Next month it will be six years that you left, in Anne Lamott’s words, this funny blue marble. There’s so much I wish you could’ve seen: The rise of YA literature, Barack Obama elected president, the final Harry Potter books. No doubt you would’ve had thoughts on the Twilight series. Would you have written a vampire book Paula? If anyone could’ve rivaled Christopher Moore in funny vampires, it would’ve been you.
We’re writing letters to our favorite authors this week Paula. No doubt, you’re in my top ten. You have been since Cassie Charlton in Catholic School told me how absolutely funny you were. She knew I needed humor because school got me down sometimes. I read Cat Ate My Gymsuit, and it was funny. It was sad too. It was the ultimate in dysfunctional dads, from Marcy’s dad who couldn’t understand his daughter, to Mr. Stone who fires Ms. Finney the young idealistic teacher who teaches English because he still has unresolved issues with his daughter who decided to live on a commune and make quilts all day. Did you ever resolve your issues with your dad Paula? I remember once reading an interview with you when you talked about your family: “I didn’t know about dysfunctional families back then. We were just the Danzigers.”
You taught for a while, and then came the two separate car accidents that caused you to develop dyslexia. Then you decided to write books. And write you did. You wrote forty-eight books in thirty years. Forty-eight! Amazing. You knew that you had been given a second chance at life, and damnit, you weren’t going to waste one minute of it.
I’ve read that children’s librarians adored you because you talked with kids, not at them. That at the ALA you would go from booth to booth talking to librarians, listening to them, mostly making them laugh. I’m betting that people would seek you out, trying to meet you, just to get a good laugh and to see you at work.
It wasn’t always easy going for you Paula. I’m thinking of when you were attacked in a hotel room in Reno. I’ve heard different things about what happened, but no doubt it must’ve been frightening for you. Yet you kept your spirits up. According to your friend Elizabeth Levy, when they wrapped you in gauze you looked up and said “Is this gauze for alarm?” She had to finally convince you to put frozen peas on your wounds. You looked up at her and said: “Should I really give peas a chance?”
I called you once, Paula. It was right after I got back from London. I spent a semester there and the first week was miserable. I would cross the street every day to this bookstore. They had every one of your books there. I’m not making this up. I don’t know why it surprised me; I knew you had a big following in the UK. Anyway, I would go in, sit down at this window seat they had, then I reread about Marcy getting suspended for trying to get Ms. Finney teaching again, then how Marcy reunites Ms. Finney at summer camp (the best summer camp ever for artists, actors, and writers!) I read again about Phoebe not dealing well with her parents’ divorce. Then I read about Phoebe’s best friend Rosie and how she meets her Prince Semi Charming in Canada. There was Cassie eating Pistachios, and your attempt at sci-fi with Aurora living on the moon yet missing her friends on Earth in the year 2057. You got me through a lonely time, Paula.
I called your number. I was surprised you were listed. It would ring, then I heard a warm voice say “Hi, this is Paula. I’m doing something wonderful right now so I can’t come to the phone. Leave a message.” I was shy and I never left a message. I wish I had.
I found out you died at the library. It was in Publishers Lunch. At first I thought no, this can’t be right. Then I ran home, and before I knew it, I was sobbing. I cried and cried. When I told my mother I kept on saying “Why did she have to die? Why did she have to die?” It was so unfair. So completely unfair and wrong that so many awful people were still alive and you were gone.
All I can tell you is you are missed. Your sense of humor is needed these days Paula, and the way you approached everything with joy and wonder. I hope you’re happy wherever you are. I hope you’re writing. I hope you’re at peace.
Love love love,
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries