It’s been nearly a month since my last post here, and over a month since I shared any of my own photos on Instagram. This time, the silence was intentional, an awareness that I needed to sit quietly and read and learn, amplifying voices other than my own. I’m working through Mia Birdsong’s antiracism resource list, reading more slowly than is my usual gulping habit. I’m trying to listen more than I speak.
(Facebook friends will know I’ve not been totally quiet over there—that’s the space where I feel most compelled to speak out, for reasons that probably merit unpacking. That’s for another post, though.)
I’ve been wondering when I would come back to this space, and to Instagram, which is where I express myself in visual images—not planning for it, just allowing the tide to carry me back. I never feel entirely myself when I’m not blogging. Last year I read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work and thought: aha, that’s it, that’s what I was doing for a solid decade on Bonny Glen—showing my work, thinking out loud, writing to discover what I know and what I think. Learning in public.
Of course, it was easier to “show my work” when the main part of my work was homeschooling young children. Thinking my way through various educational philosophies, curating resources, and chronicling our daily learning adventures—these were practices that felt fluid and natural. Inevitable, even. Once I made up my mind about how best to approach our home education experience, I found I had less to say—just as my feverish urge to discuss a book subsides after I finish reading it.
I wrote (a much longer version of) the above across two mornings. And now today I’ve written a new post, which I thought I was going to put on Patreon but (you’ll see me thinking through it below) decided to move over here, which means now I need to go through and reverse all the heres and theres of the first draft. And it’s getting late! Breakfast is nudging me. But I’m not ready to stop. If I include this morning’s efforts, this post will be monstrously long. Maybe that’s to be expected after a month away!
I’ve been driving myself a little bit crazy in the mornings. You’d think the quarantine would have seen me sinking deeper into the creative practice that nourished me all last year—the early rising, the yoga-stretching while water boiled for my cocoa, the fervent commitment to Poetry Before Screens, the writing of morning pages or what Holly Wren Spaulding calls “zero drafts” of poems, the heady feeling of having written, no matter what else the day brought. How gratifying to have the time and space for this practice; how satisfying to feel well begun each day. You’d think!
Instead, I’ve let my good habits slip, one by one. Standing in the kitchen reading Twitter while the water boils? Ah, there’s the whole thing dashed in one swoop. No stretching, no poetry, screens first. The most agitating kind of screen. One tiny choice each morning: which domino chain will I set off?
I resisted the Twitter urge today, the gnawing desire to see what happened in the night, in the East Coast morning while I slept (good thing, because the news of the Trump administration’s renewed efforts to cancel our healthcare would have utterly derailed any creative activity). It drains you, exercising willpower constantly. That’s why habits are so important; they remove the need to expend mental energy on constant choosing.
I worked hard to build good habits around creative practice. If I start my mornings reading—poems, essays, not news—I’ll want to write. Every time, simple as that. Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, for example, sends me soaring and makes my pen twitch.
This morning I kept my rules, and here I am writing. I had a laughing revelation about myself a few minutes ago: I’d followed the steps of my creative practice faithfully, reading all the right things, and I’ve been trying (even, or especially, on the Twitter mornings) to do a tiny two-minute meditation to clear my mind for writing—just two minutes! With an aim to work up to five. This morning I couldn’t make it thirty seconds—and it hit me that what always happens, half a minute or a minute into silence and breathing, is that my mind starts writing. I wrench focus back to breath and two seconds later I’m scribbling another line in my head.
It was comical, suddenly, to realize that I’ve been trying to cultivate a habit that will help me write, and then I exasperatedly push away the writing that wants to interrupt the habit. It struck me as a bit like swatting away the action verb to focus on the helping verb. (And maybe that’s the point of meditation—sitting quietly with “I am” instead of leaping, scrawling, dashing.)
Laughing at myself shattered the silence and I gave in to the impulse to reach for my notebook. I wanted to write down the path my reading had taken before I tried to meditate.
—A Holly Wren Spaulding post featuring a Ron Padgett poem, “How to Be Perfect.”
—Linked in the post, an exchange of letters between Padgett and a bright young student about Padgett’s delightfully inscrutable poem “Nothing in That Drawer.”
—An Austin Kleon newsletter, which I can always trust to send me in good, writery directions. Such as:
• this article about the arson-suspected burning of Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire sculpture in the Presidio (reminding me, because of a long-ago Goldsworthy connection, of John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic, which I should think about rereading);
• a mention of zuihitsu (re Kenko’s Essays in Idleness), which reminded me I meant to read Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, purchased months ago on a recommendation from Kimiko Hahn in her exquisite zuihitsu collection, The Narrow Road to the Interior
—Tonia Peckover’s new blog post, especially this:
In the garden this morning, I noticed the cool-weather crops have been lingering around longer than usual and the summer plants are still small and unsteady, different than other late Junes – but not surprising for this cool and rainy one we’ve just had. There is no sense of frustration there, no anxiety vibrating off the tomato leaves. I want to live by such confidence, content with the sun I am given, and the rain when it falls, taking what I can and growing. I admit I am not there yet.
I have notebooks full of these connection-lists, each entry dissolving into original writing, notes toward poems or posts. It strikes me that I used to do this kind of chronicling of the day’s rabbit trails here on the blog almost daily! Those collections of thought are invaluable to me now, and they’re much easier to revisit in my blog archives than in my heap of crammed notebooks.
I’m sure there’s a reason I needed to spend the past year writing by hand, but I’ve become frustrated with the aftermath: I can’t get to the particular note or draft I’m looking for without paging through half a dozen Leuchtturms. (Not to mention the expense. That paper is a dream to write on, but those purchases were a thing of the Before Times. My quarantine reality is: use what you have.)
I’m uneasily aware that one reason I keep dropping the blogging habit is because of my Patreon. I have the hardest time deciding where a post belongs. There, because it’s about creative practice? Here, where I’ve stashed fifteen years’ worth of booknotes? There, where I have a bit more privacy, which changes how I write? Here, where search engines can find me (meaning I’ll have an easier time, myself, finding references and quotes later)?
For better or for worse, today it’s going here.
I wrote that line on Patreon and then immediately decided, nope, wrong spot. So here it is, all of it. Way leading on to way.
This is me, showing my work.
andy goldsworthy, austin kleon, creative practice, holly wren spaulding, John Stilgoe, kimiko hahn, mia birdsong, Patreon, poetry before screens, ron padgett, ross gay, tonia peckover, zuihitsu
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.
(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?
November 29, 2017 @ 2:14 pm | Filed under: Patreon
Hi friends! Just a note to say I’ll be broadcasting my second Patreon Live Chat today (Wednesday) at 7pm EST/4pm PST. This is a monthly perk I offer my Patreon subscribers at the $3+/month level. Patrons are welcome to join me live in the Google Hangout, or may watch via Youtube if they prefer. There’s a replay link for those who can’t make the live broadcast.
Subscriptions to my Patreon begin at $1/month, which gets you access to at least one subscriber-only post per week, and sometimes bonus posts. (For example, today I tested a potential new feature: a tiny podcast.) At the $3 tier, you get the weekly and bonus posts as well as access to the monthly live chat. I’m so grateful for the support of my subscribers! So far I’m using the funds to pay medical expenses from this summer’s, er, adventures. 🙂
Click the button for more info, and maybe I’ll see you in the chat today!
Become a Patron!
I don’t have time to write, which is exactly why I’m writing. I don’t want to let too much time pass with silence in this space. I’ve realized one of the reasons I lean on Instagram is because I can do it in bed—last thing at night, or early in the morning, lying there cozy under my quilt, playing with photos. It’s relaxing. But the WordPress phone app works just as well as Instagram. I don’t know why it never occurs to me to blog from there. I guess because I think of blogging as long-form, even though that’s totally ahistorical.
Anyway, here I am. I’m working really, really long days, these days. Have to make up for time missed during my illness. Thank goodness for our high-tide mornings. Homeschooling is the fun part of my day. We’re reading Comet in Moominland (still! begun in San Diego!), taking loooong nature walks (oh these trees!), and reading Lewis & Clark, Paddle-to-the-Sea, and a lot of poetry. Beanie and I are supposed to be starting a big Shakespeare project this week, but I’m behind on the reading. 😉
A fun thing: I held my first live monthly Q&A session this afternoon for my Patreon subscribers! We talked about what tidal homeschooling looks like with teens, books about the craft of writing, and I answered a question about Martha and Charlotte books. I also shared a stack of picture books we’ll be reading tomorrow for Halloween, and I finished up with a piece of advice about encouraging creativity. If you are interested in tuning into these monthly chats (either live or in replay), they’re available to all subscribers to my Patreon at the $3/month-or-more level.
Become a Patron!
I first encountered Naomi Bulger’s mail art via her enchanting Instagram account. She has sent hundreds and hundreds of gorgeously illustrated letters around the world, and her delightful “Naomi Loves” newsletter often includes free downloadable templates for dressing up your own snail mail. Like this:
This month Naomi is launching an online snail mail e-course called “The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written.” It will focus on both the ins and outs of letter-writing—how (and why) to slow down and make time for snail mail correspondence, and how to dress up your letters so beautifully that just the sight of them will bring a smile to the recipient. The course includes writing prompts, tips for compelling writing, mail art tutorials and templates, and membership in a private mail-art pen-pal club. Lots more information here.
(Contains affiliate links.)
The hardest part of writing the Brave Writer Arrow for Kelly Barnhill’s gorgeous novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon was narrowing it down to just four quotes. What a rich and wonderful book. (It was this year’s Newbery Medal winner!) I’m so enjoying writing the Arrow guides. It’s a pleasure to choose passages from someone else’s work and dive deep into the writing, exploring language and craft. This week I’ll be working on the November issue, Johnny Tremain.
Other Arrow issues I have written:
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
This year’s Arrow guides include a fantastic new feature: Book Club Party School by Mary Hanna Wilson. Personally, I think Mary is a party genius, and I’m always excited to see what fun celebration ideas she comes up with for the books I’m writing about.
Today begins the two-week public nominations period for the 2017 Cybils Awards. Please visit the Cybils blog to find out how to submit your favorite children’s and YA books of the past year for consideration!
Now that I have finished radiation treatments and am slowly beginning to feel a bit more like my old self (for chunks of the day, at least), I’m looking forward to sharing regular weekly posts and monthly live chats with my Patreon subscribers. I began the Patreon to help pay medical bills and to support this dear old blog. If you’re interested in subscribing for $1 or more per month, click here. (And thanks!)
Become a Patron!
August 23, 2017 @ 5:50 am | Filed under: Patreon
Today’s my first radiation treatment—but that’s not what I’m talking about. After much urging from friends and readers, I’ve decided to launch a Patreon.
It’s a way for readers, if they are so inclined, to support my creative pursuits such as this blog and my fiction. In return, I’ll be sharing weekly behind-the-scenes posts with subscribers ($1/month or more)—peeks at my work-in-progress, my planner pages, my sketchbook, my studio. At the $3+ level, you get access to a live monthly chat. You can read all about it here.
Since my diagnosis, so many of you have asked how you could help. This is a means I’m comfortable with, because it lets me give something back. And it will allow me to put more time into Bonny Glen as well, which will make me really happy. I’ve hated having to neglect this poor old blog in favor of time-devouring grantwriting projects. 😉
Become a Patron!