The only thing better than when something you've long hoped for happens, is when something that you never would have dreamed to hope for happens.
I'll just blurt it, because it's on the back of Ida, Always. In print. (so, it's real, right?)
Judith Viorst, read Ida, Always.
Judith—Alexander, Barney, If I Were In Charge of the World, And Two Boys Booed, and oh-so much more—Viorst. Yup. And she wrote are you-pranking-me words about Ida, Always. When I found this out, I fell out of my chair and was temporarily unafraid of poisonous snakes.
A little over a year ago I was listening to children's literature historian Leonard Marcus speaking about Judith Viorst. He was talking about her children's books, her poetry, her work for adults, and about how she had later gone back to school for psychoanalysis. And I thought...oh! Duh. That's the answer to that homework I never did.
See, when I was in theatre school, during undergrad, one teacher told us as we tried to forge paths in the less than clear and linear world of the arts, we should think of somebody whose work, career, and way of being in the world we admired...you know, who we wanted to be when we grew up. For "homework" we were to find out as much as possible about this person's career and life choices, and keep it in mind as a kind of map of the footsteps you wanted to follow. I got stumped, never did the homework, never made a map, and I've been stumbling and flailing around with my pajamas on backwards ever since (which is sometimes incredibly fun, and other times, freaks me out.)
Then, years later, I'm sitting there thinking about Judith Viorst. Hm. Maybe that's who I have wanted to be when I grew-up. After all, I've always loved her writing, and If I Was In Charge of The World saved some of my earliest teaching artist days. After all, Judith Viorst intended to be a writer from age seven (when she thought all poems had to have a dead body in them) but she didn't publish until much later than she'd intended (after working in publishing and a stint as a garment district model for water-proof dresses!) I also went a tad, ahem, past my intended debut date that was supposed to be at the end of second grade. After all, Judith Viorst writes children's books, poetry, adult fiction, non-fiction, articles, and more; I still play around with plays, groan-up fiction, education articles (and trying out blarging.) Judith Viorst, went back to school, for psychoanalysis. I was in the first year of a full time masters program in social work—while also writing and teaching and waking up every day asking myself, what the heck am I doing? But Judith Viorst had done it, so maybe I'm not totally upside down. Phew. Okay. Maybe I had been following a map, just one I hadn't realized I'd picked up.
I thought about writing her a letter. A fan letter. But I had never been a fan mail writer. It never occurred to me that anyone would care if I liked or admired them. (The only one I ever did write, to Robert Sean Leonard— geez, was that some dorky writing.) Plus, I thought, maybe I'd unconsciously followed her footsteps too close. After all, Judith Viorsts first books were about a bad day, and death and grief, and my first books....yeesh. See, another acting teacher had once said never to get on a stage with a child or an animal, because you'll look like a phoney next to their natural radiant presence. Errr, why had I written a book about death and grief for children when the world has The Tenth Good Thing About Barney? What a dope. But, Charles was already at work illustrating Ida. Nothing to do about it. Maybe nobody will notice. At least, Judith Viorst certainly won't notice. Why would she ever even hear about, let alone read my book?
So, then it's July and I'm in the middle of 1,000 acres of pastures in Wyoming in the first days of a writing retreat at the Jentel Artist Residency. I got on the internet to email some folks and to research bull and rattle snakes. Cause they were everywhere in the beautiful pastures. And I was, uh, rattled. And my editor Emma had written me a note saying, guess what? Um, Judith Viorst had read, Ida, Always and had written this about it...
So I fell off my chair.
And roamed around in the pastures for a few hours, forgetting to be afraid of snakes, and asking the cows, do you freaking believe this? Cause I suspected once I told humans, it'd turn out that really I'd been bit by a snake and was having a venomous delusion.
But now it's on the back of the book.
So, I finally wrote Judith Viorst a dorky thank-you piece of fan mail.
If Judith Viorst read something I wrote, Anything Can Happen, people. So you might as well follow in some big, deep, footsteps. Dream of being surprised—not by snakes — but, by wow-oh-wow.
Judith Viorst reports she's always full of energy, makes every self-imposed deadlines, and is super-duper organized. I seem to have missed these footsteps. But now that I'm doing my homework, I'm on it—just as soon as I figure out how to turn these pajamas around the right way.