Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Writing and Reading

I've been trying to write an essay for the last two weeks, but I just can't seem to get the words to align properly. I (think I) have a fairly clear idea in my head of what I want it to say, and sound like, and convey, but translating that to the page is not working for me. It seems I forgot how to write while I was away this summer. I thought I had written every day—but it turns out I had journaled every day, which is not quite the same thing. In between essay writing, I've been translating those journal entries into the bare, naked bones of my book's first draft, which mostly means typing up my handwritten entires, corralling tense into a consistent present, and incorporating memories with the written word. The actual writing part—making it sound good and make sense, including research and reflection, wrangling my disjointed thoughts into, dare I say, a work of art—will come later. I'm trying to remember if the first draft is always this hard. I know it is. I know that every time I sit down to write something new it is as if I'm starting all over from scratch, with no words or experience behind me. And I know that real, grown-up writers with actual books often feel the same. So I'm trying not to worry. But I'd also like, for once, to write a literary essay in less than two years.
In the meantime, I've been reading. Ravenously. Omnivorously. Insanely. Everything from The Epic of Gilgamesh to The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Pictured above are just some of the books I've started or finished or read some of in the last couple of weeks. Not pictured is Plato's Republic, which I read once before, way back in an ancient philosophy class in college (I know I actually read the whole thing back then because of the highlights and margin notes, something which I rarely do—deface a book! horrors!—but I recognize my three-color highlighter and the funny way I used to write the letter K.). The discussion of the nature of justice seems particularly appropriate considering the current political mayhem in the US. I don't know what this reading binge is all about, but I'm hoping that these other writers' words will work their way into my brain and help dislodge my own words.

P.S. The winner of the Catastrophic Happiness giveaway is Lone Star Ma. Send me a message with your address LSM and I'll get the book into the mail right away!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Andy Goldsworthy-Inspired Hike

On Monday (a dubious holiday here in the US), we took a consolation (for Curry and Me, who had been looking forward to our cancelled backpacking trip) slash punishment (for Milo, Zephyr, and Emmet, who are against leaving the house for any reason, ever, especially if it involves physical activity and/or nature) hike on one of our favorite local trails.

Autumn was in its full glory, with blue skies, high winds, and magical leaves falling through the air.

The previous night, we'd watched the documentary Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, and some of us were inspired to make our own Goldsworthy-esque installations.

It was fun getting visceral and hands-on in nature, rather than just walking and taking pictures.

Goldsworthy's ephemeral art makes a strong statement about impermanence and non-attachment, which I find is also the message of this season, as the leaves turn beautiful, vibrant colors only to fall away, leaving brown, lifeless branches. It's always good to be reminded to live in the now.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


My heart is heavy this week, after some bad news about a friend—acquaintance? Hard to say which these days. A lovely person I saw occasionally whom I should have taken the time to get to know better. Isn't that true of so many in our harried lives?

We had plans this weekend for a quick overnight hiking trip. Plans that were derailed by a solid day of rain Sunday, much to the relief of three boys. I realize I haven't honored their need to recover from this summer's trip. They jumped right back into school the day after we got home—a week after we came off the trail—and have not had a chance to rest and process the trip, as I have had. So they were very, very reluctant to go backpacking again, even just five miles each way.

The unexpected turn of events freed up two days on our calendar, which seemed to instantly self-populate right through September and October as soon as we came off the trail. After we unpacked from the trip we never went on and took care of all the housework I had planned to ignore, I took myself out for a little walk around in the rain.

I've hardly had my camera out at all since we got back and it was kind of nice to just walk around and point it at whatever caught my eye.

After a friend commented on my Hiking Journal post, about how it's difficult to get her students to turn to reflection after "death march" hiking days (she teaches in an experiential program—which sounds amazing). And it made me think about action versus reflection, expression versus inspiration.

I find it hard to balance these—do I go out and walk quickly through the woods for exercise, or do I meander, noticing what is around me and think about what it means? Do I sit down and write 20 pages, or do I curl up with a book?

This month (okay, and last month, too) I've definitely felt like burrowing. I'd much rather read than write. I've been more focused on trying to stay in shape than looking under rocks.

So it was nice to have an afternoon to just wander and look and think. To appreciate this autumn season, which is so fleeting, as are all seasons, as is life.

And then I began this week refreshed. Ready to write, to reflect, to be productive.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Little of This, A Little of That

After a couple of months with no income of my own, I'm ready to start bringing home the bacon again, or at least having the cash to purchase the occasional Slate's Bakery cookie. So I've hung out my shingle--over there on the right margin of my blog--as a writer and editor for hire. I haven't quite figured out an advertising strategy yet, although there is a magazine I'd like to approach (not sure how I'll go about it: "You know all those typos in this month's issue? I can help you with that."). In the meantime, if you have any writing or editing needs, drop me a line!

I've also done a little tidying up around the blog. I updated my profile on the About Me page (speaking of which, do you think "About Me" sounds too egocentric? Should I change it to just "About" or my name?).

I discovered that the journal saltfront has spruced up their website, and published my short story, "Stars Come Down," complete with awesome bat artwork, online. I also scanned in an old essay, "Owl Tree," so now you can read online pretty much everything on my Writing page, except the most recent essay, "Monarch Summers," (available by mail from Snowy Egret) and my Arboretum book (still working out how to make these available online).

Finally, my friend and terrific long-distance writing group partner, Amanda, pointed out to me that I had been quoted in this essay about Writing Motherhood, which is kind of cool.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Nature Journaling ~ The Hiking Journal

Before setting off on the Colorado Trail, I had great hopes of creating an artistic journal, something along the lines of this:

From Moonlight Chronicles by D. Price
I even brought an assortment of lightweight drawing supplies and had shipped to myself a series of thin notebooks for the task. I did fill in most of five journals, but most of it was writing…a lot of writing. Since the ultimate goal of this trip was to write a book, I journaled every day, even when I was really, really tired. On those days, my notes took the form of bullet points, put I at least got something on the page every day.

Unfortunately, there was a lot less time for drawing than I'd hoped. We hiked between eight and twelve hours most days, and then there was the setup and takedown of camp, meal preparation and cleanup (minimal though it was), and sleep. Lots of sleep.

So I didn't get a chance to sketch every day, or even most days. A couple of my journals don't have any drawings in them at all.

But when I did find the time for a quick drawing, I enjoyed it very much.

Even if the results weren't exactly spectacular.

On more than one occasion, I found myself wishing I had a whole afternoon—or day or week—to just explore a single hillside, watching birds, identifying flowers, sketching whatever stuck my fancy.

But that is not the right attitude for a long-distance hike, especially one on a schedule, shared with other people who move faster than me even when I'm not dawdling and drawing.

So I made do with a lot more words and photos than drawings.

And, when I found a tiny pocket of time, I made the most of it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Catastrophic Happiness Giveaway

Well, friends, I've been dawdling long enough since I got back this summer. It's time I jump-start this blog—both the writing and reading of (not to mention commenting on)—and what better way to do that than a giveaway?

I hope you all adore Catherine Newman as much as I do. I came across Catherine's (I feel like I can refer to her on a first-name basis since she once commented on my blog) first book, Waiting for Birdy, almost by accident when I was on maternity leave with the twins. Her funny, neurotically optimistic take on life with baby and big kid helped get me through that first summer with two newborns and a disaffected four-year-old. I know "neurotically optimistic" sounds like an oxymoron, but that's how the book stuck me—she was equal measures terrified that something terrible would happen to her children and certain everything would turn out all right.

I've been a follower of her blog and her various other writings ever since. I love that she's funny without descending into snark or that grating, self-deprecating tone that lots of writing about parenting succumbed to during the mommy blog heyday a few years ago (you know, that "I am the suckiest mom ever" or "being a mom is the suckiest thing ever," vibe). I love that her writing is touching without being saccharine (I don't think she's ever used "treasure" as a verb). I love that she's not afraid to admit that she genuinely likes her kids. And I love that she can write a moving, meaningful, humorous essay about pretty much anything—or, practically, nothing (e.g., doorknobs).

Speaking of childhood's messy years, this is only a slightly staged picture of one child's bed; I just moved the items he actually sleeps with a little closer together so they'd fit in the frame.
So of course as soon as her new book, Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood's Messy Years, came out, I rushed out and bought me a copy. And then my smart and funny and talented co-editor in the Literary Reflections Department of Literary Mama, Libby Maxey, actually got to interview Catherine, and had Catherine sign a copy of the book for me. So now I have two copies—and I want to give one away (the one that's not signed, of course) to one of you.

To enter, go check out Catherine's blog and Libby's profile and then come back and leave a comment. I'll choose a winner at random from the comments on this blog (sorry, Facebook comments don't count) on October 15.

And the winner is Lone Star Ma! Drop me a message with your mailing address and I'll get it out to you in the mail!
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