A reread to help me jump into a new year and a new project. Steven Pressfield’s take on Resistance is some of the most useful teaching about writing I’ve ever encountered.
“I wake up with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact. I’m present. But I’m not.
I’m not thinking about the work. I’ve already consigned that to the Muse. What I am aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.
I go through the chores, the correspondence, the obligations of daily life. Again I’m there but not really. The clock is running in my head; I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut it off when the bell rings.”
I set this afternoon aside for reading, a whole glorious seven hours of it, and reading always makes me want to write. So here I am, blowing the dust off this dear old blog. I neglect it for weeks at a stretch because I spend so much of my day writing other things, and when I open this tab I often feel drained or blank.
There’s also an aspect of blogging that feels like homework—combing my photos for the right image, choosing tags, looking up books on Bookshop.org or Amazon to add links, the kind that send a few cents my way, defraying the costs of maintaining the site. Chores I find tedious and sometimes embarrassing. The book links aren’t as necessary as I tell myself they are—you can Google anything that catches your interest—but money’s as tight for us as it is for most everyone else right now, and omitting the links always feels, in the end, a bit irresponsible. Even now I’m staring at the word Bookshop up there, feeling internal pressure to stick my affiliate link in place like a sensible blogger.
But this is my magic week, when I don’t have to be sensible. I try to reserve the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day for combing through the year’s notebooks, revisiting, panning for gold. It’s mostly iron pyrite so far, but that’s often useful in its own way. I gave yesterday afternoon to a single notebook, distilled now to a page of notes and asterisks. Today, as I mentioned, was hours and hours of reading other people’s work. Twyla Tharp’s Keep It Moving, a packet of poems, a Mary Oliver essay that cut me to the quick. Lordy, I love her. Both of them. Twyla shakes you by the shoulders and Mary raises her eyebrows at you until you cry uncle. You’re right, I’m constantly shouting back, of course you’re right! I’ll go for a walk! I’ll try to enter the long black branches of other lives! More birds, less Twitter!
The line that made me gasp tonight—it was like an adrenaline syringe to the heart—was in her essay “Of Power and Time”:
In creative work—creative work of all kinds—those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward.
She writes about her three selves—the child she was, who exists now in remembered experiences; the “attentive, social” self who makes dentist appointments and remembers to buy mustard; and a third self, “occasional in some of us, a tyrant in others.” A self “out of love with time,” a self that “has a hunger for eternity.”
The shock of recognition was severe. These past several months, my capable, responsible second self has—out of necessity—run the show. I’m a bit sick of her, to be honest. My third self, more tired than tyrannical in this bizarrest of years, is stretching her limbs and wondering when the prime minister took over running the kingdom.
I’m being a little unfair to the second self: someone had to get the FAFSA done and the health insurance renewed, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the poet queen. Mary Oliver’s delight was in lying down in the grass, as though she were the grass. My delight has been in showing the grass to my children and teaching them how to find its secret name. We walk in different fields, is what I’m saying.
But. Sometimes the second self tumbles or leaps into the whirlpool of distractions—most of them connected to the internet—and promises the third self her turn will come “as soon as.” As soon as the election is over, as soon as this assignment is turned in, as soon as the bathroom floor is mopped. The as-soon-as train has an infinite number of cars.
Twyla Tharp would say: you must make a pledge to the third self. Promise her time on the throne. Mary Oliver says to put your foot into the door of the grass and to sit down like a weed among weeds and rustle in the wind!
Every day, I get up before dark to give the third self a little time in the chair. I’m dedicated to this practice and it bears fruit on a long, slow timeline. But here at the end of an infuriating, stupefying year, those morning hours already feel like a distant memory by the time breakfast is over. The poet queen refuses to compete with Twitter. She won’t come back until all the tabs are closed. That’s Mary Oliver’s point.
“It is six a.m.,” she writes, “and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be.”
This last week of the year, I invite the third self to occupy the chair not just in the dawn hours but for a string of entire days. The second self can go jump in a lake, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, jump! urges Twyla—there is literally a chapter about jumping in Keep It Moving, in which she recommends four different kinds of leaps you ought to fold into your day. Beside her, Mary is calling: Fall in, fall in!
There’s autumn, all stitched up. I feel myself shifting into winter mode, despite the bright leaves still lingering here and there on the neighborhood trees. I packed up the backyard bird fountain for the winter and replaced my studio blanket with an electric throw. On our walk yesterday, I discovered that I need to have my warm ankle boots resoled—I could feel every piece of gravel underfoot! I’ve logged a lot of miles in those boots on my treks around Northeast Portland.
Speaking of Northeast Portland! I’ve been reading—and loving to absolute bits—Beverly Cleary’s memoir, A Girl from Yamhill. As a young child she moves from the family farm in Yamhill to a rented house in Portland just a few miles from my neighborhood. And then, a year or two later, she moves to a house “a block and a half north of Klickitat.” I live a block and a half north of Klickitat! Just nine blocks away from the place Beverly lived for a while—a direct line east of where I sit as I type this post. I knew that she had lived in Northeast but I only knew about the homes near Grant Park and Fernwood Elementary. I didn’t know she’d had an interval right here in my own small neighborhood. She saw her first movies (silent films!) at the very same theater in which my family saw Avengers: Endgame. Goosebumps.
The sun is bright today, a rarity this time of year, not to be squandered. I’m itching to get out for a nice long tramp. At the same time, I’m longing to cuddle up under that heated throw and read more about Beverly, or dive into a chapter in the gorgeous book my friend just sent me: Nichole Gulotta’s Wild Words. It’s been a full day.
Two months free, then 50% off for life! Our Creativebug membership continues to be a mainstay of our homeschooling life. I get positively giddy when I scroll through the courses. I bet I’ve taken forty courses by now—drawing, painting, embroidery, sewing! And that’s just me—the kids use it too.
Annie Bloom’s Books, a wonderful Portland bookstore, has kindly offered a way for customers to order personally inscribed copies of The Nerviest Girl in the World. If this is something you’re interested in, you can place an order at Annie Bloom’s website and the shop will let me know. The following weekend, I’ll head across the river to sign the book and then the Annie Bloom’s Books folks will ship it directly to you. (Sundays are usually the best day for me to make a drive to the west side of town, so you’ll want to factor that into your timeline.)
On the book’s order page, you’ll see a note asking customers to include any personalization requests in the comments field at checkout.
Now’s a great time to get the ball in motion if you’d like to give the book as a holiday gift! I’m beyond thrilled to see how much fun kids are having with it—making hot-air balloon bookmarks, starting a Gordy fan club (!), and even shooting their very own silent films. I’m continually blown away by my young readers’ inventiveness. Check out my Instagram highlights for a passel of pics (and immense thanks to all the parents and teachers who have been sharing them).
Oh my dears, what a time we’ve had! All of us—you and I. Our ten or so days of unbreathable air really did a number on me. Losing our daily walks, and my ritual of walking around the yard and literally stopping to smell the roses—brutal. On Friday the rain came at last, and the air went from Hazardous to Very Unhealthy to the miraculous-seeming Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Imagine celebrating a designation like that! Especially since three of us in this household fall in that Sensitive Group.
Today the AQI readout is green, glorious green. We can breathe deeply once more. Scott and I went for a walk yesterday evening and of course the world had changed during our days of huddling indoors. Summer slipped away and autumn is coming in: air quivering with golden light, trees tinged with color, asters and brown-eyed Susans stretching out their arms. All over the neighborhood, we saw giant sections of tree trunk sawed and awaiting removal—very likely casualties of the fierce winds that ushered in our days of smoke. Just around the corner, an entire treetop is sprawled on the side of the road, cordoned off. Scott and I had a moment of retroactive alarm, imagining what might have happened if our next-door neighbor hadn’t taken down the dear old dead birch in the sidewalk strip right next to the boundary of our yard. We were sad to see it go—but it kept dropping larger and larger limbs, and safety demanded its removal. Just in time, I think. If the winds had taken it down, all the power, phone, and cable lines would surely have gone with it.
This morning feels like a fresh start. I love fresh starts! I began a new embroidery piece during my creative-practice time—a Sarah K. Benning design, a tumble of fall wildflowers. Usually when I work designs created by someone else, I like to change up the colors to put my own stamp on the project. But this time I think I’ll stick to Sarah’s palette, which is full of yellow and gold and orange and brown—colors I seldom reach for on my own! Those brown-eyed Susans are insisting on it.
Something fun happening this week: on Wednesday, September 16, I’ll be doing an Inch & Roly readaloud on Snack & Read Live with SimonKids! Grab a snack and come join me for a live storytime on Facebook, at 11am PT / 2pm ET. Click the link to sign up for an event notification. I’m so excited and hope to see you there!
This Youtube video walks through a few more problems, including some with three-digit numbers and carrying over. The method works with larger numbers but gets a bit unwieldy beyond three or four digits.