Monday, November 12, 2018

Honored

I was astonished when, scanning through my email this afternoon, I opened a message from the Sunlight Press, announcing they had nominated my essay, "The Sparrow's Song," for a Pushcart Prize. This would be thrilling news to receive at any time, but at this moment, when I'm reconciling my identity as a writer with this new reality as a 9-5 worker bee, it's an especially welcome surprise.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

October 2018 Reads

A roundup of books I read over the last month. You can see past lists here:

September 2018 Reads
August 2018 Reads
July 2018 Reads



Well, I'm making up for my very frivilous book reading all summer with some serious reads this fall. (And much shorter lists, you'll note.)

Poetry. I won't say I resumed my poetry in the morning routine, since it didn't last longer than a week or two—as much time as it took to read William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. A few Romantic poets were cited in the series of environmental literature lectures I've been so very slowly watching, and this was the only one I happened to have on my shelf. (Wordsworth and Shelley, I'll be looking for you at used bookstores.) What do I have to say about it? Lots of sort of lion-and-lamb religious sentimentality, especially in Innocence. A little more clear-eyed view of the inequalities of the Victorian world in Experience (little chimney sweeps feature regularly). As I've said before, I don't know enough about poetry to give a good critique, and while I didn't hate it, I can't say I feel compelled to pick it up and read it again anytime soon, though I would love to see some of Blake's original illustrated versions of the poems.

Nonfiction. Many years (we won't say how many) after first learning about Transcendentalism in high school, I finally read Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I now understand why everyone talks about Emerson but no one ever actually suggests you read him. Because all through this book? He didn't really say much of anything. Lots of vague generalizations. There are some nice aphorisms, like "But if a man were to be alone, let him look at the stars." I have no idea what that means, but it sounds nice and would look good on one of those Craftsman style fireplace tiles. Maybe part of my problem with the book is that whoever owned my copy before me underlined and annotated the text, by turns rapturously agreeing and vehemently arguing with Emerson. She (I say "she" because of the handwriting) obviously came at the text from conservative Christian point of view and got very bent out of shape when Emerson personified Nature, as a sentient entity ("humanism!!!" she shouted in the margins). Maybe if I hadn't been so distracted and entertained by her comments, I'd have paid more attention to what Emerson had to say. Then again, maybe I wouldn't.

I read Nature as a prelude to that most famous book by Emerson's friend, disciple, and squatter. I will confess here to having never read Walden before. I've started it many times, but never gotten much beyond the initial chapters of nickel-and-diming the building of the cabin and the cost of buying beans. I just never felt it was relevant to my life, and it seemed like a lot of senseless rambling. This time, however, the book struck a chord with me. Maybe because I was coming to the end of my own personal Walden, two years plus a bit (Thoreau spent two years at the pond, while writing the book to follow the seasons of a single year) at home, spending time reading, writing, and appreciating nature. I wasn't—and never will be—as free of responsibility as old Hank, but it was perhaps as close as I'll get to the simple life. It was very interesting to read Thoreau's musings on work—that the more you work the more stuff (and food) you need, or think you need, so then you have to work more to maintain those things and get more things—as I prepared to return to the working life.

"I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and rather not a new wearer of clothes," he writes. Oh, dear, becasue my year of now shopping, which had not been going all that well anyway, went all to hell with the prospect of a new job and nothing to wear to it.

I also thought his musings on the content of newspapers as really just gossip very relevant to social media. And I was amused by his taking of "homeopathic doses" of gossip by walking into town each afternoon. (The occasional dip into Facebook can serve the same purpose, no?)

And, of course his descriptions of the natural world are just outstanding. There's a passage on owls that particularly stood out for me. It's too long to quote here, but I loved the line: "I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men." I wonder what my anonymous annotator of Emerson would have to say about Thoreau? (Humanist!!! Pagan!!!).

Edited: A comment I got on FB informed me that I wasn't clear in this description about whether I'd enjoyed reading Walden. Here's how I responded: 
"I did find it enjoyable. This time. A dozen other times I wanted to throw it across the room. HDT struck me as boring, rambling, pompous, and entitled. But this time he was funny, self-deprecating, and self-contradictory (an unreliable narrator in the most endearing way) and honestly rapturous about the natural world. I don’t know what changed, but I think it was me not him."
Read-Aloud. Finally, the boys and I are nearing the end of our Amelia Peabody series, finishing up Children of the Storm in October. This one took us longer than usual—I think the start of the school year knocked us off our game—and it had a kind of complex plot, but it's a good one with lots of thrilling moments and twists. Having reread all these books at least twice over the past five years and reading them again now, I can see clues are planted along the way, all of which I of course missed the first time (or two or three) that I read the books.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Upcoming Publications

It's been a fairly dry year with regard to publication around here, but two pieces that have been long in coming are set to be published over the coming months.



First, an essay about life, death, autumn leaves, and Andy Golsworthy will come out in the Winter edition of Still Point Arts Quarterly on December 1. You can go here for a free digital subscription or to order a print copy.

Second, I have a short story, which I wrote way back in MFA days, and which has gone through many, many iterations and revisions, about love and life and fear and hiking in the desert, will come out as part of the collection This Side of the Divide: Stories of the American West on February 12.



You can go here to read more about the collection, and here to pre-order a copy.

I'm thrilled to see both of these pieces in print, and their imminent publication has reinvigorated efforts to get my last few orphan short stories and essays (those which haven't been back-burnered indefinitely, that is), out into the world.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Lasts

When you have kids, you pay a lot of attention to firsts—the first tooth, the first word, the first step, all breathlessly anticipated, documented, and recorded. But lasts, those we often don't notice till long after the fact. When was the last time he fell asleep on my lap, or said "skabetti," or was small enough I could carry him? All lost to the mists of time.


Last year, as we were making our annual Halloween rounds of the neighborhood, I admit to thinking, "Thank goodness we're almost done!" Because kids can't go on trick-or-treating forever. Eventually they go away to college, right? (I remember thinking the same thing about breastfeeding and the family bed.)

So I surprised myself this year, when E and Z expressed ambivalence about the old trick-or-treat routine. Wait, I didn't know last year was going to be our last Halloween. And so, despite my own ambivalence, I coaxed them into Halloweening one last time.

E and I went out Tuesday afternoon and bought one of the last pumpkins at the apple orchard, which C helpt them carve into a great big eye (making use of a natural orifice in the pumpkin itself).


We had our usual jack-o-lantern bagel melts for dinner, which is as fancy as I get for Halloween vittles.



E and Z dug some old costume parts out of the dress-up bin.



And even I dressed up for the occasion.



We skipped the hay wagon, since it looked like rain, and our usual driver seemed less than enthusiastic, but we hit all the usual haunts, and spent the usual 10-20 minutes at each one, catching up with the whole neighborhood where C grew up.



It may not have been our last Halloween—who knows what the kids will want to do next year—but if it was, at least it was documented and recorded.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Change in the Air



After 2 1/3 blissful years as a free agent, I'm returning to the 9-5 work-a-day world next week.

One of my grad school mentors used to say that to sustain your writing career, you needed another source of income "to pay for the kibble." She was the owner of large dogs. While the only kibble we buy around here is for ducks, it adds up when the chipmunks and woodchucks and sparrows help themselves. Also, teenagers eat a lot as well, and unfortunately, you can't stuff them full of kibble. They're expensive in other ways, too—orthodontia, soccer cleats, car insurance (!!!), pants, pants, pants. We have three of them now (teenagers that is), and we also have a house we built and moved into 16 years ago, which means that our appliances and fixtures are starting to fail, in what I'm afraid is just the beginning of a cascade. Oh, yeah, and a kid going to college next year.

I had some really lovely teaching and freelance gigs over the last year, but not enough to pay for much kibble. I just didn't have it in me—the hustle. I loved the work, but I do not love asking people to give me work, or trying to extract photos out of people or scheduling interviews with people who have different priorities, or asking people to pay me. Not enough to turn it into a full-time gig (and with so much writing and hiking and drawing and reading to be done, who had time for a full-time gig?). I'll hang onto my regular clients, and I'll keep teaching—I already have two workshops scheduled for next year—and I'll keep editing at Literary Mama. I won't completely step out of the game.

I doubt you'll notice much difference here, since I'm already posting at a rate of about once per month. Then again, I posted a LOT when I worked full time (something about having only two days off per week and wanting to make those two days count), so you may be in for more of me (which is what everybody wants, right?). I'm reminding myself that I was VERY productive when I worked full time—I made zines, I blogged, I wrote a ton of essays and short stories, I completed my MFA, I studied to be a Master Naturalist, I did all kinds of knitty/crafty/cookery things. My goal is to both be productive and stay centered (i.e. sane). Wish me luck.

Oh, and did I mention, I get the summer and fall off, so that's pretty fantastic.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Fall Nature Journaling Weekend

I had the great good fortune to be invited to teach nature journaling up in the wilds of Maine a couple of weeks ago.



There was a smallish turnout—I guess I should go into teaching how to file your taxes or some other universally desired skill, but what fun would that be?


And, to be honest, small groups are my favorite, where each person can work at his/her own pace, and we all get to know each other so well, even in the course of a few hours.



The weekend started Friday evening and went through Sunday morning—not quite three days, but enough time to luxuriate in attention, observation, detail.



We practiced the basics of observing and drawing.



We went on slow hikes, noting each thing of significance as we went along.



We closed our eyes to use our other senses, and wrote about what we noticed, felt, remembered, and wondered.


It was a pretty terrific way to spend a fall weekend in Maine.

Friday, October 12, 2018

September 2018 Reads

A roundup of books I read over the last month. You can see past lists here:


August 2018 Reads

July 2018 Reads

September's book pile is quite a bit smaller than August's tower. I'd like to say that I was taking a break from reading to something even more healthy and productive—writing, say, or saving the world—but really the cause was TV. I had to catch up on "The Handmaid's Tale" and then I had to watch "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" as an antidote. The twins and I haven't even gotten through another whole volume of Amelia Peabody, thanks to the start of school and homework and lots of other things going on. 

I had to do my photo shoot at the library with my phone, because I'd already returned Rachel.
Nonfiction
My one NF book for the month was a doozy: Journey into Summer by Edwin Way Teale, about his 19,000 mile cross-country road trip, tracking the phenomena of summer in 1960. Full disclosure, I started this one back when summer began, but I kept moving other books ahead of it in the queue. But when September came, I determined to finish reading it before summer ended (I think I may have gone over by a day or two). This book is really great. Teale and his wife start in Maine and make their way through the upper midwest, down into Kansas and around Colorado, over a period of three months. Along the way, they come upon some fascinating things, like a mayfly hatch in Lake Erie that turns roads slick with insects. I found myself wanting to recreate Teale's journey to see what's left of the things he saw along the way 60 years later (my cynical guess is that nearly everything is gone or diminished, except for bald eagles, which bird's absence Teale repeatedly notes). 

Fiction
Two books on the list this month: First off My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne Du Maurier. After I finished Rebecca, a friend said I needed to read this one next. Once again Du Maurier messes with the reader's head and you're left at the end not knowing for sure who the real villian is. That's all I'm going to say, though. The other novel I read was Night Fall by Joan Aiken, which is the first novel of suspense I read, way back when I was a teenager. For some reason, I still have my copy and just for fun decided to read it again. It was still a fun read, though not what you might call "literature of enduring value," and it reassured me that plots don't have to be super complex to be engaging (and all the funny 1960s lingo is pretty entertaining, too).
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