher. I could picture it trembling at the lip of the bowl, then pouring out onto the beautiful floor as I fled with my child — ruination flooding out the door behind us.

Every cell in my body wanted to cry out, “Mom, the toilet is overflowing!”

My mother was nowhere in sight.

I saw no other choice. In one rapid move, I pulled up my sleeve and plunged my arm into the icy depths. I grabbed the offending clog away from the opening. The water happily swirled down. With a gurgle, everything was gone.

I washed my arm ferociously as I assured my child that, no, he should never put his hand into a toilet. It was Mama’s job and only in an emergency. I did not tell him that he should never speak of it again, lest that might inspire him to announce it to everyone for months.

It has been a very long time since I was forced to commit this act. I still remember the icy plunge, but I don’t remember the horror. Instead I remember realizing that it was up to me.

I was the Mama. It was time to be the superhero.

Foretold

Foretold During A Sleepover With 12-Year-Old Girls

 

Ghost stories and gossip, forgotten

when she showed us the Ouija board

filched from her older sister’s room.

Outside, dry leaves scraped fingertips

across pavement as wind swirled them

in patterns that may, too, have been messages,

but we clustered over the board’s dark formal script,

giggling, nervous, accusing each other

of willfully steering the plastic indicator,

denying we steered it ourselves, calling out

letters forming words forming prophecies.

 

I asked my future husband’s name

and was given the letter M

followed by A, then R, finally C.

No one by the name Marc in our classes,

so I wasn’t teased like girls who got

Tim or Michael or Kyle.

 

When I met you two years later

your name ended in a K.

Teasing, I nicknamed you Marcus,

sometimes call you that still.

After all these years,

I see what I couldn’t then.

Mark, my love, your name

was already spelled

by every letter on that board.

Laura Grace Weldon

Originally published in Verse-Virtual.  Find more poems in my collection, Tending.

 

Boredom vs Free Play


boredom cures

“The cure for boredom is curiosity.  There is no cure for curiosity.”  ~Dorothy Parker

Eight-year-old twins Caleb and Ella used to complain of boredom on a daily basis. “There’s nothing to do,” they’d whine. “I’m bored!”

Their father Mateo didn’t remember being bored when he was growing up. Back in the early 90’s he rode his bike wherever he needed to go. A favorite place he and other kids played was a small creek behind an apartment building. At home he liked to read comics or tinker with projects of his own devising (including a phase of making anti-burglar projects after watching Home Alone). He says he honed his daydreaming skills when he was bored in school. Being an inattentive student didn’t bring him the best grades, but he’s now an aspiring cartoonist who relies on daydreaming for ideas.

Their mother Camila said her childhood wasn’t boring either. She remembered lots of imaginative play with her sister while their mother worked a full-time job at home. The girls played for hours as spies, queens, and magicians. They also liked to play office, mimicking their mother’s phone calls and typing. Camila says her friends preferred playing at her house because they were allowed to hang sheets off a tree branch for an impromptu theater, bake cupcakes, even paint and repaint their old wooden play structure in the back yard.

“If I moped around my mother would say, ‘Go out and play.’ It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command,” Mateo said.  “Maybe that’s what made me so self-reliant.”

When Caleb and Ella complained of boredom their parents gestured to all the toys they owned and reminded their kids about sports practice and other activities. They urged their kids to go outside. But the kids tended to say, “There’s nothing I want to do!” and off they’d go to play a game on the tablet, watch the same movie again, or look for a snack.

Mateo and Camila wondered if they were unwittingly raising their kids to be bored. They worried the kids weren’t getting enough of that all-important free play.  Let’s consider these possibilities.

Excessive Distractions

This may start early on. There are so many mobiles, play gyms, bouncy seats, swings, and toys marketed to new parents that we’re led to believe they’re necessary, even though babies need little more than loving connections with caregivers and a safe place to explore. Nature insures that the newest humans are perfectly cued to observe and interact with the world around them. A three-month-old lying near a window can amuse herself looking at patterns of sunlight, work on rolling over, and chew on a simple toy. She’s already busy learning exactly as she needs to learn. Few of us are raising infants in some tranquil Eden by any means.  But we can avoid overstimulating them, distracting them, and breaking their concentration as they play.

Within a child’s first few years many of us accumulate a staggering overload of items, each one meant to amuse and educate our kids. Camila, who repeatedly tried to reorganize her kids’ toys, reported they had bins and shelves packed with toys but everything was always a mess. “Just to see how bad it was, I thought I’d count all their stuffed animals, large and small,” she said. “I gave up when I got to 100.”

Like so many other purchasing choices we make, quality matters more than quantity. For example, when toys are tied to specific movies or shows, kids are likely to reenact storylines but less likely to play creatively. They also play more passively with toys that make sounds, move, or otherwise perform. ” In contrast, open-ended playthings like blocks, dolls, a wagon, a ball, art supplies, and yes, a few generic stuffed animals, are far more likely to inspire imagination. Engaging fun happens when kids create their own projects, come up with their own games, and drift into their own make-believe worlds. (Check out Little World’s post on ways to encourage loose parts play.)

Parents (well, those who can afford it) know it’s easy to placate bored kids with a treat, toy, or digital playtime. But we don’t need to overdo it. We don’t want to teach them to depend on external stimulation instead of building strength essential for resilience and happiness at any stage in life — the ability to amuse themselves.  Sure, every parent is going to distract and placate at times, but we need to keep from letting this become the go-to solution. We can build on a child’s capacity for self-directed play just by getting out of their way. This starts early on, in babyhood, as Janet Lansbury explains in “7 Myths That Discourage Independent Play”  and there are all sorts of ways to encourage self-directed play as kids get older.

Top-Down Activities

The more we structure children’s time, the more we interfere with their own drive to learn, explore, imagine, and simply be. The inner motivation we want for our kids can be supplanted by external rewards like constant validation, a fix for every frustration, and bribes for good behavior. It’s possible to focus so intently on what we believe will make our children happy and successful that we forget children look to us as guides. They feel most secure when adults are grounded, consistent, and caring authority figures who trust that kids they’re growing up just fine as they are.

Many adults seem determined to keep kids busy. Unintentionally, this teaches children that fallow time is undesirable. Yet daydreaming, contemplation, even the uncomfortable condition we call “boredom” are necessary to incorporate higher level learning and to generate new ideas.

As psychologists Dorothy Singer and Jerome Singer write in The House of Make-Believe, children who have plenty of time for free play are more imaginative and creative, have more advanced social skills, and are actually happier as they play. The Singers contrast two children who are given free-form playthings like dolls or building blocks. The child who has had plenty of experience with daydreaming and make-believe is comfortable coming up with pretend scenarios, and can easily find inventive ways to play with these toys. The child who has not had much experience with make-believe or daydreaming may find little engaging about the toys after a short time —- in other words, he gets bored quickly.  The imaginative “muscles” built by daydreaming, make-believe, and downtime simply haven’t developed.

Default Screens

Here we get to the dreaded “actions speak louder than words” thing. Kids see how we handle boredom. What are our go-to solutions? When we’re waiting in line do we take the opportunity to observe what’s around us, think our own thoughts, talk to each other? When we have a free evening do we do something that actually aligns with our interests —- test out a new recipe, read a book, practice the guitar, shoot hoops, relax on the porch doing nothing but relaxing? Or do we default to scrolling through our feeds, checking email, watching videos? I’m just as engaged with screens as the next person (and hey, there are a lot of important reasons to check our phones) so I’m not pointing fingers, but it helps to recognize that this is the first generation to grow up around such immersive technology and our example matters.

According to their parents, many days Caleb played online games for hours and Ella liked to watch the same movies over and over. There’s a great deal of variability in how screen time affects different children and there are enormous positives to be found in the offerings of today’s technology, but apparently not in a child’s earliest years.

Preliminary research indicates that exposure to more than two hours a day of screen time (even background screens) during infancy and toddlerhood is associated with a shorter attention span  and more difficulty with self-regulation (the ability control one’s own behavior) as they get older. Pediatrician Dimitri Christakis believes that rapidly changing images on the screen precondition a young child’s mind to expect high levels of stimulation, making lower levels of stimulation such as those found in everyday life somewhat boring. (Dr. Christakis’ viewpoint is, at this point, remains largely conjecture.)

Older kids often use screens in more challenging and stimulating ways. Today’s electronics are far from the passive entertainment Ella and Caleb’s parents and grandparents grew up with. It is, however, a problem when sitting for hours on end replaces other more active, hands-on ways of being. Sometimes kids simply get out of the habit of doing other things. One study even found that older kids are bored during screen time but feel they don’t have other play options. Perhaps that’s because kids don’t have permission to do a variety of other things like make a mess, make noise, and get out of sight of adults —- sure signs that fun is happening.

Makers of toys, games, and movies expect boredom. They counteract this by ramping up conflict and violence to more effectively sustain attention. Makers of children’s programming, even children’s building sets, have resorted to increasingly violent themes to boost sales.  Marketers certainly know how to use brain science to keep our kids’ dopamine levels surging.

We definitely get those dopamine hits when we play a video game or watch a movie. Nothing wrong with that. Our brains get the same rush of pleasure when we create, challenge ourselves, get active, socialize, figure out a problem.  Remember that role model thing? Let’s remember to demonstrate to our kids that we enjoy our screens and get a kick out of non-screen living too. Maybe learn some new dance movies, fix something broken, make up a story, invent a new sandwich, ask Grandma to teach you something, wave to garbage collectors, or whatever playful idea strikes your fancy. Playfulness is contagious.

Two Kinds of Boredom

There’s a difference between a shut-down, numb mind and a fertile, constructively bored mind. Numbing boredom can set in when kids are stuck in a situation where they have very little control over their own activities. This is common in structured, physically restrictive settings — think school, religious services, long trips in the car, sitting through a sibling’s sports event. When numbing boredom happens too often or goes on too long, kids may learn passivity or learn to make trouble.

Constructive boredom is something else entirely. It’s a fertile state all its own. When kids sit on their nothing-to-do frustrations for a while, boredom can hatch into all sorts of possibilities. What kids invent when making their own fun invariably challenges them in myriad ways, often right to the edge of their next developmental milestones. What we don’t want to do is take over or supervise too closely, squashing boredom’s marvelous potential.

Boredom may feel uncomfortable, but it’s actually the tingle of imagination signaling of possibilities to explore. We can tell kids to say “yes” to boredom, letting it tug at them until they come up with an idea. When they do, we need to remember to say “yes” to as many of their ideas as we can, to accept the mess and uncertainty and noise that often accompanies kid-generated fun.

~~~~~

Camila and Mateo were frustrated by their children’s chronic boredom until a radical change was imposed on them. Mateo, who worked in building maintenance, lost his job when the company closed. His only income was a small cash flow from drawing comics and some side jobs as an illustrator. Camila taught several courses as an adjunct at a local college for low pay. Faced with a drastically reduced income, they talked to the kids and together prioritized holding on to their house and maintaining a close family.

This meant taking big steps to simplify. They stopped the kids’ lessons and sports. They dropped cable, leaving internet service with a data cap — which cut into Caleb’s gaming time and Ella’s movie time. They held a series of tag sales to raise money. The kids chose what toys to sell and kept the proceeds. (They turned their nearly empty closets into hideouts.)

Next they embarked on a project to bring in some income by converting their walk-out basement into a compact apartment to rent out. It was hard work, even harder to adjust to having another person living in their house at first, but the rent effectively paid most of their mortgage.

Mateo found another job three months later, yet they’re sticking with the changes made during the upheaval of unemployment. “No one wants to minimize because they’re forced to,” Mateo says, “but what we cut out helped.”

He sees all sorts of benefits. There’s no nagging about getting out the door for sports practice and games.  Honing down their possessions cooled the pressure on everyone to clean up clutter and almost magically made their home feel more welcoming.  Rehabbing the basement, Mateo believes, was the best thing of all. The kids felt good about helping out and still incorporate “fixing things” into their play. It’s like this was a reboot,” he says, “reminding us the four of us are in this together.”

Camila reports the kids are thriving. “They’re not perfect,” she says, “but there’s a lot less whining. I’m really impressed that they’re able to amuse themselves for hours on end.” That day while she graded papers, Caleb and Ella colored, pretended the stairs were a volcano, and made paper airplanes they threw off the porch. Then they conducted an ill-fated experiment to see if they could balance the recycling bin on their dad’s old skateboard. They could not, but they got an idea for another project as they cleaned up the spilled contents.  Painful as simplifying was, it helped bored kids find ways to make their own fun.

The big takeaway from Caleb and Ella’s story, to me, doesn’t center on fewer structured activities,  minimizing toys, or helping out around the house. It has to do with having time and freedom to play. Time? Hours each day. Freedom? Noise, mess, arguments, mistakes, space to play away from constant adult supervision.  As Robert Coles said, “We all need empty hours in our lives or we will have no time to create or dream.”

Resources

“The Play Deficit”

“6 Ways to Encourage Free Play, Create Stronger Communities, & Raise Safer Kids”

“How Kids Benefit From Real Responsibilities”

“Playful Cures for a Toy Overload” 

“Innovation Doesn’t Come in a Kit”

“The Boy With No Toys” 

bored kids,

 

 

Civil Discourse

civil discourse

Civil Discourse

 

This magnificent bridge crosses every distance,

arches over silt-clogged drainage ditches,

past bulldozed acres where owls once called,

across a city loveliest when morning light

streaks orange over the Exxon station.

 

It spans acres farmed by lumbering machines

so heavy they crush the soil’s hidden universe.

Reaches over oceans and mountains.

Stretches back and forward through time.

 

Entrance ramp are infinite.

 

Angry trolls use nets strung together

with logical fallacies and Super Pac money

to knock people off their feet

and drag them so far under

they can’t see the bridge,

can’t remember it exists.

 

Still, the bridge is there.

Squint down the length of it,

you’ll see it leads everywhere.

Laura Grace Weldon

Originally published in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change.  Find more poems in my collection, Tending.

Our Aural History

aural historyWhen two of my newborn babies spent time in the hospital due to serious medical problems, one of the many things that distressed me was all the noise surrounding them.  I wanted them to be introduced to the world differently. I wanted to wrap them in the sounds of home — voices of people who loved them, clatter of dishes at dinnertime, wind in the trees, lullabies sung, books read aloud. Instead there were loud beeping devices, intrusive announcements, squeaking wheels on equipment carts. They heard all sorts of strangers’ voices too, often while those strangers (for the very best reasons) imposed discomfort or pain. When they came home, both times, I noticed the sounds around them more than I normally would just because it was such a blessed relief.

My concern wasn’t overblown. In utero, a baby hears a symphony of prenatal sound that includes the mother’s heartbeat, breathing, and movement.  The baby’s auditory system is fully developed by the sixth month of pregnancy and what sounds it hears is a particularly big deal from that time until it reaches six months of age. Here’s what one medical journal has to say:

The period from 25 weeks’ gestation to 5 to 6 months of age is most critical to the development of the neurosensory part of the auditory system. This is the time when the hair cells of the cochlea, the axons of the auditory nerve, and the neurons of the temporal lobe auditory cortex are tuned to receive signals of specific frequencies and intensities. Unlike the visual system, the auditory system requires outside auditory stimulation. This needs to include speech, music, and meaningful sounds from the environment.

The preterm as well as the term infant cannot recognize or discriminate meaningful sounds with background noise levels greater than 60 dB. The more intense the background noise, especially low frequency, the fewer specific frequencies (pitch) can be heard and used to tune the hair cells of the cochlea. Continuous exposure to loud background noise in the NICU or home will interfere with auditory development and especially frequency discrimination. The initial stimulation of the auditory system (speech and music) needs to occur in utero or in the NICU to develop tonotopic columns in the auditory cortex and to have the critical tuning of the hair cells of the cochlea occur. The control of outside noise, the exposure to meaningful speech sounds and music, and the protection of sleep and sleep cycles, especially rapid eye movement sleep, are essential for healthy auditory development.

Hearing is also said to be the last sense to leave us at the end of life, as indicated by electroencephalograms of people in their last hours. (Oftentimes music can reach unconscious and dying people when other stimuli cannot.)

Sound has a way of sinking into us, linking with sensation and emotion to form lasting memories. When I read about refugees forced from their homes by war or famine or rising seas,  my sorrow for them (and my admiration for their courage) leads me to think about what sensory experiences they can never fully recapture from their homelands. Keeping one’s own language, foods, and faith alive is vital but I wonder if hunger for the unique sounds left behind ever goes away.

We carry aural memories with us forever. I suspect sounds from early childhood are rooted the most deeply. Here are some of the happiest I can remember. A summer of locusts, the sound cresting and falling like waves. The screen door’s awwaak as it opened and my mother’s voice from somewhere in the house calling “don’t slam it!” The shriek of a swing hung on chains as I swung on my belly watching ants scurry below.  My father whistling as he tinkered with some project. News on the radio my mother listened to for a few minutes each morning, all of it inane chatter to me except for ads that lodged in my memory like this one.  Planes taking off from nearby Cleveland Hopkins Airport,  curving overhead like toys even though adults insisted they were big enough to hold actual people inside (pffft!) Music my father listened to as he graded papers — classical, pop, big band. The creak of our old rocking chair. The indescribable security of lying in bed hearing my parent’s muffled voices. 

Imagine sounds from 100 years ago in the place you are now. Perhaps horses on stone-paved streets, vendors hawking their wares from open carts as they traveled through town, afternoon paperboys calling out the latest headlines, church bells tolling the hours, the whistle of steam engines passing in the distance, children playing outdoors everywhere.

Or maybe imagine sounds 100 years in the future, if you can.

What sounds surrounded you as a baby? Your children in infancy? What aural memories make up who you are today?

Ask For Rejection Letters

ask for rejection letters

As a writer, I get my share of rejection letters. (As an editor, I write my share of rejection letters too.) I’m occasionally heartened by a kind word or two, indicating a publication would like to see more of my work or letting me know a piece of mine made it to the final round. It’s not the same as an acceptance, but it helps.

There’s actually a bit of relief in rejection. It usually comes after waiting months, when likelihood of acceptance already seems nil, and I can say to myself, Okay, I no longer have to pin my hopes in this direction. This frees a little unpopped kernel of aspiration to go back on another burner. (Because you must always, always try again.)

Sometimes, however, it takes much longer than a publication claims is necessary for them to review queries or submissions.  When there’s no response I assume their editors are working long hours for low pay and preoccupied by other pressing matters. (At least that’s what being an editor is like for me.)  But over a year? That’s ghosting. So I ask for a rejection letter. At this stage there’s not much to lose. I simply want to know. And maybe have some fun asking.

Here’s one such message I sent a while back.

Greetings *unnamed little literary print magazine,*

I can take rejection, really. But it’s nice to finally get rejected. I sent a creative non-fiction piece titled _____ on _____. I know, I know, I should have given up by now but hope is a feisty creature, not easily strangled by silence.

In case the clarity and understated wit of my piece knocked an editor to the floor, unintentionally hurtling my submission under a desk, I’ve included my cover letter and submission again.  Less dusty this way.

ever optimistically,
Laura Weldon

Turns out they were in the process of going out of business and wouldn’t even be publishing  previously accepted pieces. Their website said nary a word about this.

Here’s another such message, sent after a longer wait.

Ahem, Under the Slush Pile, You There!

Enclosed are copies of a cover letter and book proposal sent to you over 16 months ago. I received acknowledgement that you were in receipt of these materials on ________.

I am a busy writer and editor involved in a number of projects and only recently noticed just how long the interval has been. Now I’m concerned. Even at the rate of a single word per day, surely you would have completed reading my one-page book proposal quite some time ago. Something must be amiss.

Should I offer my editing services, as it’s apparent _______ Press is completely bogged down by unread manuscripts?

Should I consider a rescue effort, breaking down the doors blocked by stacks of paper in order to liberate your staff?

Or am I to assume that you are in the business of collecting SASEs while never intending to use them? I’m enclosing yet another in hopes of getting a response. This time, do tell.

most sincerely,   Laura Weldon

They sent me a form rejection.

My absolutely favorite rejection letter was one I got after applying for a job around the time I graduated from college. I had volunteered and interned, doing my best to enter the professional world with relevant experience, and it appeared I met the job requirements. The rejection letter I got back was so short and to-the-point that I still remember it verbatim:

We do not now, nor do we ever anticipate, having a position for which you are qualified. 

I wish I’d framed it!

But the best rejection letter I’ve ever seen is one sent to a New Zealand writer nearly 90 years ago. It was shared recently by Letters of Note.

Did this poet give up? No.  The fervent F. C. Meyer went on to publish this volume.

It’s a testament to his ambition that he persisted, since his poetry appears to have been as bad as that rejection letter indicated. His verse was quoted in a Scoop article about candidates for“Poet Nauseate.”

I think – I understand thee well,
Rub my nose now for a spell!

couplet from”Maori Maiden”

 

Pluto! come here my dearest little dog,
Don’t get mixed up with every rogue,
And do not run into a fog…

from “My Pet Dog”

If you’re a writer, keep pressing on. The publications rejecting you aren’t where you’re meant to be right now. Let each rejection motivate you to send out three more submissions. To inspire you, here are some authors who kept going despite rejection.

 “[Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.”   Rejection received by Emily Dickinson.

“An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” Rejection of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows, which went  on to sell 25 million copies.

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”  Rejection letter sent to Theodor Geisel, whose rhyming books went on to sell 300 million copies under the pen name Dr. Seuss.

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”  Stephen King ignored this rejection letter and found another publisher for Carrie, which sold 1 million copies the first year.

“Hopelessly bogged down and unreadable.” Rejection letter to Ursula K. Le Guin. That book, The Left Hand of Darkness , went on to become the first of her many award-winning books.

“We suggest you get rid of all that Indian stuff.” Rejection letter advice to Tony Hillerman, about work that later became his series of best-selling Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels.

“Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.”  Rejection sent to L. Frank Baum. The author persisted,  finally getting a publishing house to take on the book only when the Chicago Grand Opera House manager committed to making The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into a musical stage play to publicize the novel.

“He hasn’t got any future.” Rejection of the first novel by David Cornwell, retired spy from the British Security Service, MI5.  Yet, the author kept submitting. Publication of that novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, under the pen name John le Carré, launched his second career as writer of international best-sellers.

“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” One of 21 rejections for Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, which is said to have gotten its title at a “yes” by the 22nd publisher. The book has sold over 10 million copies.

“Stick to teaching.” Louise May Alcott was told by a dismissive publisher, who said she should give up writing. She went on to see Little Women published. It is still in print 150 years later.

“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”   One of the 15 publishers who didn’t think The Diary of Anne Frank had literary merit.