art, friendship, literature

This just in: A poem a friend wrote for me 18 years ago

Poem by KaRyn Daley
Poem by KaRyn Daley

Last week, I mentioned a poem my friend, KaRyn, wrote and then gave me a framed copy of as a 21st birthday present when we were in college. She is an amazing poet and this framed poem is one of my prized possessions. It’s one of the very few things that survived my apartment building fire almost 6 years ago. And I think that says something extraordinary about its power, and the magic of the poem and the person who wrote it. Thank you, KaRyn! Here’s the text:

“It is a renewal of Spirit that makes you uncomfortable Butterfly.
Whetted wings of resistance
stick to walls of old paper that advertise nothing—needing nothing.
So Flyer, fly—and make your peace with the blue sky.
Swear you don’t wear pastel.
Take on black, brown, gold
and become a richness of soul.
Beauty is a hidden trick
most hands would capture with pins
and fettering glass,
starving the greeness from the grass.
But some hands are freeing.
Some hands are strong enough to come home empty
and some hands will hold but not contain.
Those are the hands to land on.
Let your Spirit Wings of Water wake
and rise unweighted.
There is a threshold of reason
and one of power;
These are yours to cross and attain.

Voice your wings, my breaker of cocoons.

~KaRyn Daley

For Christa Avampato – a true breaker of cocoons with hands strong enough to come home empty.
March 17, 1997”

literature, writing

This just in: My essay Help in the Ashes was published by Earl of Plaid Literary Journal

Blue Collar Royalty
Blue Collar Royalty

I’m really excited to share that Help in the Ashes, a personal essay I wrote about my apartment building fire and the work of healing I did in the aftermath of it, was just published in the literary journal Earl of Plaid. This is my first piece selected by a literary journal, and I’m thrilled to be included with the other authors in the volume entitled Blue Collar Royalty, the first of their quarterly journals that includes nonfiction essays.

You can read my bookmarked essay by clicking here.

art, books, child, childhood, children, creativity, literature, museum, New York City, story, writer, writing

Inspired: Madeline in New York – Ludwig Bemelmans Art Exhibit at New-York Historical Society

Exhibit at the New-York Historical Society

“For me Madeline is therapy in the dark hours.” ~ Ludwig Bemelmans

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…” is one of the most famous introductions to one of the most famous characters in children’s literature: Madeline. Ludwig Bemelmans created Madeline after a terrible accident that left him hospitalized at the age of 39. His hospital roommate was a young girl who had her appendix removed. Her stories of her life inspired Bemelmans to create Madeline.

Eventually Bemelmans recovered from his injuries and published his first Madeline book at age 41 after 20+ years of working in hotels in New York. During those two decades, he consistently practiced his art and slowly built up his freelance portfolio. His example has been a great inspiration to me as a writer.

Madeline was Bemelmans’ second act after many years of difficult work in a completely different industry. He never lost his optimism and never gave up. And thank goodness. Not only is Madeline therapy for him, but it’s therapy for all of his readers and admirers, particularly little girls who strive to be strong, brave, and courageous. The New-York Historical Society has mounted a retrospective of Bemelmans’ life and art with Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.

Bemelmans Bar is one of my favorite bars in New York – tucked away in the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street. The walls are covered with his original drawings. It’s a good place to dream, and drink. If you’re in New York, I highly recommend it.

books, children, community, economy, education, family, leadership, legacy, literature, philanthropy, time

Beautiful: John Wood’s Incredible Mission to Create Room to Read for Millions of Kids Around the Globe

9780670025985_p0_v1_s260x420Ten years go, John Wood embarked on a courageous journey. He left his job at Microsoft for one simple reason: so that “children everywhere have access to literacy and books in their mother tongue from a young age.” Sound audacious to you? It did to Charlie Rose as well. “Every child,” Charlie repeated in an interview with John. “Every one, without exception,” John said.

It is that kind of resolve, focus, and elegant vision that I find so exhilarating and inspiring. As a nonprofit founder, fundraiser, and a consultant who works with a number of nonprofits, I also know how hard it is to identify and maintain. John will not be deterred. It is his commitment to the children of this world that has allowed Room to Read, his nonprofit, to open 10,000 libraries around the world in 10 years. 10,000. It is astonishing.

In 2007, John wrote the book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children. Today, his new book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy, goes on sale. It has valuable information for everyone who has ever cared about a cause or mission, for-profit, non-profit, or otherwise. It’s a story about the value of a dream and the determination to make it real. John talks about his all-star team, their site evaluation process, and what it truly means to work side-by-side with people you want to help in pursuit of a common goal. In equal parts, he gets down into the details about his fundraising and management philosophies and then shares his powerful emotions such as his misty-eyed moment when the 10,000th library opened in Nepal with his parents by his side.

John’s story is inspiring for all of the goodness he conveys though he is not shy about the hardships he, his staff, and the communities face. Global literacy is a battle in every sense. Moving into Africa was a particularly harrowing decision and an even more harrowing process. His team literally risked their lives to make it happen. In countries like Cambodia, 43% of grade-three students in his country could not read at an age-appropriate level. Statistics like this led Room to Read’s mission and activities to evolve. It wasn’t enough to build libraries and furnish them with books. First, they had to teach people to read. Without literacy programs, the libraries would be of zero value to half the population.

Once I cracked open this book, I couldn’t put it down. Nose pressed against the pages, I would look up and realize that hours had gone by. After a while, I stopped using my highlighter because I was highlighting every sentence. John Wood and Room to Read are paving the way toward a brighter future. Thank goodness he left Microsoft to change the world. With this book, I’m certain he will inspire many people to take up a cause that matters and make it their life’s work. And we will all be better off for it.

adventure, courage, literature, yoga

Leap: Finding Our Edge is the Only Work We Have to Do

From Pinterest member

“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle. Your boundaries are your quest.” ~ Rumi

Yoga asks us to find the balance between effort and ease, to seek our edge without going over it. This is the challenge on the mat and the challenge of our lives. We have to dream big to find that edge. We have to play, experiment, and envision a life without boundaries to open ourselves to our true potential.

We don’t know how far we can go until we set out on the greatest adventure we can imagine. Find those boundaries and then seek to transcend them – this is the only rule for extraordinary living. Everything else is up to us.

art, literature, work

Leap: Longfellow Shows Us How to Keep Our 2012 Resolution

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My friend, Col, posted A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on her Facebook page as 2011 drew to a close. It’s last stanza, “Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate ; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait” is such a beautiful sentiment as we turn our attention to this new year that I decided to share it here. It’s eloquently lays out what we must do in 2012 to make it a stellar year:

We must be ready to work hard, very hard.

We must be ready for anything and everything that comes out way.  

We must pursue our passions.

And then we wait to see what fruits our labors bear, knowing we’ve done all we can to do to create our own success. 

There is a timeless resolution if ever I heard one. Poetry has a way of making us see so plainly the road that needs to be taken.

Here is the full poem in its entirety:



TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real !   Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o’erhead !

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

choices, decision-making, literature, mentor, writer, writing

Step 236: Mentor: A Memoir

I went to The Half King (one of the last great New York literary bars) last night to hear the author Tom Grimes talk about his new book Mentor: A Memoir. The book discusses Grime’s relationship with Frank Conroy, his mentor and friend whom he met at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop when Grimes was a graduate student at Iowa. Grimes explained how the book came about from a magazine assignment gone wrong. An editor had asked him to write a piece on Conroy’s work and instead the piece morphed into an exploration of Grime’s mentor relationship with Conroy. While not what the magazine editor asked for, the editor encouraged him to keep going and 8 months later Grimes had a book he never intended to write.

Exceedingly gracious and humble, Grimes also read a passage from the book from his early writing career when he waited tables at a small restaurant in Key West, Florida. He had a several second encounter with Conroy when Conroy spoke on a panel about writing in Key West. Conroy brushed him aside as just another would-be writer wanting admission into Iowa. Because of his rude behavior, Grimes wrote him off until Conroy called him to offer admission and a scholarship to Iowa after Conroy read his application and sample manuscript.

Throughout the talk, Grimes offered advice and encouragement to the audience about publishing, the craft of writing, the struggles that every writer faces in finding their own voice. The advice that sticks with me the most is his most simple and straight-forward: don’t let other people talk you into giving up; only give up when you think you should. It’s good advice for anyone who’s doing something they’re passionate about – their art, a business idea, an education, a community project, even a relationship.

There will also be naysayers, and sometimes those naysayers will be people close to us who care about us and our future. They will tell us how to spend our time, what skills to work on, where to live, go to school, and whom to be with. Ultimately, the only opinion about our lives that really matters is ours because we’re the ones we have to wake up with everyday, no matter what. If you can’t live with yourself and your choices, then it really doesn’t matter if anyone else can. You only get one crack at being you – make sure it’s done on your terms.

The Half King has a great slate of events that happen every Monday night. Check out the schedule and sign up for their email at

art, career, choices, education, literature, time, writing

My Year of Hopefulness – Your One Wild and Precious Life

Long a mainstay of college admissions processes and orientations, I recently heard about the poem The Summer Day by Mary Oliver. (I’ve pasted it at the bottom of this post.) My sister, Weez, tells me that it is my great hope in life to be employed as a professional student. She’s right.

I am a sucker for places that make us dream big, that push us beyond our limits, that stretch our imaginations and minds in ways that we never thought possible. I am a forever student, very much at home in the classroom wherever that classroom happens to be, whether I am up front teaching or happily seated in the front row soaking up all that glorious information like a sponge. So of course the big questions are my very favorites, and Mary Oliver hits on what may be my favorite question yet: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Isn’t that gorgeous? Makes me want to print it out 1,000 times and plaster it all over my neighborhood.

This week I have had new options unfolding for me every day. Just when I think I am set upon a course of action, some other wonderful possibility falls into my path to consider. I think I’m being tested (which is fine by me since students love tests.) I think I’m being shown a way to focus on exactly what field in life gets me most excited, education, and then also being offered a myriad of distractions that are testing my passion for it. Mary Oliver’s question is like a beacon in the haze. What if we looked at every option that’s thrown our way, what if we considered every road before us with this lens. What if we made choices by asking “is this what you want to do with your one wild and precious life (knowing that our lives are so short)?”

The very thought of this takes my breathe away. Our lives are so short. We have such little time here, making every day a wild and precious thing. So here is my answer to Mary Oliver, no matter how many days I have left:

To write courageously and passionately so that it stirs the hearts and imaginations of others
To give children every where the chances that I had to improve my own lot in life through education, dedication, and very hard work
To lift others up as I rise
To generate more kindness, compassion, and generosity in the world
To take these two wild and precious hands and build things that have value and meaning, for me and for many others
To travel far and wide, to experience other cultures, to see new scenery, to meet as many citizens of the world as possible
And, yes, every day I want to be both a teacher and a student

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.
books, child, education, literature, school, volunteer, writing

My Year of Hopefulness – Charlotte’s Web

I’m reading Charlotte’s Web with my new book buddy, Dwight. Dwight is a 3rd grader who lives in Queens. We got connected through an organization called Learning Leaders. Based in New York City, the provide supplementary educational programs to kids in public schools. Their book buddy program matches up adult volunteers with elementary school students. We read a book together, and write three letters back and forth as we work our way through the story.

As a kid, I loved to read. My house was filled with literally thousands of books, much to the detriment of any semblance of tidiness. While I didn’t love being in a cluttered home, I loved being surrounded by books in every room. Now I recognize that most kids aren’t as lucky as I was to learn to love reading at such a young age. The book buddy program and Dwight are one small way that I hope to turn that around for a kid.

I forgot how much I love Charlotte’s Web. I forgot how scared Wilbur was and how concerned he was with being lonely and making new friends. Children’s literature introduces some heavy themes, despite its light-hearted exterior. Reading this book has made me fall in love with the genre all over again, and encouraged me to continue writing for this age group.

I’ll post up my letters to Dwight and his letters to me on this blog as we continue through. I’m excited to read what he has to say. I’ll meet him in person in February when we all get together for a celebration lunch. Apparently, the kids always think the adults they are writing to are total rock stars – a shot in the arm we could all use!

“Dear Dwight,
I’m really happy to be reading Charlotte’s Web with you and writing letters to each other as we work through the book. This was one of my favorite books when I was in school, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it. I really enjoy reading and I write, too. I always find inspiration for my own writing by reading other books.

I grew up in a very small town about two hours north of Manhattan, along the Hudson River. We had a farm where we grew apples and every fall we would invite people to come pick apples from our property. We didn’t have as many farm animals as there are in Charlotte’s Web, though my sister, Maria, and I spent a lot of time in the woods around our house watching for deer, turkeys, and foxes. We also had a very large pond that had frogs, turtles, and fish.

Our family has always had pets so my love of animals goes back as far as I can remember. We had a lot of dogs, a few cats, an aquarium, and a rabbit, too. My work is very busy now so I don’t have time for a pet at the moment. I hope I can have a pet of my own someday soon.

One part of Charlotte’s Web that I forgotten was how much Wilbur wanted to make new friends in his new home. I have experienced that many times, too. I went to elementary school, middle school, and high school with all of my same friends. When I went to college and then to graduate school, I didn’t know anyone so I had to make all new friends. At first that experience was scary, though the more often I had to make new friends, the easier it became. Now meeting new people is one of my favorite things to do.

What’s been your favorite part of the book so far? What kind of plan do you think Charlotte will make to help save her friend, Wilbur? I’m looking forward to your first letter!

Your Book Buddy,

children, literature, writer, writing

My Year of Hopefulness – Where the Wild Things Are (and Were)

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” ~ Andre Gide, Nobel laureate in literature

My sister, Weez, and her family are visiting me for a week. My brother-in-law, Kyle, is a painter and given the cold weather we’re having in New York City, this vacation is all about museums. For several weeks, he’s been scouting cultural websites to see what exhibits are currently open. One of the exhibits that caught his interest is at the Morgan Library, and includes original sketches, watercolors, and book notes from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Being avid fans of children’s literature, we stopped in there today to have a look.

I have loved Where the Wild Things Are since I was little. I loved it because of its use of theatre and imagination. Max and his make-believe adventures made me believe that I could travel to distant and strange lands, too. Now as a writer, visiting this exhibit brought a whole new back story to the book. Originally the story was about wild horses, not the Wild Things we have come to know and love. Sendak abandoned the project for many years before completing it. During his first attempt he wrote that the story felt forced so he had to put it aside for now. He kept returning to it again and again to see if the story might flow more easily on another attempt. Eventually, he found an open door. My favorite margin note is “focus on Max.” Despite his mastery of storytelling, he had to deal with all of the same anxieties so many other writers deal with: not knowing what comes next, starting a story, dropping it, and picking it back up again at a more suitable time, and the feeling that his focus was sometimes a bit off.

As much as I love Sendak’s writing, his thoughts on his writing were even more interesting to me. The exhibit reaffirmed for me that writing is a physical workout in many respects. It’s something that must be practiced consistently, even when the writing doesn’t come easily. There will be periods of frustration when the words just don’t flow the way we’d like them to and that’s okay. Focus and commitment is something we must continually strive for, and some times we will need to write ourselves a prescription for them, a reminder of what’s really important. And that’s okay, too.

It’s so easy to think that genius in any form belongs to the few, the gifted. Realizing that people whom I admire so much, such as Sendak, are just ordinary people like me reminds me that there is a little genius in all of us. Within everyone’s imaginations, there is a brilliant story, our own Where the Wild Things Are, that is brewing. The land of the Wild Things is always right here beside us. To get it down, we just need to commit to showing up at our computers or at our notebooks with a wide open heart, a good set of ears, and an abundance of patience and determination in equal amounts.

The image above is an illustration by Sendak from Where the Wild Things Are