Spent my afternoon talking about David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. This is the first Malcolm Gladwell book I’ve read … well, heard. I didn’t read it, I listened to it. About three and a half times. It’s another book club pick I thought I wouldn’t enjoy, so I borrowed it as an audiobook from the library.

“Enjoy” doesn’t seem like the right word at this point, as I work my way through listen number 4.

Book group met for hours today … and it wasn’t enough time to talk through everything we wanted to talk about in this book. We had a great discussion, and we still couldn’t fit the whole book in. I, for one, would have been happy to talk for a few more hours so we could discuss all the things. Well … not really, but I am sorry I won’t get to hear those aspects of the book examined by the smart ladies in my book group.

Have you read this book? Which section(s) did you find most compelling? Have you read others of Gladwell’s books? Which would you recommend I pick up next?

It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!


When Life Doesn’t Imitate Art

I am making my way for the second time through Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. This isn’t a book I would ever have chosen to read, but it’s the January pick for my book group, and so. As much as I was sorry to see this book win the group’s vote, I’m so glad it did. This is a stunning, well-written book that needs reading and heeding. I suspect it will get much more of the first than the second.

When my mentee, Sophia, and I had our pair session this week, I told her about the book, told her I hadn’t wanted to read it because I knew it would depress the mess out of me and be really frustrating. We talked about the history of mass extinctions and the sad fact that humans are causing this current die-off. And we talked about animals that have been lost …

And then this question happened:

“Mammoths are still alive, right?”

It froze me for a second because it wouldn’t have occurred to me that anyone would imagine that we still had Mammoths running around somewhere on earth. But it was a sincere question. So I put on my serious face and answered: “No honey, not for … um … thousands of years.”

This was the wrong answer, of course. She was so unhappy! We went online for verification of my “thousands of years” and talked about how cool it would be if Mammoths were still around (but would it be cool?). And then:

“What about Saber-tooth Tigers? They’re still around, right?”

Sophia is young, it’s true, but I’m still surprised. Aren’t these extinctions well-enough known to be the fauna equivalent of canon?

I broke the news about the tigers, feeling more and more sorry for bringing up Kolbert’s book with every second. Sophia was really hit by this information, and I was so unprepared for our conversation, I didn’t do a good job of helping her through it. This isn’t covered in the mentor’s handbook!

We talk more. I talked about some of the animals Kolbert highlights in her book, particularly the Great Auk, whose story really broke my heart. We looked at pictures of a bunch of extinct animals and talked about when they lived and what caused their extinctions … and about the fact that the cause was so often humans. We took a look at the Saber-tooths for nostalgia’s sake … and that’s when it all became clear:

“Because, you know, Ice Age is my favorite movie. I guess I just thought they must all still be here.”

Because … oh.

Sophia has seen this movie many (MANY) times. And I totally get having a favorite show really change how you see the world. I have a hard time remembering that George Washington was a big, handsome Black man who sings like Christopher Jackson. (No, really.) But I’m still thrown by this. Maybe I’m thrown because I wonder what gets covered in earth science classes? Maybe.I think it’s more wonder at the beauty and sweetness that is Sophia’s ability to believe in living Mammoths and Saber-tooth Tigers. And sadness that I crushed them, that I’m suddenly the villain who made them all extinct with one casual response.

Sigh. Well, I am human, after all. And we’re all definitely the villains in Kolbert’s book, villains of the unsightly drama that’s been playing out for decades but moving faster and faster in recent years. The Sixth Extinction should be required reading. Yes, to make sure you know that we no longer have Mastodons and Mammoths (not related to each other, by the way!), but also to understand the loss of the Great Auks, and now Panamanian Golden Frogs. But, more importantly, I’d hope this book could force us to come to terms with the destruction we’re wreaking across the globe. Yes. In a perfect world.

But, if we lived in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have pushed the earth to this point, would we?

Coming Clean

Well Read

I confess. I never finished Moby Dick. Couldn’t. Didn’t want to. Never read more of Faulkner than “Barn Burning.” Refused to stick with Finnegan’s Wake. I managed to slog through Madame Bovary, Jane Eyre, Beowulf, The Golden Notebook. Weeks of my life I can never get back. I confess. These are iceberg-tip lists. I could make lit professors weep with all I haven’t forced myself to swallow. I confess. I don’t find that I’ve ever had much time to be concerned with THE CANON, with what’s considered classic. I’m not throwing shade. I’m just saying. I read Ulysses. Twice. And War and Peace, August 1914, Crime and Punishment. Oh yes. Give me Russians. Give me Russians any day. Not because they’re in the literary canon, but because they speak to me. I confess. I am more interested in my pleasure, in stories that resonate, than in faking passion. I confess … but I’m not repentant.

I think I’ve gone off course with these prose poems, lost what little hold I had on how they’re supposed to work. Time to go back to my crib sheets and get reacquainted with this form.


Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a confession poem. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

Silence Broken

Tonight I went to the New York launch of Lisa Factora-Borchers’ anthology, Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence. There was a great introduction/process description and reading — including a recording sent from Belgium — and a Q&A.  My time and my calendar said I shouldn’t go, couldn’t go, but I had to ignore them.  And I’m so very glad I did.   I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m going to say that all of us should.  This is a conversation we need to be having, work we need to be doing.  I’m so grateful to Lisa and all of the writers in the anthology who were brave enough to share their stories, and I’m grateful to the women in the audience who stepped up with the same bravery during the discussion afterward.

Tonight’s Arun.  It didn’t quite do what I wanted, but I felt less hampered that single-syllable line tonight.  Not sure why that might have been true. The Poetic Asides writing prompt for the day is to write a message poem. And so:

your voice —
nails on chalkboard —
needles through my brain.
have words
no one wants.
Words that open
doors, that open wounds,
in faces,
tell the truth:
lifting all boats
from pain to praisesong.



An Arun is a 15-line poem with the syllable count 1/2/3/4/5 — 3x.  It may be a new thing in the world, made up by me last year.  “Arun” means “five” in Yoruba.

A Willow Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I saw them again! The lovely mother and daughter from my Cat in the Hat post the other day! We were on the bus again, heading downtown. This time, the mom was doing the reading.  Her daughter was curled up against her, listening intently.  Mom was reading The Wind in the Willows. Put a smile on my face that she had chosen a classic.

The bigger smile on my face came from watching and listening to the way the mom read the story — thinking out loud after she read certain lines so that her daughter could see the way she thought about what she was reading, pausing and asking her daughter to predict what might happen next, etc.  I love how invested the mom clearly is in her daughter’s literacy, how patiently she waited for her daughter’s answers and talked through them with her, how cute they looked snuggled up together on the bus seat, deep in their story, deep in that book.

They made my morning.  And I wonder what I’ll get to hear them read next time!


Check out all of the slices on Two Writing Teachers!

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Petal Pushers

Just spent a lovely, lovely evening with friends catching up, laughing, sharing a meal and discussing The Language of Flowers.

My friends and I (my book club), alternate month to month between fiction and nonfiction. A little something for everyone. And this month’s options were down to me. I gave the group a handful of titles to choose from, and — while I’ll admit that I was hoping Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe would win — I wanted to read all of the books I put up for the vote, so I was happy enough when Diffenbaugh’s book won.

I’d chosen not to read the more spoiler-y reviews, so I didn’t know what to expect, but the premise interested me: Victoria ages out of foster care … life ensues.

Language reads so easily, totally passed my “has it drawn me in” test by making me almost miss my stop on the subway and bus, and by having a number of moments that made me close the book because I couldn’t bear to see what Victoria would do next … and then open it again immediately because I couldn’t bear not knowing.  The characters feel real (mostly), and the writing is good.  I had problems with some of the choices the author made, some of the character inconsistencies that I found jarring.  I had problems with the ending — the “how” of it, not the “what.”

Maybe what moved me most of all in reading this book, is that it made me think of my grandmother, Mom.  I’ve written here at least once about the fact that she was a foster parent for decades.  Thinking about the way Victoria grew up, and thinking about the difference having a long-term foster home meant for many of the kids who came Mom’s way.  Thinking about the ones who thrived, and thinking about the ones who couldn’t stay, as much as they needed to.  Thinking about the one’s whose families stayed connected to them and came back for them, and thinking about the ones whose families couldn’t be those families.  Wondering what happened to the ones who didn’t stay in our family after leaving Mom’s house.

Victoria would never have been one of Mom’s kids — social services only brought her the brown babies — but page after page after page, I found myself wishing that she could have been.

Like Victoria, my grandmother had an amazing skill with plants.  I have no idea if she ever bothered to learn anything about the language of flowers, but she certainly knew how to grow just about anything.  She didn’t spend a lot of time on flowers — they were in the outdoor garden, but were more casual decoration, not for picking and gracing a dining table or night stand.  She grew vegetables and she grew non-flowering plants.  Her indoor garden was amazing, filling shelf after shelf after shelf in lush, many-hued leaves and fronds.

I don’t know anything about the language of flowers, either … I mean, I didn’t before I read the book.  I knew it existed, but I hadn’t ever thought about it.  Now, I’m itching to send coded messages through the seemingly casual combination of blossoms.  A year ago, I started buying myself flowers at the start of every weekend (thank you, Apartment Therapy, for making that a new habit!), and I love choosing them.  The man I buy from knows me now — what I like, my price range, how much I like to be surprised by something I haven’t seen before.  I wonder what he’d say if I asked him what each flower means. Perhaps it’s time to take our floral relationship to the next level.


To see all of today’s slices, head over to Two Writing Teachers!

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Sometimes, happiness is a comic book. (SOLSC 2)

When I was a kid, my aunt gave me a comic book about black history.  I love-love-loved it.  And — bonus! — I learned stuff from reading it.  But I was a kid.  I held onto the comic for years but eventually I just didn’t have it.  Did I lend it to someone and never get it back?  Did it get lost in one of my 400,000 moves?  It was just no longer in my possession.  And I didn’t lose sleep over it, but I was unhappy that that was true.

From time to time I’ve thought about it, and I’ve certainly wished I still had it, but what can you do about something like that? I’ve mentioned it to people, but no one had ever seen or heard of it.

And then last weekend it occurred to me to search for it online. I know: why had I never thought of that before? But I hadn’t. Clearly I wasn’t meant to think of it until my search would be able to bear fruit:


It is as I remember it — Crispus Attucks and Deadwood Dick and Daniel Hale Williams — every story I was so happy to read about when I was a kid, every story that — with the single exception of Harriet Tubman — wasn’t included in any of the history books we studied in school.  (I’ll admit that I definitely didn’t remember “Negro Americans, the Early Years” as the title!  Maybe if I had, I’d have found it before last weekend.)  I purchased it immediately and it arrived on Thursday.  Now I’m searching for a front-opening shadow box to display it in!

Yeah, sometimes happiness really can be a comic book. And sometimes the internets really can be a force for good!

Check out the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers!