Friday, October 20, 2023

Book Stack ~ September 2023

 A monthly post about what I've been reading.

I started the month with a week away at an artist residency, and I read so many books while I was there.


My big goal for the residency was to figure out if I still have the interest and motivation to work on a project that I've been thinking about and nibbling at over the course of nearly two decades, which is to put together a compilation of writing and biographies of women who write/wrote about motherhood and nature. So several of these were books I'd collected over the years in hopes of finding writing that would be applicable to this project and either hadn't read, hadn't finished reading, or had read in a different context. These were:

Linea Nigra by Jazmina Barrera, a diary-style accounting of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, with a lot of literature and art intertwined as well as earthquakes.

My Garden Book by Jamaica Kincaid, a collection of essays about gardening, plants, and colonialism.

Parrot's Wood,= by Erma Fisk, an amusing and grueling account of a month in primitive conditions at a bird refuge in Costa Rica by a retired woman who got involved in ornithology and bird conservation after the untimely death of her husband.

The Curve of Time by M Wylie Blanchet, charming and often harrowing tales of navigating the coast of British Columbia in a small boat with five children after the death of the author's husband.

Shaped by Wind and Water by Anne Haymond Zwinger, reflections on a life of nature writing from a week at an artist residency.

The Natural World of Louise Dickinson Rich, a three-part account of the author's life in three zones of New England: the Piedmont of Massachusetts, the North Woods of Maine, and the coast of Maine.

I also had time for fun reading and kept going on my Mary Stewart streak, with My Brother Michael and Nine Coaches Waiting, both fantastic examples of the romantic suspense genre, as well as The Wind Off The Small Isles, which had a great setup and then sort of fizzled for me. I guess it's good to know that even a supremely talented writer sometimes swings and misses.

When I returned home, I read Rooted 2: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction, an anthology in which my essay "Faith in a Seed" appears, which was edited by Josh MacIvor Anderson and came out from Outpost19 books this summer. 

I admit to not always being a good literary citizen when it comes to reading the words that share pages with mine in an anthology or journal, but I read this book cover-to-cover and it is filled with beautiful and brilliant essays about trees. I would highly recommend it even if I wasn't featured inside.

Finally, in what is becoming a September tradition, I listened to the audiobook of the newest Richard Osman, The Last Devil to Die, and then I re-listened to the earlier volumes and then the new one all over again. I love these books. They're smart and funny and clever. 

But I've had a couple people tell me they couldn't get into them (one as a reader and one as a listener) and that they got confused by the number of different characters and points of view. So, be warned about that. I've also been binge-listening to the Maintenance Phase podcast, which has made me much more aware of and sensitive to anti-fat bias and weight stigma, and so listening this time around, especially to the first book, I felt a little cringey about the way the detective Chris thinks of his own weight and the way his side-kick Donna nudges him toward using the stairs and not eating junk food. So be warned, these books aren't for everyone (then again, what book is?).

Friday, October 13, 2023

A Room of My Own ~ For Reals this Time

Before we built our house, I had a dream of a little room just for me where I could read, write, knit, sew, make art, and do yoga. But we didn't put a room like that into our house, and if we had it would have become a bedroom for one of our kids when we jumped from one two three in one fell swoop.

Over the years, I've tried to carve out a little bit of space for me here and there: a corner of the living room, (which I've frequently reorganized and rededicated to writing and other pursuits, and corners of my bedroom, where I kept my sewing machine and one writing desk or another.

A gallery of these various corners:

Looking at these little writing spaces lined up like this, they seem so sweet and cozy, which they were in their own way (at least when I had them all tidied up and in photo-worthy condition), and they served me well. I wrote my zines and my blog in these spaces, I did my masters degree and my master naturalist program. I wrote my book! (Technically, I wrote my book mostly on the couch, but the desks are necessary for holding all the supplies and materials for the writing.) But there's no denying it was crowded and cluttered, and the more I added to my repertoire--illustrating and researching and juggling multiple projects--the more crowded and cluttered it all got. I never gave up on that dream of a Room of My Own.

So when Z and E went off to college last month, I wasted no time in moving into the room that had been M's when he was small, and then all three boys' room after the twins were born and then just the twins' room after M moved to the basement and then just Z's, after Z moved E to the basement.

There's room for a futon/guest bed, my dollhouse, my sewing machine, a table on which to make art, bookshelves, and, most importantly, a desk at which to write. I can move from one project to another without having to move all my books out of the way to make room for my laptop, or put away the art supplies in order to sew, or set aside the notebook and laptop in order to have room to paint. I can even leave my yoga mat set up, which is a good way to ensure I actually do yoga.

It gets tons of natural daylight, especially in the morning (which makes it a challenge to photograph). It is also very, very purple (the color E, Z, and I compromised on when we repainted the room a few years ago--one of them wanted black and the other hot pink), and I'm not likely to have the energy to repaint it anytime soon. On the bright side, this mosaic shelf I made from pieces of broken Fiesta ware that have amassed over the years looks fab on the purple wall. I'll be adding more orange accents to offset all that purple.

The closet is also a bit of a mess, with all of Z's stuff tucked away inside, as well as a number of children's toys (the wooden barn and blocks and things I can't part with) and books. I'll be sorting through the books this winter moving my fabric and yarn up from the basement and into the dresser. But, I'm in no rush to get to all that. I'm just enjoying having room in which to spread out and work and think. Virginia Woolf was right!

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Season of Change

August brought big, life-changing events--my two youngest kids went off to college; my oldest moved home for an indeterminate time; I had a momentous birthday. When the last Friday of the month rolled around--my arbitrary deadline for sending out this newsletter--I hadn't had time or headspace to work out how I felt about it all, and so had no idea what to write. And then I looked at the calendar and realized it wasn't the last Friday of August but the first of September, and I was off the hook. (I told you it's arbitrary.)

And now a month has gone by, and I still haven't meditated on what all this means. But here's how I'm feeling now. With regard to my kids at college: I'm happy for them, I'm worried about them, I miss them now and again, and I'm enjoying the peace and space left in their absence (especially Z's room, which I turned into my "studio" before the sheets had cooled). I wish they'd call home occasionally, and I wish I could turn off "nag" mode when I do talk to them. 

About the eldest child moving back in: It's nice to have him around. He's not much trouble, and he can even be helpful. Also he's messy and noisy, and I hope that the challenge of finding a job as a recent college graduate in what was supposed to be a high-demand and lucrative field is just a temporary hiccough and not a (further) sign of the decay of our society.

About turning 50: It felt exactly like every other birthday, which is to say, no different than the day before. It's only a big number on paper.

So "life-changing" is a little less seismic that the term suggests. But I do feel my life changing, as I move into what Mary Louise Kelley calls "the third act" in her book It Goes So Fast. As fate would have it, I began Act 3 in a way that I hope sets the stage for the rest of the play. 

Early this month, I had the good fortune of spending a week on a lake at an artist residency. It was the same place I'd stayed six years ago, although in a different cabin; my cabin this time wasn't as charming, but it was closer to the lake and so a fair tradeoff. My work wasn't as focused this time, either--planning a new project as opposed to major revisions on a first draft.

But once I got over the sensation that someone was looking over my shoulder tsk-tsking over my lack of productivity, I settled into a rhythm. I swam in the lake. I went kayaking. I climbed a mountain. I took naps. I stayed up reading till 2 a.m. one night and went to bed at 8 p.m. others. I chatted with artists and writers from the other cabins, visited my friend at the local library, and had a long conversation the owner of a nearby bakery who made the best croissant I've ever eaten. I read nine books, drafted an essay, made some final tweaks to the almost-finished draft of one book, and did some serious thinking and planning and even a little writing on the new book project.

And now I'm back home, and it's fall, that season of settling down to work. While I don't have a lake out my front door and I don't have the house completely to myself, I am working on making at least a little piece of each day into an artist residency--shut out the world around me and delve into reading, writing, and thinking, with a little bit of wandering and adventure, too.

A version of 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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