2.12.2015

In The Winter That Felt Like Spring

Yesterday I took a very long walk on the beach. On my way down the road I noticed that the skunk cabbage had come up. This has always been a harbinger of Spring. I took a photo to document that on February 11, 2015, Spring had arrived on Lummi Island. This disturbed me on so many levels. I have always felt a deep connection to nature, it grounds me and inspires me. This year the snows in the Northeast and the complete lack of snow here in the Northwest seem to be like yin and yang pulling apart. A de-polarization if you will. 

As I walked on the beach a poem, or a song, came to me... so I stopped and pulled out my iPhone and opened the "Notes" app and tapped in the lines in my head. Then I kept walking and as other lines came to me I stopped and disconnected from my search for depth, meaning and treasure to tap in the other lines with my index finger. (I just can't type with my thumbs.) When I returned to my studio, the poem/song came to life in my journal, and then I edited it on my computer. I do want to put it to music, but there is also a part of me that wishes this could be a picture book. I think this is a subject that we all need to discuss. 

Here is what I wrote. I hope it moves you.
Love, 
Nina

IN THE WINTER THAT FELT LIKE SPRING



In the winter that felt like spring
The snows didn’t come
The birds never left
The salmon didn’t run
The rains never stopped
The rivers flooded the land
We wondered what was next
In this godforsaken plan.

In the winter that felt like spring
The trees bloomed too soon
The bees didn’t come
No fruit hung in June
The moss grew like a carpet
The weeds didn’t die
Land slid around us
Pollen filled the sky.

In the winter that felt like spring
Followed by a summer full of drought
There was record-setting heat
And algae-blooms, no doubt.
Many crops were ruined
Rivers ran too low
Electricity prices climbed
Solar power needs to grow.

In the winter that felt like spring
Would anyone heed the warning
These signs are all pointing
To certain global warming.

The tides are rising higher
The forest is on fire
Science is no liar
The situation is dire
Better set things straight
Before it is too late
Or there will be no songs to sing
In the winter that felt like spring.

©Nina Laden 2015


1.04.2015

Tiny Little Resolutions: Painting My Way Into the New Year

I run hot and cold on the idea of New Year's resolutions. After almost 53 years on this planet I pretty much know what I should or shouldn't be doing, but I have to admit that last year took a bit of a toll and some things slid. I decided that I would paint my resolutions instead of just writing them down.

These are all painted on tiny (2" x 3 1/2") pieces of cardboard. They are the exact same size as a business card, in fact they came between business cards that I had printed for me about 25 years ago. Back in the day of real offset printing, when you printed on glossy card stock, any printer worth his salt (this was Brad Moon of Printing Dispatch) would put cardboard between every printed piece to prevent the ink from bleeding on to the card on top. I saved the stack of cardboard, and over the years I've done little paintings on the pieces.

In doing these seven "tiny little resolutions" I did not do any sketches or drawings. I randomly chose background colors, painted the words for the resolution, and then picked up my paint brush, squeezed out blobs of Holbein Acryla gouache and just painted whatever came to mind. These were not only exercises in resolving to do better in the next year, they were also exercises in not over-thinking the imagery. These are done in the spirit of fun and folk art, a style I adore because it gets the message across without being fussy or too darn finished.

I hope you enjoy my "Tiny Little Resolutions" and take some of them to heart.

Love,
Nina

#1
















#2
















#3
















#4
















#5
















#6

















#7

11.18.2014

pLAying: exploring imagination

Getting out of your home and your routine helps foster creativity. At least that is how it works for me. I took off for a brief trip to LA six days ago for a book event and to catch up with one of my childhood best friends. I also knew that I needed to have "fun" and break the stranglehold of stress that had been permeating my life. I brought a pouch of multi-colored pencils and a Japanese brush pen.

The brush pen immediately spoke to me and said: I am the calligraphy of palm trees. You are in LA. You need to pLAy... so I began pLAying with palm imagery and the LA or in some cases, CA (for California) sound.

The journey began with an "imaginary LAndscape." And then it started to get surreal.
The multi-color leads led to fantastic color possibilities.
The thesaurus helped me name this one, "ObLAtion"- or offering.
I love to pLAy ukulele... and so does my friend Judy's step-daughter, Alice. I was staying in their home, so I drew another version of this and gave it to Alice.
Judy's other step-daughter, Emma is making a documentary on the Pantone color system. So I drew this for her. I used to work with Pantone all the time when I was a graphic designer.

After three and a half days in LA I was on the plane headed home... and sketched the whole way.
I had been in LA for the "A Letter to My Cat" private book launch party. I contributed a letter to the book. Cats were on my mind, and I missed my dear kitty, Marley. This is a "CAt"- a California cat.
As we flew further away, palm trees were receding in my thoughts, so I started playing with other things- taking names like "cock tail" literally.
But the palm trees came back once more as I thought about the delicious uni Judy and I shared at The Hungry Cat restaurant the night before. 
As we flew over the Cascade Mountains towards Washington I thought about our pine trees and our amazing apples...
...and as we began our descent into the Seattle area, head still in the clouds, I put my pencils and pen away knowing that this journey was over, but the journey of imagination would never end.

Wherever you go- in reality, or in your imagination, I hope you have a great trip!

With Love, 
Nina


10.06.2014

Produce & Poetry: An Exclamation Point!

An apology for not posting anything since June 14th. It has been a long summer of producing a new board book, producing and harvesting two home gardens of fruit and vegetables, and dealing with more curve balls from the school of life. Yet here I am. My "To-Do list" is never-ending. I have books to dummy-up and create sample illustrations so my agent can submit them. I have school visits and events coming up- including the celebration for the Washington State Book Award: my book, "Once Upon A Memory" is nominated in the picture book category. I need to update my website to include my new "Peek-a Who? Matching Game." I must order more Moo cards; I'm almost out. And four different people want blog interviews from me and I haven't update my own blog in four months. 

Somehow life goes on.

Yesterday, I went to the Ballard Sunday Farmer's market to buy produce and see my friend Elizabeth Parker. (and buy more of her beautiful jewelry) I love supporting Elizabeth- she has been through a lot- she is a veteran and so very talented, but she has been homeless frequently in the past few years. I don't get to the Sunday market very often, but I know Elizabeth will be there and we talk about life, gemstones and mental illness. Booth walked with me to the market, but after I filled our bags with poblano peppers, delicata squash, fresh roasted peanuts, corn, white chanterelles, porcini mushrooms and a bottle of hard cider he did his sherpa duty and hauled it all back up the hill, leaving me to my own devices. 

That's when I found them.

There were two guys with typewriters. They had a sign that said, "Poems - Your Topic - Your Price." The dark-haired mustachioed guy on the right was busy. He received repeat orders while I stood there and watched. One patron came by to pick up a love poem he had ordered and then requested a second one. A couple standing there asked for a poem about "goats." I decided to request a poem from the "other" poet.

He was wearing a black fedora, suspenders, and he had a very red beard, plus an assortment of crude, perhaps self-inflicted tattoos on his fingers and hands. His right fingers spelled out "J A S S." I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be "J A Z Z" and he did the "s's" backwards? He was typing on an old Olivetti portable, like the one I had growing up, only mine had a script font.

I handed Trip, he said that was his name, a ten dollar bill and requested a poem on "writing." He paused and started typing and then he stopped. "I just want to let you know that I don't have an exclamation point," he said. For one second I thought we were in some parallel universe where people speak in punctuation, but then I realized what he was saying.
     "Yes, you do," I told Trip. He looked at me like I was an alien life form... I pointed to the Olivetti, "what you do is type a period and then backspace and type an apostrophe- voila'- an exclamation point!"

It was an epiphany for Trip, and I high-fived him. He said I was sent to him, "like a winged-Hermes"- or something like that. Then he made his partner-in-poetry try it on his skeletal Olympia, too. They were both in "exclamation point ecstasy." I felt like I was sent to them to re-discover this long forgotten experience from growing up which combined my love of writing and typewriters. 

Then Trip got down to business and wrote my poem. 

I stood there in the sunshine and watched as people and dogs swarmed like bees. Two little dogs took shelter under Trip's table and chair. He didn't seem to notice. He was producing- full of words like an apple tree full of ripe fruit, the keys falling on the small slip of paper. He was a two or three finger typer and I could tell that he was jazzed (or jassed?) by the newly discovered exclamation point because he typed four of them in my poem.

When the poem was done, he asked me if he could date it. I said, "of course, and please add your name." So he put the paper back into the Olivetti sideways and typed his name and the date. It wasn't until I got home that I noticed what "date" it was. It was still October 5th, which it truly was... but it was 1972. I'm not sure why Trip picked 1972; he wasn't even born then. But I was ten in 1972. (and I had chosen to pay him ten dollars for the poem) I also noticed that he used a capital "I" for the "1." He knew that trick already. 

I walked home with a fresh poem in my bag and a feeling of pleasant punctuation, an exclamation of enjoyment in a surprisingly delightful day.

Here is the poem that Trip wrote for me: 
With Love and Poetry,
Nina







6.14.2014

My Father: Portrait of the Narcissist as an Old Man


It's that time of year again. The time of year that I want to tell the media to shut up already. I don't want to hear about celebrating dad and I don't want to see all of the loving photos my friends post of their wonderful fathers. Truthfully, I am jealous. I don't have a father in the real sense of the word. After all that I have learned in my fifty-two years on this planet- I have a sperm donor, a tormenter, an ugly and evil competitor who only cares about himself. This is not someone you fete with a barbecue and gifts of bathrobes and slippers. This is someone you spend thousands of dollars on psychotherapy to rid your nervous system of the anxiety and nightmares that he has caused over the course of your lifetime.

If you have read some of my old blog posts, like this one, and this one, you will know that my father is bipolar with psychotic episodes of mania that last for years. You will also have read that I saved his life when he was in his last depression, moving him out his crumbling home in Mahopac Falls, NY, and into my home- nursing him back to health only to have him turn on my husband and me in a violent way. We caught him and we released him. He loves his mania. He even tattooed it on his arms.
 The devil on one side....
...and a laughing Buddha on the other.

















My brother took those photos- this was right around the time my father was sending toxic mail and throwing things that looked like bombs in my yard.

I have not seen my father "officially" since he crashed my book launch for my book "Once Upon A Memory" on December 3, 2013. He came to make the event about him, but we were prepared and we used a secret weapon- my beautiful friend Teresa- to defuse him. Teresa used her wile and wit and she caught the nasty fly and held him captive, away from my reading until the very end. Then I had to face the enemy- and he was full of himself and full of smoke and weed- his t-shirt had burn holes, and an image of Frida Kahlo that he had written on- to add my mother's name, which was Frieda Savitz, and her birthday, which was the very day of my book launch. It was a disgusting display of vulgarity. He hurt my mother so badly that he destroyed her. She died 28 years ago this past January.

My father did not come to have me sign a copy of "Once Upon A Memory" to him. No. He had bought a copy himself, in advance of the signing, and HE had signed it. He drew a picture of the Oscar® that he had been nominated for- and told me to "remember that Oscar® had visited him twice..." (he didn't win either time) and he wrote other gibberish that was all about how great he is. I tried not to let him ruin my book launch, but he definitely left a horrid metallic taste in my psyche after it was over.

After that December day, my husband and I would spot him occasionally. He lives in our neighborhood in Seattle, about a mile away and we walk our errands all of the time. One day this spring he walked right past us, but didn't see us there. I drew this in my journal after that:

Then about three weeks ago on a Friday evening- the same day that I had given a live interview on CNN International about the Hachette-Amazon battle, Booth and I were walking home from a lovely dinner in Ballard. It was a gorgeous late spring evening and people were out and enjoying the weather. There was a crowd in front of the bar Hazelwood, which is next to the the Anchor Tattoo parlor. As I walked right next to the bar crowd, I looked up and there was my father- looking very clean-shaven, wearing hipster glasses, hitting on a 30-something woman, talking to her non-stop. I stared at him- and then watched as he quickly glanced at me and Booth walking by, and then went right back to chewing the woman's ear off, wishing he was chewing on the rest of her. He had no idea who we were. Booth turned around to see if he did a double-take, but he did not. We both laughed. I felt a sense of relief that I didn't have any anxiety. Sure, it was sad and pitiful, but it had not hurt like in the past.

I have spent my entire life trying to please this man- wishing for his love, for him to be proud of me, but over and over I have been screwed- not only by him, but by others in his new family circle after he left my mother. I have worked on the puzzle that caused so much hardship in my life and when I was 35 and had fallen into major clinical depression I figured out that he was bipolar, which shed light on why he was the way he was. He has refused treatment, fighting it vehemently. But even the bipolar diagnosis did not explain his lack of love and empathy. My mother was also bipolar, but she loved my brother and me and even though she was broke and dying, she loved us and said we were her "greatest achievements." Last week I stumbled on a website that dealt with "Toxic People," and my eyes were opened - it was like discovering another planet- not one that supported life, though- I read a description that fit my father so aptly; it was as plain as the enormous nose on his face: My father  has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

This doesn't absolve him of his sins. However, now I have context and I understand what I have been dealing with. A long time ago I had a Jungian Astrological reading done and the report said that my parents were "Beauty and the Beast." I didn't understand that then, but it has come true in so many ways, except I do not love the Beast. I will not celebrate him on Father's Day. Do not cry for him, though, he has built yet another world of adoring fans and as long as they agree with him and do his bidding, he will shower them with his incredible presence. Or if they are a pretty young woman, he will try to get them into the shower with his tattooed 82 year old body.

I will celebrate Father's Day with my husband, who is a great father. I will also remember both of my grandfathers, Sam and Ralph, who were great fathers. I will also work on healing myself from my painful past. I still thank my father for so many lessons that he has taught me- most of them on how "not to be..." But as a narcissist, he will claim credit for how I've turned out and what I've done.

What I've done is let him go.

With Love,
Nina

6.10.2014

Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Residency: Communing With Book People

I was thrilled when the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts asked me to teach at their Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Residency this August. They not only dangled the literary carrot of getting to hang out with other writers and characters who love writing and books, but they also enticed me with the setting of gorgeous Whidbey Island and the Captain Whidbey Inn. Now that the plot is thickening and the registration period is still open (until June 15th) I thought I'd lend my voice to help promote it by answering the five questions that Guest Faculty were given to answer.

1. What's your favorite thing about teaching writers?

Getting to check out their glasses and writing tools. No, seriously, I think my favorite thing about teaching writers is sharing a love of story. Stories are how we communicate and how we share our experiences, and though themes may be similar, we all bring something fresh to the table. 

2. How would you suggest students approach a writer, agent, or editor they admire? 

With dark chocolate, a glass of wine, and don't ask them to "help them get published." I am half-joking of course, but I wasn't joking about the "getting published" part. Students seem to want to put the cart before the horse, and not the art before the course! (I just made that up. The last part, that is.) Don't put the emphasis on being published. Approach writers, agents and editors as "someone who wants to learn." There is much you can glean from those who have been there and done that, but have a "beginners mind" and stay open and curious. There is no "one way" to get to your destination- there are many ways, so take a light-hearted approach and make friends with writers, agents and editors, but please don't force them to read your manuscript immediately, and don't tell them that it is "guaranteed to be a bestseller," or that your kids or grandkids loved it. 

3. How about a sneak peek of what we can expect to learn from you in your sessions at Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA?

I am teaching two workshop sessions. Here are the descriptions that I wrote for them:

“WRITING FRICTION: Why You Need Conflict in Children’s Books”

Children’s books, especially picture books seem deceptively simple. People want to know “how many can you write in one day?” (Can you hear me laughing?) In this workshop we will explore the need for conflict in children’s books and how you can increase the tension in order to create a page-turner for the grade school set. Bring a pencil and journal and your imagination as we brainstorm up some good “frictional” ideas.

“The 1st Person, The 2nd Person & The 3rd Person Walk Into a Book”

The 1st Person says, “I want to be the main character.”
The 2nd Person says, “You don’t have what it takes.”
The 3rd Person says, “They always make a mess of things.”

In this workshop we will discuss voice in children’s books.
We will be writing, and we will be talking!

4. Tell us what "literary community" means to you.

If you look at the sketch at the top of this post, you will see that I can sometimes take things literally. But the truth of the matter is that I love the world of books. Everything about books- from scheming up ideas to polishing them until they shine, to working with other writers and artists, to hanging out at bookstores and breathing in volumes of words and stories, to going to conferences and meeting like-minded individuals who all would rather be wearing sweats, sitting on their butts and making things up, to getting to know publishers, editors, agents, art directors, bookstore owners and clerks, teachers, librarians, to standing in the aisle at Office Max and imagining how each pen would feel touching the paper in my journal, to dreaming that one day my books would get published and I would share them with people around the world, to waking up and finding out that dream came true.

5. When not teaching or working at your "day job," you can be found...

(deep breath)... hunting for agates and other minerals, foraging for mushrooms and wild edibles, cooking everything from scratch, preserving and canning things I grow, taking long walks on the beach and writing in my head, working out with a body ball, taking care of two homes, my beloved husband, my sweet rescue cat, playing guitar and ukulele, dreaming of skiing next winter, kayaking around our Lummi Island waters, reading great books, wondering what I forgot to list here, and sleeping.

BONUS QUESTION:
The MFA Residency includes a FREE POLAR BEAR PLUNGE in which we all jump into the lovely, refreshing waters of the Puget Sound. On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the most likely, how likely are you to participate?

5.













I hope that this has piqued your interest and that you will want to sign up for this incredible workshop- at very least to see me in the Salish Sea in my bathing suit.

With Love,
Nina

5.29.2014

Once Upon A Nightmare: The Amazon Situation

You may or may not be aware of the battle going on between Hachette Book Group, who owns Little Brown Books For Young Readers who publishes my book "Once Upon A Memory," and discount digital giant Amazon.com. I became aware on May 9th when an email from Little Brown publisher Michael Pietsch explained the "situation," which sent me clicking over to Amazon to see for myself. Lo and behold! There was the sales page for my book, "Once Upon A Memory," which had been selling well after winning the Crystal Kite Award for the West Region, and now it was hardly selling at all. Amazon had removed the usual discount (which people seem to demand) and raised the book to its full cover price. That in itself was not terrible. What was terrible is that they placed a banner over the book touting books that were "similar but lower in price," and they were saying that the book would ship in 3-5 weeks- even though it was available and in stock.

This was Amazon's way of negotiating for lower prices and bigger profit margins from Hachette- in effect using books as collateral. I was furious. I was frustrated. In the dark of night, in my office, by the light of my laptop I typed up a complaint letter and submitted to Customer Service at Amazon, knowing full-well that no one would read it. Sure enough, the next morning I received a "robo reply." However, that did not thwart my efforts. I had copied the letter and I had also decided to share it publicly on Facebook. Little did I know that it would go viral. Here is the letter that I shared on May 16th:

I have supported Amazon for as long as Amazon has existed. I've been published for 20 years now and you have sold so many of my books. I am frankly shocked and angry at what you are doing to my new book "Once Upon A Memory" which has just won the Crystal Kite Award and is published by Little Brown. You are punishing me- the author- because you want a deeper discount from Hachette- this is deplorable. You want authors and illustrators to suffer being used as pawns and we have nothing to do with this. Your actions to raise the prices of our books, place banners touting books that "are similar but lower in price" and saying that our books will ship in 3-5 weeks when they are in stock is not only a disgusting negotiation practice, but it has made me tell my readers to shop elsewhere- and they are and will. Authors and illustrators struggle to make low percentage royalties. We are not "big businesses," yet we are the mainstay of what you sell. Do you really think that this will endear Amazon to us, or do you- does Jeff Bezos- truly not care? It's all about money, I am sure. You make more and we make less. Not a recipe for good will, but perhaps you don't care about that. As a Seattle resident I am doubly upset at you, Amazon for doing this. I am going to share this letter and I hope others will share it, too.
I'm sorry that I've supported you in the past.
You have let me down.
Children's Books Author/Illustrator
Nina Laden

Over 470 people shared it- and it was tweeted. (Not by me, I'm not on Twitter.) Then on May 23rd it was quoted and linked in the New York Times Blog. On the morning of May 24th I had an email from a producer at Bloomberg Tech News. I did an interview with them via Skype and that aired online. Then my agent called and told me that CNN International had contacted her and wanted to send a Town car to take me to their Seattle affiliate to do a live interview with their London correspondent Richard Quest for his show "Quest Means Business." I was so nervous but I kept my wits, even when he baited me with a question about whether the US Government should step in. (This is not my area of expertise and I deflected.) I also did a phone interview with APR Marketplace reporter Sabri Ben-Achour that aired that evening.

The next day, Saturday, I was quoted in the actual New York Times. I still have not seen the paper. I was at our island cottage and our store doesn't sell The NY Times. This morning, May 29th I was on NPR's Morning Edition in a very short clip with Arts Correspondent Mandalit del Barco. Mandalit told me that her daughter loved my book, "Roberto the Insect Architect." I enjoyed talking with her; we talked for about ten minutes, but only ten seconds were used in the actual piece.

The media exposure- a complete shock and surprise to me- has garnered me many new friends and followers on Facebook, most of them fellow writers, illustrators, teachers, book people, and I've had a lot of positive feedback. I have no idea if this will help make up for lost sales from Amazon.com for their tactics against Hachette. What I have also done is to become an "IndieBound" affiliate- a wonderful organization that will find all of the independent bookstores that carry books you are searching for- near you. You can purchase my book "Once Upon A Memory" this way. Many independent bookstores, like the University Bookstore in Seattle, even offer free shipping. Other bookstores: please chime in here in the comments and add your links!

But at this point I've done all that I can do and I just have to re-focus and get back to the business of making books, letting the giant corporations deal with their stalemate... Pawns, such as myself, don't usually get to "Checkmate." I just hope that my next royalty check will not reflect this ugly game.

Thanks for your support, dear friends!
With Love, 
Nina