Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Life is Good

The atmosphere outside is heavy with moisture and an incoming low pressure system. It's hot and humid, but the wind, which blows from every direction, has a chill to it, and it tears the yellowing leaves from the ash trees. Many of the wild apples have already lost most of their leaves, and their bare branches hang heavy with yellow, gold, and green fruit. I'll pick a few sour, mealy apples to make Curry a pie for his birthday next week, but the rest will fall to the ground and rot or feed the deer through the winter. We still have jars of apple butter we made two years ago on the shelves.

The staghorn sumac have taken on their Christmas appearance--half red, half green--but the oaks, the beeches, the hornbeams, even the maples, are still green. I recite their names like a spell to keep summer around a little longer. But in the understory the Virginia creeper has turned crimson, the wild sarsaparilla has faded yellow-brown, and the false Solomon's seal is weighted down by clusters of scarlet berries. Bumble bees nose in the last of the asters, the wild wind tosses grasshoppers and sulphur butterflies, and I hear a late cicada among the crickets, but there's no denying the truth: fall is here.

I have a cozy, brown wraparound sweater that I'm not allowed to wear until after the first frost and my favorite chartreuse teapot I can't use until it's snowed at least once. These are my talismans, or perhaps my bribes. If you don't run away to the desert before winter, you may wear your sweater, drink your tea. And then, wrapped in warmth inside and out, you can look out on the falling snow and remember summer, when everything was so easy. Only it's not always easy in summer, is it? What with the black flies, deer flies, horse flies, and mosquitoes. When it's too hot and humid to move. When you have other obligations and can't be outside witnessing every flower bloom and bird hatch and insect buzz by. It goes by so fast, and I miss so much.

This morning I was salvaging the last of the peaches, cutting away the bad parts and putting the rest in my cereal bowl, and I got a bit of mushed peach on my shirt and it reminded me of baby food, and that brought on the most unbelievable wave of nostalgia, even though my kids hated baby food. In fact, getting them to eat anything other than the gunk behind the radiators during their first few years of life was one of the greatest challenges of my parenting journey, right behind potty training and teaching teenagers how to drive (my current phase of motherhood).

This is what people mean when they tell new mothers, "Enjoy every minute; it goes by so fast." Only it's not impossible to enjoy every minute of motherhood, like all those times you peeled and mashed peaches, scooped the sweet goodness on a tiny, silver spoon, and held it to pair of clamped-shut lips, any more than it's possible to enjoy every minute of summer, like that time you were drenched in sweat, covered in dirt, and swarmed by mosquitoes because you decided to transplant perennials from your neighbor on a 90-degree, 90-percent humidity day. But after you were done with the plants, you went and swam in the pond and then lay down in the hammock with a popsicle, and life was good. So very good.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Book Stack ~ August 2021

 A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

Oh, August was a read-ey month! I'm already feeling nostalgic about the time spent in the hammock with some of these titles (though today, the first day of fall, is warm enough to lie in the hammock, it seems like much more of an indulgence to do it in September than in the summer,  doesn't it? I'll have to change that mindset, before winter comes).

I got briefly back into my habit of reading poetry first thing in the morning, with an older book by Pattiann Rogers, Generations. These poems are utterly gorgeous, though I have to admit to being at a loss as to what they were about most of the time. Though the language and the structure is all accessible, the themes are perhaps (though I'm not entirely sure) metaphysical.

Last month's fiction was mostly of the mystery genre, with one older book, Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer, a classic whodonit, with a wry detective inspector and an entertaining if somewhat confusing cast of characters (a lot of them had names that start with H), and a good number of red herrings. The other two I picked up after I attended a (virtual) crime fiction conference this summer (the authors were panelists). Death in D Minor by Alexia Gordon is a fun cozy mystery, with a couple of fun ghosts, about an African American classical musician living in Ireland who finds herself caught up in art theft and murder. The Cipher by Isabel Moldonado is about an FBI agent who becomes the target of a serial killer. I usually prefer amateur detectives to police procedurals, but it was super interesting to see inside the workings of an FBI unit, and the main character was every bit as relatable as an amateur. This one fell just inside my disturbing/psychotic killer line. If you have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, you might want to pass, otherwise I'd gladly recommend all three of them to mystery lovers. 

One non-mystery I read was The Nest, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. I picked it up in a Little Free Library in a friend's neighborhood several years ago--mostly because I was attracted to the robin's-egg blue cover--but never got around to reading it until now, which explains why I'm so far behind the times on this 2016 bestseller (but it's a book from the actual Stack, which is exciting!). I enjoyed this multiple point-of-view story of a family of four adult children grappling with the loss of their inheritance (the "nest" of the title), thanks to the reckless actions of one brother. It's a great example of many protagonists in one story, each having his or her own narrative arc, and each changing by the end (except, I would argue, the main protagonist who stubbornly refuses to change).

Two more books from The Stack--Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (author of H is for Hawk), which is a beautiful, melancholy, moving collection of mostly nature-based essays, and My Other Ex, a collection of essays about former best friends edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. I really like anthologies where you can delve into numerous takes on the same topic. As with all such books, some of the essays are better than others, but overall I found it a strong collection that made me think more deeply about friendships I've let fall to the wayside over the years.

Finally, to round out July's swimming theme, I read George Saunders's A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which isn't about swimming at all (except for a single paragraph of a Chekov story--"Gooseberries") but rather a deep dive into six lessons in short story writing from four great Russian writers. It's positively brilliant and beautiful and it makes me wish I could spend all my time reading and writing short stories.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Book Update ~ Page of Praise

It's been a while since I've updated you on the progress of my book, Uphill Both Ways: Hiking Toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail. So how about a little peek behind the scenes? In June I received the copy editor's suggested changes--they weren't huge, just some suggested word choices here and there, a bit of misused capitalization and hyphens, an extremely confusing number vs. numeral convention. I found that I wanted to rewrite my epilogue quite a bit, since that was the last thing I had written and so it hadn't gone through the endless rounds of edits that the rest of the book had before going to the publisher. Also it was meant to be "current," and much had changed between February and June. Most troublesome were the gear tables at the end, making sure I'd gotten all of the brand names correct (why is it that companies--especially outdoor gear companies--must abuse spelling, spacing, and capitalization so egregiously?) and second- and third-guessing my own math on the weight of items.

Last week I got one more round of copy edits from my editor (more overuse of the hyphen) and I saw the draft cover design. It's so pretty!!! I can't wait to share it with you...and I will share it with readers of my newsletter first, so if you're you're not subscriber, be sure to sign up. The file my editor sent me for review was one long, continuous document with the full text of the book and little coded tags for the design team to use for inserting illustrations, photographs, maps, etc. The first page of the document was mostly blank with the following text at the top:

{~?~page of praise to come}

That's that page (or more) inside the cover of most books where other authors and reviewers wax effusive over the text of the book you have in hand, otherwise (and not very attractively) known as "blurbs." My blurbs started coming in in June, all from writers I admire so much, some of whom I know well, others who were scary to contact (and no, I never did hear back from Cheryl Strayed's publicist about getting a blurb from her). June was an otherwise difficult month, a the-bastards-are-getting-me-down kind of month. I'd often start my day like a cartoon character, floating a few inches above the ground, high on a beautiful blurb, only to, a few hours later, also like a cartoon character, have an anvil or a grand piano fall from a second-story window and flatten me into the sidewalk. I can't imagine how I might have peeled myself back up again if not for the stream of blurbs coming into my inbox.

So it occurs to me that we all need a page of praise, not just writers and not just about our books, but all of us should maintain a running list of kind words, compliments, and good deeds that others bestow upon us. And we should all make it our work to fill up the pages of praise of the people in our lives, to counteract the bastards who, let's be honest, are working overtime to get us all down. So next time someone does you a kindness, write it down, save it in an email file, or store it in that part of your brain you turn to when the going gets rough, and then pay it forward, help to fill someone else's page of praise.

This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."
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