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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Meeting of the Ritas

Last Friday, at the NYLA YSS Spring Conference, three co-panelists and I presented booktalks for an audience of about 50 fellow youth services librarians. Our topic was "In Be-'Tween' Reads" (see what they did there?) It seemed to go over well, but I can never tell with these things. At the very least, no one who attended our presentation fell asleep. You really can't ask for more than that. The other workshops I attended that day were interesting and informative, and it was nice to talk shop with librarians from various places around New York.

But! The best part of the day (besides the chocolate cake they served after lunch) was meeting the lovely Rita Williams-Garcia, who is a fabulous writer and an all-around nice lady. At the conference, I bought a copy of Jumped and approached the signing table. In the interest of having something to say other than the usual awkward comment about how I like an author's books, I planned to play up the old "We have the same name!" angle à la Seinfeld:

JERRY: "Jerry Lewis is gonna be at this Friar's Club roast I'm going to next week. Now I have an 'in' to strike up a conversation with him."

GEORGE: "You already have an in. You have the same first name!...Jerry!"

JERRY: "Oh, that'll intrigue him."

I admit, it wasn't exactly the best plan. However, Ms. Williams-Garcia beat me to the punch and, being a seasoned book-signer, looked at my badge to see what my name was. Her response was an animated "Hey! Your name is Rita too!" And so began a friendship that I'm sure will last forever.

See! She'll look me up in Brooklyn! BFF!

Okay, maybe not. But we did have a nice little chat, and her luncheon speech at the conference was both entertaining and inspiring. Be sure to check out her books! 

On top of everything else, as a gift for participating on the panel, I was given a nice blue water bottle (which will certainly be more appropriate than the one I currently have that says "What Makes You Think This is Water?") Yay for library conferences! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What I Learned from Grandma

*Edit: after a rough week, my grandmother finally let go and died in her sleep early this morning, Tuesday, June 26th. She takes with her the love of her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and all the people she impacted in her life with her warmth, humor, and strength. Rest well, sweet Betty.

Today is my Grandma Betty's 91st birthday. The photo below was taken about a year and a half ago at my parents' house during one holiday or another. My aunt was trying to get Grandma (whose mental health has been in decline for the past decade) to smile for the camera, but Betty looked at me instead and put her hand to my face in an affectionate gesture - a gesture that brought tears of surprise and happiness to my eyes because it was so unexpected. I guess I hadn't realized how much I really miss her.

Grandma's not so good with names anymore, but I like to think that she knew who I was during this moment. And as you can see, she's as lovely as ever.

Betty was (and is - I would hate to say that she isn't anymore) quite a remarkable lady. She and my grandfather raised nine children – eight girls and one boy – who all turned out well-adjusted, successful, and happy. This, I believe, is a testament to my grandmother’s character. She was challenging, but loving. She was intelligent, inquisitive, and sharply funny, but also had a strong spiritual side. And she treated all of her approximately two billion grandchildren with equal love and attention. Even after she starting losing her memory, she retained her sense of humor, which was something that kept my family going even as things got tougher and tougher to deal with emotionally.

Being a voracious reader herself, my grandmother was a big influence on my own love of literature. Many of the books from my childhood are inscribed with her scrawling handwriting. (She was an excellent writer, despite the fact that her script was barely legible.) One day in the early years of her descent into dementia, Grandma was on my parents' couch reading a book of short stories. When she finished the book, my mother asked her how she liked it. My grandmother, not realizing that it wasn't a novel, said:

“It’s well-written, but it seems to jump around a lot.”

"Mom, it's supposed to jump around. They're short stories."


This exchange was an alarming clue as to the start of the downfall of her comprehension, but now it's an anecdote my family members like to tell with a smile. Like I said, this is how we deal with strife – by making a joke out of it to ease out some of the pain. I don’t know, maybe it's an Irish thing, but it works for us.

When I was growing up, Betty and her second husband Jack had a cute house out in Southampton with a swimming pool in the backyard. This, to me, was one of the greatest luxuries a person could have - an oasis of calm, blue water right outside your own house. I loved to swim, but around age nine, I was still afraid to dive into the deep end of the pool, mostly because I couldn't picture doing it in a way that wouldn't result in my untimely demise. I mean, the concept of diving is a little insane, if you really think about it. You are propelling your body - headfirst - into a body of water. Water you can drown in. Who would want to learn how to do THAT?

But learn I did, and it was all thanks to my grandmother's patient guidance. Wearing her nose clips and flowered bathing cap, she showed me the proper stance to take, how to hold my arms and jump off using my knees, and reminded me to hold my breath as I dove - a key point that I somehow forget at times. Soon, I was staging diving contests and making my relatives "rate" my dives (if I got anything less than a 10, I would get a self-imposed do-over). These are happy memories. These memories, and others, helped shape who I am today.

So, Happy Birthday, Betty. You may not remember who I am, but I will always remember you as you were that summer when I was nine, cheering and clapping at the side of the pool. Thank you for teaching me to not be afraid of diving in headfirst.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Real Women of Brooklyn

Get ready for a blog post in which I shamelessly promote myself! I mean, it's okay to promote yourself on your own blog, right? That's basically why blogs exist? Anyway, some of you might have heard of a new reality show coming out on the Oxygen network called "Brooklyn 11223." (If you haven't heard of it, please just Google it. I don't even feel like linking directly to it because I find the whole idea of the show so annoying.) 

The whole situation (not to be confused with Mike "The Situation," mind you) is causing some controversy in my neighborhood, so the Brooklyn Daily Eagle is starting a weekly feature called "The Real Women of Bay Ridge" to counteract the stereotypes that are sure to be purported by the show. Brace yourselves, here comes the self-promotey part: I was interviewed as a "Real Woman" for my work at the library and on the local community board. Kinda cool, right? And it came out just in time for International Women's Day! Yay feminism! 

The article doesn't appear online as far as I know, so if you can't get your hands on a hard copy of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, feel free to attempt to view the grainy scans of the article below. (UPDATE: a friend alerted me to the fact that the text to the article can be accessed online after all! Ahhh, technology) I really do think Brooklyn is great, and Bay Ridge in particular is a wonderful place to live, so I hope this feature gains some traction! (Otherwise, I might have to adopt Snooki's hairdo and I just don't have the time, energy, or access to a Bumpit to do so.)

Made the cover!