Boston Area Children’s Author Events

What’s going on with my events calendar? I’m so glad you asked. For the past few years, I’ve been using facebook exclusively because it is easier to add events from bookstores that way. However, a few people let me know that they haven’t been seeing the events when I post them to Facebook. (A few people even said “Oh didn’t you used to have an events calendar? What happened with that?” To which I said, “OMG it is still there and it is a lot of work have you not noticed it???”)

So…yay the Google Calendar is back! at the moment it doesn’t have as many events listed as my Facebook version. But as I add more events, I’ll type them also into google calendar.

A few people have suggested a newsletter, but unfortunately, that is a bit beyond my energy level since this is a lot of work as is. Sorry about that!

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A letter to my loves & a reminder to myself

There is a joy in being alive. I want you to know this. It is up to us as people to keep that joy alive. Climate change is scary. Somehow while inventing new technologies to help our lives, we have set our Earth into a chaotic spiral, and it is easy to get lost in the warnings and panic.

The injustices we see and experience around the world can also make us lose hope in humanity. Who are these people who care only for themselves and not for the dignity of other people’s lives? Who are these people who care more about racial purity and imagined borders than friendship, love, and trust?

While I don’t pretend to have a clue about the right thing to do to stop climate change or to bring about peace on Earth, I do know that we have to try. There is satisfaction to be found in trying. There is joy in getting up and trying again after a failure. And there is peace in forgiving yourself for not knowing what you are even about half of the time.

This is how it works: Grownups do their best to keep this world running. We make mistakes. We raise children and teach them what we know, what we tried, what worked and what didn’t. Children remind grownups to try to leave the world better than we found it. When the grownups grow old, they die, and the children become the adults. They continue what was started, and they learn from our mistakes, and they in turn pass down what they have learned.

That is what there is to life. Everyone tries to make things sound more complicated, but that is what it is, and we are lucky in it. The world is ours to take care of, and we cherish it and do our best to enjoy what time we have here.


Notes & Questions to myself:

This letter was written to a child in my family in response to something she said about climate change, which I’m sure a lot of other kids (and other aged people!) are feeling right now.  But how do we teach our children to learn from our mistakes? How do we teach them not to repeat our mistakes when we all learn best by making them in the first place? How do we stop people from continuing to repeat history, even histories that aren’t lost to antiquity but are easily searchable on the internet?

“Leave the world better than we found it” was a phrase that, after I’d written it, sounded like something I’d heard somewhere else or seen online. Wikiquotes attributes a similar quote “leave the world a little better than you found it” to Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouts movement. But I also found a quote “you will leave the world no better than you found it”, from Confessions of a Young Man by George Moore which isn’t exactly hopeful! I didn’t go digging further but suffice it to say this idea isn’t one I started. How apropos!

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the limits of memory; the limits of imagination

I often wonder why we don’t have a group memory
Why we can’t remember what happened to our ancestors
how they lived, loved, and died
what they did with their time

What we have is writing, art, and language,
shared with understanding and intention
their existence and interpretations threatened by one despot or the next

changed during transcription, changed by time,
and our ability to understand what we have inherited
is subject to the limits of our own imaginations

our bodies carry a record written in code
a recipe for human life, human limbs, human memories
shared without understanding or intention
their existence and interpretations threatened by one despot or the next

changed during transcription, changed by time,
and our ability to understand what we have inherited
is subject to the limits of our own imaginations

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How to be invisible

We’re celebrating Women’s History month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ literature community. Join in the conversation on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kidlitwomen or Twitter #kidlitwomen

My #kidlitwomen post was intended to be an essay about being a mother and a writer, about dealing with racism and sexism in not one but two cultures. However essays and non-fiction don’t come naturally to me, so instead of trying to wrestle my words into the right format, I just let them go the way they wanted.

***

How to be invisible

It starts with your first child. Invisibility wraps its way around you while you push your stroller down the street. People sense fear and incompetence festering around you, a stink they can’t stand to be around, one that you can’t even smell. (Is it even there?) It doesn’t matter that you have brought life into this world, that the well-being of another life hangs on your own well-being, your opinions mean nothing. Less than nothing.

You are a mommy now.

You are an empty vessel waiting to be filled with the advice of others, never mind your own lived experiences, university degrees, medical degrees. Your own thoughts and dreams have been rendered meaningless by others.

You will be treated as though all the creative juices that inspired you to write a novel have already dried up. As though you are desiccated creatively the minute your breasts begin to fill. You are now plain, flavorless, uninspired. (And sometimes you are just so tired you aren’t even sure that they are wrong.)

You will be afraid to reveal who you are. Everyone knows mommies can’t recognize good literature when they read it. Scandalized mommies ruin all the good bits. How then can they be writers?

If you are a mommy with brown skin, a mommy from a minority background, a non-Christian woman, a heathen writing about childhood,  you are unrelatable, unsellable, unknowable. You are not from here, you never could be from here, you are an anomaly, too foreign not foreign enough too ordinary to be exotic too mommy to be avant-garde. No matter which country you are in, your parents’ or your own, mommy and writer can’t be the same person without consequences.

You will keep writing, knowing that your work will be willfully misunderstood. You will keep writing knowing that they read your voice as uninteresting, unfunny, unworthy, uninspired. You will keep writing though the conversations continue without your voice.

Someday you hope your daughters will read your words and speak them out loud, knowing how hard you fought, how big you dreamed, how far you soared. And when your daughters’ time comes, whether they have children or whether they don’t, they will be seen, they will be heard, their voices and thoughts and opinions will matter, their art their science their dreams will matter.

You will make sure of it.

 

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Brown eyes and book covers

A few months ago, a story popped into my head whole. Somehow, a picture book idea I’d been mulling over called Rock Swap (inspired by one of my daughters who loves collecting rocks) morphed into a short story about a girl named Adrika who collects rocks and ends up defeating an old rakshasa named Hidimbi. At the time, we were driving to my parent’s apartment for Thanksgiving, and I didn’t have a pen handy, so I dictated the story into my phone as my family listened. Later I revised it.

My older daughter loved this story. She really wanted me to turn it into a book and a movie and make millions of dollars from it. I informed her that probably wasn’t going to happen. Then, she asked if I could print this out for HER to sell in our front yard. (A side note: she is obsessed with the idea of making and selling things.) So last week, when she asked again about printing out and selling one of my stories, I said, what about Rock Swap? She was so excited. We revised it together, and I told her she could draw the cover.

Immediately, she knew which scene she wanted to draw, but she still had all sorts of questions for me about color choice—what should Adrika wear, what color should the font be, etc. I asked her questions to help her figure it out for herself. On her own, she decided, of course, Adrika should have brown hair, like her, but then my brown-eyed daughter said, “Can I draw her with blue eyes on the cover?”

This threw me. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Even though I had a specific girl in mind when I wrote Adrika, I had never really described her eyes. My mistake, I guess, if I had something specific in mind. So, should I encourage my daughter’s artistic side by telling her to draw Adrika however she wanted? Or would I have to turn this into a teachable moment of some kind?

Still dithering, I started off with, “Why?”

“I think it’ll look better.”

It’ll look better? Mommy guilt rammed right through my heart. I felt I had failed my daughter in some way. She genuinely felt that blue eyes would look better than brown eyes on the cover of this book. I fought to control my expression so I wouldn’t seem judgmental.

I said, “I like blue eyes, but I was really picturing an Indian girl who looked like me, or like you. And we both have brown eyes.”

“I don’t think brown eyes will look right on a cover. This brown is too dark, and Indian people can have blue eyes.”

“I suppose that’s true,” I said, wondering whether I was the one being closed minded. “But there are so many characters with blue eyes. And I wanted this character to have brown eyes.”

“Let me show you the brown,” she said. “Then you will see that it’s too dark.” She colored on a scrap of paper and brought it over to me.

I looked at the page. “This looks like your eye color,” I said. It did. “I have dark brown eyes. Does this look like my eye color?”

Her eyes flicked from the page to my eyes and back again. I could tell from her expression that she agreed and was still thinking about this.

I said. “When you tell me this color is too dark for the cover, it makes me sad. It makes me think you don’t like your own beautiful brown eyes.”

She didn’t say anything. She went and colored the character in with brown eyes and tan skin like hers.

 I don’t know exactly what was going on in her head, did she change her mind about who can be on the cover of a book?  Or instead, did she decide she couldn’t talk to Mommy about this any more? I didn’t ask, not sure I wanted to know the answer, and honestly not sure she would know the answer anyway.

I’ve seen how my daughter grins at herself in the mirror–I know she likes the way she looks, but will that change as she gets older? Will seeing mostly lighter-skinned people with blue eyes all over her books and TV shows gradually teach her that her own appearance is somehow inferior?

I hope by continuing to talk to her and read her my stories about brown-eyed, brown-skinned, dark-haired girls, she’ll continue to love her own appearance as much as she does now. I hope she’ll be able to truly feel that eye color really doesn’t change whether a person is worthy of being a main character in a story. I hope so. I suppose time will tell.

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Harvard FAS Diversity Dialogue Summer Panel

Hi everyone! Summer vacation is over, and I’m working on two projects right now: a picture book and a middle grade fantasy project. The kids were in camps for much of July, so I got a lot of work done then. Last month was a bit hit or miss, but I had fun with my kids and am excited to get back to work this month!

Those of you who follow me on social media know that a few weeks I participated in a panel at Harvard, talking about the fantastic WNDB anthology FLYING LESSONS. The livestream of the panel is up on youtube. It is an hour and a half long, so clear up some time in your schedule and check it out!

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a typical breakfast

Just a typical breakfast conversation:

4 yo (randomly): Are we being controlled by giants?
Me: I don’t think so. Why?
4 yo: There is a big hand hovering over my head like this. (demonstrates with her hand over her head). I can see it!
7 yo: There would be a hole in the ceiling though.
Hubby: Maybe the walls are just an illusion, like a holographic projection.
7yo: But I can touch it.
Me: But have you actually touched the ceiling? (farting) oh, look the giant just made me fart!

As you can see we have many high brow conversations at breakfast.

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Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt Save the Day (a fan comic by my kid)

My 4.5 year old is a huge fan of the Narwhal and Jelly series by Ben Clanton. She wanted us to make the 3rd volume of the series, so here it is! I present to you Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt Save the Day! My daughter says, “This is book one in a brand new series.” She came up with most of the words. Anything in black marker was drawn by me–she colored all the rest. Haha! I love it. I might be a little biased though!

The Cover: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt Save the Day! by [my 4.5 year old.]

One day Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt were swimming through the ocean when they saw a Pig Pickle! They had a battle. (Amitha’s note: she said she wanted me to draw a “big pickle” but I heard “pig pickle,” and I liked it, so we went with it.)

The Pig Pickle was defeated! then, Super Narwhal helped Pig Pickle become superfied. Now Pig Pickle was Super Pig Pickle!

It turned out that Super Pig Pickle was missing her baby. So Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt had to help find the baby.

They looked everywhere, except the Pig Pickle’s home. And then, finally they looked in the Pig Pickle’s home. There was the baby, safe and sound in the crib.

Superfy!

More Adventures Coming Soon

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Short Story: The Choosing Place

It was up to Manjoo to destroy Earth to save mankind. And she was going to have to do it alone.

In a spaceship hovering near the planet she’d once called home, Manjoo had the most glorious view in the universe—the last view of Earth 1, the home of her ancestors for countless millennia. The sun’s rays lit up half the planet, the other half lay hidden in the shadows.

Her vest chimed, the built-in clock reminding her she’d been floating in her ship for five minutes. The ship would be in position for only ten more minutes, and somewhere in that time, she was to push a small yellow button on the vest. The button would launch a missile to incinerate Earth 1, along with the prion disease that had wiped out most of the Earth’s population.

I wanted this, she reminded herself again. I entered the raffle because I wanted this. She’d actually hoped to win, to be the one who got to push the button. She’d thought getting to destroy the disease, getting to be the last person to see Earth 1, would be the opportunity of a lifetime. Fame and fortune had danced in her dreams. Maybe she’d write books, do vidcast interviews. Everyone at school would be in awe of her. But now, floating there, staring at her ex-home planet through the windows that surrounded her, she wasn’t sure why she’d thought blowing up Earth 1 would be such a cool thing to do. Actually, the whole thing seemed pretty messed up.

“You okay?” her mom asked, her voice tinny through Manjoo’s earpiece.

“Yeah,” Manjoo croaked back. She swallowed, trying to clear the knot in her throat.

“You’re not okay,” her mom said. “Can’t they send in an alternate?”

“No time left for that,” her dad said. “They don’t have enough fuel to reposition.”

Her parents had been angry when Manjoo had been chosen. They thought children shouldn’t be given this level of responsibility, and her mother hated the idea of her teleporting in a spacecraft by herself. The rules had been that anyone age 10+ could sign up, so everyone in her class had done it. One million people, about half the population of Earth 2, had entered the raffle, and Manjoo had won. It was an honor to be chosen. Everyone back home was jealous. Or at least, that’s what she kept telling herself.

Manjoo had called her mother a worry wart when her mom had cried and hugged her goodbye, but floating in the middle of nowhere in a spacecraft all alone, her palms sweating, her breath getting shallow, she felt, no, she knew this was a mistake. Signing up had been a really bad idea.

“Explain it again?” Manjoo said, wiping her hands on the slick space suit. “Why can’t we just leave Earth there?”

“Let’s call someone—” her mom started.

Her dad interrupted. “It was Manjoo’s choice to make. Her life to live.” Her mom went silent. That was the argument Manjoo had used to convince her parents. Her dad continued. “The disease that killed everyone is refolding. Soon, the disease will kill every living thing on the planet.”

“So they think,” Manjoo said.

“So they think.”

Scientists were worried that if someone teleported back to Earth 1, either on accident—or worse, on purpose—the consequences for the humans remaining on Earth 2 could be disastrous.

“Now I’m here to destroy Earth,” Manjoo said, “like we destroyed the other two infected planets.”

“Yes,” her dad said.

Manjoo took a deep breath. The spacecraft smelled like plastic, and her nose ached from the dry air.

“Okay. I can do this,” she said.

Manjoo squeezed her eyes tight, breathing faster, and faster, her hands starting to shake, her entire body quivering, her stomach clenching up. She was going to throw up, right then and there.

“Come home,” her mom said. “If you don’t want to do it, please don’t do it.”

“I do, Mom. I want to.” And it was true. Sort of. Manjoo wanted to be the one to keep this awful disease from spreading. She wanted to save mankind. She wanted to be a hero. Didn’t she? Did she?

“I love you,” her mom said.

“Me too,” her dad said.

Manjoo nodded and placed her finger on the yellow button. Closing her eyes, she tried to fight back the panic, deciding to just do it quickly, to stop overthinking it. Sweat trickled down her back.

All of a sudden, she pressed the button on her vest.

***

For one minute, Manjoo watched the missile zoom steadily towards an unsuspecting planet, rotating slowly, soundlessly in its orbit around the Sun. Somewhere on the spacecraft, a camera was digitally capturing the moment, and a microphone was hooked up to record her words. Manjoo had originally thought she’d say something really profound. She’d come up with two options: We’ll destroy one world so another can live. Or maybe, We’ll forever be grateful. But both seemed too cheesy now.

Instead, she stood in silence, thinking about Earth 1. In her mind, Earth 1 was still just plain Earth without the number, third planet from the Sun, and their new planet, Earth 2, was still Jaganmatri, one of many habitable planets astronauts had recently discovered in a far away solar system.

Back on Earth 1, before the astronauts unknowingly returned with the alien prion disease, her mom had worked at a grocery store. Her father had been a gas station attendant. With so few people left alive though, they’d both volunteered to be amateur agricultural scientists on their just barely discovered planet that wasn’t even terraformed yet. They’d eventually turn the parched, carbon dioxide-filled flatlands of Jaganmatri into oxygen-rich, green pastures—or at least, that was the plan. Then they’d be able to get rid of the biodomes, get rid of that plastic shield protecting them from the outside world.

The hardest part about living in the biodomes wasn’t that it was humid and crowded. The hardest part was that it was overflowing with the memories of how life was back on Earth 1, back with the people who hadn’t come with them. The people she’d never see again. All that was left of Manjoo’s family was her parents. The rest of their family, her mother’s parents, her father’s parents, her cousins, aunts, uncles, all of them were dead. Wiped out by the plague. Manjoo’s apartment block had been one of the lucky ones. They’d done the quarantining procedures early, as soon as the announcements had been made. For weeks they’d lived out of their home, depending on their devices for news of the outside world. The last time she’d seen Earth was from the window of the evacuation ships, just before they’d rocketed upwards and then teleported away.

And so now she stared at it, trying not to picture her tall apartment building in their big city. Biting her lip, trying her best not to cry in front of the cameras, Manjoo kept thinking about her life—the one she thought she was going to have as well as the one she’d lived instead.

The missile was almost there. If she wanted to say something, she’d have to do it now. Her heart hammered in her chest. She didn’t know what to feel much less what to say.

Finally, with only moments to go, believing she had to say something, anything on behalf of all those other Earthlings who didn’t get to be here for Earth’s final moments, she managed to whisper, “Goodbye,” and “Thank you.”

And then, there was a blinding flash of light as the Earth exploded, disintegrating into smithereens right before her eyes. The Moon swooped towards the Sun. Manjoo leaned forward, wondering what would happen to that big rock she’d looked out at almost every night. Would the Moon burn up? And then it slowed. It slowed. She let out a sigh of relief. At least that wasn’t gone.

Manjoo craned her neck all around, trying to see what else would happen, but the other planets were just points of light in the distance.

So that was that. One second, Earth was there and the next it was in tiny pieces floating towards her.

The scientists had calculated that she would have at least an hour until the pieces of Earth would reach her location. The ship would continue recording until that happened and then teleport quickly away when the sensors were tripped. But her personal teleportation vest was set according to the amount of oxygen she had. Five minutes left.

So, for four minutes she watched as the pieces of earth expanded, listened to the chiming of her vest. When it reached the final minute, the vest counted aloud, and she found the robotic voice reassuring in the silence. She couldn’t wait to get home to her parents, to the safety of her mother’s arms, the comfort of her dad’s wide mustachioed grin. She wanted to go home and pretend none of this had ever happened.

3…2…1…

She closed her eyes.

***

A bright white light filled her vision, and she lost all sense of her body. She was nothing, yet she was still here, floating, surrounded by a feeling of peace.

When she returned to her body, her feet sank into a soft, red carpet that extended down a dark hallway. With a start, she realized that she was wearing different clothes. Her space suit and teleportation vest were gone. All she was wearing was an orange robe that tied at the waist with a string. Where was her mother?

Teleportation vests weren’t something everyone had at home, only people working for the Space Transportation Administration could use them, and she didn’t really know how they worked. Could there have been some malfunction?

Manjoo padded forward on the silky carpet. Gray stone columns lined either side, where the walls should’ve been but weren’t. Atop each column was a big wheel, an old wooden cartwheel lined with a sheet of paper along the outside.

A small voice, the voice of a child several years younger than Manjoo spoke: “Life is an endless cycle. Like a wheel forever turning, and wearing away. The universe is forever being destroyed, only to be remade.”

She searched for the source of the voice, but the voice was all around her, and at the same time the voice was inside her head.

“Imagine a snake biting its tail. The tail is the head, and the head is the tail. The beginning is the end is the beginning.” The child’s voice was gentle and sweet, but somehow commanding in its way.

Then all the wheels, hundreds of wheels down this long path started turning, the columns beneath them rumbled, rattling against the floor.

Manjoo was compelled forward. It was like she didn’t have a choice.

“Time is a cycle,” Manjoo said. Her voice came out softer than she’d expected, muffled by the rumbles. “My grandfather told me that once.” She hadn’t thought of her grandfather in months. He had died with the first wave of the alien disease. She wished now she had asked him more questions. Louder, she said, “He said he believed that we return to where we began. But what does that mean? Does that mean it all just happens over and over again? The big bang, evolution, all of it all over again?”

“Yes and no. It all happens in a cycle, and the cycle doesn’t repeat.”

Two steps appeared before her, leading up to a platform where a wheel like all the others was standing.

“Come,” the child said. “This is your dharmic wheel.”

“What?” It felt like Manjoo’s heart stopped beating for a moment. She saw that massive wheel, and didn’t want to go anywhere near it. “Who are you?” she asked. “Why are you showing me this?”

The voice didn’t say anything more. Manjoo stood there for a good long while, waiting for an answer. And then, she stepped forward again, moving towards the steps.

“This is the wheel that drives your existence,” the voice said. “Surrounding it is the book of your lives—of your births and rebirths. All the good lives, all the bad, written here.”

With each step, terror grew in Manjoo’s chest. The peaceful feeling was completely gone. She wished she could go back to that.

“You must choose your path.”

“I’m dead, aren’t I?” Manjoo cried suddenly. “I’m dead!”

The voice said nothing, and she knew the answer was yes.

“But what happened, I thought I teleported? I thought…Did the vest malfunction? What happened?”

“What matters now is that you are here.”

“No!” She collapsed to her knees. “Mom! Oh, Mom! You were right!”

Manjoo sobbed and sobbed, thinking of her poor parents back in those awful biodomes, wondering where she’d gone.

“I should never have entered the raffle!” she said, still sobbing. “I should’ve refused to get on the ship! I should’ve—”

“Your actions have lead you to this point,” the voice said. “Just as others have been here before. Come. Dry your eyes and read about the many pasts you’ve had.”

As the voice spoke, thoughts of her family grew distant. Her mother and father faded into a mist that covered her mind, but while the sadness regressed, fear took its place. An empty, alone feeling spread across her chest.

She got to her feet and reached for the wheel. The wheel was hot, so hot that it should’ve burned her. But, she wasn’t alive, so it didn’t. She shuddered with the thought.

As she pondered this, the wheel leaned backwards, falling over onto its side, thudding loudly onto the red carpet. Manjoo jumped back, startled. Sandal-wood scented smoke filled her vision, and the rumbling wheels stopped. A low trumpet noise wound its way around her, and she couldn’t tell if the sound was inside her head or outside.

“Read,” the child’s voice said.

Rising up to eye level, her wheel spun slowly, so she could see words around its circumference, written in black, tinged with orange as though it had been burned into the paper, was still burning. Once Manjoo began to read, the rest of the room disappeared, and all her lives flashed before her eyes, her existence spreading before her across the millennia.

She’d been elephant, she’d been mouse.

She’d been songbird, she’d been dinosaur.

She’d been seaweed, she’d been maple tree.

She’d lived centuries, she’d lived a millisecond.

Her lives had all been different, but they’d all meant something. They’d all been her.

And when the wheel reached the latest life, she almost didn’t recognize it at first. Another human birth, she thought. Until she read about how as a newborn, she’d slept with one eye open as her parents held her for the first time. About how one of her milk teeth had turned black when she’d fallen off her tricycle. About recess at her elementary school on Earth 1. About how she’d felt when she learned her best friend had died when the alien plague reached her town.

Blinking back tears, she read about the quarantine. About the day she’d rocketed off the planet to begin her new life on Earth 2.

When she was done reading, the wheel stopped turning. The music stopped. The smell disappeared. She noticed that the wheel had come full circle.

“This is the choosing place,” the child’s voice said.

Manjoo sniffed and rubbed the grief out of her eyes with a fist. “So why am I here? What is my choice?”

“You are here because of your actions today.”

“I had to destroy our planet,” she said. “So I pushed the button, and…now I’m dead.” Her mother’s face rushed to the forefront of her mind. She heard her mother’s last words, Come home when you’re ready. Guilt and sadness choked her.

“According to the laws of the universe, the equations must balance. There were lives on that planet, which you destroyed.”

“But we had to! And they were going to die from the alien disease anyway!” Her voice cracked. They had said Earth would soon be a ghost planet, like the other planets they’d found with nothing left alive. Tears ran down her cheeks.

“Whether that is true or not, when you pushed that button, millions of lives and potential lives were lost.”

But what about Earth 2? Couldn’t people have died if I hadn’t pushed the button? If someone went there and brought the prion to our new planet…” Manjoo pressed her hands into her face. This wasn’t fair. She wasn’t supposed to be here. She wasn’t supposed to be dead.

“You are here because of your actions. Your planet was destroyed, and those lives were lost because of you. All those lives must be balanced.”

“I didn’t know!” she said. “I didn’t think…” She faltered. The truth of it was—

“You didn’t know it mattered,” the child said, reading her thoughts. “Now you do. And now you have a choice.”

Manjoo wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing her elbows through the rough cotton sleeves of the robe. It was cold in there. So cold, yet her palms were clammy.

“What’s the choice?” she asked.

“You can go back and finish out your last life. Continue it, living with the knowledge of all the lives you ended. All the lives that must now be reborn elsewhere. And the balance will be shifted on your planet.”

“The balance will be shifted? What does that mean?”

“Every action has a reaction. That is law.”

“You mean more people will be born on my planet—on Earth 2? Is that bad?”

“More lives must be created—”

Manjoo gasped. “But there isn’t space, is there? No space for those lives to return.” She thought of the humid biodomes and how closely packed in the humans were. Compared to the billions of human lives that had been lost on Earth 1, two million seemed a tiny amount. But the two million people—and assorted plants and animals—were all crammed into plastic domes built to hold a quarter of that number. They said they were working on expanding the buildings. But how long would it take?

“So what are you saying? If I go back, people will die?” she asked. “Because of what I did? Because of what they told me to do?”

“Some may die, and some may be reborn. Every action has a reaction.”

“Or?”

“Or you can turn back the wheel that is your timeline. Rewrite it so you didn’t push the button in time. They will be unable to reroute the missile and those lives will be saved.”

“I- I don’t understand,” she said. “I can just rewrite what happened? And then…what is the reaction? Can I just go home to Earth 2?”

“No. You will not return. The missile will go off in your spacecraft. And your new planet will thrive as it was.”

“Oh,” she said.

“With this action, by saving these lives, your life debts will be repaid. You will have escaped the wheel. You will no longer be born and reborn.”

“If I’m not born then…then what am I?”

The voice didn’t answer for a moment. The wheels rumbled.

“Hello?” Manjoo bit her lip. “How can I make a choice if I don’t understand?”

“You will be everything, and you will be nothing,” the voice said.

“Everything and nothing,” Manjoo whispered, squeezing her eyes shut, trying not to give in to the despair sinking to the bottom of her stomach. “And what about the disease?” she cried. “What if someone dies because I didn’t explode the planet? Don’t those lives count?”

“It is not yet written. Your decision lies with now.”

“But I thought I could rewind the clock? I thought life was a wheel? Doesn’t a wheel just turn around over and over again? Can’t it go forward and backward? Don’t things repeat themselves or something?”

“It is not that simple.”

That didn’t sound simple to her. “So I can either go back in time and save everyone on Earth 1—all the animals who were maybe going to die anyway. Or, I can go back to my life, my family on Earth 2 and watch the world slowly grow too overcrowded to sustain us? Is that what you’re saying? Is that my choice?” She spat the last word out, angry. Why was she here? Why couldn’t she just go home? What happened to her being a hero?

“Yes, that is your choice.”

“Are those the only options?” Manjoo was shouting now. “Isn’t there something else we can do?”

Of course, the voice didn’t answer.

Manjoo groaned in frustration and stared out at the hall of wheels, when a thought occurred to her: Were her friends’ and families’ wheels out there?

Had her grandfather been reborn after he died? Could she read his wheel? And—had he still been on that planet? Had she exploded her friends and family? Or had they reached the end of their wheels and come to this choosing place?

“It is time,” the child’s voice said. “Make your choice.”

“I can’t! I don’t know how!” It was an impossible decision. There was a reason they’d had to destroy the Earth and all those other planets. And she wanted to see her parents again. They needed her. She needed them. “It’s not fair! It’s just not fair!”

If the future wasn’t written, maybe the overcrowding wasn’t inevitable, maybe she could just go back home and everything would be fine. But on the other hand, what if the scientists had been wrong—what if the plants and animals left on Earth 1 weren’t all going to die from the alien plague? Could she live with herself knowing how many lives she’d ended when she’d had this opportunity to change it? But did she really want to escape the wheel, to become everything and nothing, whatever that really meant?

Did she even want to know what it meant?

“Press the pen to the wheel,” the voice said. “And make your choice.”

A pen appeared in her hand—a long, thin piece of wood with black ink dripping from the end.

It was a difficult choice. An impossible choice. Manjoo turned the wheel with one hand, reading it all again. She pressed the pen to the wheel, the ink sizzling as it hit the page. Her words burned into the paper.

She made her choice.

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On princesses, superstars, and architects

My 7 year old is a riot. She has all kinds of elaborate dreams and schemes. By contrast, my 4 year old is more logical and reasonable, but she can’t resist my 7 year old’s infectious enthusiasm.

Last week, the 7 yo was talking about how she wants to be a famous singer when she grows up, and how her sister and 2 cousins will be in the band with her. Then she decided, actually, she would be famous by herself. The 4 year old was scared about this idea (she is more shy than her sister) so instead she agreed to be the maid and do all the 7 year old’s chores for her so she can have time to practice her singing and write famous songs.

Later, at bathtime, the 7 year old says to me, “Mommy, I want to be a princess. We need to find a Prince for me to marry so I can be a princess.”

I explained to her that we don’t have princesses in this country, and that it was a good thing that we get to vote to decide who is in charge of us. That way we don’t get stuck with an evil king or something.

I said, “Well, maybe you can CALL yourself Princess when you’re a famous singer?”

7 year old thought this was a terrible idea, but she discussed it in the bath with her little sister and decided that her band name would be THE PRINCESSES and when they were rich, they would have a huge mansion–“No, a CASTLE! Then people might believe that we are REALLY princesses.” She promptly asked the 4 yo if she would still agree to help her clean the castle. The 4 year old agreed.

I reminded them that actually, when they are rich, they can afford to have someone else to clean the castle. “But you know [4 year old] is always saying she wants to be an architect. Maybe she can design the castle?”

The 4 year old liked this idea, but was worried because she doesn’t know how to draw castles. So, the 7 year old, in her very sensible big sister voice informed her that if she wants to be good at drawing castles, she should practice.

“Every time you have choice time in school you should draw a castle,” said the 7 year old.

After they got their pajamas on, the girls wanted to get started practicing drawing castles. I explained this wasn’t the best time to start drawing pictures. It was bedtime.

Once they were done crying and moaning about bedtime and had accepted their fate, the 7 year old instead decided to write a note to remind herself (and her sister) to practice drawing castles first thing in the morning before school.

The next morning, I was awakened by two drawings of castles being thrust into my face :) Naturally I haven’t heard a word about the castle drawings since then….

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