Friday, March 24, 2023

Finish It Friday ~ Another Runner Hat

After I finished Z's cross-country runner hat last fall, my cousin asked me to make one for her, so I picked up a skein of the same soft, squishy yarn in a sunny color called saffron, and got to work. 

I wanted to make this second hat smaller than Z's, which is pretty large and loose, so I went down a needle size, from 7/8 (ribbing/pattern) to 6/7, shortened the ribbing so it wouldn't be foldable, and focused on keeping my tension consistent throughout.

Unfortunately, I also accidentally cast on 80 stitches rather than the 88 (or 90) I should have, and the hat turned out VERY snug. So I started again, with the correct number of stitches, and came out with two hats, one a form-fitting adult size and one just right for a kid.

I gave the small one to a friend who still has little ones in her home and sent the other one off to my cousin, with hopes for some cold weather remaining in the winter so she could wear it.

Ravelry notes (including an explanation of the cast-on conundrum) here. Ravelry notes on the original hat with the pattern here (including notes on how to lop off the Ancient-Egyptian-looking hands and an improved decrease over the first one I did).

Monday, March 20, 2023

Inflection Point in Literary Mama

I joined the staff of Literary Mama in the spring of 2014, shortly after I finished my MFA program. I'd published my first short story there, six years earlier, and had published an essay about finding models of mother protagonists in fiction--an adaptation of my thesis introduction--in the Literary Reflections department the previous month. My pre-MFA writing instructor Kate Hopper was resigning from editing the Literary Reflections department and recommended me as her replacement. At the same time, the editorial assistant for the department, Libby Maxey, moved up to take the other department editor position, vacated by Christina Speed. 

Libby and I enjoyed eight years of highly compatible co-editing until she moved over to help run the Poetry department around a year ago. We became good friends, even though we didn't speak to each other outside of email until 2018, when I joined the Senior Editor team, of which Libby was already a member and began to participate in conference calls, and we didn't meet in person until last summer. Libby was the first reader of the first draft of Uphill Both Ways, and she's always been my go-to when I have a sticky editorial question or any question at all about poetry. I was a little afraid we might not be as compatible in real life as we were over email, but we talked nonstop for a solid four hours when we got together, and I'm pretty sure we could have kept going if we didn't have time constraints.

I've made other good friends in my years at LM, including former editor Amanda Jaros, who was another UBW early reader and a kindred spirit in the mother-nature-writer realm (and who is coming out with her own hiking memoir soon!). I really enjoyed working with the senior editor dream team we had for several years with Amanda, Libby, Christina Consolino, Amanda Fields, and Hope Donovan-Rider at the helm. And it's been a joy to be part of this literary community and experience its growth and change of the last almost-decade.

But all good things must come to an end, and at the end of this month so does my term at LM. I'm leaving the Literary Reflections department in good hands, and looking forward to stretching my writing muscles in new, possibly not motherhood-related directions. As a swan song, I penned an essay that's been bubbling under the surface for even longer than I've been an editor at LM. Please enjoy what Libby referred to as an "origin story" of a Literary Mama editor: "Inflection Point: The Birth of a Mother Writer," in which I weave together the many stages in my lifelong dream of becoming a writer with the monumental effort of getting to a writing conference when my kids were small:

Six months before the conference 

You learn about the annual conference of writers from your writing instructor and look it up online. It will be held in April in the state where you grew up, where your family still lives, 1,800 miles away from where you live now. You check the school calendar, but the week of the conference does not align with the week of your kids’ spring break, so you won’t be able to turn it into a family vacation.

I wanted to write as soon as I could read. In second grade, I decided I was going to be an “author” when I grew up. I’m not sure I knew what that meant, but Betsy Ray of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books wanted to be an author, and so did I.

Five months before the conference 

You spend all your discretionary funds Christmas shopping and don’t have the money to register before the early bird deadline.

My third-grade teacher was big into creative writing and had us write a lot of poetry and short stories. I enthusiastically filled up her green poetry sheets with banal verse, clich├ęs, and made-up words like “scrumpdillicious,” and she enthusiastically marked each page with a red A+.

You can read the rest of the essay here. Enjoy!

Friday, March 10, 2023

Book Stack ~ February 2023

 A monthly post about what I've been reading.

Somewhere I saw a list called "Books that Don't Bum You Out," and when next February comes around, I'm going to find that list, because last month I read a lot of downers. February is not a month for books that bum you out; it's a month that requires all of the artificial means of mood elevation available. First, let's talk about the happy pill books I read.

Fun Fiction
I started the month by finishing off the stack of Barbara Michaels books of suspense I had ordered in January: The Grey Beginning and The Master of Blacktower, both delightfully gothic, with one contemporary and the other Victorian (sometimes I think I don't want to read a Victorian gothic, but I always end up enjoying myself when I do). I then threw in an Elizabeth Peters--The Copenhagen Connection--just for fun. This one's a caper, and while I don't know all the conventions of that genre, I'm pretty sure an element of the ridiculous is requisite, and this one had it in spades. I then read an Anne Hillerman my mom sent, The Tale Teller. While it's been a long time since I've ready anything by Tony Hillerman, and while the story was good, I don't think the writing quite stood up to her father's. There seemed to be a lot of banal dialogue that didn't serve the story. I'm also more aware of, and uncomfortable about, cultural appropriation than I was last time I read a Joe Leaphorn (detective) book. So I'm on the fence about this one. Finally, at the end of the month, I read another Barbara Michaels Victorian gothic, Black Rainbow (because once I remembered I liked Victorian gothic, I decided to keep going with the theme), as a palate cleanser after the heavy reads below.

Heavy Fiction
The New Wilderness, by Diane Cook. In a post-apocalyptic world, a small group of people is sent to live in a manufactured "wilderness" and observed by the state to see how they fare. Lovely writing, beautiful exploration of mother-daughter relationships, interesting concepts, but just generally grim. I don't know if the idea of post-apocalyptic writing is to warn of coming dangers or concede defeat before it's even happened, but it kinda feels like the latter to me. 

The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamyn Chan. Not post-apocalyptic, but speculative, about women who make mistakes (ranging from momentarily lapses of attention to outright abuse) as parents being sent to a prison-like environment to "learn" to be good mothers (i.e., boundlessly self-sacrificing) by taking care of creepy robot dolls. Also grim, mainly in the way it so expertly reflected society's impossible expectations of mothers (and double standard with regard to fathers). But the ending was, if not redemptive, very satisfying.

We All Want Impossible Things, by Catherine Newman. A woman watches her best friend die in hospice and makes, shall we say, questionable behavior choices. This one contains all of the signature Catherine Newman humor and cooking and unbelievably generous and cheerfully self-sacrificing adults and funny, quirky, loving children of her nonfiction (somehow these traits are less believable in fiction than nonfiction--I mean, an ex-husband who comes over and cooks every night?). But there's only one way a hospice novel can end, so definitely a book that will bum you out.


I'm still working my way through Louise Dickinson Rich (I won't read it all--she wrote a LOT, and I'm not terribly interested in her fiction), and read Only Parent, about life raising her two kids after her husband, Ralph, died suddenly. It's an interesting topic for the time, when divorce was less common and less commonly accepted. And while she mentions the ways life is made more challenging by the lack of a second adult in the house, it's not a woe-is-me tale, but rather another series of her funny and prescient observations of everyday life. Definitely not a bummer.

Inciting Joy, by Ross Gay. I was expecting more of The Book of Delights, but the essays in Inciting Joy are much longer (and more discursive; in some the parenthetical asides and footnotes run as long as the main text) and cover much heavier topics, although they may start from a benign subject like music, basketball, or gardening. I'm actually still mulling this one over, a few weeks after having finished, not entirely sure what to think, and I'll probably dive back in and read it again a time or two in order to fully grasp it all.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Boring But Not Bored

 At the beginning of the year I started a 5-year journal, with about one-by-three inches of space in which to recount each day of the year, year after year. When I get to the end of each day and jot down the events--read a little, wrote a little, worked a little (I have a freelance project going on now, which makes me feel more at home now in the capitalist system in which when people ask, "What have you been up to?" they usually mean, "What are you doing to move money around?"), made a little art, walked the trail, watched the birds, cooked dinner, tidied the house, maybe knitted a bit or grocery shopped or talked to someone on the phone--I think something along the lines of "Wow, my life is really boring." Only the thing is, I don't *feel* bored (although I did go through a restless period last weekend, wherein I felt like I need a big project to work on, something physical and not reading-writing-art related, like building a shed or remodeling a bathroom; luckily I did not act on this impulse, and the mood, which I diagnosed as spring fever, eventually passed).

February can be a hard month, with the first halfway between the solstice and the equinox, a good eight to twelve weeks until spring in my neck of the woods, no matter what the groundhog says. Though the days are perceptibly longer and the quality of light more golden, we started the month with the coldest weather of the year (-14.4 on 2/4) and we're wrapping it up in a similar vein (-0.8 this morning). The freelance job I'm doing is on a heavy topic and many of the books I've read this month have been heavy as well, and I've had to antidote it all with a heavy dose of rewatching ridiculous television shows every night. 

For all these reasons, February is the month I most feel like hibernating, by which I mean loading up the wood stove and reading a little, writing a little, making a little art, knitting a bit, walking the trail, watching the birds, fixing a pot of tea in the afternoon. Maybe burrowing is more what I mean than hibernating--cozying down into a pleasant waking doze beneath a comforter with a plate of cheese nearby: torpor, dormancy, senescence. In other words, exactly what I've been doing.

Which isn't to say I've done nothing at all this month--at the beginning of the month I caught up with a few friends at a party and led a full-moon hike at a nearby nature center; yesterday Z and I met up with M for a day of cross-country skiing on some gorgeous groomed trails, and the snow was so perfect I decided that perhaps, rather than hanging up my cross-country skis for good (which I'd been considering, because I always feel so resistant to going), I'd instead trade them in on a pair that isn't missing the back half of one of the bindings and the top half of of one of the pole handles and most of the pole baskets, along with some boots that are warm and comfortable and don't raise blisters. In between I had a book talk and met a good friend for lunch and had countless appointments. And now that I'm nearing the end of the month, I think I'm ready to wake up a bit, to poke my head out of my hole and see if I see my shadow. It is, perhaps, another symptom of spring fever.
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