Thursday, May 28, 2009

Willingness to Change

A while back, Nancy was asked to contribute to Thicker than Water, Don Meyer's collection of essays by adult siblings of people with disabilities. She agreed, and here is the essay she wrote, entitled "Willingness to Change":

I've flown home from Baltimore on Christmas Eve day, even though I was invited to stay with my boyfriend's family through Christmas, with him. As soon as my plane lands, I head for my sister's apartment to pick her up. She'll be staying with me for several days. This has been our tradition (even though we are Jewish, we require a Christmas tradition). It is important to me to make sure my sister has holiday plans. Plans, presents, family. We have other family members, but I am the main one for her. I am "it," and I have been for many years, and I expect always to be.

She seems happy and untroubled when I pick her up. This is a relief, because when I told her I was going away for the weekend before Christmas, she asked, "Can I come?"

"No, not this time," I said. "I'm going to visit Jim's family. But you'll have a chance to meet them later on, I promise. And I'll be home to get you on Christmas Eve, and we'll spend Christmas together as we always do. I've already made our reservation for the brunch at the Seaport Hotel."

I was rattled. It was hard for me to say this "no" to my sister, and indeed, only possible for me to allow myself to visit my boyfriend's family at all because I'd made the plan to come back before Christmas. Only later did I realize that my sister's desire to come with me to Baltimore was unlikely to be about her wanting to meet Jim's family, but about wanting to travel, which she loves to do.

We are on the verge of huge change, my sister and I. I am forty six years old. I never thought I would marry and didn't think I wished to. But now, to my astonishment and very great happiness, this has changed.
But with the change comes anxiety and fear. How do I reassure my sister? How will she adjust to change? How will I? We were the single daughters. Despite our differences, we were a pair. There was reassurance in that, and safety, and routine, for both of us.

In telling her the Christmas plans, I had carefully avoided talking to her about New Year's Eve. This, too, we have often if not always spent together. But soon after I pick her up, she asks me.
"I'm going away over New Year's with Jim," I say. I take a deep breath, and then I add: "Jim and I are courting. When a couple are courting, that means they're thinking seriously about marriage. During courtship, they need to spend time alone together, and that's what we're doing. We are probably going to be married. So, I can't be with you on New Year's Eve."

"Oh," my sister says, and then adds, "Very interesting."

There is no explosion or difficulty. She seems pragmatic. I explain further that, in marrying, I would still live where I do now, and would not move away to another state, as our other sister did.

A few days later, my sister pulls together a little Christmas present for Jim--a (slightly used) bottle of aspirin, which is a very typical present type from my sister. This delights me, and Jim, who is beginning to get to know her, and who says, when I tell him this story, "Well, it is very interesting."

What the future will hold, I don't exactly know. Plans, presents, family. These are now happening for me with someone else. There will always be a place in my life for my sister, but it won't be the same. Things will change, that's all I know and all I can know. That, and the fact that I will always be nearby. In choosing a husband, I am not changing my choice to be "it" for my sister.

But I will be a different "it," all the same. It scares ms, because the "it" that I was worked very well.

My sister is the one with autism, supposedly the one who wants things to be always the same. But I think it may have taken me all of these forty six years to find my own willingness to change, willingness to open my life and my heart fully.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mastery of Impossible

Impossible has been selected as part of the 2009-2010 Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List, sponsored by Eastern Kentucky University Libraries. (Has a nice ring to it -- I'll bet EKU has a good marketing program.) Kentucky students in grades K-12 are encouraged to read from the list, and they get to vote for their favorite title of the year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Judge Werlin presiding

It's official: the National Book Foundation has announced its judges for the 2009 National Book Awards, and Nancy has been tabbed to serve.

She will chair the committee of judges in the Young People's Literature category. Nancy will be working with fellow judges Kathy Appelt, Coe Booth, Carolyn Coman, and Gene Yang to winnow out the best of the best from hundreds of nominees.

They'll determine the finalists in October, and name the winner at the annual dinner in New York City in November. Looks like a busy summer in store...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Get your punctuation out of my quotation marks!

No inexorable slide to becoming a grumpy old man is complete without a few pet peeves, and one of my faves is the ludicrous rule about putting periods and commas inside of quotation marks, regardless of context. For years I've complained about it to anyone who would listen (a select group if ever there were one).

So I've got to give a big shout out to the Chicago Manual of Style Online, which neatly makes my case for me. The section devoted to this rule amounts to a point-by-point condemnation of it:
  • First they start by absolving themselves of responsibility: "This is a traditional style, in use well before the first edition of this manual (1906)." (Don't blame us; we didn't think of it, and besides, it was always this way.)
  • Next they give it a double-whammy, leaning on Strunk & White for support while quoting them to say that it's nonsensical: "Typographical usage dictates that the comma be inside the [quotation] marks, though logically it often seems not to belong there". Good call on the logic. And what typographical usage? You mean the kind where printers used to lay up type by hand? Dudes, this ain't 1906. And they don't even say what the typographical issue is. Maybe this is just urban legend. is silent on the matter.
  • The next two sentences essentially say that you can skip it in cases where you need integrity, accuracy, or non-ambiguity. Not that any of these things are desirable in writing.

And that's it! In a related section they discuss the alternative system, which is apparently what the rest of the English-speaking world uses, including the British, who I need not remind you invented the language. They make their strongest argument there, asserting without example that this "alternative" system requires "extreme authorial precision". Presumably we Yanks are too stupid to get it right. But in the section on other punctuation marks, they follow the Brits, and go as far as to say "This rule applies the logic absent in 6.8" (the previous rule).

Soooo, let me see if I can sum this up. Because we are stupid, we have to follow an antiquated, illogical rule that costs us integrity and accuracy while leading to ambiguity. And we do want to follow the rule, lest we seem stupid. Yeah.

The worst part of all this is that the Chicago Manual of Style itself seems to think that this is a ridiculous rule, but leaves it in place, even though it gets to make the rules.

Are you reading this, Chicago Manual of Style? You can do this! I know you can! Change the damn rule already, and let people put their punctuation where it belongs. Look, I'm going to be grumpy enough as is -- eliminate this one pet peeve at least, and cut Nancy some slack, OK?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The battle is over!

In case you missed it, a winner has been declared in the School Library Journal's Battle of the (Kids') Books. Regardless of which book you were voting for or whether you care, it's worth following the link just for Lois Lowry's commentary.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Return of the Killer's Cousin...

...and Locked Inside, too!

Lynn Rutan and Cindy Dobrez have some great things to say about Killer's Cousin on their Bookends blog on Booklist, and they also note that both it and Locked Inside have been reissued by Penguin with new covers.

This is especially timely since both titles have just become available as audio books from Brilliance Audio. You can find Locked Inside here and Killer's Cousin here.