Don’t box the unboxable

It’s amazing how the summer stops for no one. Just when I think about how much time I’ll have to write, I find myself making phone calls for my son trying to find playdates and generally keeping him company as we seek adventures together. Apologies for the long absence on this blog, but here we go!

A new and interesting thing happened this summer. The TEDx talks came to town. I’m a big fan of the TED talks and have heard many people share inspiring information that I’ve used a lot in my life and in my career. This summer’s speakers were no exception.

Brad Barton, illusionist, topped my chart. His message? Be amazed! “Let the awe hang in the air.” We don’t lose the wonder in life, we cover it up with thoughts, rules, categories and the like. When we suspend those thoughts we return to the child-like state of mind and wonder. “Wonder is one of the greatest emotions” in life. Brad also quoted well-known magician Paul Harris a few times. One of my favorites relates to this idea of being amazed. He describes that awe and wonder as, “Surfing the gasp.” Instead of analyzing how water comes out of a faucet, just enjoy it and the wonder of it all, and let your mouth hang open!

THIS is why I am a teacher. THIS is why I write picture books. The wonder of it all. Kids keep us fresh, young, inspired, wondering, and in awe of the seemingly most mundane things in life which, if we suspend our adult minds, we see really aren’t mundane after all. If you look in my About Deb page you’ll see my penchant for slug watching. This is what I’m talking about. Before you say, “Eww, gross!” give it a try. You might be amazed at what you observe.

Next on my list of chart toppers was Andre Mack. You wouldn’t believe this guy. He grew up in a single-parent household in Trenton, NJ and got his first job at MacDonald’s. From there he worked his way up in the restaurant business and became an award-winning sommelier (wine expert) at a fancy restaurant in NYC. One day he woke up, married with a child on the way and said, “I’m going to start a vineyard.” Cue the overhead slides to show a white, elderly gentleman in front of a vineyard. “I don’t really fit the bill,” was Andre’s comment, standing on stage in his high tops, jeans and untucked button down shirt. And, by the way, he’s African American. His advice?

1. Don’t do what you’re supposed to do.
2. Don’t be afraid to do it yourself. For real.
3. Don’t dress the part. Be yourself.
4. Don’t seek approval.
5. Put your energy into what feeds you. PLAY!
6. Create your life on your own terms.
Hallelujah to all of it, Andre!

My favorite quote from Brian Gordon, stand up comic turned teacher of children with emotional and behavioral challenges, “Figure out your owner’s manual.”If you don’t tell people how you are, they may not accept you. Learn everything about what you’re good at and what you’re not and accept yourself.

Alan Poloma, musician, gave me permission to “Steal things from others that speak to your soul. If you can be authentic, you don’t have to be original.” This is one of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve heard in a while. Or maybe we hear what we’re waiting and wanting to hear. That stealing bit? I do it all the time when I write and then chastise myself for not being original or creative enough. Who’d have thought this was normal and okay?  Thank you, Alan, for getting me off the hook. Now I’m really going to go for it!

And lastly, I’ll leave you with a question to ponder from fashion designer and Golden Gloves title winning professional boxer, Nellie Partow (who’s maybe five feet tall!) . I want to hear your answers. I mean it!


All of you fellow children’s writers and teachers out there…embrace the unboxable!

What could be a more appropriate picture book to feature with this post than Antoinette Poris’ Just a Box?


 Click image to see Antoinette’s website



4 thoughts on “Don’t box the unboxable

  1. So glad to get your comment, Joanne! (And you made me realized I made a terrible error and credited the wrong person for Andre Mack’s words of inspiration – now corrected!) I am working on the same dream and if we keep that vision alive, think outside the box, and persevere I believe wholeheartedly that it’s going to happen for us. Would love to hear what steps you’re taking on the path to publication. Here’s to a year of making dreams a reality!

  2. Still good advice, but nice to know the source. Thanks! As for what steps I’m taking: One: going outside my comfort zone (or the box, as it were) and writing flash fiction and poetry, not just children’s books. As a result, I’ve been published in three ezines Two: writing on a more regular basis (I write most days but don’t feel guilty for taking a day off here and there). Three: writing what I’m passionate about, not what I think will sell. And I do think perseverance is key!

  3. All smart and inspiring things to do. Congrats on the ezine pieces! I, too, have been trying to make (notice I didn’t say “find”) more regular time to write and always follow my passions. I also sought out advice/feedback from a stellar editor this year which is helping me reflect on where I need to focus my energies in revisions so I can reach that magical place of “ready”. Wishing you all the best, Joanne, in your pursuits.

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