John, Barb, Joanna, Sarah, Bill, Katie, and Jodi -- organizer peeps and extraordinary humans.
Barb Ornstein and Bill Bingman shepherd a bazillion details into one beautiful weekend each April in Frostburg, Maryland. They have great good help with their ever-rotating team of enthusiastic grad students and professors, and I am proud proud proud to be claimed as family by these folks, who call me Deb -- even my name tag says Deb Wiles. I love how they love me. :>
I've worked several times with the Children's Literature Center in Frostburg, and each time I am struck by the professionalism and heart -- deep heart -- with which these folks in the mountains of western Maryland put together a meaningful, useful, luscious program for an area that is rich in natural resources but sparse in population. Conference attendees come from Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia (saw Karen Huff from Shenandoah -- very nice to see Shenandoah supporting this conference as well) and beyond.
I am rushing out the door to school this morning in Houston, but wanted to send some photos your way first. I hope I can come back and tell you more, soon, but for now, know that this is a conference to savor, well worth your time and energy getting to the beautiful western Maryland mountains. That's Katie and Sarah on the right -- they kept us straight all weekend. Kind doesn't begin to describe them.
Ted and Betsy Lewin started us off, and I didn't get one photo of them doing their thing, but I loved getting to know them and hearing about their latest collaboration, HORSE SONG.
I did get a photo of Kaethe Zemach teaching us how to draw faces.
And here are some of her faces. I appreciated the stories Kaethe told about growing up with Caldecott-winning parents Herve and Margot Zemach... it was lovely to hear her insights into drawing and living.
Okay. I'm officially late, or will be in two minutes. Me 'n Jerry Pinkney today, at Beth Yeshurun Day School, along with... well, I'll tell you all about it, soon's I'm home.
Here are... here are... oh, I can tell you all about them, just can't call up names under pressure! We signed tons of books together, though -- and I felt well cared for. I always feel well-cared-for in the mountains I love, with people who love me. The feeling is mutual, guys. Big love to you. Thank you so much for inviting me back.
What you know first stays with you, as Patricia MacLachlan writes.
You know you're home when the name on your books is "Deborah Wiles" and folks engrave an award plaque with "Debbie." This means they know you and claim you as kin, don't you think? I certainly hope so. I love both names, and use "Deborah" for work -- it just happened that way and I like it -- but I never mind being called "Debbie," which is what my Habibi calls me (more on this new-to-me word in a moment).
I had great good fun at the Alabama Library Association meeting. Here are all the Alabama Book Award winners -- aren't I in good company? Let me tell you about these books -- some are new-to-me stories (don't you love finding a brand-new story?). I had to buy one of each and have them autographed, especially after hearing these authors speak.
Many of you will know Watt Key (far right) and his book ALABAMA MOON, which won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award -- this makes us alumni of the E.B. White Award, Watt and I. Cool. I've wanted to read his book for eons, and now I can. Watt is adored in Alabama, was also born in Mobile (Point Clear), and is hailed as a home-town boy. He's also a warm-hearted, funny speaker, and a genuine human being... that's the impression I got from all the award winners -- what genuine human beings.
I did not know about the Redstick War of 1813 until Gregory Waselkov (wonder if some folks call him Greg?), winner of the non-fiction award, spoke about his book, A CONQUERING SPIRIT: FORT MIMS AND THE REDSTICK WAR OF 1813-1814. This uprising in Alabama is said to have led to much of the reasoning behind the eventual eradication of the Indians in the American South -- this is fourth-grade history to Alabama kids, said Gregory Waselkov, but is unknown to most Americans -- we have forgotten this story. Waselkov is an archeologist by trade; listening to him tell this story, I was fascinated and full of questions. I can't wait to read the book.
On my left, next to Watt Key is Daniel Alarcon. His book, LOST CITY RADIO, won the fiction award. Daniel (does he go by Dan to some?), who grew up near Birmingham, joked that the book had absolutely nothing to do with Alabama, other than its author was from Alabama. Daniel's family is from Lima, Peru. In Lima, there is a call-in radio program in the evenings that links families looking for missing members -- Daniel told a poignant story of listening to this program, of going back to Lima and finding that members of his own family/community were now lost, of feeling a kind of survivor guilt over the fact that he was in the United States growing up while his family members were living in the midst of a civil war. Daniel Alarcon -- a compassionate human being and a novelist to watch.
I'm proud to be part of this group of award winners, and I am proud to be from Alabama. This year, the committee awarded books with diverse themes about diverse ethnic populations to a diverse set of writers... this is a good thing. Thank you, Alabama librarians, and book award committee members, for honoring LITTLE BIRD and the other award winners, and for helping put these books into the hands of young readers.
I have 24 hours to turn around before I'm out the door to Houston, so I'll write you tomorrow about the trip to Frostburg, and about the wonderful time I had with Ted and Betsy Lewin (who taught me the meaning of "Habibi," a word I'd heard but hadn't known meant "Darling..." so now I have a new name for my darling),Kaethe Zemach, the staff of the Children's Literature Center at Frostburg University, and western Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania readers. Awesome doesn't begin to cover it (and this fine bunch of old-home folks calls me DEB! heh heh. I am home with that family, too, and proud of that -- and them)... what a place, what a spirit, what a time. What bad punctuation in this paragraph! I will leave it for now -- my bathtub ring awaits.
I need to clean my bathroom and make up the bed in Hannah's room before I hop on a plane. When I come back from Houston on Wed. night, Coleen Salley will be waiting for me in the airport. We're going to spend the day together at my house on Thursday, finally getting to that oral history.
Then... the International Reading Association in Atlanta begins and a round robin of people flow in and out of this house as we hurtle toward the conference and then Hannah's graduation on May 10. Whew. I just need to hold on!
In case I forget and you are coming to IRA: I'm in an all-day Institute on Sunday, May 4, with Nancy Johnson, Cyndi Georgis, Allyn Johnston, Ralph Fletcher, Mark Teague, my good friend and great teacher Marianne Richardson, and many more. We are Institute 1: Side by Side, When Literature and Literacy Intersect. Hope to see you there. You can read all about us here.
I am signing books on the convention floor at the Georgia World Congress Center on Monday, May 5, from 11-12 at the Harcourt booth, and from 2-3 with Scholastic Book Fairs at their booth. Then I'm scooting home, but would love to see you while I'm there -- come on out!
We are getting ready. Bought these blue chairs and a little blue table, too -- we'll put 'em outside on May 10, along with the other tables and chairs we've collected.
It's been raining dogwood blossoms for days; I'll sweep soon.
And I'll pot plants. I've got lots of pots, lots of plants, and now need lots of time, which I don't have. But that's okay. Everything is okay, as we speed toward that magical day, May 10, when Hannah graduates from Oglethorpe University here in Atlanta.
A cast of thousands is coming to the after-party, and we can't wait. Have you ever worked so hard to see a dream turn into reality, so hard that you almost can't believe it's happening?
I didn't write the papers and read the books and study the notes and take the tests and work the summer jobs and pull all-nighters for exams -- Hannah did that quite handily and beautifully and exhaustively, herself -- but I did play my part.
I filled out the FAFSAs (No More FAFSAs!Waaahooooo!), I wrote the myriad of letters, I sat in the financial aid offices ad nauseum, I signed my name in blood on a million dotted lines, I took on every extra gig I could find and learned to love them, I traveled the country until I didn't know which end was up, teaching and speaking and learning so much, I planted us in Atlanta, where I began to make Home, all over again, and I cheered my daughter on from the sidelines, literally, at her soccer games, I attended every chorale concert, read my share of Core and history papers (and learned a lot), as I found the money and wrote the checks and had an occasional nervous breakdown, as did Hannah. But we hung in there.
There was a time when we couldn't fathom this day. There was a time, seven and a half years ago, when I didn't have two nickels to rub together and the very idea of paying for a week's groceries was overwhelming. I still remember the first time we bought pizza after I became so suddenly single. It felt extravagant, but oh-so-delicious. It made me feel capable, too -- I could do this single thing, I could work hard and make a living, I could keep my daughter in college and see her grow into a courageous young woman with a steady ethical and moral compass and a degree that will help her as she looks for ways to do good in the world.
It has been a long, hard (and often, hilarious) slog, and great, good work, on both our parts -- and not just by us, but by everyone in our family, and by you, too.
Friends stepped into the void with us seven years ago and held us up, when we most needed them. Perfect strangers (who became friends) hired me to work in schools and at conferences -- they held us up more than they know (and you know who you are...). I went back to school and got my MFA (how did I ever do this?) and began teaching, which brought me great joy (and considerable panic). Son Jason moved home from Santa Fe and lived with us for almost a year. His help was invaluable, as was the strong right arm offered by daughter Alisa, who had her own family to care for yet found time for us, too.
The stories I can tell you from these years! The folks I have met! The stories they have told me! We are so much more alike than we are different. You can read more about our family's odyssey here, if you want to.
The past seven years have changed me. I have found love again, as well. And I have learned what love is. I am learning to love, every day. From the days of finding ways to buy a used car for Zach, our philosopher, and then for Hannah, to send them off into the world and away from home, I found ways to rub those nickels together creatively while also finding time in airports, hotel rooms, and in my own new home, to write. To write....
There was a time I no longer believed I would be a writer, in the midst of this challenge. "I have to give you back the advance," I said to my editor, Liz. "I can't write a thing worth reading." Liz, who was smarter than I was, said, "You are forgetting you're a writer. A writer writes. Put that story away -- you'll go back to it one day. In the meantime, I want you to promise me you will show up at the page every day and ask yourself this question: what can I write? Will you do that?"
I promised I would, and from that promise came EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. Who would have believed that from the pain and grief that swallowed me as I watched my longtime marriage dissolve, would come such a beautiful book? The death of my marriage was the first loss. My mother and father died within four months of one another as I wrote LITTLE BIRD. Their deaths are represented by Great-Uncle Edisto and Great-great Aunt Florentine, although I didn't know this would be the case as I wrote the first line of the book: "I come from a family with a lot of dead people." I wrote through all the loss of those years -- I sold the house I'd lived in for 25 years, I moved from the only home my younger children had known, my youngest graduated high school -- even my dog died. Writing LITTLE BIRD saved my life. It brought purpose out of the suffering. And it gave me back my writing self.
Now this writing self is beginning to support us -- finally. I'm traveling less and I'm home more, and I'm watching my daughter, my youngest, graduate college on May 10. I am hugging every person who comes across the threshold of our little house in the little woods, here in Atlanta. I'm hugging Hannah's father, too. He'll be here and we'll be happy to see him. Jason will cook. Zach will spin records. Jim has hired his band and will play jazz for us to dance to. We'll reconnect with old friends, mingle with new friends, marvel at far-away friends, and claim every one of them as family.
"Family is a circle of friends who love you."
Cindy Powell appliqued this saying on the FREEDOM SUMMER quilt she made when my first book was published. Neither of us knew at the time how true this saying would be. I was days away from becoming single and plunging into the sea of uncertainty that the next several years would bring. Hannah was just 14 years old as I set out on the road to make our living. I took that quilt with me everywhere over the next few years -- it graced the bottom of every hotel-room bed I slept in -- and it is signed by hundreds of people now. I look back and read those signatures and remember those days of uncertainty with so much tenderness. I was creating a family of choice during that time, and that has made all the difference... so I want to ask you today:
Who is your family of choice? It can include family of chance as well -- there is enough love to go around. One thing I have learned from listening to all your stories is that, for some of you, family of choice is even more important to you than family of chance. Your stories have inspired me. So let me ask you -- when is the last time you celebrated your extended family of choice in all its messy glory? That's what we're about on May 10. Celebrating all the ways we have learned to become loving, tolerant, forgiving, generous, jubilant, funny, and yes, kind human beings on this planet. We'll be here on May 10, in all our different colors, languages, races, and persuasions... more alike than we are different.
I've been talking to a long-time friend who is coming to our celebration -- we've already started our catching up. He says, "The older I get, the less time I have for meanness. There is enough meanness in the world. I don't want to add to it, and I don't want to tolerate it in my life. I want to spend my time in meaningful ways, and spreading kindness seems like a worthy agenda at this point..."
My notebooks are full of thoughts about kindness... it's interesting to go back and read and see what was occupying my mind in years past -- kindness is a big thread. So is gratitude. So is all that messy glory. These are themes that find their way into my fiction as well.
So here's to the messy glory of life. New blue chairs and good stories to tell and stories to read, and family of choice and chance coming together to celebrate and laugh and eat cake and barbecue and ... just look at all the stories just waiting to be born.
I'm on the way to Birmingham later today. Tomorrow LITTLE BIRD receives the Alabama Book Award in the young people's category, an award presented by the Alabama Library Association -- thanks so much, Alabama librarians! I can't wait to see your smiling faces.
Back Thursday late, then off on Friday morning to the 26th Annual Festival of Children's Literature in Frostburg, MD, my old stomping grounds (Hey, Bill! Hey, Barb!). I'll try to remember to take my camera.
I'll turn around from Frostburg and go to Houston schools, then I'll be mostly home for the school year. And that's when I'll finish potting the plants and setting out chairs in time for our celebration. On this blog I'll introduce you, too, to my family, as they arrive during the first week of May for the IRA conference in Atlanta (more on this soon), and as they stay on to help us celebrate May 10.
In the meantime... be thinking about how you define family. Make a list in your notebook of all those who you deem and dub and esteem and cherish as family -- I bet you'll find, as I have, that you are rich, rich, rich in that circle of friends who love you.
And, if we're on your list, lemme know -- I'll send you a May 10 invite, even if you can't come... we can connect. That's what it's all about, anyway: connection. That, and a beautiful new diploma. Congratulations, Hannah. You are my hero.
I've been immersed in the writing this week, so I've been up and down Stone Mountain several times, and I took my camera so I can show you my writing partner. I did not bring my notebook -- stay tuned. The photo above is the mountain in springtime -- you wouldn't think there is so much life exploding on a big piece of rock, but there is. All year long, the mountain changes clothes as the seasons pass, and the mountain waits for me, so I can tell it my stories.
This is my path up. See the moon? Just before dusk is my preferred walking time. You'll see my shadow in some of these photos as well -- the sun is directly behind me.
Stone Mountain is a monadnock and the largest piece of exposed granite in the world. Folks come from the world over to see it. I have never walked the mountain that I have not heard someone speaking in Chinese, or Spanish, or (very often) French, or Bengali, or... you get the picture.
I am never alone when I walk up the mountain. Some days are crowded (especially when school kids come in buses) and some are sublimely quiet. Here are two energetic walkers -- look at that pony tail swinging! They passed me handily, but that's fine... my walk is a more meditative affair. I mean it to be that way.
It takes me time to negotiate the steppes, as I call them. I savor each step I take, and I let my mind go, after its hours-long wrestling with the story I'm writing. And as I let it go, the mountain catches it and lobs a thought back at me. Maybe she has a secret she can't tell her best friend! What about her mother? Is her mother approachable? Is she likable... yet? Is that word spelled correctly?
A quarter of the way to the top, I am rewarded with this view. They don't call Atlanta "The City of Trees" for nuthin'.
Then it's back to climbing. Even at my meditative pace, the climb is demanding, and my heart rate soars -- this is a good workout. (WW this week: minus 24.2 pounds -- finally moving away from that plateau I've been on for almost two months.)
I used to bring my notebook on these walks, then I stopped. As much as I advocate and encourage using a notebook for capturing your thoughts, ideas, and stories, there is a time and place for notebooks, I have found. I've become so reliant on my notebook that I wonder if I risk not being able to remember a dang thing without writing it down. So on these walks, I stretch my memory.
I love the challenge of remembering. At first, I was scared that, walking the mountain without my notebook, I would hit on a great fix or a terrific idea or a perfect way to write that passage I'm struggling with, only to lose it before I could get home and record it.
And it's true that, sometimes, the ideas and the suggestions and the answers to story knots come so fast and furious, I instinctively reach for my notebook and panic for a second when I know it's nowhere near me.
Not to worry. I have learned to trust that I will remember. And what I don't remember... well, that's okay, too. I am going to remember what is most important. I have found that this discipline of walking up and down Stone Mountain (or weeding the garden, even taking a shower) is a way for my mind to think in another direction, without the structure of the page, and this is good.
It's like deep breathing (which I certainly do on the mountain as I huff my way up) or writing in free verse after having spent the day working in form.
If you walk the mountain enough, you begin to see familiar faces. Here's Tony, or Guitar Guy, as I used to call him. Tony walks the mountain playing his guitar several times a week. I believe I have heard his entire repertoire. Today he is singing "Gloria" -- G L O R I A!
Tony tells me this is his 60th trip up the mountain this year. "I get in 240 to 250 trips a year. Just about every 48 hours, you find me up here, singing and walking." Yep.
And here is the city of Atlanta, rising up from the trees, bathed in the haze of the setting sun -- it's clearer than this, today, but my camera batteries are low, and the sun is brilliant in my eyes, and this is as good as it gets in this setting-sun moment... and that's pretty good. I have grown to love Atlanta. It's full of that Uncle Edisto messy glory, just like most of life. There is a lot here to love.
Stone Mountain is one of the places to love. Native Americans hiked over it many years ago. In the not-so-distant past, Ku Klux Klan meetings were held on this mountain. Today, people of all persuasions, colors, and languages claim this piece of rock as a personal mountain and a holy place. I certainly do.
I wrote about Little Altars Everywhere not long ago. I asked you to write in your notebooks about those little altars you create all around you.
Now, put your notebooks aside. Rachel Carson wrote, "I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel."
So... feel for a moment. Feel deeply, in the way that small children do instinctively. Hope and yearn and remember and find that place of inspiration within yourself... which sometimes you can best discover by visiting a place outside of your created spaces. An altar already there, waiting for you.
You don't have to write it all down. Sometimes it's good to let go of thinking in such structured ways, to let your mind rest, and feel the release that comes from taking a deep breath and spending time in the cathedral of your heart.
Just a quick note... no, two notes. Quickly.
Daughter Hannah writes to say that the misspellings she was referring to in her last note to me were referencing those first-graders' lovely notes to me. "I loved them!" she writes. Oh. Thanks. I'll still correct my typos.
A reader has passed on this Salon.com article about the Sixties, which is a review of Gerard DeGroot's new book, "The Sixties Unplugged: A Kaleidoscopic History of a Disorderly Decade," which debunks the decade as a total insignificance.
The review makes for fascinating reading (and it's thoughtful, not to mention well-written, always a pleasure). What do you think? The reviewer, Gary Kamiya, says that DeGroot "sets out to demolish once and for all the cant, hyperbole, romanticism, wishful thinking and just plain stupidity that continue to swirl around that era like a giant light-show blob."
Whoa! No decade is insignificant. No moment is insignificant. I have based my life and my writing on that premise. I have based the Sixties Trilogy on the premise that... well, here is a paragraph from my proposal:
"The 1960s was one of the most turbulent, changing, challenging, and defining decades in American history. It shaped a generation – and generations to come -- politically, socially, culturally, environmentally, musically… psychedelically. We are still living with the legacy of the Sixties – young readers are growing up within this legacy. What did it all mean? What does it mean for us today? For the future?"Gerard DeGroot writes, "But cast aside the rose-tinted spectacles and we see mindless mayhem, shallow commercialism, and unbridled cruelty ... Revolution was never on the cards. Chauvinism and cynicism got the better of hope and tolerance."
Really? It seems Gerald DeGroot and I are at odds. Do I need to add this book to my "must read" collection, to my research? Will it also inform my writing? Or will it derail me? Do I step back and reconsider, or do I continue forward with my point-of-view, which is what a writer has to work with, ultimately -- a point-of-view and a sensibility that fuels his writing, her art.
What do you think?
On to research and writing.
This is the routine: Rise in the early-morning dark and write while the world is asleep. As the daylight comes, stretch and turn my attention to what I need next. This morning I have reached an impasse in what I know; I need to do more research. And to that end, time to order some of the books and DVDs I have earmarked for research. This happens in several ways, and here's how it happened today:
[Aside: This will be a long post about process. Come along if you like -- it will seem like I'm wandering, but I promise it all comes together in the end... sort of like my notebook wanderings.]
Again -- how it happened today:
Interlibrary Loan: who can live without ILL? I have used the ILL at my library so often in the four years I've lived here, the folks who work in that department and in my branch know me by name and face. I have used ILL over my lifetime for learning about everything under the sun: gardening, design, cooking, parenting, biographies, out of print you-name-it, everything.
The good news about my particular library system is that, unlike nearby (and closer, branch-wise) DeKalb County, my county library system does not charge me for ILL books it finds outside its library system: My tax dollars put to good use. I love to see where these books are found; they often come from university libraries that I would otherwise not have access to.
ILL books ordered this morning:
THE BIG RED SONGBOOK (just because... I want to write something about the labor movement one day, and today this book came back into my orbit, so I just ordered it. Also, the 1968 book in my trilogy will deal directly with the labor movement, within the story I tell.)
THE MOVEMENT AND THE SIXTIES by Terry H. Anderson. I may want to buy this book, but I want to see it first. Here's part of the book blurb:
"We were young, we were reckless, arrogant, silly, headstrong--and we were right. I regret nothing!" So spoke Abbie Hoffman, recalling the '60s 20 years later.
Yep, that's what I'm writing about.
THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SIXTIES COOL by Chris Strodder. I most likely don't need to purchase this book, but I want to learn from it: "Aimed at baby boomers as well as their kids, author and Web designer Strodder has provided more than 250 profiles of actors, musicians, writers, politicians, athletes and others who defined a decade."
You can see, if you follow the above links, that I often research online to find titles, then see if my library has them. If it does, I order that way first, then make a buying decision. So I also, today, placed library holds for books my library has in its system but not at my branch. I may want to purchase these books for my home library, but I want to look at them first. Not all of them are Sixties related, but I have far-ranging tastes and always stumble across books I've been meaning to read forever (or since last year).
Library holds placed this morning:
1968: THE YEAR THAT ROCKED THE WORLD by Mark Kurlansky. "By any measure, it was a remarkable year. Mentioning the Tet offensive, the My Lai massacre, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic convention in Chicago, and the Prague Spring and its backlash gives only the merest impression of how eventful and transformative the year must have felt at the time." Yes, indeed. The third book in my Sixties trilogy takes place in 1968. I am writing the 1962 book now, but the research goes across the decade, and I want to see this book now -- I know that each year is informed by the previous ones and I want to watch the transformation.
THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie. I haven't read it yet; I want to. And, I am working on a memoir, in off-, odd-hours. I know this book is fiction; maybe mine should be, too. So, a way to learn...
A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS by Dave Eggers. I am fascinated by what Dave Eggers is doing with his life and career. I first read about his values and commitment in The Progressive (you can read an excerpt here). It helps me to read about how others decide to structure their gifts and give back. It also helps to read good writing. See previous entry.
A HIDDEN WHOLENESS: A JOURNEY TOWARD AN UNDIVIDED LIFE by Parker Palmer. Nancy Johnson turned me onto Parker Palmer, after I posted about my tough day with first graders last week. She recommended a book she's using in her graduate level English class, Palmer's THE COURAGE TO TEACH. You'll find it listed below. I'm interested in how people nurture their inner lives and balance them with their outer responsibilities and needs.
LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK: LISTENING FOR THE VOICE OF VOCATION, also by Parker Palmer. "What do I do with my life? What is my purpose? Where is the meaning to what I do? Is there a right choice?" These were questions that fueled my twenties. Now I have twenty-somethings of my own who are asking these questions. I want to be able to say something wise to them; I need to refresh my memory and listen for a while. I have characters in my fiction -- I am creating them now -- who are asking these questions, so this reading will fuel my fiction as well.
HUNGRY PLANET: WHAT THE WORLD EATS by Peter Menzel. I can't wait to read this. Have been resisting buying it. Savoring it through the library is good enough, I'll bet. What books do we need to own? That's always a question with me, and one I will return to often, as I post about that personal canon I've blogged about before. At any rate, HUNGRY PLANET will give me perspective, and I need that, as I write my fiction. The Sixties trilogy will span continents and countries: Cuba, Vietnam, Europe, the U.S., Canada... for starters. How do we eat, around the world? I need to know.
THE TASTE OF COUNTRY COOKING by Edna Lewis. Another book I've wanted to read for years. Do you keep lists of books you want to read eventually? I do, and this one I plucked from that list this morning. I am betting that Edna Lewis cooked a lot like my character Partheny in HANG THE MOON, my 1966 novel. And besides... good writing, again, is such a pleasure to read. Food writing and recipes are some of my favorites -- witness the recipes and the food in my Aurora County trilogy!
Okay. So much for library holds and ILL. Let's move on to used books. From abebooks I ordered:
Three more Parker Palmer books, each under five dollars: TO KNOW AS WE ARE KNOWN: A SPIRITUALITY OF EDUCATION; THE ACTIVE LIFE: WISDOM OF WORK, CREATIVITY AND CARING; and THE COURAGE TO TEACH. I need inspiration right now. I'm hoping I find it in Parker Palmer's words. I've been feeling low about teaching, while at the same time I feel fascinated by why and how we teach. I read this quote recently in Christopher Alexander's A PATTERN LANGUAGE (a book I read and reread):
"In a society which emphasizes teaching, children and students -- and adults -- become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching."
He's an opinionated guy, Alexander. (This is pattern 18, "Network of Learning.") I'm intrigued by what he says. And I'm on a quest to learn more... which will inform my teaching, and my writing.
Done with libraries and used books. On to the purchases from my local independent bookstore as well as a few DVDs from amazon:
THE SIXTIES: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT ALTMAN. This is my can't-resist purchase and my most expensive item. I can't order it through ILL -- it's less than a year old -- and my library system doesn't have it. Neither does next-door DeKalb County. "Publisher's Weekly Starred Review. Those nostalgic for the free love era will revel in this handsome, oversized collection of gritty photographs by celebrated photographer Altman. A master at catching his subjects at the moment of emotional overload-whether they be mischief makers, war protestors or musicians-the black and white photographs collected here are pure nostalgia, making a powerful you-are-there impression that simultaneously highlights the era's distance-chronologically and otherwise-from the current moment." This is a good bet for purchase, so I'll purchase it now.
FORREST GUMP (DVD). Yes, it's on television every 15 minutes. Yes, I've rented it and watched the extra material. It would be good for the research library for several reasons, and the cost on amazon this morning was $7.99
THE SIXTIES: THE YEARS THAT SHAPED A GENERATION. DVD. I have rented this from Netflix and need to own it.
THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: RFK (made me cry) and THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: LBJ (fabulous, really), both DVDs. I have rented and watched them more than once, and now will own my own copies, which I will refer to, I know, many, many times.
IN DEFENSE OF FOOD: AN EATER'S MANIFESTO by Michael Pollan. I tried to resist this purchase. I can't. (hmmm... two can't-resist purchases in one order... maybe I'm slipping...) It reminds me in tone and fact of a book I bought years ago that is disintegrating now, I have read it so often: EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT NUTRITION by David R. Reuben. It's out of print. And Pollan's book is right for our time -- Reuben was ahead of his time. I want this book to help remind me of what I need to know as I navigate the next 20 pounds in WW and the next 20 years of my eating life... which will affect my writing life. Ha!
I can justify anything! Can't we all. Let's see. IN DEFENSE OF FOOD -- I would be number 26 on the hold list at my library. I'll wait. I have time. I'll move it from the "buy" pile to the "library" list.
All these books and DVDs will inform and enhance the Sixties trilogy and change my life in their subtle ways. They will certainly feed my soul. Some of them will be part of a bibliography I am creating for the Sixties trilogy. Last ordering/research time I ordered from abebooks TAKIN' IT TO THE STREETS: A SIXTIES READER -- it's fantastic -- and Todd Gitlin's book THE SIXTIES: YEARS OF HOPE, DAYS OF RAGE. I like Gitlin's work and have seen him interviewed several times in the documentaries I have been watching for over a year now, in preparation for writing this trilogy.
There is more to researching than books, but I'll stop here and write about my collection of LIFE Magazines another day -- Hannah, Dear Summer Research Assistant of Mine, are we still planning to storm the stacks at Oglethorpe University?
I'm collecting newspaper articles as well, from the 1960s and from today. With the passing of the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., I've been particularly interested in the articles that have been written looking back, and sometimes cataloguing for me the actual articles of that time in history. I love this about our digital age. (You can see I have a bias for The Washington Post, my old-stomping-grounds newspaper... but there are many others in my collection as well.)
I have a long list of books and documentaries and movies and music I still want to order, and have several piles of same that I have ordered and am in the midst of reading or re-reading or studying, marking up, making notes... when does the writing start?
I maintain that this IS writing, or part of it. And I am moving my narrative forward, as well. This 1962 story of Franny, age 12, and her younger brother Drew, who wants to be an astronaut... there is a gravel pit, a dog named Jack, an older sister, Jo Ellen who might be a Communist spy, not to mention Uncle Otts, who wants to build a bomb shelter in the front yard... this story is holding me captive each morning. I wake up thinking about it, can't wait to sit down in the dark while the great horned owl outside my window calls the morning up, and find out more about what happens.
I want to chronicle here how the story and the research meet, and how they stay out of each other's way (please, God). I want to figure it out as I go along, and find ways to give birth to this new way of storytelling I'm experimenting with.
If you've got titles -- movies, documentaries, books (fiction or non), songs, structures, meanings... comments are on and the work has begun -- I welcome your input. I need it! This is a massive project... more will be revealed. :> Thanks to those of you who have already passed on titles -- I will compile and comment on these, soon.
For now, if you've stayed with me this far, you deserve to watch this video a reader passed on to me last week. Notice how "white" the Sixties seemed from this filmmaker's perspective until mid-decade... interesting. There is little mention of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement or the space program, but then, this is more of a cultural history:
"Our SAT scores were higher. We diagrammed sentences and had to memorize The Gettysburg Address."
My character Franny loves diagramming sentences... how about that. In 1962.
I love research. Duh.
Actually, I love learning. And writing. And stories. The Sixties are full of compelling stories. They are my childhood, these stories. And now I want to share that time and place and story with readers.
Laughed as Jim, former high school trombone player, accompanied radio jazz on his trombone. It was pretty good! We celebrated, too, as Jim's jazz is now being heard on television -- he has licensed tunes that are now part of GREEK and LIPSTICK JUNGLE (television shows we'd never heard of, but now we've watched them!).
Sat on the front porch between rainstorms and watched Cleebo drink from the bird bath.
Admired Jim Williams' handiwork in the carport (see the dogwoods and azaleas blooming?) -- which needs a name. Right now we're calling this room "Irene." My Jim suggests "Alice in Wonderland," since there is so much odd (and luscious) color and shape in this room. Do you have a suggestion?
Jim Williams installed the transom windows (there are three) and the light -- what do you think of the light? It needs a name, too.
Here's a closer look. Found it at Kudzu in Decatur and snapped it right up. Jim calls it an alien jellyfish light.
Kids came for brunch on Sunday, but I was having too much fun savoring their company to take photos. Birder friend Jerry came over, too, with his binoculars, and we began making a list -- in my notebook, of course -- of all the birds we saw in my back yard.
Now... I am not a birder. I know by sight robins, blue jays, cardinals, and a few others. So I've decided, for this back yard bird project (it wasn't planned, it just came up as we sat there and Jerry kept finding more -- and more -- beautiful birds) I'm going to devote a notebook page to each bird we found and paste in there a picture of each bird so I can know what I'm looking for. I might even buy a pair of binoculars.
Jerry has this cool recorder that plays different bird songs, too. "What's that screeching bird I've been hearing early in the mornings?" I asked. "Like this?" Jerry played me a bird "song." "That's it, exactly," I said. "Those are baby great-horned owls!" said Jerry.
Well! I know we have great-horned owls here. I have heard them. Many a morning when I'm writing at 5am, the owls are ending their hooting as the dawn comes and the day birds take over.
Sitting outside, learning to look for an hour yesterday afternoon, was therapeutic. I saw a pine warbler up close -- and you'd better believe you'll see the appearance of a pine warbler in my next book, in much the same way "blue jays chitter-chattered in the pines" on page one of THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS.
Or maybe I'll mention the other birds that have taken up residence in my trees: we've got Carolina wrens, orange-crowned warblers, and even bluebirds -- saw them with my own eyes, unaided by the binoculars. I'm
putting up a bluebird house, immediately.
I am home for two weeks before the next travel. Two weeks to work on book one of the Sixties trilogy before a chunk of it is due to my editor. So, tomorrow, I'm going to talk about this trilogy (avec its pine warbler) and ask you your thoughts as well. Today I'll take care of the week's errands and business so that, starting tomorrow, I can push forward in long writing hours. Tomorrow is a work-lots day. A Sixties day. Far out.