Limiting the Limits

We are Cirque-a-holics in our family. From our first experience years ago with Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE (a tribute to the Beatles), we were hooked. The artistry, athletic skill and inspiration filled our minds, hearts and souls to overflowing.

The T-shirts in the gift shop were more than mere souvenirs. The words splashed across them allowed us to take a little piece of it home, to embrace the spirit:

I am ready. The sky is not the limit.

cirque sky is not the limit

That line spoke to us. Motivated us. It compelled each one of us to move out of our comfort zones, to burst forward, upward! To fulfill our dreams.

Nothing would hem us in. Nothing.

For a long time, I’ve believed that.

I still do.

However, there’s a difference between believing there are no limits and defining your own.

Too often, we make the mistake of boxing ourselves in. Sometimes (for multiple reasons), we accept the limits others have set for us. Other times, a lack of confidence on our part determines the weight of the restraints.

To this, I say…toss that box! Break it down. FLY. The sky is not the limit!

(I know, easier said than done.)

Of course, sometimes limits are important. For example, we need to follow speed limits or risk getting a ticket.

It’s also important to note that sometimes we need to place limits on ourselves for our own health and sanity. For example, I should limit myself to three cookies instead of eating the entire plate. I should limit my screen time to maximize my writing efforts. I should/must limit the amount of energy I spend on toxic people.

Finally, there are variables in this world outside of our control. What became achingly clear to me last month is that the biggest limit imposed upon us is Time.

I’m not talking about Age. As my husband says, “I can’t change age, but I can change attitudes.” Our younger son started studying magic at the age of 4, performing professionally at 12 and won “Best Newcomer/Magicians’ Alliance of the Eastern States” at 15 (incidentally, he’s the one who introduced us to Cirque.) I didn’t get my first picture book contract until I was 50. And the hubby who came up with that fantastic motto? He’s entering his fifth decade of providing music by request as a disc-jockey. (And a totally awesome one at that!)

larry dj ice rink

Age does not need to limit anyone.

I’m talking about time itself. The tick, tick, tick of the clock. The rapid turn of each page of our calendars. The amount of time – however its determined – that we, and those we love, spend on this earth.

Last month, I lost my dad. And suddenly, the limits that time imposes upon us hit me like a tsunami. This wasn’t a limit I’d set or could somehow overcome. I couldn’t stop it, swim through it or surf over it.

It just crashed over me.

Our family and friends huddled tight. At first, we cried with shared grief. But then, as we began to share memories, we smiled. We laughed at the funny anecdotes and held the pictures close to our hearts.

You see, it’s these memories that keep our precious ones alive.

We don’t always have control over what happens. But we can control our response.

And so, I shall write the stories…because if there’s anything in this world that’s truly limitless, it’s love.

Advertisements

Turn the Page

Last year, instead of sharing goals or “resolutions”, I selected a word to inspire me. The word was “connect”. There were so many amazing words to choose from, but as an author, this one spoke to me. It’s important for me to connect with my readers in order to help them connect with their world.

But at the moment, I feel more than a bit disconnected. Last week, I received a call that no one ever wants to receive. My dad suddenly and unexpectedly left this world.

Dad and me reading.png

I’m devastated. Our entire family is. He was a loving father and grandfather. He was my rock. I remember, as a child, standing at the top of our steps and jumping off with abandon, secure in knowing my dad would catch me at the bottom. He always provided that safe place to land. I guess you could say it was a living metaphor of what was to come in my teenage years, where my mom – and thus, the entire family – battled with the challenges of mental illness and the alcohol with which she tried to wash it away.

My dad never let me fall. Ever.

I started to write we never got a chance to say our last goodbye. Or “I love you”. But that’s not true. Because my dad and I were connected. I spoke to him every week (if not more) and though he lived one thousand miles away, we visited him as much as we could. I called him the day before he died to wish him Happy Hanukkah. We laughed. We talked about normal, everyday things. The price of getting a car fixed. Computer issues. Potato latkes. And the great pride we shared in our family.

And at the end, before we said goodbye, we said, “I love you.” We always did.

Of course, since life can be an unruly tangle of extreme joy and pain, the following day I was given permission by my Flashlight Press editor to share that there will be a new Dragon book next May, a board book for the littlest readers called I Love My Dragon.

I Love My Dragon cover.jpg

This is bittersweet for me. My dad knew it was coming, of course. But what he didn’t know was that it had been dedicated in part to him. It was supposed to be a surprise:

For Mom, who placed that first book in my hand, and for Dad, who helped turn the page.

I truly wish I could place this book in his hand.
 
Much love and thanks to my editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, our brilliant illustrator, Howard McWilliam, and the entire Flashlight family for making this book, this dedication, possible.

Please hug your precious ones a little harder today. Tell them you love them. Provide them that safe place to land. Connect. It’s the greatest gift you can both give and receive. Wishing you all a happy, healthy and safe holiday season, surrounded by family, friends and love.

Real…or Imagination?

This month in YA Outside the Lines, we’re exploring fact vs. fiction in our stories. This topic made me smile, and of course I wanted to share this here as well, as this is exactly what “happens” in WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN. The boy is thrilled when a dragon takes up residence in his “perfect” sandcastle and wants to share the magnificent news with his family…but no one believes him! The story, thanks to brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam actually allows the readers to decide for themselves. Is the dragon real? Or just a figment of the boy’s imagination?

I love to share this picture book during my author visits. When I ask these questions at the end, the decision is usually a 50:50 split within the audience, and each child is adamant about his/her decision, armed with passionate arguments to back it up.

YAOT blog pic Sewell gym book trailer

Personally, hard as someone may try, I don’t think it’s possible to create anything without at least a teeny bit of our own selves running through it. After all, we see the world through our own eyes, processing it piece by piece based upon our own references.

The same can also be said of reading. We all bring our own emotional baggage and experiences to the stories we explore, which means that in a sense, we all read a completely different tale.

But here’s the question. Does an author know whether he/she is writing fact or fiction? And are the lines sometimes blurred?

This past week, I picked up a manuscript I hadn’t touched for about a year. This happens to me a lot. I get started, but then lose my way. Sometimes because I haven’t thought the whole thing through (yet). Sometimes because another project speaks to me in a louder or more insistent voice.

This project had a little of both. Although I couldn’t find the words to finish it earlier, it now seemed to call out for me like a child in need. Or perhaps it was my own inner child begging me to return…

You see, I grew up in a development of houses that bordered a golf course. In the winter (much to the irritation of the ground keepers), it made for some fantastic sledding trails. One afternoon, when there wasn’t anyone around to sled with, I decided to take myself on a nature walk through the wooded section. Near a clearing, under a tall tree, I found a baby bird. He’d obviously fallen from a nest, thankfully unscathed. I remember looking around to see if the mother was anywhere near. She wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t even hear another bird. It was just me, and this little guy.

Alone. In this big, big world.

(Note: since I obviously didn’t take pictures when I was six, the part of the little bird will be played by our dove, Bake, who has always wanted to be in theatre.)

Bake sitting

In my six-year old mind, it was up to me to save this baby. To teach him how to fly back to the nest where he’d be safe. Of course, I’d been taught never to touch wild animals, for reasons of safety…theirs and my own.

But I looked around and found a feather. Speaking in a soft voice, I explained the plan to my new little friend. And then I prodded him. Ever so gently. With the feather. He hopped forward. I praised him, then prodded again. Once more, he hopped. I must have spent over an hour doing this. Each time, he’d hop farther. A little bit higher. Soon, his wings began to flutter, then to flap. We kept working together. Tirelessly. Prod. Flap. Prod. Flap. Prod. Flap.

Until he flew.

Bake wings up

At first, he only traveled a few feet, and in the wrong direction, wobbling like Snoopy’s best friend, Woodstock. But we never lost hope, this bird and I. Over and over, he’d try, and I’d cheer. And finally, I watched as he fumbled his way up, up, up and landed in his nest.

I remember my heart filling. I remember spinning around as the snowflakes began to fall. And I remember hearing birds all around me, chirping, celebrating, rejoicing for my little buddy and me.

Did the last part really happen? I don’t know for sure. In my mind, it did. In my heart, it did. In my memories, it absolutely did.

I guess it will be up to my readers to decide whether it was indeed fact, or fiction.

May you all experience, and spread, a bit of kindness…today and forever.

 

 

Testing, Testing…

I’m both honored and thrilled to be a contributing member of the YA Outside the Lines blog. This month, we were challenged to write about an embarrassing moment from our teens. I’ve known about the topic for quite a while now but admittedly, have had trouble coming up with something.

It’s not that I haven’t anything to choose from. I’m a bonafide klutz, have a terrible sense of direction and was painfully awkward in high school, which undoubtedly leads to a treasure-trove of material. I’ve fallen down stairs, tripped over my own feet and suffered (at least three) concussions. I (still) have trouble distinguishing my left from my right, have gotten lost in my own neighborhood and in my own mind. And during my first “real” kiss? I was so shy and awkward, I giggled. Although in retrospect, that may have been more disconcerting for the boy… (is it too late to apologize?)

No, I would have to say my most embarrassing, rather humiliating, moment as a teen happened after I took the SATs. You see, the one thing I thought I could control in my gawky teen years was my studies. And yes, I studied. I wasn’t a brain. It didn’t come easy. Test days tied my intestines in knots. But I took the honors classes and achieved those ‘A’s.

YAOL SAT exam pic.png

Several days after we received the SAT results, my English teacher thought it would be a good idea to have everyone in the class state their scores out loud. He nodded as each student announced theirs. No surprise, some had achieved perfect scores. And then he looked at me. To be honest, I don’t remember my number, but his expression of grave disappointment and words will be burned into my mind forever: “Really? I expected you to do much better than that.”

I wanted to crawl under the desk. His words devastated me. I felt like a failure.

It may seem ironic that an English teacher didn’t realize this, but words matter.

How will you use yours?

 

The Books That Wrote ME (Jodi Moore)

This month at the YA Outside the Lines blog, we were challenged to about the books that inspired us to write for young adults.

However, if I’m being honest, I realized I first had to pay homage to the books that actually helped to write me…in other words, the books that helped me develop into the person I am today.

Like most children, books opened up new worlds for me. I walked willingly through each door, eagerly anticipating the “friends” and adventures I would enjoy.

But when I was in third grade, I read Don’t Take Teddy, a story about Mikkel, a young boy with a mentally-challenged older brother named Teddy. When Teddy accidentally hurts another child while playing and the neighbors insist he should be institutionalized, Mikkel decides to run away with Teddy to protect him.

Don't Take Teddy

The story and the characters both broke and filled my eight-year old heart. What’s more, it showed me how books can change one’s perspective. How they can empower. Inspire empathy. And initiate the healing process.

I wanted to climb into that book, take those characters under my wing and save them. Protect them.

Hug them.

Up until then, I read to embark on my own adventures, to live my own dreams. After Teddy, I realized I could read to connect on a deeper, more emotional level with others.

And I realized I wanted to.

From then on, character-drive books were my go-to. I consumed The Catcher in the Rye, wept over To Kill A Mockingbird and Flowers for Algernon, devoured everything Judy Blume, and internalized the All Creatures Great and Small series (I even started my collegiate journey as a pre-vet major – talk about influence!)

All Creatures Great

In my teens, life took a dark turn. My mother suffered from depression and alcoholism, and when I was 15, she attempted suicide. At that point, books were more important than ever. They were my strength and my escape. My salvation.

Admittedly, there weren’t as many YA selections when I was young as there are now; however, books like Ordinary People (which was also made into a fantastic movie) helped me realize that (sadly) our situation wasn’t an anomaly. Other families experienced dysfunction too.

Ordinary people

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to receive help through professional therapy as well as support from family and friends.

But I’ve never forgotten that 15-year old who desperately needed that one book to reassure her she wasn’t alone, and that one day, she’d be okay.

Today, I write for her. For those like her. Because writing that one book for that one person is my mission, my dream and my passion.

It’s how I hug the world.

If You Give A Writer Inspiration…

This past weekend, one of my dreams came true.

I met the phenomenal author Laura Numeroff at the Children’s Book Festival of Johnstown. And while this is a fantastic opportunity in itself, the experience filled my heart three times over: as a reader, as a writer, and as a published author.

You see, the If You Give A Mouse A Cookie series is one of our family favorites. I read those books to our boys until the pages began to separate from the bindings.

When I first wrote When A Dragon Moves In, I realized how much Laura’s words and “musicality” had inspired me. I even worried that people might think I’d tried to emulate her too closely. I asked critique group members, beta readers, and ultimately, my Flashlight Press editor, Shari Dash Greenspan. They all reassured me the stories were not the same.

Still, as most authors do, I held my breath before reading the review from Kirkus, one of the most renowned and respected professional review sources. IMAGINE my delight when they described my Dragon as “a sandy complement to If You Give A Mouse A Cookie“!

Of course, Laura’s line to have books signed wrapped around itself three times over. I watched from my own author table as she greeted every child and his/her family, so open and welcoming, and quickly realized she’s not only a brilliant author, but a sweet, warm and wonderful woman. After what seemed like hours of signing, she still had a smile for everyone (and somehow, working fingers for signing books!)

Finally, when the line became manageable, I stepped into it (thankfully, my fabulous hubby could stay at my table…and admittedly capture a picture or two while I fan-girly crushed.)

Because in one hand, I had a brand new copy of Mouse for her to sign. But in the other, I had a brand new copy of Dragon…for her. I told her how she inspired me, and how Kirkus’s “complement” comment was the biggest compliment of all! Even though she had to be exhausted, she insisted on reading through each page while we sat together, exclaiming over the story, the illustrations by the uber-talented Howard McWilliam, and the journey itself.

Johnstown me & Laura

And you know what I learned? If you tell a brilliant author how much she’s inspired you…you might just get a hug.

Johnstown me & laura hug

It doesn’t get much sweeter than this.

A Time To CONNECT

I love words. It’s part of the job description. So choosing “a” word to inspire me for the year wasn’t an easy task. I started thinking about it in December and seemed to change it on a daily basis. There are so many splendiferous words out there.

It seemed that every time I’d decide, “Yes! That’s the one!”, I’d hear or read about someone else’s word and think, “Oh, but that one is so good too…”

birds on wire

How would I choose? It was quite a conundrum. (See? So many lovely words!)

One morning, my husband and I had breakfast at a diner on our way back from traveling. I couldn’t help but notice (awareness is part of the job description too) the family sitting in the booth across from us. Admittedly, I’m making some assumptions about their actual positions/roles as I didn’t know them, but it appeared to be a mother with her two young children (perhaps 7 and 5?) and possibly the grandmother. The adults sat directly across from one another, each one with a child at their side.

There was a short burst of discussion over breakfast options. But as soon as the server took their order, the children’s laptops made their appearance. And the conversation ceased.

I thought perhaps the adults had “grownup things” to discuss and they needed something to entertain the children for a bit. Stuff happens. We’ve all been there.

But, sadly, that wasn’t the case. When I say the conversation ceased, I mean all of it. The two women ate in silence as the children breakfasted with Moana.

Larry and I looked at each other and sighed. Such a missed opportunity. Such a disconnect. Our hearts broke a little bit for them. (It’s almost been ten years since our little chicks flew the coop and we’re still in the throes of Empty Nest.)

But then, a mom and her son came in and sat in the booth behind this other family.

“It’s just you and me this morning,” the woman said to the boy as they picked up their menus.

You could have read in the dead of night during a power outage by the light of that child’s smile.

And though their food may have gotten a bit cold as they talked, the warmth radiating off that table could not have been more delicious.

Nor more nutritious…for both.

“Turn around!” I wanted to shout at the other family. “Look, learn. See what you’re missing before it’s too late!”

And that’s when I decided on my word: CONNECT.

pancakes

I wanted to write it in big syrupy letters on their pancakes…but that may have wound up as a different blog post.

Because life really is all about connecting.

This year, I want to be more proactive with talking to and connecting with my family and friends.

I want to reconnect on a deeper level with my inner child so that I may write stories from that voice of innocence. As honestly as I can.

I want to connect the dots in order to try and make sense of the world, and help others make sense of it too.

And I want to connect with those who feel they might not have a voice, and let them know someone is listening. That someone cares. And that the world needs to hear THEIR stories.

For me, the time to connect is NOW. How will you connect this year?

Connect