There's no doubt that huge leaps and bounds in technology have occurred since the publication of my first co-authored book in 1996. I now have a website, a Facebook page, am part of this One Potato...Ten Blog of children's writers and illustrators, participated in the Class of 2K9 debut authors, and the list goes on... Like many authors, I've put "google alerts" on my name and titles in order to stay up-to-date on reviews or mentions of my books and can even find out what libraries carry them and whether or not they're checked out, even as far away as Singapore and New Zealand. Without these advances, I never would have been involved in this marvelous, caring group of One Potato...Ten bloggers (some of whom I still have yet to meet in person). And even though I chose to "snail mail" invitations to my book launch party last September (instead of using Facebook or email), I did use the internet to design my invitations and even my stamps, using the digital version of my book cover--again something I couldn't have done 14 years ago for my first book.
As a writer, I embrace these technological advances, but I also feel a constant pressure to do more. One thing leads to another, and it becomes never ending. These technological advances become the very things that pull me away from my writing and my family. Finding a balance is the trick--one that is often hard to learn. This week hasn't been difficult finding the balance, however. With the birth of my newest granddaughter, Piper Drew Hemingway, and the care of her big sister, Aria, I know exactly what I need to be doing.
Ten writers for children. All with something to say.
In 1995 I applied for a job at the Youth Computer Center of the Science Museum of Minnesota. I told the director Natalie Rusk that I didn't know much about computers, but I was interested in learning and that I liked teaching kids. Natalie hired me, and she became the best boss and the most influential educator I've ever worked with.
Natalie has a deep appreciation of the way different children learn and of the shortcomings of many of the traditional ways children are taught. She assembled an excellent staff, and our main goal was to use the computer to have students spend time away from the computer making, building, and creating things.
Here is Natalie's website: www.natalierusk.com
I met Mike Petrich and Karen Wilkinson, who became huge influences on how I teach and how I approach technology. I remember Mike saying, "Something going wrong provides an excellent opportunity to learn how a computer works." And I remember helping Karen teach "How to Make your Own Candy Bar" where we researched candy bars, looked at cross sections of different ones, and created and named our own concoctions.
Mike and Karen now work at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and this website (PIE Play, Invent, Explore) gives an example of the excellent work they do:
One of the most important things I learned from Natalie, Mike, and Karen was to be open to technology. Natalie pointed out that technology is anything invented after we are born, and I realized the choice involved in how to approach it.
I'm still not an early adapter of devices or programs, but I do love the ones I use. I'm still curious about new things and went to see the iPad the day it came out and do believe it will change the way we read books. And I still keep Mike's advice in mind that something going wrong provides an opportunity to learn how a device works.
I am grateful to these three teachers and interested to see what new is coming and how it will change the way we work, play, and create.
When the iPad came out this Saturday (iPadurday), I had to keep myself away from the local Mac store. Instead I sat at my desk and went through all of the tutorials and fell in love with this new bit of technology-- I am a visual artist and to have a surface to touch and maneuver everything with my fingers rather than a keyboard and mouse sounds like heaven! I have been waiting for the iPad since I first learned the computer-- "Why can't I just touch the screen and move it?" was my first question when sitting at my boss's new computer at the New York Public Library in 1986. Now I can touch the screen and push and shove and scatter things around like my desk top, at least I could if I bought an iPad. But I will abstain for now. I will wait for the kinks to get ironed out. I will wait for the speed to get faster and the price to come down. I will wait and continue to use a mouse and keyboard to put together keynote presentations and organize my images and words. And every time I visit a mac store, I will drool.
Most people who meet me think I am "earthy". Perhaps this is from living my formative years as a hippie in California and attending the University of California, Santa Cruz as an undergrad. Perhaps it is my fingernails always blackened with soil from spring until fall from the gardens I tend. I like to think it is my big hearty laugh that makes me earthy-- but whatever it is, everyone is always surprised to find that I have an iPhone and a small laptop that I carry with me most places I go. During book groups and writing groups if there is a question about an author or a book, I whip out my iPhone and look up the book on Amazon or Wikiamo (iPhone app for Wikipedia). If there is a question about the weather, I can look up ten days worth of predictions anywhere in the world. (Whenever I get homesick for India, I look up the weather in Mumbai-- not that it changes much from when I was there in October!) I no longer need to ask for directions or search for the dictionary in the house-- it is all there on my iPhone. I have even begun to paint with my iPhone. Last fall I read an article about David Hockney that inspired me to download my first "paid" app: Brushes. Now I paint while waiting in lines or while resting in the afternoon after studio and before dinner-making.
All of this technology is wonderful, even addictive, but when I begin a new book, it is with pencil and paper that I write out the first draft or sketch the first dummy book. And it is the paintbrush with whom I have had the longest lasting relationship-- and it is with this intimacy of hand-held paintbrush that my final illustrations for books are created. Perhaps that is my earthiness-- I always come back to the traditional methods of art making used by our ancestors for thousands of years- brush to paper/brush to cave wall-- it is all about that intimate touch from heart/mind and hand.
When my first picture book came out in 1998, we had just gotten email at our house in rural Minnesota. I remember getting emails with the first reviews of Elizabeti's Doll. They were cut and pasted into the body of the email, and I printed them out, stuffed them in envelopes, and headed to the post office to mail them off, because almost none of my friends or relatives had email yet.
Things have changed since 1998.
Today I just got news of a fun review for my latest picture book, A Small Brown Dog with a Wet Pink Nose. Lisa at Little Brown sent me the link for the San Francisco and Sacramento Book Reviews.
I then posted that link at my blog http://latteya.livejournal.com and over at Facebook. Within two minutes, I had sent the review to potentially thousands of people. Wow. How times have changed. And just for fun, a survey of fellow writers: When was the last time you bought a stamp to mail something publishing-related?