I’m Being Stalked by the Paperboy

Alley A, by Heath Cajandig

Alley A, by Heath Cajandig

Note: At the beginning of 2012, I made one New Year’s Resolution—to walk or run first thing every morning, for the rest of my life. In this one, fear has a way of getting in the way.

I don’t think anything of it when I run past an attractive woman in her twenties on the hilltop loop, early in the pre-dawn. Especially on weekdays, there’s a select few of us out and about at that time.

But I immediately notice the car crouched on the corner, engine running and lights dim. What is it waiting for? Just after I run past, the car slowly crunches forward, heading the opposite way around the loop, toward a point at which it will meet the runner I’d just passed. I head down a side street with a crawl between my shoulder blades, like the feeling you get watching a movie when the camera shows the back of the main character’s head and the soundtrack goes silent. When the lights from the creeping car finally disappear around the corner, I speed forward to a footpath that cuts through the neighborhood via a steep flight of stairs, and drop down to another street.

But there’s only one way off the hill, so eventually the car comes slowly rolling down behind me. I turn my head slyly to the left, to keep it in my peripheral vision without appearing as if I’m looking. What happened to the young woman? Should I be worried about what’s in the trunk of that car? And then I hear the strangely amplified sound of a card being dealt, followed by a thunk. Fffft-thunk! Wheels crunching forward. Fffft-thunk!—the sound of rolled newspapers hitting pavement.

I’d seen the Paperboy’s car before on my runs, but never stopped like it had been at the top of the hill this morning. I make the penultimate turn toward my house, and so does he, right behind me. We leapfrog down the hill, me jogging ahead slowly as he makes his careful throws onto people’s walkways, him rolling past as I slow for my walking breaks. I hesitate before the final turn to my house, not wanting to show him where I live. But he stalls too, so I’m forced to walk straight past the turn. Midway down the block, I pause to tie my shoelaces, waiting for him to pass me so I can double back to my street, and safety.

My mind is no longer on my writing, my music, or the day I’m beginning. I cannot appreciate the lightening sky behind silhouetted trees, or an erratic, twitting bat. I register them only as distractions to my survival. I’m now entirely focused on the danger that threatens my endeavor. I’m just over three years into this commitment to walk every day for the rest of my life. Now all that is threatened.

My mind quickly begins to spin an enumerated list of the things I can do to keep myself safe on my early morning walks. Wear contacts so he can’t shove my glasses into the bridge of my nose, or worse, blind me by knocking them away. Carry my cell phone instead of the featherweight MP3 player next time. Set my speed dial to the local sheriff’s office. Change my route every day. Leave a note for my husband describing my course, so he knows where to begin looking when I don’t return.

Tell someone I think I’m being stalked. Call the newspaper company to lodge a complaint, or at least find out Paperboy’s name. Since I don’t even know what newspaper he delivers, this scheme involves sneaking back along his route to pick up one of his papers. I reject this option as too dangerous.

I consider the orange safety vest I wear for my husband’s peace of mind, and weigh the risks of being hit by early morning commuters against the advantage of ninja black, being able to fade into the background if it comes down to a chase. I retrace my regular route in my mind, marking familiar houses. Dredging my brain for the names of half-forgotten acquaintances, I imagine myself running up to a door and pounding, trying to get a light, any light, to go on inside, or standing in the street and shouting a neighbor’s name over and over again.

The next time I walk, a thousand voices walk with me: the things people say.

  • Words of caution about date rape from the dorm advisor in the late eighties, addressing a mandatory audience consisting solely of first-year women: “Rape is not a sexual act, it is an act of power. Most women know their rapists. It can happen to anyone. Trust your instincts…”
  • Murmured attempts to wrest transformation from rape through courage alone, as young women stand next to painted chalk outlines on campus, telling their stories to a shadowy circle of candles at a Take Back the Night march: “I know they say to fight back, but I was too scared. I was too scared…”
  • Solicitous inquiries from relatives, casting blame in advance: “Aren’t you afraid, living in the Mission?”
  • Casual speculation about the fate of unnamed young women: “If you wanna know what I think, she was asking for it. How else could something like that happen? She must have wanted it…”
  • Men joking: “That was the best Indian restaurant in all of Berkeley, until they shut it down. And you know what the owner ended up getting busted for? Turns out he was importing his relatives as sex slaves and keeping them above the restaurant—can you believe that?!”

I have left my music at home this morning, so that I will be forewarned by the thump of newspapers. I cannot outrun the voices, so I fall into a loose walk and let a remembered silence travel through my body with my slowing heartbeat. One ear on the present, I cast backward in time to another walk in the dark, long ago in China.

To be continued…

A Candle for Emily

Photo courtesy of akosolov, Creative Commons

February 2nd–Imbolc

Three years ago, the year I turned forty and my father died, I began this blog to document just one thing–my resolution to begin walking every day of my remaining days, first thing in the morning. As I suspected at the time, this one change began a transformative process that continues right into this year. The transformations cycle backward and forward, at different times invisible, exhilarating, frustrating, terrifying and satisfying. Mostly, I write here about how I grapple with changes I have chosen: to get married, become a parent, leave the professional world of teaching for the world of homemaking, pursue my ambition to write books for children, and carry my inner child forward in healing.

Today, I learned about a mom who has spent the last few years grappling with changes she did NOT choose: the loss of an eight-month old child to SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), subsequent miscarriages and just last week, a stillborn child. You can read more from Emily on her blog Sweet Ezra, and you can support her efforts to raise funds for SMA education and research through the organization she started after her son’s death, Hearts for Ezra.

But I think what Emily may need more than anything right now is your love. Today is Imbolc, an old Gaelic holiday marking the beginning of spring and now celebrated as part of the pagan Wheel of the Year. Traditionally, the Goddess Brigid presides over this holiday, a time to welcome in the new year, a time to light candles in the dark. Witches believe that through intention we can accomplish magic that will transform ourselves and the world. We believe in the power of intention. Some might call this the power of prayer.

For Imbolc, we invoke the triple aspects of the Goddess Brigid:

Brigid the Poet, who teaches us to speak our truth, with beauty,

Early Christians incorporated Brigid, the Celtic goddess of Imbolc, into St. Brigid of Kildare

Brigid of the Forge, who grants us the spark and the fire we use to transform the old into the new, to smith the tools we need from the materials at hand, and

Image by Gita Rau, Flickr Creative Commons

Brigid of the Well, who heals all wounds and tends the waters of the world.

Signs of spring 2 by James Jordan, via Flickr

Signs of spring 2 by James Jordan, via Flickr

I light a candle for Emily this Imbolc, that words may offer her solace and a path through grief, that the spark of her family and her hope continue to burn bright, and that she be held and healed.

To Emily, I offer gratitude for the blaze she tends in the world, the lighted path of her words. When you read them, you too will be warmed by the fire of Her bright spirit. Blessed be.

The Stories We Need

Today is the last day to donate to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Indiegogo campaign (click here to contribute now), run by a powerhouse group of children’s book writers, illustrators, editors and agents dedicated to promoting diversity in children’s literature. Funds raised will  be used primarily as grants for authors/illustrators bringing diverse stories to the field of children’s publishing.

I am not one of the powerhouses. But I am here to tell you why we need diverse books. I grew up straddling a strange divide between the Haves and the Have-nots, a sort of Half-Star Sneetch on the beach. When my half-star caught the sun, it looked like the real thing. I was viewed and treated as a Star-Belly Sneetch by most of the others who had stars upon thars. But when I met up with the other Sneetches on the beach–the ones with no marshmallows or hotdogs–most of them accepted me as one of their own. They didn’t see my half star, but noticed instead my deeply tanned skin, my unusual eyes, the shape of my nose and lips. Look for yourself. You’ll see it if you’re paying attention.

I grew up as the daughter of a U.S.-born mother, four generations removed from her mixed European heritage. And also as the daughter of an apostate immigrant from Pakistan, a father who rejected his home country but never quite settled into his chosen one, either. When I was growing up, NO one was writing stories about my kind of family. Post-911, most people still aren’t.

I distinctly remember the first time I had a sense of self-recognition in relation to a work of art. I was a young adult working as a Spanish-bilingual teacher in the Mission District of San Francisco when the movie East is East (1999) came out. Set in England, the story of a Pakistani father, English mother and mixed-heritage children resonated deeply with me. I laughed and laughed and knew it for true. It grieves me to realize I did not know until just now that two sequels followed this movie–they did not make it past “mainstream” American media filters.

The second and only other time I have recognized myself in art was just last week. Offended by images of scantily-clothed and oversexed female superheroes in a Marvel Supergirl comic, I went in search of something more realistic. And this is what I found:

Ms. Marvel (a.ka. Kamala Khan)

The newest version of Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson and especially as drawn by Adrian Alphona, tells the story of an immigrant’s daughter, a Pakistani teen from Jersey City who unexpectedly acquires shape-shifting powers. Once again, I encountered in fiction conversations and family relationships that mirrored my own experiences growing up.

Why is this so important? We read stories to make sense of our lives. Stories lay down pathways for us–how to be, how not to be–and give us the opportunity to rehearse living, in our imaginations where no harm can be done. What would we do in any given situation? And even more importantly, what could we do? What are the possibilities of our human life?

We need stories that mirror ALL of humanity for our children, not just images and stories of those in the most privileged groups, from their perspective. We need stories that demonstrate the inequities of oppression, and stories that illustrate the discomfort of privilege in the face of that inequity. We need stories about people in and out of the mainstream struggling with issues of power and institutionalized discrimination. We need stories showing how people can work together, how we can learn about each other, how we can bridges gaps of culture and power. And we also need stories of everyday life–of friendship, love, family, school–that feature ALL of our world’s children.

Sometimes when I get on this soapbox, I am accused of repeating the same, exhausted tirade about the world’s injustices. How can I hope to convince others, to make change in the world, if I keep repeating the same “failed” story? Here is what I say in response to that:

From my perspective as a first-generation, mixed-race Pakistani-American woman–The story is not failing. It is finally being told effectively for the first time. People of privilege have NEVER been eager to hear about the underside of their positions of power, and they never will. These people often put considerable personal and institutional effort into silencing the untold stories of the oppressed. But in spite of that, we are still speaking out, more loudly and numerously than ever. AND IT IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

From my perspective as an apparently “white,” educated, upper-middle class American citizen–As members of a privileged group becoming aware of the inequities of power and how we benefit from the systematic discrimination in place, we have a responsibility to listen to the stories of the oppressed. Disempowered people are telling these stories over and over because inequity and discrimination HURT them. Institutionalized “-isms” and stereotypes are DAMAGING and WOUNDING people. They have stories to tell, and we have an obligation to listen, because refusing to listen to the story–or even worse, discrediting it–in itself is an act of abuse. Refusing to allow ourselves to feel discomfort when we hear what it’s like to be alive while black, for example, keeps the horror of inequity and oppression away from us and pushes it back toward the people who have already been holding it too long.

What can you do?


Read more about the We Need Diverse Books campaign on:

Read a different kind of book! What I’m reading now:

The story of a thirteen-year old Palestinian Muslim girl living in the West Bank, who travels illegally to Jerusalem, believing that if she can return with a piece of her lost homeland, it will save her ailing grandmother.

A Remembrance for Samhain

Photo by Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin, Creative Commons

Samhain: the pagan New Year, the time when witches say that the veil between the worlds thins. We set up altars, we light candles, we lay out bread and wine for our Beloved Dead. It is the darkest time of year, when fields lie fallow and frost sharpens the remaining leaves. A time to remember those we have lost, a time to remember the power we have to shape our lives and our world, a time to remember the sleeping seeds, which soon will stretch to new, hidden life under our feet. Blessed be!

A Blessing for Fall Equinox

© amomnextdoor, 2014

© amomnextdoor, 2014

Today night steps forward to again balance the day. We turn toward the darkness, a time of rest, a time to weave stories. I breathe a sigh of relief. Walking the hill behind our house at sunset, I think of my witch friends, and all those who live in awe of creation. May your seeds find rich soil, may you have the strength to let go of that which is done, may your pillow be soft, may your awakening be gentle, may your life be in balance. Blessed be.

Back to School, Back to Work!

Great ideas for self-employed artists (especially those of us with young kids)!


GUEST POST by Carrie Charley Brown

You’ve taken the first day of school pictures, posted them on Facebook,  and sent the kids back to school, backpacks and all.  YAY!  Some of you are rushing off to work yourselves. Then there are others, like me, who are working from home.  We all have our own sets of challenges.

Personally, I struggle with the early morning wake-up call.  When I #dragmybuttouttabed at 5:00 a.m., I’m not quite ready to tackle any goals.  I put on my parent hat and slurp my cup of coffee while barking out reminders to my three drowsy children. After delivering them to three different schools, it takes every part of my being to resist the urge to go back to sleep.   Enter the schedule.  I know, I know…a schedule alone could send you back to your dreamy soft pillow.  We’re taking baby steps here people.  It…

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The Hidden Work of Housewives

What Didn't Get Done, © amomnextdoor, 2014

What Didn’t Get Done, © amomnextdoor, 2014

Periodically Mr. Banks says to me, “I just don’t know what you DO all day.” He can’t understand how he could possibly come home from a day at the office to find unwashed dishes, rumpled laundry, strewn toys, and cranky kids. As he recently pointed out, “You have fifteen hours in a day! How can you not have enough time?”

Hmmm. Well—setting aside that fifteen hours dedicated to house and home would take me from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. with no meals or tea breaks (and certainly no writing time)—how to describe the intensity of day after day with children to someone who’s never done it himself? I’m not sure it’s possible. But for my own gratification, for my own sense of self-worth, I found myself keeping track one summer’s day, of all that I did with my time.

A day with children is a day spent teaching and learning. Some things I teach them directly, some by expectation, some through modeling, and some by opportunity. All of it I teach with as much deliberation and thoughtfulness as this mama can. I find being present with my children in such a way both deeply draining and relentlessly rewarding. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Things I taught my children today:

  • How to exercise daily
  • How to commit to a goal and follow through
  • How to be patient
  • How to contribute to the family
  • How to play independently
  • How to play together
  • How to brush teeth properly
  • How to clean up after brushing teeth
  • How to give privacy to people using the bathroom
  • How to pursue one’s passions and interests
  • How to sew: how to plan a project, use pins, thread a needle, cut a thread, make a knot, make a whip stitch
  • How to share underlying feelings
  • How to listen deeply
  • How to take responsibility for one’s mistakes
  • How to be married
  • How to take time for oneself
  • How to give others space
  • How to respond to an invitation to connect
  • How to speak one’s mind
  • How to keep a house organized
  • How to tidy
  • How to reuse
  • How to recycle
  • How to roll out the garbage cans for collection day
  • How to core strawberries
  • How to break eggs
  • How to cook an omelet
  • How to load the dishwasher
  • How to close a sliding car door safely
  • How to treat clerks and service workers
  • How to behave at the checkout stand
  • The value of a dollar
  • How to negotiate
  • How to wait
  • How to notice the world around
  • How to give and receive love and affection
  • How to be an audience
  • How to hold back
  • How to laugh
  • How to be silly
  • How to create
  • How to imagine
  • How to have fun
  • How to love

That gets us to about lunchtime. I guess the laundry will have to wait until the afternoon.

What Happened Instead, © amomnextdoor, 2014

What Happened Instead, © amomnextdoor, 2014

99 problems (in my submission pile)

I’ll be pinning this list up on the bulletin board above my computer, and re-reading it every time I revise.

CK Webber Associates

  1. Query is for a book in a genre I don’t represent.
  2. Query is for a vampire book. Come back in 3-5 years.
  3. Query letter is addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
  4. Query letter is addressed to “Dear Agent.” My name is not Agent.
  5. Query letter is not addressed at all. It just begins, “Hi!”
  6. Query letter is addressed to Kristin Nelson. (This is not a problem if you’re actually sending your query letter to Kristin Nelson.)
  7. Query letter is 2 pages long.
  8. Query opens with a rhetorical question.
  9. Query opens with a tagline.
  10. Author has spent too much time constructing a one-sentence hook and not enough building the rest of the query.
  11. By the end of the query, I’ve learned more about the author than I have about the book. (Does not apply to nonfiction.)
  12. I can see that you’ve copied 100 other agents…

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