Monday, March 13, 2017

Love for Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Love is a transformative experience.  We know that.  We assume that those we love must be in our lives, pushing us, prodding us, arguing with us, supporting us in order to feel that transformative power, but this morning, as I cry my eyes out over the death of a stranger, I’m coming to realize that what we love--even if it’s distant, unknowable, and other--can still transform us.

This story begins perhaps eight years ago.  I read a review of a memoir, The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  At least, I think that’s how I found it.  A best of list, a must-read list, I can’t remember anymore.  But it had two things that meant a lot to me--encyclopedias and ordinary life--so I thought I would like it. 

It didn’t take long to read. I shared excerpts with a friend who was writing a memoir.  I ate it up, I loved it so.  I read all the time--five, six books a week, more if it’s poetry or children’s book week.  But I don’t always fall in love the way I did with Amy’s ordinary life.  I don’t always find the website of the writer.  I don’t always order every book they’ve written from the library.  But I did after I read Amy. 

I had my MFA.  I wrote memoir and poetry.  Then, I stopped writing.  My second child, born eight years after my first so that I would have time to continue writing and building my writing career, was on the autistic spectrum.  He did not sleep.  He was challenging.  He needed a lot of outside support.  I stopped writing.  But when I met Amy (through her book), he was in middle school and doing much better.  I had time to myself again.  I had stopped writing for adults, but had begun to study books for children, picture books, mid-grade novels, science books.  I had written a mid-grade novel over one summer and fallen in love with Kate DiCamillo.  I was thinking about writing for children.  I was studying writing for children. 

But Amy’s memoir inspired me.  Maybe, I thought, I should go back to that work.  I didn’t know anyone who wrote for children and adults. 

Then I went to Amy’s website.  And under her umbrella (yes, it's really an umbrella)—books for kids and books for grown ups. 

Maybe, I thought to myself.  Possibly? 

I read Amy’s picture books, I liked them as much as I did her Encyclopedia.  I kept writing, doing my work--writing poems for adults and picture books and novels for children.  Occasionally, I wrote poems for children, but mostly they were for adults.  I worked, I read, I learned.  Every so often, I’d visit Amy on her web page, just to see what she was up to.  To check in with her the way I did with friends on Facebook or through email.  I ordered her new books, watched the Beckoning of Lovely videos.  And then, one time, I found the PantoneProject website.  Ohhh, color.  I submitted a picture.  I submitted a story.  Amy published my picture.  Then, Amy published my little prose poem/story. 

I had not published anything in fifteen years.  But Amy thought my writing was good enough.  Okay, I’ll admit, I don’t even know if it was Amy who was doing the selecting, but I felt like I knew her. When she accepted my work, I felt like she had seen me and found me to be lovely, to be good enough.  The best writers make us feel that way, don’t they?  Like someone can see inside us, like someone cares enough to show us how to live. 

After that, I had more courage.  I sent out more poems.  I finished books.  I went back to Amy’s site when I designed my website.  (I still think she has the best website ever.)   

Poems got published, agents said nice things.  I wrote more.  I’m still trying to find an agent for my picture books.  I’m still submitting poems and waiting for more yesses than nos. I'm still writing, creating, imagining.

When I was younger, I completed an MFA.  Leslie Ullman and Ben Saenz cheered me on.  But then my writing life went on pause.  When I was ready to start again, Amy cheered me on.  Not because she knew my work, but because of who she was--an energetic, inspiring, openhearted person who seemed to share all of herself with the whole world.  Who didn’t seem to think she had to fit anyone’s idea of what a children’s writer, a memoirist, a videographer, a community organizer was supposed to be.  Amy cheered me on without ever meeting me. 

I’m heartbroken.  I’ve cried for nearly an hour, and even now, my eyes are getting a little blurry while I think again of a world without Amy.  The love she poured into her books and into her projects has transformed me.

But though I’m bereft at the thought of a world without Amy, I’m also happy to know that her work is still here.  She’s left a little part of herself, indeed she’s left as much as I’ve ever known of her behind.  She will still teach and inspire others.  

I’m sorry for her husband, for her children, for her friends.  And I’m sorry for Amy. I have a feeling she might have liked to say more to this world during her time in it or maybe just wanted a little more time. I’m sorry for her readers.  I’m sure some of them, like me, are sitting at their computers and crying as if they’ve lost a friend. 

And I’m so glad she was my friend.  A friend I shared so much with.  A friend who led me to my best self.  A friend who transformed me with her love.  A friend I never had a chance to meet.  Sweet rest, Amy.  Thank you so much, for encouraging us to be more, to do more for others.  Thank you so much, for everything. #LoveForAmyKrouseRosenthal

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