Deep Thoughts with Karen Day

Several years ago, I heard Karen Day, author of several novels for young adults, including my and my thirteen year-old daughter’s favorite No Cream Puffs, speak at an ASTAL panel at Rhode Island College. As she shared lessons learned about the craft of writing, she dropped a bit of wisdom that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

Whatever age of character you gravitate toward is likely the age or stage where you are stuck.

I’m paraphrasing here, but I gave a knowing laugh when she said this, as did she and many other audience members. This comment, equal parts profound and simple, is one of those nuggets you come across in life that make you say, holy shit and well duh at the same time. It is absolutely no surprise, when I stop and think about it, that my first YA novel concerns a young person finishing high school and struggling with familial vs personal ideas/dreams of what should come next. And that my first adult manuscript centers a woman processing loss and a spiritual/emotional crisis.

As someone with storage boxes and shelves full of no-longer-blank books, I obviously use writing to process things in my life – interior and exterior. This blog serves as a weekly/monthly/yearly example of that as well. But just as my fictional writing is coated by a thin veil from my autobiographical or personal feelings, so has this concept of Karen Day’s permeated my everyday life.

For seventeen years of my life, most of my time was governed by the academic cycle. Sept-June. Academic planners were of more use than Gregorian calendars. The new year began in fall, not New Years’ Day. Then I became a teacher. Then I became the time keeper and facilitator for four students of my own. I’ve been feeling for quite some time now that I will never graduate; that I will be forever encased within the concrete block walls of classrooms and bell schedules.

With the amount of anxiety wrapped up in my school career – pre- and post-graduation and perpetually – it’s very easy for moments in my daughters’ lives to rehash my own experiences.

Big case in point: my eldest just committed to college.

I was filled with the rosy warmth of pride and love as we toured campus with her. For what she’d done and what she’ll do. For who she is and who she’ll become. Just gratitude for this fully formed yet evolving woman before me.

And yet, I couldn’t just let myself feel it. That warmth rolled around my chest and I felt it and the smile that threatened to permanently crease my cheeks.

And I fretted over how this isn’t just cause for celebration, this is just the beginning.

I worried about how closely we’ll have to read the financial aid packet and what scholarship applications we haven’t submitted.

I questioned the new direction the honors program will be taking.

I wondered what is the proper balance between sharing what I’ve learned from my base of experience and leading her to places she’ll resent me for later.

I second-guessed my own choices and those I let others’ make. I felt the what-ifs pull at my edges. I pondered could-have beens and what the hell I’ve done since I was in her shoes, which seems like fucking yesterday.

And I thought, have I ever really left that part of my life. Am I forever stalled in that existence that I never came to terms with.

And will all the writing in the world ever let me get past my fear.


3 thoughts on “Deep Thoughts with Karen Day

  1. This reminds me a lot of my own struggle. I’m in a different phase of life spiritually now, but I know this place so well, Jennifer. Sadly, I can’t say any amount of words changed my heart. That honor was left to the One who does. However, I know that writing was certainly used in this whole process, so it’s not for naught. If anything, it’s often a door that leads to places that can hardly be imagined.

    And congrats to your daughter! That truly is an amazing accomplishment. Prayers as she ventures out and applies the wisdom her mother has taught her. 🙂

    And as always, beautifully written.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Butler Basile says:

      You’re so good, Ericka. And it’s spiritual for sure! And relinquishing that freakin’ control! And, of course, to always.keep.writing ;).

      Thank you for your insight and congratulations.

      Liked by 1 person

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