Steve Almond and William Stoner

July 17, 2019 @ 10:13 am | Filed under:

I loved Stoner—fell for it hard, its quietness, its contemplativeness, its soft pain, its frank assessment of human foibles and fineness. John Williams’s writing stole my breath: I hadn’t been walloped that hard by anyone’s prose since my first encounter with Muriel Spark. Spark’s work always strikes me as having been written with a razor blade. The image I get when I think about Williams’s language is of footsteps on a thin layer of ice—the way the softest step causes the ice to splinter into shards all around.

I read an ARC of Steve Almond’s book William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life eagerly, both for the delight of conversation about a treasured book (even if my part was only in my head) and for the glimpse of Steve’s experiences in the same MFA program I graduated from just a year or two before he entered. Reading this interview, I was swept with a wave of longing to reread both books immediately. Happily, I have a long day of travel ahead of me tomorrow and now I know how I’ll spend it.

Almond: “The entire point of Stoner is that every human life is full of remarkable drama, because every human being comes equipped with an inner life, a set of yearnings and fears and confusions that are concealed from the world and yet persistently, unavoidably, experienced. It is the mission of all art, but literary art in particular, to engage with this inner life.”

Fellow Travelers

June 25, 2019 @ 10:27 am | Filed under:

airport flight departure board showing a series of delayed flights

My flight home from Cincinnati on Sunday evening was cancelled, along with a zillion other flights. As I stood in a serpentine line of frustrated passengers awaiting information about how long and how difficult it would be for them to return to their loved ones, all I could think about was the children taken into custody at the border, spending uncertain days, weeks, even months in the panic of separation, with minimal attention to basic needs (sub-minimal really, per the comments of officials who say soap and toothbrushes aren’t basic necessities).

I stood at a counter while a woman who probably hadn’t had a pee break in hours patiently looked up options to get me home a day late. Her son lives in Portland but she is seldom able to visit because traveling is difficult and expensive. On either side of me, angry customers grew heated, raising their voices, anxious and panicked, worried about where they were going to sleep and all the complicated logistics of delaying an arrival. I saw weary faces, distraught faces, furious faces, ill faces. I saw a mother with small, sobbing children and knew she was in for a rough night.

All around me was a sense of: this isn’t fair, this isn’t right, we deserve better than this.

I stood there feeling terribly aware of my privilege. Getting home a day late did screw me up more than a little—work, family stuff. But I understood how fortunate I was. Unlike the majority of cancelled flights that evening, mine was delayed due to a maintenance problem, which meant Delta accepted responsibility and gave me a Marriott voucher & two meal vouchers. Hail in Dallas was the culprit behind most of the other cancellations, which meant all those people had to shoulder the hotel and food costs themselves. I had work waiting for me at home, but I work for myself and knew I wouldn’t be getting in trouble with my boss for not showing up on time. I had children waiting for me at home, but I knew Scott had everything handled and my extended absence wouldn’t leave a kid’s needs unmet. I knew other Brave Writer staff retreat attendees were also having to stay an extra night–three of them in the same hotel as me!–meaning I got to enjoy more time in their company, laughing and sharing our homeschooling mom stories. I left the counter knowing I’d have to get up at 4 the next morning to make my new flight, but that I’d be able to nap when I got home.

All those things I knew, as I stood there waiting to hear what my fate would be, were examples of privilege. If my flight had been cancelled for weather reasons, I’d have had to shoulder the hotel costs myself, and that would have thrust me into as much anxiety as everyone around me. I knew the delay would mean some overcrowded hours when I finally got home–I have a tight workload this week and more travel next week. My shoulders and back ached from hauling my luggage. But compared to the misery of people all around me, I knew I was lucky. More than lucky.

I found myself wanting to cry out to everyone around me—as I’m pouring it out to you here—See! See! See how devastating it is when our plans are disrupted for a single night? See how much it matters that we know where we’ll sleep and when we’ll see our families again?

It’s so easy—TOO easy—to become immersed in the swirling ups and downs of my own life, my own small circle. And it’s easy to give in to the worries that my efforts to turn my gaze, and other people’s gazes, wider, speaking out, reading up, making calls day after day—my worries that those things alienate or annoy people I care about. A legitimate worry, since one of my best friends admitted she unfollowed me on Facebook due to my activist posts.

But I stood there in that line and I sat there on that plane knowing privilege demands responsible action, even if action comes at a cost. And action begins with awareness (but awareness isn’t nearly enough, not by a mile).

Every minute of delay was a misery to my fellow passengers. Every minute in detention is exponentially more miserable—and in many cases, deadly—to the people our country is holding in tent cities and detention centers because they dared to take us at our word when we proudly declared ourselves to be a land of the free where all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I couldn’t wear my contacts all weekend because their case leaked on the plane and they dried into crisp husks. I had to live without contacts for four days. Imagine—oh! really! close your eyes and imagine, try to place yourself there—imagine sitting for a single day in a chilled and cheerless room without access to a warm blanket, a toothbrush, necessary medicine; without freedom to leave, without contact with people who care about you.

Imagine, and then pick up the phone and call your electeds. I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart.

Resources:
Help a detained immigrant in your area
How to contact your elected officials

Brave Writer Staff Retreat Selfie Album

June 24, 2019 @ 3:40 pm | Filed under: ,

A collection in progress. I intend to keep adding photos as others share them. What a deep joy to spend time in the company of these smart, creative, funny, wholehearted homeschool moms/Brave Writer coaches. Every conversation was full of new discoveries, meaningful connections, and belly laughs.

Julie Bogart and Melissa Wiley

Who could have imagined that the Yahoogroups we joined in the ’90s would bring us lifelong friends and nourishing work? So happy to get some IRL time with my brilliant, inspiring, visionary friend Julie Bogart. Not that you can tell from these pics because I always play it cool.

Jeanne Faulconer and Melissa Wiley

Jeanne Faulconer

Jeanne Faulconer is another fortuitous connection made on homeschooling lists in the mid-90s. I loved her voice in the Home Ed Magazine discussion groups and was thrilled when our paths crossed in person at Virginia Homeschoolers events in Charlottesville and Richmond. Here we are all these years later, still talking shop and bonding over writing & relaxed education.

Farzana Minty and Melissa Wiley

Farzana Minty

I met Farzana Minty at the 2016 Brave Writer conference, at which I was a guest speaker. She came up to me after one of my talks and spoke movingly of some of the parallels between our motherhood experiences. She radiates warmth and kindness in all she does. Getting to spend time in conversation and laughter with Farzana was one of the highlights of a truly magical weekend.

Rebecca Pickens and Melissa Wiley

Rebecca Pickens

We were supposed to sit with different people at every session during the retreat, to give us all a chance to get to know one another if we didn’t already. But somehow the lovely Rebecca Pickens and I kept ending at the same table, and I enjoyed her company immensely. What a gem my new friend is!

Jai Tracy, Jen Holman, Farzana Minty, and Melissa Wiley finding the silver lining in delayed flights

Jai Tracy, Jen Holman, Farzana Minty, and me

Many of us who were supposed to fly out of Cincinnati on Sunday evening encountered cancelled flights. I had just gotten through security and was retrieving my phone from the TSA bin when it pinged in my hand: my flight was delayed and I would miss my connection in Minneapolis. Delta put me up at the Marriott, where I found three more Brave Writer coaches in the same position. (A whole other crew wound up at different hotels.) Our dismay at not getting home on schedule was quickly overtaken by delight at getting to spend some extra time together. Somehow I hadn’t managed much conversation time with Jai Tracy and Jen Holman at any point during the retreat, so I was happy we got to linger over dinner in lively discussion. And I’ll take all the Farzana time I can get!

All my other retreat selfies were taken with other people’s cameras. I plan to scoop them all up to add to this album (starting with my beloved pal Karen Edmisten—a long overdue reunion for us! One worth every minute of lost sleep as we sat up late gabbing). Too delicious an event not to capture.

Travel day!

June 20, 2019 @ 8:41 am | Filed under: ,

Heading to Cincinnati this afternoon. Or rather, heading toward Cinci this afternoon—won’t arrive until fearfully early tomorrow morning.

I don’t sleep well on planes (which maybe makes the redeye a dubious plan) so I’ve loaded up on podcasts & Kindle books for the trip. And took screenshots of some Celtic knot tutorials to keep my hands busy while I listen.

I started with this tutorial at calligraphy-skills.com. It’s great! Clear and easy to follow.

I also came up with a hack for easy access of my travel itinerary. I made a phone wallpaper with my flight information on it so all I have to do is glance at my home screen to know where to go. Took me all of five minutes in Canva. I used their Instagram Stories blank canvas because that’s the size of my iPhone screen. Chose a solid blue background and pasted my flight info where it would show beneath my app icons.

I made two images, one for the outbound trip (above) and one for my return trip on Sunday. All I had to do was save both images to my phone photos and then choose the pertinent image as home-screen wallpaper. What you’re seeing in the image above is a screenshot of my home screen with the travel wallpaper in place. (The red and orange text chunks are captions from when I shared this on IG Stories.)

All righty, time to get moving! This bag ain’t gonna pack itself.

(I say “this bag” like I’ve decided which one I’m bringing. I haven’t. Cram everything into the red bag and thus avoid bringing a carry-on suitcase? But it’ll be heavy and a pain to dig through. Or bring the suitcase, which will be very light because I really don’t need much for a three-day trip, and use the smaller backpack for ready-to-hand stuff. Either way, I’m not checking a bag. Decisions!)

Have a great weekend, friends!

Enter Summer

June 18, 2019 @ 4:52 pm | Filed under: ,

pink roses blooming against a cloudy sky

I’m heading to Cincinnati in a couple of days for the Brave Writer staff retreat. Looking forward to seeing some close friends! Staggering to realize I’ve been pals with some of these homeschooling-mom-Brave-Writer-coaches for (gulp) upwards of twenty years now. These are friendships that have traveled from AOL boards to Yahoogroups to homeschooling discussion boards to blogs to social media and beyond. However screwy the internet may be, it’s given me some incredible friends.

We slid into full-on summer mode (the mellowest of low tides) this past week. School’s out for my—gulp—rising sophomore (Wonderboy). Beanie’s graduating from homeschooling! She and Rose just finished an oceanography class and she’s got her application in with the local stagehands’ union. Rose is taking one summer course, a welcome respite from the full courseload she’s been carrying. Jane, far down the coast in California, will finish her Americorps job in late summer and then she’ll move to Portland too. Yay!

What this means, of course, is that I’m doing to only two kids to homeschool! Wasn’t it just five minutes ago I had a toddler for each arm?

Kids dressed as Blue's Clues characters

Feels like Monday

May 28, 2019 @ 3:28 pm | Filed under: ,

A few days off my schedule and I already feel rusty!

How about a quick catch-up?

What I’m reading: Station Eleven (reread cuz I was in the mood); Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writingdaily poetry readings including Walt Whitman, Lucille Clifton, Maxine Kumin, Kimiko Hahn, Arthur Sze. (Affiliate links.)

What I’m watching: Scott & I are doing a Deadwood rewatch in anticipation of the movie.

What I’m listening to: Elise Joy’s podcast, the On Time episode

What I’m working on: An issue of the Arrow for Brave Writer (next year’s book lineup is soon to be revealed—it’s awesome); a newsletter for my advocacy gig

What’s happening with my novel: It’s in copyediting! I should get it back in June. Got to preview the cover copy last week, which makes it feel super real. (Pub date is August 2020, so there’s still a long way to go. But the hard part is over now—for me, at least.)

What’s next after this book? —Still deciding. Have a picture book manuscript I’ve been playing with for a long time. Am writing lots of poems these days. Giving myself a bit of breathing room before I dive into the next novel. Would also like to work on a book of literary essays I’ve been wanting to compile—pulling some material out of my archives here and expanding, elaborating. I’ve always been wild for books-about-books like A Reader’s Delight or Howard’s End Is on the Landing, and heaven knows I’ve done the legwork for one of my own!

What’s happening with Scott’s graphic novel: It’s available for pre-order! It’s called Truckus Maximus and pubs this coming October. The art is by José Miguel and it’s fantastic. I’m so excited!

What’s blooming: Poppies, peonies, foxglove, irises galore.

What I’m looking forward to: The annual Index-Card-a-Day Project. Fun, low-pressure, colorful, creative. I’m thinking this year I might use my houseplants as a loose theme—incorporating drawings of each one into my ICAD experimentation.

What’s being discussed in our homeschool: Ancient China, including folklore; fractions; poetry; astronomy; carnivorous plants.

What are YOU up to this week?

Still funny

May 24, 2019 @ 7:55 am | Filed under: ,

Yesterday’s post sent me on a happy rabbit trail of reading other posts in my archives bearing the same “These People Crack Me Up” tag. My kids crack me up.

Some of the gems I found:

Disgruntled 3-year-old reporting on her big brother: “Mommy, he keeps telling me to knock it off! The ploblem is, I don’t want to knock it off.”  (That IS a Ploblem, 2009)

***

Huck: “Mommy, be prepared for me to shout, ‘It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas, woohoo!’ tomorrow morning. It will probably startle you.”  (Early Warning System, 2015)

***

“Mommy, whenever you’re not with me, I want you. I want to be with you all the time. At night when I’m sleeping, or when I’m cuddling—I always want you! Or else…I want candy.” (The Birthday Girl Tells It Like It Is, 2006)

***

Me: Hey, looks like someone forgot to sweep up the dust pile.
Rose: Wasn’t me. I never sweep.                     (Exonerated, 2014)

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Huck: “I bet all the kids with this coloring book are doing this with their moms right now, too.”

(Yes, I melted.)   (Huckisms, 2015)

***

Meanwhile, Scott’s been sending me old photos from a cache he found. Mah babies! Funny and cute.

For Science

May 23, 2019 @ 7:44 am | Filed under:

She may be thirteen now, but the puppydog eyes retain all their power

Yesterday I got on a housecleaning jag and without really meaning to, I found myself going full-throttle A Bowl Full of Lemons on the basement and laundry room. Except: as I told Scott later, during the laundry-room deep-clean I faced my most difficult parenting challenge yet. In nearly 24 years as a mother, I’ve never been put to the test quite like this.

Our laundry room is in the (finished) basement and has one small high-up window. When we moved in, the house had been professionally cleaned and was immaculate except for a spiderweb in that particular window—a large web, quite old, thickened with lint and age into a heavy cobweb the size of a saucer. No sign of a spider—the original webspinner was probably long gone—but we left the web just in case. Nearly two years and seven million loads of laundry later, the cobweb is the size of a cloth napkin. There’s no spider. There never was, not in our time.

But when Rilla saw me on a stool, vacuum hose in hand, she begged me to spare the cobweb.

I’d just finished hoovering up every speck of dust and lint from the rest of the room and I was all set to decobwebify that window. And wash it, even!

But Rilla implored. “For science!” Heh, she knows my weak spots.

So I gritted my teeth and left it. For now, I said ominously. She grinned, unfazed by my direful tone.

When Scott came home later, I told him the story.

“So you left it there?” he asked. “WHEW. That thing is cool.”

“That thing is the size of a wedding veil.”

“Like I said. Cool.”

Well, he does all the laundry, so I guess if he wants a year-round Halloween theme, he can have it.

(For the record, if I believed that old circus tent was still the home of a spider, I wouldn’t have needed any persuasion to leave it alone. No Aunt Sponge or Aunt Spiker here.)