The two hardest things I do

July 31, 2023 @ 9:28 am | Filed under:

three in-progress rows of small irregular embroidered circles on red fabric

This feels incredibly weird to write, but I’ve hardly picked up a needle in months. That feels a little like saying I haven’t stopped to think in months, because handstitching has become such a key part of my creative process: keeps my hands busy but allows my mind to roam. This may explain why my brain feels a bit like a dartboard right now. It’s been seven months of pointy Life things flying straight at me. I’m ready to take back the needles. (This metaphor is falling apart fast.)

Well, my new space is set up for creative practice beyond my wildest dreams. There’s so much room! Including a large flat counter for cutting fabric. Now comes the absolute hardest part of embroidery: deciding what to stitch. I have several hoops in progress, not to mention the linen bag pictured above—it’s a weekend pattern but I slowed it down by, gosh, months by deciding to stitch those wonky watercolor-inspired circles on the front panel. I mean, it’s no rush. I have bags aplenty already. So perhaps that’s the project to dig out? Something to do while I decide what new thing I want to make?

A frequent refrain in my head lately is how the two hardest parts of my day are: starting and stopping. Starting work on the thing I want or need to do, and stopping when it’s time to stop. The modern wisdom about motivation (the impetus to do a task) is that you have to start work first, and only then will motivation arise. But a lot of the discussion around best practices seems to assume that starting is as simple as deciding to start. And for me, there’s a gap between those two actions.

I have all kinds of tricks for hurtling across that gap. But employing a strategy is itself an act that requires a launch. I often feel the most intense resistance about taking the first step in a strategy I know to be effective for me. Like: Click on Scrivener. Simple as that. Or: Ask Scott to hang out with me until I’ve gotten started writing. That works every time and he’s always happy to oblige. But I’ll resist clicking or asking. It’s my absolute most frustrated state of mind. I’d rather sit at the DMV. Actually, it’s kind of like sitting at the DMV without having taken a number first.

I mention this because it occurs with fun stuff as well as work. I mean, a lot of my work is fun—once I start working. But I mean it happens with down-time, leisure activities too. Like embroidery, which I adore doing and often feel I don’t have enough time for.

Well, here I am, well past my allocated time for writing this post. The only thing harder than starting is stopping!

July observations, garden and otherwise

July 23, 2023 @ 9:18 am | Filed under:

Yay! Photos are back! These are the daisies I was going to put in last week’s post.

Things I noticed this week:

A tiny yellow praying mantis the color of the fronds of ornamental grass in front of our dining-room window. I was leaning over the bushes to turn on the hose and saw him, bright against the shiny green leaves of the vinca that carpets the mulch. He (she?) stayed put long enough for the kids to come see him, then disappeared into the jungle. I haven’t spotted him since, but I’m braced for him to wind up in my hair one of these mornings.

A borage volunteer blooming in a pot of delphiniums. This is amusing because I planted a lot of borage seeds in May and they’ve been spindling along at a snail’s pace.

Drafting blog posts in other apps simply does not work for me. This is a head-smacking realization because I made the shift to drafting in Scrivener or Evernote, gosh, months, years?? ago—thinking it was a smarter practice than drafting directly in WordPress, which sometimes gets snippy and logs me out without autosaving. But, duh, I wrote ALL my posts here in WP for like 15 years, at a pretty steady pace. Since I shifted to Scrivener (which I’ve used successfully for writing novels and Brave Writer lit guides, and whose quirky features I utterly adore and honestly couldn’t do without) for blogging, I’ve amassed a pile of unfinished drafts and have posted about once a month, on average. Um. Yeah. Obviously there have been other factors, like, say, exhausting myself with a move, but still. I had this system that worked beautifully for me, and then I changed it up because I love change, and whoosh, consistency went out the window.

That no matter how sluggish I feel, certain songs galvanize me into motion and high spirits. Lately, that’s been (don’t laugh) “Mmmbop,” “Bad Romance,” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” These three, along with “A Little Respect” and (no, seriously) Justin Timberlake’s “I Got This Feeling” from the Trolls movie, top my morning playlist and never don’t work.

That I’m not capable of writing an even-numbered bullet list. Heh.

Comments are off

Bread crumbs

July 11, 2023 @ 9:25 am | Filed under: ,

WordPress won’t let me include a photo, for some reason, not even an old one. When my upload of daisies in this morning’s garden failed, I searched for a daisy pic in past posts. I found this post from 2016, a happy rediscovery. But they won’t load either!

As I stirred my cocoa this morning, it struck me that this time the obstacle to posting here is backstory. So much has happened, these past six months, that filling in the gaps feels like a chore, a too-big undertaking. So in lieu of rich exposition, a two-sentence summary: our landlord is selling the house we rented for the past six years, and (long story short) we wound up buying a very sweet little mid-century home less than a mile away. It’s adorable and has a beautiful yard, and although the past six months were incredibly fatiguing, everyone is settling in nicely and oh, I love this house so much.

There. We’re all caught up. Now I can write! I’m going back to the practice I had just barely begun to cultivate in January when the landlord’s bombshell email arrived: posting a single photo, not necessarily related to the post, often pulled up from the archives here via whatever random search term jumps into my head, but now—now that I have this lovely bit of earth to play in—sometimes a new picture taken in my morning ramble around the yard. And then I can write for a few minutes, warming myself up for work on the novel.

I wake up earliest of all the family and I relish my gentle time in my favorite chair—now with a rooftop view, if I turn my head a little, of blue mountains in the distance, and plenty of sky. During these last few months of the move (we closed in April, got Covid for the first time in May, and did the heavy lifting in June), my nourishing morning practices fell away one by one, and I often started the day with Stardew Valley and social media—the former a respite from thought, the latter a really unwise choice for beginning the day in a state of equilibrium.

This week (not only the move behind us, but a trip to the East Coast, and then a very tight deadline to meet, so that I didn’t really felt like this new chapter of life had properly begun until yesterday) I’m returning with profound relief to my old habit of Poetry Before Screens. I thought it would be a lot harder to ditch the dopamine slot machines I’ve been reaching for first thing, but I was wrong. I woke up yesterday relieved and hungry: hungry for a particular kind of nourishment, like when you’re craving a good salad after a few days of fast food.

Yesterday: a few poems from Henri Cole’s Middle Earth (I’m going to love this book, I can see already) and then I reread some of my own notebook entries from December—bread crumbs, I discovered, leading me back to what I think of as my Shining Intention: to treat all the primary areas of my life as art. Family, house, work, health, and, yes, my creative practices, my literal art-making. Not all of them, all the time (and of course you can see there are things I’ve omitted: friendships, for one; parts of life I value deeply but can’t give first priority to—which means I’m thinking about my friends much more often than they know). But much and as often as I can manage. The words help get me out of my head and into the present moment. Remember your Shining Intention. I feel as if I used to live this way (even if I didn’t have that language for it) for many, many years; but the stresses of the past few years shoved it out of my mind.

It came back to me in December and then went on a shelf in January. I did try, often, to experience the house-hunt, the move, the whole exhausting, distracting upheaval, as art, but I never really got there. Every thought circled back to the to-do list. There were only flashes—washing our empty floors with Murphy’s Oil soap, one of the best smells in the world, in April after we took possession of the house but long before we moved in—and the scent of honeysuckle (the actual best scent in the world) meeting me in the garden on an early-morning walk—and the joy of watching some rather glorious sunsets from our bedroom windows, a view I hadn’t realized came with the house.

Flashes, but will-o’-the-wisps, easy to lose sight of as you pick your way through the swamp.

I can hear in these (perhaps a bit dramatic) words how exhausted I am. But rest feels possible, now. Not time off work—not a vacation—but something better (for me, at least)—a daily rhythm that intersperses work with plenty of down time. Like this hour right here! A quiet space with books, and art, and a blank page beckoning.

Look how much I needed to write! I didn’t even get to today’s perusal of Lydia Davis and Grace Paley, who hit me like a bolt of lightning.

Anyway, I’m back. I’m home.

An April beginning

April 27, 2023 @ 1:57 pm | Filed under: ,

Cherry blossoms, Portland Oregon, April 2023

Not long after I resumed regular blogging here, our lives skittered sideways again: we learned that our landlord is going to sell this house and wouldn’t be renewing the lease. He gave us a generous six months’ notice and the right of first refusal on buying the house, but (long story short) we couldn’t make that work and we wound up buying a less expensive house not far away.

It’s lovely and I love it and I think we’ll love living there, once the horrors of moving are past, which won’t be until June. I’ve been writing a lot about it on my Patreon, so I won’t repeat the stories here. But there are stories already!

While our housing situation was in flux (I mean it’s still in flux; we’ve barely made a dent in the packing; but packing-and-moving is a different kind of flux than eek-where-will-we-land), I found myself unable to write much over here. I needed the more private (non-searchable) space of Patreon to talk about all this. But now that we’ve closed on the new house and have a clear timeline for moving, I want to re-reestablish the Bonny Glen habit I was reestablishing in January when shoes began to drop. So here I am. Saying not much of anything, but it felt good to click on Add New Post.

Anyway, here (above) are cherry blossoms on the branches of a tree that wasn’t mine when I took the photo—but is now! Consider this the start of a bloom diary for the new house. A cluster of daffodils by the front walk has just begun to fade, now that our rainy spring chill has turned to hot summery sunshine all of a sudden. (Hopefully not to stay. I’d love to land somewhere in between for a bit.) Everything else in the yard is just beginning to bud or leaf out. Lots and lots of treasures there. A lupine, even!

Cozy

February 22, 2023 @ 5:14 pm | Filed under:
Small child hanging upside down off couch, reading, as one does

2015 pic totally unrelated to this post, but my media library search button isn’t working and this one caught my eye as I scrolled down the archive

(Audio recording coming tomorrow; sorry; asthma is kicking me a bit today.)

Whew! I’m climbing out from under a convergence of big projects. Cybils are over for another year; I’ve wrapped another issue of the Quill; I finished a hefty freelance assignment that takes over my February every other year. And I’ve taught Finding the Volume of a Cylinder for probably the last time.

I even made it to the eye doctor and ordered a new pair of glasses for the first time in years.

And then of course there’s the podcast! Instead of linking to individual episodes here, let me send you over to the Brave Writer Podcast home page where they’re all collected. Today’s episode is extra fun—a look at our favorite kinesthetic games and activities for learning grammar and math concepts, and more.

Julie and I recorded another episode today, an interview with reading specialist Dr. Marnie Ginsberg. I loved every minute of the conversation. That one airs in a couple of weeks. Immediately after we finished, I changed back into pajamas because it is snoooooowing here—first real snow this year. It’s a doozy. It’s a pajamas-in-the-afternoon kind of storm. Cocoa and a big sweater. A big, if I can wrangle my post-Cybils brain into a decision. Or better yet, a cozy mystery on audiobook while I do a bit of stitching. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Of course that means I have to choose one. Fun decisions: my absolute Achilles’ heel. I know I have a list of cozy murder audiobooks somewhere, but by the time I find it and see what’s available on Overdrive and actually commit to one…it may well be time to take these pajamas to bed.

Sometimes the best dream is the little one

February 7, 2023 @ 4:45 pm | Filed under: , ,

field of crocuses blooming in Wilshire Park, Portland, OR

 

I saw the first snowdrops yesterday. Crocuses seem a bit late this year—usually there are many in the yards of our neighborhood by this point. The photo above was taken at a local park the last week of January, the year we moved to Oregon.

I took photos like mad that year—that first incredible Pacific Northwest spring. Funnily, I’ve hardly taken any pictures at all in the past few months. I think that without noticing it, I’ve hit a point where I’ll look at something beautiful and think: I’ve already got a photo of that somewhere. It’s nice, quite peaceful really, feeling like the seeing alone is enough.

I’m now wondering if this shift is related to my increasing immersion in needle-painting. The time-scale is so different: you can snap umpteen pics a minute, or you can spend months laying stitches with single strands of floss. Both art forms spark great joy. But I think right now I’m more nourished by the slower one. Now I only seem to take a photo if I think I might want to stitch it at some point.

Even now I’m staring at those petals and stamens and imagining what colors of thread I might choose. Those delicious lines of dark purple against the lighter shades. The deeper orange-yellow of the stamens that are farther from the lens. The way you could drop in just a stitch or two of the gold in the center of the more distant crocuses. The question of focus: would you try to recreate the mist of flowers at the top edge of the photo? Or zoom in close to the few up front?

In one of Eric Maisel’s wonderful books—I think this was A Writer’s Space, but it might have been Fearless Creating—he suggested an exercise to help give clarity about what you really truly want to do. He said to dream big, just imagine the grandest vision possible involving the art you wanted to create. Like, say, giving an acceptance speech for a major award for your novel. And since this was when I was becoming really obsessed with embroidery, I started to imagine a gallery wall with my original pieces—but the thing is, the vision immediately shifted to a small mountain cabin, quiet, a tumble of floss skeins, a chair with good light. I understood in a flash that my embroidery ‘dream’ was simply time and space in which to work.

That was a good little epiphany. Apart from the mountain cabin, there was nothing in the vision that isn’t within my reach nearly every day, if only for a few minutes.

Big news: I’m joining the Brave Writer Podcast!

February 1, 2023 @ 7:56 am | Filed under:

I’m so excited to share this news with you. Julie Bogart of Brave Writer has asked me to come on board as her co-host for the Brave Writer Podcast. Julie’s incredible podcast about homeschooling, lifelong learning, critical thinking, parenting, and so many other excellent topics has been going strong for eight seasons and millions of downloads. Which: wow! I was a guest on the show many years ago, and now Julie has invited me to share the mic as her ongoing co-host. We’ve recorded three episodes so far and I am having the best time. Yesterday we recorder was an interview with SUCH an interesting guest, and I enjoyed every morsel of the conversation, and it has me so excited for this new endeavor.

Julie and I have a long history as internet friends, in-person friends, and colleagues. Lots of shared and overlapping and diverging experiences to talk about. Our first episode airs today—this one is sort of an introduction to me, with conversation about tidal homeschooling, our internet journey, and other topics. You can listen to a preview on Instagram.

 

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This is going to be some serious fun!

You can find the Brave Writer Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app.

Blogging, metablogging, and Patreon

January 31, 2023 @ 5:31 pm | Filed under: ,
photo of a gray house with a bright red garage door, and blossoming trees under a gray sky

This is the only pic that came up in my media library for the word “garage.” It isn’t my garage, but it is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken because it exactly captures the mood of my first spring in Portland.

Whew! How is it possible that February is peering around the corner. I had a heavy workload last week & had to give every morsel of writing energy to the work, so no posts actually made it to the finish line here. But the energy was still there, that good blog mojo I used to love.

And so I loved stumbling across this quote by Robin Sloan:

Back in the 2000s, a lot of blogs were about blogs, about blogging. If that sounds exhaustingly meta, well, yes — but it was also SUPER generative. When the thing can describe itself, when it becomes the natural place to discuss and debate itself, I am telling you: some flywheel gets spinning, and powerful things start to happen.

This is related to my opinion that the very best movies are about movies, the very best books about books.

I was mentally hollering: yes! exactly! That spinning flywheel! It’s what I was talking about a few weeks ago when I recommitted to posting here, right? The way our 2005-2010ish blog conversations generated meaningful experiences, reexaminations, and new lines of thought. And yes, often arguments—but they were (this is just striking me now) more personal arguments than today’s social media pile-ons. You may have been in a fierce debate with someone you’d never met in person, but you knew the ages of her kids, what their current read-aloud was, what their kitchens or gardens looked like.

I’m thinking this through, even though it was a tangent—you can now see those details of people’s lives on Instagram, but something was different during that particular blog era, at least in the book and homeschooling corners I inhabited. There were fewer of us writing, I suppose; but maybe also it was the sense of visiting each other’s personal spaces? I remember around 2009 explaining to a friend that my blog felt like having friends over to my home, whereas Facebook (the Facebook of that time) felt like meeting people in a public space. (Not realizing, then, that it was a data-harvesting space.)

I know this sense of home is why I never did let the blog lapse completely, despite some long silences. I remember an in-person writers’ gathering around 2012—I was vigorously arguing in favor of maintaining one’s own website (and blog) no matter where else you were actively posting. Platforms change, or they disappear. This space has always been mine. An internet home base.

Ah, okay, this wasn’t what I was going to write about at all! (Though related, in a way.) I realize that much of what I’ve posted here since waking the site back up a month ago has been meta. But that’s because I’ve been developing a thought about the role of Bonny Glen in my present life, and what it has meant to me at different touchpoints.

Which is related to the news I wanted to share about Patreon:

After several months on hiatus, my Patreon is reopening to new members. (Current members, this means billing is resuming tomorrow, Feb. 1st, so please check today’s update for details about tier changes.)

Why Patreon? Two reasons. One: the income I earn over there helps keep the lights on over here. Two: I’ve got some things I want to write about in a less public space, and Patreon is a good place for me to do that. In the past I sometimes found it difficult to figure out what posts belonged here on Bonny Glen and which ones belonged on my Patreon, but the distinction is quite easy now because of Circumstances.

If Bonny Glen is my living room, full of bookpiles and notebooks and puzzles and a jumble of items in active use, then my reinvented Patreon is…my garage, in a way? It’s seen by fewer visitors, and only the ones who really want to be there. Ah, I’m losing hold of the metaphor. What I mean is more literal. Of course I want visitors to keep coming to Bonny Glen. But I also literally want to write about my garage and all it contains.

I want to grapple in a very frank and personal way with a topic that has been a throughline of my entire adult existence: the ups and downs of dealing with—well, I don’t like the word clutter, because it always seems to me to devalue the objects we care about. So: just Stuff. As I wrote on Patreon earlier today:

I want to write about Stuff. Possessions. A lifetime’s accumulation of objects. The stories they hold, the feelings they spark, the challenges they present. 

Our garage right now is like an archaeological dig through the layers of my family’s history and all our interests—the enduring, the recurring, or the only briefly alluring. (Ha, there, that’s the organizational structure I’ve been looking for. I want to write about the incessant necessity of figuring out what goes where, and what got forgotten about, and what should really be gotten rid of.)

I feel like I’ve been struggling with finding balance in this area since the day I arrived at my grad-school apartment with a U-Haul stuffed to the gills, and my wonderful program director, Jim Clark, waggled his impressive eyebrows at me and said wryly, “Thought you said you didn’t have much stuff.” And I was surprised—I mean, it was the smallest size of U-Haul! In that moment my understanding of what “not much stuff” meant was dramatically recalibrated. But, you know, the shift in vision didn’t keep me out of used bookstores or plant nurseries. And then I went on to have six kids.

So I’ve been wanting to do some really focused writing about this topic for YEARS—and to do it in tandem with the process of sorting and sifting and saving and shucking. And now (not a minute later) is the right time.

And Patreon, because it is a just a bit more secluded, is the right space. I keep the subscription fees low in hopes of making the content affordable for those who wish to see it. (There are $1, $3, and $5 monthly tiers. All three give access to my posts—as well as to a personal RSS feed for all the audio recordings of my Bonny Glen posts—and the $5 tier includes access to a weekly live coworking session.) I would love to have you join me for this exploration.

Either way, I’ll still be over here on Bonny Glen, writing about what I’ve always written about here: my family’s reading life, our homeschooling adventures, my current enthusiasms, of which there are many.

P.S. I agree with Robin Sloan that the best kind of books are books about books.

Where the tide took us this week

January 20, 2023 @ 6:38 pm | Filed under: , ,

sunlight on a patch of sea

 

I want to end the week with a few notes about our homeschooling high points. Olav Hauge was a big hit, and apart from a side-trip to Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” we roamed through my Hauge books every day.

“This Is the Dream” provoked intense discussion—

This is the dream we carry through the world
that something fantastic will happen
that it has to happen
that time will open by itself
that doors shall open by themselves
that the heart will find itself open
that mountain springs will jump up
that the dream will open by itself
that we one early morning
will slip into a harbor
that we have never known.

My copy of The Dream We Carry (named after a line from “This Is the Dream”) has the original Norwegian on the verso and the English translation on the recto. Rilla, curled up beside me, enjoyed comparing the two versions. She was struck by the lovely image of the mountain springs “jumping up” and reached for Google Translate’s snapshot feature to compare the literal (and much less poetic) translation. That led to a line-by-line unpacking of the language. The Hauge collection Luminous Spaces has an entirely different translation and we got really caught up in discussing the figurative and connotative differences between these variants:

…that we one early morning
will slip into a harbor
that we have never known

(from The Dream We Carry, translated by Robert Bly)

and that one morning we’ll glide
into a cove we didn’t know

(from Luminous Spaces, translated by Olav Grinde)

that I one early morning will glide
in on a wave I have never known

(Google Translate’s rendering of the original—interesting that it’s in first person singular, when both English translations use we)

Slip into a harbor, glide into a cove, glide in on a wave—such distinct and potent images, each in their own way.

There are buckets more I could say about our Hauge conversations, but the only one I’ll mention now is the Fillyjonk connection. We’re reading Tales From Moominvalley and today we finished the scene in which the anxious, constantly catastrophizing Fillyjonk tries to share her worries with her neighbor, Gaffsie, over tea in her gloomy seaside house:

“…This calm is unnatural. It means something terrible is going to happen. Dear Gaffsie, believe me, we are so very small and insignificant, and so are our tea cakes and carpets and all those things, you know, and still they’re so important, but always they’re threatened by mercilessness…By something one can’t ask anything of, or argue with, or understand, and that never tells one anything. Something that one can see drawing near, through a black windowpane, far away on the road, far away to sea, growing and growing but not really showing itself until too late. Mrs. Gaffsie, have you felt it? Tell me that you know what I’m talking about! Please!”

Gaffsie, a practical and restrained creature, doesn’t get it. She’s uncomfortable with the Fillyjonk’s demonstration of emotion, and she doesn’t have much use for a dramatic recitation of all the terrible things that could happen—because none of them have.

The poor Fillyjonk! Hauge’s dream is utterly closed to her—so far, at least.

Today this chapter sent me leaping (like a mountain spring) to read Hauge’s poem “We Don’t Sail the Same Sea”—

We don’t sail the same sea,
though it looks the same.
Rough timber and iron on deck,
sand and cement in the hold,
I ride low, plunge
headlong through breakers,
wail in fog.
You sail in a paper boat,
your dream fills its blue sail,
so soft is the wind, so gentle the wave.

Hauge struggled with depression and had to endure some very dark periods. Some of his poems acknowledge a sense of bleakness or of brooding menace—Fillyjonk feelings. I think the two of them do sail the same sea. But Hauge has the promise of that dream, the promise that some day the doors will open to a world where mountain springs jump up and and the wind fills a blue sail. I have hopes that the Fillyjonk, too, will encounter that dream—perhaps through an encounter with the Moomintroll family, or with Snufkin, later in the book. Right now she’s wailing in fog—with a kind of raw courage, the kind it takes to “plunge / headlong through the breakers.”

Well. At the end of lessons today I said we’d be moving on from Hauge next week, and such a clamor arose! Scott and the children think not. It seems I’ve been remiss in hoarding Hauge to myself all these years. I’m so happy they find him as compelling as I do.