This photo was taken in June, 2018, in a little town on California’s Central Coast. At least that’s how I remember it. Today Portland is gray and bedraggled, and I needed a bit of color.
This photo reminds me that at one point, I had a whole secret theme going on my Instagram. I never told anyone (except Scott, of course) what I was going for, but I kept the project going for months. It wasn’t every photo, just one or two a week, and the theme would have been hard to guess at. It was a look at juxtapositions of color: manmade structures and objects behind or next to objects from nature. Flowers against walls, brilliant red poppies in front of a bright blue recycling bin, lime-green moss next to yellow rain boots, that sort of thing. I remember one of my favorites was a scatter of autumn leaves in a leaf-shaped pothole.
It was fun, having a secret art project. I tend to spill all my artistic secrets out of enthusiasm—sometimes to their detriment. It’s easy to lose steam on a project after I’ve had the fun of telling about it.
Back when I was writing Little House prequels, I used to have to turn in outlines for approval by the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate. Outlines are deadly to my writing process; once I’ve mapped a book out in that level of detail, the energy fizzles. It’s like I’ve had the fun of telling the story and now what’s left is the hard part, the actual writing.
So every time one of these outlines was approved, I’d sit down and write a totally different book. I never meant to; I would just start writing in the middle somewhere, searching for life, and suddenly the story would grow legs and skitter off in a different direction than the map I’d submitted.
And you know what? No one ever seemed to notice. When I turned in a manuscript, my editor edited the book she got, not the one she didn’t. I’m proud of those books and I’m happy they wouldn’t stay in their boxes. Some of the broad strokes do parallel the original outlines; there were parts of each story that I knew from the beginning I wanted to tell—the Roxbury hurricane; the story of Charlotte’s baby brother—but most of the everyday happenings in those stories grew as I wrote, not before.
I’ve been treading cautiously with my current novel-in-progress. With this one, I could see the broad outline very clearly from the first—danger! But as soon as I started writing, new developments elbowed in, pushing the early conception to the far corners of the page.
Which was a huge relief. I have to do this dance with any written work: know enough, but not too much. I remember once complaining to Scott that I had a paper due, and it seemed like a pointless exercise: “I know I can write it, and the professor knows I can write it, so why can’t we just leave it at that?” Heh. That was toward the end of a rigorous two years in graduate school and I was tired. Grinding out that paper felt rather, shall we say, academic.
Anyway, that’s where my thoughts have wandered on this cloudy afternoon. I didn’t plan this post in advance; I just searched “color” in my photo library and let my thoughts roam where they pleased.
This category is such a gimme—in Portland—in spring!
Scott and I take a walk every day after lunch—longer and longer, as the weather improves. And I often take an earlier walk with Huck or Rilla or both. Some days, after Scott and I return, I go back out, another ramble through the streets of Northeast PDX, by myself. With music or with silence. I love walking to a soundtrack, but a quiet walk provides the white space I’ve been seeking. I sometimes find it hard to choose.
In bloom this week: daffodils (the earliest risers now fading, but big lush clumps of them still nodding in full glory); cherry blossoms and tulip magnolias; a few flowers left on the flowering plums & Bartlett pears, but those are mostly leafing out; tulips beginning to open; a profusion of grape hyacinths (my favorite bulbs); wild violets in the lawns; camellias already dropping petals in a thick carpet on the sidewalk and grass; vinca and lantana; a few early rhododendrons.
Bees ecstatic in the cherry blossoms.
Last year’s green onions, neglected, fattening with bloom.
Reposted from Instagram:
Shutterfly keeps sending me ‘remember this’ emails and this one from 2011ish is cracking me up. These faces explain why I’ve lived much of my adult life in fits of helpless laughter.
I keep forgetting I set up an IFTTT to automatically save my Instagram posts as drafts here. I know it’s redundant for a few of you, but I worry about losing (eventually) things I post to platforms that aren’t my own. I have such an urge to archive everything.
In the comments of one of last week’s posts, my friend Chris shared his very smart strategy for dealing with all the stuff he’d posted to Facebook over the years:
Every day I went through the “On this day” page and deleted just about everything. After a year, I had dramatically cleaned up Facebook.
This is brilliant. I’m thinking of following Chris’s example, and capturing anything worth saving over here. There was a good one yesterday, a hilarious moment I’d totally forgotten about from when Huck was seven:
In my house this morning: a breadcrumb trail of Angry Birds cards leading from my bedroom, down the hall, through the kitchen, through the patio room, to the wide-open back door.
Me: “It’s freezing in here!”
Huck: “That’s what the trail is for. To show you what a cold day it is.”
Here’s a post I wrote on Instagram, the day before my cover reveal last week:
Real talk: here’s what my fancy author life looks like. Snuggled up in my writing chair with my boy (“We’re going to need a bigger chair soon, Mom”), breakfast half eaten, hair unbrushed, trying to overcome my profound self-promo embarrassment in order to give my book a proper sendoff. Huck helped me create my cover-reveal announcement on Canva and picked the color for the countdown clock in my Stories. It’s the time of day when we usually do math and Spanish and read poems, but the reality of work-at-home homeschooling life is: lots of days go in different directions! Right now Huck and Rilla are watching a really good video on space (How the Universe Works on Prime Video—so good!) and I’m sitting here writhing over hashtags. Hashtags! I have “Tom’s of Maine” written on the back of my hand to remind me we’re almost out of toothpaste. I’m wondering if it’s too early in the day for gummy bears. I’m thinking I should wrap up this post and go on a nature walk with the kids. I’m remembering I haven’t sent out an issue of my author newsletter in YEARS and I should really revive that thing for the cover reveal tomorrow! Eep! Forget the gummy bears: this calls for chocolate.
I should hashtag THIS post too but y’all, I’m hashtagged out. My bird clock just chirped the 1pm bird at 11am, so I guess that’s something I should go address. Okay! A plan! Chocolate and bird clock—no one can say I don’t have my priorities in order!
Six days later:
• Bird clock: fixed.
• Nature walk: didn’t happen that day but we made time for it on Friday, and on the way home we stopped for pumpkin snickerdoodles at the German bakery. Oh how I love living in a city neighborhood again! Today’s another pretty morning, a gray sky shot through with light, so I think we’ll make time for another walk this morning, after our Moominland Midwinter readaloud.
• Newsletter: still a work in progress. 😉 If you’d like to sign up to make sure you don’t miss its return issue, here’s a link. If you were signed up before, you’ll get it automatically (unless you unsubscribed at some point).
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 creativepractice—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.
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.
June and July were mighty full months for me & my gang. I hardly ever travel, but this summer I’ve made three separate trips! The Brave Writer staff retreat in Ohio (I’ll be teaching two sessions of Comic Strip Capers this fall); a big family wedding in Virginia Beach; Lynda Barry’s Writing the Unthinkable workshop; and then back to Ohio for the Brave Learner Conference, where I was part of a panel with Julie Bogart, her mother Karen O’Connor, and Dottie of enchanted art table fame! AND THEN, back here at home, we wrapped up July with a long-anticipated event: a (minor) spinal surgery for the 15yo. (It went swimmingly and he’s recovering well.) And in the snippet of time between the conference and the surgery, Scott drove to San Luis Obispo to move Jane to Portland. She had an Americorps position at the university that wrapped up last month, and now she’s HERE. All my chicks back in the nest for a while. Color this mama hen very happy.
As for me, I spent the days between conference and surgery on a housecleaning spree. (Channeling Mrs. Ray expecting Betsy or Julia home from a trip, you know.) I get organization frenzy every summer. And my poor garden, oof, after two months of neglect it needed some serious TLC. When it’s too hot to clean or garden, I’ve been embroidering a lot, catching up on Cozy Blue Stitch Club projects.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to look at my grid today and realize it’s been a week since I posted? I’ve shared tons in my Stories, so it didn’t feel like that much time had passed. But it has! I had hoped to take a little down time in August, but I’m seeing that wasn’t entirely realistic. The multiple trips left me feeling like I could use a vacation, but now I gotta catch up from the trips! Fortunately I love my work. 😄
How about you? Enjoying a low-key summer, or suddenly feeling like fall is peering at you through the window?
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!