therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the tag “She Writes Press”

Subduction Zone

IMG_1907Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, our daughter is leading a trail crew. Somewhere in New York, our son, who moved there five days ago, is looking for a job and an apartment. Meanwhile, my husband and I are on the lovely, lonely Washington coast, at the Northwestern edge of the Lower 48: in the heart of what we all now know as the Cascadia Subduction Zone, thanks to Kathryn Schulz’ July 20 New Yorker story, “The Really Big One.”

We are staying in a dollhouse-sized, bright blue rental cabin, which islb4b82844-m9o for sale, just as it was when we stayed here two years ago. And just as we did then, we keep fantasizing about buying the place, which we can’t afford to do, though maybe with the publication of Schulz’ much-shared story, the price will drop. If I understand correctly, one response to her reporting that might make an odd kind of sense is: why not buy a tiny wooden house, 200 yards from the breaking waves? Our Seattle home is just as imperiled, right?

Here’s what’s appealing about the dollhouse: when we pulled up next to it two days ago and got out of the car, the vast view before us made me—gasp is the only word I can think of. Yes, I’ve been to the beach before, many times; I’ve been to this exact beach before. But each time, the expanse of it shocks me. Suddenly, I realize how crowded daily life can get: and I don’t mean busy sidewalks and backed-up freeways so much as to-do lists, worries, shoulds, musts. Suddenly, I’m in a place where all of that seems very far away. I’m on the edge of the continent. The horizon is beyond my own eyes’ capacity to see. IMG_1909

When we came here two years ago, I wrote about how our restless 50-something lives had more in common with our children’s restless 20-something lives than with the lives of the people in between: “the busy young parents renting the big beach houses and making spaghetti for eight.” This is still true. Though our children’s lives are changing more rapidly than ours, Rustin and I are feeling our own tectonic shifts.

And for me, there has been one huge and welcome quake since 2013.

When we came here two years ago, I was beyond discouraged about writing and publishing. The agent who had pitched my memoir to big publishers had long since given up. I was submitting Her Beautiful Brain to small and medium presses on my own and getting nowhere. Two years ago, as I walked this beach, I spent a lot of time pep-talking myself about how I was still a writer whether my book got published or not. Rus and I debated the pros and cons of self-publishing, which sounded exhausting. Instead, we started planning our next documentary film, which felt like something we actually knew how to do.

But a few months after that first dollhouse stay, I went, on a whim, to a 25-year anniversary celebration at Hedgebrook, the Whidbey Island retreat where my book was born during a two-week residency in 2008. The invited speaker was Brooke Warner, founder of the then year-old She Writes Press. When Brooke described her partnership publishing model, I thought: I could do this. Two weeks later, I sent her my manuscript. A few weeks after that, she said yes. One year later, in September 2014, Her Beautiful Brain was published.

It is hard to explain how grateful I am. How huge this has been for me. It has been like that moment of stepping out of the car and taking in the ocean view, over and over again. It has also been: hard work, drama, tension, anxiety attacks, readings attended by six people, readings attended by dozens of people. The partnership model means Rus and I made a modest investment, which we could not really afford to do but which, it appears, we may actually make back, though that’s without accounting for the hundreds of hours spent writing the book and doing what I can to sell it.

Partnership publishing is not self-publishing. She Writes Press has a traditional distribution deal with Ingram Publisher Services, which means Her Beautiful Brain is available on all platforms and from any bookseller. Writers of books need to reach people, and though not impossible, it’s hard to do without help.

When I say it’s hard to put into words how grateful I am, that includes gratitude to She Writes Press for taking me on. But it also includes gratitude to Rus for saying, “Of course we should do this.” And gratitude to God for keeping my wavering confidence alive just long enough. Because I do want my story to reach people. I didn’t write it with the understanding that it might never be read.

And reaching people has included some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had: whether it’s that one person at a tiny bookstore reading who needs to talk to me about her mom and what she’s going through, or whether it’s my widest moment of outreach, an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal.

Maybe that’s part of what makes me love this little cottage: coming back has given me a chance to say to the me that was here two years ago: See? How the earth can move right under your feet?

And when the Big One hits, none of this will matter one bit, right? But while we’re here, while we’re alive and lucky enough to be living in the world’s most beautiful Subduction Zone, sometimes the surprises that come along are good. I wouldn’t have predicted, then, that our daughter would be leading a trail crew in the wilderness. That our son would be trying his luck in New York. Or that I would finally find a publisher for my book.

HBBfinalcoverBuy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here.

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The Cover

Her_Beautiful_BrainThe first cover I saw was gorgeous, but I knew immediately it was not right for my book. And that certainty made my heart sink, because this is my very first book and this was the first and most important step in the design process and right out of the gate, I was going to have to be the bad guy.

My book is called Her Beautiful Brain. It’s a memoir about my mom and her younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease and how it changed our lives: hers, mine, everyone’s in my big, loving extended family. It’s a sandwich generation story, about raising young children while my mother started to crumble: first slowly, then very fast. It’s a late-20th-century story, about a miner’s daughter from Butte, Montana who weathered divorces and widowhood, went back to college and back to work, raised six children and was the strongest woman I ever knew.

It is not about a woman who ever had much time or inclination to knit. So when I saw that first elegant cover design, which showed a black silhouette of a woman’s head, in profile, with a bright pink ball of yarn inside it, one long strand of yarn unraveling out of her head and down the center of the frame, I thought: no. I don’t want a ball of yarn anywhere near this cover. Too literal? Maybe so. But I also didn’t like the notion of Alzheimer’s disease as an unraveling, because let me tell you, it is not. A brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease is not quietly unspooling, it is suffocating. It is choking on plaques and tangles. It is a mess. It is not pretty or elegant and it’s definitely not hot pink.

But for some reason, I did not express ANY of that. I simply said, “I don’t think it’s right.” I told myself I wanted to respect the designer’s creativity, not try to micro-manage or direct her, but why on earth wasn’t I more blunt about my aversion to yarn? Because sure enough, the next round of designs featured two yarn-centric covers: one, a big ball of yarn unraveling and the other, a knitted hat. I loved the layout and the font, but the yarn: I just couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I felt like a stubborn kindergartener.

There was an alternate, featuring a photo of my mom. But when I showed it to one of my sisters, she felt strongly about not having our mother’s picture on the cover of a book, and I felt strongly that her feelings were very important to me.

Ach! What to do? Who knew choosing a cover could be so hard?!

Then my husband thought of the idea of a clumpy ball of electrical wires, instead of yarn. We looked online and found the image that seemed just right. Just like what Alzheimer’s is: a maze of disconnected, tangled, malfunctioning, blocked, clipped neurons.

And that is the image you’ll see on the cover of my book, when it is published later this year by She Writes Press. I like to think my mom would have approved. That she would have said: Yes, that is what my brain feels like. Please try to describe that in your book, because I want people to know what it’s like. I want them to understand, when they meet someone with Alzheimer’s at the store or on the street.

Her brain really was beautiful, a long time ago; and that’s why it was so important to get this image of what happened to it right. I am so grateful to designer Patti Capaldi for her patience, because it’s the cover we should have. The cover we do have. One big decision down, many more to come between now and September!

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

 

 

 

 

I’d like to thank a few people

DSC00865 I am writing the first acknowledgements page of my writing life, and I am paralyzed. I don’t want to send it to my editor. I won’t send it. What if I’ve forgotten someone? I know I’ve forgotten someone. I mean, let’s just assume. Because where do you draw the line?

For example, I didn’t include the first person who told me I could write: Mrs. LaCross, my second and third grade teacher. She loved my sometimes droll but mostly inane little poems, directly inspired by her frequent dramatic readings from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.

I didn’t include Rose Moss, my Wellesley College creative writing professor, who taught me how to show versus tell in a piece of “fiction” that really was my first attempt at memoir. Mrs. Moss made me see a dark night in my young life so clearly I can see it still: the train station in Geneva, the last train pulling away with me not on it, the blond man in a trench coat who seemed so trustworthy, so sincere. She made me see myself: a college student in a peach-colored parka, Frye boots, bell-bottom jeans, carrying a forest-green, metal-framed backpack. Wearing old tortoise-shell glasses with a bad prescription, because I’d flushed my contact lens down the drain of a pension in Rome.

I didn’t include Paul Zimbrakos, my boss at City News Bureau of Chicago, who taught me that I could and would interview anybody, from AFL-CIO chief Lane Kirkland to the cops who addressed me as “Hey City Nooz” to young Sandinistas wearing bandanas over their faces, in hiding at a Chicago convent. Or Edward Bliss, who I never met but whose classic Writing News for Broadcast taught me that I could and would boil Washington state’s epic nuclear power default scandal known as WPPSS down to fifteen seconds of copy for the nightly news. Or Jan Chorlton, who died this year of younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but who, 30 years ago, showed me that it was possible to commit acts of daily creativity in a TV newsroom.

I didn’t include Jacci Thompson-Dodd, my boss at the Seattle Art Museum, who encouraged me to pull out the stops and make the most obscure art come alive. Or Kristin Hyde and Liz Banse, who did the same when I turned my writer’s eye to environmental issues for Resource Media.

I didn’t include Rebecca Brown, who taught fiction in the University of Washington evening extension program in the mid-1990s and urged me to take my own writing seriously, at last.

I didn’t include these wonderful, memorable, powerful people because they weren’t directly influential in the writing of my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, which will be published in Fall 2014 by She Writes Press. And yet the question remains: where do you draw the line?

There’s a folder in a box in my closet that contains poems, nursery rhymes, riddles, limericks, all laboriously copied in my 8-year-old’s cursive writing. Mrs. Lacross thought a good way to practice our handwriting was to copy things we liked out of books. To build our own storyteller’s treasure chest, our own “fairy’s gold,” she called it. It was the corniest idea ever. I loved it. Loved it: never knowing how permanently it would influence me, this notion of stories as treasure. As magical, intangible currency; a savings account that would never run out.

I wish I could share the news with Mrs. Lacross that I’m going to be a published author at last. I know she would not be troubled at all by how long it took me. According to her daughter, she went back to college and became a teacher when she was sixty and taught until she was 78.

Lucky me, that she did.

Lucky me, that so many people invested in me when I most needed them to. Thank you all. Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

Alzheimer’s Walk

EndAlzI have written, spoken, made a film, submitted to five spinal taps. But I have never walked to end Alzheimer’s disease.

It is about time I did.

My first Walk to End Alzheimer’s will take place in a part of Seattle that would be unrecognizable to my mother, whether or not she had ever had dementia: South Lake Union, where the new Museum of History and Industry has taken over the old Naval Armory and a new waterfront park has taken over—what was there before? Mud, cattails, derelict docks?

Then there’s Amazon, of course, which has transformed the motley, low-rise warehouse district we used to call—well, we didn’t call it anything. It was “near the Seattle Times” or “near the Mercer Mess,” or for those of us in the picture trade, “near Glazer’s and Ivey-Seright.” And it was “near Jafco,” a sort of scrappy Costco precursor in a Soviet-style, concrete bunker just south of Mercer. Rustin and I bought our wedding bands at Jafco, an act of happy frugality inspired by our desire to save up for our round-the-world, backpacking honeymoon.

So as I walk this weekend, I’ll be walking my own quirky memory lane. Which also includes many, many Mercer trips from Queen Anne, where I once lived, to Madrona, where Mom once lived. Those cross-town treks date from before we knew Mom had Alzheimer’s disease. Sure, there had been some troubling memory lapses, but nothing out of the ordinary for a busy, not quite-60-year-old high school teacher with six grown kids and a growing roster of grandkids. Right?

Wrong. And she knew it, before we did.

I think I know the real reason I haven’t walked. It’s because of all the faces I know I will see. Though I’ve written and thought plenty of times about how many millions of families are living with Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve never seen a huge number of them in one place at one time. More than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s is a big, big number. But a little girl walking for her grandfather is a human being. As is a husband, walking for his wife. A son walking for his mother. A friend walking for her friend. A woman with Alzheimer’s disease, who might remind me of my mom.

There was a time when the last thing I wanted was to see all those faces, reflecting back to me my own loss and grief. And yet now I do: because I have come to understand that there is strength in numbers. Just by the simple act of walking side-by-side, we’re telling each other: I get it. I know. My family’s been there too.

Walking together, we can raise money for more research, support groups, education and outreach—just as, together, we persuaded the federal government to create the first-ever National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.

The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association predicts there will be twice as many people walking this year than there were a decade ago. The number of walks around western and central Washington has grown from four to ten.

I think I’m not the only person who is finally ready to walk.

If you’re feeling energetic, join us. If you’re feeling generous, contribute to the cause.

And here’s a postscript that means so much to me: I just learned that Her Beautiful Brain, the memoir I wrote about my mom’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s, will be published by She Writes Press in Fall 2014. More details as I have them!

 

 

Restless Breeze

TiffanyLakeToes2013I’m restless, I’m humid, I’m one big inhale. I’m a late-August breeze in the shape of a woman.

Labor Day is SO next week.

Vacation’s over. There’s work to do. But give me any excuse and I’m jumping on my bike. And/or into the lake. I’m stalking blackberry bushes with a plastic bag. I’m looking at the Washington Trails Association website, studying the Hike of the Week, reading articles about what to do if you encounter a bear.

I think the entire Northwest population is unanimous about how wonderful the weather has been this summer, even with these recent splatters of rain. It’s such a big deal for us: we don’t always have summers like this one, with tomatoes ripening in early August and day after day glittering like a glacial stream. But it also makes it very hard to say goodbye. Word from the weather watchers is that we don’t have to quite yet, thank God: the September forecast is for more, more, more.

But therein lies the challenge: how do we shift gears, get busy, get going, when our restless bodies and minds shout Summer?

I am hoping that resuming my reports from the Restless Nest will help. Breaks are good, but I’ve missed this, which is so different from anything else I do or write.

And the Nest is authentically Restless right now. Our children—who don’t live under our roof but do live nearby—are off adventuring. Claire’s in the mountains of Colorado with the Southwest Conservation Corps, out of cellphone reach for ten days at a time. Nick’s on a cross-country road trip that just got complicated by mononucleosis. He’s sweating it out on a friend of a friend’s bed in upstate New York; I’m stuck here, sending him sympathetic but useless texts.

Their absence makes for a sudden surplus of quiet. An excuse to take my own temperature.

It’s a little on the high side, I’d say, and that is not a hot-flash joke.

No, it’s more of a slightly feverish thrum winding its way through my brain, under and around the idle visions of mountain lakes and saltwater beaches; over and through the work of the hour. I didn’t have a word for it until Saturday, when, lucky me, I got to spend the day up at Hedgebrook (the Shangri-la of women’s writing retreats, on Whidbey Island) soaking up writerly inspiration. The occasion was an alumnae celebration of Hedgebrook’s 25th anniversary. The morning started with a pep talk from Brooke Warner, longtime book editor, writing coach and co-founder of the new, very exciting She Writes Press. Warner focused on what she called women’s worthiness problem. As in, I am not worthy of time and space to write. My writing is not worthy of being read. My voice is not worthy of being heard; my self not worthy of attention.

Worthiness. This is why I’m here, I thought: I really, really needed a worthiness tune-up. Because the annual portal that is Labor Day always scares me a little. Goodbye blackberries and basking; hello adrenaline, deadline pressure, expectations, worthiness crises.

And yet: going into fall with my feet browned and my legs berry-scratched means this was a good summer. One that will be inside me, half restless breeze and half rock-steady heartwood, shoring up my worthiness through the months ahead.

Radio lovers: I’ll be back on the air in September!

New Orleans lovers: today is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Our documentary film, The Church on Dauphine Street: One Katrina Story, is available on Amazon, Hulu and other digital sites.

 

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