March 3, 2021 @ 10:13 am | Filed under: Books
I’ve been reading a lot of Natalie Goldberg in preparation for a workshop I’m taking this month. She always makes me wild to write, write, write—but reading her this time around, a year into pandemic hibernation, she’s also making ache for coffee shops and sleepy afternoon pubs. Walking down Fremont Street to the sports bar whose back room was all empty tables between three and six, passing the stone retaining wall with the succulents sprouting from every cranny, the yard with the hollyhocks towering over my head, the yard with the two small dogs who tore furiously around the corner of the house to proclaim their hatred and suspicion of all passersby, especially me. Except once when the growlier of the two wasn’t around, and the other dog trotted right up to the fence, wagging, interested, asking for my phone number. The next time I passed, the angry dog was back, insisting on warfare, and our promising friendship was shattered.
Tulip trees and daffodils on the median strip. A pair of shoes neatly lined up next to a port-a-potty in front of a house undergoing renovations. For weeks, those shoes stayed exactly put. Sneakers, once white, now gray, but no scuffs, not much sign of wear. The story behind those shoes—their precise placement beside the blue metal outhouse, not a millimeter out of line with each other—tormented and entertained me during weeks of walks while I was revising Nerviest Girl.
My revision was due in April (2019), and as the weather got lovelier and the spring more exuberant, I found I wanted to walk farther, so I would keep going, past the barber shop, the tiny art gallery, the quiet pub; past Goodwill truck in the corner lot next to the cemetery where coyotes are rumored to make their home; past the family-owned restaurant that got ruined by being declared the home of the best hamburger in America; past the donut shop whose line always stretched out the door and down the block, even in rain. Past pizza parlors and yoga studios and bakeries to—of all places, on that stretch of quirky indie shops—Starbucks. Such a cliché! But a place with good light, where I could park for hours without feeling guilty. I’m not a coffee drinker and I only like good Southern sweet iced tea, but the berry Refreshers are okay, and sometimes I treated myself to an almond croissant. I got buckets of work done at the window tables in that establishment, that spring, summer, fall. And the winter before, and the whole year before that, I spent so many afternoons writing in the dim back room of the sports bar that for a while Huck actually thought I had a job there.
If I got to Starbucks by three, I had a solid hour of quiet writing time before the kids streamed in from the middle-school down the street. Then I would lose long stretches to eavesdropping. By 4:30 the students had drifted out, and the after-yoga crowd would arrive, and parents with small kids on the way to activities, and a few college students meeting their tutors. I usually found another burst of focus and wrote until just shy of six. Sometimes I walked home up Klickitat Street, a very slight detour with hundreds more flowers, and other times, especially in rain, I’d stick to Fremont, and Scott would drive to pick me up, usually meeting me on the long cemetery block.
After Daylight Savings Time ended in the fall of 2019, I stopped making the walk—it got dark so early and my studio was cozier. Then my surgery in February, and I wasn’t going anywhere for a while—dozens of stitches and two black eyes. And then, of course, March. I love my studio and spend a silly amount of hours in here—work, play, rest, even doing ballet lessons on Youtube, using my bookcase as a barre. But oh, how I look forward to venturing out to coffee shops again!
Does the little white dog still loathe the universe? Will the brown dog remember he wanted to be friends?
Are the white sneakers still lined up side by side?
A poem-of-sorts I shared on Medium last week: Advice to Writers: Always Leave
Always leave thread in the needle and the sentence half-written.
The plunge into chill water is the hardest part, so leave the burner on, the hot tap running.
Don’t let ink sit in the pen for too long — it clogs the nib. You’ll lose time momentum interest scraping a dry point across your skin until the clot dissolves.
Always leave the iron on. You may return to find useful scorch marks, or with luck ashes you can read like tea leaves.
Fail to secure the lids of your garbage bins. While cleaning up the raccoon rummagings, you may happen upon lost notions or revelatory peelings. Sweep up the spilt verbs and reassemble them into cracked sentences. Smells are the best glue.
Read the rest here.
Ahhhh. Here it is, the day I’ve been working toward. There was no nice clean line between buried under work and wooo I’m free!—it’s been a gradual digging-out process, like shoveling snow. But my walks are clear now and I can at least emerge from the cave.
I’m blinking a bit. It’s ironic that this hemisphere is heading toward its darkest, coldest season, and here I am feeling like spring is on the way. The icicles haven’t even formed yet and I’m already hearing them drip. Sometimes the seasons of our personal lives don’t sync up with what’s happening in nature.
I’m glad, though, that the chilly weather, the rain, the early dark, will keep me physically cloistered a bit longer. I need some time to regroup, to restore balance. And of course there’s the holidays to consider…I’ve just barely begun the shopping and the house is still wearing autumn clothes.
This time last year I started a practice of writing Morning Pages a la Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Three pages longhand immediately upon waking, before opening any tabs or apps. I kept it up for a couple of months, then fizzled out. Resumed the practice in June and shifted my work routine so that right after finishing my morning pages, I worked on the novel for a couple of hours before breakfast. That was a wonderfully productive schedule for two or three months, and then summer ended and the family’s morning rhythm changed, and I had less solo time before breakfast. I dropped the morning pages and kept plugging away at the novel.
I’m shifting back now to my summertime rhythm, with tweaks. Up early, twenty minutes of quiet writing time, then Huck joins me in the studio for an early morning snuggle and chat. We watch the black sky fade to navy blue, steel blue, sky blue streaked with cream-colored clouds. The birds wake up, crows winging past the window, goldfinches arriving at the feeder, juncoes perching on the rain dome. Steven wakes for school and comes in to tear off the page on my ‘year of tiny pleasures‘ calendar. Then both boys scoot out to get their breakfast and I try to work for another hour or two. The temptation to climb back in bed next to Scott for a few minutes is strong, and some mornings I succumb. Never for long, because he gets up to make Steve’s lunch, and then the bus comes, and the girls begin arriving in the kitchen, and the busy day has begun.
For the next few weeks, instead of morning pages I’m going to do the lessons in Holly Wren Spaulding‘s 21 Day Poetry Challenge. I’m excited: I don’t think I’d be enthusiastic about getting up in the early dark on these cold December mornings just to write my morning pages. (I find the pages to be a valuable practice, but I don’t enjoy writing them. I’ve never been a journaler.) The theme for Holly’s course is “interior,” which is just right for this change-of-season I’m in. I also plan to choose a corresponding art practice for these twenty-one days, something simple—a daily sketch of some kind, perhaps sparked by a Creativebug* lesson, perhaps just something on my desk. My sketchbook practice has been a bit sporadic of late, although I did manage some good work this fall.
I recently read Austin Kleon‘s Show Your Work, a book that felt like a fresh pair of batteries for my blog. It made me realize that “showing my work” was exactly what I did here from 2005-2015: I was thinking out loud, learning in public, about homeschooling and parenting. Tidal Homeschooling grew out of that pondering. My sketchbook habit great out of it. A lot of things grew out of it! And I realized that’s what I want to return to. I don’t yet know where in the day a regular blog practice will fit but I plan to spend December playing with rhythm to see if something clicks.
What does your December look like?
*That’s an affiliate link because there’s a sweet deal on right now: three months of Creativebug for $1. I consider our CB subscription to be the best five dollars I spend every month.