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.
Crocuses in Wilshire Park, Feb 4, 2018. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s just around the corner.
We had a sudden blast of snow the other day, our first all year, and it caught me completely by surprise. Snow at THIS time of year? I thought—and then had to laugh. It’s January, for Pete’s sake. Nothing astonishing about snow in January, even here in the rainy northwest.
But, you see, the crocuses are budding, and the daffodils are coming up. And the general fresh-start feeling of January, plus the fresh-start feeling of the inauguration, have me feeling very springy. Winter weather was quite unexpected. The kids hurried out to enjoy the flurries while they lasted. By the next morning, they were gone. Wet sidewalks, no ice, no drifts. Not so much as a flake left.
Instead: my neighbor’s crocuses opened wide. Glorious.
My own crocuses are pokier.
We seem to have an odd microclimate in our yard: my bulbs consistently bloom about three weeks later than everyone else’s. I don’t mind that—it stretches out the enjoyment.
Neighborhood walks have become more pleasant since I switched back to putting in my contacts. All this past year of quarantine, I’ve had no need for them—they’re for distance; for driving, mostly; and even before the pandemic, I wasn’t driving very often. Here in Portland it’s easier to walk or grab a Lyft. In fact, we got rid of our minivan last February, so seldom did I use it. Perfect timing, since otherwise it would have gathered dust in front of the house all year!
Several of us have had our first doses of the Covid vaccine (Oregon opened it up to people with disabilities and their adult household members a few weeks ago). I’m hopeful that we’ll get the second dose on schedule in early February. If we do, I know life still won’t be back to normal quite yet, but it will be normal-er? If normal even is a thing, anymore. I look at videos of our Low Bar Chorale pub sings and marvel: a crowd of us packed together, heads close, mouths open wide. How long before such a thing is possible once more?
Speaking of Low Bar!!
In December we made a group video, a virtual chorale performance of God Only Knows. It was splendid. (I didn’t submit a video myself, since they were due the week we lost my brother-in-law. But I run social media for the group and was busy behind the scenes, promoting the event.)
I’ve rebooted my newsletter and sent out a new issue. I moved it from Mailchimp to Flodesk, so if you are a subscriber and didn’t get an issue last week, check your spam filter to make sure it didn’t get snagged. You can read the January issue here or subscribe here.
I put it on pause for January to give me some time to reorganize the tiers. Membership pricing remains the same (it’s cheap!) but the subscriber benefits have changed.
Tier 1 benefits ($1/month or more):
• Daily coworking sessions
• Weekly posts about nourishing a regular creative practice—mine and yours
Tier 2 benefits ($3/month or more):
• Daily coworking sessions
• Weekly posts about creative practice
• Monthly (or twice monthly, if time permits) memoir posts—early looks at a manuscript I’m working on about our homeschooling, creative-living, medical-roller-coastering family adventure. Bonny Glen: the book version, if you will.
Tier 3 benefits ($5/month or more):
• Daily coworking sessions
• Weekly posts about creative practice
• Monthly memoir posts
• Monthly literary essays, usually focusing on a particular author or a linked collection of books. A close reading of a book or deep dive into a favorite author’s body of work.
For all levels: I’ll continue my daily coworking sessions until the pandemic is well and truly behind us, and we can go back to working in coffee shops and museum cafés again. We meet in a private Zoom room and do brief check-ins before and after each hour of work. The usual schedule is M-F, 3-5pm Pacific time (except Tuesdays, when we meet for just one hour, 4-5 PST).
We spotted the first crocuses of the year this week!
This is the first week in ages and ages when I had just a normal workload, not a bananas one. And I felt a bit like a cat in winter, prowling the house trying all the doors but balking at walking through any of them. Last weekend I had actual free time and no idea what to do with it—or rather, too many ideas, a bewildering array of options and a seeming inability to commit to any of them.
(I used to be like this as a kid whenever I came home from the library with a pile of books. Couldn’t pick which to read first, and sometimes it would take me days to make the choice and commit.)
What lovely thing to do first? Handwork? Read? Paint? Take a walk and bumble around some of the artsy shops on Hawthorne or Alberta? Tidy up the houseplants? Write a letter? I had to make myself a list, not a to-do list but a Fun Stuff list, with checkboxes and everything. I’m 100% more likely to do something if I’ve given it a checkbox. (But only if it’s my checkbox. Other people’s checkboxes, especially the homeschooling kind, send me running.)
I did wind up reading, quite a lot actually because I’m still working my way through the YASF Cybils finalists. (Two to go. Reading’s on the fun list tomorrow, for sure. Of course, so is all the other stuff. The question is: will I DO it instead of waffling between options?)
(Answer: yes. I’m determined to Have Some Fun. Or else Do Nothing Much At All, which is just as important as Fun Stuff. But I am putting my work away for the weekend. Housework doesn’t count. I like mopping floors, and we’re overdue.)
All right, enough browbeating. Here are some things that are working well these days:
• My morning ritual of reading poetry and writing…hmm, writing things that will grow up to be poems when I come back to them. The bones of poems, or maybe just the marrow. The pluripotent stem cells that will become poems, eventually. (Hmm, there’s another poem there, actually.) I get up at 5:30 or 6—alarm is set for six but I often wake up early and then I can’t wait, cannot wait, to get back in the chair to read and write. I turn on the electric kettle, the studio lights, the warm blanket because I am a creature without much in the way of natural warming abilities.
I do a few stretches in the kitchen while I wait for the water to boil. Then I curl up in the gray chair with the red blanket, the turquoise mug, the green notebook. I start with poems: this week it was Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents, which smashed my heart into smithereens, I’ll never be the same; and Olav Hauge’s The Dream We Carry, who is full of quiet surprises. Then I write for a while, until quarter of seven when Huck pads in, pajama-clad, and climbs into my lap under the warm blanket. He always stops to turn off the overhead light (there’s no convenient place for a lamp next to my writing chair), so that the window goes from glassy reflection to backyard view. The sky is perfect today, he whispered yesterday morning, settling in. It’s been a sheet of gray lately but yesterday it was five or six shades of blue fading one into the other, almost green where it bumped the neighbor’s rooftop. The bare arms of the trees, the morning flights leaving PDX, the rumor of sunrise just beyond the garage. These are good moments.
• The Wee Free Men, which has been deemed utterly enchanting and is the first thing we want to reach for when we begin our homeschooling mornings together.
• The “pick one chore today” list on the family chalkboard, when I remember to write it!
If you’re on Instagram: I accidentally invented a new hashtag today and you are welcome to play along. In Stories, I posted a stack of the books that Beanie, Huck, Rilla, and I are reading (we were the only ones home at the time) and tagged it #ourdayinbooks—and later discovered that tag had never been used before. I wrote a post about it, and now others are joining in the fun. If you’re not an Instagrammer but would like to play, feel free to share your list or link here!