I grew up in northeast Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie in the blue-collar town of Ashtabula. Hash-ta-buh-lah is an Iroquois word meaning, “river of many fish.” I spent many happy hours near the water where I imagined I could see Canada. As someone who wrote stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil, I would sometimes write and look out at the water. The sheer size of Lake Erie made me feel small, and made me long to explore the “other side.” I spent so much time writing, a bump developed on my finger. It was my “writer’s bump”, and I was quite proud of it. Nothing gave me greater satisfaction than writing stories, and after, sitting back and savoring each word.
In college, I lived on what was unofficially dubbed the “United Nations floor.” My roommate, Leliwati, was from Indonesia. She introduced me to Gudeg, a traditional Indonesian dish, and the concept of arranged marriage. I urged her, in true American style, to follow her heart. Six years later, I was the maid of honor in her wedding -- (a non-arranged marriage)!
In graduate school, in Michigan, I majored in Linguistics. I began teaching ESL to children in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. I recall the day that I was requested by a school principal to speak with a Sikh girl about complaints by her classmates that she “smelled bad.” The “bad” smell was curry and oil. Together, Reena and I wrote a story to tell her class about a Sikh family which incorporated aspects of food and culture. On the day Reena told her story, her mother prepared a traditional dish for Reena to share with the class. This was my first foray into storytelling since I was a child.
I married my sweetheart, who is from India, in November 2001 and moved from Ohio to New Hampshire. We traveled to India to celebrate our marriage. Folding chairs were set up in the courtyard of his parents’ home filled with fragrant jasmine bushes and a mango tree. Lights were strung along the courtyard walls and through the trees. His uncles played jubilant music loud enough for the entire village of Sivakasi to hear. Hundreds attended. I wore a sari that my mother-in-law helped dress me - a twenty foot peach silk cloth wrapped into a most elegant dress! I said, “Rumba Nandri” (Thank you) and “Vanakkam” (Welcome) to the guests gathered in two separate groups – men on one side, women on the other.
In New Hampshire, I continued teaching ESL to adults and children. Sometimes, I couldn’t find a story to “fit” what I was trying to teach, and so I began to write again. For teaching compound nouns, I wrote a story about “Ms. Shoe” marrying “Mr. Lace” and becoming known as “Mrs. Shoelace.” For teaching prepositions, I wrote a story about a girl trying to find her favorite book in a cluttered house. I once again live in Cleveland, Ohio, where my world first opened up, and I tutor refugees from Somalia and Myanmar.
Since those early days of writing grammar-focused stories, I have honed my skills as a writer of fiction and poetry by taking courses at Institute for Children’s Literature, Gotham Writers Workshop and SCBWI conferences. I’ve published stories for children in Skipping Stones, Dogs and Pups, Writer’s Digest, and Scott Foresman 3rd grade reader anthology, as well as stories and poems for adults in The Pedestal, Belt, Every Day Fiction, Number Eleven, Entelechy, and others.
One of my favorite lines in literature comes from A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river...runs over the rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words…” I enjoy picking up those “rocks” that catch my eye, studying them, seeing what is underneath, then finding the words to create stories that bind us together.