Dandelion bouquet

jenlibrarian is gathering a bouquet of virtual flowers for her birthday, and asked us to report on some of our favorite flowers. There are all manner of lovely desert flowers here, but when she asked this, my thoughts leapt quickly to a non-desert favorite instead:

I loved dandelions all through my east coast childhood. I watched them grow, from tight bound buds, to half-open blooms with a core of still-tight yellow florets in the center, to bright open flowers, to dandelion clocks that I’d blow and make wishes on. I welcomed the return of the dandelions in the spring and summer, and gathered bouquets of them to bring home.

It was a source of great indignation to me that the adult world considered these flowers weeds, and a source of real sorrow when a lawn filled with beautiful yellow flowers would get mowed down to green blandness.

It turns out there are very few real dandelions in the Sonoran desert, though we do have false dandelions here. Those I’ve never come to love. Perhaps it’s because I met them as an adult, when I had to weed them from the ground myself. But I rather think it’s more because they have thorns, and unlike my childhood dandelions, can be pretty painful to pick without protective gloves. I wouldn’t put a false dandelion in jenlibrarian‘s bouquet.

Though I was so struck by the idea of dandelions having thorns that I stole it for Bones of Faerie, where I decided that after the war with Faerie, the changed plants in our world would include eastern dandelions that had thorns, too. Because after meeting thorny false dandelions I no longer quite trusted any dandelions the way I once had, and also because with all that lawn-mowing, it was about time my childhood dandelions got some defenses of their own.

Another post on the importance of story

(Found this in my file of things to post to livejournal one day; it’s been there long enough I no longer remember what sparked it. But I reread it today, and found it still true, so am posting it.)

One thing about writing for kids and teens is, you don’t get to forget what being in school–elementary school, middle school, high school–felt like. There were some good times, growing up, but there were also some hard times, and sometimes, when I’m digging deep, I wonder how I made it through. How anyone ever makes it through.

Lots of things help. I could write a whole post just about the importance of supportive adults in a kids’ life, because while we adults have less power than we’d like, we do have more than we think.

But another thing that helped me through was story.

Socially, school was rough for me; I was the outcast kid who even the outcast kids didn’t want to hang with. But–how to explain this–I’m proud of that. Proud of finding my way through to the other side and to my adult life. I admire that kid who got me here, tremendously. Sometimes I think maybe she’s still out there, somewhere, and I whisper my thanks to her down through the years.

And sometimes I think the reason I found a way through was simply because I read and read and read. Like many of us, I always had my nose in one book or another. I learned how stories worked, though I couldn’t have explained what I knew at the time. But because I knew how stories worked–I knew it was all going to be all right in the end. I knew the way through had to exist, even if I couldn’t see it for myself.

Those supportive adults helped, simply by telling me, over and over again, that things really do get better once you graduate, that school wasn’t forever.

But the books I read also helped, because they showed how the act of finding your way through actually looked. Menolly found music and fire lizards and friends who appreciated her talents. Harimad-sol found horses and power and a world in which she belonged. Meg Murray hung on to her rough edges and fell in love and went to college and got on with the business of living, but didn’t forget how to hear unicorns. I didn’t really expect fire lizards or magic horses or unicorns. But I did expect a world in which I belonged. By high school, I understood that my life was a story, too, and I was willing to wait for my happy ending, because I knew it was out there, somewhere. I might not get there quickly or painlessly or entirely without cost, but I don’t know that I ever doubted back then there was someplace to get to.

I don’t know where that strength of belief came from. A gift, a bit of luck, an act of grace. Only as an adult do I understand just how lucky I was–and am. Especially since I’ve managed to do many of the things the heroes of my books did: fall in love, discover a land that spoke to me, pursue work that I care about, and so on.

There’s an awful lot of luck and grace in all that, too.

But it isn’t all luck. Because stories–stories are powerful stuff. I’m still undecided on whether stories can change the world. But I know they can change individual lives, and maybe that’s one of the few ways the world gets for real in the end anyway.