therestlessnest

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

Archive for the tag “writing”

Restless Reinvention

1743563_10151864590352330_669973072_nNews Flash: The Restless Nest has been awarded an honorable mention in the “Blogs under 100,000 unique visitors” category of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2016 competition! 

“Oh, to be wracked by success!” director Terence Davies exclaimed, hitting wracked loudly and hard with his gentle Liverpool lilt. He was imitating actor Cynthia Nixon, who plays Emily Dickinson in his new film A Quiet Passion, as he explained to us that—much as he loves planning every painstaking detail of his movies in advance—he delights in moments of surprise. Nixon’s emphatic reading of Dickinson’s line was not what he had imagined. But then, success, whether or not one is wracked by it, is often not at all what we imagine. True for nineteenth century poets, true for 21st century actors and directors. True for all of us.

the-long-day-closes-550x238-detail-main     Davies’ appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, following a screening of his 1992 film, The Long Day Closes, was a highlight of my recent trip to New York. I had seen his Distant Voices, Still Lives some years ago and was haunted by his depiction of his Liverpool childhood, of which his violent father was the volatile heart. Davies makes movies like an old Dutch master paints. He loves what he calls “texture:” getting the faded, autumnal colors of the clothing, wallpaper and furniture of his 1950s working-class neighborhood just right; spending a full minute of screen time gazing at one patterned ochre rug, because that’s what children do: they stare at the patterns and textures in front of them. Rugs. Ladies’ skirts. A bricklayer setting bricks, one by one, in a back garden wall.

I might not have been there if my husband and son hadn’t wanted to go so badly. I might have lobbied for an unaffordable Broadway show or a cozy, bank-breaking restaurant. What a loss that would’ve been. Who knew Davies would be so riveting in person? He is what you might call a case study in restless, but lovingly attentive, reinvention. And, as I wrote about last month, I can’t resist stories of reinvention. Davies has no interest in chasing a Hollywood version of success. He wants to make films the way a jeweler cuts diamonds: slowly and carefully, facet by facet until the glittering whole is revealed. If it takes years, so be it. If he can’t get the money, he’ll wait. At seventy, he still radiates a creative hunger, a hyper-attentive glow that is infectious. I hope it’s infectious. I want to catch it and keep it.

New York can be maddening. Exhausting. A bad boyfriend, as one friend quipped: so enchanting one day, so brutal the next. On this early May trip, the weather was as leaden as Liverpool in March. The political weather was stormy, too: everyone still in shock over Trump’s primary-sweeping triumph; my son and I clashing over Sanders vs. Clinton.

The week’s bright spots were the re-inventors. There was Davies. There was also Cheryl Stern, an accomplished Broadway actor and a friend of my good friend Lisa Faith Phillips (herself a shining example of restless reinvention: if you’re in New York, don’t miss her cabaret performance on May 15). Lisa took me to see Stern’s new one-woman show—her first—called Shoes and Baggage, at the Cell on W. 23rd. Like Davies’ films, Stern’s show is memoir, but her instruments are song and monologue. At first, you might mistake Shoes and Baggage for a light little tale about shopping addiction. But gradually, you realize it’s much more layered, more textured, than that. It’s about body image and what we women do to define ourselves in a relentlessly look-ist world. Though I’ve never tried on a Manolo Blahnik pump, I understood her story. I felt her story, especially when she flashed back to childhood, to all the approval that is lavished on a potentially awkward girl when she gets her outfit just right.

CorneliaStreetwithDana          My own reinvention moment came early in our New York trip, when I got to read with my friend Dana Robbins at Cornelia Street Café. Dana, who is blossoming as a poet after 25 years as a lawyer, gave me the courage to read from my new work-in-progress, The Observant Doubter. I thought my theme of faith versus chronic doubt would be a tough sell in New York. But maybe New Yorkers aren’t as hard-boiled as we provincials think. After all, so many of them come from somewhere else. Somewhere they might miss. Some place, some time, to which their restless minds reflexively return. Like Terence Davies’ Liverpool. Like Cheryl Stern’s childhood trips to the mall. Like Dana’s childhood kitchen, where her father’s “square hands… moved like a meditation.”

The passage I read in the café was about returning after forty years to the church I last attended as a fervent teen. About how I thought I could slip in and out undetected, until an old woman asked me whose child I was.

We’re all somebody’s child. And that’s often where re-inventors let their restless imaginations take them. Because your life is your movie. Your poem. Your story, and no one else’s. And that’s the joy of it. Whether or not you are ever “wracked by success.”

 

 

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The Un-cool Writers’ Club

1003375_10204029713357348_4120200472773550975_n-1 If you aspire to be a cool writer, then whatever you do, don’t hang out with me. I am your worst nightmare. Here’s why: for starters, I am old, so old I may as well tell you how old. 58. Fifty-eight! This would be acceptable if I had published many volumes by now. But no: I just published my very first book. And my book is a memoir. This might be acceptable if I was a recovering addict or had escaped the Taliban. But no: I am the daughter of a beautiful, smart woman who drew an unlucky card called younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and that is what I wrote about. Worse, my current work-in-progress is also a memoir, on an equally unhip topic: faith and doubt.

There’s more. I did not get my Master of Fine Arts degree until I was 53: enough said. And I have another career, which confuses people. IMG_0871It’s a reasonably cool career—documentary filmmaking—but alas, I’ve never had a film at Sundance (which would vault me right into the category of Permanently Cool). And I make films with my husband, which is way less cool than if I were doing it solo. Speaking of my husband: we’ve been married 27 years. Yikes! Just call us Ward and June!

And then there’s my lifetime issue of not wanting to be mean. In fact, right now, writing this, I’m uncomfortable with the whiff of snarkiness I detect; the implication that I don’t like cool writers, because I do. I like many cool writers. But that is not my point. My point is this: over my 58 years, I have learned, sometimes reluctantly but ultimately with relief, how wonderful, how freeing, it is to live life as not only an un-cool writer, but an un-cool person.

My education in un-coolness started early. There were painful drills, there were pop quizzes. But I faced my first big exam at the beginning of 9th grade at Seattle’s Eckstein Junior High School. All the aspiring cool girls, my sad self among them, hoped to be selected for something called “Girls Club,” which involved wearing special scarves and blouses once a week and engaging in lightweight service projects. Really, “Girls Club” was a sanctioned clique. My best friend—the one with whom I’d bought journals and real fountain pens and candles and browsed for old-fashioned children’s books at David Ishii’s bookstore in Pioneer Square—made the Girls Club cut. I did not. She dropped me with stunning speed.

When I came up for air after a good long cry, I realized what a great gift this was. I had been spared all the stress and effort it would have taken to retain my status as a Girls Club girl. I was free! Free to be my un-cool self. To keep on writing in my ink-stained journals; to keep on riding my bike to David Ishii’s or the Arboretum or anywhere else I could curl up with a book, undisturbed by cool people.

My junior high years coincided with my parents’ divorce, which, in that long-ago era, was definitely not a cool thing. But it was my Goddard College MFA advisor, Victoria Nelson, who helped me understand, decades later, how the divorce contributed to my liberation. Arlene and 6 kidsAll those hours I spent babysitting my younger brother and sisters while my mother went back to college gave me freedom to continue on my un-cool, future-writer path: unsupervised by adults, unseen by cool peers, I could write my fervent, un-cool poems and journal entries and read, read, read while my siblings watched cartoons or played. Sometimes we played school, with me as teacher. Or pioneers, or explorers. So not cool. I loved it.

And now that I’m a late-blooming, un-cool author, I’m more grateful than ever for the un-cool path that got me here. Not much I can do about my age. Nor my attraction to the wrong subjects. Nor my love of memoir writing, the actual hours spent writing, for which I credit my first Goddard advisor, Michael Klein, who taught me that memoir writing could be part poetry, part journalism, part essay: a hybrid, a blend, not unlike documentary filmmaking. Not unlike the way my restless brain has always worked.

The path of the un-cool writer is unpredictable. It’s more likely to result in rewards that can be measured in moments—conversations I’ve had after readings, emails from long-lost friends—than in big royalty checks or New York Times reviews. But it is the path I’m on, and I am grateful every day.

Upcoming readings: April 1, 7pm: St. James Cathedral Parish Hall, Seattle.  April 30, 7pm: The Regulator Bookshop, Durham, North Carolina.

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

 

 

                       

Dateline Máncora

IMG_1585There are only so many ways to describe a beautiful beach. The true beauty of it, for writers and readers, is the way it allows your mind to travel lightly, far and wide, or to venture deeply and with great absorption, as you wish or as you dare, always returning to the anchor of the beauty before you. The surprise of it, on this trip, is that our beach is in Peru.

Peru is the Inca Trail, the glorious Andes, sprawling, sleepless Lima. It is also one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world. From where I’m sitting now in Máncora, on the north coast, the Amazon basin is not far away. Nor are the snowy high sierras. But this coastal landscape is a rugged desert edged by a strip of long, curving bays and beaches.

We came to Máncora because it is a town my great-uncle and his family lived in for a year in the 1950s. It was a dramatic change from their elegant Lima home. My cousin Andy remembers Máncora as an 11-year-old’s backwater paradise, where he played in the dusty hills and on the sublime beach. We are in Peru to wrap up filming on our documentary, Zona Intangible, which was inspired by my great-uncle, who lived here for two decades and was a pioneer of Peru’s fishmeal industry. The film won’t be all about fishmeal or all about my uncle; it will, mostly, tell the story of a handmade city outside Lima where a clinic on a dusty back street bears his name and where the notion of what home is has taken on a new meaning. Is home a one-room shack on a hill of sand? A house in a fishing village where your father has decided you’ll live for this one year? Is it where your family lives, or is it where they came from?

Máncora is an easy-going town; a surfer’s paradise; the kind of place people roll into and stay longer than they thought they would. Our hotel—EcoLodge Máncora—is owned and run by French ex-pats. Much tinier than its name implies, it feels more like an old-fashioned guesthouse, the kind of place Graham Greene might have stayed, cross-bred with a tree-house that just kept getting bigger. The rambling “hostel” where we watched the Superbowl (Seattle friends: I will say nothing more on that front, I promise) featured a swimming pool, a ping-pong table, a cavernous bar with a big screen and many guests who appeared barely old enough to travel on their own. Maybe some of them will stay and make this their home for a while.

Rustin and I started our marriage living out of backpacks and traveling around the world for ten months. So sometimes, traveling feels a bit like an emotional home for us. A place where we’re comfortable together. Trips like this one—where we’re working for ourselves (Zona Intangible) and for others (the University of Washington’s Dept. of Global Health, which is doing amazing work in Peru) and also vacationing (the beach) feel natural to us. But, unlike during that first year of our marriage, we now do have a home, and it’s in Seattle. And as we near the end of this trip, we’re looking forward to getting back to it. Cold weather and all.

My Introduction to Memoir Writing class at Seattle Central College is now full! Next session will be in Fall 2015.

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

I had a great conversation with Women in Film Seattle President Virginia Bogert that she turned into a member profile of yours truly. Thanks, Virginia!

 

 

 

 

August

IMG_1162 August is a misunderstood month. “Nothing gets done in August,” people say. “Everyone’s on vacation.” But who is everyone, and what exactly does vacation mean?

Below this surface fiction of hot, languid days, college freshmen pack up and get ready to step out of the only life they’ve ever known and into a new one they can’t quite imagine yet. Young couples get married. Babies conceived on cold winter nights are born on warm summer mornings. Teachers write lesson plans. Schoolkids—well, they’re probably still in happy denial, though a few might secretly look forward to being a whole year older than last year.

And some of us have books coming out, not long after Labor Day.

Call me a late bloomer, because I am, but publishing my first book this fall feels in many ways just as scary as going off to college.

I was an early-bloomer then. I left home for college at seventeen. And all through that long-ago August, a stranger stood in my bedroom, reminding me that I was about to step off a cliff. The stranger was a suitcase. I’d never owned one. Never needed one. But here it was, my own classic, rectangular, sky-blue Skyway, a high school graduation gift from my grandparents: quietly waiting for me to fill it. Quietly reminding me, every day, that the Skyway and I would soon be flying east into a different universe called college. A universe I longed to love but didn’t know yet if I would. Didn’t know yet that there would be moments worth loving, freedoms worth having, but crises and troughs and miseries too.

Her_Beautiful_BrainI want to love launching my first book, Her Beautiful Brain. But now I’m way beyond old enough to know there will be high and low points. There will be people who don’t like it. People I love who don’t like all of it. People whose attention I had hoped to attract, who ignore it.

That sturdy, rectangular Skyway was my sidekick, my magic carpet, my ticket out of this sleepy old Here Come the Brides town. Grandma was so proud to have picked it out for my high school graduation gift. It was our color, the blue of all of our eyes, the blue that turned up in every ski sweater she ever knit. Skyway blue, set off perfectly by the stainless steel latches that snapped open and shut like a stapler. Inside, the blue was subtly quilted and had a silver sheen, not unlike Grandma’s hair. There were shirred pockets around the sides for small items. It smelled like a new car. It smelled like my life finally beginning.

A few years ago, before we moved out of the house we’d been in for two decades, the time came to face the truth: twenty years in an unheated carport had not been kind to my old Skyway, so unkind it wasn’t even Goodwill-worthy. Off to the dump it went. Or “transfer station,” as we now say, as if we are gently “transferring” our cast-offs to a new habitat.DSC00232.JPG

As I watched the Junk-B-Gone truck pull out of the driveway, the Skyway half-buried, I felt disloyal and guilty about the haphazard way I’d stored it.

It was a tool, I told myself. Like my long-gone first Royal typewriter. Or the laptop on which I started my memoir, which is not the same laptop on which I finished it. It’s where the Skyway took me that mattered. Into the stories of my life. One of which, one month from now, I will be sharing, between the covers of a book.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

DSC00865I’ve been tagged in the My Writing Process Blog Tour by Kim Brown, editor of the wonderful Minerva Rising literary journal. Check out what Kim’s been up to at http://www.the-confident-writer.net.

This blog is a relay that involves answering four specific questions and then naming the authors who will follow. So here we go:

What am I working on??

I am working on the first draft of my second memoir. (My first, Her Beautiful Brain, will be published this September by She Writes Press.) The working title for this book is The Observant Doubter. It’s about my own checkered history of faith and doubt.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Memoir is a slippery, shape-shifting sort of a genre, so this is a difficult question to answer. For me, memoir is not autobiography but more like extended essay writing, a way to explore what have become (like it or not) the enduring themes of my life. And I do mean “explore.” What I love about writing memoir are the new insights that come as you write about events in your life that you might have thought you already understood in every possible way. The memoir writers I admire include Anne Lamott, Elizabeth McCracken and Michael Klein. What I love about their work is that it asks questions. It meanders. It doesn’t follow a straight chronological line.

Why do I write what I do?

My first book was driven by a need to honor my mother’s life and to articulate the uniquely cruel fate that is Alzheimer’s disease, an illness that is still widely misunderstood and feared even though it is poised to become the public health nightmare of the aging Boomers. My second book is driven by a desire to give voice to those of us who are neither devout, rock-solid believers or atheists. I believe there are a lot of us. I believe we are no less serious about our search for meaning than those at the outer ends of the religious spectrum. I also believe there are many of us who, like me, have had periods of more fervent faith and still feel a lot of confusion about it.

Both Her Beautiful Brain and The Observant Doubter weave personal and universal themes, which I love to do as a writer. I get a lot of practice every week writing The Restless Nest radio commentary and blog.

How does your writing process work?

I get up early not to write, but to read for an hour and to scribble a few pages in my journal. This sets me up for the day, which could mean sitting right down to write but more often means doing my day job (making short films for nonprofits) and slipping in an hour or two of writing when I can. I am lucky that I can do this. I work from home. I save tons of time by not having to commute. Every day is different, and I like the variety. If I have a long shooting day or a pressing deadline, that won’t be a writing day. I try to set aside longer chunks of time on the weekend. But I’m a restless person, so a long chunk for me would be three or four hours.

Sometimes, the words flow, but more often, writing feels like hard work, like I’m building sentences, one word at a time, with primitive, handmade tools. I have to pep-talk myself constantly, with inane phrases like, “a page a day can become a book in a year!” or: “finish this paragraph and you can go make coffee. And have one of those Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups.”

Here’s who’s up next on the My Writing Process Blog Tour:

Allison Green is the author of a novel, Half-Moon Scar (St. Martin’s). Her essays, stories, and poems have appeared in publications such as ZYZZYVA, Calyx, Bellingham Review, Willow Springs, Raven Chronicles, and Yes! Magazine. She lives and teaches writing in Seattle.

Allison blogs at http://allisongreen.org

Isla McKetta is the author of Polska, 1994 due out from Editions Checkpointed May 22, 2014 and co-author of Clear Out the Static in Your Attic: A Writer’s Guide for Transforming Artifacts into Art. She writes book reviews for writers at A Geography of Reading and serves on the board of Hugo House.

Isla blogs at http://islamcketta.com

In May, I’ll be posting an interview with Isla about her new novel on The Restless Nest.

Seattle readers: On Thursday, May 1 at 7pm at Ravenna/3rd Place Books, I will be reading with fellow authors from the new anthology,  Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s. 

 

Radio/podcast lovers: This week on KBCS I rebroadcast a piece called Trilliums from April 2012.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Night of the Shutdown

DSC00865On the night the Republicans shut down the government, I was teaching at Seattle Central Community College: “Intro to Memoir Writing,” a non-credit class offered through Central’s lively Continuing Education program. While my students and I tackled the mysterious mechanics of writing about our lives, other students and other teachers labored in classrooms all around us: French, across the hall; English as a Second Language, a few doors down; history and sociology around the corner. While Congress wasted the country’s time, we devoured time hungrily and with purpose: teaching, listening, learning from each other. While House Speaker John Boehner did his best to dismantle the democratic process, we were building—in our cases, stories, built one word at a time with sweat, tears, love and hard labor.

At some point earlier in their careers, surely Boehner and his colleagues must have wanted to build, rather than tear down. Maybe not: maybe the Republican party has always been dedicated to ending government as we know it. Government, as we were taught in classrooms long ago, in which bills are drafted, debated, rewritten, passed, signed and then become the law of the land. Law: not a target for blackmail and subversion, but law.

It cheers me to think of all the learning going on in community college classrooms, not only on Monday, September 30, but on any given evening. Because this is where Boehner and his cohort are going down. The people the Tea Party et al fear so much—people who think, people who want to learn rather than be spoon-fed half-truths and untruths about how democracy is supposed to work—I’m here to tell you there are more of them every day. And they’re not home watching Fox News after work, they’re going to night school.

What angers me is that some of those students might also be among the 800,000 federal employees who are out of a job, thanks to the selfish grandstanding of the zealots on Capitol Hill.

It helps a little to know they’ll be able to get health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Law: the Affordable Care Law. Passed by the people’s representatives, signed by the democratically elected president, upheld by the highest court in the land.

I love how that works.

Just as I love teaching in a continuing education program at a community college: where people are excited about opening their brains up to new ideas, rather than pretending new ideas—or new laws—don’t exist.

September Berries

IMG_0673
Late-season blackberries are like the denizens of a well-worn tavern: this one’s dry as an old raisin, that one’s pretty but dusted with mold; this one is big but refuses to mature, that one is sweet but too soft, turning to jam in your hand.

Picking blackberries after Labor Day is indeed labor.

And yet I find it compulsively absorbing.

I wade in the shallows at the edge of Lake Washington, scanning, searching, occasionally finding. I work my way along the shoreline, a plastic bag in my sticky purple hand, my water sandals nested in mud. The sun is hot on my back. I’m concentrating so hard you’d think I was taking the Blackberry SATs.

Often, I go berry picking with the goal of Thinking about something that needs thinking about: for example, should I let go of the dream of a traditional publisher for my memoir and try a different route? Or, on a more immediate note, how soon can I text my son, who is 3,000 miles away and in the throes of mono, and ask him if he’s feeling any better today?

But when I step into the water and begin my hunt for the plumpest, darkest berries, I stop thinking. I go into a sort of trance state in which the only thing that matters is: where’s the next one? Is it there, on that cluster? No: they look ready, but they’re not. Or there, on the next branch? No: those ones should have been picked last week. Mold has crept over them, like a white shadow.

I taste as I go: one is vinegar, one’s wine, one’s raisiny. One out of ten, aahh!—is meltingly sweet.

The late ripeners.

Is that what I am?

I hope so.

It would have been thrilling to be a published author in my twenties, or thirties, or forties. But I wasn’t. I did other things: wrote news stories, made documentary films, raised children.

Now, I’m ripening as a writer and trying hard to do it right: Study. Practice. Water and sun when I need it. Well-nourished roots. Space to stretch and put out green leaves, flowers and, finally, fruit. Which will need to picked at the right time and prepared and consumed in the best way: simply raw? Baked in a pie? Cooked into a jam?

When I was about 12, my grandparents bought a beach house near Bremerton—an unglamorous but perfect spot, just a few miles from the ferry dock. To get to it, we drove to the end of a city street and then down a long dirt road through a forested ravine loaded with blackberries.

When we stayed there for the first time with my mom, she was newly divorced and this was a new experience: not only because it was just us kids and her, but because we had rarely in our lives gone to stay anywhere overnight with our parents.

Mom was a Montana girl who knew more about woods than she did about beaches. She breathed in, deeply, joyfully, at the sight and smell of the ripe berries. She urged us to pick as many as we could, promising pies and cobblers and jars of jam.

Jam! We were skeptical. Night after night, our mother cranked out dinner for six children, but she had never done anything as homespun as make jam.

We came home that afternoon with buckets of berries, the memory of which makes the tiny bags I pick these days look even tinier and more pathetic.

Mom had been to the store. The kitchen counters were covered with jars, lids, paraffin and sugar. Her face flushed as she leaned over a pot of boiling water, fishing the jars out with barbecue tongs, explaining that she was “sterilizing” them. She looked younger than she had in months, almost childlike. Yet, oddly, she seemed to know what she was doing.

“Grandma used to make jam all the time,” she explained. “You poor things don’t even know how good this is going to taste.”

We didn’t. It was the age of Smucker’s and Welch’s. Even mothers who weren’t divorced and back in college, like our mom, did not make jam, at least not any I knew.

And she was right: homemade blackberry jam tasted nothing like what we bought at the store. It tasted like summer. It tasted like sun and rain and the woods and the beach.

And when I taste a blackberry now, I taste that jam, and I remember the ripening, the awakening, of my mom in the middle of her life. I think of what she must have felt, to be able to say: “Today, we are making jam and lots of it, because that is what I want to do and there’s no one here who’s going to try to talk me out of it!”

I haven’t made jam as an adult. I consider it a failing, that I didn’t do it when my own children were young. But at least I can call myself a late-blooming berry picker, one who specializes in finding the late-ripening fruit: the September berries.

And I won’t give that up.

And I won’t give up trying to be one myself: a late ripener.

It’s a way to honor my mother, whose mid-life ripening was thwarted, eventually, by younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

After my mother got her mid-life college degree, she became a teacher. In one of her school yearbooks, the teachers all had favorite quotes under their photos. She chose the last two lines of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress:” Thus, though we cannot make our sun/Stand still, yet we will make him run.

I’m taking notes, Mom. Taking notes and picking berries.

Ready to do some writing? Registration is now open for my Intro to Memoir class at Seattle Central. Noncredit, no stress. Five Monday evenings, starting Sept 23. More info here. 
Radio lovers: stay tuned! Back on the air in October.

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.

 

Borders

DSC00865I grew up in a world of well-marked borders between work and the rest of life. Work was something my father did in an office downtown, not ever at home. I knew he was an “insurance agent” but I didn’t know, or really care, what that meant. Work was what he did to earn money. That’s all work meant.

When my parents divorced, the Mad Men lifestyle they had modeled for us ended, at least at our house, for good. My mother went back to college and became a teacher, daily demonstrating to her six children how thoroughly work and the rest of life could and did mix when necessary. Her evenings were filled with making dinner, grading papers, paying bills, grading more papers. But still I thought of work as what you did to earn money.

These days, I’m not sure what to think.

I do plenty of work that is important to me for which I don’t get paid. I write these radio commentaries. I create independent documentary films with my husband, Rustin Thompson. This unpaid work gets all mixed in, every day, with our paying work. The borders are porous and the benefits flow both ways. We bring more creative energy to the work we do for our clients—nearly all of them hard-working nonprofits in the Puget Sound area—who in turn inspire us to be creative. Meanwhile, there’s cooking, housework, family time, all going into the daily mix.

Believe me, ours is not a great business model, if you define business in terms of dollars and cents. But it’s a life model that I have come to believe is more natural for us modern humans than Mad Men style separation. For centuries before the industrial revolution, farmers, craftsmen, artisans, shopkeepers lived and worked in the same place. Now that we’re post-industrial, many of us have returned to a home-based or borderless working life. (My late brother, an early computer prodigy who designed software from his home office, used to call himself a “software farmer.”)

The dark side of this is the much-bemoaned syndrome of always being chained—either by necessity or choice—to your work via the phone in your pocket. The bright side is when it can all blend together in the best ways.

During the Depression, Robert Frost wrote a poem called “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” about two hungry hobos who showed up in his New England yard just as he was getting ready to split wood—a task he loved and which, he implies in the poem, inspired him creatively. But he knew the tramps needed the work, and he knew he would offer it. “My right might be love but theirs was need,” Frost wrote.

The poem concludes with an ode to the best option of all: when work is done from love and need: “Only where love and need are one,/And the work is play for mortal stakes,/ Is the deed ever really done/For heaven and the future’s sakes.”

As I watch my own young adult children launch their working lives, my hope for them is that they will be able to meet their needs doing work they love. It’s a good goal. But as it has been for us, it might have to be a blend: some work done for love, some for need, some for love and need.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

 

The Next Big Thing

DSC00853Book reviewer extraordinaire and writer of elegant prose Isla McKetta tagged me in an online writer’s blog series called The Next Big Thing. Isla is a copywriter by day, novelist by night, Richard Hugo House board member and indefatigable cheerleader of her writer friends. You can read Isla’s responses to to the ten Next Big Thing Questions here.  And here are mine:

1. What is your working title of your book?

Her Beautiful Brain

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

When my mother was in her late fifties, she began to forget. A lot. She began to repeat herself. A lot. Renowned since high school for her beautiful brain, my mother was losing her mind to Alzheimer’s disease, bit by bit, just as I became a mother myself. I began writing Her Beautiful Brain because I wanted to tell her story. But as I wrote, I realized it was my story too: of motherhood in the age of Alzheimer’s.

For nearly two decades, her slow erasure shaped our family life. As my children grew, my mother shrank: slowly, for a while, but  then rapidly, weirdly, every which way.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ah, the fun question! Mom at 60: Debra Winger? Me at 35: Rosemary DeWitt?

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

It’s about what it was like to become a mom just as my own mother—twice divorced, once widowed, mother of six, loving, unflappable role model to all of us—began to lose her mind to younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

6. Will you be self-published or represented by an agency?

An interesting either-or question! I had an agent, who pitched my book a half-dozen times and then… stopped. But I didn’t know that she’d stopped, not for months. (I know, I know, I should have figured it out!) So now I’m setting out to pitch it myself to midsized and small presses.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a year and a half.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

When I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I felt a great sense of kinship: her grief for her mother, her anger that this had happened, her determination to figure out what the hell to do with her grief and anger.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My mother inspired me to write. Alzheimer’s disease inspired me to write, because it is so insidious and it’s a galloping epidemic and yet no one wants to see, hear or think about it.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

In 2004, my husband and I produced a film about Mom and Alzheimer’s disease called Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story. Making the film made me realize I had so much more to say. I knew I would write a book, but I also knew that emotionally, I couldn’t start it until after Mom was gone. She died in 2006. Quick Brown Fox has been seen on PBS and other stations all over the world. It’s in educational distribution through Women Make Movies. And you can now watch it on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

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I was also tagged in this Next Big Thing game by the talented Donna Miscolta, author of the haunting, lovely novel, When the De La Cruz Family Danced. Read about Donna’s next big thing here.  And… by gifted playwright Scott Herman, who is writing a memoir about a loooonngg motorcycle road trip and the girl at the end of it.

Who have I tagged? I personally can’t wait to read what’s next for the multifaceted Wes Andrews, whose Verbalist’s Journal and reading/performance series have added excellent spice to Seattle’s literary scene. And Shahana Dattagupta, author of Thrive! Falling in Love with Life and half of the dynamic duo behind the Courageous Creativity ‘zine.

 

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