Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April Eve

So, according to, one of my favorite websites, John Lafarge, a swellegant painter, was born on this day in 1835. And 97 years later, in 1932, 150 wild swans died at Niagara Falls.
Trivia, I know this is. Lots more important things there are to know, but I'm thinking that I'll be thinking of those swans tomorrow, in April, when March is as gone as Mr. Lafarge.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Tomorrow I'll be traveling, not my preferred way of spending time. There is many a place where I'd like to be. Campobello Island, to see where the prince of Hyde Park was struck down by polio in the summer of 1921. The countryside north of Florence, Italy. The temples of Kyoto, Japan. Yosemite. At these and at a handful of other places I'd ike to BE, but there's no place I want to GO, but go I shall, early, early tomorrow morning to visit with a bigshot, who's made a great deal of money talking to gatherings, gaggles, and multitudes of people to whom he sells his books and materials full of advice on how one might do as he has done, that being marketing. I shall ask his advice and why? Because it is very much one thing to research, write, design, draw, and paint a book, then talk with and to people about said book (public speaking: oh baybee, what fun that is!) Making a living is entirely another so I'm junketing off and away to ask questions of someone who knows what I don't, who's actively done what I never much wanted to do: marketing. Going about, letting people know how swell I am? that I exist? that I have written and drawn and painted? yikes. But an artist must. An author must or else... Or else no one will know I was here, that I ever did anything of consequence and if folks don't know they'll not buy my - books? Books on actual paper? Yup, I've written many of those and about the practice, the art of books people have asked my advice. Everybody needs it from time to time. No sense being stiff-necked or pouty about it. We all have much to learn (even the bigshot), much to share (even me).
Still, when it comes to advice, 'tis more blessed to give it than to be on the other end of the equation. So I'm going to go and get some advice. I need it.
Oh well, shoot. Who doesn't?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Eulah Day

So, as I write, the last few days of Women's History Month are ticking away.  By the time some of you read this, 'twill be April, Nat'l Poetry [Sexual Abuse/Board Game/ Violence/ Grilled Cheese] Month or, perhaps, beyond, but that, for now, is in my unimaginable future when this day, March 25, 2010, will be, for you future readers, your past (and mine). For me and my family, today is the anniversary of the birth of Eulah Brown in Cameron, Missouri, in 1893.  She'd grow up to be a hard-headed (She went off to business school in 1912, worked as her hometown's very first female "typewriter" in the office of Mutual Tornado Insurance Company. Eulah gave up the job when her fiancé, Harley Wolfe, returned home at last from the Great War in the summer of 1919 and married her.) , dark-haired young woman with a lovely features that became wondrously crone-like in her latter years.  Troubling, in a way, me being something of a cronette and one of Eulah's grandchildren.  
More importantly, world-and-women-wise, today is the 75th (yikes! time is a runaway train, no foolin')  anniversary of the birth of journalist and social activist Gloria Marie Steinem.  What young feminista/Baby Boomer did not delight in the quote attributed to Gloria:  "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." My very own eyes saw those words on many a T shirt under which no customary underwear constrained the wearer's bosom, set free. whew! Or "The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."  Yup: anger is a terrible master, but it is an amazingly effective servant.  And bless you, Ms. Steinem, for having said: "Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age."  Think Lizzy Cady Stanton, revolutionary in crinolines, totally rad.
Loftier, more seriously, Gloria noted that, "like art, revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before." 
And best of all, to my mind: 
"Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities," said Gloria S., Birthday Woman, "Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning."  
With all her being, Ms. Eulah would agree.  Happy Birthday.  Go Girls, this month and all year round. March on.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Live & Learn

Lousy riddle:
Q.: How do you drive an autodidact?
A. Don't have to; it drives itself.
Today's Birthday Person is Louis L'Amour, born up in North Dakota because that's where his parents were on the 22nd of March, 1908; Louis was very young & wanted to be near them. Why am I writing about this old buster? He was an autodidact, a self-taught person. Best known as a Western tale-wrangler, he wrote a not-so-very-good book called Education of a Wandering Man. Along with his rambles and hard-scrabbles as a circus hand, seaman, lumberjack, boxer, and writer are his lengthy reading lists. What hungry-minded Louis lacked in formal education, he made for in reading of the voracious kind, as did many a soul whom I've admired:
George Washington
Abigail Smith Adams
Harry S. Truman
Buckminster Fuller
Malcolm X
Leonardo da Vinci
Benjamin Franklin
Frederick Douglass
Abraham Lincoln
Thos. Alva Edison

Now, this is what musician Frank Zappa is said to have said about educating oneself:
"Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read." Of course, he's also quoted as saying that tobacco was his favorite vegetable. Been there. Smoked a lot of that.
Here's what Louis L'Amour wrote, and why I wanted to tip my cowboy hat to the old, long-dead dude on his birthday:
“Actually all education is self-education. A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education. What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book. You must fill in the colors yourself.”
Yippee ki yay, I say.
I'd write some more, but I'm going to go, by golly, learn something. Later this week, it'll be my job (the best part of it) to go off gassing to innocent school children. I'll so want to tell them You're all HERE! Right bang in the middle of a banquet of Knowledge - Eat it up! It's not just your teachers' jobs to stuff your passive little noggins. Own your minds! Feed 'em, for crying out loud!
okay. less coffee for Cheryl. more books.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

So Now It's Spring

La Primavera. Le Printemps. Der Frühling. Equinox of the vernal sort. It all adds up to Spring. "A little Madness in the Spring," wrote Miss Dickinson, "is wholesome even for the King." Of thee birds and poets sing/By thee snow and daffodils bring.
"Once there was a thing called Spring/ When the world was writing/ Verses like yours and mine/All the boys and girls would sing/ As we sat at little tables and drank May wine..." I reckon I'll leave out the rest of this poignant song lyric by Lorenz Hart. Richard Rodgers wrote a sad, swellegant tune to go with it.
"Come, gentle Spring! ethereal mildness, come..." so wrote James Thomson back in 1728, according to my Bartlett's. What, I wonder, was it like, walking about in the spring of 1728. Were you to be walking around my neighborhood today, you'd best be wearing your galoshes. You'd see this snowy lady on my front porch, as you walked by. Were you to walk up the shoveled path to my front door, though, you might hear Mimi barking inside (Man oh man, nothing other than a stranger rapping on the portal gets that little dog more excited!), but more than likely I'd not be coming to open up for visitors. Not at this time of day anyway. Better, sometimes, to dwell in contemplation than dither in human visitation on a snowy day in Spring.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Home Again

So, I made it back home from Warrensburg, MO, from the 42nd Annual Children's Literature Festival at the U. of Central MO. If only the dorky CMSU coed I was in 1970 could know that I'd return decades later, as one of 40-or-so authors and/or illustrators presenting to thousands of young students, telling them about my books, asking them who else they'd been to hear. Claudia Mills, a.k.a. Tarzan? (Man oh man, what a writer!) Barbara Robinson? (Promise yourself to read B.R.'sBest Christmas Pageant Ever. funniest book ever) That swellegant Patricia Hermes? "Have you," I'd ask, "seen David Harrison? Have you read his poems for little squirts like you?" Sure, some of them would listen to fellow Missouri writers Vicki Grove and Veda Boyd Jones, but would they sit around withthem, as I did, basking in their brilliance whilst drinking too much wine? Nope. Brad Sneed? (What a painter that guy is!) They and many more smartypants word-mongers were all there. What a big fat privilege to be in their company!

Folks on my father's side of the family used to live south of Warrensburg. They farmed down near the village of Post Oak, where my troubled, wandering grandfather, Clarence was born in 1886. His grandpa is listed in the 1870 (the year before the founding of the teachers' college at W'burg) census: Alden Harness (56, veteran of Missouri's 2nd Infantry, CSA) and his wife, Sarah (50) and the kids who were still at home: Julius (25), Tabitha (20), 17-yr.-old Mahala, young Sarah (15), Henry (14), Felix (13), my great-grandpa, Clarence's restless, runaway dad, Alden Jr. (8), and 6-year-old Rachel. These days, an eroded obelisk in a weedy graveyard in Chihowee marks where Alden Sr. and his wife Sarah were buried, in 1886, a few weeks before their grandson Clarence was born. Now, I reckon, they're all together in the Blue Beyond, home again.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

G.H. of the P.

What you read here below is an excerpt from my new little book, Grab Hold of the Past. What's it about? I'm glad you asked. It's my personal take on history, the writing of it, envisioning long-lost moments, as I've done in many a picture book and illustrated biography of such people as the remarkable naturalist, historian, writer, rancher, explorer, soldier, civil servant, big game hunter (don't much approve of that), dad, youngest President ever, diplomat, Theo. Roosevelt; and brilliant, talkative, and tubby John Adams, mighty under-appreciated, Founding Father-wise, stuck as he was between those tall, taciturn, handsome Virginians. You know who I mean. I stuffed this little book with useful, informative, and/or amusing, time-sucking weblinks, plus loads of quotations. Here's my favorite:
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." L. P. [Leslie Poles] Hartley (1895-1972)

Oh wait - I love this one, too:

"There is no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday."
Robt. Nathan (1894-1985)

AIl of our moments and stories are part of us, how and who we are. Might as well dance with the tales that took us here.
We embody the memories of friends, conversations, the books we’ve read, the movies that have spilled over us in the dark; home-places, classroom embarrassments, the scents of bread baking, pencils sharpened. Being woke up by howling night-owl babies, sitting with little brothers in the back of a station wagon, watching stars appear in a deepening blue night sky framing the Technicolor rectangle of a drive-in movie. That’s history, too.
I can’t help thinking of all those people back upstream, who played their scenes earlier on. They lived out their lives in worlds where flame was all there was to keep them from freezing in the dark. They depended on horses or their own two legs to get them from one place to another. Maybe they got dressed up once or twice to get their photographs taken. We look at them looking back at us from across a canyon of years that gets wider with every tick of the clock. … You are – we are – in fact, a symphonious concoction of elements, a complex, nature-nurture combo reflecting your place and time. So it is for every individual who’s ever drawn breath. And so it is for a country. More than borders and banners, any nation is a combination of all of the stories of all of the people who’ve lived in that land all down the years of the living past.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Granny D, January 24, 1910 - March 9, 2010

Oh my goodness – no, make that Granny D's goodness. Her goodness, her heroism and determination are on my mind at this moment. As I was trying, with limited success, to do my first posting with an actual PICTURE, a pleasant radio voice informed me that Doris Haddock passed away yesterday at her home in New Hampshire, at the age of 100.
The picture you see here (from Mr. Rick Hubbard's website, not that I'm endorsing him – he appears to be running for office in Vermont, far, far away from my home here in Independence, MO – I certainly don't want to be using an image w/o tipping a hat in the direction of its provenance.) was taken in the course of Doris Haddock's 3,200 mile-long walk across the U.S., begun in Pasadena, CA, on January 1, 1999. Why would an old lady do such a thing? She printed out her mission on the large yellow flag that fluttered over her head along the way: NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM.
Granny D (Doris's road name) was determined to do a great thing for the American ideal of self-governance, because, she said, "it is our dream and our history." She was protesting the selling of our government, our precious, revolutionary government, argued over and crafted in the miraculous summer of 1787 in Independence Hall, bled for in countless battlefields, to big corporations and billionaires, determined to influence our elected representatives, desperate for money to pay for our increasingly expensive elections. To large and larger crowds along the way, drawn, in part, by her radio interviews on NPR, Granny D gave passionate speeches, some of the most glorious examples of civic rhetoric I've ever come across. You can find text and some stirring video on You can read even more, and I hope you will, in the fine book she wrote with her friend Dennis M. Burke, Walking Across America in my 90th Year. They followed it up with another, entitled with words to live by: You're Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell.
Here, from my book Rabble Rousers, is how I described the conclusion of Granny D's trek: "Along the way, high school bands played for her, mayors gave her keys to their cities, and people cheered, "Go, Granny, Go!" On February 9, 2,000, than 2,000 people joined her in the last mile to the U.S. Capitol. On the marble steps ninety-year-old Doris Haddock said, 'Here we are senators, at your doorstep: We the people... How did you dare think that we would not come here to these steps to denounce your corruptions in the name of all who have given there lives to our country's defense and improvement."
Bless you forever, citizen Granny D. Long live the republic for which you walked.

Frankly Speaking

“Sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
Isn’t that brilliant? These words were written by Frances E. Willard (1839–1898), a remarkable social reformer and well worth a slice of your precious attention. She was one of the most influential women of her day. I wrote about her and 19 other remarkable dames who made a difference in my book Rabble Rousers (Dutton Children's Books, 2003). Truly, Ms. Willard was one of the most powerful and charismatic leaders of the19th century. She presided over the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the WCTU – some 150,000 members strong. Their relentless campaigning led to the 18th Amendment to the U.S.Constitution, which led to “Prohibition.” During this dramatic period, (1919-1933), liquor – making
it, selling, shipping, or drinking it – was flat against the law of the land. A pretty disastrous and immoderate social experiment, all in all, but what about this temperance idea? Xenophon, a long-gone Greek historian, defined it as “Moderation in all things helpful, total abstinence from all things harmful.” This was Benjamin Franklin’s take on it: “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.” Allow me to paraphrase: Eat not to fatness; drink responsibly. Xenophon and Ben sound like a pair of sensible guys, but this, after all, is Women’s History Month, so I’ll stick with
Frances, known as Frank to her friends. She had a lot more on her mind than teetotaling.
Frances Willard about worked herself to exhaustion, trying to make the world better. Get little kids out of factories and into school! People, clean up your habits, your cities and your prisons! Give women the right to vote! By 1894, Ms. Willard’s doctors were advising their intemperate patient to get outside; take up some “congenial exercise.” Sowing some daily practice on her shiny new bicycle, known as “Gladys” to her rider, Frances reaped a healthy habit. About the whole process she wrote a delightful essay, which closed with these words: “Go thou and do likewise!”
A link to Ms. Willard’s essay on her conquest of the bike:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women's Mystery Month

Extremely ancient Romans began their calendar year in this month named after Mars, god of war and candy bars. "January, February, MARCH!" So said Whizzo, a Kansas City TV clown, to get gaggles of shy little Baby Boomers stomping about the stage in their Buster Browns. I would have been one of them had my little brothers not gotten all chicken-pock-polka-dotted and foiled our chance to appear on television in living black & white. It's that memory that I associate with this month of mud, kites, Julius Caesar's fatal Ides (44 B.C.), the Boston Massacre (1770), Passover, and the vernal equinox. Only in 1987 did the U.S. Congress issue a resolution, declaring this to be Women's History Month. And, I discover in writing this, that in 1995, our Congressfolk designated March as Irish American Heritage Month. That being so, I hereby kill two birds with one stone – no, that sounds dreadful. Cadge a crocus and a shamrock with one pluck? Hoist two flags on one pole? I acknowledge my long-gone ancestor, Elizabeth Stewart of County Tyrone – how I WISH I could hear how she talked, see what she looked like!
Elizabeth, (mother of William, father of Jacob, father of Eulah, born in March of 1893; mother of Elaine, mother of ME) came over from Ireland in 1825, the year that the Erie Canal was completed, the year that John and Abigail Adams' tightly-wrapped (How could he not be, with that set of parents?), far-traveled son became the nation's 6th President. What did that rough, complex, smelly, exuberant, slow-moving, candle-lit world look like? How can it be that such vivid times and people are so irrevocably beyond our reach? That's the question, the mystery that pulls at my heart, that has led me write and illustrate so many books over the years, every book a slice of timepie.