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?
Heads up, homeschooling friends! I’ll be teaching two sections of my Comic Strip Capers class at Brave Writer this fall. Registration is open now & this course usually fills up quickly. Can’t wait to see the comics your kids will create!
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?
Yesterday’s post sent me on a happy rabbit trail of reading other posts in my archives bearing the same “These People Crack Me Up” tag. My kids crack me up.
Some of the gems I found:
Disgruntled 3-year-old reporting on her big brother: “Mommy, he keeps telling me to knock it off! The ploblem is, I don’t want to knock it off.” (That IS a Ploblem, 2009)
Huck: “Mommy, be prepared for me to shout, ‘It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas, woohoo!’ tomorrow morning. It will probably startle you.” (Early Warning System, 2015)
“Mommy, whenever you’re not with me, I want you. I want to be with you all the time. At night when I’m sleeping, or when I’m cuddling—I always want you! Or else…I want candy.” (The Birthday Girl Tells It Like It Is, 2006)
Me: Hey, looks like someone forgot to sweep up the dust pile.
Rose: Wasn’t me. I never sweep. (Exonerated, 2014)
Huck: “I bet all the kids with this coloring book are doing this with their moms right now, too.”
(Yes, I melted.) (Huckisms, 2015)
Meanwhile, Scott’s been sending me old photos from a cache he found. Mah babies! Funny and cute.
Yesterday I got on a housecleaning jag and without really meaning to, I found myself going full-throttle A Bowl Full of Lemons on the basement and laundry room. Except: as I told Scott later, during the laundry-room deep-clean I faced my most difficult parenting challenge yet. In nearly 24 years as a mother, I’ve never been put to the test quite like this.
Our laundry room is in the (finished) basement and has one small high-up window. When we moved in, the house had been professionally cleaned and was immaculate except for a spiderweb in that particular window—a large web, quite old, thickened with lint and age into a heavy cobweb the size of a saucer. No sign of a spider—the original webspinner was probably long gone—but we left the web just in case. Nearly two years and seven million loads of laundry later, the cobweb is the size of a cloth napkin. There’s no spider. There never was, not in our time.
But when Rilla saw me on a stool, vacuum hose in hand, she begged me to spare the cobweb.
I’d just finished hoovering up every speck of dust and lint from the rest of the room and I was all set to decobwebify that window. And wash it, even!
But Rilla implored. “For science!” Heh, she knows my weak spots.
So I gritted my teeth and left it. For now, I said ominously. She grinned, unfazed by my direful tone.
When Scott came home later, I told him the story.
“So you left it there?” he asked. “WHEW. That thing is cool.”
“That thing is the size of a wedding veil.”
“Like I said. Cool.”
Well, he does all the laundry, so I guess if he wants a year-round Halloween theme, he can have it.
(For the record, if I believed that old circus tent was still the home of a spider, I wouldn’t have needed any persuasion to leave it alone. No Aunt Sponge or Aunt Spiker here.)
This morning I’m trying something new.
I noticed that this week’s morning poetry-reading-and-writing-time kept getting interrupted (the writing part, at least) by scritchy angsting over my daily schedule—how to fit it all in, “it” being homeschooling and house-tending and paying work and personal projects and long walks and gardening and reading and TV and doctor appointments and fun time and down time and sleep—oh, the days are so wonderfully, terribly full. When it hit me that I kept returning to logistical questions during the precious minutes I give myself for freewriting, I realized my brain was trying to tell me something. So I leaned into the questions instead of impatiently shooing them away.
I know I try to fit too much in. But there are ways it works, if I’m thoughtful and honest with myself. (For example: no matter how many times I tell myself I’m going to read in bed, I know I’ll just fall asleep within a paragraph or two and I need to give myself some other space during the day for real reading.)
This morning’s insight was that no matter how often I write an after-dinner blogging interval into my schedule, I won’t use it for blogging. Especially now, when the long evening light is amazing and my feet carry me out the door almost before my mind realizes what’s happening.
Or yesterday, when I said: I’ll blog between lunch and work. Naturally, this meant I went out to the garden to prune and weed and rhapsodize over this week’s wave of bloom. (Poppies, pincushion flower, snapdragons, begonia; and the yarrow is about to explode with color.)
So today I’m trying in the morning. Mornings might work—the loose half-hour between my poetry time and high tide. I suppose it’s another step in my shift toward digital minimalism. After I took Facebook and Twitter off my phone in early April, I gave them small containers at breakfast. I’m going to try a week of stealing those containers for Bonny Glen. I’m documenting the plan so I’ll (obliger that I am) be more likely to give it a fair shot.
I need this blog! Its archives are our family chronicle and a source of great joy. (Scott’s too. His “fambly” posts capture so many moments I wouldn’t have remembered, or wasn’t present for in the first place. And so hilariously.) And—as any Charlotte Mason educator worth her salt knows—retelling an event helps fix it in your memory. Earlier this week, a doctor was asking me about developmental milestones one of the kids. After six babies and so many years, there’s no chance I’d remember those specifics organically. But I remembered a blog post—and where I was sitting when I wrote it—and that gave me an approximate window of time.
(There’s something there worth exploring: the way the physical act of writing—where I’m sitting, what’s out the window, whether there even IS a window—becomes as much a part of memory as the words themselves.)
This is my thinking-aloud space, and heaven knows I’m thinking aloud right now. But I think they are thoughts relevant to others, because we’re all trying to squeeze too much magic into too little time. I know I can’t fit in everything. I also know I won’t fit in a lot of things unless I think through where to fit them. These past two years, with such a comically full plate (even for me, greedy plate-filler that I am), I had to make a concerted effort to save space for sleep, walks, and down time.
And I make a mental distinction between my kinds of work—I think of it as paying work and creative work, but those labels are clumsy because all my ‘paying work’ is creative, and of course I hope all my ‘creative work’ will earn its keep eventually. The distinction is more like: short-term, pays soon and long-term, pays someday or maybe never. Dividing it that way helped a lot! Without blocks in my schedule for the long-term personal projects, I would never get around to them. Calling those blocks “creative work” in my planner helps set the tone and mood I want when I sit down to that work—it sounds exciting and rich, not like a slog. And the “paying work” label is a good motivator too, because it says: these hours pay next month’s bills. Tangible, concrete.
Speaking of my planner, another big shift I made in April was—gulp—abandoning my beloved bullet journal for Evernote. This happened for a quite practical reason: I had gotten sloppy about maintaining the index that makes it possible to pull notes out of a bullet journal at a later date. After so many years, I have a giant bin of filled notebooks. If I need notes on a particular event or phone call (the insurance company, a doctor, an editor), I have to hunt through all those books. Even with the properly indexed ones, this is a pain!
And (again out of a fierce urge to save my time for good things) I realized that if I do the same kind of task-logging and note-taking in Evernote that I’ve been doing in my notebook, I can quickly, easily search for a note.
After a few weeks, I developed a template so I didn’t have to recreate the wheel every morning. I read this article about “interstitial journaling”—the practice of taking a few moments to write narratively about the task you’ve just completed and what you’re about to embark on next, including feelings or trepidations about it—and boom: this made so much sense to me, and after two months I can say it’s a practice that works really, really well for keeping me focused.
I title each note with the day and date: “Wednesday, May 22.” The “Notes” section is where my time-stamped interstitial journaling entries go. By the end of the day, there’s a full page of notes. This section has become the most important part! Turns my focus up to eleven.
I still use a paper notebook for my morning poetry pages. And lots of other things throughout the day—I’m an inveterate doodler. If I take notes on paper, now I simply snap a photo of them and save it in Evernote with a couple of tags to help me find it later.
I’m working on a longer post for Medium about this transition to Evernote. It’s funny that it grew out of digital decluttering! But interstitial journaling has been a brilliant tool for me so far, and Evernote (which I’ve used forever for various kinds of digital notekeeping) is a handy place to do it.
Right now, though, I’ve reached the end of this morning’s experimental blogging container. See you tomorrow, friends!
May 16, 2019 @ 12:28 pm | Filed under: Links
You guys, I think he likes me!
If you happen to see this post in the next half hour, you still have time to sign up for Holly Wren Spaulding’s free 5-day Poetry Challenge—a mini-version of her wonderful 21-day Challenge that I’ve taken multiple times. Holly’s lessons contain poems, commentary, occasional videos, and daily writing provocations, and her methods and magic have sparked the most fertile period of poetry-writing I’ve had since graduate school. I’m tossing this post up quickly since registration closes at 5pm Eastern—believe me, there’s so much more I could say!
And if you miss it, there’s a new 21-Day Poetry Challenge starting June 1st.
Danny Gregory on art supplies:
If you want to draw, pick up that ball-point pen in the kitchen drawer, flip open that sketchbook you bought years ago that is ‘too good to use’, pull up a chair and draw whatever’s in front of you. Keep doing that every day until the very last page of that good sketchbook is full.
May 14, 2019 @ 3:08 pm | Filed under: Family
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.