Archive for the ‘Assorted and Sundry’ Category
Mostly tell. Because:
I remember how, as a kid, I used to come home from the library with a stack of books—as many as I could haul home on my bike—and then find it impossible to decide which book to read first. I’d spread them out, flipping through this one and reading a page or two of that one, feeling the torment of indecision sweep over me, paralyzed by all the enticing options.
I’m fifty now, and nothing has changed.
Which book to read next? Which book to write next? Which stitch to try in my embroidery project? Which color? Or maybe I’d rather sketch. Paint. Take a walk. Take a photo! Write a blog post. Water the plants. Fill the bird feeders. Read a book. Oh no, which book??
This hits me hardest on Sundays, when I have a little free time. I often have to start the day by making a list of all the lovely things I could do. It’s funny, though—I can power through a to-do list like nobody’s business, but a fun list? Let me just sit here for an hour, doodling in the margins as I try to decide.
Example: I went to the Portland Book Festival yesterday and had a splendid time. I’m bubbling over with tidbits to share, but when I sat down to begin, I fell into the old needs-to-be-an-organized-well-crafted-post trap. Organized writing takes time! I often think: I’ll save this topic until I can do a proper job with it. Turns out that’s a death sentence for most topics.
Then it struck me that when I read AV Club recaps of a show I’m watching, my favorite part is always the list of bullet-pointed “stray observations” at the end. (In fact, I usually huff with irritation as I read the main body of the post, because so often the reviews seem to be grumpy takes on how the episode could have been better if only it were an entirely different episode, and possibly a different show. But the “stray observations” tend to celebrate memorable moments, and that’s what I’m there for!)
All right, stray observations—that’s an attainable goal. 🙂
• There are a lot of really great independent bookstores in Portland, and I need to visit more of them.
• Had lunch with Kortney and Tonia, and I need way more time with them too!
• Had a very interesting chat with Sue Campbell of Pages and Platforms about book launch strategies. She winced when I admitted that yes, I do have a mailing list, but I haven’t sent out a newsletter since 2015. Um. Yeah. Sounds like I need to bump Project Revive My Bookletter higher on the list.
• (Ugh, you guys, promoting your own work is the worst part of being a writer. I can happily, eagerly talk about other writers’ books until I’m blue in the face! But my own? OH THE PAIN.)
• (Having said that, I am pretty doggone excited to do the cover reveal for my new novel. December 2nd! It’s getting close! The cover is sooo great. I squealed pretty hard when I saw it. You’ll see.)
• I got a demo of a manuscript-writing app called Shaxpir that surprised me by knocking my socks off! It has some features similar to Scrivener (which is what I’ve used for my last two novels) but with a cleaner, better-for-me interface and some extremely nifty tools to clue you in to patterns in your writing. I’m just finishing a trial of Ulysses, another kind of writing/publishing software which has some features I like very much indeed, but I think I might like Shaxpir better. The two platforms are really quite different. Stay tuned for a report. Also: how fabulous is this logo?
• (I’ll always love Scrivener for the corkboard with movable index cards, though. I love moving scenes around on that thing!)
• Shaxpir has a related website called Prosecraft: Linguistics for Literature. If you’re a word nerd, you’re in for some serious fun.
• I enjoyed a chat with the publisher of Two Lines Press, which publishes “exceptional new writing and overlooked classics that have not previously been published in English.” Their list looks amazing. Books from all over the world. I started enthusing about a recent episode of Commonplace Podcast in which Rachel Zucker’s interview of Jennifer Croft knocked my socks off—Jennifer is the English translator of Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and the author of a novel-memoir called Homesick—and it turned out the Two Lines publisher is close friends with Jennifer. Such a fun conversation. Naturally I jumped on Edelweiss as soon as I got home and requested a review copy of That We May Live, a collection of Chinese speculative fiction stories. Stay tuned!
• When I’m at a downtown event, I love to walk across one of the bridges toward home and let Scott pick me up on the east side. Easier drive for him and a beautiful walk for me. I left the festival and reached the Hawthorne Bridge just in time to see the riverfront lights pour themselves into the water. Magical.
Looking back toward the west side
School started back up for Wonderboy last week, and his earlier bus pick-up time this year means a new morning routine for several of us. I’ve pushed my own wake-up time from 6 to 5:30 to give myself a full hour for my daily creative practice before my boys get up. This is a bit too early for comfort, but I cherish that quiet morning time with poetry, cocoa, and my notebook. My studio window faces east, so I get to watch the sun seep upward from the neighbor’s roof into the clouds, like rose and apricot-colored watercolors blooming on wet paper. There’s a pair of trees over the back fence whose combined shape looks like a hedgehog in profile with its paw raised to its open mouth as if it’s calling out to the sun, singing it awake.
It always makes me think of the hedgehog in Watership Down, only that one is singing to the moon, not the sun: O Slug-a-Moon!
I read from books of poems for a while—currently Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumathathil and Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo, along with daily selections from Holly Wren Spaulding’s poetry challenge or her Patreon. After a bit (and as my special caffeinated hot chocolate kicks in), reading becomes writing, and I freewrite to one of Holly’s provocations or using the method Lynda Barry lays out in her indispensable book about writing, What It Is. These scrawled pages are rough, unfiltered, as freewrites are supposed to be; and then I reread and harvest a word here, a fragment there, arranging the raw phrases into drafts of poems.
Sometimes I wake so early that I have time to stitch or sketch while listening to a few minutes of a Commonplace Pod episode before the boys appear in my doorway. Wonderboy eats breakfast and Huck snuggles into my writing chair for a bit. Scott gets up to pack WB’s lunch. Huck moseys down to the basement to watch a video. I take a peek at Instagram, maybe share a stitch-diary photo in my Stories. The bus arrives. Scott reads in bed for a while. I turn on my laptop and open a tab to WordPress or Patreon. I congratulate the green hedgehog on successfully waking the sun for one more day.
I’m sleep-deprived but happy.
Speaking of my Patreon: I’ve restructured the tiers with new benefits for fall. I mentioned last week that I’m giddily immersed in a new creative project which combines hand-drawn embroidered pieces with poems. I’m documenting the process on Patreon with lots of sketchbook and work-in-progress peeks. I usually wait until a project is out in the world before I say much about it, so this is quite a departure for me—as is the project itself.
The other day at a singing party, a poet friend mentioned that she feels like fall is the beginning of the new year, not January 1st. Because of ingrained back-to-school associations, we agreed, but also—the brisk air rising in your lungs, quickening your pace; the freshened world beckoning you back after the air-conditioned hibernation of summer. I feel it today, the sense of beginnings: the yellow buses bustling along the narrow streets, fifty-cent composition books at the drugstore, apples red and ready on my neighbor’s tree. When does an apple’s life begin? Seed, blossom, first sweet bite?
I spent August stitching, mostly—finishing embroidery projects begun earlier in the year, then feverishly needling a cross-stitch lion for Rose’s 21st birthday, and then this past week, at a pace both leisurely and obsessive, working my way through Rebecca Ringquist’s Stitch-a-Day Sampler class on Creativebug (affiliate link). I’d noticed on Instagram that she was having a seconds sale on some of her Dropcloth Samplers, so I snapped up a Drawing Stitches sampler for five dollars and commenced using up the shortish strands of floss left from other projects. And fell in love with filling stitches: battlement, cloud, brick and cross, trellis.
As I stitched, a project shaped itself in my mind: a series of small pieces on a particular theme—too new to say more about, and it’s going to stretch my drawing skills past their comfort zone, but (like Lottie in Enchanted April, which I watched for the umpteenth time one Saturday as I stitched) I see it. It’s strange and exhilarating to have a creative vision fall from the tree fully-formed like a ripe apple—that’s not at all how writing a book works, where I have to card and spin the thread before I can stitch a row of words together.
I had everything I needed for this project on hand, except the right fabric. I’ve borrowed Sarah Benning‘s trick of using old, raggedy bedsheets for embroidery pieces, but the green one in my scrap pile isn’t quite right for what I mean to do. I was planning to scour some thrift shops when an unexpected treasure fell into my lap from Nextdoor—a neighbor three streets over offering a giveaway bag of linen and cotton scraps left from sewing projects. “Most pieces around six by six inches,” her notice read, and I gasped. Astonishingly, the next ad down—same neighbor!—was for free river rock. She has a few beds of stones she wants to replace, and she encouraged neighbors to come by and fill a bucket or barrow. I say “astonishingly” because that very morning I’d collected two or three smooth stones from around our yard and given them to Huck in a pan of soapy water to be washed and then painted in bright colors for edging our flowerbeds. If you happen upon any more stones like this in the yard, I’d told him, grab them for me because I need lots.
Now, thanks to this generous neighbor, I do have lots, a pail full, so our winter garden will be as bright as our spring, summer, fall. And in my studio there’s a bag of linen, blue, brown, cream, white, in strips and squares and odd shapes left by sleeves or pant legs. Even a few pockets, stitched, cut away, discarded, rediscovered and bulging with possibility. Happy new year, indeed.
I’ve found it suits me better not to announce or necessarily even plan my occasional breaks from social media, but rather to let them happen organically and reflect on them afterward. This one wasn’t a total break, since I did post snippets to IG Stories almost daily, and I spent a little more time on Twitter than usual. (Which still isn’t much. I have to take Twitter in carefully timed microdoses these days.) But for two weeks, no Instagram grid posts, no captions, no FB, no Bonny Glen, and I put my Patreon on pause for the month of August.
None of this (except the Patreon pause) was planned; I was just busy elsewhere. WB had surgery at the end of July (went well, good recovery); Jane moved home from California around the same time. This weekend we celebrated Rose’s 21st birthday. (!) In between: work, long walks, a book or two, lots of embroidery. A small party where I found ‘my’ karaoke song (i.e. one I can nail). Or maybe that was before the surgery; late July and early August melted into each other.
I took Holly Wren Spaulding’s free mini poetry challenge this past week and welcomed her infusion of gentle insight into my morning creative practice, a practice which continues to be the most satisfying and nourishing gift I can give myself: this quiet, screen-free dawn hour, alone with a few good poems, a notebook, a fresh pen. I spent a lot of time with Kimiko Hahn this summer—Mosquito and Ant; Toxic Flora; Narrow Road to the Interior. Also a lot of Japanese haiku in translation. Huck wakes during the end of my writing time and staggers sleepily into my studio to snuggle into the gray armchair with me, tucked under our poppy blanket. We read poems and watch the sky change. Even when I’m tired, it’s delicious.
I also spent a lot of time in the garden, enjoying the late-summer lushness! Hummingbirds in the hyssop; bees industrious in the fennel and coneflower. A few tiny strawberries, a handful of cherry tomatoes. Asters spangling the porch wall with blue stars. A strange crow with a coppery head raiding the suet feeder each morning. My neighbor’s asparagus bed now a forest: airy green treetops festooned with apple-red berries. An abundance of small noticings. A necessary quiet.
June and July were mighty full months for me & my gang. I hardly ever travel, but this summer I’ve made three separate trips! The Brave Writer
staff retreat in Ohio (I’ll be teaching two sessions of Comic Strip Capers
this fall); a big family wedding in Virginia Beach; Lynda Barry’s Writing the Unthinkable workshop
; and then back to Ohio for the Brave Learner Conference, where I was part of a panel with Julie Bogart, her mother Karen O’Connor, and Dottie of enchanted art table fame! AND THEN, back here at home, we wrapped up July with a long-anticipated event: a (minor) spinal surgery for the 15yo. (It went swimmingly and he’s recovering well.) And in the snippet of time between the conference and the surgery, Scott drove to San Luis Obispo to move Jane to Portland. She had an Americorps position at the university that wrapped up last month, and now she’s HERE. All my chicks back in the nest for a while. Color this mama hen very happy.
As for me, I spent the days between conference and surgery on a housecleaning spree. (Channeling Mrs. Ray expecting Betsy or Julia home from a trip, you know.) I get organization frenzy every summer. And my poor garden, oof, after two months of neglect it needed some serious TLC. When it’s too hot to clean or garden, I’ve been embroidering a lot, catching up on Cozy Blue Stitch Club projects.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to look at my grid today and realize it’s been a week since I posted? I’ve shared tons in my Stories, so it didn’t feel like that much time had passed. But it has! I had hoped to take a little down time in August, but I’m seeing that wasn’t entirely realistic. The multiple trips left me feeling like I could use a vacation, but now I gotta catch up from the trips! Fortunately I love my work. 😄
How about you? Enjoying a low-key summer, or suddenly feeling like fall is peering at you through the window?
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!
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?
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 Writing; daily 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?
It’s Saturday morning and I’m lazing in bed, drinking cocoa and dipping lightly into social media, which I mostly ignored this week. Saturdays are the only mornings my alarm isn’t set for 5:45. I could sleep later on weekdays but my two boys get up around 6:45 and I really love having that quiet hour to read and write. I’m committed to the practice of poetry before screens, even if some days it’s a bit of a wrench to drag myself out of bed that early. This week was extra challenging because I take allergy medicine at bedtime, and its soporific effects last into the morning. Portland’s spring is spectacularly lovely but it also wants to kill me a little.
I could take the meds earlier but I’m equally time-greedy about my evenings. I try to use 7-9pm as another block for creative work, with a break in the middle to go tuck in my Huckleberry, for whom this is still an important ritual. (My last little kid, y’all…Rilla became a teenager this month. Can you believe it?) Then Scott and I watch an hour of TV, and then I read in bed for a while, where “read” means “hold my Kindle in front of unseeing eyes until Scott gently removes it from my hand.” Often I turn on the Kindle next morning to discover I highlighted random phrases as I dozed off, like:
tics. The simple action of sweeping
Norman was unaffected by her because
Uh, super helpful there, sleepy Lissa.
I learned last summer that as our Pacific Northwest evenings lengthen, I won’t be able to resist that magical golden-hour light, so the 7-9pm time block for creative work will give way to long walks, and I’ll have to find other ways to create room for playing with color and words. Of course in a way my whole day revolves around those activities: reading to and chatting with the kids, doing art projects together, working on various writing projects in the afternoons. But I’ve learned I need to give myself chunks of time for creative play that has no end-purpose—no deadlines, no expectations to meet. Lately I’ve been enjoying drawing houseplants—on index cards, mostly, because that’s the ultimate low-pressure canvas—or doing Procreate tutorials on the iPad. (I’m trying to catch up to Rilla and Beanie. Their Procreate skills far surpass mine.)
Not that I have any wish to hurry spring along! I could linger here for another three or four months. My bitterroot is just beginning to bloom, and the dogwoods are in full glory. I remember last May as a month full of swoons—the light, mostly, that miraculous glow illuminating the clouds every evening, turning the air blue and gold.
I may be getting carried away with photos—I have hundreds like this from last spring.
Some quick notes on things we read this past week:
—Began a readaloud of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a lovely novel by Grace Lin. I wrote a BraveWriter Arrow guide for this book last year; it was one of my favorites from the year’s lineup. I’ve been looking forward all year to enjoying it with Huck and Rilla.
—Continued our nostalgia-read of Brambly Hedge. It’s slow going because Rilla and I have to spend long minutes cooing over every tiny detail in the art.
—Rilla (my resident green thumb) and I have also spend loads of time poring over my treasured-since-college copy of Crockett’s Indoor Garden. Rilla has taken charge of the houseplant-watering schedule, which is marvelous since I’ve been…unreliable on that front these past two years. My goldfish plant is getting ready to bloom, we repotted the aeschynanthus, Rilla’s jade cutting, and a few other overcrowded treasures. Rilla has a small succulent collection that began with cuttings given to her by a neighbor whose cat she looked after for a week last summer, augmented by plants harvested from a beautiful succulent wreath my sister gave me for Christmas. And this week we inherited a large fennel volunteer that was taking over my friend Ron’s vegetable bed. Trying to decide whether to plant it in a pot or in the small raised garden bed out back. The latter was probably sundrenched when it was built, but now the neighbor’s magnolia is leaning over it, casting heavy shade over the bed for much of the day. Our fennel will probably prefer a spot on the sunny front steps.
My parents gave Rilla a big box of flower bulbs for her birthday (thirteen! did I mention?!)—dahlias, daylilies, glads, and I forget what else. So those will be going into pots this weekend. Luckily we inherited a dozen large clay pots from yet another neighbor who was clearing out her garage before a move. And a big bag of potting soil! Such riches!
My rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and chives survived the winter. The basil, not so much. (Its demise was expected.) The potted blueberry has buds and there’s a nice fat poppy coming up where I planned to repot the dahlia tuber Ron gave me when we moved in. My yarrow is looking lush and the foxglove has gone bananas! No flower stalks yet but the leaves are huge and abundant. And my tulips, oh! I can’t get enough of them.
But I’m supposed to be writing booknotes here! Apart from things I enjoyed with the kids, I didn’t get much reading done this week—I had an unusual number of out-of-the-house events in the evenings. I’m enjoying Austin Kleon’s latest, though—Keep Going. Come to think of it, I read that one with the kids as well—they love his artwork.
I’m about halfway through Mike Monteiro’s Ruined By Design, which is thought-provoking and somewhat chilling.
The world is working exactly as designed.
The combustion engine which is destroying our planet’s atmosphere and rapidly making it inhospitable is working exactly as we designed it. Guns, which lead to so much death, work exactly as they’re designed to work. And every time we “improve” their design, they get better at killing….
Design is also a craft with a lot of blood on its hands. Every cigarette ad is on us. Every gun is on us. Every ballot that a voter cannot understand is on us. Every time social network’s interface allows a stalker to find their victim, that’s on us. The monsters we unleash into the world will carry your name.
This book will make you see that design is a political act. What we choose to design is a political act. Who we choose to work for is a political act. Who we choose to work with is a political act. And, most importantly, the people we’ve excluded from these decisions is the biggest (and stupidest) political act we’ve made as a society.
Fascinating and unsettling, and it feels like an important conversation for this moment in time.
Today I’m in the mood for some entertaining fiction—maybe another Terry Pratchett since I so enjoyed The Wee Free Men. My only highlight in the Kindle edition: “an egg’s worth of education.” I read it aloud to the kids so that fragment can’t have been the thunk of a sleeping hand on the screen. I guess I just liked the notion! (Tiffany barters eggs for knowledge when the scholars come to town.)
This week on Medium I shared a peek at how I used a Trello board to help with my novel revision. And squee—the most exciting moment of my week—my editor sent me the cover sketch for my new book and it’s fabulous! I can’t wait to share it. The artist is brilliant and the sketch just crackles with energy. I’m so happy. I think we’ll have final art for it quite soon. Of course the book doesn’t pub until summer 2020, but seeing the title in print makes it feel very real!
Happy last-weekend-in-April, my dears. I’d love to hear what you’re reading and planting!