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
October 31, 2019 @ 8:53 am | Filed under: Family
Our first Portland Halloween, 2017
As I type, there’s a bustle of creative activity outside my door: Rilla and Huck at work on their costumes, which have been planned for months and in progress for weeks, and for which there is still much to do before tonight’s fun. Yesterday there was a pile of beading wire, aluminum foil, and masking tape on the dinner table; today it’s an antler crown. Rilla has intense requirements for her Artemis costume. Huck is less exacting about his Apollo costume, but his sister has a vision and he’s content to roll with it.
Both immortals needed a quiver for arrows, I was told. I wondered if we could do something with a small poster tube—maybe Jane (a crochet whiz) could whip up a carrier of sorts? I blinked, and there it was: Jane really is a kind of wizard. Two custom-made quivers with straps, all done in yarn that glitters. Blue and silver for Artemis, gold for Apollo.
We went out to the side yard, where bamboo has climbed under our neighbor’s fence, and cut several long, thin stalks from which to make bows and arrows. Rilla had a handmedown blouse from the neighbor on the other side—my kids are her dogwalkers—that will serve nicely as a toga (worn over warm layers because it’s coooold here), and I clipped the corners off an old white pillowcase for Huck.
We had some leafy vines in the Christmas bin which are being repurposed as Apollo’s laurel crown and quiver decorations for Artemis. Toga, crown, bow and arrows…I forget what else they’re cooking up!
One thing I’ve learned after all these years of homeschooling is that Halloween week is all about costume creation. Gotta level up those glue-gun skills!
grainy party photo of happy party faces
photo by Jenny Wills
The news that Yahoo is deleting all the old Yahoogroups archives has rattled me a bit. It’s not a surprising decision, and I had no plans to dive back into those old threads and revisit all the things we said to each other when the internet was new; but there’s no small amount of dismay in the thought that all that history will blip away forever.
I was active on the internet for ten years before I started my blog. First: AOL boards—now all gone. Then: private listservs—now mostly wiped. Then: Yahoogroups—soon to be disappeared.
For the next ten years (2005-2015ish), I archived my own thought on this blog. If I made a contribution to the Great Conversation, I brought it back here and developed it. If I had a good idea, I recorded it here. And of course there were the booknotes, the kid quips.
Even after social media altered the pattern of blog discourse (comments happening on FB threads instead of in the comment box here), I stubbornly maintained my daily chronicle for quite a long time. It was work demands that crowded it out, eventually. I took on a lot of grantwriting work and boy did that dry up the blog! Ever since, I’ve struggled to find time after paying work for my own creative practice.
I have certain hacks that work very well for me, like the stitching habit I posted about yesterday. My morning poetry reading/writing time is probably my favorite part of the day. I sketch almost every day, sloppily, often as a transition to paying work. I set Downtime limits on my phone and religiously pick up my Kindle at night—the only screen I’ll allow. When I’m obeying my own rules, you know.
So the creative work does happen. (I don’t like my terms here: all my work is creative. The distinction is between creative practice—work I do for my personal projects, things that aren’t under contract and may never be, as well as books sold on proposal, when that applies—and work that pays my bills. When I say “creative work” I mean work I do that isn’t contributing to next month’s living expenses, but which I find fulfilling in other ways. Important ways!)
The creative work happens, and I get excited and post about it on Instagram. Instagram! Which could also go poof someday, like other platforms we thought would last forever.
Yesterday I had to laugh at myself. I’d written that post about my Dropcloth sampler—wrote it in Slack and posted in on Instagram. Got annoyed with myself: it was a blog post! Why’d I give it to IG? Toyed a moment with the idea of just crossposting everything I share on IG to this blog, so I’ll have the archive at least (but how annoying for friends who follow me in both places). Thought: there’s gotta be an easy way to make that happen, an IFTTT applet or something. Opened IFTTT and remembered I’d already done it. I activated an Instagram-to-Wordpress app MONTHS ago. I set it to save the blog posts as drafts so I could go in and tweak or expand before publishing. There are dozens and dozens of drafts queued up. All those posts! That’s what made me groan and laugh at myself. What’s the point of a good idea if you forget you had it?
And now some of those drafts are old enough that anyone who saw them on IG will have forgotten them anyway…which means I have dozens of posts ready or nearly ready to share here. I’m going to try! If I forget, remind me, will you?
This post I’ve just written has nothing to do with the photos at the top. But they were the ones sitting at the front of the draft queue. So here they are, stuck in my own personal album! I went to a Halloween party with my crowd of singing friends (or singing crowd of friends?). Didn’t get a pic of my striped Pippi socks, but you’ve seen them in my witch costumes of years past. I’m always a last-minute costume assembler. We sang a lot of karaoke—that’s been one of the most amusing developments of my life in Portland: the necessity of having a couple of karaoke tunes in my pocket. (Current standbys: “The Show” by Lenka, “Stay” by Lisa Loeb, and “They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman. At the party on Saturday I felt brave and sang 99 Luftballons in German. An actual party trick!)
It amuses me to think of posts that have little or nothing to do with the formerly-Instagrammed photo stuck at the top. The scattershot approach may be my best bet at recording the multitude of things I’m, for whatever reason, driven to record.
I like to use up all my spare bits of floss from other projects on this Dropcloth sampler. It’s one of several hoops that live in a basket beside my writing chair. I pick it up often to occupy my hands when I need to think about the work for a minute. I have magnets stuck to a tin candle jar that sits on a shelf in arm’s reach, and whenever I have a long tail of floss left in the needle after finishing a section of another project, I stick the needle to one of the magnets. That way it’s easy to grab one when I hit a tricky spot in whatever I’m writing. This red-stripe sampler has accompanied me for months—through the final revision of my novel, a slew of Brave Writer Arrow literature guides, a dozen poem drafts, and any number of posts. It’s my mental scratch pad! Every stitch represents a moment NOT spent scrolling a feed and killing my flow.
I think what I love most about this practice is that each bit of thread is tied to concrete experiences. I can glance at a row and recognize the color I was using up from another stitching project—oh look, it’s that flower petal!—and the work I was puzzling over when I added stitches to the row. It’s a kind of coded journal. Unintentionally, serendipitously. Turns out my best writing hack was a total accident. The happiest kind!
October 25, 2019 @ 7:57 am | Filed under: Photos
This flashback turned up in my FB memories today. Color me melted.
October 15, 2019 @ 7:47 am | Filed under: Books
Happy book birthday to Truckus Maximus! Congrats Scott Peterson and José García!
I’ve spent three years groping for ways to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. We’re trained to be polite & avoid saying things that might cause loved ones to feel embarrassed or defensive. I’ve searched and searched for a way to address volatile topics respectfully.
Recently I encountered the following poem via Holly Wren Spaulding’s Patreon, and I was struck to the core by its opening lines, which express exactly what I’ve struggled and failed to find words for:
What etiquette holds us back
from more intimate speech,
especially now, at the end of the world?
Can’t we begin a conversation
then gradually move it inside?
from saying things outright?
Yet we speak of other things.
Our words should cauterize
all wounds to the truth.
Yes. It’s a strange and twisted form of etiquette that prevents us from blunt honesty—a luxury, really, a kind of courtesy that can only be employed by people in a place of relative privilege. The closer the threat, the more urgent the need to speak out. Those of us who are reading about atrocities instead of experiencing them directly have the luxury of choice. Do we speak out, knowing it will upset people we care about? Make for some awkward gatherings? Cause friends to unfriend us?
Those are pretty low stakes, really. Yet that strange etiquette constrains us.
We have to be strong enough to speak. I don’t even mean “speak out”–I mean just plain *speak*. Have the hard conversations. Ask the earnest questions. Probe our own biases. Examine our motives. Interrogate our assumptions.
Here in this vestibule which is the only place I have daily contact with so many of you—if these algorithmed-half-to-death exchanges can be considered “contact”—I want to say things outright.
I want to say: If your values are conservative, how can you possibly support this administration? Why am I not seeing you cry out in the same way your liberal friends and relatives are crying out? Why are you not denouncing obstruction of justice, emoluments violations, executive overreach, and inflammatory rally rhetoric? Why are you not pressing your electeds to investigate misdeeds and corruption? Why do you trust Sean Hannity more than your own loved ones? Where are your voices on behalf of the vulnerable?
Just because I’m sometimes too cowardly to speak these questions out loud doesn’t mean I’m not always, always thinking them. Wanting to shout them.
My cowardice has to do with how I might make you feel. That’s a strange etiquette, indeed. An etiquette that allows corruption to flourish. People are dying today because we’ve been politely speaking of other things, or nothing at all.
Someone took my week and replaced it with a millisecond. To be fair, Michael’s did try to warn me: Halloween decorations on sale in August. Is it Christmas there yet? My nasturtiums still believe it’s summer, but the poppies know the truth.
A poem-of-sorts I shared on Medium last week: Advice to Writers: Always Leave
Always leave thread in the needle and the sentence half-written.
The plunge into chill water is the hardest part, so leave the burner on, the hot tap running.
Don’t let ink sit in the pen for too long — it clogs the nib. You’ll lose time momentum interest scraping a dry point across your skin until the clot dissolves.
Always leave the iron on. You may return to find useful scorch marks, or with luck ashes you can read like tea leaves.
Fail to secure the lids of your garbage bins. While cleaning up the raccoon rummagings, you may happen upon lost notions or revelatory peelings. Sweep up the spilt verbs and reassemble them into cracked sentences. Smells are the best glue.
Read the rest here.