Quintessence ~ the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form. Substance composing the celestial bodies.
The shoes that climbed Gonergrat, Switzerland
December 5, 2013
Be in a state of gratitude for everything that shows up in your life. Be thankful for the storms as well as the smooth sailing. What is the lesson or gift in what you are experiencing right now? Find your joy not in what's missing in your life but in how you can serve.
-- Wayne Dyer
Last Saturday all across America we celebrated our favorite local independent bookstores. Here in Spokane I joined fellow authors at Aunties Books. The experience of mingling with shoppers in the aisles, talking books, life, meeting other area authors…all of this was deeply affirming for me. I am grateful, beyond measure, for the beauty that writing has brought to my life. How much there is to give and receive.
I learned from a young Canadian man about adventure literature of the 1930s. ("The White Spider"...anybody?) I talked with a lovely woman who radiated such quiet gentle strength it was no surprise to learn her story of survival infuses the grace she lives by. And of course there was the funny family from Florida, in town for the holidays - all of them opinionated, smart, verbal - who split to the far corners of the bookstore, browsing and reading in the stacks. I met grandparents searching out perfect book gifts for grandchildren, young couples browsing, outdoorsy guys killing time before a Pearl Jam concert. The talk was so much about favorite books (and life stories) I jitterbugged my own little "Snoopy dance of joy' down the aisles. (Sorry if you saw that.) This season, may every good book find its devoted reader.
I am grateful for what is present, this very moment, in my life. A loving family. A quirky, funny, devoted spouse, who brings all that is fresh and new from his realm of medical science into the bookish hours of my day. I am grateful for the gifts of friendship - especially those of you I have known for years now, you are gold. I hope there are surprises of utter joy in store this coming year.
I am grateful for my publishing family. My "knights in industry" who do battle with the odds, flying their faith in books and writers, in me
, daily. Where would I be without your loyalty and love and insight and determination? Where would writers be without you, and readers without writers? Thank you all for this amazing year, and for the work you do. I hope your stockings are filled with bows and garlands of royalties and accolades.
And finally, I want to express my gratitude to the unseen hands throughout the world - the angels that bring peace, ensure safer hours and places for children to play, bring knowledge to dark corners, protection in danger, leadership through passages of fear. I stand daily in awe of the many humans, anonymous, official, noble and humble alike, who give and serve and build community within the human race. We are all of us connected by family and community and hopes for a better world. May the stars atop your dreams cast the brightest light.
I wish you the long-abiding warmth of gratitude. Thank you. Thank you for your presence in my life and your presence in the world.
November 26, 2013
Books for the Holidays!
As many of you know, this upcoming Saturday is "Small Business Saturday," better known as your community "shop local" Saturday, when we all have the opportunity to demonstrate support for our main street businesses by making our purchases downtown. As the holidays draw near, purchases we make locally support a community business in an important way, which in turn strengthens our communities and hometown economic vitality. For authors this upcoming Saturday is a special opportunity to hand-sell our favorite books (and sign our own for you if you wish) in local bookstores and talk books. Many of us all across America will be present in the aisles of local independent bookstores chatting about books, pressing our favorite reads in your hands, making holiday recommendations and hearing what you love to read.
Auntie's is our Spokane city jewel, an independent bookstore since 1978, staffed by knowledgeable and supportive booksellers. For many Pacific Northwest authors (myself included) Auntie's, or a bookstore like it, hosted our debut author book events. Independent bookstores across America welcome and host community author events and special interest book clubs. Our Auntie's Bookstore gives Spokane the heart and enthusiasm that makes our community a great place to live, and this is our opportunity to say how much we appreciate our local bookstores.
I will be at Auntie's Bookstore, downtown Spokane (Main & Washington), from 2:30 to 4pm on Saturday November 30. So come on down and meet me, and let's do some holiday book shopping together!
[To see the full schedule of authors present this Saturday visit www.auntiesbooks.com.]
I will be chatting about and recommending some of the following recently released books:
Julian Barnes, SENSE OF AN ENDING and LEVELS OF LIFE
Elizabeth Gilbert, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS
Donna Tartt, THE GOLDFINCH
Dave Eggars, THE CIRCLE
Alice McDermott, SOMEONE
David Gilbert, & SONS
Suzanne Rindell, THE OTHER TYPIST
Adelle Waldman, THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P.
Joanna LuLoff's THE BEACH AT GALLE ROAD (stories)
Susan Choi, MY EDUCATION
The Pulitzer nonfiction books of 2012 and 2013
The poetry of Denise Levertov, Pablo Neruda, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Anne Carson, and Louise Gluck - and our newest National Book Award winner for 2013 in Poetry, for her work INCARNADINE, Portland poet, Mary Szybist.
Hope to see you downtown this Saturday. Happy Thanksgiving!
November 19, 2013
forwarded along from woohdreambig.tumblr.com
My first gifts to you this holiday season are morsels of goodness, both wise and tasty. The words of life wisdom above came to me anonymously and I regret not being able to tell you more about the folks involved, but I find Mr. Snell's advice worth passing on as it is wise, humorous, and certainly practical.
AND…TIS THE SEASON OF FEASTS & CELEBRATIONS!! Here is a recipe for a holiday family favorite, an English-inspired savory cranberry conserve. This cranberry conserve is a robust recipe that balances the sweet and the tart (and can actually be made into a dessert tart); a recipe we usually double, so popular it is often given as a gift, with the beautiful conserve spooned into a festive jar decorated with a bow on top.
THE SILVER PALATE GOOD TIMES COOKBOOK (1984):
1 thin-skinned orange (or two clementines*), seeds removed, cut into eights
1 pound fresh cranberries
1/2 cup dried currants
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1. Process the orange in a food processor until coarsely chopped
2. Combine the chopped orange with all the remaining ingredients except the walnuts in a heavy saucepan. Simmer, uncovered, until all the cranberries have popped open, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the walnuts.
3. After cooling, pack conserve not immediately for serving into air-tight containers and freeze, or refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Makes 6 half pints
* The substitution of clementines is my edit to the recipe. I usually double this recipe and cook in one large heavy saucepan; note, the simmer time is closer to 30 minutes then. The raspberry vinegar taste will be too intense if you use a raspberry balsamic, so be sure to look for a raspberry vinegar. (Silver Palate now produces a bottled raspberry vinegar you can fortunately find in most gourmet grocery stores around the holidays. A doubled recipe will use most of three bottles.) I use a wooden spoon to pop any remaining stubborn cranberries open against the side of the pan. Savory taste can be shifted toward the sweet with the addition of slightly more brown sugar and currants, but everyone seems to love the chutney-like consistency and tartness of this blend as is. Also delicious on bagels with a cream cheese spread. Hope you love it!
November 15, 2013
Limb to limb, mouth to mouth
with the bleached grass
silver mist lies upon the back yards
among the outhouses.
The dwarf trees
pirouette awkwardly to it -
whirling around on one toe;
the big tree smiles and glances upward!
Tense with suppressed excitement
the fences watch where the ground
has humped an aching shoulder for
- William Carlos Williams
The matter of relatives...
Interesting that my recent, rather euphoric posts, on friendships, families and weddings, have once again been diluted by the universe with a salty dose of reality. In the nineteen eighties self-help manuals used the vernacular of pop psychology to identify family drama-divas as "crazy makers." You and I might know these family hot spots as Uncle Ed, or your sibling with the clove cigarettes, Goth piercings and menacing one-liners, the girlfriend gramps brings to family events he is asked not to, the in-law exes that cannot go five minutes before reenacting their divorce. If not family drama, then it's the cold war. The issue is euphemistically what one might call "hoarding of information," an unwillingness to invite intimate family commentary into our lives. We remain mum with one another about everything from job changes to medical procedures. Finding out someone is engaged before knowing they were dating.
The obvious conclusion would be to assume families are comprised of wary, judgmental people taking cover from the bite of familial criticism, but I believe people are instead rather neurotically private, and in most situations completely unable to distinguish helpful bonding behavior from exclusion. One can probably lay part of the blame on the perpetuation in early childhood of old generational conflicts and habits, but relevant or not, there seems to be a stubborn pattern of defensive coil-and-sting behaviors wherever relatives gather. And for some of us, no matter how often the zingers occur, we never see them coming. The immediate sequel to the experience of emotional evisceration at the hands of a family member is to ask oneself, what is the best response? Both to maintain cordial relations, but also for one's own peace of mind? Do we cut the crazy makers from our "circle of trust" as psychologists frequently advise, or confront and "speak our truth" as others urge us to do? Or in keeping with modern psychoanalysis, feel the real
awful, then forgive and grow a callus. Is family forever, or are we all entitled at some point to give up and step away?
Practically speaking, when months of silence settle over a family conflict, the persons involved do not usually come to their senses as one hopes and make an effort to forgive and reconstruct. People tend to dig in and resentment simmers. Get-togethers get more weird and uncomfortable and tense. Communication is reduced to the polite minimum and then you wake up one day to discover paroled Uncle Ed was arrested on gun charges in Scientology rehab with your name as "next of kin" on the back of a bail bondsman's card. A sibling needs a transplant but didn't list you on the possible donor list. Family betrayals, especially the more subtle "dis-inclusions," are ugly and hurtful. Shaming.
Can we change this? We can want to. We can suck it up and try again. As the old saying goes, "hold hands not grudges." But in middle-age, I'm inclined to give more credence to the effects of entropy in family relationships than I used to. Eventually connections just wear down if nothing builds them up. I consider myself to be in the family bridge-building business. Like you, I'm working on the family pothole crew. But what most of us want out of family life is genuine affection: true respect, and an appreciation and gratitude for the beautiful idea
of family. In the aftermath of two graduations and three weddings, I can happily toast the amazing, giving, loving family members sharing in these celebrations together. And once again, wonder what any of us can do to improve what isn't so fabulous.
What has worked in your family interactions? Do you have any personal wisdom or insight to share?
November 7, 2013
A MARRIAGE RING
The ring so worn as you behold,
So thin, so pale, is yet of gold:
The passion such it was to prove;
Worn with life's cares, love yet was love.
- George Crabbe
In the last of three beautiful weddings this year, on Saturday we will join family as my younger brother celebrates the wedding of his oldest, a daughter. My brother is the second among my siblings and I to have a child marry, and the ceremony defines once more the transition of generations. I remember the event of my niece's birth, and the feeling among the four of us (my brother, two sisters and I) that in the birth of our children we were laying a true milestone: that family builds the future. Educations complete - marriages and careers, a home, children. Now that niece with the big smile and infectious giggle is to be a bride, beginning her own adult journey. The foundation of a new generation.
Our parents are not alive to enjoy or appreciate this moment. This gives each wedding a particular poignancy, the sense of a premature shift in roles. It is up to us, newly middle-aged parents and future grandparents, to stand as unshakable pillars. To brace the uncertainty and evolution of the next generation's first steps into marriage, parenthood…taking on the challenges of life. Will we be good in-laws? Surprised grandparents, self-conscious, perhaps unprepared to be the wise, supportive elders our
grandparents were to us? How do we step into such large shoes? Dazzle our grown children's lives with that same bracing unconditional love and faith? Echoes of courage in our hearts, embedded in the memory of our own crossing from "I Will" to "I Do" and "I Shall," we stand proudly at the side of our sons and daughters as they take the hand of the one they
promise to love and cherish. We blink back tears, remembering first smiles, tiny arms wrapped tight around our necks.
A wedding celebrates the day we fully let our children go. No longer the smallest or the first stitch in the line, the thread slips forward and loops the future in. Love darns new hearts into the family tapestry. We smile in joy.
October 29, 2013
The day seemed interminable, yet neither was in a hurry to have done with it. It seemed to both of them in their separate ways that only the possession of this day held worse days at bay, that, for each of them, the seriousness of their respective predicaments had so far been material for satire or for ridicule or even for amusement. But that the characters who had furnished that satire or that amusement were now taking on a disturbing life of their own, were revealing capacities for command or caprice that threatened, although in a very obscure or oblique way, their own marginal existence. We both came here to get other people out of trouble, thought Edith; no one considered our hopes and wishes. Yet hopes and wishes are what should be proclaimed, most strenuously proclaimed, if anyone is to be jolted into the necessity of taking note of them, let alone the obligation to fulfill them… All I learned I learned from Father. Think again, Edith. You have made a false equation. This is when character tells. Sad precepts of a lost faith.
- from "Hotel du Lac," by Anita Brookner
Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner, published in 1984, won Great Britain's Booker Prize in 1986, nearly twenty years ago. Materialism, Feminism, careerism, explicit film and writing defined the 1980s - a tumultuous time of "-isms" and their vocal, adamant defenders. Yet Hotel du Lac, written in that period, is a novel of another era, a self-contained, wrly observed bridge between the defined roles and mannerisms of Austen's literary women and the depressed self-definition of Doris Lessing's heroines. In this "no woman's land" between independence of means and thinking and social expectation and the demands of good character, Brookner gives us a woman named Edith Hope, whose last name anchors the trenchant theme of the novel. Edith is a successful romance novelist writing under a pen name who is herself awkward and unsuccessful at love. She finds herself caught in a scandal of her own inept making and forced to seek refuge in a grand but out of the way old European hotel. A hotel occupied by those who in eccentric and unpredictable ways are also refugees from their lives. It is here, dwelling on her options, that Edith is forced to confront what she really feels about love.
I found myself drawn in and occasionally at odds with this novel. Brookner's mannered language is what now might be deemed "overwritten." A contemporary critic might declaim such studied writing inserts itself between the reader and the narrative. Brookner's language colors and slows the narrative, deliberatively. Words such as inimical, penumbra, hitherto, veritable, estimable, propensity, etc., put us firmly in the thoughts of a woman of the nineteenth century, yet Edith Hope is very much living the life of an independent woman of the twentieth. Therein lies the root of the "wrong equation" Edith makes of love and what a woman is entitled to want, to hope for; her dawning awareness of the "sad precepts of a lost faith."
This novel is perhaps the perfect ironic anti-romance romantic novel. The observations and humor are fine; cutting, yet objectively drawn as Edith considers her situation and that of the (primarily) women around her, the elegant lost souls of the Hotel du Lac. Each guest in some way has made her or his own bittersweet pact with love - from the material and indulgent to the rebellious or marginalized. The novel's delicately observed truths about human relationships are centuries old. It is Edith who reminds us of this, even as she herself must decide what history she will choose.
Brookner adeptly lures the reader irrevocably into this novel of quiet desperation. A pattern occurs in the narrative, until it becomes obvious what the heroine thinks may not be true (Edith, you have made a wrong equation), or the predicted outcome is not the outcome at all. And so it with complete pleasure that Hotel du Lac ends on a gesture of rebellion. Edith may not know how to find what she seeks, but finally, she knows what is right for her. I found myself wondering at the novel's end how many of us like Edith live a century behind ourselves. Raised in our grandparents's or parents's value systems, influenced by the books and mythologies and manners of earlier times, perhaps like Edith it takes a turning point to force us forward. To leave behind a life inhabiting the expectations of others and define our own lives.
October 23, 2013
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
This poem by e.e. cummings was part of my own wedding ceremony, shared at sunrise on the crater's edge of Haleakala on Maui. These words capture for me the enduring, burrowing, all encompassing interiority of hearts in love. The supple binding and integration of identities and lives. The way in which love becomes us. Or perhaps it is how we become our love; the way we live in love.
Tomorrow I am leaving for a fabulous wedding in Austin, a gala barn dance. We are celebrating the marriage of the first child of my dearest friend Patricia. Patricia and I met in the basketball stands of our daughters's school, cheering on our girls on the JV team. We hit it off like chocolate and nuts, and hung together as we raised our children through the highs and lows of middle school, high school, the college applications marathon, and on through dating, career starts, and graduations (two college senior sons left to go). And now her amazing eldest, having taken the bar exam, is marrying her true love and fellow lawyer (and operatic baritone) under the old oaks of Austin. I am looking over my favorite vintage wines, thinking of our years as friends, as parents, choosing one to bring down with me for the two of us to share over a private celebratory moment this weekend. This is the first of our children to marry and it is hard to describe the huge feeling in my chest as I think of this.
Love, celebrated in the ceremony of a wedding, marks a transition: hingeing the world of both child and parent.
"the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life"
The families we ourselves began to build so idealistically decades ago divide and double, branch and flower. The child steps away and toward the future, laying the foundation stone of a family of his or her own. Beginning independent life with someone they love. It is a moment of long-anticipated arrival - the threshold of true adulthood - embracing the responsibilities of partnership, parenting, life. And to the parents that have nurtured, guided, suffered, celebrated, and loved their children to this threshold? A sweet, nuanced emotional collision. Swells of accomplishment, great joy, and the twinged melancholy of missing the "days our children were little." Yes. I believe this moment needs a good - no great - old wine. Also something nuanced, complex. Satisfying, but the wish for that half glass more.
I will lift my glass this weekend to you, my friend. To your glowing, gorgeous daughter.
To us. To the glorious years as parents that bond us.
And finally to parents the world over, as they kiss their children and see them through a thousand doors.
October 14, 2013
Old thread, old line
of ink twisting out into the clearness
we call space
where are you leading me this time?
Past the stove, the table,
past the daily horizontal
of the floor, past the cellar,
past the believable,
down into the darkness
where you reverse and shine.
- Margaret Atwood, from Down
At a recent creative writing workshop I held, a gristled middle-aged man wearing a cabled fisherman's sweater, bagged at the elbows, and smudged half-glasses, lifted the nicotine-stained fingers of his right hand and asked with a bit of a hesitancy in his speech, "How do you know you have an idea worth writing about?"
The pat answer, the one you always hear repeated at conference panels, is the question flipped back on itself. "Does it inspire you? Do you
feel passionate about your idea? If you do, then dive in and write what only you can." I have no real problem with this response because, in most ways, it is true. Our best ideas are almost always the ones we believe in with all our heart. Only passion will lift an idea from flat ink on the page to construct that three-dimensional vision in your mind, the one you write out fleshed in the senses, in time and drama for your readers. But writers are a hardy lot, self-disciplined; committed to work even when inspiration fails. Driven to drum up enthusiasm when inspiration lags. I knew my gentlemen with the pipe was asking more than what subjects to consider. He tapped his laptop then, asked, "What works?"
In truth, the business of writing occurs one level beyond what is a good passionate story on the page. An acquisitions editor reads for more than the well-executed novel or short story. The editor's interest in a manuscript is often a phenomenon of timeliness, of fresh and unexpected writing, innovative storytelling. Many editors are actively searching for something they can love - that undefinable word magic. That "something extra" that takes a work of private solitary imagination and lifts it into the world of published books. The answer to my gentleman's question, what follows "Are you passionate about your story?" is the simple not-so-easy qualifier, "Can you write this idea so that others will feel about your story as you do?"
At the end of reading a novel submission, the editor has his or her answer in hand. On this basis proposals are judged as well. If you are fortunate to have your "yes," what follows is the amazing, important, book to hand build of industry interest in your fledgling story. Old-fashioned word of mouth enthusiasm is the way your editor wins advance support within the publishing house, amongst book reviewers, bookstore owners, and those whose opinions influence what we read. That your agent loves your work, and your publishing editor loves your work, success still depends on other readers falling in love as well. It's quite the journey your unique story, the idea you were so passionate about, undertakes to arrive in Aunt Edna's hands.
Margaret Atwood's imagery of inked lines flying from the table, past the believable to that point words shine, is one I return to frequently when I think how grateful I am to the professionals in publishing. They hear our words. And pass the magic on to readers, everywhere.
October 11, 2013
Flowers of October, Gutenberg
A lingering day was enveloped by water,
by fire, by smoke, by silence, by gold,
by silver, by ashes, by passing and there
it lay scattered, the longest of days:
the tree tumbled whole and calcified,
one century then another hid it away
until a broad slab of stone forever
replaced the rustling of its leaves.
- Pablo Neruda, Stones of the Sky
Dark before the dawn and I am on the road. Making the airport run, nose to tail-light in a stream of red chasing the silver arrows. On my way back home I drive into the mouth of clouds spitting fire. The dawn so huge it swallows the still plateau, the pines dusted in frost, the concrete highways stirring to life. The glow of morning chases the night all the way to my quiet street.
Coming in the door, I hang up my keys and pull on gloves and head back out for my morning walk. I shake the stiffness out of my bones, feeling as rounded and rooted as the thousand year rocks and grandfather trees. After 45 years of running, one knee is bone on bone and today walk is better than run, better than not moving at all. Life reminds us of the non-negotiable passage of time in the most prosaic ways.
Along the bluff fog rises up the valley. Dense, colorless, chill. The breath of earth stills as it turns from the sun. Around me deciduous trees shriek noisily with color, their crimson and persimmon and curry yellows the most festive of chorales to sing the cornucopia, hint the barren that will follow. My breath explodes in small puffs before me as I part the dried grasses, feet crunching stiff wild oat. Bright sun penetrates through the fog here and there, god of somnolent things, warming the stones and snakes awake. It is here, the world cries. The beauty of fullness. The fall. Do you see?
Home, I remove my gloves and embrace the settledness of an empty house. Around me the quiet and still shoulder in, I am wrapped in the waiting. The pure that gestates creative impulse. Today I vow to mute the whispers of the busy world, silence the phone, turn off the devices, cloak the fretful television, the news and melodies and playlists bursting to entertain, saturate. My gift today? Colors of quiet.
September 30, 2013
The moth and fish eggs are in their place,
The suns I see and the suns I cannot see are in their place,
The palpable is in its place and the impalpable is in its place.
Do you guess I have some intricate purpose? Well I have...
for the April rain has, and the mica on the side of a rock has.
- Walt Whitman
Beyond my study window the wind sighs hard and angry. A storm from over the Pacific has pounded the Cascade Mountains the last few days, hurled across the sage high desert and now catches in the pines and canyons of these inland northwest river valleys. The autumnal equinox of just a week ago felt gentle; a graceful tipping of the scale into another season. This day feels rough and furious, the energy of nature unleashed without temperament or caution. The earth is a monumental force of combative physics, a blue ball hurtling in black space, the whims and fractions of the elements wrecking havoc across the oceans and continents. Whitman's words fill me with a sense of belonging and serenity, even as nature is making it clear everything is for the taking. Stand and I will shred you of your leaves, your shingles, your habitat, your peace.
It is interesting to me the way in which I, as most humans, move in and out of awareness of myself as a precarious biological presence. Rooted lightly in an otherwise inorganic earth. The rock and wind, the heat and cold and pounding rains break down the living, the once living, all that is organic, and incorporate all things over and over again into an ecosystem we usually take for granted, forget, hold in false dominion. I have a healthy respect for wind like this. The long delicate branches of the birch trees snarl and toss as the old soldiers lean in against the gusts. Birds are nowhere to be seen but for the hunting falcons high above on the thermals. The backyard squirrels are snugged deep in the embrace of the boughs of the blue spruce.
Sometimes our lives feel as if they are ravaged by forces such as this, subject to events and elements beyond our small selves. We bend under the onslaught, scurry for shelter in hopes of riding out the storm. We are shredded by winds of disappointment, of loss, by harm or even danger. When I received news today a dear friend was the targeted victim of a smash and grab robbery while stopped in traffic in a taxi in Paris, I trembled. The wind roars. But she is safe. Her belongings and valuables are certainly gone, but her loved one and her life are intact. Memories remain when things do not. The wind passes, and we gather the downed limbs.
I return to the words of Whitman at the beginning of this essay. I take comfort.