About debpaulson

I have a BFA from the University of Connecticut and and MFA from Simmons College. I write and illustrate children's books.

The Buddy Capers

Buddy went to his first cyclocross race of the season in Rochester, in that lovely Olmstead designed park. Buddy is fond of children, the smaller the better, although I suspect he likes the babies in strollers primarily for the stuffed toys wedged in the stroller with them. He is gentle, though, as he roots out the toys and tugs them from their dark corners. Some babies think this is funny and gurgle with delight as they see their stuffed alligators or teddy bears making their way in Buddy’s careful mouth to the light of day; others become upset as they see their toys changing hands. They are probably future Republicans.

 

Buddy had satisfying exchanges with three sets of children that weekend. The first was a tiny infant being carried by its mother in a front-harness baby holder. I had Buddy in his own backpack, on my back. In case you haven’t seen it, Buddy sits in the pack with his head and one leg visible, looking like, as someone observed, “a cabby with his arm hanging out.” When the infant saw Buddy on my back, his neutral expression creased into a slow, serene, appreciative smile. Really, it was just like having a Buddhist monk smile at us.

The second was a group of three siblings. They asked, (as most children do these days) if they could pet Buddy, who had trotted right up to them. He nestled himself into the center of the three as they crowded around, gently patting and exclaiming about how soft he was.

“I like how his mouth does this,” said the littlest boy and made a small moue.

“I wish we could have a dog. We might get one,” said the middle child, a small boy, with an Arab name.

“We won’t get one,” said his older sister, who had early adolescent pimples and braces but who seemed full of joy. She hadn’t said it to be mean, I could tell. There are disappointments in life, she seemed to know already, and there was no point in pretending otherwise. I really liked those kids.

The third encounter was a little four-or-five-year-old who marched up, and asked to pet Buddy.

“Sure,” I said. “He likes people who are little.”

As soon as I said that, I knew it was wrong and the child set me straight at once.

“I’m not little,” he said without rancor.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”

Facts restored, he proceeded to pet Buddy. “What’s his name?”

“Buddy,” I said. He paused, his face wrinkled in puzzlement. “What’s his nickname?”

I cracked up. Because, really, he had a point.

“Little potato,” I said, and now the boy cracked up.

An hour or so later, Buddy and I were near the finish line and I heard a shrill, piping voice behind us, getting louder, “His nickname is little potato.”

I looked around. The not-little kid was ushering a group of friends over to us.

“His nickname is little potato,” he informed them again, bending down to pet Buddy proprietarily.

 

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What I Did Today

Not a fan of the inauguration. Not a fan of whining, either. So here’s what I’ve done, to both help and help feel empowered.

I donated to three organizations that will most likely be negatively impacted by the incoming administration:

The Southern Poverty Law Center https://www.splcenter.org/ for justice for minorities, the National Resources Defense Council https://www.nrdc.org/ for the environment, and Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/ for women’s rights.

Kindness is important.

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Writing With Style

 

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Last night I read through that little gem, The Elements of Style. Updated, its core nonetheless remains as sound as a ninety-year-old yogi.

In today’s children and young adult books, there is a fixation on “voice.” “Voice” is what is most often referenced when agents are asked what they look for when reading a manuscript. “A fresh voice” they say, whatever that means. Based on the books I review, “a fresh voice” is often on par with the flat, loud volume of commercials or the exaggerated drama of reality shows. It exhausts the reader with its neediness.

Here, by calming contrast, is Strunk and White’s advice in the chapter titled “An Approach to Style.” 

Place yourself in the background. Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than to the mood and temper of the author.

If the writing is solid and good, the mood and temper of the writer will eventually be revealed and not at the expense of the work. Therefore, the first piece of advice is this: to achieve style, begin by affecting none—that is, place yourself in the background.

A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward.

Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.

 

TMI

I’ve taken myself off Facebook and twitter, not that hardly anyone would notice. Except of course, me, which was the point.

I have shut the door to the party. Once, when I was a teenager, my mother and I were driving into Hartford and we passed by the huge brick Aetna building, I said to her: “I would like to live there so that I could have a party in this part—“ I indicated the vast right-hand wing, “but my room would be here—“ I indicated the equally vast left hand-wing “so I could be alone.” Naturally, she looked at me oddly. But what I was trying to say was that I love people and I love doing things to make them happy, but I find them overwhelming.

So that’s that. Despite FB telling me that so-and-so really misses hearing from me (doubt it) I’m sticking to my decision. Fact is, I don’t miss the party. I do wonder slightly if I am like the ostrich, but then again, I do my bit in my own way, so I feel okay about that.

Interestingly, E.B. White felt the same way about the effect of television: “When I was a child,” he wrote in One Man’s Meat, his book of essays published in 1938, “people simply looked about them and were moderately happy. Nowadays they peer across the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.”

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Moving Along

I thought I’d tell you about how my life has changed since the election outcome. First, the good news for me, is that I’m white, albeit female so a certain part of my anatomy is apparently up for grabs, but at least I don’t have to worry about Neanderthal types yelling racial slurs or hitting me. So that’s good. But what’s bad is that I am stunned we humans are so tribal, so ignorant, and so full of base hatred for The Other. So I have to try to reconcile that.

But a very good thing has also happened, and it is that I feel united with the majority and I feel a sobering awareness to use my white privilege to stand up for the vulnerable. My sister-in-law told me, “My headscarf is ready if they start registering Muslims.” She is Jewish. But how wonderful to contemplate one hundred million people registering as Muslims in the United States.There is a power in behaving with decency that is less obvious than the shock-value of barbaric outrageousness, but it is the far stronger power, since it is based on values that enrich the soul, rather than corrode it.

“Against eternal injustice, man must assert justice, and to protest against the universe of grief, he must create happiness.” –Albert Camus

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There is Still Beauty

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This morning I watched two squirrels go back and forth, back and forth, leaping from branch to branch with mouthfuls of leaves, dressing up their nest. Yesterday I walked with a friend along the winter beach; the sun sparkled against the dark water, the sandpipers clustered, the marsh hawk silently soaring and the colors of rust, yellow, purple blending into a song of November.

There is still beauty. We humans are love and hate, kindness and cruelty. But the natural world—the natural world just is. And there is a great peace in that.

…Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled–
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing–
that the light is everything–that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Excerpted from The Ponds, by Mary Oliver

The Line in the Sand

If you voted for Trump

You voted for the KKK
You voted for suppression of women’s rights
You voted for the suppression of LGBT’s rights
You voted for a man who doesn’t pay taxes
You voted for a man who has never served his country
You voted for a man who abuses and insults women
You voted for a man who doesn’t pay his debts
You voted for a man who condones torture

And you know all this.

And whatever fears and frustrations and anger you have inside of you that convinced you that all of the above was not enough to disqualify him from the office of President of the United States says, unequivocally, that you are morally bankrupt.

Know this about yourself.

I live by principles that delineate a line in the sand I will not cross:

I accept personal responsibility for my behavior and my decisions. I don’t blame others and I don’t blame circumstances.
I cultivate compassion for others because there but for the grace of God go I.
I cultivate my own education because I believe an educated mind is one of the duties of being a responsible member of society.
I cultivate the personal courage to face my fears so I can learn and grow from them.

No amount of personal anger, fear or frustration will let me abandon these principles. Because if they go, I go.

What is your line in the sand?

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