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1. 48 days, day 47: celebration

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.
 ====================
We don't have a picture of us in the sixties. We met when our mutual friend, Jimmy Murphy, who lived down the street from me and drove me to school in his family's Corvair, asked me one morning at pick-up, "Can we go by and get my friend Jim?" and I said sure.

Turns out, Jimmy and Jim worked together (if you could call it that) at Biff Burger in Charleston, South Carolina. My dad had been transferred to Charleston in 1968. He spent two years mostly flying C-141s into and out of Vietnam while my mother held together a family of three kids and a dog and teenager-hood in the late sixties.

As Jim loped out of his house, trombone case under one arm, spiral notebook spilling papers out of the other, I knew my life was about to change. You can't even define it that way -- it's a feeling you understand only later, looking back. I got out of the passenger seat and crawled into the cramped back seat, not because I was a girl and that's what girls did, but because Jim was 6'6" tall and I knew he wouldn't fit in the back.

I don't know where the trombone went. Maybe there wasn't a trombone.

"Hi," was all I managed. "Hi," he said back. He had gigantic lips (good for kissing, it turned out). He smiled with his whole face, hiding nothing, including how amazing he thought I was, this creature who occupied the front seat of his friend Jimmy's car.

And that was the beginning. Things went very fast. I was a good girl. He was a Billy Graham good boy. But we were very good explorers, and we became inseparable, and such good friends, too. He was a good listener. I was a good talker. For the first time in my life, I had someone to really listen to me, to intently listen, looking me straight in the face, paying attention. It was heady stuff!

The music in his life became the music in mine, as I sat at football games in the bleachers in freezing November, watching the sousaphone player at halftime marching in the St. Andrews High School Marching Band. He loved band, he loved the piano (his strength, still today), and he loved rock and roll.

My dad was transferred to the Philippines in 1970, and through a series of events too long to go into here, Jim and I lost touch for a few decades. When we reunited in our late forties, he still looked at me with that grin and those lips and those eyes so intent on my face, listening. I was so far gone before we even got started again. "I can't believe you never got married," I said, "that you never had kids..."

And do you know what he said? "I waited for you." Well. Here I am, me and my decades of living, my four children all grown now, who have been folded into Jim's heart, too, a heart that has room for anything Debbie loves. It's downright inspiring.

I am pouty, where he lets go. I am critical, where he is understanding. I am self-centered, where he is selfless. I could go on. Perhaps I have him on a pedestal. Perhaps he puts me there, too. Maybe that's as it should be.

We are two artists trying to make our way in a world that is not sympathetic to artistic temperaments and making a living. We manage. We like being together and say that's what counts. We both like simple, silly adventures. He makes me laugh. He likes my faces. He likes my snoring. "I can't sleep until I hear you snore." He will go with me to France one day -- a dream I had even when I knew him in high school.

Is it all good? We both find brown sugar cinnamon frosted Pop Tarts hard to resist. There. Something not so good? Nah. It's all good.

Today is our 8th wedding anniversary. We'll spend it getting ready to leave on our trip that begins in tomorrow's wee hours.

This song was number 50 on the Billboard Top 100 for 1969. I'm listening to a lot of late sixties music in preparation for writing Book 3 of the sixties trilogy. I'm looking for anchor songs for scrapbooks, and for story inspiration. This song reminds me so much of that amazingly innocent and yet powerful Charleston time we had together in 1969. Here's to you, Sweet Jim, to the 14 years we've spent together again. I hope we get 14 more.

(the hair! the suits! the dancing while playing guitar! the lip sync! where are the trumpets? hahahahaha. oh, sixties, you are so weird. thank goodness.)

The Spiral Starecase
More Today Than Yesterday

I don't remember what day it was.
I didn't notice what time it was.
All I know is that I fell in love with you.
And if all my dreams come true,
I'll be spending time with you!

Every day's a new day in love with you.
With each day brings a new way of loving you --
Every time I kiss your lips my mind starts to wander...

I love you more today than yesterday
But not as much as tomorrow!

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2. 48 days, day 44-46: almost time

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

It's that no-man's place where I've got one foot in the work I'm trying to do, and one foot in my suitcase, trying to make sure I remember to pack everything I'll need in California this weekend... not very effective for doing anything requiring concentration, but it is always like this before travel. We leave Friday morning and return late Monday night. Then it is August. How did that happen?

I took 7 weeks this summer to write, just write, and to see what it might bring me to have no outside obligations or travel. I haven't read back through these entries, but I will at some point, and I bet I'll see a trajectory of some sort.. something that happens when we give ourselves the time it takes and aren't pushed by deadlines of any sort.

Life still happens, of course. This last few days it has been hard to concentrate on anything for long, so I sat with my work -- all these stories I've dragged out in this seven weeks -- and said, "what would just plain make me happy?"

A story about a little girl who is full of the joy of living -- that's what grabbed me. And so I began playing with her story. One morning when I woke at three, wide awake, I went through old mss and found her. It's been so long that I've been writing about her -- let's call her Cambria -- that I'd forgotten all the little vignettes and all the beginnings and all the possibilities I'd sketched out for her over the years.

I still love her. So much! And so she has been keeping me company today, while I write a while, pop up to put in a load of laundry; write a while, go get the dry cleaning; write a while, clean up this section of my office; write a while, go water the tomatoes.

The days are also somehow filled with Vaporwave music, bathing caps, goggles, and ear muffs and laughter. It's all good. We have beans, sweet peppers, tiny tomatoes, and new haircuts.

It's almost time to go. Almost. Almost...




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3. 48 days, day 41-43, we are stories surrounded by stories

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.



Wesley, my granddog, hoping for scraps.

My friends at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi always wrap my books in brown paper. I love that.
I am surrounded by the stories behind the stories as well...
The past three days were full of good writing energy. And, as so often happens when you prime a pump, not only did I work on the two mss that were full drafts, I worked on Rachel and the ms that wasn't (isn't) finished and is made up from whole cloth (let's call it PAPER CHAIN, as I am getting confused on the blog, at this point), AND I worked on an old biography idea that was sketched out and abandoned (let's call it SONNY).

There was also brunch with my youngest girlie -- a treat -- and the first squash of the season in our yard, and the last of the beans, and the sunlight that filtered through the blinds and onto the dusty banjo in the corner, showing me how long it has been since I played it.

This last three days has felt like play -- go figure! And I want more play. I talked with a writer friend over the weekend about this very thing. Next month, I want to take two art classes (I mentioned them here), and I want to dust off my banjo, and I want to finish -- and submit -- some of these stories I've worked on in this 48 days. That's the plan.

We leave for L.A. on Friday. REVOLUTION has won The Golden Kite Award, and we're heading to L.A. to accept it, and to teach a workshop on structuring your novel, and to soak up our peeps who live there... I am beginning to turn my energy and attentions to travel now. Here's a Q&A I did with Lee Wind and the lovely SCBWI folks about REVOLUTION.

My writing energy will be dissapated this week with the travel planning, but I can still work. I've just picked up my library's Emily Jenkins holdings. These are the books of hers I don't have on my shelves, and I want to study her work. I am captured by how she writes about everyday life, how she has a different illustrator for each picture book, and how she now has a picture book to go with the  TOYS GO OUT chapter books trilogy. I'm intrigued. What is she up to? What can I learn from her?
I could ask her, I guess. But I'm much more interested in studying the work on my own. I have learned that there is so much to discover when I immerse myself in the work. Mine and others.

Writing them, reading them, living them: I am surrounded by stories, and the stories behind the stories... we are each a living story, you know that, right? Our job is to sing them, dance them, write them, draw them... to tell our stories and to listen to others tell theirs. As I tell kids in schools all the time: It's hard to hate someone when you know her story.

We are stories surrounded by stories. 



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4. 48 days, day 39-40: a welcoming

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

Ha! The joke is on me. I have two manuscripts, here in my enormous trove, that are finished, that are revised multiple times for different editors (editors I no longer work with and who have changed houses as well), that went to committee at two different publishing houses more than ten years ago, that still seem (to me) relevant (even more so!), and that I now understand, as I read through the many editorial letters and scratches on manuscript pages, what the heck they were talking about 15 years ago. I just couldn't see it then.

Why aren't I working on these?

So that's what I've been up to, yesterday and today, days 39 and 40. It took me over a month to realize that I've got two amazing stories sitting right here, complete stories, with notes from two fanastic editors all over them, with editorial letters suggesting changes, asking questions, championing me from a far-away desk in a long-ago time, but still -- there it is. The stuff of story-making.

What was I waiting for?

I think I needed the way to clear, the dust to settle, the noise to stop, the heavy (emotional) lifting to quiet, the movement to cease, the push-to-publication to give up and allow me to find what feeds me. I thought it was going to be some sort of rhythm or discipline or focus or habit or hours of having my head down and plowing through, creating brand-new. It's none of those things.

Instead, it's a welcoming. 

40 days in, I see that I needed the do-the-work train to come into the station and empty itself out. I don't have to push so hard. These two stories came twinkling down the steps -- they've been in plain sight all along, waving out the window -- as my engine stops gunning and quells the I have to get this done; I have to make this up; I have to find my way; I have to hurry;  I have to do do do do do from scratch; oh why can't I do it better and more and more, hurry up, there are only X days left.

I love these two stories so much.

Let it be about the work you love. 

Squash growing in the back yard where a maple tree (split by lightning) used to be. There are suddenly so many ladybugs on it! I like to think they are doing the work they love... or at least that they aren't trying so hard, they're just doing what they do...
We've been trying to identify this plant that has suddenly shown up. Guesses (on FB and IG) have been the obvious (ha!), hemp, castor bean, buckeye, and names I can't pronounce. We'll keep watching it. It's the only plant like this in the yard, a volunteer, and it is happy here. I think it got off some train...
A surprise present from my kids! An Appalachain pack basket, hand made, with I hope lots of love. It surely seems that way.



All the drains are working! We want to move water along on the property, not let it sit, so we've got drains installed that lead to the creek, but we also want to sink some water and let it recharge the ground. This will eventually be a little frog pond. We already hear the frogs at night and see dragonflies hovering nearby. Lovin' it.
flowing into the creek.... water doin' its thing...
doesn't look like much now, but this is a low point in the yard that we'll turn into a second small pond or wetland. we're listening to the land and doing what it asks us to do... doing what it loves. Okay, enough making a point! Off to do what I love.

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5. 48 days, day 37-38: the beating heart

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

Taken at Tallulah Gorge in the North Georgia mountains a few years ago... writing is kind of like this... looking for the best view to tackle the story.
Well, it rained again, and I slept again, and I got to work again, and I ate a PopTart. All good.

I'm back to Rachel and also back to another picture book I've worked on, off and on, for about five years (maybe more). There's nothing to say I can't work on this new/old idea, too, is there? No, and honestly, it feels easier to me right now.

Easier meaning... doable. Totally made up out of whole cloth. The sky's the limit! This is an idea that came to me that I fiddled with, got some words down on paper, fiddled some more, left to simmer, came back to add a little, left to stew while I wrote other things, traveled, looked at it from time to time and felt that tingle... yes, I love this idea... keep it. With an idea that has no tie to a real person, place, or event, there are no borders, no boundaries, no stops. I miss that.

I have spent several years writing historical fiction, which has taught me so very much and has stretched me as a writer. I'm grateful for it. It occurs to me now, as I am able to be home and pay attention to my days, that I miss the relative ease of realistic fiction, of fantasy, poetry, essay, memoir, myth.

It's all hard, but there is an element of who cares what the history says, write whatever you want! in these mysterious genres, and whenever I'm working on this new/old book I feel the little thrill of discovery, the zing! of contentment, thee lightening of the load, the giddyness of aiieeeeee! this is fun! I can go anywhere I want! It's like bumper cars! Bang! Oops! Back up! Bang! hahahaha!

Of course I can't go anywhere I want in the end, but in the mess-making phase, I certainly can. Oh how I have missed it!  ONE WIDE SKY is a book I wrote in rhymed couplets, 88 words, about the joys of the natural world, a counting book. My research was just outside my door. The Aurora County books were cut from the whole cloth of my childhood summers in Mississippi.

Maybe that was part of my malaise... it can feel burdensome to be tied to a timeline of years or events or facts or figures... or all four at once, and for such a long time. (There is also a very useful and helpful structure offered up when tied to those things -- another story for another time.) So I am working on Rachel, but I am largely letting her go when I stumble on research holes, and that's when I unburden myself, and give myself to this new/old manuscript where anything goes. Anything!

I love making this mess. I remind myself that this 48 days was for experimenting, so experiment all you want right now, Debbie -- you'll have to settle in soon enough, make a firm decision when you're back from California, and begin to plow forward. And it will be okay. You will have had your breathing space, I say. Right now: B-I-C. Butt In Chair. Put in some hours. Make a mess. GO.

That's where I've been for the past two days. It feels good. The rain has helped with the watering. I want to talk at some point about the ordering of energies and time and how much we have in a day to give to any one task in front of us. Another day, though. I'm going back to the page.

Let's call the new/old picture book "the Merton book." There is this line by Merton I have long loved and am working with: "There is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun."

Right there lies the beating heart of everything I write.

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6. 48 days, day 35-36: what helps, 10 things

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}
 
What helps you through the sludge? Putting it here so I remember. Ten things this weekend:

1.  Time. Two days off to listen and rest and try to believe (I do) it's a good thing to do for myself. Staring at the wall in the quiet.

2.  Journaling. Writing about it. "I write because I don't understand what I think until I read what I say." - Flannery O'Connor

3.  Activity, half-mindless. Organizing the office on more than a surface level has been on my list for years. My office serves as overflow whenever someone spends the night (or visits, depending), and it catches EVERYTHING in between visits. It's a big space -- my living/dining room in this house. I've pulled everything out to look at it and I've got boxes ready. Keep, toss, save for one day, give away, etc. It feels good. I couldn't do it until now, for some reason. And the going is slow. But it's going. It's like emptying out my mind to look at its contents and putting everything back in order... or letting things go.

4.  Podcasts, old movies I don't have to really pay attention to to enjoy, music -- depending on my mood. Usually while doing #3. Mostly I prefer silence, though.

5.  Sleeping in. Napping.

6.  Connecting with people I love who love me right back. You can tell, can't you? You can feel it. That's good medicine.

7.  Eating good food. Eating bad food. Special thanks to frozen strawberry fruit bars and the beans from the garden (not at the same time) that are inspiring me.

8.  RAIN. We finally had some decent rain yesterday. Last night we went to bed listening to frogs. Frogs! The gardens are making me happy, and now they are happy, too.

9.  Not writing.

10.  Feeling like writing again.

So here I go. Thank you for all the mail of the past two days. I've tucked all your good wishes into my pocket, where I touch them like they are wishing stones.

crazy, amiright?
right down to the drawers and shelves (not shown) and closet (ditto)
The garden is coming in. These are our green beans. This is the first garden we've had in so many years... already making plans for next year.
I'm loving apple cider mixed with fizzy water over ice. Jim and I are using our old standby coasters: the back of the old Methodist hymnal for me, and the back of an old Dr. Seuss for him. It works.
I'd like to think I can go through the entire house with my box system. But I'm trying to stay in the present and hope I can finish the office. That would be a major coup.
Saturday breakfast. You should have seen it smothered in almond slices next. Because I could.
Our tomatoes are slow to come in. Next year we'll be here in May (so she says) and have more time to get the garden in. I have traveled for 15 years and not had a garden, and I have so missed it. I am determined...
Come on! You can do it! Grow, grow... this tomato is on a berm in the back (water management project) along with six or eight others, in an experiment to see if we get enough sun in the back now to grow tomatoes. I think not. The tomatoes in front yard are exponentially bigger. These guys got into the ground at about the same time, the first week in June... we'll see. They are scraggly... grown from seed and too long in their little cups, I fear...

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7. 48 days, day 34, integrating losses

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

So I thunked. I sent off the proposal, all 13 pages. I've already heard back from my trusted readers (it's a draft; how can I make it better?) and from my agent, who says, "let's talk." hahahahaha. You know, that's fine. We will meet in Los Angeles at the end of this month when my 48 days is up and the next travel starts, and we will hash it out. And this way, he has it in advance and can mull and stew, just like I will. I got good comments from my readers as well, and I have some ruminating to do on this project... it will be fine. I FINISHED SOMETHING. It only took me 33 days.

And that brings me to the next thing. My 48 days of chronicling my writing process ends in just 15 days. Gosh, I would have killed for 48 straight days ahead me to write when I had four kids swirling around my ankles, when I had a full time job, when I was traveling like a maniac (which is the past 15 years, pretty much). So what gives? Why haven't I burped out War and Peace?

I'm thinking this morning (maybe because I'm operating on only a few sips of coffee) about what lies beyond our immediate consciousness when we make our decisions... why is it we can't seem to get going, or feel low, or bang our heads against the wall in frustration?

i.e. Why is my office such a mess? Why am I so reluctant to go buy the dirt, put in the window a/c unit, clean the kitchen, sweep the basement floor, fold the mounds of laundry (at least it is washed and dried), make an appointment to get my hair cut before L.A., pull weeds, cook supper... finish my Rachel revision, get Book3 off the ground, finish the essay, tackle the other writing projects that stare at me: you said you were going to pay attention to us!

Why does it take an act of congress to get me going these days?

I believe (as we've discussed) the fear is part of it. The canvas-wafting that comes with the fear is real, and I wrote about that here. I also think that sometimes we don't even know what's slowing us down until we really think about it some and examine what's going on. Sometimes it takes a friend or a partner to help us see. Sometimes it's helpful to acknowledge the sludge.

So what is it? A good friend and I had a ComeToJesus moment yesterday afternoon, after I thunked and felt so good to have SOMETHING off my plate, and then (immediately, because that's what we do) discounted how glorious that was and started talking about all that I haven't done in this 48 days and that I set out to do. There must be some sludge in there, I said.

Have you thought about the fact that you're dealing with a good deal of death and loss? she asked. Have you thought about how you've tried to be there for your children, through their loss, and you haven't really acknowledged how this loss has affected you? But that was two months ago, I said. She laughed. Two months! Two months! And you were married for how long? We weren't married for the past 15 years, I countered. You had how many children together?

I talked about that loss here, in a speech I gave at Vermont College in 2004. It's been not quite 15 years since I became so suddenly single (as I like to call it). I thought I had dealt with that. I have a wonderful life that I cherish, and I have watched my children come through the fire to claim their own good lives as well. But when someone dies... I don't know. It brings up all the ancient mariners.

I mentioned that loss here, on day 1 of the 48 days, in a perfunctory fashion, and I don't want to belabor it now, I just want to say that I am partly angry that this loss is slowing me down, and I partly feel like it's an excuse, and partly I want to be very nice to myself through this, because mostly I know I will integrate this loss and the malaise will pass.

And what about your therapist retiring? That was a real blow, wasn't it? It's only been six weeks since you said goodbye to her... someone you really came to love and do good work with. Well, yes, it is a real loss. I have felt it keenly. I cried more in her office, leading up to our last session together, than I cried in years and years. I know I was mourning All The Losses, I know that.

I have mostly tried to ignore that feeling of loss, because it saps energy and I'm trying to Get Stuff Done. But it creeps into the psyche, like any loss, asking for attention, sucking up more energy than it would if I would just acknowledge it. I didn't realize I was hiding it from myself. Now I do.

And earlier this year, there were great disappointments, remember them? And you have learned from them, worked with them... and remember all that travel from January through June? You were gone more than you were home. You went to HONG KONG for heaven's sake. And yeah, you loved it all, it was good work, it is allowing you to be home now, but be honest -- you must be exhausted! Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

It's enough to kill a horse! hahahahaha. She always says that after she makes her points. It always makes me laugh.

So I began to think about it all. Not to dwell on it (heaven forfend, because maudlin is the last thing I want to be right now -- it's hard enough as it is), but to acknowledge it. Sometimes acknowledging the sludge is the beginning of a path through it.

And not that I own these additional things, but they touch me (and should) in these 48 days: The Charleston Shootings. Claudia Rankine's NYTimes essay about same (it haunts me). Ta-Nehesi Coates's essay. Harper Lee's Watchman and the swirl accompanying it. Sometimes I think, the whole world is a mess. But it isn't. "Look for the helpers," as Fred Rogers' mother told him to do.

And it gets better. A story:

When I became so suddenly single, I didn't write another word for over two years, which is why there is a four-year gap between RUBY and LITTLE BIRD.  I called my editor, Liz Van Doren at Harcourt Brace, and told her that I couldn't write anymore, that I was too devastated to write, that I was going to have to go be a greeter at WalMart or something, because I was good at greeting but had few other marketable skills, and I needed a job.

Liz told me, "You are forgetting you are a writer. A writer writes. I want you to promise me that you will sit at your desk every day and ask yourself, what can I write? and write that." I promised. And what came of that promise was EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. I wrote it through the death of a long-years marriage, the death of my mother, the death of my father, the loss of my home of 25 years, and the loss of full-time motherhood as my youngest of four turned eighteen and graduated and we moved to Atlanta, just as I turned 50.

I hardly remember the publication of LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER and FREEDOM SUMMER in 2001, because I was too busy trying to wrap my head around what had just happened to us as a family, and to me as the one abandoned.

That loss and grief fueled the writing of LITTLE BIRD, which ended up on so many state book award lists, ended up winning the Bank Street Fiction Award and the E.B. White Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2005... none of which I even thought about as I wrote. I wrote about my grief and loss. I sent the book to Liz in chunks. She sent it back with revision notes, in chunks.

The book took a year to write -- that's all. It poured and poured out and Liz helped me shape it. And so I know I can write through my pain. I know I can write through my loss. I was concerned with my very survival in those LITTLE BIRD years, and in the welfare of my children.

So what to do about sludge, or malaise, which seems to rise up from a different place? It's not a place of survival. It's a place of relative safety, with a sheen of sadness over it. I don't know. I've started swimming again. Last summer I swam almost every day, and it helped in more ways than I can list. Maybe that's a help with the malaise that hangs over every project I look at this morning.

My mother would tell me I'm just feeling sorry for myself. Years ago I would have believed her and honestly, maybe there is some of that. But I don't think so. I am just a tad lost in the thicket of sadness. It will pass. I have learned that. It's hard to trust it, but it will pass.

So I am doing little things to nurture myself. I'm going to lunch with my eldest son today. Thai food! Son! Love! Lovely.

All to say that, if you are sad, if you feel as if you're walking through the sludge sometimes, come sit by me. You are not alone.

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8. 48 days, day 32-33, fried okra focus

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Well, the new project won out. Doesn't it always? It's actually an old project that I have been batting around with my agent for at least a year and a half, saying I'm going to propose, and that I have shied away from tackling because it will take dedicated time and focus.

But it's new in that this proposal must be written from the ground up, a structure figured out for it, and a persuasive argument made for it, cogently and smartly. It's a professional document that must include all pertinent facts, history, goals, sales information, curriculum connections, and arguments for.

And it was doable yesterday because I understand what it entails, and because it's finite. Sometimes, when you are stuck, trying to create art out of whole cloth, it helps to tackle something concrete.

Writing the proposal required me to make decisions after all the "what-if" I chewed on for so long with my agent and with trusted friends. It's a relief to make decisions and close doors, even for this eternal processor. Putting words to paper and understanding my motivations better helped me clarify just what it is I want to do with this project, and what it is I want to offer, and what it is I want to write.

I spent many hours intensely focused on this yesterday, and frustrated, too, because I am so disorganized that it's hard to find the photos I want, the statistics I want, the comparisons and the sources I need. But I got it half-done, maybe 3/4, and I could see the shape of the proposal and how it could be effective, before I knocked off for supper with friends.

I had to MAKE MYSELF GO TO SUPPER, which is a clear sign for me that I'm on to something. Whether somebody else thinks so or not, well, we'll see. I was excited to get back to it this morning, and I've been working all day on finishing. I took a break for okra fried by Jim (I loooooove fried okra), and will spend the rest of the afternoon on this proposal, then go swimming (a story for later).

My goal is to have this proposal off my plate and onto my agent's by the end of the week. Which is tomorrow. I can do it. I am almost there. By the end of the day I will have it in shape enough to go swim on it, work in the garden and then sleep on it, and then -- VOILA -- I will be able to say I have FINISHED something. Halleluia, Mississippi! (That is a hint!)

It's mostly spinach. But some days you just really need some fried okra.

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9. 48 days, day 31-32, rabbit holes, dreaming

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

For the past two or three weeks, I have had dreams that involve a whole lot of people in my life doing a whole lot of weird things. I've been doing some intense therapy work for four and a half years now, and I know what's going on: an integration of the many parts of myself. This is good news.

It doesn't surprise me that these dreams are coming -- every night, now -- in part because I am bringing up ancient stuff in working on a family essay that takes me into dark territory. But I must go there. I've been saying for years that I'm going to write a memoir. And now it's asking for attention. But working on this essay has shown me that I'm not ready for that rabbit hole to consume me, but that I might be able to break it into tiny bites... a poem here, a list there, a vignette or essay at some point.

This is maybe more than anyone wants to know... I just want to mark it here, as I'm the only person who will read through these entries many years from now and say, "oh... I remember that... that was the time that..." etc. So here you go.

In writing news, it's butt-my-head-against-the-wall time. I rush to the page to scribble a line that's in my head as I wake, as I shower, as I pull weeds or pick beans. I now have pages of these lines, and I see what project of the many I'm trying to work on here (experimenting) they relate to, but I don't have a way to connect them yet. The fascia is missing... something like that.

So I wander (because that's what it feels like -- arrrrgggghhh!) between the essay, the picture book, the start of the novel, the research, the new project I'm excited about (naturally), the biography I want to write, and I feel as if I'm wafting from palette to palette, brushstroking and sighing on. It's frustrating. Nothing is finished.

The alternative is to put all but one project away (my usual way of working) and focus on that one project to the exclusion of everything else. And I've been afraid to do that because of the rabbit-hole effect I mentioned here (well, hmmm... I didn't mention it there, just mentioned the project/essay possibility... but I felt it). And here (wow, way back in 2008). And here (in the very wise comments). And here (about Countdown). And here, about tracking down sources. I am wary of the rabbit holes, even though I know I survive them. We all do. Right? Still.

I am wary because... what? I am wrung out at the end? I focus to the exclusion of everything else in my life? I am afraid of what I will discover? My wee heart/mind/psyche doesn't want to go there? I know the time it takes? The toll it exacts? Yes. To all of it.

So I wander from canvas to canvas. And I dream.


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10. 48 days, day 29-30: time off

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Instead of another field trip, I took the weekend off while Jim gigged. The only time he had off was Sunday morning, and he used it to hang with granddaughter Abby, who came to spend the night on Saturday night, after a comedy-of-errors family movie date we put together for Saturday.

We did end up seeing INSIDE OUT with Abigail, complete with snacks smuggled in by Grandma and chicken tenders, quesadillas, pretzel bites and french fries ordered and eaten during the show, something I would never normally do. Heck, I've never even been to a theater experience with tables and a restaurant, but it's what we could find on Saturday, and in the end, I was glad we went.

By the time we had worked out all the strategic details for people in three different towns and zoomed around between three counties -- found we were at a sold-out show, then piled in one car and bought tickets for another show while zooming to it, only to find out we'd bought tickets for the wrong venue, sneaked in anyway (my specialty), and then cooler heads prevailed (not mine) and we realized this show was going to be sold out, too, and there were assigned seats, so we fixed it at the ticket counter and got the last available seats --- well, by then we were starving and exhausted and hanging with a very patient but insistent four-year-old.

I hardly remember the movie. hahahahaha.

Still, after the movie and the long trek back to Aunt Hannah's car, we went to Aunt Hannah's house to chill. A walk to the Chattahootchie, a walk through the nearby forest, a dog to romp with for a few... it was perfect. Water, woods, air, earth.

I didn't write a word. It was all glorious.You?

A few more thoughts in the captions below. Here's to a good writing week! xoxo




Makes me want to put my canoe in the river. I brought it down here from Maryland when we moved 11 years ago, and it hasn't been in water since. I miss those days on the Potomac...

... but these are good days, too.
Visiting the sunflowers that she planted with Grandpa by the mailbox a month ago -- they are taller than she is now.
What the bathtub looked like... after.
The green beans are exploding! There a cucumber plant in there, too, and some marigolds and cosmos. Finally we have sun in our yard...
This is how she sat with him in the morning, waiting for breakfast and telling him everything we'd done the day before without him.
"Warm toast with a great deal of butter." Abigail forgets nothing. I hate to admit to All This Butter...  but it was good. Now it's a morning tradition here, ever since reading Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo.
...and then you can read me books, and...
One of Abby's favorites, by our friend Lita Judge. Red Sled.
I was crushed that Lilly didn't make a fair impression on Abby. Maybe she's too young. She and Grandpa didn't finish this book. Maybe another day. I listened and thought about how languid the opening is (which I love), and which might not fly today... unless you are Kevin Henkes. The PB Intensive I did in May is giving me new ways to look at PBs.

I've collected buttons for years. Abby wanted to make ornaments with my mother's buttons from her button box, but I don't want to use those -- they stay in the button box. So we came up with an alternate, acceptable plan.

Seven button ornaments made for this year's Christmas tree. Project cooked up by Abby, way to make it happen cooked up by Grandma. I happened to have large safety pins, and we spent a happy hour selecting buttons and making ornaments, then packed them away for Abby to take home.

This week's writing plate is full. That's where my attentions are going... right now, Monday morning, day 31. One month in. More later --

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11. 48 days, day 28: w.o.r.k.i.n.g.

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Working today in between bouts of watering new grass in July (crazy). I leave you with this by Jonathan Franzen, from his interview in The Paris Review, because it mirrors how I feel as I write today, as I have shifted gears almost completely to the essay about stock car racing/demolition derby I mentioned here, and because it has grabbed me with such fervor that I'm already thinking, where can I send this? Premature, but an indicator that this piece has sunk in its teeth. Hard.

I understand better how much of writing a novel is about self-examination, self-transformation. I spend vastly more time nowadays trying to figure out what’s stopping me from doing the work, trying to figure out how I can become the person who can do the work, investigating the shame and fear: the shame of self-exposure, the fear of ridicule or condemnation, the fear of causing pain or harm. 

And this from Linda Ronstadt, to keep me grounded, when I worry about my to-ing and fro-ing and how many things I'm interested in, what captures me, what asks for expression, and how I sometimes (as in this 48-day experiment) allow myself to follow it:

Interviewer:  How would you describe your career? 
Ronstadt: Turbulent, I suppose, and eclectic mania. But there's a reason why there was all that rampant eclecticism in my work; it wasn't arbitrary. All those kinds of music I did were in my living room in my family's house before I was 10.  Mexican music, rock and roll, country music, American standards, Gilbert and Sullivan... it seemed perfectly natural to me... I learned a lot of my politics from music...Pete Seeger about the labor movement, civil rights, human rights... there are reasons for us to use our music, to make people understand what it's like to have somebody else's experience. It's a great mirror to hold up to the culture and it's important to use it that way.

This is on YouTube from an interview with Ronstadt last year. I listened to it like it was a podcast, while I cleaned my office.

Back to work, but first.... can you see these tiny baby beans? Be still my heart, I think we are going to have BEANS! It's been so long since we've had sun enough to grow a garden. I don't even LIKE green beans. hahahahahaha. Well, I like them fresh, and we're gonna have tons of 'em. But maybe I speak too soon. Shhhh... they are just babies. BABIES. Little tiny swords, growing and becoming. Just like my little baby essay with its pointy little teeth... hmmm....





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12. 48 days, day 25-27: deep in the thick of it, warriors

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

The thick of it for me means daily life and daily work, right here at home:

:: Scribbling, scribbling, working on five different projects, a line here, a thought there, allowing the stories that bubble up to dictate where they want to go. There's Book3 of course, always book 3. Trying openings. None are working. I don't get bent out of shape about it. I move on. I keep reading and researching and trying to find my way IN.

There's also, in those five projects, an essay about the demolition of the family I grew up in, a story about Rachel Carson, another about Virginia Durr, and a revision of a picture book ms. I wrote many years ago that went to committee at two different publishing houses after several revisions with two different editors. It has been over 10 years since I've seriously looked at this story, and now I can see what was wrong with it, and what my editors were trying to tell me. Can I revise it well enough to sell it? Let's see.

A sixth project is creeping up on me, has been waiting for years, so I'm writing about gardens and food and hand work, for.... I don't know what yet. I call it "the home economics project" right now, and I've long been labeling photos on Instagram that way. I've got a chapter of something. I have inklings, and right now I'm just following where they lead me. I've created a Pinterest board for them as well: This is Cambria Bold.

ALL OF THIS IS COMING FROM SEEING -- and believing -- THAT I HAVE A VISTA OF HOME AND WRITING TIME AHEAD. Honestly. When all I can see is the tangle of travel and time away from home, I shut down the creative part of me that needs time time time. I turn on the warrior part of me that needs to prepare for teaching and speaking and traveling and meeting and navigating and the demands of being present and "on" at all times.

It's hard to express how grateful I am for that work, and how much I need it, in order to pay my way in the world. I am good at it, and I know that, too. It's just as hard to express how much I miss the creative space. I'm grateful for it, too, in this year of exploration.

:: Listening to Krista Tippett's Feb. 2015 interview w Mary Oliver. I knew she had had lung cancer (Mary) but did not know she was still smoking. Her voice and her energy sounds so very different from her poetry! And I love her work so much. She reads several poems in the interview.

Also listening to this Playing For Change rendition of "Ripple" by The Grateful Dead. Friends are trying to help me appreciate The Dead, since I am writing about 1969 in Book3, and I can't seem to "get it" about The Greatful Dead. I don't know that I ever will -- don't hate me! But I do love this, and am glad to add it to my ongoing effort.

:: Ordering a slew of books from my library systems on audio, ebooks, and hard-copy. After listening to Mary Oliver, I want to read more about Lucretius, so I ordered THE SWERVE, a book I tried to read a couple of years ago but never got to. For work, I've ordered PRIME GREEN: REMEMBERING THE SIXTIES by Robert Stone, and Lisa Law's book (I mentioned her here on day 17) FLASHING ON THE SIXTIES. I'm reading about bugs in the garden (and capturing some doozies so I can figure out what they are). I've downloaded NIXONLAND many times as an audiobook (and hard-copy book) and listen to it when I'm driving. It makes me crazy and I yet know what it posits is important. Sometime I will quote from it here.

I love my libraries, and cannot say it enough. My open letter to DeKalb County Libraries resulted in our truce and my paying the foreign-national fee for my card (you'll see that my protest was over something else entirely, but it got conflated with the fee which I continue to protest as well) and I am happily checking out books at the Tucker branch one mile from my house, now, in addition to using the Gwinnett County system ("my" system) which is almost 9 miles from my Tucker house. Insane but true.

:: Reading online some amazing writing. This essay (excerpt from his new book) by Ta-Nehisi Coates is shattering. It's long. And it's worth your time. "Letter to my Son." As I said on Facebook, it makes me ask myself what I can do, as a writer, as a human being, and it leaves me desolate, and yet with gritty hope. Somehow. Because what alternative is there?

I am a huge fan of Longreads, do you know it? I follow them on Twitter and on Facebook, and I love a good long read. A recent long read was Sally Mann's piece (which I think I linked to earlier) in the New York Times Magazine about the cost of photographing her family so intimately over the years. I love her work. I am on a long hold list at both my library systems, for her memoir HOLD STILL. (I have a long hold list, always.)

:: Attending a birthday party for 7-year-old Elvis, who you may remember in long-ago posts as Andy or BeBop. A long story with a beautiful ending. He was my dog in 2008 and then he was my son Jason's dog, and now he belongs fully and wholly to Jason's daughter Abigail, my 4-year-old muse, who planned the party and called each of us to give us our marching orders for the event. Limbo, cake, ice cream, pizza, presents, exhaustion. Dog and kid. And grown-ups. I love that I've chronicled Elvis's little life-trajectory here on the blog, with photos.

:: Remembering that I have been blogging for ten years, ever since I went on book tour with EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS in April 2005. Back then, blogging was so new, and Harcourt asked me to keep a journal of the tour, which I did, on email, no photos, and we sent it out to folks in the children's publishing industry at the end of each day. The whole thing is archived on my website, here.

So. My first blogging in 2005. Then, when ALL-STARS was published in 2007, I began a blog with photos, at Harcourt's request... they helped me set it up. I didn't know enough about blogging at the time to know I could have just continued with that blog to today... so I started this one, and left that one behind... but you can find it here. Some day I want to consolidate them, but I don't know how right now. That last entry directs you to this blog, and gives you some photos of the real Aurora County, Mississippi I write about in RUBY, LITTLE BIRD, ALL-STARS and FREEDOM SUMMER.

:: Watering the garden and the new grass we foolishly planted in late May/early June. Trying to keep everything alive. Making notes about what-grows-best-where, now that the 14 trees down have opened up the sky in our yard and the sun shines on the ground, drying it up for the first time in years, and I am able to garden again.

The routine is to work inside, writing and researching and even napping during the heat of the day, then going out at dusk, when there are a couple of hours of light left in long summertime, to water and pick and plump and whisper and encourage and champion and nurture and clip and coax.

The outside work is like the inside work, come to think of it. All good and all welcome and all hard at times. I am so lucky. I know I am. I have come a long way in the world, even for such a late bloomer.

Long may I be able to do the work I love, surrounded by the people I love, in a place I have come to love. A place -- metaphorically, physically, spiritually, emotionally -- I fought for and didn't even get that at the time, and didn't understand I was fighting against, sometimes. If that makes sense.

I think we are all warriors, even peace warriors, staking our claim to live our lives in some meaningful way, with enough ease and enough safety to create and exist in whatever way our hearts ask for expression. Ta-Nehisi Coates. Mary Oliver. Abigail Wiles. Lisa Law. The Grateful Dead. Sally Mann. Me. You. Shanti, shanti, shanti. Peace, peace, peace.







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13. 48 days, day 23-24: halfway

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

The writing pump gets primed with something else, and then -- voila -- I can go back to my revision.  Yesterday I worked on an essay that may or may not ever be finished, but I got lost in the world I created, and looked up hours later, blinking.

Today I'm back with Rachel and working on the revision that has sat since DAY 4!, when I wrote that I had a crummy draft. I haven't seriously looked at Rachel since that day. But today -- somehow -- I can fill in the blah-blah-blahs and the description heres and I can look more critically at the structural problems I couldn't seem to face 20 days ago. Or two days ago.

I've got a story about a recalcitrant four-year-old, a stormy night, a walk to the beach, the wonders of nature and how it soothes and calms, and somewhere in there is Rachel and some science. I have two stories. Or do I? That's my challenge right now.

I'm also back to writing at my desk, instead of sitting in my green chaise or in the pink chair. There's something about a change of venue that I know you all know about. There's also something about routine and rote that's useful. But that's another post, for another day. Or not.

I've got the blinds closed against the brilliant summer heat. I've got lots of water to drink. I've got Rolos and Boulder Potato Chips, and a huscat who made a fantastic lunch just now: cabbage potato soup (in this heat! yes, it was fabulous!), broccoli and brussels sprouts, sweet potato -- I put everything into my soup.

So I'm back to it, fortified for an afternoon shift (after which I will water water water outside) and I'm not alone. The days that led to today have kept me company and have helped me begin a revision. I am halfway through my 48 days of writing. What have a got to show for it?

Don't let's measure success in words on paper and finished drafts. Success is the willingness to stick with it. I've got that in spades.

I'm also cleaning my office. One thing primes another thing. Suit up and show up. Do what you can do, that's what I say. Do what you can do and let that be enough.
lots of document windows open right now, moving between them in an experiment, a little wisp here, a sentence there, fooling myself that I'm really writing. Or maybe I am. I think I am.

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14. 48 days, day 21-22: what's asking for expression

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}


Jim: "We are ready for an ice age."
Jim's brunch at Homegrown this morning with family.

out-of-focus bean blossoms. too excited to focus well. bean blossoms!
the cosmos! the cosmos! the cosmos! -- not carl sagan
jelly bean tomatoes growing in the front yard flower bed. WE ATE THEM. yes we did.
moving ferns to the rocks next to the new walkway. to the right is that ice-age of wood. it is stacked in such a way that I can take a shower outside and use the wood as one of my shower walls.
john mullin and jim discuss matters of great importance.
 Shhhh. Finally. Let me not torture myself with why it took me three weeks to settle into words, lots of words, on the page, lots of hours at the page.

Let me not ask why-oh-why I am not writing Book 3 or revising Rachel, but am instead writing an essay about growing up in Mobile, Alabama, where I was born and lived until I was five, and going, at night with all the lights shining in the inky dark, to a tiny dirt track in the middle of nowhere with my father, mother, and brother, to the stock car races.

Let me not question good writing energy. Oh, let me just gather it to me and go go go. GO GO GO. It feels so good to be creating something. Something that didn't exist before this moment. What power that is, what empowerment, to pull from thin air (moments, memory, meaning) something that makes me lose track of time.

I must remind myself that nothing is wasted, that it all connects, somewhere. You wouldn't know it to hear me tell it:

1. We got our last cord of wood from John Mullin and spent the drizzly morning stacking it and visiting with John. John -- who services our cars and grows the best tomatoes and sells firewood and god-knows-what-else -- was 21 and in the Navy in 1969, stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in NYC. He was on one of the many helicopters that landed near Yasgur's Farm and delivered food, water, and medical supplies to the revelers at Woodstock. Our conversation ranged from Woodstock to NASCAR to barbecue to water management to soil sweetness. By the time John left, the sky had cleared and we had beautiful weather for the Fourth -- and I didn't have to water.

2. I started reading about Woodstock and segued into Los Angeles in 1969 (since I will BE in Los Angeles at the end of this month), got off on a tangent about "courtyard housing" which is coming back in L.A., which led me to thinking about the courtyard housing I lived in when I was single and poor and raising my first two kids, and that led me to A PATTERN LANGUAGE by Christopher Alexander, one of my favorite books in the world, and the book I used extensively as I renovated this house (and yard).

3. I decided "Courtyard Housing" would make a great name for an essay. Or a book of essays. Hahahahahahaha.

4. I wandered back to NASCAR -- John will watch two races this weekend while he eats his bbq, sitting in his garage, watching his big-ol' television, bay doors open front and back, fans whirring, nobody's car to fix, Happy Fourth! I can hold my own, in the early talk of NASCAR. I spent two years in Charleston, South Carolina in high school, and all the boys talked about was the Yarborough family, especially Cale, and the Allison Brothers and Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

5. Didn't I go to the races as a little girl? I did. I remember it clearly. I might have pictures somewhere. The last race of the night was a demolition derby. They'd wet down the field for it. Where was that? Mobile? Outside of Mobile? ::check for dirt tracks around Mobile in the late fifties::

6. "Demolition Derby" would make a great title for an essay. From the beginnings of the family I grew up in, to its rather spectacular demise. I cut my writing teeth on essays and memoir -- it's all I wrote, when I started out, and I have a file cabinet full of clips from magazines and newspapers, a bookcase full of inspiration.. ::pull my favorites off the shelf::


E.B. White, Noel Perrin, Russell Baker, Sue Hubbell, John McPhee, John Burroughs, Donald McCaig, Pat Leimbach, Betty MacDonald, Barbara Holland, Anna Quindlan, Donald Hall, Andy Rooney, Erma Bombeck (Yes. She was good.). This is the kind of essay I wrote, full of love of the natural world, home, family, kinship, connection, and belonging. Sounds like my fiction....

7. So this is what I began to write in earnest on Saturday, with Rachel right beside me, staring at me.

Shhhh... I whispered to her. Let me not question this. Let me write what's asking for expression.

What's asking for expression right now?

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15. 48 days, day 19-20: field trip, unwrinkling

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}



















Two days off. I'm took my Fourth vacation early. Jim and I plan to work through the July Fourth weekend. We often do this sort of thing in order to avoid crowds, and because it often works better with our schedules, the writer and the musician. I've always told my kids that I'm not particular about celebrating holidays on a pre-arranged culturally-approved day (although I do love birthdays!), and I like making my own holidays.

Although I must say, I loved all the Fourths we spent at Antietam Battlefield with the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Fourths we spent at Baker Park in Frederick, MD., and even the Fourth I spent with Lisa and Jason on the George Washington Parkway in 1976, with thousands of other stranded motorists hoping to get downtown on the National Mall for the Bicentennial Fourth. We did go to the Mall for years, for concerts, for Fourths, when my first two kids were little and we lived closer to D.C. Oh-so-many years ago.

On Wednesday (day 19) we said goodbye to Roger, who has worked here -- off and on -- for almost a year, doing odd jobs and necessary jobs and major foundation work and much-needed water management on our little property. We worked with Roger on Wednesday as he finished a brick walkway so we could get from the front to back yards with a wheelbarrow (and on foot), and we moved mulch and bricks.

There's still a lot to do here, but Roger got us started, the trees are down (still plenty up), sun shines on the yard, the water flows away from the house, and we can keep going with the edible landscape project now. We'll see Roger again this fall.

Yesterday we went out out OUT. My mind needed a rest. So after we put our bodies to work on Wednesday in the yard, we took off on Thursday and went berry picking and then swimming at Hard Labor Creek State Park. We've been to Hard Labor Creek before, and remembered it as a sandy-bottomed lake with good floating. Still is.

The heavens opened up as we slid into the cool lake water, and we got drenched as we ran out and gathered our things, waited out the storm in the van, and then, when the skies were sunny again, got back in the lake for a long float and chat and swim and silence. Almost no one else was there.

We took back roads on our trip, so it took us a long time to wend our way home. We had a good meal at the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle before our blueberry picking at Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm, and we had breakfast for supper on the way home at a diner that caught our eye. We got lost in Jersey, Georgia, in the middle of nowhere, where our Waze app took us down dirt roads. But I got that great capture of "Final Draft" that's on the masthead now -- whatever this place is... there are winches and contraptions out front that make it look like a construction or equipment repair place. I've been looking for a new photo for the blog, FB, and Twitter, now that REVOLUTION is well-launched, so getting lost was a plus.

Today, day 21, I'm back at work on Rachel, mind rested, words on the page. Let's see if I can get to the end of a revision. I'll bet I can. Sometimes you just need to get away, to unwrinkle your mind. And this is our favorite way: pick a place and go. Field trip!

Happy Independence Day to all! xoxo

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16. 48 days, day 18: bountiful moon

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

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17. 48 days, day 17: multi-tasking, or not

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

"Now, you're either on the bus, or off the bus." -- Ken Kesey (photo by Joe Mabel at Wikipedia)
It's a short hop, in my imagination, from yesterday's Neil Diamond to today's Magic Bus. That traveling salvation show led me to think about Ken Kesey's bus, Further, the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and the many other trips Further made across the U.S., which led me to research The Merry Pranksters and the Hog Farm and the other busses of the sixties... and I thought: get yourself a school bus, paint it in psychedelic colors, fill it with hippies and returning Vietnam veterans, women who want a voice, a writer and a musician and... and maybe a 14-year-old, and you're set for the journey of a lifetime.

Wavy Gravy had a bus: Road Hog. Lisa and Tom Law had a bus: Silver. Lisa still has her bus, on her property in Santa Fe. She also has thousands of negatives she shot while living through some of the most amazing moments of the sixties. I read about Lisa and whispered to Jim: road trip.

The research of the past few days has led me to finding out more about Woodstock than I wanted to know, more about Vietnam than I can take in, more about the Haight and communes and Laurel Canyon and the Sunset Strip riots and the Kent State shootings than is good for anyone to know in three days' time.

I still have trouble appreciating "The Glorious Inconsistency of The Grateful Dead." Don't hate me.

My mind is wrinkled. Maybe Rachel has sat still long enough. Maybe I can switch gears and look at my picture book draft and complete a revision. Maybe not.

I have never been able to work on more than one writing project at a time. The Sixties Project has consumed me since 2008... well, the Sixties Project and the traveling I've done for work, for research, for family, for promotion of each book as it has arrived in the world. All good work. I've been grateful for every scrap of it.

I'm wondering if I can finish Rachel and maybe one other picture book I want to revise before I start writing Book 3 in earnest. I know it will swallow me once I start, just as COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION did. Or maybe it won't, as I've committed to more time at home this year, in The Year of Exploration. Part of that year is being taken up (happily) with the water management project and the edible yard & garden project I'm documenting over at Instagram.

I dunno. I'm mulling how to manage my time, now that I actually HAVE SOME. My late-blooming heart says, hurry up! don't dawdle! you don't know what time you have left!

I worry, like I always do, that on a day - days -- weeks -- when I have read and researched so deeply, so widely, I'm not getting any writing done. I trust that I am, but I worry that I'm not. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. (Thank you, Walt. And The Aurora County All-Stars.)

In possibly-related news, I am eating multitudes of frozen strawberry fruit bars these days (thank you, 4-year-old Abigail) in an effort to stave off melting completely in this heat wave.

Do you work on more than one project at a time? How do you do it? Do you recommend it? Do you eat multitudes of strawberry fruit bars to sustain yourself?

Thank you for all your mail. I so appreciate it. I'm sitting on the fender, below. xo Debbie

The Road Hog, Fourth of July Parade, El Rito, New Mexico 1968
"Road Hog" photo by Lisa Law

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18. 48 days, day 15-16 -- issuing invitations

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

After some family time yesterday, I came home and kept my head down in 1969. Reading, listening, making notes, inviting my story to find me. Inviting. That's a huge part of what I do as a writer. I invite story in. My son Zach, former D.J. says, "Everything is a remix," and I know he's right. A little from here, a little from there, and voila, you've got a story. It's impossible to explain how it works.

This morning I woke up at 5am with this song in my head:


By the time I'd scrambled out of bed and made the coffee, I had seventeen different directions I could go with this 1969 song. Thanks for answering the invitation, Neil.

I have been making notes and gathering resources all morning. I have some direction -- some remixed direction for Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy. Let's see if it sticks (that's another discussion for another day). Jim gigs this morning -- a Sunday brunch -- and I'm going to hunker down with these 17 directions and see if I can't get an opening -- another beginning for Book 3.

Plus, we got some rain yesterday. Halleluia, Mississippi.

I woke up with all kinds of ideas this morning. One was to write something about the Supreme Court, not just because of their landmark rulings this week, but because I've been reading about the justices and they fascinate me. I started at Wikipedia and read about Justice Scalia, then Justice Kennedy, Justice Thomas, Justice Ginsberg, and then started going back, started reading about the political intrigue of appointments and the history of the court -- part of this was Book 3 research (everything is a remix).

This is also an answered invitation, do you see? I've been reading and asking questions, curious, wanting answers -- who is this Scalia, who wrote such a scathing dissent? Who is this Kennedy, who wrote such an eloquent decision? What is Thomas up to these days? Whatever happened to Anita Hill? Is Ginsberg still a bad-ass? How many women are on the Court now? I should know these things... let me see... 

The Court is sexy again, suddenly, and I thought, Debbie, you should write a book about the Supreme Court justices and call it THE SUPREMES. hahahaha. So I looked up that title and found a BBC article published June 26: "Meet the Supremes: Who are the U.S. Supreme Court Justices?" ha! Scooped! It's a great look at the current justices, though. I'd add the Wikipedia jumping-off places, too, for more.

Stories, stories, stories. I'm wrestling and remixing today. And inviting. Come on in, Book 3. Come on in... what else? What else? Who's out there? Let me go find you... or you find me. I'm right here, working away, my door is open.

 Brother Love's Travelin' Salvation Show by Neil Diamond

Brothers, you got yourself two good hands, ain't it right?
And when your brother is travelin', he ain't got what to eat
When he's tired and he ain't got where to sleep
When his heart is filled with an ache and a pain and he ain't got who to cry along with him,
I want you to take your hand and put it out to him -- that's what it's there for

Hot August night
And the leaves hanging down
And the grass on the ground smellin' sweet
Move up the road to the outside of town
And the sound of that good gospel beat
Sits a ragged tent
Where there ain't no trees
And that gospel group tellin' you and me
It's Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev'ryone goes, 'cause everyone knows
Brother Love's show

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19. 48 days, day 6: the proposal method -- what's enough?

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days, I'd love to hear/see what you're doing. Please link to your work/blog/etc in the comments (or just comment!) so all can see. We'll cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Mourning dove, through the screen door. I tried to get closer, to capture it without the screen between us, and to get the hummingbird and wasps, but they were not having it.
I wish you could have seen the party at the birdbath in my garden this morning: one mourning dove (very big), one hummingbird (very small), and three red wasps (tiny!), all vying for turns at fresh water. I tried to take a photo, but of course they wouldn't sit still for me to do that. Yesterday when I filled the bath, five red wasps were right there, waiting for me to finish, as well as a bee. (Yay, bee! Bring your friends!)

It makes me so happy to see the life in the garden, even when it's the birds that I have to shoo away from the blackberries each morning. I have planted enough berries for them and enough for me.

Enough for them and enough for me. That's what I'm thinking about today as I write. How much of a draft/revision is enough for those who will read it, and how much is enough for the one who writes it? And then there are the gatekeepers who make some of those final decisions, once we get a final draft and the book goes into production... editors, publishers, marketing people, book sellers, teachers, librarians, parents, but more about them another day. It's a miracle a book makes it into a young reader's hands at all!

I'm working on Rachel today, more focused than yesterday. A comment on yesterday's post really helped me with my feelings of not getting enough done: "I think summer just calls us away from our tasks... Gardening and just soaking up the long days are just part of summer. It isn't writing for me, but just the things I need to take care of around the house."

That's part of it, I'm sure. Thanks, Sandy. I want to remember glorious summer... something I write about quite a bit, actually... RUBY, ALL-STARS, FREEDOM SUMMER, REVOLUTION... the joys of summer.

I've been at it since early morning. It's coming along. Some days the tide sweeps you out to sea, and some days you're able to stay put against the undertow. Today seems to be a stay-put day. I'm working on what's good-enough to submit for a draft.

A good friend (who espouses writing every single day, even in summer, all day if possible (with breaks for exercise!) and who produces quite a bit more writing than I ever will) says to think of a picture book like a proposal. It can be revised and re-thought, and even re-worked completely, if you can get the attention of an editor who is intrigued enough to ask for a revision.

This goes counter to the "get it as perfect as possible" method writers cut our teeth on, eh? If we look at picture books as proposals -- offers? -- to write the entire book beautifully and sellably (:>), then what is it that will intrigue that editor and get him/her to ask for a revision?

I think it's a fresh approach, a new idea, a different structure, and above all -- voice. That elusive thing no one can seem to define.

More about voice in another post. This morning I'm working. Hope you are, too. I'm lucky to have these 48 days off, and I want to use them up, wear them out, make them count, all while enjoying these summer days that call me away from my tasks. A tall order. A cool drink is what's required now. Even the creatures at the birdbath know that.

Write on!


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20. 48 days, day 7: a bit of inspiration and validation

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }} 

My foot waving hello at 6am
 It's 11am and I am about to plunge into my Rachel revision and finish it. So say I. SO SAY I.

No backing down, now... just do it, Debbie. You've got enough, you've got what you need, and you can finish this revision. Today.

If I am really brave, I will send it to my agent by the end of business today. That is my goal. THAT IS MY GOAL. He lives in California. That gives me a few extra hours. hahahahahaha.

I am a watering fool right now, trying to keep new grass alive, as we near the end of this almost-year of a water management project which evolved into an edible yard and garden project along the way, and Other Stuff.

I can see, I'm falling into a routine, 7 days into this 48. Up early and either write or do correspondence while it's dark... read some, too. Once the sun is up, go outside while it's still bearable and water. This takes two hours. I have to visit everything, plump pillows, tell stories, check on the patients. Something ate my hosta last night. Who does that? Deer? I don't want to talk about it. Big, fat, beautiful hosta leaves, gone.
"The dingo ate your hosta."
What I read this morning provided me with great inspiration to get to the desk and write, which is what happens after the watering, and where I'm about to go right now. Here's what I read:

First, a piece by photographer Sally Mann in the New York Times Magazine. You must read it. It's so strong, so good, so true. Every time I read good writing, it teaches me something. This piece also taught me a little more about being human. I loved it. I have long admired Mann's work, and it was a pleasure to "hear" her talk about it in-depth; the highs, the lows, the scary bits and the calling-us-to-account bits. I read this in the 5am dark this morning. I thought, "I want to write like this." Inspiration.

Then there is this piece that I read as I came in from watering, the writer James Salter interviewed by the Paris Review -- must have been in the '90s -- about writing fiction. Here is the nugget that is sending me back to the page energized:

I find the most difficult part of writing is to get it down initially because what you have written is usually so terrible that it’s disheartening, you don’t want to go on. That’s what I think is hard—the discouragement that comes from seeing what you have done. This is all you could manage?

How many times have I felt like this! Also, on heroes:

There is everyday heroism. I think of Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” about a black woman walking miles to town on the railroad track to get some medicine for her grandchild. I think real devotion is heroic.

That's a thought I can use as I write about Rachel Carson, but I will also use it for book 3 of the '60s trilogy. I would also attribute it to Sunny in REVOLUTION, and to most of my characters in my books. I write about everyday struggle and everyday acts of heroism. Uncle Otts in COUNTDOWN. Joe and John Henry in FREEDOM SUMMER. Comfort letting her dog go in order to save her cousin in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. House reading to Mr. Norwood Boyd in ALL-STARS. Even Ruby saving Melba Jane on stage in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER.

So those words inspire me by validating my writing experience. Which makes me feel like a real writer. Validation and inspiration send me back to the page when I think, as I do almost every writing day: this is all you could manage?

I'm going to manage to finish my revision today. What are you up to, one week, 7 days in?



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21. 48 days, day 8: step out, step back, regroup

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

With Lisa Wise at Dancing Goats Coffee in Decatur, Georgia yesterday.
I didn't finish Rachel, and yet I did make progress. I'm okay with that.

Yesterday I was flattened. I watched Jon Stewart's response to the violence in Charleston. I read those nine names. Say their names. I thought about how I wrote FREEDOM SUMMER and REVOLUTION about a time fifty years in the past that we are still living through today and that we have to face and feel something about and do something about if we want it to change.

I don't know enough to orate, pontificate, opinion-toss, or wring my hands and heart in public on social media channels. But I have a voice and I will continue to use it in the best way I know how. I want to offer readers young and old a path to peace and social justice.

That's my work. Community, kindness, family, peace, kinship, connection. Friendship, heart, safety, belonging, stories. For young and old. Especially for children. I don't care how schmaltzy it sounds in print. These unglamorous work-horse words are the fundamentals of health and happiness and form the bedrock of what it means to be human and to care for one another.

Yesterday I met with Lisa Wise who is the executive director of the Initiative for Affordable Housing here in Atlanta. We talked shop and storytelling possibilities surrounding the Initiative's re:loom project. It felt good to talk about those work-horse words with Lisa, who is steeped in them every day. It's important to find fellow travelers on this unglamorous road. Do you know what I mean?

It rained late Thursday, a crashing, booming thunderclap of rain that washed away the side yard slope of newly planted grass. It wants to be a riverbed over there.

The over-eager thunderstorm chewing up my landscape combined with the recalcitrant bits of Rachel that refused to come together as I listened to the news coming out of Charleston... I gave up for the day and took a nap, and then I went to bed early. Friday I worked but felt like I was slogging through mud, then went to meet Lisa, which lifted my spirits.

I don't know. Sometimes you step out, or step back, and regroup.

That was Thursday (day 7)/Friday (day 8).

How are y'all doing? Can we talk about it?






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22. 48 days, days 9 & 10: weekending

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Art on the Beltline in Atlanta

Daniel Ballard teaching us about ecological landscaping, with examples along the Beltline.

Lunch afterwards at Krog Street Market. "We belong to a fashion club!" Truth.
Coming along, our own landscape.
Still trying to tame the slope on the side of the yard.
Water management in our yard.
 One of the things I enjoy most about my writing life now is making and having weekends to do something else. I'm still pulled to the writing, and so sometimes I do write, but I spend a lot of time on the weekend doing something else.

I've had so many jobs over the years that required weekend work, and certainly the past 15 years of being a road warrior have meant lots of weekend travel, speaking on a Saturday, flying home on a Sunday, or out on a Sunday in order to be in a school on Monday. I've been grateful for the work.

I am grateful a sabbatical summer, too. This weekend Jim and I took a class on ecological landscaping sponsored by Trees Atlanta, taught along the Atlanta Beltline by Daniel Ballard of Convivial Gardens. We're edging closer to our dream of a largely-edible landscape, where we manage the water flow and invite the birds and the bugs and the flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs to co-habit our small space. 

We met daughter Hannah and son-in-law Richard, the newlyweds, at Krog Street Market afterwards for lunch at Yalla. Falafel all around. Jim went to Auburn, Alabama for a gig with the band, and I set to work organizing my office -- one of those tasks I've set for myself this summer. Made good headway. Cranked up the stereo and listened to the hits of the late sixties -- research for book 3. Yes! Made notes of possibilities.

Jim worked all day Sunday -- gigging all over Atlanta for Father's Day folks -- and I spent most of the day catching up with family. Cousin Carol and I are now watching and texting (she from Mississippi, me from ATL) Poldark on Sunday nights. We've had this Sunday night Masterpiece tradition for years now but the Sunday-night well has been rather dry of late. Poldark: steamy romance novels. Should I read the books? whoo!

And now it's Monday. Rachel has had time to cool, I've lived 1969-in-song for part of the weekend, and I slept in -- on a Monday! Better get with it. Let's make some work goals for the week ahead. Mine:

1. Finish my draft of Rachel.
2. Try a new beginning for book 3 of the '60s project.
3. Finish my office reclamation.
4. Plant anything else that I want planted this growing season (zinnias, I miss you...)
5. Weeding and mulching for exercise and because we need to. Watering, too.
6. Start a new picture book revision.

Yours?


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23. 48 days, day 11: standstill


{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

I am stilled by the events in Charleston. Stilled. All the violent events of this past year -- years -- leading up to Charleston. All the hatred and violence. I thought I would say nothing publicly at first. Who am I to say anything? I write fiction about my deepest beliefs; that is enough.

But I couldn't stay silent, so I posted -- on my Facebook author page as well as my Facebook personal page --  links to other people's words about Charleston. Then I needed to include them in a blog post last week.

I also asked the folks assembling the Charleston Syllabus to include REVOLUTION, FREEDOM SUMMER, and THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS, all books of mine with a civil rights theme running through them, along with my deepest beliefs, including that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect.

Now, I thought, now I shall get back to the work at hand. But what is the work at hand?

For now, since I am stilled, and quiet, and contemplating, I will link to Claudia Rankine's piece in the NYTimes: The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning. I met Claudia Rankine last November in NYC at the National Book Award events. She was also a finalist. She is beyond impressive, as is her work, and this piece in the Times leaves me absolutely breathless. It asks me for something. It will not leave me.

So I will leave you here today, with some words from Claudia Rankine that describe what I try to do when I am writing as well:

"There are billions of souls in the world and some of us are almost to be touching the depths of how it is and what it is to be human. On the surface we we exist but just beyond is existence. I write to articulate that felt experience... There are some of us who are constantly mending our hearts, I write into that mending, my writing is that mending...."

Peace.

xoxo Debbie



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24. 48 days, day 12-13 making meaning

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Yesterday (day 12) was such a low day that I didn't even try to look at Rachel or book 3 or anything else I have on my writing plate -- platter. I worked outside in the yard in 95-degree heat, I went to the dentist, I hung out with folks on social media and email, joining in the conversations or seeing what my peeps were up to in the world.

I hung out with the wonderful Penny Kittle for close to an hour, as we Skyped about REVOLUTION and the Sixties Trilogy and my writing process, as well as the way we write with young people. Thank you, Penny.

 It helped to connect, it always does. I decided to feel whatever I felt and see where that took me, instead of pushing away the low feelings.

I've been trying to make sense of some heavy-duty family stuff, and it occurs to me this morning that what's going on may be fallout from my (adult) kids' dad's death on May 11, so there's that to consider when I'm trying to figure it out. I've been trying to make sense of the insensible in Charleston and around this country. Claudia Rankine's essay in the NYTimes remains with me. I went to bed with it in my mind last night and tossed, what with one thing and another.

As a writer who writes often about social justice issues, there is no way that what's happening in America today won't find it's way into a book about America in the late sixties. After a couple of days at a standstill with writing work, I woke up at 6am with three songs in my head, one after the other -- boom-boom-boom.

I scrambled out of bed to write them down, to listen to them on YouTube, to research them, to read the lyrics (instead of rattling them off in my head) and see when they were released. YES. I can use these. I've put them on my Pinterest board of song possibilities for Book 3.

Human beings are meaning making machines. We are the only species to take what happens to us and try to form a narrative around it, try to make sense of it, try to understand how it informs our lives, try to make change.

So I'm going to take the confusion of my own personal stuff (once again; it seems this is what I'm always doing in my fiction) and the inconceivable horror of how we visit violence on one another in this country and can't seem to change it -- as well as the hope that we one day might -- and weave them into what I'm writing.

Book 3 of the Sixties Project asks for attention today, so that's where I'm going. Here are the songs I woke up with, in the order they appeared.

I consider them a gift to get me going again. Maybe today will be a scrapbook day, building some of the infrastructure for Book 3. I need seven scrapbooks to help me tell the story of 1968/9... to help me draw parallels to today.

Abraham, Martin, and John:


What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love:


For What It's Worth:


I'll be working with these songs this morning, seeing how they play with the stills I'm collecting for various scrapbooks. I'll be making meaning, as much as I can. Hoping to make change.

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25. 48 days, day 14: stray thoughts collected

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

 Stray thoughts:

1. 1969 it is. I spent the day there yesterday, and I made some decisions about construction of Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy. I'm going to try third person vignettes next week for several characters I have in mind.

2. Quote from Arthur C. Clarke: "I don't worry about periods of not doing anything; I know my subconscious is busy." Exactly. I had enough energy yesterday to update my manifesto for the Year of Exploration. I am three months in. I've done a lot more than it looks like from the outside. What COUNTS, when you are measuring your progress? That is one of my eternal questions.

3. This piece, "The Middle of Things:Advice for Young Writers" by Andrew Solomon in the NYer, is great. Good writing, which I am always looking for. I am tempted to quote great swaths of it but will content myself with one of the many lines that resonated: "Your work is not opposed to your life; you do not have to choose between them. It is only by living in the world that you acquire the ability to represent it" Do read it if you are struggling in the middle... of anything, including your writing.

4. I'm thinking about Leo Buscaglia these days and Love 1A. I can't find my old copy of LIVING, LOVING, AND LEARNING, so I ordered one from abebooks. And I see there is a whole lot of Leo on YouTube. I might give him a new listen and see what I think, with, oh, 20 years of experience living in the world since I last listened to dear Leo.

5. I'm thinking a whole lot about love lately... period.

6. And time. My essay "On Being a Late Bloomer" is here.

Happy Weekend, friends. Live in the world. Love one another. Bloom, bloom, bloom. xo Debbie



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