I've been thinking a lot lately about inspiration, things that left an indelible mark on my memories, things that inspired me to create. I really hadn't realized it until after my second book, "Still (A Winter's Journey)", was in print as to how much it parallels this book..."The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats.
I really don't remember how old I was when I first got this book. I do remember being in grade school at St. Mary's in Morris, MN when I got it, and I remember getting it through Scholastic Books. Getting the flimsy, tissue paper thin Scholastic Books order form in school was a monumental moment for me as a child.
Being able to pick out a new book was something magical and rare...there weren't exactly a ton of book stores out there on the windswept prairie back in the late 1960's! But I remember what caught my attention from all the other tiny little book pictures in that circular was the cover. There was something about that little boy in the red snowsuit that peaked my interest.
The story centers around a little boy named Peter who wakes up one morning to find that it has snowed overnight! His normally dirty inner city world has turned into a winter wonderland and he sets out to explore and have an adventure. First he builds a snowman, then makes snow angels, climbs a snow mountain, makes patterns in the snow with a stick...he generally makes the most of this snowy day. Later that night, he dreams that the sun has come out and melted all the wonderful snow! But much to his relief it was only a dream and a fresh layer of snow greets him the next morning!
Ezra Jack Keats used a technique of mixing opaque watercolor with paper collage to create incredibly expressive yet simple illustrations. His use of color was remarkable! The vibrant red of Peter's snowsuit against the wintry landscape and the crystal clear blue sky is so striking. And the snow was not white... it was a kaleidoscope of muted blues, purples and pinks.
This deceptively simple story has a lot to say. It does what every good picture book should do, it transports the reader and listener into a special world created by the author and once there, he lets you follow Peter through his snowy adventure.
This book reminds me that I have much to learn about story telling and illustrating, sometimes I need to learn when to stop telling and start showing.
So that is the story of Ezra Jack Keats "The Snowy Day". If you haven't already enjoyed this book, I urge you to go out and purchase a copy for yourself to share with a special child in your life. And while you're at it...purchase a copy of one of my books as well!!! Just kidding!...but seriously if you feel compelled to do so, it would be greatly appreciated!! No pressure...really.
This is as close to a wintry scene as we have had here in the upper Midwest...not exactly the stuff of Bing Crosbylegend!
A part of me, the sentimental, romantic side of me, missed the atmospheric wonder and soft holiday glow that the snow provided as a backdrop to the season. The other part of me, the jaded, realistic side, thoroughly enjoyed not having to shovel it or drive through it every morning on the way to work. I was in heaven!!
It seems the artist and writer in me, the part of me most connected to the carefree days of childhood, yearned for the snow. Visions of frosted window panes and snowflakes like goose down ran endlessly through my mind. That part of me wanted to be immersed in the solitude of the new fallen snow...but it seems that part of me doesn't reside within me like it used to.
Blame it on age, life, lack of free time...well, free time away from dozing in the recliner. Sometimes what ambition and energy I do muster, I need to focus on trying to accomplish all the other endless chores I've let pile up around here. I seem to no longer have time to be childlike anymore, and that's rather sad to admit.
And so we embrace our brown Christmas, we take it for all it's worth and enjoy the fact that our outdoor decorations won't be frozen into the ground until sometime in March. And besides...we can always dream for next year!
As a child, before the world became complicated, I remember Christmas as a season of lights in the darkness.
I woke up early that morning tucked deeply beneath the warm familiar blankets on my bed, I was lost in a world of half dreams. I could see the warm glow of Christmas lights reflecting through the lacy patterns of frost on my bedroom window, I thought of everything and nothing all at the same time. I was six years old and it was the morning of Christmas Eve Day!
If I close my eyes now as a worn and somewhat jaded adult, I can still see and feel those images of Christmas. The warm and magical glow of colored lights against the cold, empty darkness of December. As I lay there, I remember hearing the soft sounds of holiday music as it crackled through the speakers of the old AM radio down in the kitchen. The tune was so sweet and familiar...but now has been lost to my memory. I stepped from my bedroom and into the hallway, up the stairwell the soft radiance of red and green shimmered from the lighted tree down in the living room, my mom always made sure that the Christmas tree was lit first thing in the morning. Framed against the grey blue morning outside, the tree was a beacon of Christmas! It was a symphony of red, green, blue and gold as the strands of long silvery tinsel reflected and danced with the colors of the lights. Time worn glass blown ornaments gleamed like priceless trophies against the needles of the majestic evergreen. I could scarcely speak as I was mezmerized by the all encompassing, Christmas celebrating beauty of it all.
As the years passed and the magic of Santa sadly faded away, I remember going for walks in the muted blue grey shadows of dusk to see the neighborhood lights. I saw rows and rows of lighted roof lines and scattered illuminated trees, plastic Santa's and snowmen seemed to march through the yards, each one calling out "Merry Christmas!" I could see the trees inside the houses glowing warmly and brightly, wreaths and bells and candles and holly...the air itself seemed to glow with the colors of Christmas. And then I would pass a lighted nativity, the solemn silent figures stood in reverence through the dark and lonely night...waiting for the star to shine again.
Now as I am older, I still look for the lights of Christmas. We take our children out for rides to see the magic and listen to the music, each of us remembering these things in our own different ways. Sometimes we run so fast at this time of year we forget to look, we forget to dream, we forget to remember. We forget the magic we once all had inside us...and we forget to look for the lights of Christmas.
See the lights? There are always lights at Christmas. Shining through the windows, there above the stable. Silent Night. The dreams we have at Christmas will always shine within us like lights against the darkness...at Christmas time.
I should really make this quick, as now is the time to get ready for Christmas. I know I have a number of things I should do today, always something left to buy, or bake, or see, or make...
Thing is... Christmas will come no matter what we do... or don't do.
Such is the season I'm afraid, we have been warned since damn near Halloween, so why do we now seem to run out of time. I can't really say what we expect though, all these time restrictions are more or less self imposed, it is by choice that we stress ourselves out over this. So what's the point you might ask?
I suppose this is just a personal note to myself, and to whoever else might be reading this, to just stop for a moment and breath.
Okay...feel better now? Great, now just relax and have a Happy Holiday Season and a wondrous New Year!!!
This album, "The Perry Como Christmas Album", is forever etched into my memory. I consider it a recording masterpiece.
Now I know there are those naysayers who don't necessarily think of this as a good thing. In fact they would probably presume that this would be a sign of a deeper more troubling mental condition...the condition known as chronic lameness.
But who am I trying to kid...I just love Christmas music! From the day after Thanksgiving to midnight on December 25th, I'm going to be listening to the stuff and enjoying every sappy frickin' minute of it! I think it all goes back to a ritual my family used to do during the Christmas season, I don't really remember how it started, but I remember these moments as being some of my fondest memories of childhood. I remember how we would turn off all the lights in the house, well, all the lights except for those that pertained to Christmas, and we would then bask in the glow of the multi-colored, tinsel laden, ornament covered, star topped Christmas tree! And our soundtrack?Why our beloved collection of Christmas albums!
Perry Como, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby...nothing but the classics! We would heap these treasures onto the old turntable, sit back and let the music take over. Typically there would be some conversation of course, usually between my older sisters and my mom, but usually it was nothing too overly pressing. Of course various snacks would appear, my mom would bring out cookies or candies, there was no lack of feasting for us at this time of year!
But mostly, it was about the lights and the music. Our tree, typically a live tree, was wired with the largest, most heat emitting bulbs on the market. The fresh smell of pine in our house was also a by-product of the sap in the tree being super heated to nearly the boiling point...I'm surprised the whole thing didn't spontaneously erupt into flames! Our music was recorded on vinyl, non of this digitally remastered, compact disc, high definition crap...we reveled in the warmth of their imperfections!
It was at this time that I would truly be immersed in the sights and sounds around me. Watching the snow falling gently outside the window, it danced passed the colored lights above the front door, and then slowly dissolving into the darkness of the night. Listening to Perry Como singing "Ave Maria" and realising that this was the most beautiful thing that you had ever, or maybe would ever, hear in your life.
It was a magical time to be sure, a time to gather as a family and listen to the sounds of the season, a time tosimply enjoy the simple beauty of Christmas.
It was then at that moment, when we were all lulled into the sweet transcendence of Christmas bliss, that my dad would flip on the kitchen lights as he came into the house after work saying, "Hey, who turned all the lights off!" The cold slap of fluorescent light shook us all out of our trance, but only for a moment..."Turn that light off and come into the living room!" we would all yell.
Soon we would all be gathered together again in the colored darkness, my dad would hungrily cut up cheddar cheese and summer sausage to eat with crackers... and the happy sounds of Gene Autry would once again fill the air! Merry Christmas!
And so it begins...another holiday season. Creeping upon us like a sack carrying, soot covered figure in the middle of the night, it seems to catch us while we are sleeping. There is so much about the Christmas season that is artificial, cliche and overtly commercialized, but there is also so much that is personally original and genuinely real.
Christmas is about memories, either real or imagined, memories that often times define us as human beings. As a child, Christmas was a time of light in the darkness to me, it was the quiet times I remember the most.
Christmas is also about traditions, a link to where we come from. From the foods we eat to when we opened our presents. Oddly enough, my mother always made that fine German staple of lasagna every Christmas Eve. She wasn't a woman stuck on ethnic tradition I suppose, rather she made something we all liked instead of the traditional German potato salad and carp. So lasagna became our traditional Christmas Eve meal! "Buon Natale!!!!"
Every year we strive to make this "The Best Christmas Ever!!"...a Christmas to end all Christmases. But why? Maybe it's the desire to recreate an ideal that we've been grooming in our minds for years, trying to bring back a bit of our childhood, the reasons are many.
"And so this is Christmas...as John Lennon once wrote, ...and what have we done?" "Another year over, and a new one just begun." The message is simple and so should be the holiday, I myself hope to follow this example...for once. "And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun. The near and the dear one, the old and the young."