Happy book birthday to Truckus Maximus! Congrats Scott Peterson and José García!
Happy book birthday to Truckus Maximus! Congrats Scott Peterson and José García!
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.
Thanks to the incisive probing of the crushing power of spectacle via a focus on the game and its toll on the drivers, the story evokes oppressive regimes. The gritty artwork overflows with frenetic action, using colors that evoke a dystopian world. Ample use of close-ups, irregular panel layouts, and other techniques sharpen the story’s emotional resonance and stakes…A truly marvelous tribute to underdogs. (Graphic fantasy. 12-18)
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.”
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 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?
What times are these
When to write a poem about love
Is almost a crime
Because it contains
So many silences
About so many horrors….
(His reworking of Bertolt Brecht’s “What times are these when to talk about trees is almost a crime because it implies silence about so many horrors?”)
Strive to change the world in such a way that there’s no further need to be a dissident.
Don’t let it be said of you that sluggish imagination drowned out the slush of your heart.
Don’t hew stones. Dip into the sea for poetry, every poem a live fish.
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!
(Am I capable of being quick? Probably not.)
1—I took some time this month to assess the ways I’m using social media and other online activities—and that was before I began reading Cal Newport’s excellent book Digital Minimalism, which hit my Kindle a couple of days ago. Highly recommended; I’ll be asking my older kids to read it, for sure. I’m going to be changing the way I use several platforms, but that topic will have to wait for later because I can’t possibly be quick about it. But one fruit of my contemplations has been an idea for a change I’m making at my Patreon. Short version: starting tomorrow, subscribers at the $3+ tier are invited to join me for a weekly live chat via Google Hangouts. Before, I was offering a monthly recorded live chat; this new thing is weekly and unrecorded. You can read more about it here (it’s a public post; you needn’t be a Patreon subscriber to read it). Think of it as an invitation to drop by my studio for a gabfest once a week. (Starting tomorrow, March 1, at 1pm Pacific time.)
2—My friend Julianna Baggott has launched a six-week audio course on Efficient Creativity. You can listen to the first episode for free; the full course runs $25 (the price of a hardcover, Julianna points out). Julianna’s the most efficiently creative (and creatively efficient) person I know, and she’s endlessly engaging to boot, so I’m really excited to listen to this course.
3—I’ve just started three different sentences and scrapped them because they aren’t quick topics. Argh, this is always my problem! I’m forever trying to fit a novel into the space of a haiku (figuratively speaking). All right, never mind. Here, I’ll just say what else I’m reading. (When in doubt, etc etc.)
• lots of poetry, especially books by Olav Hauge (forever grateful to Holly Wren Spaulding for introducing me to him), Basho, T’ao Ch’ien, Maxine Kumin, Kimiko Hahn, Rachel Zucker, Nayyirah Waheed, Danez Smith, and Julia Hartwig (with regular doses of Mary Oliver and Billy Collins because OBVIOUSLY)—and yes, that’s a good many books, but that’s what’s nice about poetry; you can dip in and out. These days, I’m mostly in.
• When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams—I will have to circle back to this in a future post, because it is blowing me away.
• The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett—readaloud to Huck and Rilla
• also In the Beginning by Virginia Hamilton (collection of creation myths from various cultures)
• The Haunting of Hill House because it finally came in at the library, but then so did Digital Minimalism and I’ve been ignoring Hill House for a few days.
How about you? What are YOU reading?
A WordPress update caused some hiccups for me yesterday and I broke my whopping two-day posting streak. The noive!
Ah well, here I am on a Thursday afternoon, finishing up my last BraveWriter Arrow of the year. I think that makes a total of 17 Arrows I’ve written in the past two years. Wow, it’s a lot when I add them all up! This one’s on By the Great Horn Spoon, a most beloved novel in the Wiley-Peterson household. I just revisited the old post in that link—written FOURTEEN years ago, can you believe it?—and am sitting here cracking up at poor little four-year-old Beanie:
It’s been a rough morning. Our wagon tipped over while fording a river, and we lost fifty pounds of salt pork and our only shotgun. Then Rose took sick—cholera, we think—and died before we could do anything about it.
My girls are undaunted by this stunning double tragedy. They push on across the prairie, estimating the number of miles to the next fort. Maybe we can trade our mule for a new gun.
“At least we still have the fishing pole,” says Rose. She seems to have accepted her own death gracefully.
“I don’t like wattlesnakes,” announces Beanie.
Jane cracks up. “Who does? Remember when I got bit, back before we crossed the Platte?”
Of course now I’m remembering our actual in-real-life wattlesnake (or racklenake, depending which of my toddlers you asked) encounters. We’ve had more than our share!
Then something will happen to remind me why I don’t go hiking more often, like OH SAY A RATTLESNAKE WILL APPEAR ON THE TRAIL THREE FEET FROM MY CHILDREN.
Rose and Beanie spotted him at the same time—they were in the lead, fortunately; they’re sharp-eyed lasses and I was distracted by a hot, red-faced, cranky Huck. If this had been the part of the trail where Huck suddenly charged ahead and we larger folk had to scramble to catch up, he’d have been on that snake before any of us saw it. It was lying quite still at first, stretched out across our path. Rose had just enough time to ask “Is it real?” before it twitched, and I took in the triangular head and the rattle and hollered EVERYONE BACK UP IT’S A RATTLER GRAB THE LITTLE ONES!! (I used more exclamation points.)
We edged back a yard and stood watching it. Huck, who’d been begging me to carry him, now clamored to be put down. Not a chance, pal. The rest of us were still and silent. After a long moment, the snake began to move; it slid across the trail into the underbrush.
“This is the best thing that EVER HAPPENED TO ME,” Rose declared.
August, 2012 (you’ll note Beanie’s shift to a more wattlesnake-inclusive position):
“I adore rattlers,” said Beanie.
The firemen raised their eyebrows. “Well, maybe don’t adore them,” one said.
“From a distance,” said another.
“Me don’t like racklenakes,” announced Huck.
“ME EITHER,” declared his big brother in the firmest of tones.
ME EITHER, reiterates their poor mother, all these years later. Neither the wattlers nor the racklers. Nor, for that matter, the rubber kind, which have given me no less than seventy minor heart attacks over the years.