The Invincible Summer

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer." -- Albert Camus

I wanted to show you my invincible summer today, since I'm going to write about the depth of winter. Here's part of that summer -- handmade cards from the good folks at Scholastic, officially welcoming me and "The Sixties Trilogy: Three Novels of the 1960s for Young Readers." I was tickled beyond words to received them. They decorate the kitchen table right now -- I walk by and pick one up and read it again and feel so solid, so sure, so delighted, and so honored in the decision to publish these novels with Scholastic.

Scholastic will take great good care of all three novels, and I will be in such good hands. Some folks slipped sixties photographs of themselves inside their cards (loved that Halloween photo taken in a Catholic school with a back row of Flying Nun costumes!), and one, this one, stole my winter-hardened heart. Hahahaha -- "Please bring Dismay back." Scholastic has carried all three Aurora County novels in their Book Fairs, and has loved those characters as much as I have. Here we go, step-step-stepping it, into the future, provided I survive the rest of the winter.

Winter has always been hard for me. I want to love it. I want to love the cold, the short days when evening falls at 5pm and the soup is ready to be sopped with good, crusty bread, the nights with five blankets on the bed, the mornings with frost and snow and a quiet world to contemplate... but it's just not for me, winter. As February (surely the longest month) creeps ever-more-slowly toward March, I curl up against the cold and dark and wait for spring. It seems as if events conspire against me in winter, as I am not always at my best mentally or psychologically. I am slower, less nimble, and less resilient -- and I am in need of that invincible summer.

I got sick this winter -- that flu-bug that everyone is talking about hit me hard. Delirious with fever, I fell down my basement stairs ten days ago and thought for an odd moment that I had killed myself. The bruise on my upper left arm is finally beginning to turn from black/purple to red/yellow. I've eaten lots of protein in this past ten days, to feed this bruise and the others I received from that fall and from another tumble I took two days before that one, which involved walking too fast and getting my foot caught in the errant strings of the blinds in my office. Bam! Down I went onto my left knee, bruising the back of my right shin, somehow. And I never fall. Falling is akin to throwing up, in my book -- just say no. So, I'm telling you -- the depth of winter. The stairs fall was much worse than the office fall. I couldn't move my left arm for three days, and I'm still gingerly "helping" it move (yes, you did see me helping my left elbow up onto the table with my right hand) -- but it is substantially better now.

On the day before my fall down the stairs, I knocked heads with local bureaucracy in a long, ugly, humiliating way -- I can't even talk about this yet -- and on the day I fell down the stairs, I had just hours before been insulted in my yard about the colors of my house. This, on the heels of the bureaucratic brouhaha, stung more than I thought it should have (and it was ugly, it was) -- but it also harkened back to ancient stuff (and boy-oh-boy have I loved all your words of encouragement about my colorful house -- thanks so much). Then my beloved contractor and I had a misunderstanding about next-steps, although we quickly worked it out, but do you see what I mean?

I know this is not February's fault. But winter.... winter has always been the season when life's challenges seem to descend with a vengeance, just at the time of year I'm least ready to handle them... while at the same time, the universe knows I'm more vulnerable, less at-the-ready, more curved into that ball of hibernation and waiting for spring, and longing for a peek here and there into invincible summer. And always, it comes.

It comes in the form of kinship, community, and friendship. Here's half the room at the Southern Breeze SCBWI Springmingle in Atlanta, where I spoke this weekend. I loved every minute of this conference -- it is so good to be in-country, isn't it? I know you know what I mean.

I took no photos of the cavernous room at South Carolina IRA, where I opened the conference on Thursday night, then scooted home to Atlanta Friday afternoon after a morning session on reading with students in the classroom, but boy, I loved those South Carolina teachers. My South Carolina roots run deep; I didn't realize how deep until I prepared my talk and saw all the connections. Thank you SCIRA and Jeannette Davis at R.L. Bryan, for bringing me back to South Carolina. Joan, send me pictures of baby Grace!

I loved the friends I made and met in this past week of travel. They have restored my soul in the midst of this deep-winter time, and have reminded me that I am a writer, I am a reader, I am a teacher, a friend, a fellow traveler, and a resilient human being, after all. Thanks to Sarah Campbell, who took so many fantastic photos at this year's Springmingle, including the one at left. You make me look good, Sarah! Sarah's book WOLFSNAIL, will be here from Boyd's Mills in May. Congratulations, Sarah! Sarah has a blog here, where you can read more about the conference and the presenters. We had fun; I learned a lot.

Thanks to Hester Bass, good friend who took such good care of me this past weekend and hey to all my fellow SCBWI members who were so kind -- remember, spend it all, hold nothing back, write from your heart, and be not afraid. You just never know what breath or what story will be your last. I have a story to share with you about that very thing, but I need permission first... so more to come soon, more invincible summer.

What are your invincible summer moments this year, in the depths of your winter times? Last night, as daughter Hannah's Oscar party swelled from the basement and frivolity filled the house, husband Jim and I excused ourselves and tiptoed with our bowls of chili to Hannah's darkened upstairs bedroom, where we shut the door and ate together in Hannah's bed, and watched the Oscars on her tiny television, in the dark, basking in one another's company after four days away from it. Invincible summer, I thought. This is it. Laughter and loveliness surrounding us as a balm to the pain and indignation of the world.

This is what I'll write about in the Sixties Trilogy as well, that invincible summer inside each of us, that pulled us together, and pulled us through one of the most turbulent, changing, challenging, and defining decades in American history.

I'm starting back to work today, as February turns, oh-so-slowly, into glorious March.

Hurry spring.