As artists we seek to create our own sense of the chaos. Through our storytelling, poetry, painting, composing, sculpting, designing, we wrangle and wrestle with a swirl of ideas and emotions that seem at once as heavy as lead and as elusive as air. We all of us seek to create our own sense of the chaos that is composed of family, relationships, career, health—and with each decision we make, we strive to bring that which we don’t know and that of which we’re not sure into focus, into perspective, into alignment.

Alignment. The lining up, the adjusting, the balancing of things. The relationship of things. In art and in life, we can but hope to be blessed from time to time with the sort of balance that makes us feel whole, enriched, an integral part of something wondrous—and through such alignment, through a realization of the power and validity of interconnectedness, we can create our greatest artwork, we can become our greatest selves.

As an editor, one of my most important roles is to help a writer or illustrator identify, examine, and fix that part of their work which might be at all unstable and out of alignment, for leaving such an instability in the construction most certainly risks the integrity and security of the whole. A remarkable result of such a process is always the excited (and, indeed, sometimes daunting) realization that everything is interconnected. The focused strengthening of one character or one scene necessarily strengthens the whole.

The past few months I’ve been contending with an internal alignment not just of ideas, emotions, and decisions, but a literal alignment of the vertebrae in my spine. Understanding and respecting the notion that our spines are sturdy columns that protect some of the most delicate elements in our bodies and are cores as essential to our bodies as trunks are to trees, it’s no wonder and no mistake that for our bodies to be fully whole and healthy, it’s necessary that our vertebrae align. And if they don’t—if just one vertebra slips out of place—the consequences can be anything from a nuisance to painful to life-threatening. Since having a remarkably successful lower back fusion to stabilize and strengthen my back last month, we’ve discovered a disc in my neck that is highly unstable, badly out of alignment, causing considerable pain and, most importantly, impinging on the spinal cord and threatening my health. The instability is not the result of the lower back surgery, as it’s clear this disc has been compromised over the course of time; it’s the revelation of the condition that is the result of the lower back surgery. The revelation of an organic, essential interconnectedness that’s critical to the health of the whole. I am lucky to be in a position to address this situation quickly and will do so tomorrow as I undergo surgery once more. What feels most amazing to me, though, is the revelation I had last night—that it seems the journey I had to go through for my lower back was all meant as a means to expose this even greater and urgent condition in my neck, one that was on track to manifest itself at some time in the future, assuredly with far more severe consequences.

I believe the stars align. I believe the clouds do part to reveal secrets when the time is right. I believe chaos can be brought into focus. And by such alignment, we are able to soar to greater heights when we fly and find the solid ground we need to feel rooted. Alignment of the pieces to reinforce the whole. I believe this within the stories we have to tell, with the decisions we have to make in our lives, and within our own bodies, as long as we’re paying attention.

                                                                                           (c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


The Great Wall

A few years ago, my partner and I were lucky enough to be able to take an incredible month-long trip to China. It took about six months of planning and preparation and before that, it had taken several years of “what if”ing to set it all in motion. We wanted to see the Yangtze River before it was entirely dammed. We wanted to see the Potala Palace and Tibet before it’s completely overrun with Chinese. We wanted to ride camels along what had been part of the Silk Road route. And we wanted to walk along the Great Wall. It was, in the truest sense of the phrase, a trip of a lifetime because we were able to do all the things we’d wanted to do and more. We experienced sights and sounds and emotions and awe – things so many people don’t have a chance to ever experience. 

One of the multitude of mysterious and marvelous impressions from that trip has stayed with me in a way that nothing else has—and it’s the powerful reminder that the journey is as important as the destination. Indeed, that the journey is sometimes even more important than the destination. It was cloudy and overcast when we reached the Great Wall. As we climbed higher and farther along the wall into the mountains, we found ourselves walking in the clouds themselves, unable to really see much beyond the grey-green rolling hills just surrounding the wall itself. At first, we were terribly disappointed, raging at the sky and wishing for the sun to break through so we could see the vistas and the land beyond. And as we raged, we started to fairly race to the next tower on the wall, to see if, just maybe, we’d get a better view. And it was then that I stopped us. Just stopped us so we could listen and look around and realize the magnificence of what we were actually doing, of where we were actually walking and standing, of the history, of the moment. We stopped in order to take mental and physical note of the journey itself. It seemed critical then to put aside the “when will we get there” in order to celebrate the “here we are.” And in doing so, we could rejoice in all that had transpired to bring us to that remarkable and special place—to capture the power of all that we’d done and all that the universe had allowed over many years to bring us to where we were right then. No less. No more. And just perfect.

So, we didn’t see the expansive views of mountains and unending wall we thought we’d see; that particular gift, for whatever reason, remained hidden. But the gifts we were given were, I think, far greater in depth and beauty – the gift of the knowledge that we had achieved something magnificent without even recognizing it; the gift of the knowledge that in experiencing exactly what we experienced, our lives were forever changed; the gift of being able to stop and know the now; and the gift of the next “what if” – what if we are able to come back to this place someday and on that day the sun might be shining?

And so it is with our lives and our storytelling. And so it can be with our health and our relationships. Sometimes it’s overwhelmingly vital for our souls and our selves to pay attention to the journey, to appreciate the efforts and the achievements, to allow the clouds to hide secrets not yet meant to be revealed. It seems to me if we’re too intent on only reaching our destination we lose a sense of magic and mystery. For it is by knowing where we are on our journey and letting ourselves be at ease with the unexpected that we will make our way to brilliant and rich destinations –and not necessarily the ones to which we thought we were always headed. How exciting it is to just think...what's beyond the great wall?

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc



I have been nesting .  Cleaning the house.  Doing the laundry. Sorting through books. Sorting through old clothes. Organizing folders and drawers. Writing the e-mails and proposals I thought I would do later, but have decided to do now.  Paying the bills. Checking things off the to-do lists.  Getting my home in order. Getting myself in order.  Readying myself to focus all my attention and energy on healing once I undergo necessary surgery in two days.  This process of readying has become a process of discovering a remarkable and soothing sense of clarity.  A sense that what is meant to happen is going to happen. And so—I need to let it happen.  My home is ready and I am ready.  And that feels as comforting and safe as a lovingly–crafted and softly-lined nest.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


But On The Other Hand…

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
--T.S. Eliot

I included this Eliot excerpt on my High School yearbook page many decades ago. It resonated with me then and it resonates with me still. And this week, it takes on a whole new meaning…

You know the third opinion I received from a surgeon about my back problem (“Getting Another Opinion” blogpost 10/14/10)—the third and what seemed to me to be the best opinion of them all? The surgeon changed his mind! He reviewed the x-rays and MRI results further and decided that in my case, the less stringent surgery he was originally suggesting would probably not ease my symptoms enough and he’s now suggesting the very same serious surgery originally prescribed by the surgeon with whom I first consulted. The third surgeon’s surgical procedure will require many more days in the hospital and a longer recovery time than the procedure that would be performed by the first surgeon and so…I have arrived where I started. And I know the place a whole lot better than I did when I began this journey. I am scheduled to have the surgery with the first surgeon after all. And you know what? It’s the right decision.

When I am asked what’s most important for authors and illustrators to know right now in this technological everything’s-up-in-the-air age of publishing, I say they need to know how to stay flexible. Flexibility. What an extraordinary reminder my recent journey has been as to the importance of remaining clear-headed and flexible, committed and flexible, goal-focused and flexible. What has just happened to turn my expectations and plans on their ear is what I know authors experience all the time—rejections after waiting many promise-filled months; losing their trusted editor to a job change or layoff; revising a manuscript only to be advised to put it back the way it was.

Flexibility in life means not only being able to stretch and adapt, but being willing to stretch and adapt before we even have to. Being willing doesn’t mean simply accepting, but rather being open to possibility, to change, to exploration, and, ultimately, to growth. As long as authors infuse their characters with a willingness to be flexible, readers are going to believe in those characters enough to go along on the journey with them, wherever the path may lead. And as long as we infuse ourselves with the curiosity and courage needed to explore new paths, stay open to new ideas, and change our route when the route itself changes, we will be able to believe in ourselves, wherever our paths may lead. The more we stretch and adapt, the more we will find ourselves returning to what we thought we knew, this time knowing it for the very first time.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Getting Another Opinion

Having been a children’s book editor for over twenty-five years, one of the things I’ve said most often to authors is that the business of evaluating a book (indeed, art of any kind) is highly subjective, there are going to be many varying opinions of their work and so it makes sense that they would submit their work to several different places—or to have critique sessions with several different editors or agents—in order to gain the best possible feedback for their work. I warn them that for as many different editors and agents who see their work, an artist will be obtaining as many different points of view and interpretations of their work and, indeed, some of the interpretations and ideas about their work will be diametrically opposed. The feedback, when taken all together, might at first seem overwhelming, confusing, and unclear—with so many different opinions about how best to revise or recraft a project, it can often feel as though everyone’s opinion, no matter how reputable and professional, is canceling out everyone else’s opinion, thereby leaving the author without any clear direction or decision.
     Though it may not always seem so at first, this business of submitting work for critique and evaluation is a crucial and ultimately enlightening process for an artist. What starts to happen through this process is that the author will ultimately find that one person’s interpretation and suggestion resonates with them on a level far deeper than reason. One person’s grasp of and response to an author’s work will seem right to the author. The suggestions offered will make a kind of sense that’s hard to quantify, but that will make the author feel the person is really getting their work and understanding what it is they’re trying to say. That the person is really getting them. And so it will be those suggestions and ideas that the author will feel excited to think about, the revision process will become much clearer, and the author will feel confident their work is going to get stronger.
     About a month ago, I decided it was high time to see an orthopedic surgeon to determine what was causing my lower back pain. X-rays. MRI. The surgeon I saw—who performed an excellent surgery on my lower back in the past—brought his knowledge of my medical history, his remarkable surgical prowess, and an impeccable pedigree to bear on his assessment and he prescribed a very serious surgery that would render me pain free. I trusted his evaluation (after all, he knew my back intimately!), I was excited that I could undergo a process that would ease my pain, and I signed up. It felt extreme, but I didn’t think I had much of a choice. And, besides, he’s the pro, right? He would know. And then, through the urging of several friends, I decided to go for a second opinion. Honestly, I fully expected the second surgeon to look at everything and completely agree with the first doctor’s prescription and I’d be good to go.
     I was wrong.
     Bringing remarkable surgical prowess and an impeccable pedigree to his assessment, the second doctor’s opinion was pretty much diametrically opposed to the first, and a non-surgical course of action was prescribed. I became excited that I could undergo a process that would ease my pain without having to undergo such a serious surgery after all and I decided to think twice about having the surgery. But…something about what the doctor was suggesting didn’t put me wholly at ease. That, combined with the fact that if I was going to have surgery, I needed to have it this month (due to a whole host of insurance issues as well as upcoming business commitments), I was uneasy about having to decide between two such extreme positions. And so I went for a third opinion. I fully expected the third surgeon to look at everything and completely agree with either the first doctor’s prescription or the second doctor’s prescription.
     I was wrong.
     Bringing remarkable surgical prowess and an impeccable pedigree to his assessment, the third doctor offered an entirely new option to me—a surgery that’s a good deal less severe than the one first prescribed and that seems necessary because of some compression on nerves which would probably not be eased by a non-surgical course of treatment. We talked about my weight, we talked about my neurological health, we talked about my age and what my spine was already doing to try to heal and strengthen itself in light of what the X-rays and MRI were showing. And I knew. This was the doctor. This was the course of treatment. Though he didn’t know me and my medical history and though he was prescribing surgery (all surgery, no matter how minor, is a serious step to take), the way in which he came to his conclusions and the suggestions he was making made sense to me. His course of action feels right. And so, I will be following his course of treatment and feel confident that I’m in the right state of mind and body to come through it stronger, healthier, and wholly prepared to get back to my life.
     Here’s the thing, though, that woke me up at 4:30 this morning and prompted this post. I could not have made a decision as to how best to proceed without having heard and considered several opinions. The fact that the opinions were so varied is extraordinary to me and for a short while, it rendered me a complete wreck. Who’s right? What do I do? I’ve learned through this process, though, that in order to reach that place in which I am most emotionally and psychologically comfortable to be willing to undergo a course of treatment that will make me feel better, I needed to have myself examined and interpreted by more than one person. I needed to get feedback, and then more feedback, and then more again, until something I heard resonated with me on a level far deeper than reason. Until something I heard felt right to me and gave me the tools, both emotional and tangible, to proceed. I am going to be undergoing a physical revision in about a week and I feel great about the course on which this revision is going to take me because I have found someone to help me get there who gave me a critique and is offering solutions that I feel will make me stronger.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


The Valuing of Ourselves

What is something worth? The factors that determine the worth of something—a book, a cell phone, a vase, life insurance, a pair of shoes, a painting, therapy, a movie, a class, a piece of property—are many. We determine our answer based on how valuable we think the thing will be to us, how long-lasting the thing could be, how useful, how beautiful, how practical, how pleasing, how inspiring.

What is a person worth? The factors that determine the worth of someone to us are many and on the one hand, are not dissimilar to the sort of worth we put on an inanimate something—we determine our answer based on how valuable we think that person is to us, how long lasting a relationship with that person could be, how useful, how beautiful, how practical, how pleasing how inspiring that person is to us.

On the other hand, the answer to what a person is worth is often dictated by the tenets of the constructs of our society—corporate, religious, political, military, sexual, moral—and so we determine our answer based on how financially viable a person is to a bottom line, how stringently a person will further an agenda, how blindly a person will perform in the name of duty, how rigidly a person will follow a majority opinion, how hard a person will tow the line they’ve been handed, how unfailing a person will believe in what they’ve been led to believe, how stalwart a person will be when standing up for the company they keep or the company for which they work.

And so it is that we make our way through our lives and our work attempting to be a person of balanced worth in order to be a true friend, a valuable employee, an honorable member of every group to which we belong. As we journey the various paths to worthiness, however, I fear we’re more willing than we should be to believe that the opinions of others provide us with the correct and certain answers to a critical question we don’t ask often enough—What am I worth?

I can only believe that for the most part all of us want to be fair, are willing to meet our obligations, understand our responsibilities, take our friendships, families, jobs and memberships seriously and will do whatever it is we need to do to maintain and retain them without losing track of our own values, principles, and ideas. But what happens when someone—a parent, a boss, an elected official, an officer, a buyer, a teacher, a religious leader —what happens when someone who, by virtue of the way in which our society is set up, has been put in a position to determine an outcome that effects us individually tells us we’re not worthy? And what happens if strangers feel emboldened by one person’s assessment to start agreeing that we’re not worthwhile? What if something we write is censored, what if the way we pray is ridiculed, what if the way we love is violated, what if the vote we cast is obstructed, what if the way we look is denied?

How many of us are confident enough to take ownership of our own worth and express how valuable we think we are by expressing our beliefs, our desires, our intentions, our feelings even if it means being accused of dissent, opposition, defiance, immorality, sin? Some might call such an expression of self-worth selfish or self-serving. Some might call it dangerous. I submit that such an expression of self-worth is necessary and essential to the continuity of ideas, creativity, and exploration that makes us human. The valuing of ourselves is the valuing of our very existence. And surely that is most worth our while.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc



I have been blessed to have had several mentors in my professional life. I have been blessed by some people older than myself who by example instilled in me a regard for and understanding of not only the business of a business, but the humanity of a business; people who by example inspired me to learn from my mistakes, care about my reputation, conduct myself with honesty and passion, and strive to become a decent citizen of the world. By example, these people taught me, helped me, challenged me, and expected the best from me as they expected the best from themselves. They made me cry because they were tough. They made me laugh because they were playful. They made me think because they were thoughtful. They made me care because they were careful. And in the process, as I grew from being an assistant to a colleague to a peer, we became friends because we shared a deep mutual respect for our business, for one another, and for the future.

As I walk along the paths of my life and my work, I don’t always take the time to think of and thank these people who themselves never thought they were remarkable in any way, just doing their job, just doing what came naturally, just doing what was right. I stop now to think of them and thank them, for they were most remarkable indeed. Remarkable for inviting me into their offices and homes to witness them doing their jobs, doing what came naturally, doing what was right. To witness. And to embrace all that would become essential to my own growth into someone of whom I can be proud. A businesswoman, a colleague, a person of whom I sincerely hope they would be and are proud.

It is a wonder how deeply one person can touch another simply by being present. By listening. By suggesting. By living fully. And by laughing. Oh, the laughing! Would that everyone be as lucky as I’ve been to enjoy but one older person in their life by whose example they can be inspired in their work and their life.

In honor of Dilys Evans, Linda Hayward, Richard Jackson, Margaret K. McElderry, Ole Risom.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Filling in the Blanks

Today I’m faced with a blank page. A blank page that’s inviting me…taunting me… exciting me…daring me to express myself. To say something. To think something. To create something.

But what if for all the enormous possibilities, what if for all the promise of what could happen on that blank page, what if…I don’t have any ideas? What if I have nothing to say? What if I am blank?

What is it that drives us to face the blank pages again and again? To put up with the doubt, the frustration, the emotional turmoil…what is it that compels us to put ourselves through the utter exasperation of feeling vanquished by something as simple and harmless as a piece of white paper? I imagine it must be the same force that drives us to keep climbing toward the mountain’s summit; to keep going around the next bend; to fly just a little higher, dive a little deeper, remain a little longer, to try it, just to see….We face it because it’s there. We face it because we can. We face it because we’re curious to find out who we will be once we get there. And once we begin, once we try, once we achieve, we’re changed forever. We have grown, evolved, stretched ourselves, shared ourselves. And how amazing that once we’re underway, filling in the blanks, so much of that pain, fear, and doubt somehow start to vanish and it turns out we really weren’t blank after all, but, rather, filled with more emotion, passion, and story than we knew what to do with.

What is it that drives us as artists to face the blank pages over and over again? What is it that drives us as people to face life’s blank pages over and over again? Poets and painters recognize the strength of the blank space as it supports and balances their line. So, too, are we all of us poised to grab whatever opportunity we have to enter ourselves into those blank spaces, thereby clarifying what we care about, giving ourselves and the world the gift of who we are. What drives us? I think perhaps it’s inspiration -- a combination of ferocious seemingly insurmountable challenge and the promise of a glorious satisfaction that’s too great to ignore.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc



In March of 2008 I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s A NEW EARTH and underlined these passages: “Some changes may look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge….When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life….If uncertainty is unacceptable, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.” I felt inspired by the book, made a mental note to read it again soon, stuffed it in my bedside table, and got back to work.

In July of 2008, as I was contending with some particularly prickly patches of chaos and mayhem in my position of VP, Publisher at Simon & Schuster, I scribbled the following words in my journal: "Is this all one big message—a flag, an arrow, a road sign— telling me to go somewhere else, do something else? To do something NEW? Is it my time to go and try something new, fresh, a new beginning? “When you're ready to take a risk, the world will crack open.” The world seems to be ready for me to take some risks. Now I just need to be ready and willing!" I wrestled with the tumult of feelings, hurriedly wrote the words to get them out of my system, secreted my journal away, and got back to work.

In May of 2009, after nearly nineteen years with the company, I was laid off. Although I’d felt inspired and energized by Tolle’s words and although I’d expressed serious questions and doubts in my journal a year before, I didn’t for one moment recall anything Tolle said nor did I recall writing those words. All I knew was that I was being shaken to my roots by events out of my control—the world was cracked open and uncertainty was unraveling itself about me.

It’s May 2010—and today marks the year anniversary of my last day with the company. It’s a day that marks an end and a beginning of such magnitude that I cannot but witness this day emotionally, physically, and spiritually. This past year’s been a time of enormous upheaval and great calm, anger and peace, imbalance and precision, doubt and determination, disbelief and proof, betrayal and friendship, loss and family. Having been forced into a position of having no choice but to make some remarkable unexpected choices, I’ve wended my way through a year that has led up to this day. It was only a few weeks ago that I happened to re-read those lines in Tolle and discovered my journal entry—and today I marvel at my place in a universe that delivers messages to us with far more clarity than I will ever be able to see or sense.

In hindsight, I wish I’d somehow documented this past year more thoroughly, perhaps jotting down a word or phrase to define and capture the essence of each passing day. But who among us has the wherewithal to do that? There’s so much I won’t ever remember. What I’m left with of this past year are the memories and repercussions of some of the lowest lows and some of the highest highs I’ve ever experienced. And in between I’ve lived a whole lot of plain old life. I’ve come to appreciate that so often it’s how we live the plain old life in between the extremes that helps us to know better who we are and of what we’re capable.

On this day and at this point in my life, I am infused with a quiet stillness and a crackling like lightning. Dreaming and wildly awake. Rooted and soaring in flight. And so, it certainly seems to have all transpired just as it was meant to: Change happened in order to create space in my life for something new to emerge. It was time for the world to crack open. It was time for a new story to begin. And so, the story is unfolding. I have no idea what comes next. And I can’t think of a more wonderful reason to get up tomorrow.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc



“Scars remind us where we’ve been. They don’t have to dictate where we’re going.”

This quotation is from the senior behavioral analyst on the TV show, Criminal Minds. It’s a series I love because it delves so deeply into some intense stories, relationships, feelings, and motivations. The people profiled are some of the most disturbed and pathological figures ever created – and, I’ll admit it, in the way that some people love horror movies, I am fascinated and horrified by the extreme personalities and characters on the series.

I’ve never had nightmares after watching the show (and that’s even after watching four back-to-back episodes when I was home sick earlier this week) and I’ve sometimes wondered why that is. I’ve come to realize it’s because just as the show repels me because of the pain and violence these catastrophic figures inflict on their victims, the show also confirms and upholds a deep sense of hopefulness, a sense of right to combat the wrong, a reminder that kindness and human connection does exist to counter wickedness and alienation.

As a publisher, editor and reader, I’ve always held to the belief that the best books—the books that speak deeply to me-- explore by what means a main character finds their light out of the dark. As teenagers, as adults, as people – we are all at one time or another on a journey to find clarity through chaos, peace through turmoil, calm through storm, safety through fear and doubt. The path on which we traverse is not easy. We don’t generally give up, though. We keep going. And, why? Because the promise of good over evil, of happiness over sadness, of healing over illness, is too great to ignore. It is the light we’re all of us trying to reach in whatever way we can. And as we make our way through the ills, the doubts, the hindrances, the barriers, the pain, the ugliness, we become stronger. We survive. We grow. We share our stories so others don’t feel so alone, so we don’t feel so alone.

The scars of living a life can be enormous, overwhelming, desperate. I hold to the notion that it’s these same scars that, if handled gently and allowed to heal properly, can become our personal roadmaps to finding ourselves to be braver, stronger, better prepared than we ever thought imaginable. Better prepared to be mentors, parents, healers, lovers, storytellers – in a position to share our lives with others in order to secure for our world the sense of hopefulness, of right, of kindness and human connection that is so essential to our future.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Birth Day

When I was a child, my birthday was a day filled with a carousel ride in Central Park, chocolate cupcakes, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company or the Paper Bag Players, pin-the-tail-on-the-mouse, and friends and family. As I’ve gotten older, my birthday’s been a day of pampering or play, and the comfort of friends. Every birthday, I feel so much love and friendship coming from many different directions, and that’s the most remarkable gift I could ever receive.  In the past few years, my birthday has been infused with a layer of pensive contemplation, as it’s the one day of the year that’s raises a question for which I have no answer. It’s my birthday and I wonder…is the woman who gave me up for adoption at birth nearly five decades ago thinking about me today?

Who are we to one another? No one, really. Strangers. Two women in the world. And yet, we’re tied intrinsically by an organic thread. An invisible thread at once weightless gossamer and immovable anchor. Filment and root. I won’t dare let myself believe that my birth mother might have passed away, though it’s surely possible by now. That’s not the picture I’m willing to draw for this chapter of my story. And so, I ask myself, on this particular day of the year, is she wondering about me as I’m wondering about her? Is she remembering? Is she curious? What’s she feeling? And I ask these questions because I’m an exceedingly curious person, a voyeur, someone who wants to know all the details of someone’s story – their past as it defines their present and informs their future. So, here’s the thing: I’ve come to recognize that while I can tell one story about my life, there’s a whole other story that I just don’t know.

The not knowing can sometimes be frustrating, confusing, sad. On the other hand, and most of the time, I’ve found great strength from the not knowing – a strength that comes from feeling unencumbered, free, innocent, at ease to be whomever I want myself to be, as if an author creating a character from my imagination. And yet, on my birthday, the questions arise and, as if Samson knows that Delilah is picking up the scissors, my strength is momentarily tempered, revealing a tender spot for which I wish I might apply a soothing salve of a story that already exists, that I don’t need to make up. And I wonder, does she ever feel the same?

It’s my birthday and if I could, I would tell her that her baby was loved. And that the woman that baby became is grateful to be in this world, this life, and she’s been given experiences beyond her expectations which have made her feel secure and safe. Loved. It’s a happy birthday.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


The Voice of Memory

The characters in our stories speak to us; they urge us to listen to them, care about them, tell their stories; breathe life into them and be their voice. Sometimes these characters are gentle, tapping lightly on our shoulder, allowing us to glimpse them out of the corner of our eye as we’re making our way through the day. And other times, the characters who want our attention are aggressive, wrestling with us, forcing us to stop what we’re doing to face them.

I find as it is with characters, so too it is with memories. Our memories speak to us; they urge us to remember, remind us to care, and by informing our lives, inspire us to carry on by telling our own stories. Sometimes these memories are gentle, woven delicately through the strands of the quilt that cloaks our daily lives, whereby every so often we glimpse moments of our past – that dog on the beach who looks just like Lady (Remember that wonderful dog we had when we were kids?); that trim woman in the beige sweatercoat and off-white suede gloves (And we thought it was only our mother who wore suede gloves in the summer!); the sweet-sharp scent of Lily-of-the-Valley and Hyacinth (Come on, I’ll race you to see who can find the most Easter eggs hidden in Helen’s garden!) And other times, memories are aggressive, causing us pain or fear even though the event or person is no longer in control of us. Some such memories we feel no choice but to try to swallow and hide. Some, though, will not give way, will destabilize us and hold us captive, preventing us from moving forward until we’ve faced them and overcome them.

The stories we write are infused with both the memories and the characters that seek us out, of which we’re indeed a part. Consciously or not, we often craft our stories in order to explore, understand, and overcome those most aggressive of characters, those most aggressive of memories. And as we do so – as we give witness to them – we provide voice to them while at the same time proclaiming a voice for ourselves. The goal for our stories is to resolve and bring some closure to whatever it is with which that character, that memory, is insisting we contend. As we allow the character to guide us for a while until we express his or her journey, as we allow the memory to infuse us for a while until we sort out from whence it’s come and how we want it to quiet down, we allow our own voices to resonate louder and stronger. And we, for listening, caring, wrestling, and overcoming, are stabilized once more, ready to move on.

Thinking she was my protector, my mother’s mantra was “Don’t do that, it’s too dangerous.” Such protection became restriction; such protection became constriction; such protection became strangulation. And so it happened that I was unable to shake the fears I had about trying anything new, culminating in a remarkable moment of panic, distress and an inability to breathe when I first was learning how to ski a few years ago. I recognized the need to let certain memories speak to me, no matter how painful, and through a poem, I gave them a voice, thereby once and for all quieting the mantra and giving myself permission to breathe. And to ski.   That poem is shared below, in honor of poetry month, and in order to give voice to the writer I wish to become.

From a Daughter

Her caring clutches
around me, love-heavy;
a stifle-dark night.

Her memory’s voice
freezes my limbs; a tree,
glass roots, in ice-light.

With frost-sharp breath,
my own dawn, sun-fresh, melts
a path; free-

(c)  Emma D Dryden 2009

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


In honor of poetry month: CHARLES


gray flannel suit
a milky white shirt
a handsome and sleek-perfect fit

with supple suede shoes
and cream velvet gloves
his style has become such a habit

a sly backward glance
then out of the house
he folds himself into the shadows

accustomed to night
quicksteps without sound
he glides past alleys and windows

"Hello, Mr. C.!
Again on the town?"
wherever he strolls, he is known

he pauses a while
for drinks and a rest
then smoothing his coat he moves on

roving by moonlight
alert to the streets
he will greet sunrise at dawn

his family's at home
wishing he'd tame --

"Where has our Charlie cat gone?!"

(c) 2009, Emma D Dryden


Through the Door of Our Past

New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a hard place to live—it was a volatile city reacting to the dynamics of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s movement, and the Vietnam War; it was a city crippled by social disorder, struggling to merge its diverse and divisive populations; it was a city rife with crime, economic stagnation, and palpable unrest. It was an ugly, crumbling city. And at the same time, it was a city of artists, actors, musicians, and writers. It was a city of activists, passionate in their dreams for a better future. It was a city receptive to new ideas. I was born and grew up in this city and I attended elementary school at the Manhattan Country School--a school founded in 1966 upon the principals of Martin Luther King, Jr and reflecting the vision of the Civil Rights Movement. The school set out to teach students in a community with no racial majority and broad economic diversity, and to instill in students a desire to champion justice, compassion, and peace, and the rights of all people to equity.

I left MCS thirty-five years ago. This morning, I returned for the first time. I went back not only to see what’s changed over the past three decades, but to see what hasn’t changed. I walked through the big green doors of the converted 1904 townhouse, into the courtyard, and up the spiral staircase to attend an Alumni breakfast and take a tour of the school. There’s a computer room there now, but that room used to be a terrace, and suddenly reverberating over the tapping of keyboards was the smack of my pink rubber handball hitting the brick wall and bouncing to Derrick. From the kitchen, I was sure I could smell Consuela’s chili and rice. In the library, my face suddenly flushed at the embarrassment of being made fun of by David, just there, at that table by the window. In the round classroom, I tasted the sweet dust from the sugar cubes we’d pasted together to make igloos. As I walked down the back staircase, I heard my own voice calling to my friends—Nicole! Nina! Betsy! Maria! Leslie!—in a race to see who could line up the fastest to go to the park with Doc. In the glorious wood-paneled music room, morning light streaming in the tall windows, I was six-years-old again, singing “We Shall Overcome Someday.” And in a corner of a small classroom with a blue rug, surrounded by fabric and glue and cardboard and pencils and crayons, I smelled the Elmer’s and felt the textured brown fabric that were to become my first hand-made book—Magic Moon and Magic Sun.


I walked the halls of my past this morning, and as if being jolted from sleep by a vivid dream, I realized how much of me was nurtured and brought to fruition during those years at MCS—an interest in and respect for other people; a passion for books, writing, and drawing; a desire to help others; a sense of hope; a trust in people; a trust in dreams; and a profound belief that what's right will prevail. Out of the corner of my adult eyes, I saw my younger self becoming a citizen of the world, and for just for a moment I was that girl again—that Emma all gangly limbs, scraped knees, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off, Danskin pants, songs off-key, and make-believe—and I was overcome by the endless possibilities and promise and resilience that can envelope and inspire our childhoods.

It was a precious gift my parents gave me, sending me to MCS and thereby opening my heart and spirit to the world. I never thanked them for that; I thank them now.  It’s a precious gift to be given an opportunity to revisit one’s past and experience ones adult self within the perspective of ones childhood. It was as though I was meeting myself on a road,  two travelers headed in the same direction, suddenly striking up a friendship, recognizing ourselves in one another, one and the same. I walked the halls of my past this morning and right through the door to myself.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Spring Cleaning

It’s just getting on the time of year when we’re inclined to do a little “spring cleaning” – sorting out our closets, putting away the boots, moving the T-shirts up and the sweaters down, throwing off the blankets and quilts, opening the windows to let air in, holding our heads up to bask in the sun. Spring is the time we begin to free ourselves from the heavy protective cloak of winter, to emerge fresh and new, a little lighter, little clearer.

With the advent of spring, many of us begin to shed excesses of all kinds. It happens organically as we shed layers of clothing and open the drapes. Some of us cut our hair. Some of us lose weight. Some of us exercise more. Some of us renovate our homes. Some of us donate things we don’t need anymore. And why? To breathe in fresh air, create a new view, take a lighter stand in the world – all of which serve to make us stronger and more present. To reflect the sun.

And as we ourselves do in the spring, we can do as well with our stories—toss off the heavy blankets and open the windows to let in light and air. Ridding our stories of excess – extraneous details, repetitive description, slowly-paced action –is the very best way to make our stories stronger and more present. Paring away excesses – choosing one stronger descriptive sentence over another, condensing ideas, keeping dialogue realistic in its crispness and fast flow – can allow our stories’ characters to move comfortably and unrestrained through their geographical and emotional landscapes. This is not to say to diminish the story in any way, nor to pare it down so much it lacks depth or richness. Rather, the challenge for our stories and characters, as it is for ourselves, is to reveal truths with a light and gentle touch.

There was a time some years ago when I wanted to lose weight. I was finally mentally ready to do so after resisting for quite a while – and as the weight came off, I became a lighter person both physically and psychologically. The process of shedding the pounds was also a process of shedding things which for so long I’d thought I needed to be whole, but which I found had actually become burdensome, preventing me from taking the lighter, but stronger, stand in the world. By me during that weight-loss journey and ultimate emergence, were many friends, of whom a vast number were authors and illustrators. Conversations during that time were fascinating and inspiring, as talks about losing weight seemed to merge naturally with talks about getting rid of excess in our lives and in our writing and artwork. We were one in the appreciation of the struggles, the lows, the highs, and ultimately, the fine results of relieving a person, a painting, a story from heavy obstacles that might inhibit them from reaching their full potential.

And so, this spring day calls to us -- ourselves and our characters -- to run and breathe and reflect the sun.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Sailing into a New Harbor

A few years ago, I delivered an address to an august audience of children’s book colleagues. I titled the talk “Sailing Away From the Safe Harbor” for the reason that over the past few years, I have been learning how to sail, and in the course of learning the techniques and vocabulary of sailing, I have discovered not only a great deal about myself, but I have come to realize that so much of the basic techniques of sailing can be likened to techniques we bring to our methods of writing, illustrating, editing, teaching, publishing and, indeed, reading stories.

Why does one sail? To explore, to journey, to see new places, to have fun, to relax, to allay fears in some instances. Some sailors say they feel most themselves on a boat, on the water. There is no hiding of the truth when one realizes we do not have dominion over the world, but that we are at the mercy of things that are basic and very much more than ourselves—the wind, the water, the weather. And if we don’t adjust our sails, change course, become one with the wind, our sails will luff, we will stop in irons, we will lose our compass bearings, we will lose sight of the horizon. We will be in trouble and our exploration will cease.

And why does one write, read and share stories? To explore, to journey, to see new places, to have fun, to relax, to allay fears in some instances. We seek to find ourselves in stories—and so often, we can and do. And we seek the truth in stories—we use story (or myth or song or poem) to tell our own stories and to assure ourselves we’re not alone. By reading and sharing stories with one another, we find a safe place in which to adjust ourselves, change course, become one with things that are at once basic and very much more than ourselves—the imagination, the light, a community. If we don’t experience story in some way, we will be in trouble; our exploration will cease. In fact, I think we will cease if we don’t explore our world and ourselves through stories.

And so it is as we live our lives and live our stories—forging our relationships, raising our families, doing our work, growing up and growing older, loving and losing—that we are as vessels on an ebbing and flowing tide. The earth’s very survival relies on the wax and wane of the moon, the ebb and flow of the oceans; so too does our own self-evolution rely on our embracing the inevitability of change, our willingness to balance the comfort of the familiar with the surprise of the new, and our staying open to the messages we may not at first understand, but which, somehow, usually fit perfectly into a space in ourselves we didn’t even know we had.

The past ten months since my layoff from a job at which I worked for 19 years and which I had come to let define me, have been, by turns, turbulent, thrilling, rocky, steady, cacophonous, and still. In one moment, you can be comfortably close to a familiar shore and in the next, you are flung out to sea, forced to question whether that shore had indeed been one of safety at all, forced to question your own expertise, forced to question who you really are. And then, there comes a moment when you realize that you’re still who you always were, you haven’t lost what you know and what you believe; you’ve just been blown onto a new course. And in whatever ways we decide to handle ourselves finding a new harbor, that’s how we become better navigators than we’ve ever been before. From that moment on, how we conduct ourselves moving towards – and away from – new harbors for the rest of our lives confirms who we really are.

drydenbks boat
by katherine tillotson

Today I've set coordinates for a new venture—a new adventure. drydenbks. The waters on which I launch this vessel are, without doubt, uneasy—this is a rough economy with no clear picture on how my family will be able to afford health care, this is a digital landscape for book publishing which requires much learning of new vocabularies and acquiring new skill sets, this is a country that ranks somewhere around 17th in literacy and doesn’t place enough cultural or societal value on books, this is a time of extreme corporate greed and so many systems broken. These same waters, however, feel buoyant to me, and the smell of the ocean has always given me strength and clarity. drydenbks comes directly from what I know so well, what I do so well, what I believe so deeply—there’s enough strength and stability in that to enable whatever flexibility, commitment, conviction, and hope are needed to stay afloat. Today I begin a new story, and by doing so, find my way towards new harbors. And I'm convinced new harbors find us when we need them most.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Listening to the Chatter

Over the past three winters, I've been learning how to ski. Friends tell me that I spent that first winter learning, and now, two and a half winters later, I’m not learning anymore—I am doing. I am skiing. Honestly, I don’t feel qualified to say I'm actually skiing, but a revelation I’ve had this winter is that what’s holding me back from totally loving the ski experience is my fear of….chatter. Did you know that skis chatter? Well, they do—it’s the bit of bumpy bouncing they do on the snow and ice when you get going a little faster and particularly when you make turns. And here’s the thing I know about chattering: if skis didn’t chatter that would mean either you’re completely off the snow altogether and catapulting through the air, or it means that you’re pretty much glued down to the snow and ice—both somewhat dangerous situations in which to find oneself and not how I need to experience skiing.

Ski chattering takes me out of what I think my ski-comfort-zone is supposed to be—but I have to admit my expectations about what that comfort zone is supposed to be are not at all realistic to the whole process of skiing to begin with. So, if I want to get stronger and better at skiing, I need to stop fearing and blaming the chatter but recognize it for what it is—a natural part of the skiing process, a natural part of being in synch with the snow and the mountain,  a natural way to maneuver on the terrain. And the next time I’m on the slopes, it will be my challenge to not let the chatter overwhelm or distract me from what I’m trying to achieve—the fun, the rush, the completion of what I’ve begun.

And speaking of letting the chatter overwhelm us…so it happens when we’re writing, does it not? It’s rare to have a wholly quiet creative place, but when we do manage to get one for ourselves, how often do we rage at the fact that the chatter has seeped in and it’s the chatter’s fault that we’re not able to think, or write, or produce, or create? And we stop. We’ve let the chatter overwhelm and distract us from what we’re trying to achieve. 

There’s the sort of chatter that swirls around us every day in a cacophonous symphony—e-mails, phone calls, tweets, search engines, kids, spouses, parents, colleagues, bosses, doctor’s offices, repair people, traffic cops, junk mail, bills, to-do lists. And there’s the sort of chatter to which we often turn so we know we’re not alone in this process of life—friends, poetry, play, sports, books, films, music, pets, and, again, kids, spouses, parents.

The thing about chatter is that it’s life. It’s bumpy, it’s messy, it’s not always expected, and it’s wonderful, surprising, and enriching. And so, the only thing we can do is recognize life’s chatter for what it is—a natural part of our writing process because it is a natural part of our living process. We are ourselves part of the necessary chatter—for it’s from the chatter that our ideas flourish, it’s from the chatter that our relationships deepen, it’s through the chatter that we emerge as interesting interested people. And our characters whom we create and write are going to be that much messier and richer for the life we give to them because we’re letting ourselves experience all that life itself has to offer, even if it takes us out of our comfort zones. As we allow ourselves to maneuver varying terrains, so too do our characters.

So, the next time we find ourselves at the beginning of story—or in the middle, or near the end—it will be our challenge to not let the chatter overwhelm or distract us from what we’re trying to achieve—but to let the chatter itself be the means by which we reach for the fun, the rush, and the completion of what we’ve begun.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Let It Rain!

An author and I were talking about her new novel, which at the time was very much a work in progress. She was upset because she wasn’t as far along in the writing of the book as she thought she’d be by the time we met. Further, the story seemed to be taking some turns that she hadn’t expected and she was feeling challenged, forced to rethink characters, scenes, and the end of the story. I was quiet, letting her tell me about what was going on with her characters…and before long, she was sharing much of what was going on in her life.

Life was delivering some pretty rough blows just then—family illness, disappointments in loved ones, financial upset. Life was taking her on a twisting and turning journey, throwing up surprises, road blocks, and forcing her onto new and frightening paths. She wanted the characters in her book to be clear and level, she wanted her book to be her soothing solace, her nurturing escape from the roughness of what was going on in her life. But instead, just the opposite seemed to be happening. Her characters were revealing themselves to be complicated, multi-faceted, surprising, not always likable, but always human. Her story was becoming more complex, less easily resolved, messy. And so, in talking about her characters, we ended up talking about our own selves. We shared life stories; we railed against illness and death, we recalled our childhoods, we laughed about misguided relationships, we wondered about love, we talked about faith. We recognized that the very best stories—in books and in life—are those in which the characters make it through whatever happens, coming out the other side soiled or bruised or worse, but all the more strong and wise. And we promised each other that we’d take the same attitude towards our own lives…and if it rains, let it rain.

I've never forgotten that conversation and I think often of what it means to let it rain. It means allowing our stories and ourselves to learn and to grow from the changing weather. Allowing our stories and ourselves to ask for help if we seem at risk of drowning from the deluge. Allowing our stories and ourselves to rage and roar, then—when the calm comes (for there will always be a calm)—transform those storms into new landscapes with new horizons. Allowing our stories and ourselves to be flexible and limber while remaining confident in the roots we’ve got beneath and in the goals we’ve got ahead.

An author and I were talking her new novel, a work in progress. An author and I were talking about life, a work in progress. It was the very same conversation. Let it rain!

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Finding Our White Space

stillness in the white space
Poetry is one of my favorite forms of expression. It wields strength by virtue of its delicacy. It invigorates through its fragility. It expresses majesty in its simplicity. And in the seemingly quiet white space between and among the lines, poetry resonates with emotion, imagination, and universal truths.

The pauses at the end of lines or stanzas are as deep breaths – our way to fully absorb what’s come before in order to ready ourselves for what comes next. I find most often that it’s in these white spaces that the story can best be realized – not only the story that is being told to us, but the story of ourselves as our own story is revealed by and relates to what we’re reading.

Some people don’t like poetry because it’s confusing. Do these same people, I wonder, find it confusing to be still and quiet? Allowing ourselves to fully explore and experience the white space of poetry and of our own lives means exploring and experiencing ourselves. Such exploration is often difficult – shameful, embarrassing, uncomfortable. Such exploration, however, can truly be marvelous – soothing, revelatory, affirming. In poetry – which I feel is just another form of storytelling – we can find the comfort of knowing we’re not alone. And in the white spaces we can breathe in that knowledge that we’re not alone, we’re not lost.

A friend sent me these lines from a memoir by Bibi Wein, THE WAY HOME: A Wilderness Journey: “Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you / Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here…Stand still. The forest knows / Where you are. You must let it find you.” I have always appreciated the meaning of this passage, but these lines have recently come to mean something far more tangible to me than I could ever expect. Last week I found myself in literal white space – the only person on a morning-glazed snow-powdered ski slope. I paused. I took a deep breath. And as icy snowflakes fell onto my face, I experienced overwhelming joy at being a part of something larger; something majestic in its simplicity. I absorbed what had come before and readied myself for whatever was going to come next.

With each new experience, our own stories are enriched. Just as when we find ourselves in the white space of poetry and story. We pause. We take a deep breath. We leave something unsaid, but fully realized.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Making Connections

Telling a story – writing a story – is about connecting with a reader. And the storytelling in and of itself is about connections of many kinds. Connections between characters, connections between themes, connections between the beginning, the middle and the end. Making a connection with a reader is like making a new friend. And making connections in a story is like weaving threads; the stronger the strands, the stronger and more whole is the quilt in which the story is cradled.

I have had the great good fortune recently to make some connections and, in fact, some re-connnections. I have re-connected with members of my family with whom I have, for various reasons, been out of touch. I have re-connected with a best friend from camp. I have re-connected with a woman who was the first friend I made on the first day of freshman year of college. And with each re-connection, my life has grown stronger and deeper. I didn’t set out specifically to make these re-connections. But as life threw me some curves over the past year and I found myself with more time to spend with myself, somehow I was gifted with a clearer view of who I am and from whence I come. And I noticed that as I became more open to this broader view of myself, opportunities seemed to suddenly open up to re-connect with these important people. To visit and talk with people who knew me when I was a child. To listen to people who knew my parents, who remember my grandparents, who knew what I was like when I was younger, who knew me as I was growing up. We have been remembering, we have been surprising one another, we have been forgiving one another, we have been comforting one another. And together we are strengthening the strands of our own lives. What a gift to be given a chance to introduce into one’s own life story such unexpected and marvelous re-connections; the strands of the quilt that cradles my life have become stronger and more whole.

As we explore our own stories, we begin to explore the stories of others. We come to recognize that as we share our stories, we all share one story. Writers who entertain, beguile and entice readers with their stories are the spinners of the threads, the people who remind us to stay connected, to seek connection, to share ourselves with one another, to draw the quilt tighter around us. What a gift we have in each other and in our stories.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC



In the process of revision, I discover things. – Rita Dove

In my capacity as an editor, I cannot count the number of times I’ve expected an author or illustrator to revise their work. The expectation for revision comes with every manuscript draft and with every batch of sketches. Revision is an integral and organic part of the writing and illustrating process. And with revision comes a final piece of writing or artwork that is as strong, as compelling, as meaningful, and as true as it can possibly be.

And so it is in life. Revision is an integral and organic part of the growing up process, the becoming-who-we-are process. Revising a manuscript or artwork can be frustrating and time-consuming. You just want to get it done already and isn’t it just fine as it is?! Revising oneself is just as frustrating and time-consuming, if not infinitely more so. To reconsider oneself, to make adjustments to oneself – surely that sort of self-examination is the hardest form of revision there is. And it can be the most empowering and ennobling form of revision there is. For don’t we want to be the strongest, most compelling, most meaningful, and most true people we can possibly be?

We don’t always recognize the opportunities life gives us in which to revise ourselves – the person who says, why don’t you just try it!, the conversation with a stranger on a plane that inspires a new idea, the chance meeting with someone whom we haven’t seen for many years, the unexpected loss of a job that forces us to think about what it is we really want to be, an illness that challenges us to pay attention to our bodily and spiritual health, the loss of a loved one that opens our eyes to how precious our time is here.

At first glance, we see so much of what life throws at us as either unimportant–trivial, silly, boring, nothing at all–or terrible–endless, hopeless, too hard, unfair. Much of my own world this year has spun off of its axis; such a tempest has made me aware of my own need to reconsider, modify, adjust. To revise myself in order to become whole and true. And I have to believe that in the process of finding my whole, true self that all that seems unimportant or terrible is, in fact, a necessary part of how we become who we are meant to be. Because it’s not enough to be done already nor are we supposed to be just fine. With revision comes revelation.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Seeing Through History

Why are the people in charge of our society right now so afraid of history? And in being so afraid, have become dismissive of the importance of history as a continuum of events in succession leading from the past to the present and into the future. To my mind, the people who are making the biggest decisions for all of us right now -- corporate leadership -- are threatening the very core of our cultural and spiritual health by being so afraid of history.

you can't have one
without the other
After I told him I was being laid off from the company at which I worked for 19 years, a friend (who'd himself been laid off six months prior from the same company) remarked "My god, they're getting rid of the history." And he was right. In the past few years, I've been all too aware of corporate America acting from a state of panic, not sure what to do next to make even more money, not sure what to do next to keep their shareholders holding shares, not sure what to do next to stay in business. I think such fear for one's very existence leads to shortsightedness, leads to blindness. But instead of turning to the people in their companies who have vision -- by virtue of their expansive knowledge of the world, their breadth of experience, their broad view of what's come before and what's happening right now -- instead of asking these people to help them see a clearer path to the future, corporations are ridding themselves of these people, to make way for people who are younger and who are, they think, besides being less expensive, quicker, sharper, more willing to bend and flex, more adept to embrace and manipulate the future.

But it seems to me these younger people, while definitely bright, eager and wide-eyed (which is what we want in young people!) are wandering around without guides to actually show them how to read the complex maps, to negotiate the terrain, to maneuver the pitfalls. So for all their wide-eyed enthusiasm and sharpness, these young people are themselves still blind. For corporations to calculatingly disallow those who would be mentors to contribute to opening the eyes of these young Turks is, in effect, a sure way for businesses to gouge out whatever eyesight they have left. Granted, we have to assume and hope that the younger generations will learn to see -- they always do -- but at what cost right now? And what, exactly, will these people be seeing when they don't have a clear view of how what came before matters, and so too, in what direction and to what end will these new corporate leaders actually lead our society?

I have to admit, I was never much for history in school and I was never much for sitting around listening to stories my grandparents told about the olden days. But in business, I was mentored in such a way that as a business executive, the mission came naturally to me to know what and who happened in the past and what the results were of such, in order to cultivate a long view for the future, to avoid the mistakes, to embrace the new, to stay sharp, to be flexible. I think there’s power in being able to flex between the past and the present, to stretch to the future. That’s called vision. How corporations have become so afraid of that sort of vision, so wary of the value of people with that vision, I don’t know. As far back as Homer, though, people in power have feared the visionary, the soothsayer. There are many who may well tell me to go back to reading my Homer and leave the matter of business to others now. Well, so be it. I’ll be the one downloading Homer onto my Smartphone, ok?

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Letting Go

Growing up in Manhattan, you don’t necessarily do things the way most people do. You don’t, for instance, learn how to drive by the time you’re 16. But you do learn how to trick-or-treat in apartment buildings and how to travel an intricate subway system. You don’t generally spend much time outdoors hiking or camping or sailing or skiing. And when you grow up in Manhattan being raised by older parents who are not athletic but who are artistic, you learn that spending time in museums, at the theatre, in bookstores, and in libraries is fulfilling and enriching. I grew up appreciating art and literature – enjoying the best of what our culture has to offer. I also grew up to be fearful. Fearful of the unfamiliar physical activities that were considered by my parents to be uncomfortable, unsettling, and, most importantly, dangerous. The words “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself” became a refrain to my life’s song. A refrain that was ever so soft at first, but reached a crescendo as I grew older.

Ironically enough, while most people would have been afraid to walk the streets of the upper west side in 1970s New York City, I was taking the public bus to school by myself by the time I was 7. The Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and my school marked the four corners of my personal map and the gridded concrete landscape of New York City felt completely safe and familiar to me. But launch me on a boat on the ocean? Stand me on skis at the top of a snowy hill? These unpredictable natural landscapes, with their promise of surprise, their promise of speed, their promise of having to use my body in concert with the geography itself to get where I wanted to go….oh no, these landscapes were absolutely terrifying to me! And the refrain “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself” roared in my ears.

Here’s the thing I have come to recognize about fear. Letting fear guide us is by far the surest way to hurt ourselves deeply and irrevocably. It’s infinitely worse for us emotionally and physically to allow fear to debilitate us than to try doing something that takes us out of our comfort zone. It weakens our spirit to remain immobile as life swirls by rather than trying to fly. By refusing to recognize and face our fears, we render ourselves sense-less, unable or unwilling to taste, see, hear, or touch whatever life has to offer. What better way to become more secure in ones own body and soul than to maneuver, adjust, and master all that is uncomfortable, unsettling and dangerous? And so I have begun to challenge myself and I keep getting back on boats and back on skis. I’m not wholly at ease on either yet, but these sports have opened new worlds – with each, I have cultivated new friends, new views, new direction, and truth be told, I thoroughly enjoy the rush. The rush – the soaring, the flying, the letting go – has begun to finally quiet the old refrain.

A new year often brings with it a sense of peace and comfort in continuity. If we let it, a new year can also bring the promise of surprise, the promise of the unexpected, the promise of trying something for the first time, the promise of letting go in order to see what’s around the next bend. How thrilling! How dangerous! And how necessary, so that we can keep growing in this life. In this new year, I’m going to sail a little further and sit on the low side when the boat begins to heel. In this new year, I’m going to ski a little faster and start at the top of a slightly steeper hill. And in this new year, I’m going to write of these things – to let go of the fear in order to embrace and share the rush that is life.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC