Sunday night, and I’m trying to think of something to say that isn’t a repeat of things I’ve posted elsewhere this week! I just sent off my weekly Patreon subscriber post—a diary of this week’s reading—and I wrote a longform post for Medium earlier in the week about my progress so far at a shift toward digital minimalism.
(An odd thing about Medium: I knew you could “clap” for posts you like to help boost them, but I thought the clap button was like every other like button on the internet—on or off. But no! You can clap up to 50 times per story.! This is…frustrating. I like to help give a bump to good posts, but I’m not inclined—especially in this minimalism mood!—to sit there mashing a button for several seconds to give maximum applause. At the same time I’m wincing to think of all the times I’ve given just the one clap, unaware it wasn’t a terribly enthusiastic response. Ah well.)
Anyway! That post was fun to write and I plan to follow up with more steps toward streamlining my screen time. One big shift this week that happened after I posted the article was that I ditched my habit trackers. All of them! Seems like I’ve been attempting to track habits or log progress one way or another (on paper, in apps, or both) since way back in early FlyLady days when it was a yahoogroup sending eight emails a day to remind you to drink your water. Sometimes it’s been just a few basic things: did I take my vitamin? did I take a walk today? Other times I’ve had a whole raft of daily trackable activities. Sketch! Read! Duolingo! Stretches! Etc etc etc. And of course I jumped on the Fitbit bandwagon at some point. But it all just suddenly seemed like unnecessary pressure. I read every day, whether I mark an X in a box or not. If I’m not in the mood to sketch, a habit tracker isn’t more likely to make me do it—it’ll just make me feel guilty for not doing it. And step-counting: well, let’s just say I’ve had one too many nights where I’m jogging in place in my pajamas just to get my Fitbit to turn over to a nice round number. (Scott has a particularly sardonic eyebrow lift reserved for these moments. And I’ll be like: “I know! [pant pant] This is ridiculous! [pant] …98…99…8000!”)
So I deleted the tracking app (more digital decluttering, yay) and put my Fitbit on a shelf. And then I went for a long walk, a walk measured in cherry blossoms and tulips, not steps.
My parents were here for Wonderboy’s spring break, and Portland greeted them with an explosion of bloom. Their visit overlapped with the Association of Writing Programs Conference (AWP), which meant I had friends in town and poets I love, and though I didn’t attend the conference proper I found time to slip away to a few offsite events and spent most of Saturday at the book fair, aka heaven. Cherry blossoms, daffodils, good company, blue skies, and poetry at every turn.
Now I’m collecting my thoughts for the final push on my novel revision (two more weeks!) and plugging away at other work. It’s challenging at this time of year. When I’m inside, I want to be outside. The grape hyacinths and euphorbia are in bloom, and camellia and hellebore, and tulips are beginning to open! And tulip magnolias in their glory. Focus, Lissa. Focus.
On Patreon this weekend, I wrote about my weekly meandering through various books of poems and artists’ journals in my morning poetry hour. It’s a while since I’ve explained my Patreon here, so a quick refresher: you can subscribe for as little as $1/month, which grants access to a weekly post about my reading and writing life (including sneak peeks at the book in progress, as it begins to move through the various stages of publishing). At the $3+ tier, you’re invited to join my weekly coffee hour, a casual, chatty, unrecorded Google Hangout where you can pop in and pick my brain about anything you like.
Tomorrow I’m off to Salem for a monthly meeting of folks in the intellectual and developmental disabilities supports community. And then on Wednesday: it’s back to high tide for Huck, Rilla, and me. Another milestone today: it was Beanie’s first day of school—and college! Bean and Rose are taking an oceanography class together. We have a few more months before Beanie officially graduates from our homeschool, and then—gulp—I’ll be down to just two students here in Bonny Glen Academy. Talk about the tides!
Oh Mr. Cuthbert! Oh Mr. Cuthbert! Oh Mr. Cuthbert!
Portland puts on spring the way a five-year-old wakes up from slumber: suddenly, with energy, from zero to sixty. Today’s a chilly, rainy day but we’ve had several days of blue sky, warm sun, and pink fireworks in all the trees. I walked a mile along Klickitat Street yesterday and I had to stop myself from skipping like a Disney princess.
The AWP conference is here in Portland this weekend (perfect timing for this spectacular bloom) and I’m very excited about a couple of events I’m attending. Hint: Rachel Zucker! I’ll report back later in the week.
(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?
note: not a real snake
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!
this one was all too real
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.
A quickie today:
I’ve been getting lots of queries on Instagram about our puzzle boards as seen in the background of the pic, a few posts back, of Huck levitating off the sofa. Katharine asked about them, here, too, and I answered in the comments:
They’re whiteboards! I bought them a zillion years ago from a website called markerboardseconds.com or something like that. Discounted for scratch-and-dent, and man, what a great purchase that has turned out to be. What you’re seeing in the pic above is the backside, which we use constantly for puzzles–that little card table is right next to the big dinner table, so we need to be able to lay out our pieces and move them off the big table when it’s time to eat.
The other side is the whiteboard surface. We use some for homeschooly things, but mostly under watercolor paintings. Again, it’s nice to be able to move the wet paintings off the table to dry. They’re coated with years of spatter at this point.
That old markerboard seconds site seems to have disappeared, but you can find something similar (albeit considerably pricier) at Waldorf suppliers like Lyra, where they are sold as painting boards. And I’ve seen plain brown ones (no whiteboard side) at art supply shops. When I mentioned in yesterday’s post a topic idea about our best homeschooling purchases ever, these markerboards are what sparked the idea. We use them constantly, daily. The U.S. Presidents are listed on the back of one of them—probably permanent now since I think we wrote them out at least five years ago. And there’s a House of Stuart (or Tudor? both, probably) family tree stained into one of them. And then years and years of watercolor backsplash, as you can see in the top photo here. If you need to move a bunch of wet paintings off the dinner table, you can stack the boards up with Legos or blocks to create space between each tier.
Ha, joke’s on me: I carefully mapped out a new morning routine to allow myself a regular, daily (or near daily) blogging time, but here I sit and all the topics I thought I’d tackle have flown clean out of my brain. I mean, yes, I do keep a list of post ideas, but everything on the list right now wants more time (and brain) than I have free at the moment.
—newsletters I like (and actually read)
—books Huck is reading
—our most-beloved picture books that Scott read to the kids between long novels
—the fix-it fair (this one’s been in drafts for months)
—Chronologically LOST (much to say about this!!)
—my best homeschooling purchases ever (things we’ve used over and over)
—booknotes, especially about the poetry binge I’ve been on
—online art classes/sketchbook update
—recent handwork projects
…and that’s only one of my lists. All too time-intensive for this brief morning window.
Anything in particular you’d like to chat about?
Facebook flashback from this day in 2015:
Forget left brain/right brain. The two halves of my mind are the part with the foresight to stock up on extra cartridges for the 11yo’s beloved labelmaker, and the part with no earthly idea where I stashed ’em.
Still checks out!
This is what’s happening while I’m reading aloud, in case you were wondering
I called for Huck and Rilla to join me for lesson time, and Huck yelled back that he was almost done reading Matilda, would it be all right if he finished? I said OF COURSE I’m not going to yank someone away from the last few pages of Matilda. Rilla laughed and asked her brother, “Who do you think you’re talking to? This is Mom, not Miss Trunchbull.”
During lessons, we were revisiting last week’s history reading about the sack of Carthage. We’d read that when Rome and Carthage were eyeing each other leading into the first Punic War, the Romans—who had no fleet at that point—found a Carthaginian shipwreck and used it as the model to build their own boats. Rilla, pondering the second Punic War which resulted in Rome’s eventual victory over Carthage, despite Hannibal and his elephant strategy, wondered aloud what it would be like to be the captain of that wrecked ship that served as Rome’s model—to know (if you had survived the shipwreck) that your personal tragedy led to the destruction of your whole city. Huck’s eyes at this notion: big as Tiffany Aching’s soup plates.
I can speculate with near certainty that my older children, reading this, will now have the Clouds song from Snoopy: The Musical stuck in their ears. Anyone else out there unable to hear “the sack of Carthage” without the immediate followup of “and the Army-Navy game”?
That Snoopy link goes to a post I wrote in (gasp) March, 2005. And I’m laughing now because some things never change. My kids and I, we’ve had this moment before. Different batch of kids, different moment in Roman history, but:
For our family, this is a song of reciprocal delights. Some of these cloud-tableaux are historical events the girls already knew about, and the idea of Snoopy beholding an entire war sculpted in cumulus is irresistibly funny. Some events are things my kids first encountered in the song. When, years later, we read about the Rubicon in A Child’s History of the World, there were gasps of delighted recognition from everyone including the then-two-year-old. Click, another connection is made.
Of course you know I’m now lost in my own archives. The post just before that Snoopy one:
At the girls’ gym class the other day, someone’s baby dropped a pacifier. Wonderboy picked it up and regarded it studiously. Then he tried to stick it in his ear. He must have thought it was a hearing aid.
Excuse me while I dissolve into a puddle now!
We spotted the first crocuses of the year this week!
This is the first week in ages and ages when I had just a normal workload, not a bananas one. And I felt a bit like a cat in winter, prowling the house trying all the doors but balking at walking through any of them. Last weekend I had actual free time and no idea what to do with it—or rather, too many ideas, a bewildering array of options and a seeming inability to commit to any of them.
(I used to be like this as a kid whenever I came home from the library with a pile of books. Couldn’t pick which to read first, and sometimes it would take me days to make the choice and commit.)
What lovely thing to do first? Handwork? Read? Paint? Take a walk and bumble around some of the artsy shops on Hawthorne or Alberta? Tidy up the houseplants? Write a letter? I had to make myself a list, not a to-do list but a Fun Stuff list, with checkboxes and everything. I’m 100% more likely to do something if I’ve given it a checkbox. (But only if it’s my checkbox. Other people’s checkboxes, especially the homeschooling kind, send me running.)
I did wind up reading, quite a lot actually because I’m still working my way through the YASF Cybils finalists. (Two to go. Reading’s on the fun list tomorrow, for sure. Of course, so is all the other stuff. The question is: will I DO it instead of waffling between options?)
(Answer: yes. I’m determined to Have Some Fun. Or else Do Nothing Much At All, which is just as important as Fun Stuff. But I am putting my work away for the weekend. Housework doesn’t count. I like mopping floors, and we’re overdue.)
All right, enough browbeating. Here are some things that are working well these days:
• My morning ritual of reading poetry and writing…hmm, writing things that will grow up to be poems when I come back to them. The bones of poems, or maybe just the marrow. The pluripotent stem cells that will become poems, eventually. (Hmm, there’s another poem there, actually.) I get up at 5:30 or 6—alarm is set for six but I often wake up early and then I can’t wait, cannot wait, to get back in the chair to read and write. I turn on the electric kettle, the studio lights, the warm blanket because I am a creature without much in the way of natural warming abilities.
I do a few stretches in the kitchen while I wait for the water to boil. Then I curl up in the gray chair with the red blanket, the turquoise mug, the green notebook. I start with poems: this week it was Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents, which smashed my heart into smithereens, I’ll never be the same; and Olav Hauge’s The Dream We Carry, who is full of quiet surprises. Then I write for a while, until quarter of seven when Huck pads in, pajama-clad, and climbs into my lap under the warm blanket. He always stops to turn off the overhead light (there’s no convenient place for a lamp next to my writing chair), so that the window goes from glassy reflection to backyard view. The sky is perfect today, he whispered yesterday morning, settling in. It’s been a sheet of gray lately but yesterday it was five or six shades of blue fading one into the other, almost green where it bumped the neighbor’s rooftop. The bare arms of the trees, the morning flights leaving PDX, the rumor of sunrise just beyond the garage. These are good moments.
• The Wee Free Men, which has been deemed utterly enchanting and is the first thing we want to reach for when we begin our homeschooling mornings together.
• The “pick one chore today” list on the family chalkboard, when I remember to write it!
If you’re on Instagram: I accidentally invented a new hashtag today and you are welcome to play along. In Stories, I posted a stack of the books that Beanie, Huck, Rilla, and I are reading (we were the only ones home at the time) and tagged it #ourdayinbooks—and later discovered that tag had never been used before. I wrote a post about it, and now others are joining in the fun. If you’re not an Instagrammer but would like to play, feel free to share your list or link here!